You do not have to be a member of the family of God for long, before you will be exposed to one of the major divides in doctrine and practice among believers: the division over the continuation of all the gifts of the Spirit, and all the gifts of Ephesians 4:11-13 until the return of the Lord. This blog is the first in a series that examines the implications of the full humanity of our Lord on charismatic issues, and many other foundational facets of the gospel. There is much at stake.
The term “charismatic” has become associated with the view in favor of the continuation of these gifts. Unfortunately, there is much well-deserved negativity associated with the term. I wish I could distance myself from it. I am both grieved and angered by the TV evangelist hype, fraud, fakery, love of money, love of control, abuse, new age paganism, Gnosticism, and overall biblically baseless nonsense and madness, associated with this term. However, it is the most commonly recognized and understood term associated with this topic. I will reluctantly use it with all its baggage, visceral reactions, and often justifiable negativity towards it. Sometimes it feels like being crazy or out of your mind is a prerequisite to believe in all the gifts and ministries of the Spirit for all time. That is quite sad and quite unnecessary.
There is an unfortunate and often well-earned 100 year-old prejudiced stereotype toward things charismatic. Supposedly anyone who believes in the present-day manifestation of all the gifts is somehow less intelligent, unscholarly, or less committed to the accurate handling of the scriptures than others. The realm of the Spirit and things charismatic are often dismissed with a wave of the wand of “emotionalism” or “feelings over scripture.”
These are worn-out canards, often reflective of someone’s non-experience with the topic, bad experiences with those who claim the topic as their own, or plain intellectual dishonesty or laziness. These are broad brush polemics–taking the most extreme or aberrant expression of a matter, and making it the norm. John MacArthur has made a career of it. That is also quite sad, and unnecessary.
I am reminded of the student who decided to quit studying math in the third grade because 20% of his classmates failed the course. He blamed the teacher and the material, and determined to not waste his time studying something as foolish as this thing called math from a stupid teacher. The outcome of his action was being unable to balance his checking account for the rest of his life.
Sometimes, failure is the fault of neither the teacher nor the material. Some folks just don’t get it, and never will. Others are corrupt and will never get it. To reject things charismatic because of normalizing those who failed the course is an unfortunate mistake. The challenge is to provide to a justifiably skeptical world with a viable option based on a death and resurrection, agape and sacrifice platform rather than shameless and boundless ego, “show-time,” and the love of money. A viable option is not mysterious, nor hard to do. It’s just not tried very often, because the viable option is not flashy and ego-fulfilling: love works. It never fails. It is just not practiced very often, very consistently.
The public face of things charismatic is, I admit . . . odious. I get it. But that is not the same as saying the Teacher and the material are fundamentally flawed. That’s where I part company with many charismatic critics. Bad execution of good material is not the fault of the material.
On the other hand, Cessationism, is a term used to describe the view that some of the charismatic gifts “ceased” by God’s intent (the so called “sign” gifts) while other gifts remain. This allegedly happened at some indefinite time in the past history of the church—usually associated with the death of the last of the original twelve apostles of the Lamb, or when the last scripture was penned. The view also contends that the ministries of apostles and prophets ceased at the same time, as these ministries were allegedly only needed to write and authenticate scripture, and are now unnecessary. There are variations, but that is the short version summary.
Cessationism is the statistically dominant view in Western evangelicalism, but it has come under fire in recent times and is experiencing a diminishing influence. If there is baggage with things charismatic (and there is) there is also baggage with the Cessationist view. It is not a very sturdy perspective but rather built upon highly inferential presuppositions and interpretive schemes. If you put a new convert on a desert island with the Bible and no human commentaries or outside influence, there is no way that convert would come to a Cessationist point of view–no way.
Without the vitality of the manifested works of the Spirit as the overflow of the reality of a God-Man in resurrection, we are left with little more than a cherry-picked theology text book, and intellectual ruminations about it. The Bible is not a chemistry book to be studied. It is a revelation of a Person in resurrection. Like the Gentile worldview scripture warns us against, we will get lost in the chasms of our mind: endless and fruitless intellectual gyrations doing nothing other than convincing ourselves we are more right than the “other guy.”
We can be out of our minds (some charismatics) or lost in our minds (some non-charismatics) and the result will be the same. The latter will just be better dressed and allowed in the parlor. It is true that anti-intellectualism is rampant in my circles. I find it amusing that the very people who tend to downplay scholarship, theology, and the intellect, have no problem themselves using books written by scholars and theologians in their sermon preparations! Tells me rather plainly that there is little behind the complaint other than insecurity at feeling somehow less then. Many treat scholars like prophets: we will accept them if they are at a distance or dead! However, the worship of intellect is equally as prevalent a problem in other circles. It just has a better public face to it. In fact, without the inwrought disciplines of the cross, it becomes a form of spiritual snobbery equally as odious as charismatic craziness.
There is more to kingdom living than doctrine, doctrine, doctrine, doctrine. I disagree with dear brother Luther who in His disputes with the Anabaptists bemoaned that his own followers were untransformed, that the Anabaptists were full of the life and love of Jesus, yet dismissed it all as irrelevant because quote “doctrine is the main thing” unquote. No it is not, not for me any way.
We can avoid these unprofitable and polar opposite dualities. A fertile, disciplined, and exercised mind accompanied by the present power of a God-Man who is really alive from the dead (objectively and subjectively), is a potent kingdom combination. In my opinion it is what the world is waiting to see. This world will not be effectively reached by impotent orthodoxy, or empowered heterodoxy/heresy.
To me, both odious charismatics and the rabid and reactionary John MacArthur-ites are just shoveling at opposite ends of the same ditch of death and throwing dirt on each other. Arid scholasticism and anti-intellectualism are just opposite ends of the same death-ditch.
I am for getting out of the ditch all together.
My book, Your Empowered Inheritance . . . Now! and this blog series are not written for the novice or the casual, devotional-level reader. This series will be on the theological and scholarly side, yet not so strictly academic, I hope, as to be out of reach for the average reader. This series will not be a “how-to,” or “seven-steps to identify your gift and flex it with spiritual pizzazz to build your world changing network” sort of effort. This is about a spiritual awakening to a foundational element of our faith: our inheritance in Christ and His inheritance in us–Jesus as the all-time pattern human–not just for piety, but also power. By the indwelling Spirit, the ekklesia is the replication on earth, in time, of the Pattern Human–the first-born of many just like Him.
In order to possess an inheritance, you must first be awakened to your right to have one! If you don’t know what’s available, there’s no reason to exercise your relational trust (the definition of faith) toward God, and with one another, on behalf of humanity. If you believe that what the scripture plainly promises is not for you, but for another future people in a future day, long after you are dead, well, your faith expectation will rise to that level–in effect, being talked out of what is rightfully yours under the belief that it is not yours.
Appropriation and implementation of an inheritance follow the awakening. While the practical aspects of “how to” are critical at an individual level, it’s not my intent to address those aspects in my book or this series. I want to shine a light on a treasure, let you know it’s yours, but not attempt to script specifics, for anyone, on how to appropriate the treasure. Engaging Him in the pursuit of the treasure is itself, part of the treasure—vague and unmanageable as it may be. After all, ultimately, He is our Treasure, and we are His. As valuable as lesser things may be, they do not approach the supremacy of knowing Him in His Person.
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