Why I am not a charismatic
Because I read my Bible...
You see, it happened like this. I was saved in August 1973. In September that year, I went off to University - one of the oldest and most elite academic insitutions in the country (Bradford). There I met lots of other Christians and began to go to an Elim Pentecostal church. Everybody - but everybody - seemed to be speaking in tongues. It seemed like a good idea... so I began to pray for it. I got lots of guidance (apparently you can be taught this supernatural gift) and, eventually, I began to speak in gibber... er, the tongues of angels.
Straight away I knew that I was now spiritually superior to those of my friends who didn't gibb - er, speak in tongues. And deep down, that bothered me; if a gift was genuinely of God, I thought, it shouldn't make me feel superior. So I began to wonder. I don't think it took more than ten days for me to decide my own experience was spurious, and I gave up g - er, you know.
Now I'm not daft enough (and wasn't daft enough even then) to think that my false experience meant that everyone else's experience was false, too. But it did open the possibility up in my mind. I read one or two books - Signs of the apostles, for example. But mostly, I read my Bible. And the gifts in the Bible just didn't look like the gifts in the Elim church.
I really wasn't impressed by the 'prophecies'. I mean, there are prophecies in the Bible, right? And they're pretty dramatic. And they're accurate. The prophecies I heard weren't even interesting.
But it was really 'tongues' that got me. Why was the most prolific gift the one gift that couldn't be tested, I wondered? I mean, my friends told me that some gifts of tongues were human languages, and some were the languages of angels (1 Corinthians 13:1). But I only heard the ones that - well, weren't human. Why? Could it be that all these people were fooling themselves?
And anyway, I understand English. I'm pretty good at it. I know a figure of speech when I see one. 'Though I speak in the tongues of men and of angels' didn't read like a prescription to me, or even a description; it read like a sarcastic comment: 'I don't care if you speak Latin, French, English and Klingon - or even Angelish - if you don't have love I don't want to know.' But my friends were ever so, ever so excited about speaking Angelish, and I couldn't understand it.
And then, of course, the 'tongues' in the New Testament were never Angelish. They were always human languages - someone even pointed out to me, eventually, that the languages (tongues) spoken in Acts 2 were all named. Angelish wasn't any of them. Hmmm.
And so I kept reading my Bible, and kept watching. I realised that though the 'gifts' being used in the church were given the same names as the gifts in the New Testament, that was all they had in common. I realised that I could call myself Elvis Presley, but it wouldn't make my voice the real thing. The only problem left: where were the gifts today, then?
It may have been as late as 1977 that I discovered the answer; Stuart Olyott explained to me what 1 Corinthians 13:10 meant, and it made sense. I know this is a controversial passage. Hey, those who are in the wrong find any Scripture passage that proves they're wrong controversial! If you already believe that 'the gifts' are being exercised in the church, perhaps 1 Corinthians 13:10 might not persuade you otherwise. But when you've already realised the truth - well, that's different.
Nearly 30 years later, I'm still persuaded. There were sign gifts - foundations for the whole church. Once the foundations were laid, those gifts were no longer necessary. I've never - not even once - seen anything 'enough like' a New Testament sign gift to make me wonder if I might have got it wrong. And I watched with fascinated interest while the Pyromaniac asked for one well-attested prophecy that the Charismatics had got right. The rude people slandered him; the polite people challenged his exegesis. (You can read about it starting here and here) None of them gave the answer he'd asked for. QED, as they never actually said in my geometry lessons.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Signs and wondering about back-ache
On Sunday I went to a charismatic church. A local church had a special afternoon meeting, an internationally known and respected charismatic leader was preaching, and so it was a rare opportunity to see what really goes on. Not a lot, actually; it was a disappointment.
We were told that gold dust might materialise; it didn't. (I was glad about that; it would have been such a shame to be caught out without my dustpan and brush). There had, however, been miraculous manifestations of gold tea-leaves in one of the hotels over the weekend. Hmmm.
The singing was unexceptional; not good, not bad. The preaching was fine - up to a point. We were treated to a reasonable exposition of John 14, complete with quotes from Hendrikson. Jesus' promise not to leave them as orphans was fulfilled not by his resurrection, nor by the (still future) return in glory, but fulfilled by the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. OK so far. Therefore Jesus was present in the church to do exactly the same as he was in the days when he walked with the disciples - an inference Hendrikson doesn't draw and would, I think, deny. Therefore, said the preacher, today he's going to heal those with back-ache: specifically, lower back pain with shooting pains down the leg and the sciatic nerve.
Over at Pyromaniacs (here, for example - where Spurgeon is being quoted - and don't miss the 'comments' section) the boys occasionally defend a cessationist position, and are lampooned for it. From time to time they issue a challenge: please, someone, show us a miracle. It's a fair challenge, surely? If Jesus is doing the same in the churches today as he did when he walked the earth, show us. Back-ache? Where's that in the gospels?
Please note: Sunday's experience was not a back-street charismatic church with a poorly-trained leader. The speaker was one of the big guys, one of the most respected men in the movmement. And all he could offer was back-ache relief.
Adrian Warnock should know better; he's a doctor - a psychiatrist in fact. But he doesn't - see here. The healing of anxieties and a stiff shoulder - what will Jesus do today? Indeed, what will he do!
What's the problem? Suggestion, that's what. Hypnosis can do all of this; hypno-therapists offer it in your high street. We don't need to invoke miracles and the power of Jesus to explain any of this - and Adrian, in particular, should know it. Where's the healing of those born blind, please? Where are the lepers being cured? Where's the raising of the dead - if Jesus is present in the church to do exactly what he used to do?
Over the years I've ridiculed charismatic meetings for their 'God is telling me somebody here has back-ache' pronouncements. Sometimes, I've felt guilty about that. But I cannot begin to tell you how unimaginably disappointed I was on Sunday to discover that my friends still haven't moved beyond it.
But worse than that - and please don't tell anybody, will you? - it actually made me wonder (for a short while) if the Christian faith is true. I mean, there has to be more to it than this, surely? And if it did that for me, what does it do for others - that is, for those unbelievers who don't leave their discernment at the door?