Thursday, December 14, 2006

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.

1 comment:

Artimus said...

Hi Gary

I think some of your arguments are well made. However, you started by saying that you were not a charismatic because you read your Bible, but conclude with appealing to Stuart Olyotts exegesis of 1 Cor 13:10.

I never understood why this verse is used so often in this way. It talks about 'perfection' or 'perfect'.

I just fail to see how this can be a description of the present day church. I don't know what your church is like Gary, but would you say that it represents 'perfection'?

Surely Paul could have chosen a better word like 'completion' or 'fulfilment' rather than 'perfection' to avoid confusion?

My simple understanding would be that 'perfection' refers to when Christ returns and the imperfect or 'Partial' as the ESV puts it, is replaced by the sinless perfection that Christ will bring.

For me this is strengthened by verse 11 which says we are now looking through a 'glass darkly', but then 'face to face'. The 'now', against the 'to come' rather than the 'then' against the 'now' as you suggest.

(By the way, I think Stuart is a fantastic teacher and I disagree with much respect for the man. I have seldom heard a man say so much with so few words.)

My other objection to your claim that you read your Bible to draw these conclusions would be that I find nowhere in Scripture the slightest hint that miraculous gifts are only foundational, neither the suggestion that they will cease in the manner you suggest.

Now I do not wish to be rude, but your post did have the slightest hint that 'anyone who is a charismatic'
a) Doesn't read their Bible
b) Must check their brain at the door when they go to church.
c) Accepts everything that presents it's self in the name of spiritual gifts.

(If I have misrepresented you there, I apologise, but I am sure that I detected a hint of irony in your tone!)

All I want to say in response is this.

1. I think that you make some valid points and I would agree wholeheartedly on your exposition of 1 Cor 13:1 and that this no way justifies the 'It's an angelic tongue' claim.

2. Some of us in the charismatic camp wrestled long and hard with the passages of Scripture in order not to become enwrapped in an experiential belief. For me personally, I want to ensure that what I do is not trampling over Scripture, bringing the name of the Lord Jesus into disrepute and is done orderly and properly.

3. Acknowledge that in church history, there have been abuses in regard to this, but this does not mean that everything we see is counterfeit, misguided or bogus.

4. To let you know that someone reads your blog!

Anyway, it isn't my intention to enter into debate with you on this matter (although I probably just have!) I am not as theologically adept as you obviously are and I fear you would leave me standing.

I merely just wanted to express that some of us charismatics do read our Bible's, do tread carefully and do keep our brains (what there are of them!) in situ when we go to church.

If at the end of the day what you see in the church doesn't match up to what you read in your Bible, is there something wrong with the exegesis or maybe is there something wrong with the church?

Why am I a Charismatic? Because I read my Bible