Monday, November 17, 2008

Why I am (still) not a charismatic

Two years or so ago I blogged a post on 'Why I am not a charismatic.' Recently, trawling through some of my old blogs I discovered an anonymous comment - anonymous in the sense that Artimus conceals his identity (though I suspect he's an old friend). Artimus is a charismatic; he's polite throughout (which is good) and thinks some of my arguments are well made. (I agree - humbly of course). But his criticisms are worth looking at, partly because they are very typical of pro-charismatic arguments. First he says

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.

Well no, my friend; I don't appeal to Olyott as if having him on my side settles the matter. All I've done is explained how my doubts about the gifts arose and what, in the end, settled the matter for me. What settled the matter was a proper understanding of 1 Corinthians 13:10 - the fact that Stuart explained it to me is largely irrelevant. He's not the authority; he just taught me what the passage means - and that's what Bible teachers do.

Secondly, he says

this verse... talks about 'perfection' or 'perfect'. I just fail to see how this can be a description of the present day church.

No again my friend. I didn't say it describes the church. Nor does Olyott. I've never come across anyone who does. What we believe this word refers to in this context is Scripture - the 'perfect' revelation. Wouldn't you agree Artimus that the Bible does 'represent perfection'?

Then he says

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

But Artimus, Paul wasn't writing in English. If you mean 'the Greek for completion or fulfilment' - that's exactly what Paul has done! The word is 'teleios' and its basic meaning is 'complete'. It's translated in several ways: perfect, mature, adult, full. Its verb form is the word used in Luke 2:43: 'When the festival was ended...' Luke doesn't mean that the festival had reached perfection. He means it had been completed, come to an end. The contrast in 1 Corinthains 13:9-10 comes out very well in the ESV: 'we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes the partial will pass away.' 'Partial' is contrasted with 'complete'. Partial what? Revelation - that's what NT prophecies are. Complete what? Revelation. What's the complete revelation? Scripture.


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.

Yes, I know that's what charismatics think it means - or something like it. But it doesn't fit the context. What's left when the perfect has come? Verse 13 tells us: faith, hope and love. But faith is 'being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see,' (Hebrews 11:1). According to the New Testament then, when sight has come (heaven) faith has gone; it's been replaced. To put it baldy - there's no need for 'faith' in heaven. (Some throw up their hands in horror at this. Won't we still trust God? Of course we will - but it isn't me that contrasts faith and sight - it's the apostle.)

And then he says

I find nowhere in Scripture the slightest hint that miraculous gifts are only foundational

Well, that's odd - because it's what the New Testament calls them. 'Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household,20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone' (Ephesians 2:19,20). Here it's clear that the office, or gift, of apostles and prophets are part of the foundation of the church, and a foundation is laid at the beginning. It's not a continual thing. New Frontiers folks, as I understand it, see the need of apostles and prophets at the foundation of every local church. But 'church' throughout Ephesians (there are 9 references) means 'the universal church' - as in 5: 25, 'Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.'

Finally, Artimus says of me

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 (sic) in the name of spiritual gifts.

Nothing is true of everyone in any camp. But I think a), b) and c) - while caricatures - can be shown to have a flavour of truth about them. Look.
  • a) Doesn't read their Bible? Many charismatics do read their Bibles, of course. But all of us are in danger of reading them with our presuppositions as filters - see my post on this. In this instance it goes like this: 'Our church has tongues, which are in the Bible. Does yours?' 'No; but then, your church doesn't have the tongues which are in the Bible, either.' 'Uhh?' A charismatic church has something it calls tongues, we don't. But look at what the charismatic church has and ask 'Is it what's in the Bible?' Answer: no. See the original post where I spell this out a bit.
  • b) Must check their brain at the door? Oh, dear. How hard it is not to be rude. Listen - I know many charismatics are intelligent people. I'm an ardent reader, for example, of Adrian Warnock's blog. But what am I to think when these intelligent people sit through services with reports of golden tea-leaves appearing? Or speak - as a New Frontiers magazine does and Artimus points to it as if it's a good thing - of having 'L-plates' on in healing ministries? Where in the New Testament is the idea of 'learning' to do healings?
  • c) accepts everything that presents itself as a spiritual gift? OK: why does the sane and sensible Terry Virgo accept Rodney Howard-Browne, as it's clear from Terry's autobiography that he does? Where were the charismatic condemnations of the 'Florida revival'? Perhaps Artimus can find one or two examples of things that haven't been accepted, but generally we'd have to say 'guilty as charged', I think.

I could go on. I usually do. But that's enough for now. Artimus, if you're out there, please come back at me.


Jonathan Hunt said...

Very helpful stuff. I would appreciate a more readable font colour though!

Thank you

Your one reader


Gary Benfold said...

OK - your wish is my command. Is that better?

And you're not my one reader; there are two of you. And there used to be three.

Gigi said...

Yeah - me. I'm reader n°2, so there...:-)

A few weeks ago, I went to an 'Evangelical Church' in Toulouse. I wasn't in the best of spirits - forgive the pun - because the service was at 9.30 am and I was rather tired. It didn't help that we had to stand up during the greater part of the service, either.

It was chaos. People were waving flags and babbling and when the inoffensive-looking man in front of me suddenly began punching the air and fixing those around him with a wild, piercing stare, I began to wonder if it was actually safe!

Afterwards, I trudged back to my hotel room wishing I'd just stayed in bed (and listened to one of your sermons on my computer).

I can't remember the message at all or the hymns we sang (two)- just the utter bedlam.

Thanks for this article, Gary.

Your other reader :-)

Gary Benfold said...

Hi, Gigi. My readers are beginning to sound like Terry Wogan's listeners...

Jonathan Hunt said...

Thanks, Gary. Loving the purple.

Steve Burton said...

Thanks for that explaination of a difficult text, Gary! (is that a good enough comment? lol)