Friday, March 11, 2011

My Favourite Charismatic

Expository Faithfulness from Sovereign Grace Ministries on Vimeo.

CJ is one of the most faithful preachers I've heard.  This is great stuff - but listen, will you, to the way he introduces the Bible reading?  Do we super-reformed types regard the public reading of Scripture with such seriousness?  

Then, take a listen to the extended section when he gets to 'complete patience'.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I'm still not charismatic, Steve

An old friend – Steve Utley – commented on my re-posted ‘Why I am not a charismatic’.  Here’s my open response to him

Hi, Steve. Glad to hear from you.  Actually, I suspected you’d responded last time I posted this, but anonymously – was I right?

Thanks for taking my post seriously.  I’m always glad for any evidence that someone is actually reading them!  I’ll take opportunity here to respond.  Let me begin by saying that a) we’re in agreement about a lot, as you say; b) the gospel is bigger than this, and I quite understand that your church feels closer to some non-Charismatic churches than to some Charismatic churches who’re soft on the gospel, and c) you only took up one point in my post! 

You write:
Unlike you, I am not convinced by the argument Stuart Olyott makes for 1 Corinthians 13:10. Much as I appreciate his work, I think that his exegesis of verse 10 does not stand comfortably within the passage.

My main objections to this exegesis would be that:
1. The context of the passage is 'the supremacy of love'
2. V.12 seems to qualify V.10 by stating that it will be when we see 'Face to face' we will know in full, until then we continue in part.
3. Immediately following this passage and upholding love as supreme, Paul then enters into a very explicit discourse on the use and administration of gifts without the slightest hint that they will disappear.

OK: one at a time.

1. Yes, the context is ‘the supremacy of love’ but that doesn’t mean that what he says about the gifts is not to be taken seriously.  Love is supreme precisely because it continues when most other gifts have ended.  There will be a time, says Paul, when only ‘faith, hope and love’ remain (verse 13).  That ‘time’ cannot be a reference to heaven: for ‘faith’ is ‘being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see’ (Hebrews 11:1) and is explicitly contrasted with sight – the sight of heaven – in 2 Cor 5:7.  And hope – ‘hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?’ (Romans 8:24).  Remarkable as it seems at first hearing, if we define faith and hope as the New Testament does there is neither faith nor hope in heaven.  But if that ‘time’ is not heaven, when is it?  How can the sign gifts remain right until the end of the age?

2. Indeed, the phrase ‘face to face’ is very important.  But it’s important to remember Paul’s Biblical background – he has not just plucked this phrase out of the air.  He is alluding to Numbers 12:8 where Moses uses both the concept of ‘face to face’ and ‘dark speech’ (it’s translated ‘riddles’ in the NIV, not very helpfully).  ‘Darkly’ or ‘dimly’ is also omitted from the NIV (what a nuisance that translation is at times!) but check in other translations.  The close use of both concepts makes it very clear that Paul is alluding to Numbers: so what does the passage in Numbers speak of?  It speaks of two different earthly revelations, and of the superiority of Moses’ revelation to that of other prophets.  In other words, it not only fits with the idea that 1 Corinthians 13 is comparing the incomplete revelation of the prophets with the complete and clearer revelation of Scripture: it requires it.  Nothing else makes sense of the allusion.  And if you object ‘but he says we will know fully, even as we are known, and that can only refer to heaven’ think about it.  We will never – not even in heaven after an eternity of eternities – know God as fully as he knows us; we don’t have the capacity for that.  He is using the phrase though to contrast the lesser with the greater – NT prophecy (the lesser) with full Scriptural revelation (the greater).

3. As for him entering into an explicit discourse in chapter 14 without the slightest hint that they’ll disappear – he’s just told them that!  What do you want him to do – end every paragraph with ‘and don’t forget – shortly after you’re dead, these gifts will disappear anyway; I just need to keep saying it in case somebody in two millennia misses it’!?

‘The New Testament has much to say on gifts, signs and wonders…’ you say.  Well, no actually.  Not that much.  It has a fair bit to say on circumcision, too.  My position doesn’t negate the passages that are there – it just understands them in the whole NT context.   There’s no authority beyond the New Testament – we’re agreed on that.  And I don’t appeal to any authority other than that – do I?  You may not agree with my understanding of 1 Corinthians 13, but at least we both accept that it’s part of the New Testament!

Did you know I was present when Wendy was healed of epilepsy?  I remember that Sunday morning so very clearly.  I wouldn’t want to doubt that it was a most remarkable answer to prayer.  Was it a miracle?  I don’t know; I remember too that she had at least one further attack after that morning before they disappeared completely.  And I know too that some forms of epilepsy do pass eventually.  So I’m hesitant to use the word ‘miracle’ (which I think has a very narrow definition); but not remotely hesitant to say that it is one of the most remarkable answers to prayer I’ve ever seen.  And yes, I’ve seen other, similar, answers.  My position on healing is, I think, roughly the same as Lloyd-Jones’: God still heals, but there are no healers.  (And I remember that Lloyd-Jones always insisted that he had never seen a genuine miracle).  As for ‘real, tangible healings at Citygate’ I’ve no reason to deny it – my theology doesn’t require it!  BUT I would caution you: be sure the people who seem to have been healed were actually sick with an organic – rather than psycho-somatic - illness, and had been properly and reliably diagnosed as such.  Then be sure that they’re actually healed, and healed without medical intervention.  Only then can you even begin to think of using the word ‘miracle’; the Roman Catholic Church, to its credit, examines all of Lourdes’ ‘healings’ in this scrupulous way.  Such caution IS necessary; twenty years or so ago a well-known Christian woman hit the secular press with accounts of her miraculous healing and, sure enough, all tests revealed no trace of the disease she said she had had.  It was only when a sceptical evangelical doctor eventually gained access to her medical records that it was shown she never had had the disease; she had self-diagnosed, and been mistaken.

Finally (for now!) you say
  • I find that most rejection comes down to a personal experience (as did I) which we just know in our bones is not authentic. But is that the right thing to do?

Well, no it’s not.  But my reply would be that it’s the other way round: most people come to the Bible convinced that they’ve seen healings/tongues/prophecies etc and are therefore insistent that the Bible can’t mean what it says – and what Bible believers have believed it to say for most of the last two millennia.

Where, Steve, are the tongues that are not ‘angelish’?  Where are the organic healings that make the medical profession and the world sit up and take notice?  Why did no-one respond to the Pyromaniacs’ challenge for a well-attested, significant and accurate prophecy?  Why did John Wimber – the most remarkable and famous charismatic of his day – promise David Watson (the most remarkable, famous British charismatic of his day) that his cancer would be healed (just before he died of it!)  Why did people all over the world write to Watson with the same prophecy?  Why was there not a single voice saying ‘I have heard from the Lord, and this sickness is to death’?  Is it possible that the supreme and sovereign Lord allowed this so that we could face the facts – there are no true prophets today?

Well, blessings to you.  We’ll have to meet up some time and have a coffee, instead of bumping into one another by accident.  Give my love to your Mum and Dad.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Back with a Bang!

Thanks to Adrian Warnock for pointing me to this very rare (and all too brief) interview with the good Doctor.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Why I am not a charismatic

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 namesas 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 hereand here) None of them gave the answer he'd asked for. QED, as they never actually said in my geometry lessons.

(This post originally appeared way back, and is reposted as a) still reflecting my opinions and b) part of the re-post program for February)