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)


Steve Utley said...

Hi Gary,

I would agree with most of what you are saying and I think your points on jibberish-tongues, uninteresting prophecies and the raft of pseudo-gifts that inevitably emerge within certain church streams, have a real validity.

Like you, I have been in many situations which have been more like a three-ringed circus than the church of the ascended Christ. I also, like you, rejected gifts on the basis of such experiences.

I am now part of NewFrontiers which is Reformed in Theology and Charismatic in practice. Oddly we actually feel more aligned to Reformed cessationist bretheren than to more well known Charismatic streams.

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.

I know many are convinced by this argument, but as you alluded, it does appear to be grasping at straws a little in the absence of more explicit Scriptures.

The New Testament has much to say on gifts, signs and wonders and I find it very difficult to take a position that would negate these passages.

As we read the Old Testament in the light of the New, then there is more than ample justification for rejecting the practice of much of the law, rather seeing its fulfillment in Christ. But what then do we read the New Testament in light of that enables us to negate part of it?

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?

I had the privileged of going to hear Dr John Piper last year at the 300 Leaders conference in Enfield (Available online in the Q&A session btw).

He shared how during one of Noel's pregnancies a woman in the church came and gave him a prophecy that Noel would have a boy and die in child birth. He held that before God for the remainder of the pregnancy and on the day of the birth, Noel had a daughter and lived.

What was John's reaction? Prophecy is bunkum? No, it was 'False prophet!'

I would be the first to admit that much of what is pro-ported to be 'gifts' or 'tongues' isn't. I think some of what we see is wishful thinking, over-zealousness or desire of a gift over and above desire of the giver.

I have seen healings. Not least my sister Wendy who was healed of severe epilepsy when she was a young girl. We have also seen some real tangible healings at Citygate (not twingey backs and hurty fingers) but not all the time.

I also remind myself from Scripture that gifts are not restricted to the spectacular. Giving, hospitality, martyrdom are all in there!

I personally can no longer take the position that the gifts have ceased. I find Scripture has too much to say about the subject to simply consider it to be historical.

What about the rubbish? I reject that as false rather than reject it all.

Why don't we see more? I don't know, I'm not God, but I have seen enough to know that God has been at work.

As for your experiences and what you have witnessed since taking your latter position. All I can say is that I feel I have just seen glimpses now and again, and I have been in Charismatic churches for the last decade and a half.

I think at the end of the day, if I am going to be wrong on the issue, I'd rather be wrong this way around, but I don't think I am.

Maybe I'll spend eternity on a part of the new earth governed by Peter Masters! :)

Best wishes


Gary said...

Thanks for your comment, Steve. See my long response as today's entry - March 10th.