18 OCTOBER 2013
HAS THE CHARISMATIC MOVEMENT FORGOTTEN THE HOLY SPIRIT IS HOLY?
This week, the internet has been buzzing with discussion around a biblical response to abuses in the Charismatic movement, brought into sharp focus by the 'Strange Fire' Conference led by hosted by John MacArthur http://www.tmstrangefire.org, which has been helpfully summarised at http://thecripplegate.com/?s=strange+fire. While holding a view that the gifts of the Holy Spirit have ceased, MacArthur works with certain Charismatic leaders in the group 'Together for the Gospel' http://t4g.org/ and calls for biblically faithful Charismatics to speak up against abuses within the movement. Having spent massive time and effort doing so following biblical due process, privately and writing articles (see for example, the blog http://voiceofreform.blogspot.com/), I add some insider perspective to the discussion. People have limited energy to digest criticism before they become fatigued, dispirited or angry and so one needs to ask what are the 'root problems' rather than the 'fruit problems'? The 'bad fruit' problems raised by MacArthurs conference this week, have been repeatedly raised inside Charismatic forums such as 'Charisma Magazine's and its editor Lee Grady - elitist personality cults, greed; marital unfaithfulness; doctrinal sloppiness and errors; questionable claimed supernatural manifestations and miracles (example: http://goo.gl/SaBFyG). Identifying such fruit is common cause to cessationists and Charismatics seeking to be faithful to the scriptures. The Strange Fire conference gives little in the way of constructive solutions beyond its alternative of 'Reformed Cessationism'. The Charismatic movement has been spiritually degenerating into a state comparable in some ways with the pre-Reformation Roman Catholic Church. What are the core reasons for this degeneration and what can be done about it?
* FORGETTING THE HOLY SPIRIT IS HOLY
The 'Charismatic Movement' was intended to focus on seeking the person and work of 'The Holy Spirit'. Those three words are loaded with meaning and unfortunately it has gotten diverted by much else.
i.'The' implies only one specific Holy Spirit - one of the persons of the Trinity. We can forget there are uncountable other evil spirits around to deceive anyone who will listen to them - and these evil spirits are associated with 'false prophets' or 'teachers'. Discernment is therefore needed to distinguish the Holy Spirit from other spirits.
ii. The Holy Spirit is a spirit. Much of the Charismatic movement has become obsessed with seemingly human personalities (men) and with worldly attractions such as power, money, health, publicity and success.
iii. Most importantly and as an antidote to these problems 'HOLY' defines the character of the Holy Spirit.
- A person who is really wanting the Holy Spirit in their life is going to be concerned with 'holiness' and a leader should be both modelling that and trying to lead his followers toward holiness. But that is very seldom a topic for Conferences or books in the modern Charismatic movement. The poor example of so many leaders is so often excused by their 'Charismatic' ability and personality. But that is not biblical.
- The neglect of this issue leads consequentially to the denial of the Holy Spirits work in judging sin - both through his awakening of the conscience of the believer through the light shed by the word of God and harsher consequences for those who will not listen to him.
Pastor John Anderson of Cry Ministries has pointed out this was the pattern of Satan in the Garden of Eden: Man desired certain things; Satan distored his view of God's character and denied his consequent judgment of sin. Such Holy fear of the judgment of God by the HOLY SPIRIT would cause a reformation within the church - and is an antidote to the abundant quackery, foolishness and lack of holiness http://www.cryministry.com/ Any movement genuinely seeking the Holy Spirit needs to focus on his Holy character, his holy conviction of sin and judgement of it as a priority over worldly religious benefits and supernatural manifestations. The consequence of failure to do this is shown in scripture: God struck dead those who tried to come to him - Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron his anointed priests in the Old Testament and Ananias and Saphirah in the New Testament as well as used the Philistines to destroy the unholy priests Hophni & Phinehas and the tabernacle at Shiloh (1 Samuel 3). There is no 'cessation' in this holy judgment of the Holy Spirit, but most Charismatics paint the Holy Spirit as if he still provides all the spiritual manifestations of biblical times with none of the judgment. Rubbish! This is deception. God does the same today. But when God judges unholiness in his church, people want to attribute this to anything else.
RESPONDING TO SOME OF THE OTHER ISSUES RAISED BY 'STRANGE FIRE'
* GREED AND ERROR ON TELEVISION: As evidence for 'bad fruit' in the Charismatic movement, the Strange Fire Conference points to the lives and teaching of so-called Charismatic televangelists. There are fundamental problems in the model of Christian television that needs to be addressed and is polluting the movement.
i. Fundraising: Prime television time is mostly sold to the highest bidder. That is the televangelist raising the most money. That is often those most willing to distort the scriptures and portray an unrealistic view of his own life and ministry to raise money. Those with more balanced teaching can't compete with such fundraising and are marginalised out of prime time. Those who don't come with this approach, whether Charismatic or not do not easily get prime TV time. Unlike a local church, those who teach are not carefully selected on criteria of godliness and held accountable morally by elders who live close to them. Money overrides all these issues. That is not a problem with the Charismatic movement but a problem with the commercialised model of Christian television - which is also affecting the Christian book and music industry.
ii. Prosperity theology: The most popular theology on television is consequently that promoting the idea that godliness, following their formulas, leads to financial gain. Where did that idea come from? Actually not out of the Charismatic movement at all. The 'Word of faith' theology on which the prosperity teaching is based is rooted in the theology of EW Kenyon who was himself not a Charismatic, but successfully imported into the Charismatic movement in the 1980s. That is not to deny that the Bible does include genunine teaching on prosperity and finances, which needs to be taught, but that is the source of this popular 20th Century distortion of the scriptures which many cannot distinguish from the Charismatic movement - simply because of the dominance of such teachers on Christian television. There has been a similar problem with the commercialisation of the Christian music industry - where the best musicians sell the best - often with no scriptural training - rather than those who are writing the most biblical lyrics - and many modern worship songs are consequently very shallow. But the problem is commercialisation and lack of biblical accountability in both the television and music industry.
* THEOLOGICAL ENGAGEMENT: I have not seen any of the 'Strange fire' speakers, authors or bloggers cite the serious theological debate within the Charismatic movement, which are in fact considerably more rigorous in biblically rebutting error within the Charismatic movement than their own writings. See for example 'The spiritual spider web' by Derek Morphew rebutting E.W. Kenyon; or 'Protection from Deception' by Derek Prince rebutting the excesses of the Toronto Blessing movement; Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology alternative interpretation of on miracles versus the E.W. Kenyon view; the alternative theology of healing by those drawing on the eschatology of George Ladd. John Anderson's 'A compassionate roar' is probably the strongest rebuke ever written to a church and Western society that neglects the fear of God's judgment. I hope the 'Strange fire' authors will read these books and engage with this serious theological debate.
* CENTRED SET AND BOUNDED SET: The 'Strange Fire' Conference and its leaders have in some ways compared the Charismatic movement to Calvin's criticism of the Anabaptist movement and its excesses of the 16th Century. That is a helpful comparison, but they should take it further. Some movements are 'bounded set' i.e. they have a strict Statement of Faith to which all members and leaders much agree to. The Reformed Confessions tended to draw this boundary more and more narrowly with time - with confessions getting longer and longer to rebut all they disagreed with. The Charismatic movement, early Anabaptist movement and more recently the 'emerging church' do not do this. They are 'Centred sets' - not bounded sets. In other words, they centre around something rather than draw clear and strict lines for who is 'in' and 'out'. The result is considerable debate when there is criticism as to who is fringe and who is central. Often in the Charismatic movement, the centre is a personality or a network of relationships rather than a strict theological line. There are benefits and problems with both 'centred sets' and 'bounded sets'. Too tight lines can be drawn around trivial issues or the wrong things or stop people learning new things - but too lose lines can open the way for error. It is very difficult to fairly compare a bounded set and a centred set. They are very different in nature. Most movements start out as 'centred sets' and as they mature they draw tighter and tighter boundaries. The Reformed movement is a mature movement. The Charismatic movement is not. But a helpful lesson from history, is that the Anabaptist movement did mature eventually drawing boundaries and contributing towards two movements that did not share the chaos of its early days: the Mennonite movement and the Baptist movement.
* CONTINUUM VERSUS POLARISATION: The Cessationist/Charismatic debate is often portrayed as a polarised one. People tend to oversimplify the positions of those not sharing their views. The reality is that if you listen closely to the views of different leaders, when they are not the heat of debate, there is not such a simple polarisation, but rather a continuum of views. One the one end of the spectrum are people who tend to suspect almost any claim of the miraculous as false, while on the other end of the spectrum, people who accept just about every claim as true. It is more helpful to position people on a continuum of 'cautious' versus 'open' to interpreting spiritual manifestations. Respected reformation leaders and their successors through church history took different positions on this continuum. Hardline reformed Cessationists tend to quote Calvin's attacks on Anabaptist false prophets, while ignoring that Calvin himself took Farel's words calling him to Geneva or suffer God's judgement as the voice of God. They also ignore the numerous correct predictions made by Calvin's close friend and colleague pastor John Knox and his mentor Patrick Hamilton. Hamilton for example predicted God's judgement on the town where he was burned at the stake, which was shortly afterwards fulfilled when the French sacked the town. These predictions are recorded in Knox own book, The Scottish Reformation and has withstood the scrutiny of historians. Luther himself predicted the reformation before it happened. To cite the clause of the 1689 Baptist Confession on the suffiency of scripture as rebuttal of continued prediction is not the way the original authors understood this document. These authors themselves made precise predictions (such as that one of them who was critically ill would live exactly another 15 years (fulfilled) and outlive the predictor), practiced enthusiastic prayer for healing of the sick (e.g. praying in church for a blind person to see) - in fact their ministries probably included more real miracles than what is happening in the Western Charismatic movement. Read the original history at this link http://goo.gl/FpyhgJ Jonathan Edwards was cautious about spiritual experiences during the Great Awakening, but did not dismiss the supernatural all out of hand - rather detailing a set of criteria to biblically judge supernatural experiences. This is not to say these people held views the same as the modern Charismatic movement, but that their spectrum of views was not as hardline as some modern Cessationists.
* GOVERNANCE DISASTER: Most of the Protestant reformers suffered unjust persecution in the Roman Catholic Church Courts. This motivated them strongly to focus on putting checks and balances in place to prevent the same injustices in their own churches. Thus the focus on detailed church constitutions and disciplinary procedures - which evolved over time under rigorous study of the scriptures. The Charismatic movement by contrast grew out of a frustration by many pastors with the constraints of these same denominations which restrained them from experimenting with the supernatural. Most of the founders left in this climate of frustration, wanting as few rules as possible. The result is that twenty to thirty years on, the Charismatic movement has had to deal with all the same problems of Church history, they have few checks and balances - other than just moving on to another church or starting a new one. And so that is the pattern of what has been happening. In the midst of this disaster, some Charismatic leaders have sought to learn from older denominations and put those checks and balances back in place - but there are more who don't learn - and are convinced they they being a 'bullet proof' superman personality will never make a mistake.
* LIFECYCLE OF MOVEMENTS: Most movements go through stages of infancy, growing up and then dying - a few times they have a rebirth. Reformed cessationist movements are included in this pattern. Most of the South African Dutch Reformed Church and American Presbyterian Church went into modernism. Most of the British Puritan movement went into hyper-Calvinism and Unitarianism and then died out. The American Fundamentalist movement according to Phil Johnson, one of the 'Strange fire' speakers degenerated in the 1970s into a set of narrow divided sects around personalities and petty doctrines. The fact that the Charismatic movement has been infiltrated by all sorts of error and malpractice is not unique and can just as well happen to cessationists and reformed groups - and this cannot be all attributed to doctrinal position on the supernatural, as the 'Strange Fire' authors claim. Different groups are vulnerable to drifting into different kinds of error, but error exerts a pull on all groups.
But to go back to the central issue that is needed to reverse the decline I the Charismatic movement: Central issue of the HOLY character of the HOLY SPIRIT. The true Holy Spirit is HOLY and this should lead to conviction of sin and a fear of God's judgment that will cleanse the church. Those who genuninely seek to be HOLY, promote HOLINESS and submit to the Word of God may not always agree on everything but they will not be focused on personalities, greed, exaggerated claims of the supernatural and protection of scandal. Even if we happened to be incorrect on some point of doctrine or a spiritual experience, a desire for genuine holiness and the real person of the HOLY SPIRIT and an attitude of submission to scripture will protect us from going too far into error. We will humbly study the scriptures together to move towards truth and righteousness - and substantially cleanse the church of these abuses.