Does “Charismatic” = “Wrong”

My first experience of ‘charismatics’ was in the town centre where I grew up. I had been a Christian a few years only when I became aware of something which was taking place each and every Saturday night. There were a group of Christians who would spend the evening in the town square talking and witnessing to youngsters, drug addicts, alcoholics – anyone who was there. Basically, sharing the Gospel – the message of salvation. This greatly impressed me. No other church in the town was thus engaged in outreach of this kind. I wanted to find out more about what made Christians want to witness in this vital and real way. Thus began my experience of the charismatic movement. So I cannot accept the allegation from any quarter that these believers aren’t really true Christians. That is so evidently not true, and those who assert such a thing should do more homework! These people preached the gospel of salvation, at cost to themselves, and took it right to the ears of the lost.

First Summary

So here is my first summary of ‘charismatics’ from way back then:
1. They knew Christ as their own Saviour
2. They based their beliefs squarely on the Bible and wanted passionately to see New Testament living as a reality.
3. They had a love for the lost which took them out of their own comfort zones into the streets.
4. They wanted other Christians to share and benefit in what they saw as a renewed, rediscovered vitality in Christian living which was available to every believer.

How does YOUR church’s mission statement shape up? Does it look anything like this, at least at its base level? To assert – if anyone has – that you can’t be a ‘charismatic’ and be a true Christian is patently ridiculous, and it is no wonder that thousands who love the Lord are hurt by such a comment. So let’s be careful what we say.

Seeing the Positives

The Cautious Cessationist View

Neither must we denigrate everything that has come from the charismatic quarter. Using the phrase coined by another dear brother, I am a 'cautious continuationist' (love that). That's because I cannot see that Scripture states anywhere that the 'gifts' will cease until we see Jesus face to face. And it seems to me that any argument to the contrary forces a kind of false dispensational-type of division on the times between Acts 2 and the day of His coming. But if we do that, we can't possibly know how much of what the New Testament teaches us pertains to the 'signs-and-wonders' Apostolic era, and how much spills over into our times. John McArthur regards this as a kind of sell-out, which fence-sits between the two positions. I cannot agree. There are those, like me, who cannot see that Scripture warrants a hard cessationist view. I guess I could, if pushed, also describe myself as a ‘cautious cessationist’. I wonder what he would make of that!

Legitimate Charismatic Emphases

So in as much as our 'charismatic' brethren have brought to life, legitimately, more of the ‘we are living in the days of Acts 2’ emphasis, I want to keep it. What do I mean? A few things (not an exhaustive list - just some of the things I have benefited from)

1. Vigorous and energetic worship. The expression of the praise of God in His presence, and the sheer joy of what it means to be a Christian, expressed in our meeting together. I have experienced this often in 'charismatic' worship, and it has stirred up my soul to bless His Name. Who could deny that that is what true praise should be.

2. Music and songs. Take away the tedious, repetitious, mantra-style songs, and the endless singing of the same phrase or chorus, which can numb the mind and be almost hypnotic(sometimes). But so many good songs and modern hymns have been penned by 'charismatic' believers.

3. Good preaching. Yes, undeniably, I have heard some excellent messages in these quarters. Hard-hitting application, soul-searching exhortation, and heart-comforting consolation from God's word.

4. Healings. I mean undeniable, legitimate working of the power of God, such as the healing of the paralysed man in Victory Church in Cwmbran back in April, and others since. Medically authenticated, unexplainable(in human and in medical terms) recoveries from serious illness or disability. And with the clear intention in the gospel-preaching church context in which this happened of giving all of the glory to Christ. I went over to check it out. Should we expect God to do signs and wonders today? Where, in the Bible, have we been told that we are not to?

There must be a caveat here. I don’t mean what I would term psycho-physical complaints like headaches or back pain, which perceptibly improve when prayed for and are then heralded as miracles. There may well be a benefit to the sufferer during or following prayer for such a condition. But having been involved in the pain-relief equipment market(I sold electro equipment for physiotherapists, pain clinics etc), and having had a background of understanding of the body’s marvellous inbuilt pain relief systems, I am aware that all kind of things legitimately affect pain levels, their perception, and the effects that pain will have on mobility. I would strongly suggest that recovery from such ailments does not stand on the same level as the ‘quality’ of miracle described in the New Testament, for example, when the blind receive their sight. And to exaggerate these stories and escalate them because we want to be convinced of the reality of miraculous healing is, essentially, less than honest and/or less than real.

These things are not associated with charismatic claims par se, but they do flow from a particular mind-set, which covets real experience and demonstration of the presence of God in the lives of His children. I have no quarrel with that. We ought to be learning how to enjoy God, and our lives should be transformed by that joy. These things don’t just belong to the ‘charismatics’. They belong to the church.

‘Ere – What’s Your Problem?

So 'what is my problem'? I won't accept that I have to swallow the whole package because these things, which I regard as valuable and Biblical are in that 'environment'. Praise God that He uses and works in and through imperfect churches with non-100% accurate theology - where would any of us be if that were otherwise? But that does not licence us to smile and nod and just walk past obvious discrepancies with Scripture. That's a dangerous approach to Christian and church living.

And again I will re-iterate, I find a fundamental logic problem in the assertion that these 'gifts'(by which I mean the 'speaking' gifts) are authentic and from the Spirit of God. Here is my laying out of that.

“This is that”

1. These gifts were undoubtedly given by the Spirit, first on the Day of Pentecost, then continually to the churches of the New Testament. And when Peter is present at the house of Cornelius, he observes they are given to Gentiles who come to faith in Christ too ( - even to GENTILES!). He reports back to the others "The same thing happened to them as happened to us". He could do that because he had been present and had observed and been a part of both occasions.

So let's state something which is blindingly obvious:

Due to the passage of time, no-one in our day can have seen what transpired then - how these gifts operated in a church - and what is happening now. So that method of authentication is not possible.

Apostolic Authority

2. The second strand of authentication we see in Acts is the Apostolic one. These men had been appointed by Jesus Himself and equipped with Scripture-writing authority and the Spirit in order to be the foundation of the church of Christ. And at every point, as the church expanded, they were there as the Spirit was given. They regarded the signs of the outpouring of the Spirit upon Samaritans and Gentiles as God’s confirmation that their experience was equivalent to that of the Apostles themselves, and this was a fundamentally important emphasis for the Gospel. So it was that the Apostolic seal was placed on what was happening as it happened.

Again, we do not have Jesus-direct-appointed Apostles with us today. They were foundational, and in their place we have the Apostolic writings - our New Testament. So we cannot go to an Apostle with the question 'are these 'gifts' truly the gifts of the Spirit?'

Down the Timeline

3. Now, a historical observation. What happened to these gifts? As the Apostolic, foundational beginnings of the church took their place in the past, these functional ‘speaking’ gifts died out. And there has been a significant passage of time since.

Logical Conclusion

So my ‘logic’ argument is that that impenetrable time barrier prevents us from stating categorically that ‘this’ is ‘that’. We neither have the Apostolic witness nor the Apostolic authority to justify the claim. And there is insufficient detail in the pages of the New Testament to allow us to get a full picture of what these gifts looked like or how they operated. We get glimpses.

Neither ‘Caught’ nor ‘Taught’ – Given by the Spirit

There is another thing to add. The circles which seek to teach people (for example) how to speak in tongues, or which encourage people to copy how others do are not in line with Scripture. Neither of those practices are seen anywhere in our Bibles. And they indicate that so-called gifts which are passed on in this way are humanly manufactured, not given by the Spirit of God. The whole point of a miraculous gift is that it is both miraculous and it is a gift. It comes complete and intact from its source – the Holy Spirit. It doesn't need manipulation or development on our part for it to function.

So, all in all, I find the call for clarity, and for disengagement from everything that is at best dubious, at worst, just not Biblical, a refreshing one. And I think it must be accompanied by a re-engagement with every believer, every group who can be found to be wanting to identify with the foundations of Scripture upon which we have been building all along.

In closing, I found this paragraph from Mike Riccardi's summary particularly honest:
"I do love my Reformed charismatic brethren, but when I look at the spiritual fruit they have borne and the truly edifying things I have learned from them, I have to say that none of the good, valid, healthy fruit I see is rooted in their Charismatic distinctives. The true, edifying fruit produced in their ministries stems from their devotion to Christ, their love of gospel, and their commitment to the authority, inerrancy, and sufficiency of Scripture. Their charismatic beliefs actually undermine and often conflict with what they say they believe about the sufficiency of Scripture, and that, in my view, is to the detriment of their ministries. And I think it would be unloving of me not to say so. And I have said so in every venue I can, and I intend to continue saying so. Because the fruit of their charismatic teaching, even from the best of these teachers, is confusion, chaos, or worse."

That is a call for clarification. It comes from a proper concern for truth and a heart of love. It must be responded to in kind.
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About David White

Until recently David White served as a leader and preacher at a small village church in Lavendon, Buckinghamshire, England. At the present time he resides in Barton On Sea in the UK. He has been a Bible-soaked Christian for half a century, trained at London Bible College (now London School of Theology), but more importantly in God’s school of life.