Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Are Charismatics New Testament Believers?

Mark from Ephesians 4:14 kindly commented on a post of mine, and wrote a post himself questioning whether charismatics are New Testament believers. His essential thesis is that with their commitment to the gift of prophecy, charismatics revert back to the Old Testament hierarchy in which only some are allowed to be prophets. I responded to his post, but decided I may as well crib from myself and rework the response into a blog post here.

Mark has an interesting thesis, but the only passages he cites in support of it are from the Old Testament. The New Testament does not support his view of what a "New Testament Church" ought to be.

We are all familiar with Paul telling the Corinthians that there is indeed a gift of prophecy, one that some, but not all, exercise (1 Cor. 12:10, 29). There is also Agabus the prophet, who foretold a great famine, precipitating Barnabas and Saul's famine-relief visit to Jerusalem (Acts 11:27-28) and also foretold Paul's arrest (Acts 21:10-11). Philip the Evangelist also had four daughters, of whom it is written that they prophesied (Acts 21:9). And in the church at Antioch, named among the "prophets and teachers" were Barnabas and Saul. It seems clear to me that the New Testament itself bears witness to many instances of a practice that Mark writes, "deserves no place in a New Testament church."

The usual cessationist response is that until the Canon was complete, there was a need for continued prophecy. However, that argument undercuts Mark's position. It makes of the actual New Testament church--the one in the New Testament--a sub-New Testament church. A practice that Mark writes "reverses Pentecost" is being carried out and cited approvingly in Scripture.

Also, in my view, Mark seriously misunderstands how prophecy is viewed and used in pentecostal and charismatic circles, and it is worthwhile for all of us to recognize that this misunderstanding exists and why it does. It is simply not true, as Mark asserts, that "those who are not prophets must go to those who are to find out what God’s will is for them." What we do believe is that
  1. God can speak personally to any believer who is open to hearing His Voice;
  2. Anything we think we hear from God must be tested against Scripture--anything that is contrary to Scripture is automatically invalidated;
  3. God may use some people more often than others in this gift of prophecy, but what they say never has the authority of Scripture, and God speaks through them what He wants to say: we don't get "prophecy on demand."
Admittedly, there are some fringe groups that may operate more like Mark describes, but these are the fringe, not the mainstream; nonetheless, when non-charismatics think of us, that is what they think.

Overall, it seems to me that the main criticism cessationists have against those of us who believe in the continuation of miraculous spiritual gifts is that miraculous spiritual gifts are messy. They doesn't fit neatly into a logical system. A God who can still speak to people and work miracles--why, He could do anything! We want so badly to have the loose ends tied up, to be able to say, "Thus says the Lord--and no more." But Aslan is not a tame lion, and our God is not a tame God. Those who most strongly assert His sovereignty should know better.

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