A friendly debate continues in this post with me first explaining why I hope I’m not your typical charismatic. I then explain why I believe Ephesians 4 demonstrates that these kinds of conversations are vitally important before engaging with a meandering list of issues. You can blame me for the disorganisation in this post since, although I am following Dan, he was following a staccato post I rattled off quickly one evening! The whole series demonstrates it really is possible to disagree violently and still have a warm friendship with a Christian brother. This post addresses tongues and other charismatic phenomena, and puts them in a context of a genuine experiential Christianity where the Bible is our only source of authority and we do not hang up our brains on the way into church!
Dan begins his second post with some bluster, followed by a light-hearted introduction to me. One thing on a personal front which has given me some cause for reflection is my own internal reaction to a comment Dan made about my preaching. Dan said, “Warning: he kinda preaches like a charismatic.” What interested me was the way I immediately felt about that comment. Whilst I understood the humorous tone, my pride sinfully responded. It suddenly struck me how thoroughly I wanted to dissociate myself from certain charismatics — possibly even the majority of them! The last thing I wanted myself to be described as when it came to preaching was a “typical charismatic!” Since I am unashamedly charismatic, why should this be?
The answer to that question is fairly straightforward. Many, or perhaps even the majority of charismatics — and this is especially true of those who get on to TV or radio — seem to teach all kinds of doctrines that I would want to be dissociated with totally. I am much more likely to listen to preaching from any of the speakers at the recent
Together for the Gospelconference and say “amen” than I am to a randomly selected charismatic.I am not, however, going to list all the charismatic ministries with whom I have theological differences and repudiate them in detail because to do so would take weeks worth of blog posts! Suffice it to say, if as a reformed cessationist you listen to a charismatic preacher and disagree with them (and it is not on the one issue of continuationism) the chances are quite high that I, too, will disagree with them in just the same way.
Thus, I guess my desire to, in some senses, dissociate myself from some charismatics is firstly because I am a
reformed charismatic, but it is also because of some of the excesses in whipping up an emotional frenzy by some. I certainly do not aim to do that, either.Dan then goes on to make the point that both he and I are happy for you to disagree with us publicly. I, for one, have never been of the opinion that Matthew 18 applies to theological discourse carried out respectfully. In fact, blogging as a format is well-suited to this. I can read a book by a theological opponent and disagree with it in my head violently. The chances are I will win that argument as the book cannot answer back. With the debate Dan and I have started, if I misunderstand his position and respond with my own straw-man version of it, he can defend himself and say, “But, I never meant that!”
So, in short, take this post as your invitation to dissect my arguments and put me, and for that matter, Dan, straight. I genuinely believe that one thing he and I have in common is a desire to follow the Bible in all our doctrine.
I am perhaps naïve enough to believe that continued examination of the Bible’s teaching will eventually lead to agreement among humble-thinking Christians about this and other vital issues for the church. The early church had church councils. We have blogging. Perhaps as greater minds than mine begin to engage in this medium, we will see some real progress in mutual understanding, and even some progress in the work of constructing a systematic theology on which we can all agree. I do believe in the restoration of the church, and that there really will come a time when
“. . . we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13-15)
I’d be very saddened, however, if anyone misinterpreted my, erm, spirited disagreement with Adrian’s words on this one topic, and this one specific position he has adopted, to translate to general overall disagreement, or specific animosity for him as a brother in Christ. I honestly have no doubt that, in personal conversation, we’d hit it off well, and that we’d find a host of shared truths we’d gladly proclaim
and defend shoulder to shoulder.
one documented example, but acknowledge that this is rare.Funnily enough, in common with most people sitting on this side of the charismatic divide, I am not overly concerned with discovering precisely what tongues are. Tongues themselves seem to flow out of a certain kind of experience of the love of God being poured out into our hearts and an experiential connection with God. For many of us, the real issue is not precisely what is happening to our mouths, but rather what is happening in our hearts and how that then affects our lives.
I don’t tend to worry too much about defining and pigeon-holing spiritual experiences. When I wrote on the
Toronto Blessing, I surveyed the history of some of the more bizarre apparent manifestations of the Spirit. Like Jonathan Edwards in Religious Affections, I am convinced that the appropriate way to judge spiritual experiences is by their fruits in terms of changes in doctrine believed and life style.If speaking in tongues makes me more inclined to read my Bible, helps me to feel closer to God, brings life into our prayer meetings, gives me passion to preach, inspires me to love God and my neighbour more, and leads to an increase in the fruit and gifts of the Spirit being seen in my life, isn’t that enough for me to judge that, at least in my case, it is harmless and, on the surface of things, quite likely to be of God?
If there was one verse that directly forbade tongues speaking I would think differently, of course, but there isn’t. In fact, as we have seen, quite the opposite is said. Paul tells us to desire the gifts and not to forbid speaking in tongues. I believe in the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture, and I simply cannot believe that someone reading the Bible without preconceived notions would come to a cessationist position.
So, to summarise, tongues to me are not the most important thing. They are for many the natural outflow of what is happening in our hearts experientially when we receive the Spirit. It is that experience of God that I do believe we should seek passionately. Tongues are something of a by-product, and I do think it is very possible to over-emphasise them.
Dan then accuses us charismatics of wanting to “give up control” of mind and body to a spiritual power. Well, for me, I have to say it doesn’t work like that! I am constantly alert to the possibility that my mind could deceive me, and I test every impression by the infallible Scriptures. I do not empty my mind, but fill it. I do not “give up control,” but, in fact, make a decision with my mind to seek God for gifts, and am at all times able to stop or start what I am doing. I know that for many this invalidates our experiences automatically — they are expecting more of a sense of being overpowered. I do not believe that Paul could make the regulatory commands concerning gifts that he does if it was the case that people are carried along outside of their control. The Corinthians could have answered, “How can we stop ourselves . . . if the spirit moves me, I have to speak in tongues or prophesy.” Paul clearly assumed that they could stop and start at will, or else why would he have told them how he wanted them to use the gifts? In the context of the rest of 1 Corinthians 14, I am sure that verse 32, which says “the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets,” means that Christians are by no means meant to relinquish control and be passive.
So to be clear, I do NOT advocate some kind of mystical style of meditation where we empty our minds and try to achieve an altered state of consciousness or be out of control. We should instead fill our minds. I know, for me, whenever I am experiencing the Spirit, my mind is always full of thoughts like, “Wow! How much God loves us!” or other biblical doctrinal content.
I certainly do agree that we should test the spirits. Dan quotes 1 John 4:1 and rightly asks us to ask the spirit we are experiencing what he makes of Jesus. I am not quite clear why he makes the jump to claim that, for charismatics, the answer our spirit has given us has been “maybe.” I have yet to meet a single charismatic who has received revelation that undermines the claims of Christ – which is not, of course, to say that doesn’t ever happen. But for most of us the reality is quite the opposite. Certainly for me, I find that the Spirit reminds me of the words of Christ and leads me to value Him and recognise Him as my Lord more and more. Let me be clear — it simply is not true that everyone who has received modern gifts of the Spirit is, as a result, unclear about their Christology. To imply such a thing is nothing short of slander!
Dan then explains that he, too, has experienced tongues in the past. He concluded that it wasn’t biblical and stopped. I commend him for that as I like it when people act true to their biblical convictions. As well, I want to commend him for his frank admission that it “felt good” and “came out of love for the Lord.” I would urge him to ask himself, however, “What, if any, has been the effect of his no longer stirring up the gift of tongues on his love for God?” For me, if I don’t speak in tongues for awhile, God feels more distant and my love for Him is less ardent. If I was convinced by Dan’s biblical arguments against the use of this gift, that would, of course, put me in a difficult position. But I have not been so convinced. So, I hope that Dan and others can respect the fact that I am a card-carrying charismatic quite simply because I do believe that to be the biblical position.
Dan goes on to explain his explanation of our experiences and focuses on tongues. In my previous post in this series, I again urged him for a diagnosis, not just of our tongues, but of those experiences in our hearts which are so much more precious to us.
Dan then begins to address some of the specific passages I asked about.
Mark 16 — my point here was simply this: tongues is clearly something that was important enough to somebody to mention here. It is important to remember that for the cessationist position to be true, tongues and prophecy would have only lasted for a few decades. The continued interest in them during the early periods of church history, as evidenced by the writings of the early church fathers, denies this.
Acts 2 —
Here the battle lines are again clearly drawn. I maintain that the disciples must have had something about them (possibly just excessive happiness?) that meant the scoffers could claim they were drunk. Dan seems to disagree with that. In his third post, Dan continues to address Acts 2 and loses me somewhat. My clear reading of this passage is that the promise of the Spirit from Joel is for the whole church age right up to the point where the last bit about signs in the heavens will be fulfilled, and it is this promise which Peter speaks about in his sermon. Dan seems (at least to my reading) to have a different view. But I am not clear why he feels there are two promises spoken about in this passage. I have addressed Acts 2 more in my previous post— in which I also explain my reasons for believing that receiving the Spirit is a clear dynamic experience.1 Corinthians 13 – I am not going to comment extensively on Dan’s cessationist interpretation of this passage. I must congratulate him, however, as he has answered my question with an explanation of why he feels this passage supports his perspective. I wonder how many other cessationists take that interpretation, however. Is Dan alone? I certainly am not convinced that Dan has the natural interpretation here and would love to know if anyone else agrees with him – which of the commentators or great preachers take this view?
1 Corinthians 12-14 – We now move to the issue of Paul’s desire for everyone to speak in tongues. I do think that much confusion comes of not realising that when Paul speaks of the spiritual gifts in chapter 12, he is talking of their being outpoured in the context of the church meeting. It does not, to me, seem inconsistent (given his own expressed preference to speak in tongues outside of the main corporate church gathering context) for him to desire for everyone to be able to enjoy their own private prayer language, whilst not expecting everyone to have a message in tongues to share with the whole church. Incidentally, I do feel that when, as in Acts 4, there is a gathering of the church to pray, and all are praying at the same time, it is entirely appropriate for the gift of tongues to be used.
Dan then gets onto the thorny issue for him of Paul’s commands to us concerning spiritual gifts. Clearly he must feel that they no longer apply. It really isn’t good enough to say that we must all acknowledge that at some point in the future these commands will no longer apply. There are lots of Bible commands that won’t apply to us in heaven. I simply want to know, if these are commands that no longer apply to us today, how can I know which other commands also do not apply? What principles of hermeneutics allow me to reject these commands as not relevant whilst accepting others? If I can pick and choose which of Paul’s commands were intended just for his initial readers and which were intended for now also, then there are a long list of commands I could drop to make the church more culturally acceptable today. What possible criteria can I use to ignore Paul’s commands about gifts, but follow his commands about homosexuality, the role of women, and sex outside of marriage?
In his post, Dan returns to the issue of what tongues are. He is firmly sticking to his postion that tongues are ALWAYS known human languages. All I can say here is that he doesn’t address the issue I raised. In 1 Corinthians, tongues are often referred to as prayer towards God. In Acts 2, they are, of course, preaching directed towards people. Thus, it seems to me that there are some differences in mind here, even if both types of tongues come under the same heading. Paul even speaks in 1 Corinthians 12:10 of “various kinds of tongues.” There does seem to be variety in this gift – why should it not include both human and non-human languages and even, dare I say, fragmentary language?
Romans 8:26 – Dan dispatches my interpretation of this verse speedily, and I will acknowledge here that – like his interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13 – I am not sure that many people (even on my side) would agree with my position on this verse.
We then move back to 1 Corinthians 14 – in the natural reading of this whole passage I remain convinced that Paul is describing tongues as unintelligible. Dan doesn’t address the context of what Paul says – which is that the tongue would be unintelligible to the hearer unless they have a gift of interpretation. Interestingly, Paul doesn’t seem to even entertain the notion of someone being present who naturally understands the utterance of tongues. Thus, he does not seem to be expecting recognisable human languages to be used. I am still not sure why Dan feels Paul clearly says tongues are always known human languages. Perhaps he can enlighten me!
So, there we have it. I would urge people to approach this subject in the order I have taken it, and to focus on the experience of God rather than the gifts — which in some ways are by-products of what we are really looking for — but I am increasingly convinced that the hermeneutical arguments are consistently stacking up on the side of the charismatics.
There seem to be few serious attempts, either in blogland or in the books of which I’m aware, to defend a cessationist position these days. I want to thank Dan for plugging that gap. My plan for the next little while is to review some resources you will, no doubt, find useful on this subject, most written from a perspective similar to mine. It would be great if Dan or someone else could point us to resources produced from the other side. I am sure Dan will now return the volley; I wonder how many more rounds it will take before we both feel that we have said all we can on this subject.