Posts Tagged ‘spiritual gifts’

It’s always interesting to see the reaction I get when I tell someone that I am a charismatic.  I’ve been getting weird looks since my undergrad days at a Baptist university.  Back then, it wasn’t so much that I was a charismatic, but that I, Danny Pierce, was a charismatic.  After all, I was a good exegete (or at least I had that reputation) and knew the Bible reasonably well (only to find out as the years have gone on that I didn’t know it very well at all).  I wasn’t overly exuberant; I never wore a “John Wimber is my Homeboy” t-shirt;  nor did I raise my hand in class to ask a question only to slip into an uninterpreted tongue.

I still get weird looks.  Even some people from my own church are confused by my labeling our church ‘charismatic’ (which, I should note, is not an official label given by our elders, but my reckoning of things).  I’ve had numerous people say to me, “wait, we’re charismatic?!?!?!”

There is a lot of confusion over this term.  Most of the people I talk to about the term ‘charismatic’ have all sorts of images pop into their brain.  Some see prominent televangelists bilking old ladies out of money and throwing Holy Ghost Hand Grenades into the first few rows of a healing crusade.  Others picture a rock concert trying to pass itself off as a worship service, complete with shouting, jumping and the ominous potential of a moshpit.  Still others see a group of people driven by emotional ecstasy and chasing after spiritual highs (or spiritual drunkenness, as some might say) without any care for the baggage that comes with those experiences.  And then there are those who see all of these things colliding for the perfect storm of charismania.

What drives me nuts is that this distracts from the biblical presentation of spiritual gifts, or the charismata (you know… the word we get ‘charismatic’ from).  The charismata exist to build the church.  They are gifts from God to be exercised in the life of the Christian and the church, primarily for the purpose of edifying and strengthening the body of Christ.  Most of the pictures that creep into our minds at the sound of that word are not what we ought to be focusing on.

So let’s clear the air:

  • The exercise of spiritual gifts does not have to be accompanied by showmanship, an event or even a prominently gifted person orchestrating a given meeting.  Spiritual gifts can be, and should be, exercised by any believer in any context.
  • The exercise of spiritual gifts is not tied to a particular worship style.  There is no reason to think that a church with electric guitars and a drummer who breaks 2 sticks in one set (coughbriancough) is any more ‘Spirit-filled’ than a church who sings hymns accompanied by a pipe organ (wait, the instruments can accompany the singing and not the other way around? Oops, sorry, tangent for another post).
  • Being charismatic does not require one to participate in any of the following activities: keeping Hillsong or Vineyard cued up on your iPod, being slain in the spirit (or badly wounded, for that matter), laughing uncontrollably, crying uncontrollably or just losing control in general.
  • Having a cool experience does not necessarily make one charismatic in the biblical sense.  It’s too easy to be deceived into thinking every good feeling is of God.
  • Being charismatic simply means that we seek and exercise the spiritual gifts (charismata).  No more, no less.  Everything else (for instance, upbeat worship) is gravy, and depending on how you like gravy it can be either good or bad.

So who’s to blame?  I’ll go ahead and place it squarely on us, the charismatics.  We have made secondary (if they’re ranked even that high) issues the most important ones.  We have convinced ourselves that the Holy Spirit moves in certain ways and amongst certain people.  We decried the box other traditions have placed God in, all the while keeping him nice and wrapped in a box of our own.  We have turned our preference for the way we like things to be into a law and called it the move of the Spirit.

Part of the danger, of course, is that by saddling all our junk on top of the term “charismatic,” as well as the eager pursuit of spiritual gifts, we have effectively ruined that pursuit for many others in the church.  True, each person is responsible for their own decisions, and I truly believe that everyone should pursue spiritual gifts regardless of what they think about us charismatics (see my post here).  But we, the charismatic portion of the church, are responsible for ourselves, too.  And if we see our role as building up the whole church, and not just the like-minded people sitting next to us on Sunday mornings, then we ought not to add more to the term than Paul himself does in 1 Corinthians.

‘Charismatic’ has, regretably, come to denote a style, not a theological understanding of how God continues to build the church through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.  And as long as we think style is what defines us, we’ll fail to fulfill the goal of building the body of Christ.

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I’ve always tried to place myself in the service of the church, specifically my church.  I don’t say this to make myself sound humble, but to explain my basic ministry strategy: if there is a need, and I can fill it, I try to do so.  The reason for this is fairly simple- “In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Phil 2:3-4).  So, whatever the hole is (someone to set up chairs, teaching a class, etc) I think it’s is wise for church members to do what they can to fill it.

But I’ve been challenged recently in the area of spiritual gifts.  Now, I’m a charismatic (notice the small “c”, though I realize the hot new term is “continuationist”), by which I basically mean that I believe that the spiritual gifts listed in the Bible still exist today and we ought to seek the spiritual gifts for use in the church.  Why I hold that position is for another post somewhere down the line, but suffice to say I find it the only viable exegetical position.

So, about that challenge I mentioned- these two points, the continuation of spiritual gifts and the need to serve the church actually go hand in hand.  The spiritual gifts exist primarily for the sake of the church, not the individual.  “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7).  True, there has been plenty of abuse in the church in this area, and no doubt there are plenty of selfish people floating around in the charismatic movement.  But that doesn’t negate what Paul tells us is their primary purpose: the edify the church.

This is what confuses me most about the “Open but Cautious” camp.  I’ve heard many people claim they are “open but cautious” in regards to the spiritual gifts (this is fairly common in seminary).  This means that they understand that a cessationist point of view lacks biblical warrant, but they are often afraid of the excesses in the charismatic movement.  Fair enough point, but given the purpose of the spiritual gifts, this ultimately is a selfish stance rather than a “church oriented” position.  Just as the Lord’s Supper is open to abuse (see 1 Corinthians), preaching, teaching, and a host of other good things, so are spiritual gifts.  And just as we don’t cease to participate in those activities because of the potential for abuse, so we shouldn’t cease to seek and use spiritual gifts because of what may happen.

If I truly consider myself a servant of the church, I will seek spiritual gifts.  I will put aside my own preconceived notions, my own comfortability.  Spiritual gifts exist to build up and strengthen the church, and if I care about building up and strengthening the church, I will “eagerly desire spiritual gifts” (1 Cor 14:1).

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