Saturday, 14 August 2010

Charismatic and Reformed

John MacArthur has equated Charismatic theology (CT) with emotional religion and has even stated that CT, "it's all emotion."  From his perspective Charismatic theology is unsound and unbiblical.  He wrote Charismatic Chaos.  The problem is that his understanding of areas and aspects of CT is unsound and unhelpful.  Some CT is unbiblical and unsound.  There's no denying it, but to state that it's all emotion is quite wrong.  There is some CT that is biblical, sound and even reformed, i.e. it upholds the doctrines and theology of the Reformers (such as Luther and Calvin).  This Charismatic theology is very comfortable with the teaching of  John Owen (the Puritan scholar), CH Spurgeon (the 19th century Reformed Baptist preacher), D Martyn Lloyd-Jones (once Minister of Westminster Chapel in London during the middle and latter part of the 20th century) and John Piper (the Reformer theologian and preacher currently active in the USA).

I would fit into this manifestation of Charismatic theology, as I have come out of a very reformed theological Baptist tradition that was outside of the Baptist Union (which Spurgeon rejected and resigned from) and was influenced by Dr Lloyd-Jones' Westminster Fellowship of Preachers.  This theological tradition held the Puritans in very high regard and esteemed the theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  His sermons and books were recommended reading.  My pastor gave me a copy of Calvin's Institutes of Christian Religion to read, as required reading for a theological student. (The Anglican parish priest and vicar had lent me a copy of Honest to God).

I love the Puritans, their fellow travellers and successors. I really enjoy reading and re-reading the works of Thomas Brooks, John Flavel, John Owen and John Bunyan.  I am grateful to the Banner of Truth Trust,who published Puritan paperbacks, for making these works available and at very reasonable prices.  I benefited from their discounts and offers when I was an undergraduate theological student in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I treasure these books. I am fascinated by the ministry of John "Roaring" Rogers.  It is sad that the Puritan movement produced killjoys, fanatical bigots and some really unpleasant individuals like Matthew Hopkins, self styled Witchfinder General and his close collaborator  John "Bully Boy" Stearne, both from Manningtree, who were responsible for the torture of well over 200 people, mainly women, and the hanging of about 100 folk said to be guilty of witchcraft.  Then there was the iconoclast and vandal William "Smasher" Dowsing, from nearby Stratford St Mary, who destroyed beautiful stained glass windows and what he perceived was idolatry. Dowsing was a bibliophile who acquired a fine library of Puritan literature. (John F. White puts in a good word for him in an essay in Theology Today, 1961.)

It was during the 1960s that I came to see that the spiritual gifts and charismata mentioned in the New Testament, particularly in the Acts of Apostles and 1 Corinthians, were available and being used in the church.
I believe that the Holy Spirit was guiding the Church, the body of Christ and the fellowship of believing Christians into charismatic experience. The Spirit of God was touching lives profoundly and enabling Christians to know God on a more intimate level and to see His love and power at work in the operation of these spiritual gifts.  People were healed.  Demons were cast out. Christians spoke in tongues and prophesied. Miracles happened.  In certain places The Spirit of God manifested Himself in remarkable ways. Wonders were performed by Him to the edification of the saints and to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Some doubted, especially after some reflection.  It did not fit into their theological framework and religious tradition. There were people who felt it would bring spiritual anarchy.  There was a fear of unknown and uncharted territory.  They allowed that fear and uncertainty to inhibit and limit their spiritual progress.

In some fellowships of a Calvinistic and Reformed tradition, there is an unhealthy lethargy with regard to evangelism and community service.  The church members seem to have very little concern for the lost and the needs of the community. They wish to remain at ease in Zion and guardians of a very dated way of worshipping God.  They take pride in their antique and old fashioned ways of communication, thinking that the Authorized Version still sounds right to the 21st century ear.  Sermons can have a 19th century flavour and Spurgeonic resonance complete with pomposity, verbosity and Victorian world view.

There are theologians and Christian church leaders who consider that the charismatic Christians have produced nothing significant in theology and Christian literature, and that charismatic theology has not really contributed to our understanding of the doctrine of God.  I would argue against this view and would contend strongly that charismatic theology has given the Christian church and faith community a much more dynamic and personal understanding of the Holy Spirit.  He was forgotten and neglected in much Christian living, devotion, evangelism and theology.  He was almost relegated to the third level and lower level of the Godhead.  This may not have been expressed explicitly but it was the reality in some areas of the Christian church; they had little or no experience of His work, ministry, power, gifts, conviction, counsel and guidance in their everyday lives.  It seemed to me that those effective in evangelism, worship, prayer and in seeing mighty works were blessed by an encounter with the Holy Spirit of God.

Some would argue that when the Holy Spirit breaks into a new area or in new territory then there are signs, wonders, mighty acts and evidence from reliable witnesses that the same New Testament Holy Spirit ministry occurs. It is anecdotal evidence but there is a clear testimony to the wonder working ministry of the Holy Spirit of God.  There is further evidence in changed lives and conversions.  Miracles and mighty acts of God have been proclaimed, but some will always doubt in the face of the facts.

The key question is: does God the Holy Spirit still work powerfully and wonderfully in the Church today, among God's people, in mission and in the world in the 21st century?   I believe He does, and Jesus is glorified, praised and worshipped. People are convicted of their sin, converted to Christ and counselled in the way of truth in Christ Jesus.  Praise God.

Thomas Brooks' "Heaven on Earth" is now available by pdf on the link below:


Katie said...

Hello, thank you for this post. As a reformed Christian and longtime skeptic of the charismatic movement, your tone here conveys my general impressions of it at the moment. My heart is softened to the possibility and sovereignty of God to allow the gifts of the Spirit.
I have spent some time researching different points of views on the topic and have personally known former and current charismatics with varying beliefs.
The current debate and unrest in my soul is the synergism of the word of faith movement within many charismatic circles. I have friends who doubt the authority of scripture for everyday life and see the absolute need for new revelation in order to merely function as a Christian. I realize the Spirit does move and change hearts, I can attest to it, but it seems their take on it is different.
There is a distaste for anything "traditional" and is a need to break barriers to experience God. Even mentioning Calvinism is certainly a no no.
Like you wrote, there are many theologically sound Christian teachers who believe in the gifts and the authority of the Bible. But how does one deal with other friends who see little use for tradition? Religion doesn't save, Jesus does, but IMHO it is as if a whole new take on the Bible is emerging with a low view of authority and high view of experience. It is causing me some grief. Any thoughts you may have in your wisdom would be appreciated. Thank you

Katie said...

If I may add two other things I left out: the prosperity gospel (Christians should not suffer) and if there is suffering, demons are the cause. John McArthur has a piece about charismatics and the false sovereignty of Satan. How would you approach a brother or sister who is mixed up in this?

Reverend John Race alias Johli Baptist said...

Thanks for your comments Katie.

If we believe in the sovereignty of God and the power of God, then we should not limit God's intervention, action and mighty works to former times. God answers prayer and in doing so He performs healing and miracles. Conversion itself is mighty work of God, a miracle of spiritual birth.

The word of faith movement is a blemish on charismatic Christianity; it has fostered greed, pride and false doctrine.

All our doctrine, ethics and church practice should be submitted to the Bible as the rule of faith. We need to submit to the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Truth to guide us into all truth. Otherwise we end up in error.

You may be able to help those who a low view of scripture and a high view of the Bible by giving them books which contain sound teaching. There are some YouTube videos which have sound teaching.

As far as the prosperity gospel goes, please search through my former blogs and my YOuTube video under Johlibaptist: Prosperity preachers are false teachers.

John Piper is very good in opposing the prosperity gospel. There are some excellent critiques on YOutube of the prosperity gospel.

Reverend John Race alias Johli Baptist said...


PARAGRAPH 5 should read:
You may be able to help those who have a low view of scripture to a high view of the Bible by giving them books with sound teaching.

Johli Baptist said...

Here is a real treat for you.
Thomas Brook's great work, "Heaven on Earth" is available in pdf


River Stour