I’m not interested in discussing the pros and cons of the Strange Fire Conference organized by John MacArthur, but as I watched people react to it across various social media platforms it got me thinking about my own understanding of the Charismata, or spiritual gifts. On Facebook Carson T. Clark made this observation:
Regarding the positions on the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit, I see a spectrum:
2. Cautious but open
This spectrum works for me. If I were to define these five views I’d say (1) Cessationists teach that individuals are not endowed with particular gifts of the Spirit such as healing, prophecy, etc. This does not mean that they deny miracles in general, or that one might be used to prophesy on rare occasions, but that people do not receive these gifts as something permanent (or even long lasting?)in which they can operate over time. (2) Cautious but open tends to be the perspective of Mainliners and Evangelicals whose exegesis and theology leaves room for the idea of Charismata, but who wrestle with how to recognize it in practice. (3) Continuationists are people who both affirm the possibility of Charismata, and the practice of it, but who do not emphasize it as a central aspect of Christian worship and discipleship. (4) Charismatics affirm the Charismata while emphasizing its importance for Christian worship and discipleship. (5) Pentecostals not only emphasis the Charimata, but teach that it is essential to Christian worship and discipleship. Some Pentecostals teach a doctrine known as the “Initial Evidence” doctrine where one cannot know one has the holy Spirit (i.e., that one is an authentic Christian) without the “sign” of glossolalia, or speaking in tongues.
My introduction to Christianity was through Pentecostalism, specifically the Oneness sect who did in fact teach the doctrine of Initial Evidence. I have many funny and many sad stories to share from those days: some things that I saw and experienced made me very skeptical of those who practice and teach the Charismata, but stories of Christianity in the Majority World have prevented me from being a full-blown skeptic. I don’t doubt the idea of miracles, and I know this isn’t rational of me to say, but I’ve had experiences that I’d deemed miraculous (this doesn’t mean there isn’t a rational or even a materialistic explanation, but it does mean that these things happened at the time of prayer, while seeking God). One can be a Cessationist while affirming miracles. So, do I think God empowers people to be used as healers or prophets over a life time or at least a long period of time. I think so, theoretically, though my experience has not been friendly to confirming this belief. I’ve had many more people “prophecy” things to me that proved to be ridiculous than those who have been accurate (without being absurdly vague, like a Nostradamus prophecy). I’ve heard dozens of tongues-and-interpretations since I was five years old where the immediacy of the Second Coming of Christ was announced, and, well, I am thirty-one years old now.
If I am honest I am currently “Open but cautious” in practice and a Continuationist in theory. I have no reason to confidently say that God does not empower and gift people with the Charismata like it has been testified of early Christians, especially Pauline Christians, but neither has my own experience amongst Pentecostals/Charismatics led me to people who were obviously gifted in this way.
Tomorrow I’ll say a bit more about these categories and whether or not I think some revision is necessary.