Yesterday I discussed the five different views held by Christians on the modern relevance of the so-called charismatic gifts (see Charismata: five views). Obviously, this list presents common generalizations. Also, it ignores the less common view of say some liberal/progressive Christians who might argue that there has never been any such thing as charismatic gifts, now or among the earliest Christians. For those of us who entertain the idea that Christians have experienced and/or do experience the charismata let me present three areas of discussion that I think we may want to reframe.
Many Cessationists will affirm the idea that someone might be praying for healing and that while that person is praying God answers their prayer and heals. I don’t know any Cessationists who are outright anti-supernatural as if there was a time when God intervened in the cosmos, but now God has been completely shut out of the system. Their disagreement with Continuationists of various stripes is that while Charismatics (usually) understand these gifts to be given to the recipient either permanently or for a very long time Cessationists see each and every miracle as a one time event determined by God. Could it be that this differentiation is a misleading one?
I know Charismatics often quote Romans 11:29 (“the gifts and callings of God are irrevocable”) to indicate that God doesn’t give someone the gift of healing, then take it back later, but the context of that passage doesn’t have anything to do with the Charismata and the implications of this idea are problematic (see below). It maybe be that Charismatics need to recognize that God is under no obligation to make magicians of people. Christianity isn’t Hogwarts and Christians aren’t trained the art of good magic. Even if one maintains the stance that God doesn’t revoke gifts, who is to say that gifts have to last until someone dies. I may give someone a three day pass to use a tour bus around San Francisco as a gift and while I don’t take it back that doesn’t mean it isn’t a temporal gift. Also, maybe Cessationists need to recognize that there are some people who for whatever reason are used frequently in a particular Charismata, whether prophecy, healing, or whatever. It seems to me that this idea of “one and done” v. “permanent endowment” is a false dichotomy.
Another problem I have with both Charismatic and Cessationists types is this: it seems as if both groups agree that the Charismata are things limited to a list by Paul in 1 Corinthians. Why is it impossible to suggest that God is the same gift-giving God as always, and that the list presented by Paul is representative, not exhaustive, therefore, it is possible that at various times and in various places God may give some gifts that are not available at other times and places, but this doesn’t mean God hasn’t stopped giving gifts. Sometimes it seems as if both Charismatic and Cessationist types agree that God is a set principle in the universe rather than a personal being, as if God either has to always function one way or another when in fact God is free to do as God wills whenever God wants. If God wants to give someone the ability to pray for and see people healed for several years then fine. If God wants to give another sort of gift—not listed by Paul, but essential for some aspect of mission at a certain place and time—then why can’t God do that? Could God give people the opportunity to experience glossolalia at some points and not others? Could God give gifts that at certain points in time enhance the spread of the Gospel while not giving those gifts if at other points in time they inhibited the spread of the Gospel?
Cessationists need to consider the possibility that God continues to give gifts and not all of God’s gifts are listed in Scripture. Charismatics need to consider that some gifts are not for all times and places and that just because a gift is listed in Scripture this doesn’t mean God is obligated to give it to people.
Both groups seem to think that when God gives gifts this makes the receiver of the gift sovereign. So when the Apostle Paul was enabled to heal he could heal anyone he wanted even if God didn’t want that person to be healed for some reason. For Charismatics this idea might make some into demi-gods and for Cessationists this is a horrifying idea, especially when they watch Benny Hinn on television. But just because God empowers someone to do a certain thing for a certain period of time this doesn’t mean God is now stuck. “It was time for Joey to pass away because he was suffering from cancer, and he was ready to go peacefully, but unfortunately I gave the gift of healing to Jimmy and Jimmy healed Joey, so now Joey has to reengage the land of the living although it should have been his time to go. Dagnabbit!” Whatever our theological perspective on the Charismata might be it cannot entertain the idea that God is somehow subject to human authority once a gift is given (and yes, I’ve heard this sort of thing taught).