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Monday, August 4, 2008

No baby

I think the charismatic movement suffers from a fundamentally misguided interpretation of the Christian life. Moreover, it's a blemish upon Christianity's reputation.

Charismatic Christians who recognize that things often go awry in charismatic circles will try to temper statements like mine above by saying, "Now wait, sure there are abuses here and there. But let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater." I understand that sentiment, I really do: for years I have tried to walk the fine line, but then recently I realized I'm having a hard time finding the line, such that I have come to doubt its existence. I have come to the conclusion that there is no baby in that bathwater.

Let me give you a little background.

My history

My Baptist church growing up believed so much in the charismata and we all tried to move in them. Until I went to college, our church was never particularly successful, however. No healings, almost zero tongues, but a few people who tried to prophesy. I went to a Church of God college and thought that there I’d finally be able to really break loose from the sincere but somehow still uncharismatic Baptists. Sure enough, during Convocation in my freshman year, it finally happened. I went down to the altar and amidst the hullabaloo surrounding me, a few prayed for me to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. I was overjoyed! It didn’t feel at all like I thought it would, but I prayed in tongues in worship as often as I could.

Flash forward 12 years (has it been that long?!). I am now a cessationist. What happened?

A number of things. It is a complex issue. First, as I studied Acts and 1 Corinthians (at this Pentecostal college, no less) my doctrine began to change and I put it over and above my experiences. It was then that I began to see that “tongues” as espoused by modern Christians is an unfortunate misunderstanding of the first-century phenomenon.

Upon examining this evidence, I examined myself. I became convinced that as sincere as I was, I had been fooling myself. I opened my mouth and just started producing syllables as I was instructed at the altar once I noticed that I didn’t get an overpowering “unction”. Although we can't press this too far, I think that it is perhaps significant that such instructions for "priming the pump" are not given to anyone in Scripture.

Broadening the scope

Now, does “cessationist” mean that I don’t think God speaks, moves, or heals today? No, not necessarily. Miracles are still possible, but the offices and gifts meant to testify to and confirm the teaching of the Gospel to the Jews are no longer in effect. God can heal anyone, and we should pray for healing. But are there “healers”? No. Are there prophets? No, although this does not mean that God absolutely could not or would not give some insight to His believers if He so chooses. After the unique apostolic age, the gifts as core commodities and integral aspects of the life of the Christian are no longer “standard issue”. On this point, I would like to quote C.S. Lewis.

They [miracles] are found at the great ganglions of history – not of political or social history, but of that spiritual history which cannot be fully known by men. If your own life does not happen to be near one of these great ganglions, how should you expect to see one?

My predicament

I belong to church which moved from a traditional Baptist church to a contemporary/charismatic-leaning church in the eighties, and has been increasingly giving itself over to most every charismatic whim of doctrine since the turn of the millennium.

So why don't I just leave?

I have been a part of this church for twenty years, so many of the members of this church mean the world to me. They are wonderful people who deserve to have their delusion removed; unfortunately, I have only recently become convinced that I will never be able get through to them. Another big reason? A significant constituency of my beloved family attends this church. So until I have an undeniable and wholly defensible reason to tell them I'm leaving them other than, "I think you're all delusional, like I once was," I am not going to risk hurting and isolating myself from the only friends and family I've ever known. But the day's coming, I'm afraid. This blog is an attempt to vet some of my thoughts, perceptions, and opinions.

It's unlikely that charismatics will deny their experiences, unless they're committed to a Scriptural basis for their doctrine and they have been convinced that Scripture contradicts their interpretation of their experiences. That's what happened to me. In later posts, I'll be chronicling the theological problems of a host of charismatic teachings, focusing on some popular ones at my very own church.


Teddy said...

My Husband and I have just left a charismatic church after 22 years and really understand the dilemma you found yourself in. Your journey mirrors ours. We still have family there, a son in full-time youth ministry. A daughter, son-in-law, grandchildren and others. We still see our friends but there is a price to pay as they slowly pull away. These same friends had the same issues and concerns as we had but seem unable or unwilling to break the yoke.

RD said...

Thanks, Teddy, for the commiseration. I can only imagine the price we'll have to pay, and very soon. My dear father, just a few days ago, made some remarks about cessationism that shows he considers the whole thing unthinkable and unreasonable. I think he might have been baiting me, perhaps finally suspecting that I am a "wayward son". It will be painful, because it's not as though we can just leave the church and people we've known for twenty years and go to another church without explaining why. *Sigh*

And yes, we're not going to intentionally sever friendships and will in fact attempt to keep them solid, but I know that realistically, the "slowly pull away" is really somewhat inevitable.

Anyway, thanks again for the empathetic comment (the first comment on the blog, in fact!).