Friday, January 28, 2011

Why 'Reformed' makes for a bad Charismatic

I have been 'debugging' (that is, thinking about it, considering it, turning it over, weighing it against scripture, looking for weakness and inconsistency) in the Charismatic belief set ever since my brother started going to a Charismatic church.  I asked myself, what is it about Charismatic beliefs that inevitably propels people into the Benny Hinn zone, or the Toronto movement, where they roll around on the floor and bark like a dog, and pretend to get healed, or raise from the dead?  Why has it and it's ugly cousin the 'word of faith movement' and the Joel Osteen, Crystal Cathedral breed of American religious greed sprung so rapidly into the mainstream of American Evangelicalism?  What about this causes the idea to seem so small and lead to such huge impacts and differences between denominations?

The key insight came when I thought about what is it that keeps Piper, Grudem, and the other Reformed Charismatics (and to be fair even the Calvary Chapel movement), from sliding so far out. It then became clear to me: the problem is that the Charismatic interpretation of the Bible is that it is precisely and only mysticism. 

For those who are fuzzy on the problems of it, mysticism seeks to have spiritual experiences, to make things personal, to hold the individual up as the standard- it's the exact opposite of a love for Scripture.  Moreover, the two things are in a deathmatch, as there can be only one winner who stands at the center of the Bible, either it's us as mysticism unabashedly says or it's Christ.  Mysticism has emptied Christianity out of the Eastern Orthodox church, (there is a reason Soviet Russia permitted the existence of Eastern Orthodox Churches) it has permeated America in the form of "post-modernism", and it alone is the engine for Pentecostal services devolving into utter chaos and barbarism.  It's the bend of the natural man.  Mysticism is the personal interpretation of God speaking to us, which is another way to say, it elevates us to the level of apostles, allows us a private interpretation of scripture, and makes us the most important thing in the universe. 

Since mysticism is opposed to the Bible, and the Charismatic idea is only the old evil of mysticism, it follows that the Charismatic movement is opposed to scripture. I know the middle part is the most disputable so consider the evidence on the matter for yourself Berean, consider the fruits of the movement, is it in line with or opposed to Scripture? When Paul wrote 1 Cor. 14 he was addressing the assembled body, that they should use their gifts decently and in order, to edify one another.  What we have today is exactly the opposite, tongues are used as a personal experience for feelings sake.  The Bible is not used to bend our personal experience around it, we use our personal experiences to bend the Bible to us.  Who has the final say to the mystic to interpret anything he reads, thinks or experiences? His fallen feelings?  His sinful emotions or passions?  Certainly not the Scriptures whatever it is.  Examine carefully the driving force and center of the worldviews of those who cling to Chatismatic beliefs and you will see mysticism, the I, the me there. Ask yourself, does the Charismatic idea really lead you to Christ or inward to yourself when you are studying those passages? 

How then does the Reformed believer hold to the Charismatic movement and not slide down the logical slope into the abyss of apostasy like Benny Hinn and his ilk?  I think it's because they truly, deeply love Jesus and the Scriptures with their whole heart.  They are not really Charismatic at bottom, and although they may say and think they believe it, they live like they don't hold to mysticism at all.  In this matter they are inconsistent, thinking the belief itself is one interpretation, mostly harmless, and that it can be tolerated, but that's like thinking that a little bit of infidelity in marriage is tolerable.  (Jesus warned of exactly this, to beware the leaven of the Pharisees, for a little yeast of self importance could poison the whole batch.)

Because the Reformed crowd has a high view of scripture they are immunized from walking down the road of Mysticism too far, unlike their Arminian counterparts who have a much lower view and get much farther down the path of self importance.  But refusal to act out the logical consequences of a belief isn't really a belief is it?  I think you Charismatic Reformed brothers act a lot like you love the scriptures, and very little like you love mysticism. If you're Reformed I think the part you really love about the Charismatic idea is that it's Biblically faithful, that it helps you to interpret the more difficult passages of scripture, and that you despise the sinful fruits of it (Hinn) at the same time.  But can a true doctrine of God lead to such rampant sin if followed faithfully?


Derek Ashton said...


Thanks for the interesting post!

I like a lot of what you said here. But allow me to offer an alternative view:

First, a question: were the spiritual gifts in New Testament times Biblical or mystical?

Secondly, a couple of points . . .

It is Scripture, and not mysticism, which teaches us that the Holy Spirit gives gifts to the Church. It is Scripture which describes these gifts and offers examples of their use. It is Scripture which provides guidelines for their use.

I find nothing in Scripture saying these gifts would stop during the first century or soon thereafter.

Third, a counter-proposal:

My argument above is that it is not mysticism, but Scripture, that drives true charismatic phenomena within Reformed (or at least conservative) charismatic (or continuationist/non-cessationist) churches. But what drives the assertion that the gifts ceased soon after they began? Ironically, it does not seem to be Scripture!

I wonder if it might be fear that lies at the root of cessationism. Or perhaps indignation. Disgust even. And given the extremes and heresies that have been sanctioned by the label, "charismatic," I don't blame anyone for being fearful, indignant, or disgusted. But I believe there is a particular kind of Biblical courage required to take the continuationist position. It requires you to shake off your (justifiable) reaction and embrace what is Biblical simply because it is Biblical.

Phil, I am not saying you personally are fearful or angry, any more than your post says I personally as a continuationist am into mysticism. I am more or less meeting your argument on its own ground. And I think the disgust of charismatic heresy/flakiness is justified (Reformed charismatics are equally disgusted).

One other quick point: for me, continuationism does not mean apostolic authority has continued. I view the gifts in I Corinthians 12-14 as gifts given to non-apostolic people in the Corinthian Church for non-apostolic purposes. I don't know of any Reformed continuationists who would say the 1st century kind of apostolic ministry continues to this day. Its disappearance corresponds to the completion of the Canon. In other words, Apostolic authority was replaced by Canonical authority. The spiritual gifts spoken of in I Corinthians have existed under both authorities and can never compete with them.

I'm not looking to argue about this, but I think we may help each other to better understand the other view. I won't take it personally if you refute. :)


Phil said...

Thanks for the comment Derek.
I'll think about what you are saying some more, but it looks to me as if you have proved my point. Your first love and loyalty are to scriptures as an immovable foundation, and then you allow for Charismatic gifts only as the scriptures give you license to. Or more precisely, as you say embrace what is Biblical simply because it is Biblical.

In effect, you are arguing that no matter what other people do or say we must be faithful to the Bible, for unlike our judgment, or reason,it alone stands untainted by the fall. But that just goes to show that you have at the center of your world the Scriptures and not a private idea, or experience, or feeling, or emotion.

That makes you a Christian, not a mystic. So perhaps if you could tell me what you mean by mystic?

Much of what you said I agree with,

Derek Ashton said...


I think I agree with your definition of mysticism. It's basically man-centered subjectivity as opposed to the God-centered objectivity of being fully dependent on Scripture.

Discussions of cessationism vs. continuationism seem to suffer from great misunderstandings. I hear cessationists describe continuationism in extreme ways, and I myself tend to think of cessationism in terms of its more extreme forms. What are the real, decisive differences?

I agree with your contention that mysticism has infected the Charismatic "movement," yet I also believe there are Biblical gifts that can be Biblically experienced in the Church today. If we defined mysticism differently - say, as a person's experiential awareness of the Holy Spirit's presence and work at a particular time - I would say that kind of "mysticism" is Biblical but requires discernment - and discernment is one of the gifts! The first question in the process of discernment is, of course, "How does this hold up with Scripture?"

Apparently I've proven your point, that Scripture drives out mysticism (at least what we have defined as mysticism), and I think you might also have proven my point, that the best possible charismatics are Reformed ones. The reason, of course, is that they don't practice mysticism as we have defined it.

I guess we would both agree that some things from the Early Church did cease, and some things do continue. In my observation, cessationists sometimes equate continuance of spiritual gifts with apostolic authority. I agree with them when they say that apostolic authority is not given to anyone in the modern day Church. But I don't agree on the question of whether prophecy, tongues & interpretation, words of wisdom, miracles, discernment, etc. ought to be practiced nowadays. Those gifts were active (non-apostolically) in both authentic and inauthentic ways in the Early Church - and I see no reason not to believe they can be active in both ways today. Yet Scripture must stand in full authority over them, judging their authenticity (and preventing them from sliding away into mysticism).

By the way, I do find cessationists have the upper hand if the argument is strictly a historical one. But are there any sound exegetical reasons to dismiss the gifts as I have described them? I just don't want to say "God can't" or "God doesn't" unless Scripture clearly says He can't or He doesn't.

Thanks for thinking through this with me.


Phil said...

Seems like most of the difference lies in our vocabulary and definitions. Thanks for the thoughtful comments.