The Way Forward
What is the way forward for charismatics? How do we separate ourselves from the nonsense that has come from our churches and movement? The work of the Holy Spirit is not something we can abandon simply because some have metaphorically "went off the deep end." Or is it?
Let's start by defining the term. There may be some of you who don't know what it means to be a charismatic. Some of you do know--and would identify yourself as one. Others may hold the opposite position--known as cessationism. And there may be others who definitely hold and adhere to one of the two positions, but have never heard the above terms used to describe them.
The simplest definition of a charismatic would be: a Christian who exercises the gifts of the Holy Spirit, found in 1 Corinthians 12, and believes that God designates supernatural gifts to individuals through the power of the Holy Spirit. Cessationism is the opposing view. It teaches that the gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased to operate in the Church along with the death of the Apostles. Because the canon of Scripture is complete, there is no need for the Holy Spirit to do such work in the Church.
A charismatic church is likely to pursue and pray for divine healing, tongues and interpretation, miracles, words of knowledge, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and words of wisdom. Not an exhaustive list, but hopefully you are starting to see what happens in a charismatic church and worship service.
The Great Debate
I'm sure the debate over the two positions will last until Jesus returns. And this is fine. There is room in the Kingdom of God for both sides. But in recent years, it has become very controversial--and for good reasons. Much of what has happened among charismatics and in their churches has not been God-glorifying nor biblical. It actually has had a negative effect on unbelievers who have been exposed to what we will simply call "nonsense." Not all charismatic churches would identify themselves as a part of those who are on the fringe practicing these unbiblical activities, but, for the most part, have been silent about distancing themselves from the aberrant practices of some charismatics.
For the Bible-believing and doctrinally sound charismatic churches, separating themselves from the nonsense is a must. While some charismatics have left the movement, and others are strongly considering it, the charismatic church must proceed with wisdom if they wish to be a positive witness to the world about what a Spirit-filled believer and Spirit-empowered church looks like. Here are some things to consider as we charismatics think about the way forward.
We must be gospel-centered. Charismatics must return to a view of the gospel that shapes all of life and every part of the corporate worship service. The good news of Jesus is what the charismatic church needs to be most excited about and devoted to.
Move away from man-centeredness. One of the great errors and tragedies of the charismatic movement has been the over-emphasis on the importance of a person. Many have claimed, while others believed, that there are certain people with special anointing who are more important than other believers. We have placed too much emphasis on people's giftings and personalities. In addition, we have sung too many songs about ourselves and not enough about the God who saved us. Moving forward, we must make the shift from man-centeredness to God-centeredness.
Christ must be the focus. Without diminishing the presence and work of the Holy Spirit, charismatics must go forward to focus on Jesus. In some charismatic circles, there is only one person of the Trinity talked about--the Holy Spirit. The work the Holy Spirit does is essential, and we should not neglect to teach and talk about it, but our primary focus should be on the life, death, resurrection, exaltation, and return of Jesus. We actually get on the same page as the Holy Spirit when we seek to focus on and glorify Christ (John 16:14).
The importance of the local church. Charismatics have been historically weak in practicing and communicating the importance of the local church. Going forward, we must handle the sacraments, membership, leadership structures, discipline, and the role of the local church biblically and with great care. Charismatics have not always been keen to the idea of having well-defined structure in place. But the Church of Jesus Christ is an institution with a specific structure that is given to us in the Bible. We can no longer ignore this part of the Christian life.
A proper theology of suffering. Divine healing is a reality and we should pray for God to heal. But we also need to develop a biblically sound view of suffering. Charismatics have done a poor job of preparing people to face and walk through pain. Some have even made believers feel guilty and as if they are sinning because they are facing difficult circumstances. They point out their lack of faith and unbelief as the reason why they are suffering. This is incredibly foolish, unbiblical, and extremely insensitive. Having a proper theology of suffering in no way undermines divine healing. Going forward, the charismatic church must see that truth.
Distance from the "prosperity gospel." Which is no gospel at all. The damnable lie and heresy that is the "health and wealth gospel" and the "word of faith movement" needs to be condemned by and eradicated from charismatic churches. We cannot value the gifts above the Giver. And it is not enough to merely refrain from teaching the prosperity gospel--we must be outspoken against it. The charismatic church and its leaders need to go forward with diligence in warning people to stay away from this unbiblical doctrine.
Rely on the Spirit. As much as we talk about the power of the Holy Spirit, you would think that charismatic churches would rely on Him more than they do. But often we resort to hyper-emotionalism and manipulation to elicit a response from people. Rather than preach the gospel and pray for God to move, there can be a great amount of "arm-twisting" that happens in charismatic churches. I think this is in large part due to the idea that each week's service has to be some over-the-top production where God showed up "like never before." If that is what we are thinking church should be like each week, then we will be tempted to manufacture it with our own ingenuity, music, lights, manipulation, and a lot of times, lies.
Test prophecy. We are called to test all words of prophecy--to hold them up to the final standard of the Bible. Charismatics cannot accept something as true simply because someone says, " The Lord told me to say..." or some variation of that.
New, new, new. Charismatics are often looking for the newest thing--which almost always happens to be strange and bizarre--to pursue and include in our church services. Rather than look back at Church history and tradition, we often have too great a desire for "new" and "exciting." This has led us in the past to accept unbiblical manifestations and phenomenon as the work of the Holy Spirit. Moving forward, we must have a healthy respect, view, and understanding of Church history and tradition.
I'm not willing to abandon my position as a charismatic Christian simply because some in our camp have moved outside the lines of orthodoxy.
I can't. The Holy Scriptures lead me to understand that the baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit are for all people throughout all times. I simply cannot abandon biblical truth because some have made us look "weird" and have tarnished the reputation of the charismatic church. And I hope you won't abandon it either. But we can move forward--learning from past mistakes that have taken place in the charismatic church--with wisdom, truth, and humility. There is a way forward for charismatics that leads away from the nonsense and towards glorifying God. Please join me.