As we talk about continuationism, as well as tongues and prophecy, Pastor John, would you like to address anything about the abuses of the charismatic movement today?
Yes, I do want to say something about charismatic abuses, but we really need to keep in mind that every charismatic abuse has its mirror image in non-charismatic abuses. Nothing I am going to say is unique to charismatics, and I will point that out as we go along.
So, to any charismatics listening here, don’t feel picked on, because I know that in some of these cases the non-charismatic church is more guilty than the charismatic. Here we go. I will just mention two: doctrinal abuses and emotional abuses.
1. Make No Enemy of Doctrine
Here is the first one: doctrinal abuses. All of these, by the way, are in the Bible. I mean, I don’t think any abuse started in the twenty-first century. They were all there in the first century, which is wonderful, because now we have guidance for how to think about the abuses. Just look at 1 John 4:1–2:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.
“It is an abuse of experience to make it the enemy of or the alternative to doctrine.”
Now, what is he doing? He is giving a doctrinal test for a spiritual claim, and the test is this: Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. This is the doctrine of the incarnation testing supernatural claims. So, my first observation is to say that there are many doctrinal abuses in the charismatic church, where experience is elevated above doctrine, and doctrine is made minimally important.
I think that is a huge defect in many charismatic churches. The fear is that if you try to study the Bible with a view to assembling a coherent view of doctrine, you are going to quench the Spirit, and then you won’t have as much vitality in your heart, they say, because the mind and the heart are at odds with each other. That is a mistake, I think, and it is an abuse of experience to make it the enemy of or the alternative to doctrine.
Now, I will give you a concrete experience. I have been in prophetic meetings with charismatic groups where the Bible was treated like the priming of the pump of phenomena. So, for them, what you really want in this room is some fireworks — okay?
You want somebody to fall down or somebody to laugh or somebody to tremble or somebody to raise their hands or somebody to hear a word of extraordinary prophecy, something like, “The man in the red shirt is going to Argentina next week,” and nobody could know that but the prophet.
You want all that stuff to happen. What do you do with the Bible? You use it like pouring water into a pump, and everybody knows you don’t care about this text. You don’t care about this sermon. You are using this sermon to get us ready for the fireworks at the end, which many in the church used to call “ministry time.”
Worship That Orbits the Son
Wherever I saw that happening, I knew we were in trouble — right? I knew that no matter what kind of fireworks were coming, they were going to be skewed. Even if they were valid, they were going to be skewed and misused because the speaker, the one who was in charge, was not God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated.
“I don’t go on a warpath against charismatics. I go on a crusade to spread truth.”
Here is what I do, Tony, very practically. I don’t go on a warpath against charismatics. I go on a crusade to spread truth. I am spreading gospel-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated, Calvinistic truth everywhere, and I am going to push it into the face of every charismatic I can find.
What I believe is, if they embrace the biblical system of doctrine that is really there, it will bring all of their experiences into the right orbit around the sun of this truth. So, that is my first take. Yes, there are doctrinal abuses, and we should care about them.
2. Make No Idol of Emotion
Here is the second one: emotional abuses or, to put it another way, elevating emotional criteria for guidance over biblically informed commitments. The text is 1 Corinthians 14:29–32:
Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets.
Now, what does that mean? It means that some of these guys in the church were saying that their emotional ecstasy trumped biblical principles of good order: “You can’t tell me to be quiet. I have just got a word from God.” The guy is practically vibrating, and he is going to say this word from God.
Paul responds to that kind of emotional trumping. He says, “Look. If you are a true prophet, if you have the Holy Spirit, if you are real — then the spirit of a prophet is subject to a prophet. You can sit down and wait your turn. The fruits of the Holy Spirit are patience and kindness and meekness and thankfulness and self-control (Galatians 5:22–24). So, sit down, Mr. Prophet, and wait your turn.”
I think there are a lot of people who don’t think that way. They don’t think that biblically informed principles of good behavior can trump the ecstasies of a person who is, say, speaking in tongues or prophesying. Well, they can.
Mature Thinkers, Deep Feelers
We should let this text inform the way we relate emotion and action, emotion and order. What we want is biblically informed wisdom. We want the word. We want to be thinking truly about the word. Application of the word governs life in the church, not the emotional sway of some strong person in the moment.
“Paul wants there to be five words with the mind rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.”
“Brothers,” Paul says, “do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature” (1 Corinthians 14:20). So, he wants there to be five words with the mind rather than ten thousand words in a tongue, and he wants there to be order and care for the good of the church — governed by biblical truth and mature thinking.
So, those are two, Tony. Doctrinal abuses and emotional abuses need to be addressed in the charismatic church, and, lest I leave it unsaid, there are emotional abuses in the non-charismatic church — namely, the absence of emotion, which is probably more deadly than the excess.