I’m listening to Michael Brown’s radio show where he spoke to John MacArthur’s associate Phil Johnson and I’m struck by how Brown keeps bringing up examples of Charismatic ministers and ministries that disprove the broad brush indictments of MacArthur & co. and yet Johnson keeps pointing to Charismatic televangelists as examples of all the atrocities being attributed to the Charismatic Movement as a whole. So all of this has me thinking about what Charismatics need to do better.
To start, we need to do a better job with discernment and denouncement. There are plenty of us who have no affinity with the Word of Faith movement and yet the Word of Faith Movement seems to be the public face of Pentecostalism/Charismaticism. We need to publicly denounce the many heretical doctrines that have come from Word of Faith theology and we need to call Word of Faith preachers (especially the prominent ones!) to repentance.
But there’s something that has to happen before we’re even able accomplish this task, namely, we have to take the task of Biblical interpretation seriously. Paul told Timothy to make every effort to present himself as an approved worker before God who needn’t be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). We, just as much as Timothy, are called to such a task. We have to be able to appeal to something with more authority than our personal experiences with God, as strong as they may be, and that something is Scripture.
Piggybacking off of the last point; Pentecostals and Charismatics will do well to stop deriding scholarship as if scholars are somehow less spiritual and possess a mere “head knowledge.” We need to learn from those who have invested time into understanding the Scriptures (whether they be Charismatic or not) and allow them to aid us in the task of building a positive theology.
Concerning building a positive theology we need to be able to open the Bible and explain that this is why we believe and act as we do. Put another way, we shouldn’t always (or even primarily) espouse our faith in a reactionary manner. Or put even another way, we shouldn’t feel the need to explain our beliefs and practices only when they are challenged or disagreed with. We shouldn’t allow our detractors to frame the debate so that all we end up doing is defending tongues, or prophecy, or healing or the continuation of prophetic and apostolic ministry.
This is to say that we need a full-orbed Pentecostal/Charismatic theology. Our beliefs about the gifts of the Spirit are fundamentally connected to our beliefs about the Spirit as well as the Father and the Son. And we can’t lose this point or compromise it (I have in mind here the sweeping under the rug of heretical Oneness Pentecostal theology, which is excused by some because OPs allegedly operate in the gifts of the Spirit). How we exist in this world is linked to how the Blessed Trinity has acted for us and our salvation.
On a practical level we need to stop being weird. We need to stop calling everything we disagree with a demon and stop defending every strange thing we see as a work of the Spirit. We need to focus more on the fruit of the Spirit than the gifts of the Spirit, which isn’t to say that we shouldn’t focus on the gifts, but not to the point where we elevate them above everything else. Speaking in an unknown tongue doesn’t necessarily make one a Spirit-filled believer and claiming to speak a word from the Lord doesn’t necessarily make one a prophet. And this goes back to where I started, which is the need for discernment. We have to be less impressed with this type of stuff than we are. We have to be more self-critical. The more we judge ourselves, the less we leave room for others to do it.
And speaking of judgment, we need to be less judgmental of non-Charismatic Christians. We have to stop pretending that we have a leg up on them. We have to stop pretending that we operate in power and they occupy dead spiritless churches. We have to take 1 Corinthians 12 seriously, which is about diversity in unity, and realize that every Christian isn’t going to look and act like us. This doesn’t mean God isn’t acting in and through them. It simply means that there are many members in the body of Christ and everyone can’t be a liver or a spleen; some folks have to be ears, noses, and throats.
And finally—although I’m sure there’s much more I could say—we need to let our light shine before men so that they may see our good works and glorify God (Matt. 5:16). Instead of the public face of Pentecostals and Charismatics being Word of Faith televangelist heretics who fleece the people of God; let’s do a better job of highlighting the ministries of faithful Bible teachers; missionaries; chaplains; etc. We have them in abundance and yet you wouldn’t know it!