When we first started planning for the WorshipGod06 conference, “The Glory of His Presence,” we hoped to bring biblical clarity to our understanding of God’s presence.
This theme of the conference sought to address two issues. The first was those in the “charismatic” camp who place too much emphasis on the gifts of prophecy, tongues, miracles, and healings. They make the mistake of valuing them over other gifts of the Spirit, trusting them more than Scripture, being more excited about them than God’s Word, or using them for self-promotion. The other issue was Christians, “cessationist” or otherwise, for whom the Holy Spirit is functionally irrelevant. They love the Savior, read His Word, and love His church, but have no awareness that God is actually present with them to work in, through, and among them. There is no expectation as the church gathers, and no realization that God is truly present with them.
Tim Challies, a gracious and humble man, live-blogged the entire event. Over at Tim’s site a number of people have been debating over things that he reported in response to Session 5 and his concluding reflections. At the very least, the comments there have demonstrated one of the weaknesses of the blogosphere. Some seized upon Tim’s secondhand account of the conference to criticize, question, and find fault with Sovereign Grace, me, and charismatics in general. Others have responded by coming to our defense, or at least seeking to address the attitude behind the original criticisms.
Let me attempt to share what I think the important issues are and what they aren’t.
The label we wear isn’t the ultimate issue – exalting Jesus Christ is.
I find defining Christians as “charismatic” or “cessationist” increasingly unhelpful. (UPDATE: see my comment below). Part of that is due to the many ways those terms are used. I’ve met cessationists whose views are very similar to mine, with a few tweaks. I’ve also known charismatics with whom I have many disagreements. Yet I, along with Sovereign Grace Ministries, would classify myself as a charismatic. The term “continuationist” may be a good alternative, but whatever label we choose to use for ourselves or others, let’s make sure our priority is being “biblical” Christians. We should be seeking more of God’s presence in our lives while joyfully submitting to the constraints of God’s eternal Word. Oftentimes, I find that someone’s view of charismatics or cessationists is built on caricatures, bad experiences, or uncharitable judgment. This was the acknowledged mindset of Tommy, a 27 year old worship leader from California, who attended the conference. He commented on one of my previous posts:
“I’ve always been leery of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in
Charismatic churches for most of my life because of the abuse I’ve seen
and heard over the years. The Leadership of WorshipGod06 gave a clear,
biblical, and careful treatment of the issues surrounding the presence
of God in the church today and where the manifestation of the Holy
Spirit fits into that matrix. I was deeply convicted of my being too
quick to judge on some of these issues. As a result of attending this
conference I love God more and am learning to pray with great
anticipation that God make himself felt and known more in my life and
in our gatherings as a church. Its been too long that I’ve dismissed
the prominent ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church.
Thank you for your careful explanations and for being patient with
those of us who haven’t previously shared such experiences with
Christians who call themselves Charismatic.”
It pleases the Lord when we humbly acknowledge our own excesses and weaknesses before we seek to point out the errors in others.
The existence of certain gifts isn’t the issue – acknowledging our dependence on the Holy Spirit’s presence and power is.
Biblical scholars much smarter than me make a convincing case for the existence of the “supernatural” gifts today. Among them are D.A. Carson (Showing the Spirit), Wayne Grudem (Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?), John Piper (sermon series from early 1990 on Compassion, Power, and the Kingdom of God), Martyn Lloyd-Jones (The Sovereign Spirit), and Gordon Fee (Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God). However, it’s not crucial to me that you speak in tongues or believe in the gift of prophecy. What does concern me is the number of Christians whose lives are characterized by self-sufficiency and self-confidence, devoid of a functional dependence on God, who gives gifts, produces activities, and enables service for the building up of the church (1 Cor. 12:4-7). It dishonors the Savior when churches are built more on business models, marketing techniques, and human psychology than the power of God revealed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, through the working of the Holy Spirit. Every church should be able to point to SOME manifestations of the Spirit’s working in their midst. Jesus ascended to the Father’s right hand so that we might be able to receive God’s Spirit and benefit from his empowering presence. Are we dependent on Him? As Graham Harrison states on the Banner of Truth website:
“There can be no substitute for that manifested presence of God which is always a biblical possibility for the people of God. When it is not being experienced they should humbly seek him for it, not neglecting their ongoing duties, nor denying their present blessings, but recognizing that there is always infinitely more with their God and Father who desires fellowship with those redeemed by the blood of his Son and regenerated by the work of his Spirit.”
Defining the gifts of the Spirit isn’t the issue – evidencing the fruit of the Spirit is.
If these kinds of supernatural gifts still exist – tongues, prophecy, healing, and working of miracles – how do we exercise them in a way that builds up the body and honors God’s Word as our ultimate revelation? That’s what we’re seeking to do in Sovereign Grace Ministries. However, if others disagree with us, we want to relate to them humbly, graciously, and very aware of our own weaknesses. And wherever we agree on the most important issues – the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the pre-eminence of God’s Word, the priority of the local church – we want to celebrate and work together for the advancing of God’s purposes in the earth.
Without in any way minimizing the importance of doctrine, knowledge or the expression of spiritual gifts, God makes it clear in 1 Cor. 13 what the ultimate issue is – demonstrating a love made possible through the Gospel. And may we all demonstrate that kind of love, that a watching world might come to know salvation is found in no other name, but the name of Jesus Christ.
As you are aware, I am one who quickly spoke out against some of the things that Tim Challies mentioned in his post on Session Five of the WorshipGod06 Conference. And while I am still in the ‘uncomfortable’ camp regarding what we would call the charismatic aspect of Sovereign Grace churches, your heart and the heart of those with which you lead is unmistakable.
I am honored to call you my brother, with the true biblical gospel and the efficacious work of Christ as our central bond of unity.
As I said over at challies.com, keep doing what you are doing, and keep fighting the good fight. May God continue to graciously use you to bring honor and glory to His name, and to further His kingdom.
Grace and peace to you, brother.
ps. Please pray that God would grant me wisdom and discernment in all things, so that I might not hurt another brother or sister with the kind of comments I posted earlier.
Thank you for stopping by, and for pursuing humility. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a dramatic turnaround in attitude in a comments section of a blog like the one you modeled over at Tim Challie’s site. Thanks for allowing the Spirit to search your heart.
Even though we’ve never met, I appreciate your desire to guard what has been entrusted to us, the glorious Gospel. It’s our desire as well. May we all keep Paul’s admonition in mind when we encounter someone we disagree with:
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness (2 Tim. 2:24-25).
I understand your being in the “uncomfortable” camp regarding our understanding and practice of certain spiritual gifts. Perhaps that will change over time. But even if it doesn’t, I pray that for you and for others, our use of the gifts will always magnify the matchless Savior the Spirit was sent to bear witness to.
Thanks for addressing this, Bob. I think having Tim liveblog the conference was an excellent means to getting much of this discussion going – hopefully in the 1 Corinthians 13 attitude of love. I wonder if many of us need some “shaping” by each other? As the walls between cessationists and non-cessationists crumble little by little, I hope we find a way to improve each other’s view of the Saviour. The old adage will hold true that if we all keep looking to Him, we will eventually all see the same thing.
I am glad that you are not just denying the issue or ignoring it. We need to hear each other and learn. When we agree on so much that is crucial to the Gospel, surely there are ways we can come “Together for the Gospel!”
I read this post on my BlackBerry while I was at Chic-fil-A with my older son tonight (he was playing on the play equipment–I wasn’t ignoring him) and couldn’t wait to get home and post a comment.
Bob, thank you once again for pointing us to the big picture. This is an important post and a great example of the spirit with which you service Christ and His followers. Each of your three main points here are useful not only in this instance, but for all of life.
Absolutely fantastic post! Thank you for speaking with precision about what it means to be a pursuer of the presence of God.
May we be ever marked as a people that pursue the joyful empowerment of God’s presence not owing to the label “charismatic” but “biblical Christian.”
Oh for the day that being a person of the Book means a pursuer of the presence of Christ (John 5:39).
Bob, it was really nice meeting you at the conference (even if it was brief). Like the others, I sincerely appreciate your heart for Christ and ministry both at the conference and here on the blog. I’m still processing everything I saw, heard, and learned at WorshipGod06 with regard to the gifts (I was even motivated enough to have another looks through Grudem’s Four Views: Are the Miraculous Gifts for Today? book). One thing is clear, though. We love the same Saviour.
Do you have any resources you would recommend that would explain why it is that the gifts would look somewhat different today than they did in the NT?
Thanks for stopping by.
The best resources I know of are probably D.A. Carson’s “Showing the Spirit” or Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology.”
I’m not sure the gifts in the NT look as different as you suggest. There appear to be more “supernatural manifestations” taking place in the first century church than there are in 21st century America, but it doesn’t appear that everyone moved in the miraculous. Paul told us we were to test prophecies in 1 Thess. 5. What would we be testing if there wasn’t a possibility people could be mistaken? He left Trophimus sick in Miletus (2 Tim. 4:20), so obviously he couldn’t heal people “at will.” However there were prophetic words that were from the Lord, and healings that took place. I think we misinterpret Scripture when we insist that miraculous gifts must always take place OR when we insist that they never or rarely take place.
Great post! I appreciate the spirit of humility and emphasis on the major things. The specific details of the manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit, while important and practicable, are insignificant in light of the big picture–the glorious gospel and the supremacy of Scripture’s authority.
As for Julian’s last question, you should check out the sermon my pastor John Piper preached today on Rom. 15:18-19. It should be up on the Desiring God website soon. In it he condenses his series on the issue from the early 90s to about 10 minutes. He explains that we should expect miraculous spiritual gifts today, but that such gifts will not necessarily be totally parallel with Christ’s or the apostle’s gifts. It is a great succinct explanation.
I came across your site from Challies after reading his review of the Valley of Vision CD and following the links that I found there.
I post, occasionally, at Tim’s site under the name of “Jabbok”.
I think there is common ground between us that must be emphasized but I would differ with you on this point:
The label we wear isn’t the issue – exalting Jesus Christ is.
Labels ARE important. They let us know what your theology is before the discussion begins. They let us know how you think concerning Scripture and Christ.
I don’t believe our differences are so great that we should begin pronouncing anathema’s but I don’t think we should avoid the differences, or labels, on the notion that Christ is all that matters.
Thanks for your comment. I agree that labels are important and helpful for helping people understand how we interpret the Bible. I didn’t express it clearly, but my point was that they aren’t the MOST important issue.
There are at least two problems with over-emphasizing our particular “brand” of Christianity. The first is that we tend to read every Scripture through the lens of our label, and can misinterpret what different passage mean. The second is that we are quick to judge others through the lens of their label. I believe God is completely sovereign in salvation and also believe in the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit enumerated in 1 Cor. 12. I derive those convictions from Scripture. That happens to put me in the “Reformed Charismatic” camp, but my real desire is to promote the glory of God and the awareness of His presence in the church and the world through His Spirit. Hope that’s helpful.
reading through this blog has blessed me so much. Thank God. the issues raised or discussed has just confirmed my convictions for the ministry God has entrusted to me. Truly the gifts are important but the exercise of these should be governed by the Word. God bless your ministry as we all labor for the glory of the wonderful name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I know this is a long time after the event but i was wondering if you could clarify a few things for me: Firstly, what do you mean when you say, “Every church should be able to point to SOME manifestations of the Spirit’s working in their midst.” Having written that i noticed above in the comments section that you have said in response to one of the questions “I’m not sure the gifts in the NT look as different as you suggest. There appear to be more “supernatural manifestations” taking place in the first century church than there are in 21st century America,”. I am assuming from that your original comment was in reference to what you call more “supernatural manifestations”. Am i accurate in thinking that?
Secondly, (and i ask this with humility and earnestly seeking understanding… it is so hard to communicate tone on blogs isn’t it!) if that is the case why is it that you think that there was more supernatural manifestations in the early church than today when the only chapter in the Bible that addresses them is a rebuke of the Corinthians for overuse of such gifts?
Waiting for Jesus
I’m writing from the beautiful north-west of bonnie Scotland.
This is not related to your post!
I edit our local church’s newsletter and, searching on the web for something for Christmas, came across your wonderful song – ‘In the First Light’. I would love to include it the newsletter. We do operate under the usual copyright licences but I think I need your permission to use it. would you be willing to allow me to share it with our small congregation?
I am delighted to have found your blog and have bookmarked it.
Many thanks – in anticipation!
Thanks for stopping by. Please feel free to share In the First Light with your congregation.
Have a grace-filled Christmas season.
Thank you! Will plan to stop by regularly.