This post is part of a series responding to C. Michael Patton’s eight-part series at Parchment and Pen “Why I am Not Charismatic,” which is also conveniently available for download as a single e-book here. This is in response to part three.
First, please don’t take the title too seriously. It is, as you might suspect, an hommage to your own provocatively titled series, last seen here. Besides, you start your part three by admitting that its argument is (a) not a very good one and yet (b) one that works for you.
I appreciate the irony though. In certain circles it is Self-Evident Truth that Continuationists (a) follow experience over Scripture, and (b) are doing that “evil and adulterous generation” sign-seeking thing (Matt. 12:39; 16:4). Yet here you tell us, first, that while the preponderance of Scriptural evidence backs Continuationism, you remain a Cessationist due to your experience. Then, second, you demand a sign, failing which, you remain a (de facto) Cessationist. It’s refreshing, to say the least.
With that introduction, here are a few thoughts on your part three.
1. You are “open” Biblically and theologically to Continuationism.
The other day I heard somebody on the radio giving the usual condescending admonition to Continuationists always to give Scripture priority over experience. This same guy kept making reference to “the four sign gifts.” It was the first time I’d heard these given a definite number. (Does that mean tongues has ceased but interpretation of tongues continues?) I’d really like for him to put his money where his mouth is and show me the Bible passage teaching “the four sign gifts.”
Be that as it may, of course Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith and practice. Michael, you pointed out some strong Biblical support for Continuationism in your part two. As Scott has observed, you did seem to leave out Christ’s own teaching on the eve of his crucifixion (John 14-16). This, I submit, is the place to start, and really leaves no doubt that the Father’s plan, the Lord’s instruction, and the believer’s expectation should be:
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)
So, Michael, if the Bible teaches something, if Christ teaches something, what kind of response is it to be “open” to it? Try saying, “I’m open to that salvation-by-grace-through-faith thing, but I’ve never had a genuine gospel experience.” The apostle Paul tells us to: “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.” (1 Cor. 14:1) I mean, you don’t suppose “be open to” is an adequate translation of zeloute here?
What I am trying to say, Michael, is that as far as you’ve come from your previous self-confessed bias against Continuationism, if the Bible supports it, then why not move beyond “openness”? Your lack of experience, I suggest, is in part due to lack of conviction that the Bible really teaches this. What you see depends on what you expect to see.
2. Your expectations.
So what are you looking for, Michael? May I suggest, based on some of your remarks, that you may have spent some time barking up the wrong proverbial tree?
First, as odd as it seems there is a whole preconceived notion about just what a “gift” is that may need rethinking. You remark: “I have never witnessed anything that would lead me to believe that someone has, as their gift to the body of Christ, any of the particular gifts…” Well, if by this you mean some kind of at-will wonder-worker, I don’t think this has ever been the case.
The concept of “gifts” is a reference to the fact that the works of Jesus, done by the Body of Christ, are distributed among the members. These are first of all gifts given by the Lord to us, not our gifts to the Body. Second, I don’t think the Bible teaches us it was like a team of spiritual X-men: X has the power of prophecy, Y has the power of healing, Z has the power of tongues. Based on what Paul says, on a given day any believer may give a prophecy, though not all will (1 Cor. 14:26, 31). It may have been that some people particularly excelled in a particular gift, and so may be associated with it, but I think it is fallacious to understand a rigid one-for-one correspondence.
Second, in regard to prophecy, you refer to “the surrendering of my mind.” I don’t think that is what New Testament prophecy calls for. Paul says prophecy gives “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Cor. 14:3). It may instantly resonate with someone (1 Cor. 14:24-25) or else is to be weighed (v. 29).
As far as requiring a “sign” is concerned, well first, I thought you considered prophecy a “sign gift.” Isn’t it already a sign, then? “prophecy is [a sign] not for unbelievers but for believers,” Paul says (1 Cor. 14:22).
Besides, with all the New Testament teaching on prophecy, and the clear “democratization” of prophecy in Acts 2, you go to Moses for the example of how things are to be done? Deut. 34:10 states: “And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.” It might be nice if all who prophesied lived up to Moses example, but I wouldn’t expect this. Is this really reasonable?
Also (and I just love it when Cessationists tell Continuationists how spiritual gifts ought to work) you opine:
If someone claims to speak on behalf of God—if someone claims to have a prophetic gift—you have every right and obligation to demand an attesting sign. As well, if you think you are a prophet—if you sincerely believe that God has called you to such a ministry—you need to tell God that you cannot do so without such a sign.
Okaaay, kids, always remember to talk back to God. Umm, Michael, in the first place, you draw on the example of Moses, whose demand for authenticating sign was not so much a sign of faith, as of reluctance, hesitation, doubt. God had already given him His word to proclaim, and Moses hemmed and hawed until he ran out of excuses. Go and do thou likewise? So say you, Michael?
Second, this whole thing isn’t about anyone’s claim to have this or that gift. It’s about believers being the Body of Christ, and God giving His words and doing His works through us, as he did through Jesus (John 14:10).
Furthermore, it isn’t only prophets who speak on behalf of God. Teachers, such as yourself do.
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God. (1 Pet. 4:10-11)
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Cor. 5:20)
Are pastors, teachers, and evangelists also to demand from God a sign, since they too speak on behalf of God? Well, the good news is, we don’t need to demand, because God has always planned to co-testify as we deliver His message (Heb. 2:4).
In regard to what you say about healing, again, I think you are under a misconception to imagine a “gift of healing” as attached permanently to a particular person. This is not necessarily what we as Continuationists are saying. Moreover, your conceptually separating praying for healing from “gifts of healings” is also missing the point.
But you knew I would say this, didn’t you. And you head this response off at the pass. You are told “that’s not the way it works.” And, of course, you, a Cessationist–never seen it–know better:
If you say, “It’s not like that. God simply uses me sometimes to heal. I never know when he is going to and when he will deny such a request.” I would say that we are simply talking past each other. In my estimation, you do not have the gift of healing. You, like everyone else, simply have the ability to pray for healing, leaving the answer in the hands of God.
I agree about the talking past each other here, but, Michael, let me say gently, it might behoove you back up, hold your preconceived notions loosely, and listen to that perspective–there just might be something to learn.
When you begin to learn, you first do not even know what you do not know. Some things need to be unlearned before learning can take place.
3. The learning curve.
I don’t say that, or write these posts, claiming vast amounts of knowledge. Only, it is really is a strange thing when Cessationists are sure they know more about spiritual gifts than Continuationists. You point out how others aren’t doing it right. Their prophecy is banal. Their prayer for healing and any subsequent answers to prayer is not “the gift.” Well, I agree that the Continuationist side may not be doing everything quite right. Yet they are believing the Lord’s instructions, and doing something, and mixed results are better than no results.
The church today largely has to rediscover what has been forgotten. As with any practice, there is a learning curve. At one time, these were passed on. Jesus instructed His disciples how to minister in power, and they taught others. Well, we haven’t got that now, I grant you. And I am not for an instant suggesting that contemporary Continuationists are infallible guides. Still, how wise is it to completely disregard these?
So where are we to begin today? To recover what the Scripture teaches but generations have not really practiced? You begin with the Scriptures, of course. You begin by being convinced from Scripture that the works that Jesus did ought to be in evidence in the church today.
But what does this look like? Prophecy, for example. How do you do it? How do you know when it is happening? Does it feel like something? Does the prophesier hear a voice? Audibly? Inaudibly? How do you really know it’s God?
I submit, Michael, you won’t know the answers by sitting on the sidelines. There is hit and miss here, trial and error. Does that seem little too messy? Well, what are we supposed to do? Don’t like the whole glass-half-empty thing? The Cessationist answer seems to be “I don’t see any New-Testament quality miracles,” so out it all goes.
What about half full? How about getting in there and helping? Don’t quite like the way things look in the Pentecostal, Charismatic, Third-wave, whole Continuationist world? So many of the Bible-scholar, teacher types have retreated into Cessationism, and left others to fend without them. Is there a lack of balance in Continationism? Whose fault is that? Those who are in the game or those who are not? For my money, I’d point a finger or two at the armchair quarterbacks.
4. Get in the game.
So what we’re talking about here is you’ve never had a “genuine charismatic experience.” Well, okay, you used to go to a “third-wave” college. These days, do you ever put yourself in an environment where you might just have such an experience?
I was going to point out, if you were not already aware, that you have a fabulous opportunity in Sam Storms having moved to Oklahoma City. Then of course I saw here that he’s now on Theology Unplugged. Okay, so you two have met.
Still, my point is Credo House is what, 3-1/2 miles from Bridgeway Church? Dr. Storms is, as you know, top notch in Bible exposition and theology. And I doubt you can find a better go-to-guy for Continuationism–in these United States, anyway. I believe Dr. Storms was not in town when you wrote this series last year. So okay. Now, however, you have no excuse.