Defining “Charismatic”

By Marv

The conversation continues over at Parchment and Pen, between Cessationist C. Michael Patton and Continuationist Sam Storms. The current round aims at definition of terms, particularly asking the question: “What Does it Mean to Be Charismatic?” Each one has proposed a theory and definition, first Patton, then Storms.

Patton proposes a spectrum (graphically a wedge), in which the main players fall into the following range:

1. Hard Cessationists: These establish a category of “sign gifts” with which to box and then toss certain gifts described in the Bible. They employ Biblical and Theological arguments to demonstrate that these were always temporary, their limit being perhaps the close of the Canon or the death of the apostles.

2. Soft Cessationists: These are similar to (1) but do not object to reports of Acts-like activity from the mission field. This is what I call “long ago or far away.”

3. Continuationists: These see in Scripture (a) no indication that any gift is temporary, and (b) affirmative indications that they are ongoing. They are understood to be multi-purpose, not narrowly confined whether as a Canon stop-gap, a gospel frontier tool, or the particular property of the apostles.

4. Charismatics: These are exactly as (3) but whereas, apparently Continuationists approve passively, Charismatics pursue actively.

Evaluation:

This scale has merit, and reflects an accurate observation of the realities on the ground. The labels are problematic, however. It may be true that a theoretical, but non-practicing approver of the ongoing activity would self-identify as a Continuationist, as he/she affirms “continuation”–but would reject the label Charismatic. On the other hand, many who passionately pursue these gifts would self-identify as Continuationists, and might or might not identify with Charismatic. This is because Continuationist is a broader, more generic term. It would include Pentecostals, Charismatics, Third-wavers, and some who fall in none of these camps. Calling Patton’s category number (3) by the name of the entire set in which his (4) also falls entails a semantic error. Better to balance each side with two kinds of Cessationists on one side and two kinds of Continuationists on the other. Hard and soft? Perhaps. Passive and active? Hmm. Probably not. What this difference is does need to be further defined.

Storms picks up on the concept of pursuit, à la Paul’s exhortation of earnestly desiring the gifts (1 Cor. 14: 1, 12, 26, 39), as a key distinguishing criterion. Accordingly he sees six categories:

1. Those who don’t know what to think of the whole issue, Biblically, theologically, historically. Under this circumstance, these cannot be reasonably expected to pursue the said gifts.

2. These believe that the Sciptures positively affirm the continuation of the gifts in question. Paul’s injunction then is binding on the conscience.

3. These believe the Scriptures positively affirm the cessation of the gifts in question. Paul’s injunction is thereby obsolete, moot, and null and void for today.

4. These do not believe the Scriptures positively affirm the cessation of the gifts in question, but hold the opinion that they have ceased on other-than-Scriptural grounds or at least within a penumbra of Scriptural teaching. This puts them in the position of disregarding an explicit Scriptural injunction on the basis of rather less than explicit Biblical warrant to do so.

5. These for whatever reason hold the opinion that certain gifts mentioned in the Bible have continued while others have not. The corresponding response then would be to pursue those that have continued and not those that have not.

6. These hold either that the gifts in question possibly continue or definitely continue, and yet they do not pursue them actively. Storms points to this postion as a sin of omission.

If I understand him correctly, Dr. Storms would apply the terms Continuationist and Charismatic interchangeably to category (2), which is where he places himself.

Having distinguished the terms, he further characterizes what it entails to be Charismatic/Continuationist, as power in Christian experience and ministry and divine immanence and relational imminancy.

Evaluation:

I am not sure whether his classification system focuses on what each class actually do or what they should do. But this may simply be my reading of his meaning. In general, his basing his schema on pursuit is a helpful one, as it does seem to be–in both his and Patton’s treatments–a sine qua non of what it means to be a Charismatic. Of course, we here at To Be Continued… place ourselves in category (2) along with Dr. Storms, and so we are more likely to align with his understanding.

I would like, in summarizing, to underscore and develop briefly the important point that Sam Storms makes at the end of his post. I do not know whether he would specifically agree with me on this, but one of the reasons I prefer the term Continuationist to Charismatic is that etymologically Charismatic has to do with the concept of “spiritual gifts.” My contention is that while “gifts” is certainly a Pauline term for the particular way empowered ministry is distributed in the Body, a better center of focus for this aspect of Pneumatology is Christ’s own teaching that the Church would continue His Spirit-empowered minsitry in the same way He did it, between Pentecost and the Parousia. Talking about this gift or that gift tends, in my perception, to marginalize the topic, almost as if it were an optional add-on to the basic package, which some take and others leave.

Quite the contrary, may I suggest that Pentecost brought the church a specific connectedness, a plugged-in and turned-on direct line of communication with the Father and Son through the Spirit. That we are meant in all things, to function on-line, with constant input and output of information and power, seeing and hearing what the fallen world is blind and deaf to, acting as agents under authority–is integral equally to sanctification, communion, worship, evangelism, prayer, and the overt manifestation of divine power seen in the various “gifts.” Divine imminance, relational intimacy, ongoing revelation, miraculous ministry, efficacious prayer, passionate devotion to our Lord are descriptions of what ought to be pursued by a disciple of Jesus Christ, because they are descriptions of the manner of life and ministry of Jesus Himself.

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One response to “Defining “Charismatic”

  1. My contention is that while “gifts” is certainly a Pauline term for the particular way empowered ministry is distributed in the Body, a better center of focus for this aspect of Pneumatology is Christ’s own teaching that the Church would continue His Spirit-empowered minsitry in the same way He did it, between Pentecost and the Parousia. Talking about this gift or that gift tends, in my perception, to marginalize the topic, almost as if it were an optional add-on to the basic package, which some take and others leave.

    Very good and holisitc thoughts. And the last paragraph is a great summary-conclusion.

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