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“Charismatics are wrong ‘cuz it never happened to me” …and Other Stupid Statements. (Response to CMP, part 3)

By Marv

This post is part of a series responding to C. Michael Patton’s eight-part series at Parchment and PenWhy I am Not Charismatic,” which is also conveniently available for download as a single e-book here. This is in response to part three.

Michael,

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.

POLICE INSPECTOR: “By George! How ever did you see that?”
HOLMES:  “Because I looked for it.”

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.

Experience, Faith, and the Word

By Marv

My wife’s parents were like many French people, agnostic to atheist, covered over with a vague New-Age layer. Many years before the events of this story happened, she had a thought occur in her mind, with a comfort and confidence, and she took it to be the Spirit of God speaking to her. “Your mother will come to faith first, then your father.”

Now, regeneration and conversion is a miracle always, but in a country such as France, you tend to diminish your expectations by a factor of ten, no, more like a hundred. It’s a tough, tough place for Christianity. We talked to them about the Lord, but apart from a little more openness for our sake, nothing much happened. It was hard to have too much impact; we were in the U.S. and they were in France.

One day in 1999, we had just brought home a new electronic answering machine. Back then those things were still gadgety enough to be kind of cool. You had to put a code on it to be able to retrieve messages. My wife suggested 828, because she liked Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” We were about to get a lesson about that verse.

We installed it, and the first time it rang, we decided not to answer but let the machine pick it up. What could it hurt?

Only it was her parents calling from France—with bad news. About 18 months earlier, my wife’s mother, Nicole had been operated on for cancer, successfully, we all thought. The cancer was back, and it wasn’t looking good.

In the next few weeks Nicole declined rapidly. My wife talked to her doctors, but French doctors are typically not frank with the patient or with family in regard to bad news. They told her they could treat her, which Nicole seemed to interpret as “cure,” but this was not what they meant. My wife eventually persuaded the doctor to level with her, since she was so far away and needed to know whether and when to fly over there. “Come now,” she was finally told, since they gave Nicole perhaps a couple of months.

While she was preparing to go over there, my wife spoke to her mother on the phone. We knew most of the evangelical ministers in their town and we wanted to get someone to her to pray for her. My wife quoted to her James 5:14: “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”

She wasn’t in any church, but we were working on arranging a pastoral visit with someone we had contact with. But before this could happen, she was at the hospital for chemotherapy, and a Catholic priest happened by. She told him what her daughter had said, and asked him if he could anoint her with oil and pray over her, like James said. Now for Roman Catholics this verse has basically become the basis for extreme unction, last rites for the immediately dying. Yet he agreed, and came to her house the next day and did just as James instructed.

Well, my mother-in-law still died of cancer, but it was a year later, and here’s what happened in that year. First of all, though the cancer was not cured, she did have an immediate change of symptoms, whereas she was weak and also unable to eat, she had new energy and her appetite returned right away. She was up and out of bed, and was able to spend many pleasant months with her husband and later with us, when we came to be with her.

We still had “our people” come and pray for her, and they spoke with her about the Lord. Now she was ready to listen. And she did listen, and she placed her trust in the Lord, and she started attending that evangelical church. My father-in-law went with her, and seeing her faith, and impressed by the love that body was giving them, he came to faith as well.

The cancer was still progressing and eventually Nicole did become weak again and unable to do much out of bed. But the very last day, as it turned out, that she was physically able to attend church, both she and my father-in-law were baptized. Nicole gave her testimony, between tears, recounting the story of the priest’s prayer, and her healing, partial and temporary as it was. Then she said, “If I had not gotten sick, I never would have come to know the Lord.”

Nicole still had confidence that the Lord could heal her, and she even thought he would. Now the doctors still had not made it clear to her that they considered her terminal, and we did not wish to discourage her either. You have to understand something; in this beautiful, but post-Christian country despair fills the air, so thickly sometimes that you feel you could cut it with a knife. Cancer patients as a rule do not go gently into that good night, and if her oncologist did not spell out the doom she foresaw, it was to grant a measure of false hope to her remaining days. That is the only hope she was able to dispense, having seen so many agonizing as death approached.

One night my wife stayed with her mother in the hospital, conflicted over knowing the medical prognosis and yet not wishing to overtax her mother’s new faith. But Nicole had a dream about Jesus, and she awoke the next morning both radiant—and knowing she was going to die.

“There’s going to be a reunion,” she said mysteriously. Not understanding, my wife asked her what reunion, with whom? “A reunion with Jesus,” she said.

Her remaining weeks were spent in one hospital or another, and all her friends came and visited her. And Nicole told all her friends about Jesus and how wonderful he was and how she was so happy to be going to be with him. This was a new experience for the oncologist, who was not at all used to hopeful—dying patients.

The doctor told us she wouldn’t last until Christmas, but she did. She died in January 2000. In those last weeks, her estranged son came to see her, and there were tears and there was forgiveness.

At the end of the most difficult but amazing year of her life, she went to her dearly anticipated reunion. The church was packed for the funeral, all her family and friends had come. It was a long service. We gave her testimony. We gave our testimonies. The pastor preached to gospel. That day everyone Nicole loved was gathered together and heard about the love and grace of the Jesus she had come to love and with whom she was now joyfully present.

Perhaps I should think it inadequate that her healing was not quite a “New Testament quality” miracle, not complete, irreversible, permanent. Right.

I am persuaded that the Lord used experiences, in Nicole’s life, in all our lives, to encourage, to build up, to demonstrate His love. And to demonstrate the truth of His Word. Frankly, I really did not have much confidence in the Roman Catholic priest who had prayed for her. But our faith is not in men but in the Lord and in His Word. Besides, James did say to call for the elders, the presbuteroi in Greek, and in the history of the church that word became prêtre in French,“priest.” Of course, the greatest gift was not the physical healing, would not even have been her being totally cured of her cancer. James goes on in verse 15: “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.”

And the Lord proved His Word that all things, even painful, grievous things work together for good to those who are called, and “those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Rom. 8:30b)

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (vv. 35, 37-39).

“Sign Gifts”?

by Marv

“Are the sign gifts for today?” one asks.

Well, excuse me, but if we wish to arrive at the right answer, hadn’t we better start with the right question?  And the above is just not the right question.  It is a wrong question, because it presumes the existence of a category called “sign gifts” in the first place.

For example, the very title of Daniel Wallace’s “Two Views on the ‘Sign Gifts’: Continuity vs. Discontinuity” casts the debate in cessationist terms.  Even so, note the quotes around “sign gifts.”  These disappear, however, in the body of the article.  The problem is, while the concept of “sign gifts” provides a convenient holding tank for, as Wallace lists them: “the spiritual gifts of tongues, prophecy, miracles, and healings,” the designation is not a Biblical one, as the following evidence demonstrates:

1. The phrase “sign gift” is found nowhere in the Scriptures.  This observation is only a starting place, since many theological terms are not found as such in the Bible.  However, it is a fact worth noting.

2.  There are no passages where “sign gifts” are separated from other spiritual gifts, as if they formed a distinct category.  Gifts such as “prophecy” and “tongues” appear right along with “teaching” and “mercy.”

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Rom. 12:6-8)

For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?  Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?  But earnestly desire the higher gifts. (1 Cor. 12:8-10, 28-31)

3.  Paul uses the term “sign” (Greek: semeion) unambiguously for only one gift, tongues.

Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers… (1 Cor. 14:22a)

It is a question of interpretation whether in the second half of the verse, Paul meant to call prophecy a “sign” too.  The Greek does not have the word for sign here, though it might be thought to be understood from the preceding clause.  The ESV takes it this way:

“…while prophecy is a sign3 not for unbelievers but for believers,”

But includes a footnote: “Greek lacks a sign.

The NASB has a similar reading.

On the other hand, the NIV takes the opposite position:

“Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers.”

The majority of English translations concur, for example:  Wycliffe, Tyndale, KJV, RSV, NKJV, NET, NRSV, NLT, CEV, HCSB.

4.  Paul does refer to “the signs of a true apostle” (2 Cor. 12:12), though he does not say what these are, but only that they were performed “with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.”

5.  Luke refers to signs throughout Acts, and in one passage it specifically refers to a healing as a “sign.”  However, he never refers to “spiritual gifts” at all, much less “sign gifts.” In acts “signs” and “wonders” and “mighty acts” are different ways of indicating what we call miracles.

“What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” (Acts 14:16-17)

For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old. (v. 22)

This is in reference to the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate, which was performed by Peter (Acts 3:6).  If this is an example of a “spiritual gift,” then perhaps there is some justification for calling it a “sign-gift.”  Yet, Luke is not calling it both a sign and a gift; the word Paul uses for spiritual “gift,” charisma, is not in Luke’s vocabulary at all.  He does use the entirely different word dorea, but this by this he refers to the Holy Spirit Himself who is said to be given as a gift to believers.

6.  The author of Hebrews at least uses “sign” and “gift” in the same verse, though he speaks of these in parallel, along with “wonders” and “miracles.”  This verse is sometimes used as if “gifts” were here specifically those so-called “sign gifts,” but it is not what

“…while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (Heb. 2:4)

7.  There is one other possible source of the concept “sign gifts,” the references in the longer ending of the gospel of Mark.  These verses do not appear to be original, however, as early manuscripts omit them entirely.  However, they do refer to what elsewhere are listed as “gifts” by the term “sign”:

And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs. (Mark. 16:17-18, 20)

I would venture to say that these verses are by far the strongest “Biblical” argument for a category called “sign gifts.”  Perhaps the phrase originally came out of this passage, before there came to be a general consensus that they are not genuine.  I’m not sure if cessationists would be better off with these verses than without them, but in any case the passage has doubtful authenticity and makes a poor basis for doctrine one way or the other.

So to summarize, the Scriptural case for a subset of spiritual gifts, identified as “sign gifts” is far from compelling.  As a continuationist, I do not consent to define the debate in those terms.  It lends a certain subtle circularity to the argument that yields a bit of ground to cessationism, because “sign gift” tends to suggest a narrow purpose and thus limited utility.  If you are a cessationist, I suggest trying to make your case without resorting to this term.  If you are a continuationist, you probably don’t use the term anyway, but if you do maybe you should reconsider.