Saturday, 17 January 2015

On Labels: What Charismatic does not mean

The term 'Charismatic', in church circles, has become synonymous with a whole lot of things that go on, some of them harmless but nevertheless unrelated to the filling and gifts of the Spirit, some distasteful inappropriate embarrassing or unwise, some just wrong.  This is why I need to do a list of things that charismatic does not mean.

Here goes.  'Charismatic' does not mean...
  • A particular style or volume level of worship, lighting level or amount of electronic gadgetry
  • A particular set of weird noises, manifestations, physical twitches or the habit of falling over in meetings
  • Large numbers of people speaking in other languages in unison after a song accompanied by a musical instrument with no attempt at explanation or translation
  • Teaching on an apparently random topic week after week based on 'what I think God wants to say to us'
  • A larger than usual amount of hugging, ranging from slight side hugs to passionate bear hugs with no thought given to how well I know the person,cultural sensitivities, personal space or possible sexual attraction
  • A more informal style of teaching with more than the usual daft jokes and self-indulgent anecdotes
  • Allowing absolutely anyone to teach or 'share' from the front without any consideration of the person's character, commitment or background
  • Because the worship is going so well, doing more songs and scrapping the teaching session, then treating it as a kind of triumph
  • Regular prophecies of imminent revival or 'outpourings of the Holy Spirit' in the town or city the meeting is in without any reference to repentance, commitment, obedience or even competence
  • Going around prophesying over people blessings without any reference to repentance, commitment or obedience
  • Inviting prophets or healers to take meetings/missions/weekend schools without adequately checking their lifestyle, reputation, financial probity, track record or theological stance
  • Basing major decisions on leadership or other personnel based on 'what God told me/us' and on various signs and co-incidences without reference to the person's character, biblical qualifications or suitability
  • Using 'God told me...' as the last word on any decisions that have been taken
  • Doing things because one 'feels led' and not checking things with other more mature people
That is why I can define myself a a 'Charismatic Evangelical' Christian.  A church like the Living Springs Victory Fellowship (see my next post!) would wholeheartedly call itself charismatic.  But it needs to look carefully at what that does and doesn't actually mean.  I have seen all of the above (and more) in churches and meetings that would call themselves charismatic.  But it doesn't actually mean they are.

Friday, 16 January 2015

On Labels: Charismatic

We are talking church definitions here.

So 'Evangelical' doesn't just mean 'zealous', 'fervent', 'persuasive'.  And Charismatic doesn't necessarily mean possessing a great deal of personal magnetism.

The Christian term 'Charismatic' has taken something of a beating, especially in the States.  Sermons, articles, books and even conferences have been brought about with the intention of warning Christians about these errant people.

But I'm sticking with it, one reason being that for many years, the term 'Pentecostal' attracted utmost suspicion and derision in Christian and unbelieving circles alike, but the term is now relatively respectable.

Evangelical comes from the Greek work 'Euangellion' which means good news, or Gospel.

Charismatic comes from the Greek work 'Charisma' which means Grace-gift.

The New Testament teaches that Holy Spirit(1) gives certain gifts [charisma] to believers, such as Prophecy, other languages(2) (tongues), healing and words of knowledge.  There are many recorded instances of charisma being used by Jesus and the early Christians as well as guidelines as to how they should be used.

A 'cessationist' believes that such things were a temporary phenomenon for the time in which the New Testament was being written, and possibly shortly afterwards.

A Charismatic believes as follows:

- We seek to have an experience of being 'baptised' (filled, immersed, drenched) in Holy Spirit.  This is distinct from conversion and is to be sought by all Christians.
- The baptism in Holy Spirit is normally evidenced by spontaneous speech.  This may be joyful praise, prophesying, speaking in other languages for example.
- We are to seek to be continually filled with Holy Spirit
- Holy Spirit gives us boldness and makes it easier to preach the Gospel.
- Holy Spirit gives gifts, such as prophecy, healing, wisdom, knowledge, discernment and speaking in other languages, distributed to all believers as He wills, applying to all classes, incomes, sexes and ages.  We are to earnestly desire the greater gifts.
- Holy Spirit enables us to preach the Gospel with signs following, such as healing and deliverance from demons.
- Through our knowledge of Scripture, our maturity in Christ and the Gift of Discernment of Spirits, we can identify false prophecy and prophets, counterfeit gifts and miracles thus protecting ourselves from 'wolves' who would damage the church.

Charismatic Churches:
1. Seek for their members to be (initially) baptised in and (continually) filled with Holy Spirit.
2. Earnestly desire spiritual gifts and use them in church meetings and evangelism
3. Use the gift of discernment and scriptural knowledge to weigh up prophecies.
4. Allow suitably gifted people to contribute in meetings no matter what age, education, race, sex or social class.
5. Speak with authority.  Use words of command as well as prayer to deal with sickness and demons.

Why are we charismatic?

Because the Bible, in Acts, says this:

In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.

In Mark Chapter 16, it says this:

He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.  Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.  And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on people who are ill, and they will get well.’
After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.  Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

Note that the command to go into all the world includes the command to heal the sick and cast out demons, although non-charismatic Evangelicals tend to truncate the above verse in Mark, missing off the second sentence.

We are still in the last days.  The term 'last days' refers to the period between Christ's ascension and his return (feel free to check this out).  The Holy Spirit has not withdrawn his power.  Some churches have shut these things out, contrary to the teaching of Paul, who said we should 'earnestly desire the greater gifts'.

(1) I am going to use the phrase 'Holy Spirit' without the definite article, i.e. rather than 'the Holy Spirit'.  Some Bible Teachers such as David Pawson do this, and I believe it does better justice to the Biblical text and emphasises His Personality
(2) I prefer to use the term 'other languages' rather than 'tongues'.  This is a better modern expression of what the Bible says  emphasises the fact that God gives people other languages to speak which have not been learned and can be translated rather than just gibberish.

Friday, 2 January 2015

On Labels: Evangelical

I haven't looked up the definition on Wikipedia - or anywhere else.

But for me, the word 'evangelical' boils down to four things:

True Evangelical churches
1. Teach the Bible
2. Care about unbelievers, and preach the gospel to them
3. Protect themselves against false teaching and compromise
4. State what they believe

The Problem
'Did God really say...?'.  That encounter between the first woman and the serpent is repeated countless times today.  We have stopped daring to take God at his word.  Our theological colleges and churches all too often undermine our faith in God's word instead of strengthening it.  We have countless translations of the Bible in English.  But all too often, it is not read, it is not believed and it is not lived.  And because of our limited knowledge of God through the scriptures, we often resort to a people-pleasing, man-centred Gospel which is not powerful enough to bring true godliness and repentance.

As evangelicals:
- We believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant word of God
- We teach the Bible – we 'exegete' – read out of the passages of the Bible [scripture] what is in there.  We avoid manipulating scripture to make it say what we want.
- We usually teach the Bible in a 'book by book' way, rather than picking out the passages and themes we like.  We do this to try and avoid bias and obsessing over pet themes, keep the content of our teaching balanced and read passages in their proper context.
- We weigh teachings, prophecies, guidance and philosophies against the clear teaching of scripture
- We seek to preach the gospel – the good news of Jesus Christ – to every creature
- The gospel is centred around God's righteousness and our sinfulness.  Our sins deserve God's wrath, and we are saved by the atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, through repentance, faith, baptism and abiding in Christ on our part and the regenerating power of God's Holy Spirit on his part
- We preach the gospel in church meetings and outside of meetings.  We train our members in personal evangelism
- We defend the message of the gospel from false versions of it, warning people against compromise and false teaching.

Non-Evangelical Churches
1. Have no real credibility to most outsiders and some insiders, and in the long run they lose members and eventually die
2. Allow politics and social action to take precedence over the message of the gospel.  Solving temporal problems takes priority over where people spend eternity.
3. Try to make people like them and like God instead of seeing people as spiritually blind and lost sinners in need of a saviour.
4. Compromise the message of the gospel in the face of opponents of Christianity to try and win them over.  They often 'jump on bandwagons', following current belief systems, mixing them with scripture as they see fit.
5. Mix the Bible with tradition or false spirituality or intellectualism.
6. On occasion, add extra traditions and teachings to scripture.
7. Seek unity with other groups within other forms of Christianity and sometimes other religions on a 'lowest common denominator' basis.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

On Labels

“Don't swear!”, a friend once said when I used the term 'evangelical'.  It was the 1980s.  He was very much on the charismatic wing of the church and it was fashionable at that time for some to dismiss the churches evangelical heritage as irrelevant.  I don't follow the soap opera of which Christian leader has said what to whom very closely, but I suspect that the boot is now on the other foot.  To call yourself 'Charismatic' in some circles it to put your head well above the parapet.

I am not keen, however, to abandon a label just because there has been a serious attempt to discredit it.  In fact, insults can be a badge of honour.  The terms 'Christian', 'Methodist', 'Puritan' were coined as terms of abuse.  Spurs supporters have confused the authorities by defiantly calling themselves 'Yids'.  My daughter was asking some time ago for a t-shirt labelled 'Geek'.

Blessed are you when...

The next phase of my blog explains to some degree where I am doctrinally, or to be more exact, my ecclesiology – my view as to how church should be.  It is not to say I won't ever change my mind, but I have firm convictions which are are carefully thought out.

I think that in the UK, terms are less nuanced than they are in the US where, for example, 'Reformed', 'Evangelical' and 'Fundamentalist' are separate terms with their own well defined adherents.  I'm not as sophisticated as that.  Apart from fundamentalist or 'fundy', which has been almost completely discredited over here, I could be happily defined as Reformed or Evangelical.

So the best thing, I think, is to use a term and then define it with my own personal interpretation.

So, very simply, I am going to go through four terms which represent 'where I am', and what foundations a church should be built upon.  Some of my views are 'mainstream' and others are 'radical'.  The church I have a vision for would be pretty unique in the North of England.  Possibly unique in the UK.  Maybe unique in Western Europe.  But I will be bold enough to say that in order for the church to thrive in the 21st century, we need churches like this!