Criticism of inconsistent (and sinful?) continuationism
I mentioned in a previous post that I think it’s wrong for a church to be continuationist (i.e. holding to the theological position that the miraculous spiritual gifts like tongues, healing, prophecy continue today and have not ceased with the death of the apostles or the closing of the New Testament canon) and yet not encourage, practice and promote such gifts in the church. To me, this “open but cautious” position is as good as holding to the cessationist (i.e. the view that the miraculous gifts have ceased) position.
As I get more in touch with the charismatic in me the past year or so, I feel more and more that the Christianity we see today is so different from the radical and powerful Christianity in the early church. Where’s the power? Where are the signs and wonders? Where’s the healing of the sick and the casting out of demons that’s promised us who believe? There’s something definitely missing.
If a church believes that the miraculous spiritual gifts have ceased then you can’t blame them for having church services without the practice of these gifts. You can’t blame them for thinking that merely preaching without accompanying signs and wonders is normal. They are merely being consistent with their beliefs. However, if a church believes that such gifts continue today and yet don’t teach much on them or encourage the pursuit and use of them, such a church is being at best thoroughly inconsistent and at worst sinful, as Sam Storms (a Reformed Charismatic or Charismatic Calvinist) puts it:
In the above video, he’s asked by someone from another church whether it’s
woefully inconsistent for a church like ours that has a leadership… that’s continuationist, not cessationist… Are we inconsistent that it stops there and there’s really no overt pursuit or maybe even interest in practicing the gifts?
Storms response is that for a church that is continuationist in belief, for it
not to actively pursue and pray for and facilitate their (the miraculous spiritual gifts’) expression constitute sin for I believe that 1 Corinthians 14:1, “Earnestly desire spiritual gifts especially that you may prophesy” is not optional. It’s a command...If you’re not earnestly desiring spiritual gifts especially that you may prophesy, you’re sinning. Don’t get mad at me – I didn’t write the verse! Paul did.
So I would simply say: If you really sincerely embrace continuationist theology, you need to go before the Lord, you need begin to pray, you need to begin to ask yourself, “What are we doing to hinder the expression of spiritual gifts. What are we afraid of?”
John Piper used this incredible imagery. He said it frustrates him that preachers would get up and preach about the legitimacy of gifts for today and then follow it up with what he called this “verbalized institutionalization of caution“. In other words, “Oh yes, spiritual gifts are for today. There’s no evidence that they ceased in the first century. Ohhh… but BEWARE!” and then go into long homiletical tirades about fanaticism and extremism. Granted, fanaticism and extremism exist and you ought to avoid it but you do it in such a way that you terrify people. And you put chains on their hearts and their minds and their spirits and you make them fearful that if they should ever explore, if they should ever step up in faith, if they ever pay attention to what they might sense is the voice of God, that if they should ever want to pray for the sick – that they’re somehow going to be rebuked by leadership or marginalized in the church.
It’s interesting what Storms said of Piper regarding him being critical of continuationists who are too cautious for their own good. In a previous post, I wrote that
But I wouldn’t wanna attend a church like his (i.e. Piper’s) because I don’t think (I may be wrong) he encourages the charismatic manifestations of the Spirit.
I believe Storms should know Piper quite well. Both are Reformed, adore Jonathan Edwards and have pretty much the same focus in their ministries – Christian hedonism and the glory of God. John Piper is such a huge hero among Reformed Christians that I’m surprised by what Storms said of Piper. The reason is because Piper moves so much within cessationist and theoretical continuationist (those who believe in continuationism in theory, but don’t practice the gifts) Reformed circles and I haven’t heard much (or anything) about him challenging them on their views or practice. If his church truly practices the miraculous gifts and practicing them means something to him and his church (as Storms seem to be implying through his quote of Piper), then I would think a lot of Reformed Christians would be pretty concerned about him. After all, most Reformed Christians don’t take to charismatics or the practice of miraculous gifts too nicely.
Anyway, I mentioned I may be wrong on Piper. But it would be awesome if Piper and his church actually practice these gifts because I think they would do so in a moderate way (maybe still too cautious for many charismatics because after all some things of the Spirit require lots of risk I think, but it’s still better than being totally conservative in this area and being a theoretical continuationist or cessationist) that would be free of excesses – something many churches could learn from and model after.
And I think having a good model is important because as I wrote before,
there aren’t many great models of good Word and Spirit balance in the Church. And I think that’s one reason why you still have such a huge charismatic/non-charismatic divide in the body of Christ. If there were many churches with that good balance, you’ll have many more churches learning from them and having that balance. But I think it’s because you see so much abuse in the charismatic circles that non-charismatics throw the baby out with the bathwater and refuse to touch anything too charismatic. That’s why you get many churches that profess to be open to charismatic gifts, but refuse to promote them corporately. They are fearful that abuses will occur.
Without good models of non-excessive practical continuationism, throwing the baby out with the bathwater often results yet that shouldn’t be an option as Storms put it nicely in the above video:
I don’t take vows. I don’t believe in making vows because I always break them. But I have made one vow to God that by His grace till this day I have never broke… I was sitting at home and I was watching television. It was one of the religious stations… He was praying for the sick and prophesying and I wanted to deck him! It was horrible. It was offensive. It was manipulative. It was abusive. It was irreverent toward God. It was unfair to people… I felt myself recoiling. It was like I was saying, “If that’s what it means to walk in the power of the Spirit, I don’t want anything to do with it.” Then I stopped. I said, “Wait a minute. Why would you allow the error, immaturity and abuses of a man like that or even many men like that to dictate whether or not you want to obey the Bible?” And I realized that most evangelicals are diligent to observe the eleventh commandment: Thou shalt not do at all what others do poorly… So I said, “Lord, with your help and your grace I commit to You this day, I will never again justify my disobedience to your word by appealing to the abuse of others.”
Defense of inconsistent (and sinful?) continuationism
Now on to the defense of theoretical continuationism. In the above, Ray Orlund Jr. states his belief in continuationism as opposed to cessationism. Yet he also humbly acknowledges that he’s not a practising continuationist:
Pastorally, I’ve a lot of questions…What do I do with this, how do I understand this, how do I live this out. But I think probably the reality is I have not been pressured by circumstances to address those issues in my life. I’ve just been facing other things in my time. I have a long to-do list and I’ll get around to it. I mean honestly, it’s not that it isn’t important. It’s just I can’t do everything at once.
I really like what he said and how he said it. Firstly, he wasn’t defensive. He recognizes that he and his church ought to be practising the miraculous gifts if they are to be consistent with the Bible. I think that requires a lot of humility to acknowledge that and there’s no shame in admitting that one may be wrong – if you recognize that God’s acceptance of you is not dependent on how good a Christian or pastor you are! Secondly, I’m quite sympathetic to what he said regarding having too many things to focus on and not being able to do everything at once. I think pastors have huge responsiblities and I’ve always had utmost respect for pastors and missionaries.
I would never want to be a pastor (but who knows what God has in plan) because you’ll have to take a lot of crap from lots of people – your own members, people outside overly-critical of your theology and practices, etc. Actually, for me, perhaps the biggest fear is not living up to my own expectations of how a pastor or church ought to be like. I would never live up to the kind of standard that I believe I should live up to. And I’m aware of this even as I write my posts. I’m still very much learning and not up there yet – and will never be. While I recognize this failure in myself and others, I do believe there’s a place for constructive criticism, focusing on beliefs and practices – not people – and without being malicious or judgmental. I hope this is how this blog is viewed – for the purpose of discussion, learning and building up.
Let me end by saying that while I admire Ray’s humility in acknowledging his failure in this area (if I may put it that way – no shame in failing, we all do and I myself have got so much to learn in this area), I do hope he eventually gets down to seeing the importance of pursuing the miraculous spiritual gifts and getting his church to practice them. Yes, in this modern world there are many pressing priorities for all of us, yet the way I see it, I think the Reformed community is utterly lopsided in their focus on the Word at the expense of moving in the Spirit. Ray says the miraculous spiritual gifts are important. But it’s really about how important he thinks they are. If everything is important, then in reality nothing is important. Personally, the way I see how Jesus and the apostles ministered, I think moving in the miraculous spiritual gifts is of utmost importance. I may be wrong, but that’s the way I see it right now.