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Thursday, 21 April 2011

The Blessings (and Problems) of the Charismatic Movement

Lots of Pluses
No-one should deny the tremendous blessings that the so-called charismatic movement has brought to the western evangelical churches. Here are some....
  • New songs - the false notion that old hymns are the only way to express our praise to God was broken by the many new songs and hymns introduced by our Charismatic friends
  • New wine - new ways of doing things and especially a re-evaluation of how we do church, going back to the New Testament has been a tremendous blessing (the idea that a hymn sandwich, for example, was the only way to 'do church' was exposed, for what it was - a human tradition, nothing more, and nothing less)
  • New emphasis on the Spirit - we westerners live in a culture which screens out the supernatural (unless its wacky) and this enlightenment spell was if not broken, at least questioned by the Charismatic Movement.
  • New emphasis on small groups - a wonderful 'going back' to the New Testament, where Christians not only met together but encouraged and taught one another 
  • New emphasis on all-member ministry - when you think of it, how crazy - only one man's gifts in the church (the pastor's gifts) recognised as valuable! Now we expect everyone to exercise their gifts and think of the church much less in clergy/lay terms and more in brother / sister terms. 
From these points, we ought to think of the charismatic movement as a true move of God's Spirit, renewing the church. But since men and women are involved, we discover some flaws. Here are four, none of which detract from the above:

Weakness #1:  A reduced emphasis on God's Word
There is no doubt that as a general rule (noble exceptions abound, this is a generalisation I am aware) the charismatic movement (CM) is weak on the Word. By this I mean, the Word is not so fully or faithfully preached, and believers are not so encouraged to be rooted and live out of the Word.

Weakness #2:  An over-emphasis on the overtly supernatural gifts
All too often the 'showy gifts' are exalted while gifts like administration, giving and helping are either ignored or underplayed. And yet these gifts are just as necessary to the work of the Kingdom and we need just as much empowering to employ them.

Weakness #3:  A failure to be honest about miracles
Let me come clean: I have been to dozens of healing meetings ranging from Kathryn Kuhlman to Toronto Blessing and I have never yet witnessed nor heard of a miracle-meeting or healer whose healings come anywhere near the category of the radical miracles of the NT. I believe God can heal, and I have heard of real healings. But all too often the miracles of our charismatic friends are small fry: back pains gone, headaches subside, and so on - which we don't deny could be of God or are of value - they just do not come into the league of Jesus' or his disicples' miracles. It is for this reason that 'critics' believe that all too often the 'miracles' of the charismatic movement are psycho-somatic - i.e. they deal with symptoms that are caused by mind problems such as stress, rather than dealing with biological ailments.

Weakness #4:  A real problem with glory-through-suffering
None of the above compare with this, my biggest problem with the CM. You and I live under the shadow of the cross and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. His way is more than something for him, it's a paradigm for us. To follow Jesus is to understand in our own life two things: suffering is part of the deal, and suffering precedes glory. The two on the road to Emmaus completely misunderstood this (Luke 24). They read the good bits about the Messiah (reigning, etc.) but didn't want to take on board the bad bits (suffering). Further, they did not see that suffering was not only part of the Messiah's work, it was necessary to it. There is no glory without suffering.

If whenever we have problems of whatever kind in our lives, we get out our spiritual guns and zap them away, we misunderstand the cross and resurrection of the Lord. Problems are allowed by the Lord to prepare us for glory. Out of suffering we become more sympathetic, more holy, more humble, more Christ like. Out of the bitterness of sowing, comes harvest. Suffering is not only part of the Christian life, it is a necessary part of the Christian life. Zapping it away with an experience isn't always the best thing. Working through it, asking for strength in weakness, learning to triumph in sorrow, victory through temptation is a more Christ-ian way of handling suffering.

Sometimes God may want to 'zap' away our problems. More often he chooses to teach us through them and ultimately, through this valley of sorrow, to bring us through to the triumph of the new heavens and new earth.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Roy. This is a very helpful analysis. Another related problem of the CM is the pressure to perform. If your cell group does not grow enough, so the thinking goes, you may be lacking in the Spirit! This brings about many unnecessary guilt feelings.