When we first started planning for the WorshipGod06 conference, “The Glory of His Presence,” we hoped to bring biblical clarity to our understanding of God’s presence.
This theme of the conference sought to address two issues. The first was those in the “charismatic” camp who place too much emphasis on the gifts of prophecy, tongues, miracles, and healings. They make the mistake of valuing them over other gifts of the Spirit, trusting them more than Scripture, being more excited about them than God’s Word, or using them for self-promotion. The other issue was Christians, “cessationist” or otherwise, for whom the Holy Spirit is functionally irrelevant. They love the Savior, read His Word, and love His church, but have no awareness that God is actually present with them to work in, through, and among them. There is no expectation as the church gathers, and no realization that God is truly present with them.
Tim Challies, a gracious and humble man, live-blogged the entire event. Over at Tim’s site a number of people have been debating over things that he reported in response to Session 5 and his concluding reflections. At the very least, the comments there have demonstrated one of the weaknesses of the blogosphere. Some seized upon Tim’s secondhand account of the conference to criticize, question, and find fault with Sovereign Grace, me, and charismatics in general. Others have responded by coming to our defense, or at least seeking to address the attitude behind the original criticisms.
Let me attempt to share what I think the important issues are and what they aren’t.
The label we wear isn’t the ultimate issue – exalting Jesus Christ is.
I find defining Christians as “charismatic” or “cessationist” increasingly unhelpful. (UPDATE: see my comment below). Part of that is due to the many ways those terms are used. I’ve met cessationists whose views are very similar to mine, with a few tweaks. I’ve also known charismatics with whom I have many disagreements. Yet I, along with Sovereign Grace Ministries, would classify myself as a charismatic. The term “continuationist” may be a good alternative, but whatever label we choose to use for ourselves or others, let’s make sure our priority is being “biblical” Christians. We should be seeking more of God’s presence in our lives while joyfully submitting to the constraints of God’s eternal Word. Oftentimes, I find that someone’s view of charismatics or cessationists is built on caricatures, bad experiences, or uncharitable judgment. This was the acknowledged mindset of Tommy, a 27 year old worship leader from California, who attended the conference. He commented on one of my previous posts:
“I’ve always been leery of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in
Charismatic churches for most of my life because of the abuse I’ve seen
and heard over the years. The Leadership of WorshipGod06 gave a clear,
biblical, and careful treatment of the issues surrounding the presence
of God in the church today and where the manifestation of the Holy
Spirit fits into that matrix. I was deeply convicted of my being too
quick to judge on some of these issues. As a result of attending this
conference I love God more and am learning to pray with great
anticipation that God make himself felt and known more in my life and
in our gatherings as a church. Its been too long that I’ve dismissed
the prominent ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church.
Thank you for your careful explanations and for being patient with
those of us who haven’t previously shared such experiences with
Christians who call themselves Charismatic.”
It pleases the Lord when we humbly acknowledge our own excesses and weaknesses before we seek to point out the errors in others.
The existence of certain gifts isn’t the issue – acknowledging our dependence on the Holy Spirit’s presence and power is.
Biblical scholars much smarter than me make a convincing case for the existence of the “supernatural” gifts today. Among them are D.A. Carson (Showing the Spirit), Wayne Grudem (Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?), John Piper (sermon series from early 1990 on Compassion, Power, and the Kingdom of God), Martyn Lloyd-Jones (The Sovereign Spirit), and Gordon Fee (Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God). However, it’s not crucial to me that you speak in tongues or believe in the gift of prophecy. What does concern me is the number of Christians whose lives are characterized by self-sufficiency and self-confidence, devoid of a functional dependence on God, who gives gifts, produces activities, and enables service for the building up of the church (1 Cor. 12:4-7). It dishonors the Savior when churches are built more on business models, marketing techniques, and human psychology than the power of God revealed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, through the working of the Holy Spirit. Every church should be able to point to SOME manifestations of the Spirit’s working in their midst. Jesus ascended to the Father’s right hand so that we might be able to receive God’s Spirit and benefit from his empowering presence. Are we dependent on Him? As Graham Harrison states on the Banner of Truth website:
“There can be no substitute for that manifested presence of God which is always a biblical possibility for the people of God. When it is not being experienced they should humbly seek him for it, not neglecting their ongoing duties, nor denying their present blessings, but recognizing that there is always infinitely more with their God and Father who desires fellowship with those redeemed by the blood of his Son and regenerated by the work of his Spirit.”
Defining the gifts of the Spirit isn’t the issue – evidencing the fruit of the Spirit is.
If these kinds of supernatural gifts still exist – tongues, prophecy, healing, and working of miracles – how do we exercise them in a way that builds up the body and honors God’s Word as our ultimate revelation? That’s what we’re seeking to do in Sovereign Grace Ministries. However, if others disagree with us, we want to relate to them humbly, graciously, and very aware of our own weaknesses. And wherever we agree on the most important issues – the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the pre-eminence of God’s Word, the priority of the local church – we want to celebrate and work together for the advancing of God’s purposes in the earth.
Without in any way minimizing the importance of doctrine, knowledge or the expression of spiritual gifts, God makes it clear in 1 Cor. 13 what the ultimate issue is – demonstrating a love made possible through the Gospel. And may we all demonstrate that kind of love, that a watching world might come to know salvation is found in no other name, but the name of Jesus Christ.