The mid-morning sun began to raise the temperature still further inside the giant exhibition hall where the Turbo-Tens meeting was taking place. The worship band up on the platform led throngs of sweaty between-agers in another energy filled session of praise. When I think about it I can almost smell the room. If you went to that kind of a Bible week as a kid, you know what I’m talking about! It was the long hot summer of 1995 at Stoneleigh Bible Week in Warwickshire, England.
What happened next will stay with me until the day I die. As we worshiped the atmosphere became so charged, so heavy it’s hard for me to explain. Some began to laugh uncontrollably, some began to cry. A young lad I’d met that week who had some learning difficulties was so powerfully overcome that he dropped to the floor without even putting his hands out to break the fall. I looked on concerned. When he rolled over his face was contorted, not with pain, but with joy. It was unreal. I too was deeply touched in that meeting. I know it was the Holy Spirit, I was marked that day, I’m sure many others were too.
You see, I’m a dyed in the wool Charismatic. I’ve led supernatural evangelism teams on the streets, prophesied over strangers, seen God supernaturally heal people too many times to deny that He still heals today. I was commissioned into my former pastorate position by none other than John Arnott of Toronto Airport Fellowship, a man for whom I have a real respect.
But, I’m also Reformed. I affirm the five points of Calvinism, I’m confessional in my faith, I believe in the absolute sovereignty of God over all things and in the sufficiency of the scriptures. Sadly, this was too much to stomach for some of my Charismatic friends who seem to hate the doctrine of the reformers like nothing else, even though they hold the reformers themselves in high esteem. I’m sure there are many reasons for this hatred, and I don’t pretend to know all of them but I’ll take a stab at one of them.
Reformed theology always brings reform.
The reformers were a pain in the backside for the establishment back in the 16th century. Their voices cried out, ‘something’s not right here’ and of course that ruffled the feathers of those at the top. The reformers held the Roman Catholic church to account, ‘Sola Scriptura’ was their cry. No one gets to stand above or even on a level with the Bible as an authority in the Church. In the last 20 years Charismatic Christianity has experienced more growth than any other Christian denomination. It has become fat, flabby and comfortable in its success. Since the halcyon days of Wimber and the Jesus People a new Charismatic aristocracy has arisen. Many of these individuals believe themselves to be modern day Apostles and Prophets, they have huge ministries, mind boggling financial resources and influence that it’s hard to overestimate.
The Church of Rome with which Luther strove was at the zenith of its powers, full of big personalities and flush with cash and influence. It had become drunk on it’s own power, on it’s own unparalleled influence to define life for the average peasant. When the power of man is exalted in the Church, the power of God is always what is diminished. The Bible had become just another source of authority, along with tradition and the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Ultimately Rome taught (and still does) that only the Roman Catholic Church had the ability to properly interpret the scriptures, therefore in their eyes no one outside their own teaching Magisterium could effectively hold them to account. The result of all this was that superstition abounded; strange extra-biblical doctrines such as purgatory and the payment of indulgences were taught as dogma. It took men like Jan Hus, John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, John Knox and John Calvin standing stridently on scripture alone, risking (and often losing) their own lives to make a change. The modern Charismatic Church is becoming a faint picture of the Church of Rome back then; power-hungry personalities lord it over the Biblically illiterate masses while they obfuscate the doctrines of scripture and get rich in the process.
Enough is enough.
You know Luther is often called the unwitting Reformer. He never expected that the 95 theses he nailed to the church door in Wittenberg would end up playing a significant role in the biggest schism in church history. Luther hoped it might bring about some debate at a scholarly level and hopefully bring about some change within the Catholic Church, he never intended to start Protestantism. I don’t wish to leave the Charismatic Church, I don’t wish to see it up in flames, but I do want to see it reformed. So I’m not here to snark or throw cheap shots. Charismatic leaders are used to that, and it’s like water off a ducks back, they dismiss the criticism as bitterness from someone under the sway of a religious spirit. We have to love the Charismatic Church, love the people, love the leaders and engage strongly, scripturally but winsomely. I may not have 95 theses, but I’ve got 7 you can have right here, right now.
What Needs Reforming
1. The Gospel
Because doctrine is so derided in the modern Charismatic movement the Gospel has suffered as a result. Now don’t get me wrong, Charismatic evangelists are some of the most bold and passionate out there. But the problem isn’t with the activity of preaching it’s with what’s being preached. It’s impossible to preach the good news if you don’t know what the news is! Knowing what the good news of the gospel is is a matter of doctrine. “Jesus loves you, man” falls desperately short of a proclamation of the gospel. In fact as the late David Pawson pointed out, in all the apostolic preaching to unbelievers recorded in the book of Acts the love of God isn’t mentioned once. That’s not to say it isn’t important to the message, of course it underpins it all! But the point is, the Gospel can be preached without even mentioning God’s love. So what are the major headlines of this Good News?
- The sinfulness of all mankind
- Our guilt before a holy and just God
- God’s provision of a Saviour in His Son Jesus Christ who dies for our sins in accordance with the scriptures and takes the wrath of God against our sin upon Himself.
- His resurrection and ultimate triumph over sin and death which is ours by faith and faith alone.
- You must repent and believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins
Sure, you can word it slightly differently but you can’t change the essential ingredients, nor can you preach a skinnied-down gospel-lite and still call it the gospel.
How is the Charismatic Church guilty of this charge? By failing to teach these doctrines the leaders of the Charismatic movement have left the door open to anti-gospel wolves like W. M. Paul Young (The Shack) and Brian Zahnd (Sinners in the hands of a loving God). These men hate substitutionary atonement, they hate the holiness of God and therefore the Charismatic Church by failing to uphold man’s depravity and God’s holiness have let these wolves in to ravage their churches and rob them of the true Gospel which is the power of God unto salvation.
2. Stop Repping the TPT
Just stop it. If you think I’m attacking the TPT because I just don’t like the way it sounds think again. Brian Simmons (it’s author) hasn’t even had proper training in the biblical languages, this has been confirmed by the missionary organisation that he used to work for where he claims to have translated the Bible into native languages.
It’s not just that Mr Simmons has lied about this, it’s that his translation of the Bible is appalling.
Here’s John 18:36 in the original Greek: ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς ἡ βασιλεία ἡ ἐμὴ οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου τούτου εἰ ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου τούτου ἦν ἡ βασιλεία ἡ ἐμή οἱ ὑπηρέται οἱ ἐμοὶ ἠγωνίζοντο ἄν ἵνα μὴ παραδοθῶ τοῖς Ἰουδαίοις νῦν δὲ ἡ βασιλεία ἡ ἐμὴ οὐκ ἔστιν ἐντεῦθεν
Here’s the TPT of the same verse: “Jesus looked at Pilate and said, “The royal power of my kingdom realm doesn’t come from this world. If it did, then my followers would be fighting to the end to defend me from the Jewish leaders. My kingdom realm authority is not from this realm.”” John 18:36 TPT
How Simmons is getting “The royal power of my kingdom realm” from ἡ βασιλεία ἡ ἐμὴ (hē Basileia hē emē – my Kingdom) I have no idea. If you don’t have a problem with this kind of thing, adding random words into scripture without warrant then you have no argument against someone standing up and preaching from the New World Translation in your church. Charismatic leaders, get of the TPT gravy train, admit you were wrong, apologise to your congregations and go study the Biblical languages. I mean actually, reading an interlinear doesn’t count.
3. Stop with the Titles
For roughly 1900 years no orthodox Christian pastor, teacher, evangelist, leader has dared take the title of Apostle. Not even the so called ‘apostolic fathers’ of the second century many of whom actually knew the real apostles betook that title for themselves. Yet in the Charismatic world Bob and Debbie from down the road are Apostles now too, replete with all the authority of Peter or Paul to govern over elderships, making decisions for them on a whim based on ‘fresh revelations.’ Even if we concede that there are apostles today in the sense that Dr Michael Brown means (missionaries, church planters, network leaders), the office of Apostle (capital A) in the church has undoubtedly ceased since there’s no one alive today who can fulfill the criteria listed in Acts 1:21-22. Those who believe that they have now succeeded where centuries of scholars, theologians and churchmen have failed in recognising the continuation of the office of Apostle need to check themselves. Interestingly, many who teach the office of Apostle for today also believe that they themselves are Apostles. Funny that.
The Charismatic Church needs to reaffirm the Biblical teaching of eldership as God’s ordained governance system for the Church, and not just pay it lip service, but put it into practice. It’s within this setting that we then get to see how the various Spiritual Gifts of the eldership play out in leadership.
The Charismatic Church’s obsession with celebrities has to die a swift and brutal death. How? Well, it’d help if we as leaders did all we can to point people away from ourselves and towards Jesus. Perhaps not acting like a celebrity might help too. I dunno.
4. Return to Expository Preaching
It has been said that a church is only ever as strong as it’s preaching. Yet what passes for preaching in many of our churches today isn’t really much more than a TED talk with a couple of proof texts thrown in for good measure. What the people of God need is the Word of God. Expository preaching makes scripture the driver of the preacher and not the preacher the driver of scripture. You work through whole books of the Bible sometimes verses by verse, painstakingly working to understand the meaning and application of each text before presenting it to the church. When done properly and consistently expository preaching militates against the pastor simple teaching what he likes and ignoring what he doesn’t and it gives the congregation a more full-orbed understanding of God’s Word.
5. Christ-Centered Worship
I’m captivated by Pliny’s account of Christian worship written in the early second century;
“they were in the habit of meeting before dawn on a stated day and singing alternately a hymn to Christ as to a god.”
Christians were known because of their worship, and this worship was ‘to Christ.’ The direction of our songs of praise is upwards to Him. Too much of our worship these days is naval-gazing drivel. We sing about our struggles, about our experiences, about who we are. If we’re not careful our worship ends up being oddly more centered on ourselves than on God.
Christ must be lifted up in our praise and worship again. Let’s return to the old hymns and Psalms that have served many generations of Christians so well. I’m a musician and a songwriter too, and I absolutely believe we ought to be writing new hymns for our generation. It’s not the case that any modern worship song is by definition a bad worship song, it’s just unfortunate that there aren’t more Biblical song writers out there today. Worship leaders of today could take a leaf out of the Reformed Rap world here; artists like Shai Linne, Timothy Brindle, J Givens and Stephen the Levite pack more theology into their work than the average preacher does on a Sunday.
6. Let’s Get Confessional
One of the greatest weapons in our arsenal against the lies of Satan are the protestant confessions of faith; the Westminster Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Augsburg Confession, the Canons of Dort and even the 39 Articles of the Church of England. These documents condense great Christian doctrines into easily digested, memorable statements of faith. We even teach them to our kids!
A confessional church is a church that regularly utilises these confessions during worship in order to engender unity in the body of Christ. You see, unity isn’t Christian unless it’s built on doctrine. There’s no unity between the truth and a lie, so by consistently affirming the truth about God together as a church we grow in unity together and are simultaneously reinforced against the enemy.
7. Teach Apologetics
A study in the United States a few years back found that over 70% of young people raised in Christian households departed the church after their first year at College. The main reason they gave? Intellectual scepticism.
Charismatic Christianity has largely traded in on reason and logic for emotion and experience. This isn’t of course universal, there are odd exceptions to the rule, but in general the charge runs true. I only know of two Charismatic Churches in the UK at present who offer regular teaching in apologetics. This is appalling. Our kids are going off into a wholly secular society completely unprotected against intellectual challenges to what they believe. Instead of teaching our kids and young people about the reliability of scripture, how the Bible was formed, the evidence for the Jesus as an historical figure and for his resurrection we teach them to ‘soak’. What’s sad is it won’t even take a Christopher Hitchens to rock the faith of most Charismatic kids, just an average joe with a Dan Brown book will do the job.
It’s time to reform our childrens and youth ministry. We have to start preparing them for the world that they’re about to enter rather than the world that we entered, times have changed.
I have reason to hope for the Charismatic Church. It has been the vessel through which God has blessed the Church on a global scale immensely over the past few decades and I don’t think He’s done with it yet. However it is in a crucial transitional period, with many of it’s key leaders edging towards their seventies and eighties things look set to change in the coming years. Will the movement started by men like Wimber and Wallis descend into chaos or will reformation come? Time will tell.