Monday, July 18, 2005

What IS a Reformed Charismatic?

In the theological world, every now and then "buzz" words become very much en vogue. Some organisations and individuals are becoming very proud that if certain buzz words such as "Reformed" or "Charismatic" are entered into a Google search engine, their website comes up at the top. What kind of world are we now living in? What do these words mean? At certain points it is crucial that definition comes to bring light to the words and adjectives that we use.

In my understanding therefore, I am proud to call myself a Reformed Charismatic for the following reasons. We:

1. Honour the Word of God.

Any definition absolutely must begin here, by virtue that I have used the term "Reformed". I believe totally and utterly in the supremacy and sufficiency of Scripture as the final authority of God speaking and communicating to man. So what are the great Reformed Doctrines of the faith as found in the Word of God that I, as a Reformed Charismatic, am particularly passionate about?

God's Sovereignity.

20 years under Dr Stanley Jebb has taught me that God is supremely sovereign over all things - time, space, history, Creation. His response to wars and rumours of wars and the strife and plotting of men? He laughs. Hallelujah! That is a great comfort beyond all comforts! To know that my Father rules the cosmos!

God's Grace.

I didn't begin to learn about the grace of God truly until I was at Stoneleigh Bible Week 1999 and I heard Terry Virgo's masterful series on the Grace of God - teaching me to say "no!". Since then it has been an awesome adventure to learn more and more of the outrageous nature of God's grace to me. Grace is a hugely misused word - awfully abused in some situations. I have sung about grace in situations that were supremly legalistic, I have attended a church with grace as it's banner that know's nothing of the grace of God in it's practice with leaders who think nothing of heavy shepherding and so on ... yet this aside - true grace is the most amazing revelation of all!

The Finished Work of Christ.

C J Mahaney has brought the most amazing and cutting insight into the Death of Christ known today I think in his presentation of "The Cup" at the Brighton Leader's Conference 2005. It was breathtaking. The agony that Christ went through ... for us? Truly the hymn is correct; "That Thou, My God shouldst die for me? Tis mercy all!". However it is incorrect as Dr Ern Baxter points out to "stop" at the Cross. This is again something I have had to experience for 2 years. While they may acknowledge the Resurrection in their thinking, some are so carried away by their restoration of the teaching and application of the Cross for Christians that they forget to follow through and teach that; "If Christ be not raised, our faith is IN VAIN!". Therefore true Reformed doctrine sees the Christ triumphing over sin and death and rising from the grave and appearing to the testament of many.

But He does not stay as the gardener. He indeed ascended on high gloriously leading a host with Him - the gates of heaven were flung open and He was seated crowned with glory and honour. And the Father told Him to sit - until His enemies are made His footstool. And there we have the basis of true Restoration. That history will not wind up with Jesus Christ the loser and His church a defeated Bride. Jesus shall indeed "reign where'er the sun doth it's successive journey's run". And when He was seated and glorified His coronation oil was the outpoured Holy Spirit that came down on the Day of Pentecost and has been coming down ever since! Joel's prophecy has been fulfilled! (but by no means finished).

2. Welcome the Spirit of God.

Although we have hugely benefited from the Charismatic Movement of the 1970's and the renewal and restoring of the moving and working of the Spirit of God, I believe that Terry Virgo is crucially right to remind us of what actually makes us "charismatic". I am a generation on from the 1970's. The battles over using the gifts of the Spirit in most churches are coming to an end. The wars that rage over contemporary songs are largely over and won. Yet what MAKES us "charismatic"?

Some may adopt a "charismatic dimension". Is that acceptable? We learn from the Word of God that the Spirit will largely go as far as we allow. He will not force Himself on those who don't want Him to. But to my mind, a charismatic "dimension" suggests that such people are comfortable with a section of their lives being related to the Spirit of God and thus far and no more. They have selected what they like from life when He is present, but boundaries are laid. That is a misdemenour to me - surely Dr Lloyd-Jones is right by saying that the greatest sin of the evangelical world is to put God and His Spirit into a box.

We are a people who cherish and crave a relationship with the living, active and powerful Holy Spirit. We believe that He has indeed been poured out on all flesh and that when His Presence is manifestly active in a church - that things will begin to happen! What things? Those things are are laid down and dictated by in the Word of God! He will lift our gaze to God, He will testify that Jesus Christ is raised from the dead and seated on high, He will convict the world of sin, He will remind us of all things, He will encourage, He will bless, He will ultimately bring change!! Because He is indeed the Potter and we are the clay - therefore when we meet together we can pray with boldness, openness and confidence; "Come Holy Spirit!".

3. Shaped by Church History.

Dr Sam Storms submitted eight excellent reasons why this is vital and why I believe a true Reformed Charismatic should be shaped by the example of those who have gone before us. Pay special heed to point 4.

1. We read in Acts 1:1 that the Gospel of Luke was an account of "all that Jesus began to do and to teach." The book of Acts is the account of what Jesus continued to do and teach through his church. Although Acts concludes on a triumphant note (28:31), Jesus has not ceased to act. The history of the church and the development of its understanding of doctrine is nothing less than the final chapter of the book of Acts. Jesus is no less alive today, working through and on behalf of his people, than he was in the days of Peter and Paul. Although we do not have an inspired record of this activity, we can and should learn much from the ongoing manifestation of Jesus in his body, the church.

2. The importance of historical theology is also due to the fact that it is, in a manner of speaking, a study of the interpretation of Holy Scripture. Thus when we speak of the development of doctrine we have in mind the interpretation and re-interpretation of Scripture by individuals. The truths of the Word never change. They do, however, undergo formulation, attack, re-formulation, and so on through time. We must always distinguish between divine truth as it is in itself (the Bible), and the gradual apprehension of that truth in the course of human experience.

3. Doctrinal statements and creedal affirmations have played an essential role in the life of both individual believers and the corporate church. By them we assert what we believe and how our beliefs distinguish us from those who we regard as being in error. Yet no one ever produced a doctrinal statement or confession of faith in isolation. So much of what we bring to the Bible (be it conscious or not) has come to us from past generations.

4. Historical Theology is also the study of the manifold work of the Holy Spirit. There are two primary ways in which this is true:

· To deny the validity and value of historical theology is to deny the ongoing process of divine illumination. Canonical revelation ceased with the writing of the book of Revelation. But the Spirit continues to illumine the hearts and minds of those for whom he is Teacher. To deny the importance of studying this process is to refuse to acknowledge in the past what we so jealously claim for ourselves in the present. Who would dare suggest that the Holy Spirit ceased his teaching ministry in a.d. 95 only to have resumed it in this present age

· Related to the above is the truth relating to spiritual gifts. As Christians we should strive to profit from all the gifts graciously bestowed on the entire body of Christ. The Holy Spirit has ministered and edified the church in the past through the charismata no less than he does in the present. The fruit of these gifts is available to us through the diligent study of the lives and literature of such great saints as Augustine, Anselm, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Edwards, Spurgeon, and others. We are diligent to heed the instruction and exhortation of contemporary teachers and leaders. Why, then, do we arrogantly ignore those who have taught and led with equal insight in centuries past

5. The history of the church and its theology is the record of divine providence. The Bible loudly asserts that God is sovereign and Lord over all of history. He is actively and effectively and for his own glory directing the course of human experience such that all things will be consummated in Christ Jesus. To study historical theology is to study God at work! History is, in point of fact, the redemptive strategy of God. Consider the words of the psalmist (Ps. 77:11-13): “I shall remember the deeds of the Lord; surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will meditate on all Your work and muse on Your deeds. Your way, O God, is holy; what god is great like our God” In that light, John Piper writes:

“The aim of providence in the history of the world is the worship of the people of God. Ten thousand stories of grace and truth are meant to be remembered for the refinement of faith and the sustaining of hope and the guidance of love. . . . Those who nurture their hope in the history of grace will live their lives to the glory of God” (The Legacy of Sovereign Joy [Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2000], 18).

6. Through the careful and diligent study of historical theology we are alerted to the destructive heresies and pernicious tactics of Satan in his never-ending effort to destroy what God is building. We must acknowledge that “there have been periods in the history of the church and its theology when seeing the hand of God maintaining it in truth is a sheer act of faith. There are other periods or chapters of the story when it takes little faith to see God at work restoring truth”. The study of historical theology will protect the student from dangerous theological paths, for no doctrine of the Word has come down to us untouched.

7. Historical Theology is also the study of people. Three considerations are important here:

· First, the study of historical theology reveals to us both faith and failure from which we can learn much.

· But, secondly, we must also be careful in how we appropriate the insights of great individuals of the past. We should never challenge someone’s evangelical credentials simply because he/she fails to agree completely with an Augustine or Luther or Edwards or Wesley. We who are evangelicals must always view historical tradition as our servant, not our master. Our consciences are ultimately bound only to Scripture.

· Finally, while historical tradition is not an infallible guide to biblical orthodoxy, it helps us meet the challenge of radical individualism.

8. Historical Theology is crucial because of what it shows us concerning the emergence, development, refinement, and ultimate impact of Christian belief. Why is this crucial Because of three truths.

· First, belief matters. What people believe affects how they live. “Bad theology,” said J. I. Packer, “hurts people.” We simply must devote ourselves to understanding what people in the church have come to believe, why, and how it affected them then and how it affects us now.

· Second, some beliefs matter more than others. Some doctrines, such as that of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and the nature of salvation are worthy of debate and precise thinking. Heresy is not always a bad word, for it identifies what is false that we might see and embrace what is true.

· But third, sometimes some beliefs matter too much. The disturbing thing about historical theology is the revelation of how Christians have done un-Christian things to each other in defense of doctrines that, in the ultimate scheme of things, don’t matter all that much.

9. The study of historical theology also “demonstrates how the interpretation of the Bible was governed, often to an uncomfortable extent, by cultural and philosophical assumptions” (McGrath, 149). In taking note of this we can avoid the danger of thinking that “evangelicals can read Scripture and reflect on it in a detached, objective, and culture-free manner” (149).

4. Guided by the Prophetic.

While much concerning the spiritual gifts has been won by our father's generation, I am still convinced that much nervousness surrounds the current New Testament Gift of Prophecy. While many so called "charismatics" would not take the high and easy road to practicing cessationism, most would fall into the "open but cautious" camp. Therefore the gift of prophecy would be permitted in church as long as it was to remind those present of Jesus' love for them. While my tongue is firmly in my proverbial cheek I am concerned when I hear a senior pastor of some years experience with responsibility for 200 to 300 people tell his congregation that he is nervous of "predictive" prophecy and doesn't think it should happen. This is a clear response to excess. A review of New Testament prophecy is clear that God can and does guide His people through the prophetic - never apart from His Word or in opposition to it! Of course not. But to the listening ear, His Spirit truly speaks.

In conjunction with this, I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that God is currently bringing His church to a place of exercising the prophetic to such a degree that 1 Corinthians will be fulfilled and unbelievers are going to walk into our gatherings, hear the prophetic in action and fall down "declaring God is truly among you". Already this year, at Brighton, an unbelieving friend of mine has prophesised to me of things God has been speaking about and of which he knew nothing!

5. Pursuing the Lost.

What is the point of all of this unless the Great Comission is fulfilled? We absolutely must have at the heart and at the end of all our theological debates and discussions, the inevitable question - how will this further the spread of the gospel? We must regain a heart for the lost!

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