Saturday, February 11, 2006

Towards a Reformed Charismatic Theology?

1. The Problem Stated.

The last couple of posts by Mark and myself have re-reminded me of the vitality of holding a constant tension between the Word (Reformed Doctrine) and the Spirit (Charismatic Life and Experience). It seems that despite the vast progress in revelation and outworking in church life that men such as Ern Baxter, R T Kendall, Sam Storms and church movements such as Newfrontiers and Ministries Without Borders have brought, this question must still be dealt with seriously and in the present imperative.

What makes me say so? I note with concern and interest the comments that I quoted in my last post such as; "PDI pastor Craig Cabaniss, stated ... that PDI had chosen "Geneva" ... over "Toronto". Why did they have to choose? Are the two so dynamically opposed? I quote again; "participation in the 90s renewal had been officially forgotten, and there was a total emphasis on the Cross of Christ, the writings of C.H. Spurgeon, and on identifying and rooting out "indwelling sin" in each member". Again why must renewal be neglected in place of the Cross, Spurgeon and "indwelling sin"? Let me make it absolutely clear - this is NOT a post directly about SGM/PDI - it is simply that the previous post concerning them seems to demonstrate the dilemma I see facing the national church.

That dilemma to me - is that I think the "Reformed Charismatic" corporate body and individuals have a desperate need for a deep foundation based on systematic theology.

2. The Problem Solved?

Enter John Hosier - and Mark's post. I do think in light of the dilemma stated, that John Hosier's unofficial "Newfrontiers Systematic Theology" could never have been timed better. It is noteworthy that Hosier began in his lectures (as must ANY Reformed Charismatic Systematic Theology) with the Word of God. I want to suggest 3 points where any Reformed Charismatic Systematic Theology should begin.

a. The Word of God.

If we fully accept the totality of the Word of God in unprejudiced fulness and acceptance then surely the following truths must apply:

- The New Covenant era of the Holy Spirit will be even MORE glorious than the Old (2 Corinthians 3:8).
- The Holy Spirit has been poured out on ALL flesh with verbal manifestations following (Acts 2:16-21).

Did not Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones thunder from Westminster his opinion that; "We are living ... in an age hopelessly below the New Testament pattern - content with a neat little religion. We need the baptism with the Spirit (p89) ... Look at the New Testament Christian, look at the NT church and you see it vibrant with a spiritual life ... There is no problem of discipline in a graveyard, there is no problem very much in a formal church. The problems arise when there is life".

The Word of God gives an absolutely HUGE scope to our experience and walk in the Spirit! We may have experienced the utter heights of the Charismatic Renewal in the 1970s but I do not think have even plumbed the depths of what is possible as laid down by the Word of God. After all - would anyone dare claim that they were accused of drunkeness and then saw 3, 000 souls saved in one moment in one city? I hope therefore I may be excused for being slightly puzzled when the sincere phrase is used; "I only want to obey the Word of God" in the context of removing a doctrinal belief in the baptism of the Holy Spirit. If we are truly "Reformed Charismatic" - surely ALL of our practice in church life should have originated from and be grounded in the Word of God?

If this is the case, then there will be no need to choose between Toronto's Renewal and Geneva's Reformation - after all, I'm a Reformed Charismatic and I want them both! Surely the mature and sensible, calm and discerning response to something with potential excesses is that of Terry Virgo - seeing the good and living in the light of it, yet discerning and steering clear of the bad (the Thessalonian principle).

b. The Church Family - the Dwelling Place of God in the Spirit.

Like grace, this is not something that John Hosier deals with exclusively, but unsurprisingly for a Newfrontiers theologian, it runs through most of what he does deal with. It is absolutely fundemental that a Reformed Charismatic theology must hold a high view of the Church - and not just any church - a Spirit-filled, Spirit-drenched church!

Terry Virgo wrote; "Worship is our highest calling. God is seeking worshippers, so converts must become worshippers". What kind of worship is this? Worship in Spirit and in truth. Terry said that church should be the climax of our week! He wrote; "We are talking about encounters that affect you powerfully. The nearest description is this very irresponsible one of being drunk! ... We must not worry that this kind of worship is not ‘seeker friendly’. I have non-Christian friends who have come to our Sunday morning worship and have said to me, ‘We just cried. What did we touch? What was that?’ When we worship we want the unsaved to feel the impact and know that God is there". Yet unfortunately while we may aim toward the model church that is Church of Christ the King, Brighton or Jubilee Church, Jo'burg - sometimes things do go wrong in the charismatic churches.

I have noticed recently that a number of points suggest that the charismatic wing of the church can get a bad press, particularly in relation to pastoring. For example; "Tomczak chose to break with PDI rather than continue submitting to a potentially never-ending period of correction". This unfortunately is not exclusive to Larry Tomczak in the USA. as regular readers will know that this has been my experience in the UK. And once again let me make it clear that such "heavy shepherding" is not exclusive to SGM/PDI. I am currently reading; "Ungodly Fear - Fundamentalist Christianity and the Abuse of Power" by Stephen Parsons. A couple of quotes from that well researched book show that others too have suffered under the hands of sincere church leaders.

"(a quote from one such pastor in counselling a rape victim) We have decided that you are bitter, you are looking for revenge ... if you persist in doing this, we will excommunicate you from the church. We will treat you like a non-believer, we will not pray for you, when we meet you in the street, we will not speak to you (p153)".

How are we to respond to this? We could i) Argue that the leaders were "sincere". But surely sincerity does not equal biblically correct and so on and so on? Stephen Parsons writes that sincerity is not excusable if mistakes are being made and lives are being damaged by leaders who have been entrusted with the care of people's souls. We could; ii) Reject this style of church life and drift towards a more liberal individualism. Many have done this, as Parsons writes. I have also tried it this past year.

But there may just be a 3rd way; iii) Look to the City and believe in it. A vision of the Church is crucial - this is something that Hosier and Newfrontiers demonstrate through a belief in restoring the church. It is hoped that one need never ask; "Where are we going?" in a Newfrontiers church! The answer surely is; "We are a family on a mission!". And there is of course a tension to be held here. Emphasise mission to the exclusion of family and you may inevitably see an increase in militant evangelism and an obsession with numbers in seats. Yet emphasise family to the exclusion of mission and you will effectively become a glorified social club.

I believe passionately that a true pastor who loves his people as Christ loved the Church should NEVER be guilty of an atmosphere of "a never-ending period of correction". I have seen the hopelessness, the tears, the fear and above all the awful legalism as the individuals concerned desperately tried to "impress" and "convince" the leader that they had "repented". Discipline? Absolutely! But it must be done in a context of assured love and a desire for the highest best which is something that is built over time - not done haphazardly on the strength of an ecclesiastical title.

c. Where Are We Going? - A Positive Eschatology Must Be Held!

While I accept that eschatology may not be a gospel matter in terms of who I can or cannot fellowship with, I would contend that a correct positive eschatology is crucial in defining a Reformed Charismatic perspective. This by the way goes a little further than Richard Baxter's "Saints Everlasting Rest" and 'one day we will see Him and be like Him'. This is wholly and utterly to do with what the church will become - the glorious Bride of Christ, ready to be presented to the Father!

John Hosier assumes restoration (like grace and the church) in his lectures. For example both he and Newfrontiers argue unapologetically for the presence of Ephesians 4 Ministries (although he doesn't like that phrase - I have adopted the term; "Ascension Gifts"). This is on the basis that we have not yet "all come to maturity" and therefore we need them desperately. Furthermore he argues for the presence of spiritual gifts in the context of the baptism of the Holy Spirit as therefore a manifestation of the Spirit.

It is my suspicion that the Word of God actually suggests that spiritual gifts are an ESSENTIAL part of Mission to the Nations! Why else would Paul write that unbelievers "will" come into the midst of a Spirit-drenched community and hear not preaching but prophecy and fall down exclaiming "God is truly among you"? Even the gift of tongues seems to play a part in speaking volumes to the unbeliever!

So much for the gifts of the Spirit ... they are far more than just what makes a "charismatic dimension" - but absolutely crucial to our mission. I have mentioned the disciplining and sanctifying of church members, and I would urge that a positive eschatology could be crucial here too. Consider a rebellious Israelite not conforming to the law of God in the wilderness. If he does not hear the pleading of his tribal leader to sacrifice and seek the forgiveness of God, he will be judged and will not see the Promised Land - to which they are heading. Just so for a church member, say in a Newfrontiers church - who are going places! Who would want to miss that? Yet apply this to a church who has no mission and no vision other than to amble through life like "pilgrims in a foreign land" hoping for heaven someday - no positive eschatology and an important prohibition is lost.

So what ... ?

I believe that an urgent call to those of us who would claim to be Reformed Charismatics is to realise that theologians are required! We have depended and benefited from many men - but I am sincerely bothered that we are not raising men and women from our own ranks particularly from within the United Kingdom. I look to my bookshelves and my favourite authors are mostly American, or they are dead. Thank God for Terry Virgo! Thank God for David Devenish and John Hosier! But they won't live forever! Who is rising up to replace him? Are we reading men and women? Are we writing men and women? Are we taking an urgent interest in theology that will undergird the experience that we hungrily seek?


Anonymous said...

Amen! Let Reformed Charismatic Theologians arise!!

Jon Rising said...

I heard Ern Baxter speak a couple of times when I was a young boy. One of the ost eloquent preachers I ever heard. As far as Reformed Charismatic Theologians, have you read Wayne Grudem?

Baxter's Boy said...

Hi Jon great to hear from you. Yes I do deeply appreciate Wayne Grudem's writings - would he call himself a Charismatic though? I'm also a big fan of Jack Deere, and wish that we could hear more from him in terms of writing and teaching.

Hugh Griffiths said...

This is a great post which highlights the key tension that must be maintained between the Spirit and the word. The quotation you made from 'Joy Unspeakable' is very important in this context because to move in the Holy Spirit is not always the nice, tidy, ordered experience we would perhaps like it to be. As the opening chapter of Acts indicates, it is all too easy to be mistaken for a bunch of drunks at 9am in the morning! Trying to impose precision of behaviour or systematic belief onto the supernatural breaking into our meetings that reformed theology enjoys can unfortunately hinder or quench this moving of the Spirit.

This is where the tension comes and unfortunately where people often start to polarise around either Word and Spirit. But as someone once said - Word alone and you dry up, Spirit alone and you blow up! Of course both are necessary and need to be pursued by the church. The sensitive and wise administration of both is crucial for elders and other church leaders, particularly in sensitive matters of shepherding and discipline where both grace and truth must be excercised together.

Jules said...

I am beginning to see pattern after pattern where tension must be held again and again!! Word AND Spirit ... Grace AND Truth (like Hugh mentioned) ... and so on and so on! Tension in all things or else like Hugh said, we so quickly and so easily polarise to one extreme or the other.

Really interesting and useful article ... yes we need foundations for our experience or we will just fade away with the morning dew.

Anonymous said...

I think I read in those awesome "Life on Wings" interview transcripts that Dan wrote, and Mark Heath put on his website, that Ern Baxter once said if you ripped open his shirt you would find "TENSION" tattooed on his chest!

ollie said...

But HOW do we become Reformed Charismatic scholars and theologians? If we hear the call, as I'm sure anyone who reads this does, what do we do? There aren't many examples out there to follow and emulate!

Baxter's Boy said...

Thats a question worthy of a post in and of itself! I would suggest that while there aren't particularly scholars who would claim the title "Reformed Charismatic" - there are many men of God who were truly open to the Spirit and who honoured the Word.

So to begin I would recommend an extensive reading list of men such as Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the Puritans, especially Thomas Goodwin and Richard Sibbes and also Jonathan Edwards. They are WELL worth emulating!

Don said...

Dan, you point to a real dilemma in discussing how leaders deal with difficult or unrepentant church members. I have sympathy for both sides.

Sometimes a person's sinful behavior pattern or difficult issue needs more attention than one pastor/leader can give -- the member needs the continuing care and accountability that only a small group and/or close Christian friends can provide (unless the leader has copious free time). Both leader and member can be frustrated by the messiness and slowness of the maturing process. Sometimes it's VITAL that such discipling/discipline involve the ministry of the Holy Spirit -- including fasting, prophetic words, discernment of the need for granting/receiving forgiveness or even deliverance from demonic oppression/curses -- to get the needed breakthrough.

Unfortunately, too many churches, IMHO, rely solely on counseling that focuses on logic and the intellect, and not the spirit and the Spirit. I have seen dramatic breakthroughs and victories in people who underwent traditional biblical counseling, coupled with reliance upon the more unusual gifts of the Spirit. I've also seen utter frustration when counseling alone was prescribed and no progress was made.

The pastor's nightmare, however, is the church member who refuses to recognize and repent of sinful behavior that is *clearly* unscriptural, yet keeps coming back and stays in the church for any number of reasons. This can include people who are easily offended and have prideful spirits, yet won't recognize this. Once again, the more unusual Spirit-given gifts may be necessary to bring breakthrough.

Often such a person will suddenly leave and go to another congregation to escape counseling/discipline, taking their dirty laundry with them and vilifying the church they left. Typically, the leader(s) of the new church accepts one side of the story and refuses to work with the leader(s) of the former church who is concerned that this person not continue their sinful behavior in a new setting.

The member's nightmare is Job's situation: being told you must have sinned somehow, when you are convinced you haven't but are going through Hell. Again, this is where the Spirit can cut through with a prophetic word or action, and point out the true situation. I know of one pastor constantly receiving people for counseling, who have run into one of these situations I just described. God has given him gifts of insight, plus a discernment/deliverance ministry, that in many cases have resulted in people being set free from hidden areas of sin, bondage, unforgiveness, etc.

I say all this to emphasize my suspicion that there's usually not enough room given to the overt ministry of the Holy Spirit, even in "reformed charismatic" settings -- and that one distinctive of a "reformed charismatic theologian" should be turning to the special powers of the Holy Spirit as a matter of course, not as a last resort.

Baxter's Boy said...

Yes I do agree passionately with this. I wrote a blog piece a while back on the "Spirit of Diotrophes" really seeing some Scriptural principles that there can indeed be some devastatingly damaging people in the church, who have no intention of repenting and will refuse and stand against every effort of the church pastor to speak into his life.

Again I think Don is so right here, that church pastors can neglect the whole area of the power of the Holy Spirit in this. The gifts of the Spirit are "okay" for church meetings - but what about counselling? Jack Deere tells of a few occasions where the word of knowledge has just broken open a situation and freed a person!

The Spirit is the Spirit of the WHOLE church!! Let's let Him flow freely in all areas of life!

Don said...

Preach it, bro'!

Stewart Potts said...

What's the history and background that led you to write such a blog entry?

Don said...

If you're referring to my comment above, Stewart, I've had discussions with pastors and church members who have been involved in the situations I've described above -- let in on the situations, I mean, as part of the attempt to resolve them through counseling and seeking the Lord's guidance.

I'm not a pastor, but have had pastors confide in me on several occasions as they were working through issues of this kind, and have been able to learn their perspective on these issues. (I'm sure an experienced pastor could add far more insight.)

I've also read several books on discipleship and pastoring that have discussed issues of congregational membership and discipline.

Stewart Potts said...

Sorry Don, my questions was ill-defined. I had intended it for Baxter's Boys re: his blog on Diotrophes, but thanks for answering anyway - insightful.

Baxter's Boy said...

My blog on Diotrophes was written in response to a request for some thoughts from a pastor friend of mine. He had a senior and respected lady in the church causing serious problems and hinderances to his ministry, but opposing everything he sort to do in terms of welcoming the Spirit. She would make unnecessary noise when he was having times of quiet prayer during the worship. She would huff during times of contribution and would disturb people when they were having prayer ministry. So I felt directed to this passage and got to wondering who "Diotrophes" was. Hope that clarifies things.

Ollie said...

Yes that context seems pretty clear - unlike some nasty individual who "conviniently" remained anonymous and asked if this was an "autobiographical" piece ... Like someone with the Spirit of Diotrophes would write a piece revealing themselves ... honestly ...