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?