The Gifts of the Spirit: ‘To Go Where No Church Has Gone Before’?

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Bernie Diaz, June 20, 2017

Controversy and Ecclesiology (the study of the church): the nerve-wracking frontier. These are the voyages of the My Captive Thoughts blog, echoing the ministry of my local church in South Florida. Its current six-year long and on-going mission: to explore strange new world-views, “questions and controversies of the day”: to seek out God-glorifying, Christ-exalting understanding of contentious doctrines and theological issues, to boldly go where few if any pastors and preachers have gone before……!

If the above prologue sounds to you like Captain Kirk’s introduction to the Star Trek television and film series, you’re spot on. I can’t think of a more fitting way to re-introduce as contentious and controversial a church issue in western civilization today, than that of the charismatic movement and its impact on evangelicalism.

The following post, which I originally published in August of last year, broached the question of whether or not a true, born-again disciple of Jesus Christ, could be both Calvinistic and Charismatic in theology.

That juxtaposition came to my mind then, and even more so today, by the fact that our church leadership with much fear and trembling, is launching this coming weekend, a new summer series, The Power and Gifts of the Spirit from 1 Corinthians, which aims to dissect, clarify and teach the true meaning of the miraculous, signs and wonders gifts of the Holy Spirit, and by implication, if they are meant to be shared today in the church of Jesus Christ and if so, how?

The reason that our church- never prone to duck hard if not controversial issues of theology, doctrine and world-view, is taking on such a tall-order – a potentially explosive, if not divisive doctrine for a local church to tackle, is three-fold:

First, we are a church which reflects the cultural and historically religious diversity of its surrounding communities, chock-full of Pentecostals, Catholics and Protestants in a major-metropolitan center. We have several people in our congregation who have been converted to Christ out of Catholicism and Pentecostal or Charismatic institutions, and others seeking to grow as disciples who are confused or have misunderstood the doctrine of the Spirit and others, who wish to learn more about it.

Second and similarly, we have not only taken on verse by verse expositions of books of the Bible, but also sensitive, topical-expositional series, ranging from world religions (Christianity vs. the World), to marriage and divorce (A Christian Life, from the Sermon on the Mount), to last fall’s Presidential election.

Because we value the fact that God’s Word is inerrant and infallible- every word, and is therefore all-credible, all-authoritative and all-sufficient and necessary to live out the Christian faith in every facet of its practice in this life, we feel it will be sufficient enough for us to better understand this doctrine of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit.

Indeed, the word of God is the strongest pillar of truth that we stand on- the foundation of our faith, anchored by the cornerstone of it, Jesus Christ (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

We believe there is nothing in or out of the Bible that the scriptures cannot answer or address and clarify- lead us in sanctification on, including this issue, which is the third reason we are ‘going where no church has gone before’ (others I’m sure have- but not to my knowledge in our community).

That being, that we have Christians in our church as do many others, who yearn to personally experience more fully, the power and presence of the Spirit in their lives, without compromising the fidelity to, or integrity of, God’s word and sound doctrine. So, we covet your prayers sa we begin our new series – “beam us up Lord!”

Why Christians Can be Calvinistic and Charismatic (originally posted, August 9, 2016)

As a pastor and preacher I’ve been greatly blessed and influenced by the diversity of writings, preaching and teaching ministries of many of the giants of the faith over the ages and speaking more contemporarily, none more so than my ‘first and second John;’ meaning pastor, theologian and authors, MacArthur and Piper.

Both are friends and peers who have been faithful Bible expositors and under-shepherds of great influence in the kingdom of Christ for more than four decades.

I once told Dr. MacArthur in a live, Christian radio interview that I don’t think I would have been equipped to serve in the pastoral ministry had it not been for the massive influence of his ministry on me, going back to when I began listening to his Grace to You daily broadcasts more than 20 years ago, and then digesting his sermons and studies via cassettes and books, most notably his classics, Ashamed of the Gospel and The Gospel According to Jesus.

Similarly, the ‘second John’ has served as a great long-distance mentor to me via his preaching on the sovereignty of God and his outstanding literary work in the acclaimed Desiring God and The Pleasures of God.

Both of these men love Jesus, love the Bible and are ardent and revered exegetes of the same book and have been greatly blessed by the Lord in their ministries, yet are on the opposite sides of a controversial doctrine that continues to fascinate and divide much of evangelicalism – that being the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the nature of the gifts the Godhead imparts to his church.

Can a Christian be both a Calvinist and a Charismatic?

Although both ‘Johns’ are Calvinistic in their soteriology, simply meaning they understand (rightly I believe) that God is sovereign with His divine grace in salvation, they differ as to the gifts of the Spirit present in the church.

First John (MacArthur) is a strict cessationist, meaning that he, like many other Biblicists, are of the view that the miraculous signs and wonders gifts (e.g. tongues, prophecy, healings) made present by the Spirit in the early, post-Pentecost church (Acts 2 and onward) “ceased” to exist (1 Cor. 13:8-11) when the apostolic church age ended and the cannon of scripture, the complete written record of the Bible- all 66 books were delivered to the church.

Second John (Piper) is a continuationist, meaning that he, like many other Biblicists, are of the view that the miraculous signs and wonders gifts have always ‘continued’ to this day in the church, though perhaps to varying and even lesser degrees as per scriptural texts, most notably the most extensive section found in the New Testament on the issue, 1 Corinthians 12-14.

First and Second John have already exchanged significant and loving volleys back and forth on the issues surrounding this doctrine in the aftermath of MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference and book, which takes aim at the charismatic and Pentecostal movement and all its excess, which while growing at the fastest rate of any other Christian ‘denomination’ or sect in the country, if not much of the world, has been found to be rife with abuse and scandal.

We won’t revisit their friendly debate nor examine the doctrine and controversies at any length here, suffice it to say, that there are solid and biblically based arguments that support the position of both sides. The finality of this doctrine has not been settled unequivocally to the satisfaction of the church as a whole.

But can there be a middle ground? We already know that repentant faith in Christ alone, by grace and faith alone for God’s glory alone, are the only prerequisites for sinners to attain salvation from God. A fundamental and correct understanding of the charismata (spiritual gifts) is not a precondition of becoming a born-again Christian and follower of Jesus.

Therefore, it is safe to say that the kingdom of God and heaven will be occupied by both Calvinistic cessationists (other notables include many of the reformers, R.C. Sproul today) and Calvinistic continuationists (D.A. Carson, David Platt, Wayne Grudem) and everyone else in between.

This issue is what one current theologian would call, a “Picket-Fence” debate or family argument among brothers and sisters in the faith.

But as for me and my house, we have learned somehow as many other believers have, to navigate this divide with a foot firmly planted in each camp, so as to not unnecessarily break fellowship with those in the church we may disagree with on a particular nuance of the doctrine.

This is not a compromise of our convictions. As a preacher who loves, preaches and teaches the Doctrines of Grace as they appear in scripture, the Bible is replete with at least two dozen direct references to God’s predestinating, electing, regenerating, justifying and saving grace towards sinners.

Calvinists if nothing else, are prone to lean on the side of Biblical fidelity, truth and the all-sufficiency and authority of scripture (Sola scriptura). These are hallmarks of the reformed faith, yet many of our brothers in this camp (Presbyterianism keeps coming to mind) struggle with the very notion of a present, working and living Spirit manifesting himself in and through disciples of Christ.

For our charismatic and Pentecostal friends who lean more on the experiential and emotional side of their Christian faith and practice, the fact of God’s divine grace is inescapable for those that literally have ‘eyes to see and ears to hear’ the truth, as I laid that out for my church in great detail this past Sunday, when we launched our new series from 1 Peter with the message, “Elected to be Exiles”, which was that apostle’s direct, matter of fact reference to Christians who are Strangers on Earth, being ‘elect’ or chosen by God – unconditionally, unto salvation.

‘Charismania’ aside as I call it, so evident among so many ministries on the TBN network, the modern, global Pentecostal and charismatic movement has produced great missionary zeal among Christians over the last generation and an appreciation for the power and on-going ministry of the Holy Spirit, reminding us of our Lord’s desire to seek and save worshippers in ‘spirit and in truth.’

Calvinists Can Use More Spirit   

 According to The Gospel Coalition, the fastest-growing religious movement in the history of the human race is the modern Pentecostal one, which now may number 1 out of every 3 professing believers around the world. Just to put it into perspective, TGC notes that’s more than the total number of Buddhists (around 500 million), Jews (around 14 million), and all folk religions (around 400 million) in the world. Pentecostalism or continuationsim isn’t going away any time soon.

Why? It’s not growing because they’re all heretics (many are, to be sure, but not nearly all). They’re growing because they’re making disciples and many are living transformed, gospel-oriented lives. Is their “fire” strange? Yes, it can be but not for all (Piper).

Calvinists and other cessationist leaning Christians would do well to sit and break bread with a charismatic and while discerning truth from error in what they hear, attempt to realize what it is they may be missing when it comes to a complete or comprehensive understanding or perspective of the Spirit.

Charismatics Can Use More Truth                                    

The abuses and excess of the charismatic movement have been well-documented. It’s all too common ‘word of faith,’ name it and claim it prosperity gospel theology is heretical if not blasphemous on its face, and does no good to the cause of Christ, when the latest Pentecostal minister claims to have received direct and new revelation from God, having just arrived at a faux healing event in a multi-million dollar private jet.

That said, the doctrines of grace and the gifts of grace can and should co-exist in a proper, Biblically grounded theology. Charismatics and yes even the charismaniacs, would do well to study scripture with their Calvinistic or more doctrinally sound brothers to better understand the Bible’s being the ground or pillar of truth, the truth “once and for all delivered to the saints” that explains and guides our hearts and ministries.

Real, regenerate Calvinists and charismatics can and should co-exist within the universal body of Christ. The church that Christ birthed and that the apostles nurtured did. We can agree to disagree with particular (non-salvific) doctrines, and fellowship together without sacrificing our convictions, so long as our greatest conviction is love and the unity of the body within its diversity.

That’s the truth- the Bible says so. It seems that we can be both Calvinistic and Charismatic ….

1 Cor. 12:27-31 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts.

And I will show you a still more excellent way (love).

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