This material accompanied the sermon CHARITY CHURCH from the sermon series: Be the Body – Seeing the Church as the Body in the Bible and Making the Body a Priority in the Present by Pastor Howard Lawler on 1/21/18.
To deal with the issue of charismatic gifts adequately, we should start with the term itself. The word “charismatic” has often been limited in popular use to people who practice one or more of the so called “sign gifts” (for example, tongues, healing, prophecy). That use of the word charismatic does not match Romans 12 and 1Corinthians 12.
All the gifts Paul lists in those passages are “charismata” (the Greek term) including less spectacular activities like administration, giving, and encouraging. I consider myself charismatic since I exercise gifts of teaching, encouragement, and administration. God’s Word teaches that those gifts are by grace, from the Holy Spirit. A non-charismatic church is a contradiction in terms. An assembly without the baptism of the Spirit would not be a church. A church without any gifts of the Spirit would die.
We must not think that the exercise of gifts is a sure sign of spiritual health. The Bible clearly indicates that the presence of sign gifts, or of any gifts, does not guarantee spiritual maturity. The Corinthian church was charismatic in all respects and yet was not behaving in a mature manner in many respects (1Cor 3:1-4). We must not show less concern for the fruit of the Spirit than for the gifts of the Spirit (1Cor 12:31). That approach shows a deficiency of true “charis” (in English, “grace”).
It is possible to take various unwise approaches to the gifts. People can overestimate the significance of sign gifts (1Cor 12:31; 13:8; 14:9) and develop an appetite for extraordinary experiences which can be a detriment to maturity (Matt 12:39; 1Cor 1:22-24). People can also fear gifts and simply close off the possibility of their relevance. Some people might elevate the gifts above sound doctrine. But the presence of signs and wonders does not automatically validate a messenger or message. There are false manifestations (Matt 24:24; 2Cor 11:14; 1John 4:1). When biblical doctrine and extraordinary manifestations are in conflict, doctrine remains primary (Deut 13:1-5).
Some churches with sign gifts in their services violate the order set forth in scripture, such as the practice of tongues in a disorderly way, without limit, and without interpretation (1Cor 14:13-17, 27-28). Some teach things that are contrary to scripture. For example, some say that pre-resurrection physical healing is guaranteed in the atonement (2Cor 12:7-10), that not all Christians are baptized with the Spirit (Rom 8:9, 1Cor 12:12-13), that tongues is the definite sign of Spirit baptism, or that all believers should speak in tongues (1Cor 12:10,13, 29-30). Jack MacGorman wisely points out that, in the Bible, “There are no one-member churches, nor are there any every-member gifts.”
The “charismatic movement” has at times emphasized the person and work of the Spirit at the expense of a biblical focus on the person and work of Christ. This is not in line with the pattern of the New Testament (John 16:13-14). The movement has sometimes featured a two-tiered Christianity. Those without certain unusual experiences or gifts are viewed as less spiritual, which is not kind or true (1Cor 12:15-17). The statement that non-charismatics do not have the full gospel is especially regrettable.
On the other hand, some outside of charismatic circles have downplayed the role of the Spirit. Some have denigrated charismatic brothers and sisters with dismissive comments like, “charismatics are crazy” (Acts 2:13). That uncharitable talk displays a lack of “charis” (which
also has the meaning “graciousness”). We should be particularly cautious in attributing extraordinary manifestations to Satan or demons (Mark 3:1-30). Bear in mind that some “charismatic” believers are distressed by excesses found in the movement.
I believe the charismatic movement has caused others to take a needed look at the vital role of the Holy Spirit in the life and ministry of the church, at the warmth of their own devotion, and at their freedom to express love for God. We may properly avoid the excesses of the movement, but we must not fear the moving of the Spirit. We must welcome his sometimes unsettling work in our hearts. Though my disagreement with aspects of charismatic theology and practice are significant, I enjoy fellowship with charismatic believers and value our mutual faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (1Cor 12:3-6; Eph 4:3-6).
The divide between believers regarding spiritual gifts often appears as two camps labeled “continuationists” and “cessationists.” I will simplify the matter in the interest of space. Continuationists claim that all the spiritual gifts are for all churches in all ages. Cessationists claim that the sign gifts ceased with the close of the canon — that is, when the New Testament writings were completed.
I do not belong to either camp. In contrast to continuationists and cessasionists, I call myself a “contextualist” (I have not seen others use this label). I affirm that God works as he pleases in different contexts, whether in churches, eras, or evangelistic fields. He is free to shape different churches according to different ministry and cultural contexts. I appreciate, for example, what God has done in and by Fishkill Baptist Church. I do not believe it would be prudent to practice sign gifts in our church meetings since they would be divisive rather than edify the whole body (Rom 14:10; 1Cor 14:5-6,12,16-17,19,23-26; Eph 4:3). Edification is the goal of all gifts.
One thing is quite clear – we must love one another. There are four main passages about spiritual gifts: Romans 12, 1Corinthains 12, Ephesians 4, and 1Peter 4. In each case, the context exhorts the church to live by love. The most lengthy example is 1Corinthians 13 which calls us to live in love because it will be our eternal occupation when spiritual gifts are done serving their historic purposes. D. A. Carson makes the point well. “One day all the charismatics who know the Lord and all the noncharismatics who know the Lord will have nothing to fight over; for the so called charismatic gifts will have forever passed. At that point, both of these groups of believers will look back and thoughtfully contemplate the fact that what connects them with the world they have left behind is not the gift of tongues, nor animosity toward the gift of tongues, but the love they sometimes managed to display toward each other despite the gift of tongues.”
As I look at the Bible in context, I see no proof that some spiritual gifts would cease at a certain point in church history. On the other hand, I see no proof that every church must practice every gift throughout history. We should not go beyond what the text itself teaches.
The Bible clearly calls us to rely on the Triune God to empower every act of service and every form of godly living. To honor the Father, in the name of the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit must remain our focus. That holy calling will never cease. Let us continue to serve humbly and wholeheartedly in the context in which God’s providence and grace has placed us.
The best work on this topic I have seen is the book Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1Coprinthians 12-14, by D. A. Carson (Baker, 1987).
– Pastor Howard Lawler