Volume 7, Issue 6: Thema
Unquenching the Spirit
When over a decade ago I finally abandoned my charismatic convictions and practices,
I did not lose respect for my devoted charismatic friends and teachers. Those
who have never worn charismatic convictions will always have a harder time understanding
the appealing weave of charismatic arguments. Like any paradigm, those on the
outside can rarely appreciate those ties which make everything within any view
seem so obvious and right.
I devotedly attended a mildly charismatic church and later even an early Vineyard,
and I enthusiastically attended charismatic seminars, clinics, and camps. I
even believed I spoke in tongues, received prophetic "words of knowledge," and
took part in "documented" healings. Noncharismatics seemed so corpse-like and
spiritually narrow, and their arguments from Scripture about the cessation of
spiritual gifts always sounded so weak and contrived. They wanted to keep God
in a tidy little theological box, I argued. They lacked soul and any yearning
for the power displayed in early Christianity.
The Power of Godly Fear
My drift away from those convictions was led in part by a slow realization of
how tightly my charismatic convictions limited the spiritual riches of Christ.
In our charismatic worship, we knew that we sensed a special presence of the
Spirit who richly indwelt our praises. Our worship held a sense of awe and mystery
Yet, as I learned more about the character of God, especially His supreme lordship
and fearful holiness, my charismatic sense of "awe" began to appear quite anemic.
Scripture calls us to a fear of God, not some threat of torment for believers
(1 Jn. 4:17,18), but that deepest reverence for Him who is Himself the supreme
standard of all goodness and truth (Heb. 6:13), who controls all faithfulness
and rebellion (Amos 3:6; Is. 45:7), who needs nothing from His creatures (Acts
17:25), who mocks human vanity (Ps. 2:4; 1 Cor. 1:20), and who crushes His enemies
with perfect vengeance (Nah. 1:1-8). As we even barely begin to contemplate such
unfathomable power and terrifying holiness, we cannot help but crumble, face
down in humility and silence"Behold I am vile; What shall I answer you? I lay
my hand over my mouth" (Job 40:4).
In stark contrast, charismatic prophecies reveal a God much more amenable to
modern evangelical sensitivities. Charismatic utterances speak of a much more
limited, quenched, and boxed God. Of course, we only realize this sort of contrast
when we stand alongside believers in other traditions for a while. That's always
helpful. And as I did stand with those who better understood God's majestic sovereignty,
I saw over time that I was the one who had put God in a convenient, controllable
box. The God of Daniel, Isaiah, and David could not be contained in my charismatic
limits; He stood far and wide above anything I had conceived, and only then did
I start to understand the depths of worship and Job's plea -- "I lay my hand over my
Don't misunderstand this. Recognizing the fearful supremacy of God does not exclude
joy. Reverential fear isn't stodginess. How could it be? Could Isaiah or Job be
stodgy before the throne of God? Joy and fear stand together in Scriptural worship,
but charismatic revelations leave us with a tame God, a God that resembles our
desires too much. Since God Himself commands us to "fear the Lord, you His saints!" (Ps.
34:9) and promises to give His people a heart "that they may fear Me forever" (Jer.
32:39), we should at the very least be suspicious of charismatic manifestations
which so easily trade godly terror for effeminate encounters.
Death Penalty Seriousness
This charismatic quenching of the Spirit of God is not just a matter of observation.
Charismatic prophesy can't speak in Scripture's often terrifying terms because
it doesn't take its own prophetic voice seriously. The Old Testament took its
prophetic office with death penalty seriousness"the prophet who presumes to
speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak . . . that prophet
shall die" (Deut. 18:20). Where are the serious charismatics upholding this banner?
Do they lack the confidence that their prophesies are divine? Those on the outside
would certainly take charismatic claims more seriously if the proponents did.
Leaving the death penalty aside, charismatics would show greater confidence in
their revelations if they at least started disciplining and excommunicating their
Instead of meeting this challenge, however, charismatics often argue for a decisive
break between Old and New Covenant forms of prophecy, maintaining that the New
brings a more fallible brand of prophetic revelation. They often fail, though,
to see that the "fallible" characteristics they find in New Covenant prophesy
were features of Old Covenant prophesy as well. 1 Even more, the prophet Joel
and the apostle Peter used the context of the Old Covenant prophetic office
when describing the prophets in the New (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17).
In charismatic experience, however, this attempt to divide Old and New prophecy
tends to hold up only in theory. A regular trend in many charismatic churches
is for the people to reduce the "infallible" authority of Scripture to the level
of their admittedly fallible prophecies. Their initial dichotomy turns into a
weakened view of all forms of divine revelation.
One of the published prophecies stemming out of the Vineyard in Toronto perceives,
among other things, "an extreme sense of danger for leaders who continue to fight
the Holy Spirit." 2 This is common. Charismatics regularly compare noncharismatics
to the Pharisees who obstinately refused to acknowledge the work of Christ.
Despite the false assumption that Christians are supposed to blindly embrace
any supposed manifestation of the Spirit (1 Jn.4:1), aren't noncharismatics justified
in their skepticism? The patterns throughout Church history have been the same.
Historical charismatic movements, whether Montanists, Camisards, Anabaptists,
Irvingites, or turn-of-the-century Pentecostals, all profess to be an outpouring
of the Spirit prior to the Second Coming, and all have resulted in the same bitter
divisions and fruitlessness. Why should we expect anything different from Toronto
or anywhere else? Even in the latter part of the Great Awakening, Gilbert Tennent,
so central and supportive of that work, lamented to Jonathan Edwards, "the church
of God suffers. I think all that fear God, should rise up and crush the enthusiastic
creature in the egg. Dear Brother, the times we live in are dan erous. The churches
in America and elsewhere are in great hazard of enthusiasm. . . . May Zion's King
protect His church!" 3
But even more than a poor historical record, charismatic threats against those
who don't join in their manifestations overturn clear biblical priorities. Scripture
nowhere gives such a prominence to spiritual gifts. In fact, we read just the
opposite. Paul tells us that the supernatural prophetic gifts are always inferior
to developing the fruit of the Spirit, especially faith, hope, and love. Charismatic
gifts are never necessary and never superior to the truly important things in
life. One can be zealously devoted to tongues and prophesy and yet be a "clanging
cymbal" who profits "nothing." (1 Cor. 13:1,3). One could do all the right things
in the midst of a charismatic meeting and yet be a stench in God's nostrils.
Notice how many charismatics exactly reverse this. To hear their denunciations
of their opponents as Pharisees and opponents of the Spirit or to examine their
monthly teaching agenda, one would think faith, hope, and love are well enough,
but the greatest of these is charismatic manifestations. How far off the mark
can we be? For many, Corinth becomes a model instead of a warning. Those more
mature charismatic churches which move toward biblical priorities, soon find
new appreciation for more historical and biblical expressions of the fear of
Tongues Against Jerusalem
Christian theology is a web, and every part affects every other part. Eschatology
is only one part, and though we ought not devour each other over it, bad eschatology
will still afflict other important questions. Charismatic theology is part of
that anabaptistic tradition that tends to emphasize the future, often to the
neglect of important prophetic fulfillments in the first-century context.
The supernatural gift of tongues, for example, plays a very important symbolic
role in first-century events that is completely misunderstood in contemporary
charismatic contexts. In its Old Testament context, foreign tongues are a sign
of God's curse on rebellious Israel. Early on, God threatened Israel's disobedience
by declaring, "The Lord will bring a nation against you from afar, . . . a nation
whose language you will not understand" (Deut. 28:49). Hundreds of years later,
Jeremiah similarly declared, "'Behold, I will bring a nation against you from afar,
O house of Israel,' says the Lord, '. . . a nation whose language you do not know,
nor can you understand what they say" (Jer. 5:15). More importantly, Isaiah declares
in the same pattern that "for with stammering lips and another tongue He will
speak to this people to whom He said, 'This the rest with which you may cause
the weary to rest. . . . Therefore hear the word of the Lord you scornful men,
who rule this people who are in Jerusalem, because you have said, 'We have made
a covenant with death. . . '" (Is. 28: 11,12,14,15).
Paul cites this Isaiah passage to explain that "tongues are for a sign not to
those who believe but to unbelievers" (1 Cor. 14:22)primarily those unbelievers
addressed in Isaiah 28, namely apostate Jews who had made a covenant with death
by rebelliously rejecting their God (Matt. 21:43ff.). First-century Jews would
have understood the import of this curse of tongues, and many repented. But those
who didn't repent witnessed in 70 A.D. "Jerusalem surrounded by armies" (Lk. 21:20)
and then "trampled by Gentiles" who spoke in foreign tongues. The sign of tongues,
therefore, made sense as a sign of the impending trampling of Jerusalem to Jews
all over the Mediterranean, but the sign would cease being prophetic after that
time, and especially if somehow used in our own day in some corner of Montana,
a millennia after the Roman destruction of the Temple. On top of that, modern
"tongues" speakers should also be wary that the charismatic mixture of odd sounds
produced today are simply not the common, foreign languages supernaturally produced
in the Book of Acts (2:8). If genuine tongues speaking were existent today, it
would be supernatural manifestations of French, Swahili, Portuguese, and other
The strong eschatological language of turning the moon into blood and the stars
falling (Lk. 21:25; Matt. 24:29) used in describing the judgment on Jerusalem
is the same as that used when God came in judgment on other nations (Is. 13:9-10;
34:4; Amos 8:9; Ezek. 32:7-8). 4 This point is very helpful in understanding
the temporary and foundational place that tongues, prophecy, and the other gifts
played in the first century. Joel reveals (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17ff) that God
will pour out His Spirit in an especially triumphant display at the start of
the New Covenant. But this triumphant display of visions and prophesy is said
to take place "before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord" where
God will show "wonders in the heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath: blood
and fire and vapor and smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the
moon into blood."
Everywhere else in the New Testament where this horrific language of judgment
is used it describes the destruction of Jerusalem (Lk. 21; Matt. 24; 2 Thess.
2). But because charismatics are largely futurists, they force Joel's prophecy
into the future at Christ's Second Coming, quite a stretch from its more deliberate
first-century context. So, if we allow the New Testament language to frame our
interpretation of Joel and Peter's use of it, then we can recognize the pivotal
place supernatural manifestations had in the founding of the New Covenant and
the rejection of the Old. The glories of Pentecost marked the important transition
between the Old and New Covenants (1 Pet. 1:7; 2 Pet. 3:4-13) , but the manifestations
fulfilled their task prior to the destruction of the primary sign of the Old
Covenantthe Temple. And they served their function, as Joel and Peter testified,
before Christ's judgment on Jerusalem. This same context is very helpful in
understanding a better explanation of Paul's cessation comments in 1 Corinthians
Manifestations as Divine Tests
Though the above arguments won't be convincing to committed charismatic futurists,
it does provide a more Scriptural framework for understanding the divine purpose
and cessation of the gifts, which today's manifestations clearly lack.
In light of these brief considerations against charismatic theologylack of fear,
prophetic fallibility, horrid fruit, first-century purposes, etc. how do we
account for the current manifestations themselves? Noncharismatics may easily
brush them off intellectually as sincere but human constructs; others describe
them as demonic. Charismatics themselves see them as the work of God that others
resist. But these aren't the only options.
Without pronouncing a prophetic judgment myself, charismatics and noncharismatics
should hold close God's fearful, yet dear promise that sometimes He Himself sends
us manifestations to test our love and loyalty: "If there arise among you a prophet
or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or
the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, 'Let us go after other
gods'which you have not known'and let us serve them,' you shall not listen to the
words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing
you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all
your soul" (Deut. 13:1-4). Is the Lord testing evangelicalism?