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Volume 7, Issue 6: Thema

Unquenching the Spirit

Douglas Jones

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 and depth.
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 mouth."
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 false prophets.
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.

Historical Priorities

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 God.

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 known languages.
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 13. 5

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?

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