The Blessings, Main Problem and Dangers of the Charismatic Experience
I. The blessings
Do you know what it is for the Holy Spirit to fall upon you? Do you know what it is to be taken hold of by the Spirit? In the history of the Church such experiences are not confined to those of Pentecostal persuasion. But the Pentecostal denominations and modern neo-Pentecostal Movement has majored upon power experiences. The word ‘neo-Pentecostal’ has been overshadowed by the term ‘Charismatic’. This has strengthened the Charismatic Movement, as the word ‘Charismatic’ conjures up all kinds of ideas and attracts many. The difference between Pentecostals and Charismatics ought to be noted. Many Pentecostal pastors and leaders disown the Charismatic Movement because it is experience-centred in the sense that experience, rather than clearly defined doctrine, is used by the Charismatics as a basis of unity. Much therefore of what is to be stated later in this chapter does not apply to Pentecostals who are determined to base their practice on the Bible. There are a few Pentecostals who are Reformed in their doctrine of salvation and with such men we have much in common. We share with them the sorrow of observing the confusion which results when truth is neglected as the standard by which all our claims and practices must be tested.
What Pentecostals and Charismatics have in common is their stress on the baptism of the Spirit as a second experience, speaking in tongues, and the belief that all the gifts of the Spirit such as prophecies, healing and miracles should be in operation throughout this age until Christ comes.
It would be foolish to deny that there are blessings in these Charismatic experiences. He who would deny that shows that he has not been truly involved himself by way of experience. Joy, zeal, love, devotion and evangelistic fervour flow out of a genuine experience of the Spirit. At an early stage of my Christian life I was sustained and strengthened by Pentecostalism. It was a way of life. I had not been introduced to free grace teaching and was very weak in my grasp of Christian doctrine. In my search for reality I found Pentecostalism to be alive and powerful. For me it completely overshadowed the Keswick movement which I also tried as a possible answer in looking for dynamic and authentic Christian experience. The devotional addresses, unity and fellowship at Keswick were heartwarming, but for me the week ended in depression. The time was supposed to end in a climax of blessing but it turned out to be an anti-climax. There was no crescendo and no Pentecost to fill the vacuum created by my sincere and full-surrender. I let go and let God and all that happened was that I landed up in the same old world where I was before. The Keswick Convention situation may have improved in recent years but there has been a lack of definitive doctrine in the devotional addresses of Keswick and certainly little offered in the area of experience which could match the excitement of Pentecostalism.
It would be wrong to allow disagreement or prejudice to cloud our judgment about Pentecostals. Many of them maintain a better Christian life and testimony than orthodox anti-Pentecostals. That does not endorse their teaching and nor does it condemn orthodox belief. To attain a happy balance of truth, experience and practice is not easy. Many of our blessings are mixed. For me at that period Pentecostalism was a blessing but it was a mixed blessing and in the course of time it could not stand up to the tests set it by the teaching of Scripture. Gradually a transformation took place. It can be simply expressed as follows:
In another chapter I describe the free grace experience for which I shall never cease to thank God and which I have never doubted to be the foundational or authentic experience which has vindicated and confirmed Christianity for me and grounded and settled me once and for all in the conviction that ‘this is the real thing!’ I welcome spiritual experiences but I need nothing else to confirm the Gospel to me as the truth beyond the free grace so beautifully summed up in Galatians 2:20.
At this point it would be appropriate to quote the blessings of Pentecostalism as expressed by someone wholly persuaded of the rightness of that position and currently involved in it. J. Rodman Williams writing in Christianity Today1 sums up the blessings of the Charismatic Movement as one who has been committed to it for ten years. He outlines the elements as follows:
Points 1, 2, 5, and 6 are by no means unique to the Charismatic Movement. Point 7 is not clear inasmuch as the eschatological perspective as it pertains to America is probably dispensationalism and few subjects have divided Christians and marred their unity and relationships more than that!
That expository preaching is not in the list is noteworthy and no reference is made to reformation of the churches and practical Christian living.
Points 3 and 4 are Pentecostal distinctives which we will discuss presently as the central problem.
Thomas A. Smail in his book Reflected Glory gives his personal testimony. He declares the blessing of the Charismatic experience in these terms:
I would not dispute or disparage any point of this testimony but only make the comment that all that is described has happened to others who have had no knowledge of Pentecostalism. Let me cite just one example. Christmas Evans after fifteen years of spiritual barrenness was delivered in an experience which he describes like this:
After this Christmas Evans made a covenant with God pledging himself to renew devotion to his service. The first indication he received of improvement was a change of attitude in two of his deacons — a new earnestness for prosperity. Large numbers began to be added to the churches again. In the two succeeding years six hundred persons were added.3
That there are blessings in the Pentecostal experiences of today I do not dispute. The construction placed upon those experiences and the conclusions which are drawn from them I do question.
2. The main problem
The main problem confronting us is simply, Have the charismatic gifts ceased or not? If they have not ceased and were never meant to cease, then the Charismatics have a cogent case when they say that this explains why the Church is weak. Also there is a strong argument that we should down tools and concentrate on the regaining of that which has been lost. This is a problem far greater than the questions posed by the second blessing issue. Thomas Smail in his book already referred to rightly concedes that there is ultimately only one blessing:
In the chapter on the baptism of the Spirit I point out that when we are united to Christ we are united to the whole of him. Regeneration and conversion together with justification and forgiveness do not form a first blessing with sanctification to follow at a later date as a second blessing. The main problem is not the second blessing issue. No, the main problem is the one that has been asserted and which can be stated in a different way as follows. Is this entire dispensation supposed to be extraordinary and charismatic? Is this whole time from Christ’s first advent to his second advent supposed to be filled with the miraculous and extraordinary gifts or not?
This main problem could be settled in a moment if we could find one statement which plainly or conclusively declares that it was God’s purpose to withdraw the charismata. No such text can be found. This discovery by no means ends the dispute because the next question to be posed is this: Can it be proved by inference from the Scripture that the Charismatic period ended with the apostles? As theologians might express it, is there a biblical hermeneutic which is decisive? Is there a principle inherent in the Scriptures which decides the issue? I believe there is.
The majority of those in the Evangelical Reformed tradition have been fully persuaded that the inferential argument is perfectly sound, valid and adequate. Those who have written on the subject include John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, George Smeaton, James Buchanan, B. B. Warfield and in our generation Walter Chantry.
It is alleged that to argue by inference is not to argue biblically. Furthermore it is thought that there is a tendency for Reformed believers to argue in a philosophical or speculative way. In reply to this I would agree that much care should be taken to avoid the snare of reasoning in an unbiblical fashion. However in this case I am persuaded that the observations and arguments regarding the cessation of the charismata are not only biblical, but thoroughly biblical! I believe that it is of the utmost importance that we observe that the Bible shows that God does act in a different way during different epochs. The most simple mind can observe plain facts of Bible history to which our attention is sometimes drawn. ‘John did no miracle’ (Jn. 10:41). There was a time when our Lord appeared by theophany and a time when he did not. The observations of such matters belongs to the order of biblical theology not philosophy. And biblical theology is of paramount importance.
My own summary of the inferential position I advance as follows. Apostles were temporary. All but the smallest of the Charismatic groups (the Apostolic Pentecostals) concede that. If they were temporary, then already we have established the principle of the extraordinary and temporary as against the ordinary and permanent. There are passages which show that the wonders, signs and miracles were given specifically to attest the veracity of the Gospel as established by the apostles. After all, the entire revelation depended on them (Heb. 2:4, 2 Cor. 12:12, Eph. 2:20). Miraculous power was not confined to the apostles. Stephen, who was not an apostle, obviously possessed the gift of miracles. This was because it was the apostolic testimony at that time that required vindication. I have never read of any person since the apostolic period who has possessed that same gift to perform perfect miracles as was possessed by Peter and Stephen. Not for one moment do I deny that God could give the gift today but if he gave the gift of miracles it would be to attest something other than what was being attested while the apostles lived. The mighty miracles, signs and wonders attested that they were telling the truth. We need no such attestation in that way today because such would be a slur and would cast a shadow over the Word of God. The Word itself is a perfect vindication of the truth of the Christ even in all its details. I would regret anybody insisting upon miracles to prove the New Testament record to be true. It is true without any further miracles or signs. If a person produced miracles out of God’s compassion for sick people we would only rejoice in the mighty power of God and in his mercy, but this is different from rejoicing in a vindication that Jesus is raised from the dead. If someone is still not sure about the resurrection he must give attention to the more sure word of prophecy and not look for further miracles (2 Pet. 1:19). If they hear not Moses and the prophets neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead (Luke 16:31).
The gifts of tongues, interpretation of tongues, and prophecies were, according to B. B. Warfield in his chapter on the cessation of the charismata, common to all the churches. Although he was not there to see it we see no reason for rejecting his assertion. According to Edwards in his exposition of I Corinthians 13 these oral gifts were a means of edification until that which was perfect was established. Those who reject the possibility of establishing any argument from I Corinthians 13 on exegetical grounds should not be too quick to dismiss the principles produced by Edwards on that matter. There is a fundamental difference between ministering to a local church which possesses the whole Bible in writing, and by contrast, a pioneering situation in which the Scriptures have yet to be translated and published in the language of the people concerned. Edwards reasons well and powerfully when he contrasts the imperfect and infantile with the perfect and mature, supporting this further by a comparison of the present state with that which will be perfect in the consummate sense. Those who contemptuously dismiss Edwards with a wave of the hand tell us more about themselves than about Edwards!
Some have pointed out that if we concede that the absence of the Scriptures in writing constitutes an extraordinary situation, we should also concede that in such a case of infant development the situation could be assisted by the impression of extraordinary miracles or signs to attest the truth of the gospel.
My own response to that argument is that it is a sound and reasonable one. I would add that if God does give supernatural signs they will be of such an order that nobody could dispute them, just as nobody could contradict the miracles of Christ and his apostles. There was no strain involved. The power signs just seemed to tumble out of heaven. They were given by God, with the stress on given. They were not extracted. History shows that men such as William Carey had to follow a long hard road of toil. Miracles could have tumbled out of heaven, but they did not. Carey could hardly have been blamed for a blockage. It would be absurd to attribute the lack of miracles to a lack of faith. Carey showed faith of superlative quality in persevering through so many difficulties.
The actual purpose of the gifts to attest or to edify provides a basis or principle upon which to distinguish between the extra-ordinary and the ordinary, the permanent and temporary. The lists of gifts vary. There is more stress on the supernatural gifts in I Corinthians 12 because Paul was dealing with the charismata in particular in that letter, whereas only prophecy belongs to the extraordinary category in the gifts mentioned in the Romans 12 passage.
Many of the Protestant consensus, including an increasing number of ex-Pentecostalists like myself are convinced by the inferential argument outlined above, the main principle of which is well summed up by Warfield as follows:
My personal belief on this matter is not that God cannot give a prophecy or a miracle. He can do anything he pleases. To believe in the cessation of the Charismata does not mean the cessation of the supernatural. What is meant is that whereas the miraculous was the norm with the apostles, now it is exceptional. We have no need to fret about it or get worked up about it. A miracle after the New Testament pattern is so plain, powerful and irrefutable that it would be futile to argue about it. Probably God has done miracles and given some true prophecies since the apostolic era but they are of an exceptional and temporary category and not permanent.
What about those who are not convinced? Such contend that we who are convinced have had our minds shut whereas theirs are open. Whatever position we hold we are all without exception required to test all things. Such testings have convinced many that if there is to be another Pentecostal age it has not arrived yet. For instance what are we to say of believers like Ken Haarhof who describes his experience in this way:
The main problem as to whether the charismata have ceased or not is not theoretical only. It is a problem which affects our form of worship and practice in a radical and dramatic way. We should not be surprised therefore that the adversary has found much fertile ground to arouse the most fierce and intense animosities and divisions among Christians.
Those who believe with all their heart that they have had a genuine supernatural experience understandably do not take kindly to those who are quite unconvinced that this is so. When it comes to contention we find that experience is always stronger than an argument. People generally feel intensely about their experiences and resent those who are incredulous or unimpressed by their descriptions. We should note that when we move from doctrine to the pragmatic or experimental we move to ground which is full of uncertainty. I can prove at any time the content of John chapter three, verse three, but how can I prove to anyone with any finality or ultimate certainty that I have had a dream, seen a vision or felt an elation? Observers cannot climb inside me to verify that my experiences are real and not exaggerated or imagined.
What should be our response if the local church to which we belong turns from an orthodox to a Pentecostal basis? If we are not convinced that this is the beginning of the millennium, the ushering in again of that which should have always been present and should never have been lost — how are we to react? So great is the difference and so traumatic is the vexation of being required to believe that which is incredible that I have no hesitation in saying that a transfer (if possible) to another church accompanied with a minimum of ill-feeling constitutes in most cases the wisest action. Secession is always preferable to schism.’7
Viewed pragmatically, what are the main reasons why many reject Pentecostal claims? Ken Haarhof distinguishes between the vocal gifts and the power gifts such as healing miracles. He points out that the gifts to do with speech greatly ‘outproportion’ the miracles of power. Almost all lay claim to tongues, fewer to interpretation of tongues, fewer still to prophecy, while those who would be ready to come forward as raisers of the dead hardly exist at all. Does not this disparity or disproportion contrast strongly with the apostolic era?
With regard to the vocal gifts my eyes began to open when I insisted on writing down interpretations of tongues and prophecies and comparing them with Scripture. The contrast in content and the poor quality were such that I could not accept that the vocal messages constituted the inspired work of the Holy Spirit. Also the way in which tongues are induced or taught contrasted completely with the way in which the Spirit fell upon believers in the apostolic period.
In this connection George Gardiner, an ex-Pentecostal minister who spent twenty-two years in the Charismatic Movement, has made some interesting observations about tongues. ‘Give me any group of people,’ he boldly declares, ‘who will do what I say, who will go through the ritual and do it with sincerity, and, in a matter of time, I will have them all speaking in ecstatic speech.’8 But he does qualify this further by insisting that controls be dropped and inhibitions be removed.
A further problem existed for me which has also perplexed many and that is the nature of the tongues spoken. Having participated myself and having seen and heard others in action I could never agree that these are real languages or in fact any kind of language which has a proper grammatical construction. The more I go on in the Christian life the more fond I become of language study and the more I am impressed by the complexity of languages. I find it hard to believe that angels would use languages that consist of basic sounds repeated over and over again, that is, language without proper syntax. I remain unpersuaded that glossolalia as it is practised today is the language of angels (I Cor. 13:1). I think they would be quite offended at such a claim. Some Pentecostal friends I have spoken with do not claim that tongues form the speech of angels but the issue is still relevant because it is hard to accept that the Holy Spirit is the inspirer of gibberish or that it is gibberish that is interpreted into the speech of men.
There are several books on tongues which are full of interest and information by men such as Parnell, Gromacki, Hoekema, and John Kildahi. After many years of research and analysis Kildahi came to the following conclusion in answering the question, is tongues a spiritual gift?
Furthermore the Scriptures say emphatically that tongues are a sign not to believers but unbelievers. Paul quotes Isaiah (28:11,12) in his exposition of this subject (I Cor. 14:21,22).
What about self-edification in tongue speaking? It is true that by this means one’s spirit can be moved and uplifted but the mind is not instructed. Moreover there is no way in which one can prove that the exercise is not self-induced or psychological.
When we turn from the vocal gifts to the power gifts, the matter of healing miracles is most prominent. This subject is analysed by B. B. Warfield in his treatise Counterfeit Miracles. It is easy to dismiss the author for being negative but if one of our own relatives had suddenly to make the choice between dependance on surgery or a miracle then Warfield’s book would be extremely relevant. We would want to be every bit as careful and perceptive as he was.
The difference between the miracles of our Lord and his apostles and the majority of claims made today is that theirs took a matter of seconds whereas so many today seem to be long drawn out affairs. I believe that God does intervene in an extraordinary way in some cases but like Ken Haarhof I have never come across a modern miracle that I could put into the same category as the New Testament miracles.
Either God has restored the gifts or he has not. If he has, then these questions would not and could not be raised because the power would be beyond dispute. We never read of anyone questioning the miracles of Jesus. Some of his enemies attributed his power to Diabolus but no one doubted the authenticity of his miracles as such. The difficulty of authenticity is one which perplexes many. So many claims simply lack the marks of authenticity. When Jesus fed the multitudes there was no doubt about the miracle. It was because he actually possessed power to create bread and fish that they tried to seize him to make him a king.
To sum up the main problem I would say that if God did enable real miracles to be performed today, such as would pass the test of the scrutiny of the newspapermen and television men, we would need to be wry careful indeed in our evaluation of the purpose of such wonders. We read of the fearful possibility of deception in Revelation 13:13,14 — of fire coming down from heaven in the sight of men, and of miracles. If persuaded however that the wonders bore every mark of being of God we could interpret them as a demonstration of the reality of the supernatural in a materialistic age, or if to do with healing, a proof of God’s compassion. We would not conclude that Scripture needed any further authentication. Nor would we conclude that now we must revert back to the extraordinary as the norm for the churches.
3. The dangers of the Charismatic experience
The first and most obvious danger connected with having or receiving something special is the sin of pride. Even the mighty Paul received a thorn in the flesh to ensure that he should not fall into this trap. ‘And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations there was given to me a thorn in the flesh’ (2 Cor. 12:7). Pride is the first danger. The second is to put experience before truth. All experience must be subservient to the discipline of Scripture. The third danger is to become preoccupied with experiences. The fourth danger is to use the Charismatic experience to promote false unity.
I. The danger of pride
At one time John Wesley found it necessary to write to a certain Miss Bolton as follows: ‘George Bell, William Green and others, then full of love, were favoured with extraordinary revelations and manifestations from God. But by this very thing, Satan beguiled them from the simplicity of life in Christ. By insensible degrees they were led to value these extraordinary gifts more than the ordinary grace of God: this, my dear friend, makes me fear for you. . .’
J. Grant Shank, Jr., writing in Christianity Today10 described the arrival and departure from his church of a group of a dozen tongue-speakers. Grant Shank, pastor of a Nazarene church (a group that maintains second blessing and Arminian teaching) gave these friends a warm welcome. There were smiles all round, hand-shakes and the familiar expression, much repeated, ‘praise the Lord!’ After several months, relates Shank, it was obvious that these newcomers regarded themselves as spiritually superior with a ‘know-it-all’ attitude giving the impression that the non-glossolalia members had not ‘arrived’ spiritually speaking. This seemed to blind them to the fact that there were serious deficiencies in their own lives in the area of disciplined living.
It might be helpful to pause at this stage to point out that, while many pastors throughout the world could relate the divisive effects of what we are describing, it does not follow that all tongue-speakers are necessarily like those who arrived at pastor Shank’s church. As we have seen, the ‘supersaints’ are not only to be found among the Charismatics. A superiority complex was rife among the Pharisees of Jesus’ day and brands of spiritual pride have persisted throughout the years.
But back to pastor Shank, who was deeply grieved. He noted that I Corinthians 12 teaches unity and that whatever brings disunity is not to be tolerated. He could see a split coming in his church and after doing his best to offer a basis of cordiality and understanding with the tongue-speakers he was compelled to admit defeat. He had hoped that the additions would be a blessing to the assembly and result in soul-winning but he came reluctantly to the firm conclusion that the tongue-speakers ‘did not have the Holy Spirit’. They were possessed with a counterfeit, a fake. They were living on an ego trip, a manufactured religious ‘High’. The daily lives of these people did not match their witness, and so they hurt him, the congregation, and their own testimony as well as the cause of Jesus Christ.
The tongue-speakers left for another church but pastor Shank has noted that these people become ‘church hoppers’ and when they move on they do not hesitate to take people with them and when they have left ‘they criticise with barbed speech persons in the previous church’.
Happily pastor Shank does not reveal a bitterness or over-reaction. Church leaders in particular should never allow themselves to be moved from or pushed off their settled doctrinal convictions by the extremes of others. They must be immovable. Setbacks must only make them more determined and firm in the truth. Moses was not moved by the provocative and rebellious cries of a crazy and carnal multitude. At one point he did allow himself to lose his temper. He spoke rashly and God punished him very severely for his sin. He had no excuse because he knew better, God having equipped him and placed him in that very place of responsibility that he might keep cool and see through the mammoth task of sanctification of a whole people in the wilderness.
2. Experience must not be placed before truth
Why has the Charismatic Movement outside the Roman Catholic Church found affinity and unity with the Charismatics inside the Roman Catholic Church? Why is it that Charismatics within the Roman Catholic Church do not embrace the great doctrines of justification by faith alone and salvation by grace alone. Why? Why is it that they say, as Herbert Carson documents in his up-to-date study of the Church of Rome with the thought provoking title of Dawn or Twilight (I.V.P.) that the Charismatic experience causes them to appreciate the mass more? The answer to these questions is that when religion is based on experience or sanctification as the foundation there can be no substantial progress. I believe that it is of the utmost importance that we understand, the Reformation and the main issue that was at stake then, and which continues to be the vital issue today.
The sixteenth century Reformation was an event which led to the regaining of the Bible for the world and the deliverance of the nations from darkness and superstition. What happened is that the reformers regained the doctrine of Christ and his apostles and reasserted it, putting it back in its rightful place. Justification by faith was enthroned in its biblical position and properly related to the doctrine of sanctification like this:
I. The Gospel of justification by faith
or put in another way:
I. What God has done outside of us and for us in Christ
If we invert the order like this:
I. Our experience
then justification is going to be like a golden coin which gets lost at the bottom of a pool of religious experience which becomes more and more confused. This is exactly what happened in the twelve hundred years of darkness between the first three centuries following the apostolic era and the sixteenth century reformation. Whatever happens we must not return to another dark age. This will undoubtedly occur if we do not keep justification by faith in its rightful place.
Luther stated it well when he said, ‘If the article of justification is lost, all Christian doctrine is lost at the same time . . . it alone makes a person a theologian . . . for with it comes the Holy Spirit, who enlightens the heart by it and keeps it in the true certain understanding so that it is able precisely and plainly to distinguish and judge all other articles of faith, and forcefully to sustain them.”11
If ever a truth needed to be engraven upon our very beings as Christians it is the sum and substance of the first chapters of Romans. The elements of this truth of justification are beautifully and succinctly brought together and expressed in the Westminster larger Catechism:
The primacy and meaning of Justification and its relationship to experience is brought out clearly when we see Justification contrasted with Sanctification as follows:
If the truth expressed in column two is placed before that of column one chaos results. Our Christianity must be firmly based upon what God has done for us and not be centred on what is going on inside us. Both justification and sanctification are essential to salvation. Both are the gift of God. Both proceed on the basis of union with Christ, both begin at the same time. But justification must always be the starting point and the foundation.
3. Preoccupation with experience
During 1977 a believer described two revivals which he had witnessed in Borneo. The first was classical in the sense that it was typical of revivals down through the centuries. Preaching, conviction of sin, repentance and transformation of life were the predominating features. The second revival which followed a couple of years later was Charismatic in character. The speaker himself reflected the impact that the second revival had made upon him personally. He gave description after description of visions, exorcisms, healings, spirit baptisms and sensational events such as preservation in the jungle and the moving of lights in meetings. One felt while listening to this account that the Word of God had been supplanted by all the externals. It is possible to become so enamoured with the extraordinary and with excitements and sensational happenings that such matters become the daily diet of believers. Eventually it is all they can talk about which is the hallmark of most Charismatic books.12 Scripture is supplanted by the narration of events which goes on ad infinitum.
When Peter got up to preach at Pentecost he did not launch into detailed descriptions of the amazing and unique experience they had just been through. He preached salvation.
Someone might say that things in England are so dull, orthodox, staid, ordinary and dead that an afternoon’s worth of the extraordinary and the exciting could do a lot of good and redress the balance. It is true that information is necessary and worthwhile but whether the recounting of such events is encouraging to weary ministers is another matter. We have no shortage of people who can recount their Charismatic experiences over and over again but their lives are in a sorry state. To persuade such to live by the Word rather than by dependence on their experiences is an extremely difficult task. To think of a whole multitude of people newly converted through a gracious revival is ‘superlatively wonderful. But to hear of the same people falling into the trap of preoccupation with extraordinary experiences is discouraging.
As Jonathan Edwards was God’s wonderful gift to the eighteenth century Awakening, to encourage growth in grace and discipline, and discourage preoccupation with the externals, in like manner a gift of that kind to Borneo at this time would be invaluable.
4. Using the Charismatic experience to promote false unity
The modern Pentecostal movement is claimed to be the greatest ecstatic movement in the history of the Christian Church. Commencing at the turn of the century it began to enter the mainstream denominations in the 1950’s. During the 1960’s the movement surged forward. This is illustrated by the case of the Evangelical Anglicans in England. In their great get-together at Keele in 1967 the Charismatics were still on the fringe and regarded with much suspicion. Ten years later at the National Evangelical Anglican Conference held at Nottingham they formed a substantial proportion of the whole body with one of their leaders, David Watson of York extolling the achievement of unity with Roman Catholics and saying that ‘in many ways the Reformation was one of the greatest tragedies that ever happened to the Church’.” Another Charismatic leader, Michael Harper, takes the same line (almost as though he had been briefed by the Vatican as to his wording) when he talks about ‘tearing apart the Body of Christ’.14 By what stretch of the imagination could the pre-Reformation Church be equated with ‘the Body of Christ’?
The Charismatic movement has entered such Protestant churches as the Episcopal, Lutheran and Presbyterian bodies. We see that in about 1967 the movement was commenced in the Roman Catholic Church and since 1971 has made progress in the Greek Orthodox Church.
The similar experiences shared by those of differing denominations has led to public declarations such as the official statement of the second National Evangelical Anglican Congress which says, ‘Seeing ourselves and Roman Catholics as fellow Christians, we repent of attitudes that have seemed to deny it’ (Mlb). The clause just quoted follows recognition of the movement for renewal in the Roman Catholic Church (Mla), and later is qualified by an affirmation that the major issues of the Reformation are still regarded as crucial (Mlf).
To break out of the straitjacket that has existed for centuries is a very exciting prospect. To see Cardinal Suenens, Briege McKenna (a Franciscan nun), Andrew Morton of the British Council of churches, Tom Smail and Michael Harper rejoicing together might too easily lead us to conclude that this is a superlative breakthrough! The grim truth is however that Roman Catholic dogma and Roman Catholic authority have not changed one iota. Rome retains her facility to absorb political and religious elements of all kinds.
Love is essential (I Corinthians 13) but truth is equally essential.
Paul insisted on a clearly stated, defined Gospel and with regard to the primacy and necessity of Justification by faith he allowed for no compromise of any kind. The first chapter of Galatians makes this very plain. Even if a darling angel, the best, sweetest and most lovable that ever the world saw, came and united with us in the most ecstatic love experience of Jesus ever known — if that same angel went on and preached a doctrine that contradicted Justification by faith alone for salvation then the very strongest curse of God would be upon him. To that curse we would all be required to give our most hearty assent and approval and withdraw completely from that angel. A favourite song among the Charismatics is the hymn ‘Jesus is Lord’. Jesus is Lord indeed. He has been exalted, crowned, celebrated and is adulated because he has procured our justification by the agonies on the cross. Any obscuring of that, his greatest achievement, is to defame his glory. If experience is permitted to gobble up doctrine, if love is allowed to devour principle, if sentiment is suffered to obscure justification by faith only — then how will the world’s multitudes be saved? How can Jesus be Lord for them? Satan will continue to have his dominion over them. Those who are ready to unite on the basis of love and common Charismatic experience at the expense of Justification should remember that in doing so they will be celebrating the lordship of Satan, not the Lordship of Christ.