By Daniel H. King
Still another fatal flaw in the thinking of charismatics is the tendency they have of considering themselves more “spiritual” than others. Earlier we spoke of the feeling of spiritual superiority many have as the result of the conviction that they receive direct guidance and communication from God. They also consider themselves more spiritually 4 6mature. ” I have had them advise me that my ministry was missing one of the most important elements it could possess: I had not prayed for and received a miraculous anointing of the Spirit. To them all people who are in a similar circumstance are lacking this important ingredient for spiritual maturity. To their way of thinking one who accepts the Bible alone as his guidebook for daily living and uses it to answer every spiritual question is missing some important element of growth, when, according to Paul, this was the very state to which first-century Christians were to aspire (1 Cor. 12:31; 13:12-13).
What this assumes Is that those who possess miraculous gifts of the Spirit are necessarily mature spiritually. The truth is that this was not even so in the days when miraculous powers were available to men. The church at Corinth possessed gifts in abundance as I Corinthians chapters 12 through 14 show. Yet Paul said of them that they were at a pitifully elementary stage of growth: “And 1, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, as unto babes in Christ. I fed you with milk, not with meat; for ye were not yet able to bear it: nay, not even now are ye able; for ye are yet carnal . . . ” (1 Cor. 3:1-3). Possession of gifts had absolutely nothing to do with spiritual maturity. Many of those who received them in the first century were given them at the outset of their Christian lives, before they had opportunity to grow any at all (witness, for example, the case of Cornelius and his household). Gifts were given by God either directly or through his messengers; they were never earned. They were bestowed not merited. They were called “gifts” (charismata), and by their very nature they were received for reasons other than personal worth or worthiness. Neither did one receive them at the culmination of a process of growth and development as a sign or mark of the same. They were given chiefly for two reasons: first, in order to convince the worldling of the authenticity of Christianity; and, second, to edify the church in her newfound faith. As Paul put it, “Tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to the unbelieving: but prophesying is for a sign, not to the unbelieving, but to them that believe” (1 Cor. 14:22). Neither of these things has anything whatever to do with an already-attained maturity. The latter situation, though, assumed that maturity needed yet to be arrived at.
When the”crop” yielded by the presence of the Spirit in one’s life is described by the apostle Paul (Galatians 5), it is discussed almost entirely in terms of personal relations and qualities of character. The results of the “flesh” are, over half of them, sins of rivalry, jealously and hatred. Yet these were the very sins the Corinthians were guilty of in spite of their possession of and intense interest in spiritual gifts. There ought to be a message here for the modern charismatic! If possession of gifts had no connection with maturity in Christ then, it would certainly have little connection today. But the desire for them, from Paul’s own viewpoint, shows an immature desire to return to the church’s infancy (1 Cor. 13:8-11). It is much like a five year old, physically ready to go to school, who yet wishes to have his bottle. Time and circumstances require that things of this sort be left behind!
One of the most devastating flaws of this movement is its inability to produce miracles of the type performed by Jesus and the early apostles. It is one thing to claim healing in the case of a person whose problem has been self-diagnosed as “cancer.” It is another to walk into a cancer ward and raise up a man who lies at death’s very door, his body filled with the disease and daily tortured by its attendant pain. The former is the type that we usually hear about. The latter would be the sort that Christ’s apostles would have performed. The difference is obvious, not only in this case but also in the total absence of miracles which have been or can be verified by those qualified to pronounce them to be such. Of one of the miracles which was performed by Peter the book of Acts says, “And seeing the man that was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it. But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, saying, What shall we do to these men? for that indeed a notable miracle hath been wrought through them, is manifest to all that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it” (Acts 4:14-16). Where are the miracles of this sort in the modem charismatic movement? Where have they occurred? Where is the city wherein are leaders so astounded by the miracles thus performed that they “cannot deny” them? I suggest to the reader that the very inability to produce such a place and comparable miracles is proof positive that the modern charismatic movement is bereft of the power it claims to possess. We can admit that in those cases where illnesses are purely imagined (psychosomatic) there have been actual healings. In such instances the conviction that one is healed is really the only important thing, never mind the source. In addition, physicians have long held that the state of the mind has a great deal to do with whether the body will be able to heal itself in any given circumstance. Too, God answers prayer. We believe that God grants His faithful children their heartfelt needs when they are in accord with His will (see 1 Jn. 5:14). This might involve the healing of the body of some disease or malady. But, once more, this is a far cry from the miracles of Christ and the apostles! And the failure to appreciate this difference has led to many of the mistaken notions which are so popular among charismatics today.
Jesus healed a man with a withered hand. He walked on water and turned water into wine. He commanded the winds and the waves to be quiet and they obeyed His word. He multiplied loaves and fishes. He and His apostles raised the dead. Paul struck one man with blindness. Yet miracles of this kind just do not happen among modern charismatics. Many of those that do are rather to be classed as “magic” than miracle, the kind of antics you see in a carnival sideshow. For example, one fellow claims the ability to read through his empty eye-socket (one eye is missing). He tapes the other eye shut and claims the Holy Spirit gives him the power to read through the empty socket. When a magician was called in to comment by a local TV station, he called it an “old trick” and said that he was reading down the edge of his nose under the tape through the good eye. He challenged the “miracle-worker” to allow him to tape up the good eye. The challenge was not accepted!
Large sums of money have been offered in some cities for one proven case of a miracle. Those sums have always gone unclaimed and uncollected. Why? If these “miracles” are of the undeniable variety like those of Jesus and the apostles were (Jn. 3:2; 9:32; Acts 4:14-16), where is the incontestable proof of them (see Acts 1:3). We will leave it to the reader to decide.
One of the most damaging flaws of charismatism is its handling of the Bible. A movement which claims to be Biblebased must treat the Bible with absolute respect and must handle it properly (“handling aright the word of truth,” 2 Tim. 2:15). Abuse of the Scriptures is a sure sign of false doctrine and false teachers: “We have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by the manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 4:2). In addition to passages abused to which we have already called the reader’s attention, we would like to add a couple of others as illustrative of this point.
Acts chapter I and 2 are important in the minds of charismatic preachers for obvious reasons. But, in their hands, these have become mere proof texts. Those things distinctively believed by Pentecostals and others related to this movement which are claimed to derive from these two chapters are read into rather than out of them. In the first place, they suggest that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was intended for everyone and was subsequently bestowed upon everyone mentioned in Acts 1, i.e. the one hundred and twenty (v. 15). But the promise of Jesus was never made to the one hundred and twenty. It was made to the apostles and to them alone: it was they to whom He spoke (v. 2); it was they whom He gathered for the purpose of relating the promise (v. 6); and it was they to whom the promise was made (v. 8).
When the one hundred and twenty gathered in the upper room, it was still the apostles who were the main characters (vv 13-14). Peter stood to address the assembly and one was chosen to take the place of Judas in the apostolic band, rounding the number out once more to twelve. At the very conclusion of the chapter the text reads that Matthias “was numbered with the eleven apostles” (v. 26). When the next chapter begins, charismatics assume that the one hundred twenty were still present in the upper room and that they were all baptized with the Holy Spirit and all spoke with tongues. But the text proves otherwise. It begins (2: 1), “And when the day of Pentecost was now come, they were all together in one place The question which arises is, who are the “they” of the text? Are they the 120 or the 12 apostles? The rules of grammar suggest that, unless some overwhelming contextual consideration is present, the last acceptable antecedent (in this case “the eleven apostles”) must be taken as its explanation. This follows not only from the evidence of Acts 1:26, but also from Acts 2:14 and 37. The only ones said to have been included in the events of Pentecost are the twelve apostles. Morever, the most likely place where these things occurred is the temple courtyard, since they “continued steadfastly in the temple” (2:46). An upper room of a private dwelling would have been insufficient for a gathering of more than 3000 people (2:41); and since there is no evidence that the upper room was the place, it is unfair to the text to insert it here.
The charismatic movement misunderstands the baptism of the Holy Spirit and so is forced to treat these and other Scriptures in such a way as to allow for their forced interpretations of it. God intended it merely as a sign, first to the Jew (Acts 2), then to the Gentile (Acts 10) that the doors of the kingdom of heaven were open to all. Note that in both cases where it takes place it is connected inextricably with the conversion of men to Christ and their being added to the church. Pentecost represented the beginning of the church and the conversion of the household of Cornelius represented the first Gentile household to be allowed membership. When Paul later spoke of baptism he numbered only “one” on God’s list (Eph.4:5), a definite indication that Holy Spirit baptism had fulfilled its intended purpose of signaling the willingness of God to accept men into his church and no longer in evidence. If it had still been around then Paul could not have called water baptism the “one baptism.”
Chapter 13 of First Corinthians represents the gifts of the Spirit as of limited duration and so has also been a target of some corrective surgery: “Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall be done away; whether they be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge (divinely bestowed), it shall be done away” (1 Cor. 13:8). Paul speaks of prophecy and revelation as merely partial (“in part:”. And so it was. Revelations were bestowed at particular times and places, just as the individual letters, gospels, and the Acts were given or sent to particular groups or churches. But Paul promises that when “that which is perfect (teleion) is come, that which is in part shall be done away” (v.10). Charismatics interpret “that which is perfect” as being Christ. But the gender of the noun (in Greek) is neuter, as evidenced by the translation “that which.” If Christ were intended it would read “he who” is perfect. Some say it is the Second Coming that is meant. But that would be feminine in Greek (parousia, “coming” is feminine gender) and would read (literally) “she who.” Actually neither is intended by Paul.
The word “perfect” is used twice in the New Testament in ways that help us understand its use here. In Colossians 1:28 Paul hopes that he may “present every man perfect (teleion) in Christ.” He speaks here of a stage of development that leaves childish things behind (cf. Heb. 5:12-14; 1 Pet. 2:1-2; etc.). This bears a clear resemblance of 1 Corinthians 13. We refer to this “perfection” as maturity. Also, in James 1:25, the writer talks about “the perfect (teleion) law, the law of liberty.” In this place he describes the Word of God as “perfect,” as needing no additions or alterations to bring it to a state where it can be wholly useful. It is that which, in the final analysis, must be brought into play to make men and women “perfect in Christ.” When revealed completely is that which was to replace the gifts of Corinth and Pentecost, as Paul goes on to explain: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I felt as a child, I thought as a child: now that I am become a man, I have put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known” (vv.11-12).
Paul sees as rudimentary that stage in the church’s development wherein she depended upon spiritual gifts to supply her with the knowledge of Christ and His will. The time would be when it would be “face to face.” Charismatics have taken this to mean that the return of Christ will bring about a situation where man will look into the very face of God and have knowledge of him as close friends do. That of course will be the case (see Rev. 21:3), but it is not what 1 Corinthians 13 is saying.
This identical expression is found also in many places in the Old Testament (Gen. 32:30; Num. 14:14; Deut. 5:4; 34:10). In those texts it is said that God is seen “face to face” by His people or by a particular messenger (as Moses). Yet it was not meant to be taken literally. As Exodus 33:20 further explains: “Thou canst not see my face; for man shall not see me and live.” Or, as John put it (Jn. 1:18): “No man hath seen God at any time. So then what does this expression mean? It portrays a familiarity enjoyed through the experience of divine revelation. Moses did not literally see the face of God. No man could see the face of God and live. Howbeit God made Himself familiar to Moses by constant association with him in His frequent revelations to the great Lawgiver and prophet. So Moses came to know God through divine revelation – so much so that it came to be described in Scripture as a “face to face” intimacy.
Similarly, Paul uses this metaphorical figure to express the state of things when the church reached spiritual maturity and was given the fulness of God’s word, the completed canon of Scripture. At that time, when the apostles and prophets finished their work of revealing the totality of God’s truth (see Jn. 16:13-14), man would enjoy a familiarity with God that he had never known before. Something greater than what Moses had enjoyed. Even charismatics agree that the canon of Scripture is closed and nothing new can be added. No new book written by man today can qualify to be inserted among the sacred books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul or any of the rest of that first generation of spiritually gifted men. But if charismatism. were taken to its logical conclusion it would be forced to allow that any one of their “prophets” could write such a book! The very fact that they make no pretension to this ability is evidence aplenty that they recognize a difference between that first generation of charismatics and the charismatic revivalism of today.
One further flaw exists in the thinking of this movement to which we would like to draw the reader’s attention. This is its tendency to lead its adherents to compromise with the gravest of effors. One can see evidence of this in the meetings held by advocates of charismatism. People from religious movements which are as far apart doctrinally as day and night share the same platforms, embrace one another, and cooperate together in unified efforts. They declare this to be evidence of the “unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4:3), but this cannot be. It can, however, be easily explained. Those who share comparable experiences are taken to be just as right with God, iffegardless of doctrinal stance, for one simple reason: to deny the next fellow’s experience would leave oneself open to the same denial by others! “If the other fellow’s experience is not genuine, then maybe people will think mine is not!”
The result has been a total divorcement of the “unity of the Spirit” from the “Spirit of Truth” (Jn. 16:13). They utterly ignore what the Spirit of Truth has revealed on a variety of questions that are of importance in the spiritual realm for the sake of unity in compromise. They are thus left with a dilemma. Either: (1) The Spirit of God is in contradiction with Himself; or, (2) The modern charismatic revival is in contradiction with the Truth which the Spirit revealed and thus the spirit which they possess is not the Spirit of God. John warned us to try the spirits because mani false prophets are gone out into the world (1 Jn. 4:1-6). Regrettably, we must conclude that the second alternative offered above is the one which suits the case and that the modem charismatic is not under the influence of God’s Spirit but of some other.
In this study we have tried to present the truth of God in love. For some people it will be impossible to believe that, since anyone who questions their religious beliefs or experiences is immediately labelled ungracious and unkind. As Paul himself said it, “Am I become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Gal. 4:16). But if you are a charismatic, then let me say something to you flatly: I have written this because I love you and am concerned about your soul and its ultimate destination. This material is the result of many weeks of laborious research, writing and rewriting. I will not make one penny from it. It will come to you free of charge. It will cost me and others time and effort and money to make it available to you. But if you will prayerfully and objectively read it, then it will have been worth our efforts – and one of two things will happen. Either you will change your mind about the modem charismatic movement, or you will want to prove us wrong.
If the latter is the case then why not do it. We stand ready to hear the evidence that may be offered on behalf of this or any other religious stance. We will defend our views through any medium available to us: in writing, in public debate, etc. But if we are wrong then we are prepared to change. We stand willing to do either or both, as the occasion allows.
But if you have changed your views on the charismatic movement, then why not join with us in the churches of Christ in our attempt to revive what really needs reviving about the church. We are attempting to restore the creed, worship, work, and organization of the early church. In short, we are working toward a restoration of New Testament Christianity. Why not help us?
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 5, pp. 133-134, 150-151
March 1, 1984