Monday, November 25, 2013
My Thoughts Following The "Strange Fire" Conference
These days I'm an extremely soft charismatic. Hence the decision to remove the 'charismatic Lutheran' label from the blog earlier this year, coupled with my dissatisfaction with Vineyard and New Frontiers churches and the unscriptural definition and practices of the spiritual gifts for which I had tremendous doubts. At the end of my time at Church of Christ the King (CCK) in Brighton, I was burnt out, partly due to depression following a relationship break-up, and partly because the attraction with charismatic worship had worn out. I was tired of the shallow and superficial worship, despite the occasional use of hymns, and being manipulating into having an emotional response. For the last couple of months at CCK, all I wanted to do was sit and pray. And I started to express some cynicism at the expressions of worship around me. I saw them as false masks covering over the sorrow and disappointment underneath, and I couldn't go along with that kind of inauthenticity. During that time, a Lutheran friend on Facebook, also suggested that I try not to force myself into feeling anything which gave me a great sense of freedom in that I didn't have to stand up, raise my hands, etc, if I didn't think the Holy Spirit was behind it. I certainly didn't want to be bossed around by 'worship leaders' into having an experience. And since becoming Lutheran in 2010 the idea that experiences or the sign gifts were the foundation of my Christian life had long since evaporated. I couldn't find any certainty that God was actually speaking there - but when Word and Sacrament became the focus there was certainty and objectivity and I didn't have to wonder "is this God?"
While I still believe the gifts haven't ceased, I think how they are used today in charismatic settings is opposed to the apostolic practice, to the extent that men rather than Jesus are being glorified and exalted. So listening to the "Strange Fire" conference lectures, while I don't share the strict cessationist view, I agree that their diagnosis of the problem with the modern charismatic movement is spot on. Once you start looking for God outside of his Word, false mysticism results to the point where the Christian life becomes a search for the next big thing, lurching from one experience/conference/'revival' to another. With the gift of prophecy, the problem is amplified when the focus becomes the supposed 'office of Prophet' in the church who can speak words over your life. During my time at Brighton Vineyard, I saw such figures as synonymous with palm readers who Christians would approach to get their 'word of knowledge' from God for that week. There were plenty of times when Christians said 'I think God is saying...' to me, and while I think they meant well, I always found their words to be so vague, general, and non-specific that I started to question why God would choose to speak to us in such an uncertain way, when I could just open my Bible and be sure God was speaking. I also started to question the discernment of charismatic pastors and elders. If these Christians were so prophetically gifted, why were they going to Lakeland to receive anointing from Todd Bentley, selling Bill Johnson's books in the church bookstore, and exalting the names of seeker-sensitive pastors like Rick Warren and Bill Hybels despite their Scripture-twisting? And I saw the strain of pragmatism entering the charismatic movement: whatever lures the most people that's what works, even if churches start to rely on evangelistic methods outside of Scripture. Hence the rabid focus on signs and wonders and life transformation, apart from the gospel, which takes up much of the preaching in charismatic circles with a few minutes at the end for a short evangelistic presentation and the sinner's prayer. In churches that go down the charismatic road, the gospel is minimized and pushed to the sidelines for whatever will grow a church quicker and more efficiently. This practice is to the detriment of new Christians, who are fed on a meagre diet of experiences, programs, false signs and wonders, and small group 'conversations' without any spiritual direction from the pastor who are too busy being the Kings in their charismatic kingdom to care for the sheep, much less to learn their names. The charismatic movement is much more engaged with reaching out to the surrounding culture, and getting the world's attention and praise, than living under the cross and dying to self. Its a theology of glory, pure and simple, that emphasises the gifts over the Giver, and turns charismatic Christians into super-spiritual giants. Hence the charge of the 'frozen chosen' aimed at liturgical worshippers which is a symptom of spiritual pride, since charismatics are supposedly being more in tune with the Spirit than the rest of us 'second-class Christians'. Because after all, "where the excitement is, the Holy Spirit is always in operation". Frankly I don't buy it. And despite our major doctrinal differences with MacArthur and his ilk, I'm grateful to the pastors and teachers who spoke at the "Strange Fire" conference who aren't buying it either. Let's stop being "open but cautious" as Phil Johnson suggested, and bring real correction to a movement that no longer polices itself, despite the new Calvinist voices within it who are often just as guilty of following the next fad, the next charismatic 'revival' until it blows up in their faces. And then its rinse and repeat, with the charismatic movement luring more Christians on its mystic road to hell.