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THE CHARISMATIC CONCERN - A PASTORAL PERSPECTIVE.

by Mike Robinson


The word "charismatic" evokes a wide range of responses and reactions in the Christian Church. Yet, in many ways, the word "charismatic" has become largely useless for effective communication because it is now used in such a wide range of ways that it often communicates conflicting concepts.

Over the last 4 decades in particular, the word "charismatic" has increasingly been used in ways that go far beyond a Biblical definition or understanding. Initially it was a word used to refer to the theological emphasis of Pentecostals called the "baptism in the Spirit" and such expressions as speaking in tongues, prophecy, healing etc. More recently it has been expanded by some to include particular worship styles or expressions that might include the singing of worship songs (choruses), lifting hands, kneeling, clapping, dancing etc. rather than focussing on the primary area of spiritual gifts and their use in the local Church.

Theologically or Biblically, the word "charismatic" comes from the Greek word "charis" which means "grace". The Greek word "charismata" means "gifts" or "grace gifts" and I understand this to refer to spiritual gifts - those divine enablings, capacities or abilities to effectively minister in the name of Jesus.

The limited scope of this article excludes the possibility of giving a detailed explanation of my convictions on each of those issues that are now usually called "charismatic". Rather, I want to submit twelve statements that I have found pastorally helpful in addressing these areas with our congregation. In doing so I hope what follows will enable you to see in broad terms our convictions that are at the heart of our lives and, therefore, our pastoral leadership.

In some of what I write below, I acknowledge my indebtedness to many wise, mature and helpful insights found in R. Paul Stevens book, "The Equipper's Guide to Every-Member Ministry" (IVP 1992).

I initially ensured that this material was submitted to our Deacons and I also gave it to a number of our Church Family for their responses. Among their helpful comments was the fact that the paper did not provide what they saw to be the needed assurances that would safeguard us as a Church from excesses and imbalance. While I understand that there are those who want such guarentees (and, in some ways, I would love to be able to give them!), I finally have to recognise that to do so would be an attempt on our part to confine and control God within our safeguards and conditions.

That very statement will make some folk 'nervous' but I cannot give assurances that compromise my own integrity. We all must realise that the more we attempt to write in safeguards, the more we write out trust within our relationships.

However, the assurances that we do give as your Pastors are these:

a. We will never knowingly precipitate or allow behaviour that we believe is destructive to the life and health of our Church. The Holy Spirit is committed to building up the Body of Christ; not tearing it down. We are, likewise, committed to that same goal. As leaders, we are duty-bound to expose and confront all forms of behaviour that threaten the welfare of the Church.

b. Should there be within the life of the Church (whether Sunday services or Home Groups) expressions or "manifestations" that are "charismatic" in nature, we will seek to respond in ways that we believe are true to the Word of God and appropriate for us as leaders and shepherds to protect the Church from harm and to encourage faith and love. We recognise our accountability to God for the care of His people. In fact, you can be assured that we are acutely aware of that accountability! Because we are committed to what we call "middle ground ministry" (the best of both the conservative and charismatic traditions), we believe that what we would call excesses and imbalance are not part of our identity.

c. We will always be open to listen to the concerns of our people on this (and any other) issue. Should there be those of our people who feel we are 'going too far' or 'not far enough', we want to be available to hear those concerns and examine them with those expressing them. Such open communication is critical in any relationship and certainly in the relationship between leaders and the church community.

Here then are 12 statements that set out the basic parameters or guidelines within which I, as a Pastor, seek to lead the Church regarding the "charismatic concern".

Please Note: What follows is NOT intended to be a theological analysis of charismatic teaching. The purpose of these statements is to communicate to you my pastoral perspective and response to such teaching and practice. While the two are not unrelated (and some Biblical comment is made below), the emphasis in this article is pastoral, not theological.

[1] I believe that the Biblical truth of the "baptism in the Holy Spirit" refers to the initial experience of conversion or the new birth. While I gladly acknowledge that there may be (should be?) numerous spiritual experiences (even crises) subsequent to conversion that are initiated by the Holy Spirit as part of our maturing process, I believe it is misleading to teach that the "baptism in the Holy Spirit" is a necessary experience after conversion that is confirmed by the gift of 'tongues'. In Acts 11, Peter clearly identifies conversion with being baptised in the Spirit (see Acts 11 and compare v.14 and v.16)

[2] I believe that all Christians, having been baptised in the Spirit at the point of their conversion, are directed to be "filled with the Spirit" (Eph.5/18) as a continuous experience which enables us to "live" in the Spirit and "walk" in the Spirit. (Galatians 5/25)

[3] I believe that the Holy Spirit is present within the lives of all Christians to produce those character qualities that Scripture calls the FRUIT of the Spirit (Gal.5/22,23) and those ministry abilities that are called the GIFTS of the Spirit (1 Cor.12; Rom.12; Eph.4). I emphasise my commitment to live, lead and teach in such a way as to encourage the balanced development of BOTH fruit and gifts in and through the lives of all our people.

[4] I believe that we are living in an age when God is moving in the spiritual renewal or revival of His Church around the world. There are many expressions of that renewing work of God. However, given that human teachers and movements are not perfect, I believe it is unwise and unhealthy to treat any particular movement or teacher as though they represented the ultimate or ideal expression of this spiritual renewal and the Kingdom of God. At the same time, I want to be open to the voice of God through whatever channel He may use and to acknowledge, celebrate and obey God's truth wherever I find it.

[5] I believe that all the spiritual gifts mentioned in Scripture are valid for today and, while I do not have the right to dictate to the Holy Spirit, I desire to remain open to the right of the Holy Spirit to use any gifts He chooses among us. I remain unconvinced by those attempts to teach an adequate Biblical basis that some or all of these gifts were for another time but not for today.

[6] I acknowledge that the full range of the Spirit's work among us may include the more 'controversial' gifts - like healing, tongues, prophecy, miracles - along with the Spirit's ministry with which we are more familiar - conversion, teaching, fruit, evangelism, prayer, etc. I believe it is unhealthy and undesirable to promote or highlight one aspect of the Spirit's ministry to the detriment of His whole ministry among us. Equally, I believe it is unhealthy and unwise to exclude any one aspect of His ministry among us because (a) it is new to our experience or (b) because it has been misused or abused by others or (c) because it involves us in change and discomfort.

[7] I believe that the primary, God-ordained place for the manifestation of all spiritual gifts is within the local Church and that these ministries need to be very much related to the whole life of the Church because spiritual gifts are for the benefit and blessing of the Church. In this setting, the genuineness of the gifts can be checked, the benefits can be experienced and accountability for their exercise can be maintained.

I believe that Christians who have a "Lone Ranger" mentality towards ministry and are not prepared to exercise their gifts within the God-ordained security of the local Church and its leadership are a threat to the Church's health and effectiveness and they themselves become extremely vulnerable to spiritual pride and deception.

Equally, I believe that no one spiritual gift or "experience" should be allowed to be considered essential or superior to any other activity of the Holy Spirit. I believe that whatever God does in the lives of our people ought to be seen as beautiful in the eyes of the rest of us.

[8] I believe that Pastors do not have the right to dictate to God what He can and cannot do in His own Church. To do so would be an attempt on our part to control or regulate the work of the Holy Spirit. However, as a Pastor, I accept my responsibility to exercise wise pastoral leadership and to give appropriate guidance to the Church under the leadership of the Head of the Church.

I acknowledge that my pastoral responsibility is to give both encouragement and correction in the use of spiritual gifts; especially in the public context of Worship Services or Home Groups meetings. In so doing, I want to maximise the benefits of spiritual gifts while minimising the growing pains of learning to exercise these gifts in a mature and edifying manner.

[9] I am fully aware that there is an inescapable awkwardness and discomfort if we are genuinely led to explore the nature and practice of spiritual gifts - the controversial gifts in particular. There is a necessary learning process which is inevitable because spiritual gifts do not come in neat packages and are never initially exercised with maturity.

I here acknowledge again something that I have often publicly affirmed; ie. there will be times when we, as leaders, will make mistakes and get it wrong!! Love and forgiveness will be needed in sizeable quantities, along with correction, if the full benefit of spiritual gifts is to be received and enjoyed. It is my experience (as it was Paul's in Corinth) that the presence and practice of spiritual gifts is not the main threat to the life of a Church. Rather, it has been the absence of love - on both sides of the "charismatic fence" - that has led to division and pain.

[10] As a Pastor, I am prepared to work with that awkwardness even though it would be far easier to eliminate the awkwardness! It is part of our pastoral responsibility to weigh, discern and, where necessary, to make corrections. I would rather take what I believe to be this positive and biblical stance than to take what I would consider to be a negative and overly cautious posture which would see spiritual gifts as a threat to our Church Family and therefore limit the operation of spiritual gifts to those gifts with which we are comfortable.

I believe in the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit to distribute and use whatever gifts He chooses, through whomever He chooses and whenever He chooses. It is not my place to either demand His gifts or resist His choice. (1 Cor.12/11)

[11] I am committed to encourage all our people to prayerfully identify how the Holy Spirit has gifted them for ministry and to explore and exercise those ministries that would edify the Body of Christ and advance His Kingdom. The recognition and 'ownership' of "a spiritual gift" or cluster of gifts should not lead to any form of elitism or personal achievement. The FRUIT of the Spirit's presence and activity should be the primary emphasis. This can be seen in such outcomes as new birth, forgiveness, maturity, unity, healing, holiness, generosity, love, worship, faith, understanding, wisdom etc.

[12] A climate of expectation that the Head of the Church will enable ALL followers to serve in such a way that the Body builds itself up in love ought to be the normal attitude of the local Church. A balance of freedom and accountability will encourage individuals and groups to attempt ministry in faith while looking to the Body and its leadership for affirmation or correction. Permission to make mistakes should be generously given. In this environment the role of Pastoral Leadership is to affirm, nurture, train, monitor, encourage and correct.

In the light of the above, some may well ask, "Does this mean that our Church is going (or has gone) "charismatic"? From my understanding of the Bible, the Christian Church, by definition, IS charismatic in that it is indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit. In that sense, according to Scripture, our Church is already "charismatic" in that the Holy Spirit has already gifted all its members.

As a Pastor, it is not my intention (nor is it my prerogative or within my ability) to make the Church "charismatic" or "anti-charismatic". However, I recognise that I can make it one or the other so far as attitude is concerned.

My desire and responsibility before God is to lead and teach our Church Family in such a way that we will all be open and responsive to whatever the Holy Spirit wants to do among us and to ensure that our responsiveness to Him is not controlled or dictated by our conditions, fears, restrictions, safeguards or demands.

If the Holy Spirit chooses to activate all, some or none of His gifts.....may His will be done.

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