The Balancing Act
It’s been quite some time since I have written a focused article for the website and I am way overdue. Let’s fix that… today.
The ministry is going great. My family and I are blessed and prospered; and we have great hope and faith in all that the Lord is doing.
And yet, I am convinced we are right on the cusp of breaking into a new and wonderful season for myself and those I am fortunate to serve with. This has produced an unsettling within me. That’s not bad by the way. It’s the Lord’s way of saying “Get ready. More to come and you need to be prepared for it.”
For a while I have been taking some time to meditate on my core values and world views concerning my ministry and doctrinal convictions. Preparation starts with getting back to basics. And I think it's important all of us regularly evaluate what and why we believe what we believe. I do this regularly.
While doing these things, I have also been spending time listening to the teachings of those who are "preaching outside of my own choir", so to speak. I have learned to hear the voice of the Lord from many viewpoints and “camps”, and I regularly take the time to listen to those who do not necessarily think the same as I do. It's fun, and there is always something to learn...even if you're relearning how right you are!
Jesus' approval of people outside of our personal influence is nothing new...even His own!
“Now John answered Him, saying, “Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.” But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is on our side. Mark 9:38-39 (italics mine)
It’s unfortunate that Christians sometimes have a tendency to think their personal perspectives, favorite teachers and preachers, and their own church affiliation, have a corner on the true or most accurate “revelation”. When we do this, it can be easy to become tribal over our favorite doctrines and/or styles of worship. We can begin to look down on others as not being as knowledgeable or spiritual as we are.
That cushion we plopped our rear ends on while reclining on our self appointed judgement seat can tend to get more and more comfortable. There is a certain rush we get when we believe we are more advanced than others and have something they don't. As that happens, odds are that in the name of “discernment”, we actually enter into a spiritual pride that certainly the Lord won’t be happy with.
Any of us can be tempted to do this. And it doesn’t seem that “spiritual rank” necessarily makes someone immune from its temptation. Even the largest and most influential ministries can develop a sectarian spirit. It's part of our fallen human condition. Knowing this, I certainly try not to allow myself to be so cloistered I miss out on what God is doing wherever He is doing it. I am not perfect, but I am confident my batting average is pretty good.
Let's talk about these things a wee bit more. I'm building up to the purpose of the article.
Consider that if God wanted just one person or ministry or affiliation within Christianity to have a monopoly on “the truth”, then I submit there wouldn’t be the multiple writings of Matthew… Mark… Luke… John… Paul… Peter… James… Jude… you get the point.
For example, within one or two chapters of reading say First Peter and then Paul's letter to the Ephesians…though doctrinally they are the same, there can be no doubt there are stylistic differences and emphasis. But that is a blessing! This allows us to have greater, varied, and more detailed descriptions by which we are able to behold the Lord.
Personalities and different perspectives under the unction of the Holy Spirit can paint and describe many different hues and inflections that not just one writer, or a whole denomination for that matter, would be able to. Consider that the same mountain looks very different standing on top of it… to looking at it from a mile away… or flying forty thousand feet over it.
Personally, I thank God that He uses people to communicate from so many vantage points His thoughts so that we may understand Him in such amazing detail.
So here is the reason I took the time I just did as an intro.
During my perusings, one of the theological perspectives I have been listening to are those who do not believe in the continuous demonstrations of the Holy Spirit through His gifts as discussed especially in First Corinthians chapter twelve. The term for that is called "cessationism". Just because I don't see eye to eye on everything with someone though, doesn't mean there still isn't some great stuff out there to be learned. In addition, I was interested in seeing whether their arguments had changed, or I had changed.
They haven’t and neither have I.
I was particularly listening to a very well-known pastor and theologian who has for years spoken some really over the top and insulting comments refuting from his standpoint the “chaos” of Pentecostal/charismatic theology and experience. He has been insulting to such a degree, that another very proper, world-renowned theologian…who used to believe what this other person did concerning the cessation of the Gifts of the Spirit...
...until his wife was miraculously healed of cancer and now both he and she speaks in other tongues!
That would do it.
And since that time, have seen marvelous supernatural works in the name of Jesus and written prolifically concerning these things!
Well, this brilliant man of God was compelled to write a book to refute the allegations this other minister had laid against Pentecostal/Charismatic Christians.
And guess what?
A strange thing happened. Didn't see it coming one bit.
Because of my delving and taking the time to listen to other perspectives including this extremely critical gentleman... and even though I knew ahead of time I probably would not agree with most of what he said concerning this particular subject matter... I was able to grasp more where he is coming from and began actually to be sympathetic toward him. This of course helped me understand why he speaks the way he does. I still think he is very disrespectful and I don’t agree with his positions, but I get it now.
But that's not the end of it.
Though I find this man of God and his fellow cessationist’s views concerning the miraculous rather easy to refute… theologically and experientially… one contention they bring up is pretty accurate and is the instigation for this article.
And that contention...three in one actually:
The flamboyancy, lack of holiness in behavior, and shallowness of doctrine they submit many within the Pentecostal/charismatic traditions are guilty of .
This brother and those thinking as he does struggle with the position that the same persons or groups that jump and holler and fall down “in the Spirit” while supposedly being used to demonstrate great signs and wonders are at the same time going through their 5th divorce… purchasing their 20th mansion…carrying on adulterous heterosexual and homosexual affairs and abuses… and so on.
To add to these things, they marvel that these same “ministries” are claiming that the Scriptures supposedly defend their extravagant excesses!
Well...I hope this next statement isn’t a shocker:
To a large degree, I agree with them!
Before we continue, understand that no group, movement, or denomination has a corner on carnality.
It is unfair for the conservative Reformist to claim somehow Pentecostals/Charismatics have an inordinate amount of extravagance, even deception, in comparison to any other persuasion within the Body of Christ. The vast majority of those who have had a Pentecostal experience and delight to believe that God still moves wonderfully and miraculously, are not driving Rolls Royce’s, have multiple fifty thousand square foot homes, and think doctors are agents of the Antichrist.
“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” I Corinthians 3:1-3 (italics mine)
Look. If the Apostle Paul himself had difficulty getting some of his people to grow up and bring them to maturity, and I find it hard to indict Paul concerning an inability to shepherd his people, then I challenge those sweeping judgements towards the leadership within today’s Charismatic movement for the behavior of the minority of her members.
Frankly and to be fair, I could contend using their very same rationale, these reformists are as inundated with error and immaturity. As they do not believe in the spiritual endowments so plainly annotated in the Scriptures, and the experiences of hundreds of millions of Christians from the first century until today… I could slingshot my own verses and judgements at them declaring they are “blaspheming the Holy Spirit” and not “rightly dividing the Word of Truth” as they “strain out a gnat to gain followers.”.
Or how about at the same time they denounce emotionalism, demonstrative music and praise, which this man contended was being used only to hype up emotions and altered states; I could very well rightly accuse them of being snobbish and aloof… having no understanding of true biblically modelled praise and worship.
We could wonder aloud why as they sing their two-hundred-year-old hymns with the same exclamations and passion of the mannequin in the local department store or the sentry at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, they are not obeying the Scriptural command to “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice!” Philippians 4:4
I hate to break this to you my conservative friends, but Jewish praise, of which Paul certainly would be alluding to, was exuberant, demonstrative, and celebratory. Certainly not the atmosphere of a funeral dirge.
Oh wait! Did I mention the signing of my three-book deal for my favorite publisher who would pay me wonderfully to rail up, down, left, and right, concerning the lack of proper openness to the Spirit, let alone the poor exegesis of the Word. I could attack them, elevate my spirituality above theirs, and leave my audience and “choir that I preach too” confident that God needs to have mercy on the poor souls so lost and misled. Just ask us.
And the war would continue. “Tit for tat” gets nothing done and let’s call it what it really is:
Christian cannibalism. And it drives me nuts.
So my point now that my sarcasm is over (temporarily, knowing me), and the purpose of this article:
This man did bring up valid points. Period. It doesn’t matter whether we like what he said or if “the other guy is doing it too.” Doesn’t matter. If these are accurate observations, we need to address them…fix them…and move on in God. At the same time not be drunk with the intoxicating effects of ungodly judgment and self-exaltation which only divides that which Christ and His messengers gave their lives for…His Body…the Church.
The following are only a few observations... mini lessons if you will... of what we can do to address this...at least within ourselves and the groups of which we are a part. I'll discuss a couple principles addressing not just those who really should dial things back a bit, but those as well who in their judgments have become arrogant and self exalting. No doubt I discuss a few of their doctrinal beliefs that I find quite damaging. This is not as much a detailed order of things, but a few thoughts, each of which could certainly be separate articles themselves, that the above triggered and my observations and added "two sense" concerning them.
What Say You Paul?
The Apostle Paul wrote almost half of the New Testament. He instructed churches…pastors…his theology as surgically described in Romans is a masterpiece concerning the details of our redemption in Christ alone…he sat in the most horrific dungeons and witnessed in front of kings and royalty.
And I am kinda figuring that with all that experience of surviving the best and the worst this world had to throw at him, he may have just a few life’s lessons from different aspects we should pay attention to. Specifically, his personal guidelines and standards of conduct concerning his ministry and message.
Let me remind us, this is the same man that God used to demonstrate extraordinary signs and wonders (Acts 19). He had at least one visit to heaven itself ( II Corinthians 12:3). He also thanked the Lord that he "spoke in tongues more than any of them." (I Corinthians 14:18) His instructions on giving and receiving in Second Corinthians chapters eight and nine makes TBN and Mike Murdock look like pikers!
You can't get much more “Pentecostal/Charismatic” in theology and practice than the Apostle Paul!
So what did Paul conclude and appeal to as his personal standard concerning both Christian and ministerial behavior and ethics:
"But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection lest when I have preached to others I myself should become disqualified." I Corinthians 9:27
The Apostle certainly understood the Word of God doesn't become illegitimate because of a minister's behavior (it would not be the Word of God if human effort good or bad was its validation). Yet in the eyes of the audience this very thing can happen. Preaching one thing and living another way is called hypocrisy. And giving credence to hypocrites doesn't normally happen.
The ability of the audience to accept and believe the message of the man of God, no matter how Scripturally accurate, is severely hindered when the ministers themselves live in gross excess and violation of holiness and sound doctrine. Like it or not, the behavior of the messenger greatly influences the effect of the message.
Note: Certainly, if the minister continues in unrepentant sin or outlandish doctrine, no doubt the Lord Himself will eventually step in and put a stop to it. When Jesus addressed the seven churches in Asia in the book of Revelation, there is no doubt He is very "hands on" and will remove ministers and even churches themselves when necessary. I'd call that disqualification and certainly an element of Paul was referring to.
What I am mostly referring to above is the effect outlandish behavior has on fellow members of the body of Christ to the point of being disqualified as a competent minister...even entire affiliations. And Paul was acutely aware of this potential...even within himself.
So, what do we think can possibly guard us from being excessive and self-blinding when it comes to representing the Lord, the gospel entrusted to us, and the wonderful inheritance of which we have been made “co-heirs with Christ”?
One of the most important principles I learned in Bible College was to “not get in the ditch” over most doctrines.
To stay away from extremes!
If we could just remember this one principle, many of the accusations of these brothers against the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement would go away. The actual or perceived “disqualification” Paul referenced above (I Corinthians 9:27) as seen by our conservative friends, shuts them off from genuinely being blessed by the amazing truths that God does emphasize in Pentecostal circles i.e.…faith…the supernatural ministry of the Holy Spirit…prosperity to be blessed and then to be a blessing. Side-note: I sure am glad I learned the will of God concerning financial blessing and abundance. It was a wonderful day when instead of needing a financial miracle, I was able to be used to be a miracle for someone as I wrote out that check!
Let's quickly note one obvious exception to “avoiding the ditch” so to speak. That is the absolute, one hundred percent, no “middle of the road”, exclamation that Jesus is:
“The Way, The Truth, and The Life, and that no one comes to the Father except through Him.” John 14:6.
“…let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone. ’Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:10-12 (emphasis mine)
Christianity is certainly extreme...I'll define that here as "no other option"... on that one (a few other doctrines as well)…as it should be! Jesus is the one and only way to come to the Father and through Whom we can be saved from our sins. No one else. Nothing else. Period.
There is no question there are non-negotiables in the Word of God that are not up for debate...as in the example I just cited. These doctrinal absolutes, that no orthodox Christian of any persuasion would disagree with, are not what I am referring when I use the term "extreme" as I continue to address these matters.
Yet there are many subjects folks can be tempted to develop completely out of balance positions, and it's not profitable. In the Charismatic tradition, we tend to see this when it comes to teaching on godly prosperity and at times even divine healing. And as I have said, I agree for the most part with the cited ministers at the beginning of this article, that there are excessive teachings out there that should be addressed and corrected.
Now I know what some of you may be thinking so I’ll say this:
“Middle of the road” or "balance", is not compromise!
Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches." I Corinthians 7:17
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. I Corinthians 9:19-23
Whether it's eating meat or only vegetables...