The Strange Fire Conference is pretty much on everyone’s radar right now. It even came up on a recent Dividing Line (though I cannot find the episode and will update this post with the link sometime), and the whole situation is becoming quite a circus (though that’s to be expected). There’s a lot of misunderstanding from the cessationist side, but there’s also a lot of misunderstanding from the continuationist side / charismatic side. That’s not surprising, since there’s a whole lot of general confusion surrounding issues related to spiritual gifts, sign gifts, signs and wonders, miracles, etc. Those are rather large topics covering a lot of scripture and within the spectrum of understanding on all those issues combined, there are probably a hundred different positions.
I don’t expect the Strange Fire Conference to cover even a quarter of the issues and topics, or correct even a tenth of the various misunderstandings and confusions. I don’t even know what to expect from the conference since I don’t really know where everyone is aiming…and I honestly fear that there will be an unhelpful amount of generalizations that blur the lines between the various positions and camps. Time will tell and I hope that my fears will be unfounded. Hopefully, I might even be able to help matters in some tiny measure.
In my personal writing efforts, I desire to:
a. Bring clarity to some of the issues by accurately presenting the positions of the various continuationist camps.
b. Challenge those who are honestly looking at the issue to consider what I would attempt to present as a strong case for cessationism that allows for biblical miracles and biblical manifestations of the spirit (key word being “biblical”).
c. Challenge those who are “on the fence” to consider a biblical framework for coming to a conclusion on the issue (i.e. putting their personal experience in their proper place under, not over, the scripture, understanding the general biblical pattern and purpose of all signs and wonders, etc.).
d. Give those who are “on the fence” no reason to reject my position because of my person (i.e. being as cordial as possible, being as gracious as possible, and attempting to speak to confused continuationist brothers as brothers in the Lord).
I definitely haven’t met those goals yet, and in what I’ve written so far I have probably failed more than I think, but with further writing on the issue I hope to get closer rather than farther from meeting those goals.
In other people’s writing on the issue, I am troubled by some of what I see. There is a Twitter hash tag (
#CharismaticismInFiveWords) that is being used to chum up some cheap laughs at the expense of charismatics/continuationists in general, and is being defended by claims like:
My goal isn’t to save face or spare feelings of false teachers, but to expose and call to repentance…
Call me skeptical, but I’m not convinced. Mocking false teachers and their followers is about as much an honest call to repentance as mocking overweight people is an honest call to get into shape.
Not only that, but I would suggest that such mockery plays into the hands of those who disagree with cessationists (everyone within the continuationist spectrum, not just the false teachers) and are looking for an excuse (whether conscious or otherwise) to disregard the biblical arguments of cessationists. If we cessationists claim to have the better biblical position on the issues surrounding spiritual gifts, and if we expect those that disagree with us to pay attention to our complex biblical arguments about sign gifts (among other things), we cannot disobey the simple teaching of the scripture on matters of how we use our tongues (i.e. Proverbs 11:12, 22:11; Ecclesiastes 10:12-13; Ephesians 4:29-32; Colossians 4:6; 1 Timothy 4:12; Titus 2:6-8; James 3:9-12). When we do so, the accusations of hypocrisy ring true and our theological credibility gets shredded. Our doctrine may be right, but when we disobey the simple teaching of scripture, it makes us look like we don’t really understand and/or care to obey the simple stuff...and people have reason to disregard us on the complex stuff.
To put it as simply as possible: If we appear to misunderstand what the Bible says about how we use our tongues, why would we understand what the Bible says about the gift of tongues?
I was in charismatic circles for well over a decade, and I had three big hindrances to my leaving those circles:
a. I would basically lose my church, my friends, and everyone I loved.
b. I was doing legitimate good in those circles; teaching the scriptures, evangelizing, discipleship, etc.
c. The cessationists that I knew seemed to be spiritually less mature than the continuationists I knew, partly because they were actually often actual jerks when they found out I was part of a charismatic church (i.e. “so, what Bible do you read?”)
Now that I’ve left the charismatic circles of which I was a part, I cannot do much about (a) or (b) since I’m simply not around, but I can definitely still do something about (c). I only pray that others might join me in demolishing the stereotypes over which people needlessly stumble.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “seeking to be a doer” Unger