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On Being Charismatic

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : February 16, 2007

I’m a charismatic.  At least I think I am.  When I first came into the Faith (at 14) I attended a charismatic church (it was an Evangelical Free Church with a charismatic Mennonite pastor…it shouldn’t have been a surprise that a church split would happen a few years later).

I loved my church experience.  But late in my teens, things went sour.  The church began to split, my family life sucked (I was the youngest of 6, but the primary care-giver to my dying mother), and I was beging to have theological differences with my church (they didn’t appreciate my bookish-ness).

Through the years, I’ve tenaciously maintained a charismatic identity.  I may, one day, give up on calling myself an “evangelical,” but I would never reject my “charismatic” label.  Why not?  Because I fundamentally agree with charismatics: all of the supernatural gifts seen in the first century are still available to us today and should be practiced.  I am perhaps charismatic-lite in that I don’t believe that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is a seperate even from salvation, though it can be a seperate experience.

Although I claim to be a charismatic…I am painfully aware that many charismatics won’t claim me in return.  Mostly, I think, this is because I am too intellectual, no longer talk like a cultural charismatic, and I do indeed challenge some conventual charismatic understandings. 

I’ll give you an example: spiritual gifts (charismata).  I’m troubled by the ways in which charismatics tend to depersonalize the Holy Spirit as a sort of force that one can “plug into.” And I’m concerned by the ways that many charismatics tend to treat charismata as special mystical abilities that have been granted to them by the Holy Spirit.  This is how you can take something that was supposed to foster unity and inter-dependence into a tool for one-upsmanship, power over others, and spiritual abuse.

And so, here are seven statements on charismata…if you are a charimstic or have charismatic leanings, I’d love to hear where you agree or disagree:

  1. “Charismata” are spirit-given ministries—expressions of the presence of the Spirit—rather than spiritual “gifts” or “talents.” Charismata aren’t “hidden talents”, they are ways the Spirit manifests among us. Charismata aren’t not latent special abilities (in Romans 12, the charismata mentioned are the result of fruits of the Spirit, and are evidence of the empowering presence of the Spirit).  In other words, you don’t “have” a “spiritual gift,” you “manifesto” or “make known” the Spirit’s presence, which is itself a gift to the community by God the Father. 
  2. Charismata are congregational, not personal. They are given primarily to serve the Body, not primarily for self-fulfillment. Through these manifestations of the Spirit, the Church-at-large and the local congregation are equipped to function as worshiping, discipling, community-building, witnessing, serving, and ministering family of faith.
  3. None of the “gifts lists” are complete. These “lists” are representative to show the diversity of the possible ways the Spirit manifests through the congregation.  This means that we can’t simply scan the lists and figure out which ones we “have.” Instead, these “lists” are contextual.  We shouldn’t let these passages of Scripture constrain us.  Instead, they should help us learn about the nature and diversity of the different manifestations of the Spirit-in-our-midst.
  4. We need to be careful with gifts-tests. How then, do we answer the question: “what is my spiritual ministry?” Not by tests.  The question shouldn’t be “what is my gift” it should be “how can the Spirit minister through me?” The Spirit is ministering through you whenever you are walking in obedience to the calling and passion the Spirit has been leading you into. The Spirit is ministering through you whenever you minister out of the maturity that the Spirit has cultivated. Because of this, I downplay “spiritual gifts” inventories. They are only helpful if they help us realize inner passions and things that the Spirit has been urging us towards. Being obedient to the Spirit’s leading is way more important than having the right label for your “gift.”
  5. A central point of 1 Cor 12 is that we shouldn’t emphasize some spiritual gifts and devalue others.  We need to value all the ways the Spirit manifests through one another, for it is the Spirit’s way of bringing unity and directing the church. This makes the need for communal discernment very important.
  6. The Spirit leads and empowers through the many, not the few. In other words, the Spirit can speak to the Body through anyone at any time.  The Spirit doesn’t just speak through “clergy.” Some folks aren’t “more anointed” than other–at least not in the way we think.  Charismatics, because of their theology, should be MORE egalitarian, not less.  Nevetheless, they often betray Scriptures by elevating the “anointed” over the laity.  The charismata passages point to shared decision making and shared ownership of ministry.  This is even true of the “five-fold” ministry passage in Ephesians 4.  Why do we assume that these are “offices” of leadership?
  7. Every time we gather together, charismata should be (and probably are) expressed.  Christ is present by his Spirit.  Christ leads his church through his Spirit.  And the Spirit makes the will and presence known in our midst through one another.  Therefore, every time we are gathered, the Spirit is with us, moving in, around, and thorugh us to shape us into the image of the Son. 

Thoughts?

for further reading . . .

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Comments

7 Responses to “On Being Charismatic”

  1. Jesse Gavin on February 16th, 2007 12:00 pm

    Thanks for the well articulated post. I have always appreciated your approach to “charismata”.

  2. ron cole on February 16th, 2007 3:03 pm

    Mark, great thoughts…I agree with everything you’ve said in your satements. In the pentecostal community I find myself, it frustrates me as to how they almost claim ownership of the ” Charismata.” Almost like a power box they can plug and play when ever needed. If we really believe the Spirit fills each one of us, this cloud that holds, binds, unifies the community…like mortar holding the living stones, the community together…it owns us. From the simpliest, to the youngest, to the most foolish, to the oldest…the gift is there always. Oh that we would be communities again filled with children like faith, stepping out in faith, encouraging each other…playing with our gifts, taking tiny steps. Having grace, that if the person stumbles and falls, the community would pick them up dust them off…encourage them to try again.
    Another thought is that sometimes the gift you recieve is not ” a life time gift “, that maybe there is a best before date…he gives it to you for a season…and then gives you something else. The wind blows when and where it wants…its up to the community to remain sensitive to it…and just respond.
    And the inventory list does get to me, like a shopping list…most want the most expensive, and most impressive. You pick it, the spiritual giants of the community lay hands on you, say the words…you check out with your gift. Again, I think the key is to remain sensitive, and humbly accept and use what ever the Spirit gives.
    Anyways, great thoughts Mark…it is slowly becoming a word we don’t hear much about anymore…and sadly it is the thing the church needs to be most conscious of.
    This also leads into the conversation of spiritual warfare…is it a reality in the life of the church anymore?

  3. Michael Westmoreland-White on February 17th, 2007 11:04 am

    As a Charismatic Baptist, I agree with you–and also tend to be at odds with my denomination and tradition. I would like to introduce you to some folks you’ll appreciate and who will appreciate you: The Pentacostal and Charismatic Peace Fellowship. See http://www.pcpf.org/ You’ll be glad you did.

  4. dlw on February 17th, 2007 12:17 pm

    My diff with pentecostalism is that I believe that changed hearts and lives are the most important miracles that Christians shd pray for. I also think that pentecostals tend to prioritize the “lesser gifts”.

    But I have benefitted from Greg Boyd’s ministry much in my life and like how the Orebro Mission showed how Baptists could also learn from Pentecostalism. I think Pentecostalism helped to subvert the Western modernist worldview and recenter us on the relatively decentralized expansion of the church, rather than creeds.

    It is a shame that Pentecostalism emerged around the time of the Fundamentalist-Modernist schism, taking on many of the bad aspects of Fundamentalism, but I think that’s likely to change as Pentecostals from the 2/3rds world grow in maturity and autonomy.

    dlw

  5. Anna on February 18th, 2007 10:13 am

    Hi Mark,

    I pretty much agree with your above statements, though I haven’t articulated them systematically. Here is a nifty story:

    My husband oversees a ministry training program within a Teen Challenge center, provided by Southwestern AOG University. This semester, the students were taking “Pentecostal Doctrine”. When they came to the point on speaking in tongues, everyone disagreed with the traditional AOG stance. They came to the conclusion that tongues are not the first evidence of the in-filling of the Holy Spirit! A changed life is the first evidence, they said. :)

  6. Brother Maynard on February 19th, 2007 8:04 am

    Mark,

    I tried to ping you with a trackback, but you must have them disabled… in any event, your post got me thinking and triggered this response post on my blog. I’m kind of lumping you into the post-charismatic camp for the fact that you still intend to be charismatic, but not in the way it’s been done before. No fear, the post-charismatics need more voices within the emerging church conversation.

    Gratia vobis et pax,

  7. Frank Emanuel on February 19th, 2007 4:56 pm

    Very nice post. I think of myself as a Christian with a charismatic spirituality. But I have a lot of the same concerns as you do on what the charismatics find normative in their movements.

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