An old adage goes, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” Old adages are stupid. I eat my cake. I know it may sound radical to some, but it’s true. I want the best of both worlds – the depth of theology, rich history, and deep love for the Word that I have found in Evangelical and “Reformed” churches, and the passionate worship, and the openness to let God be God and do what He pleases, as I’ve found among my Charismatic brothers and sisters. I am a Charismatic Calvinist – an “Empowered Evangelical” – a “Word and Power” Christian. Call it what you will, but I’m out of the closet for good.
Sadly, the church has often divided along these lines: truth and Spirit – Word and power – mind and heart. In one corner we have the “frozen chosen” (or the “fundamentalists”) and in the other the “holy rollers”, and n’ere the two shall meet. A.W. Tozer once wrote “…Satan has hindered us all he could by raising conflicting opinions about the Spirit, by making Him a topic of hot and uncharitable debate between Christians. In the meanwhile, our hearts crave Him, and we hardly know what the craving means.” This “uncharitable debate” has hindered us greatly – each side lacking the balance the other offers. The truth is, both extremes may be missing the call to full-orbed Biblical faith.
One hot day Jesus chose to talk with a Samaritan woman. While chatting, trying to derail Jesus from asking any more about her long line of ex-husbands and live-in boyfriends, she did what most any one of us would have done – she promptly changed the subject, “Our ancestors worshipped God at this mountain, but you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place for worship, right?” (The Message) Jesus’ response, recorded in John 4:21-24, is very relevant for us today;
“Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. … the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth…” (ESV)
On “this mountain” – Mt. Garasat – the Samaritans had built their own temple. The worship there was ecstatic, passionate, and spirited, but lacking the Word. Samaritans only accepted the first 5 books of the Bible, and, as often happens when we don’t know God’s truth, other beliefs had leaked in to fill the gaps. As full of the Spirit as their worship may have seemed, they lacked the fullness of what God desires for His worshippers – they lacked a solid foundation in the Truth. In Jerusalem, however, many Jews had the entire Torah (Genesis through Deuteronomy) set to memory. Tradition, the weight of history, and the Word of God was in their court, yet many there were whitewashed tombs. On the outside they may have seemed obedient to God, but inside they were spiritually dead and their hearts were far from Him. Bound by legalism and doctrinal bickering rather than sincere, heartfelt worship of God, those in Jerusalem were no better off -only more culturally accepted. Jesus’ answer however was neither Mt. Garasat nor Jerusalem, for either by itself is lacking. We need the Spirit AND the Truth. Traditional Evangelicals and Charismatics need one another, and both are necessary in the emerging church if it is to faithfully be the body of Christ.
Doug Banister, author and former pastor of Fellowship Church Evangelical Free in Knoxville, sees this same troubling tendency present today;
“It’s not hard to see how the church is enslaved by the power of an ‘either-or’ approach. One way to view the history of Christianity is to see the body of Christ swinging from one extreme to the other, rarely finding the middle way.”
Yet R.T. Kendall, author and former pastor of Westminster Chapel in London, believes that Jesus has a contemporary message for us regarding this; “I have not come to take sides; I have come to take over.”
So, how should we begin to step aside, and let Jesus do his thing? We can start with our language – the words we use to describe ourselves, and more importantly, those who aren’t “us”. For instance, we could use the words “Reformed” and “Spirit-filled” less in our everyday vocabulary. Unless, of course, we’re speaking of someone who has made an incredible turn-around while in prison, the word “reformed” sounds as though we have somehow rediscovered the fullness of the faith once delivered – standing as the sole guardians of Biblical truth – and, worst of all, that we’re the standard for which all Christians should strive. Maybe “Semper Reformanda”, or “always reforming” could be the new slogan for those who call Calvin and Luther their spiritual grandfathers as has already caught on in some circles. I mean, we’re not there yet – are we?
And, though it may sound like an synonym for “demon possession” to some, we could still use the term “Spirit-filled”, but please – only in reference to someone who outstandingly displays the Spirit’s fruit (see Galatians 5) rather than to exalt some ministry or individual who manifests our pet miraculous gift. That’s not to say that those terms don’t have their place – they may be the best ways to communicate certain ideas within the certain circles, but we need to seriously remind ourselves that how we choose to speak about one another includes or excludes, whether or not we intend to do so.
Secondly, just as Paul warned the Thessalonians, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies”, I do the same. Evangelicals, do not quench the Spirit – do not despise ANY spiritual gift, in spite of how mis-used and misunderstood it may seem within the church. Gifts operate even in the midsts of fleshly, immature Christians – just look at the Corinthian church. However, the gifts are irrevocable (Romans 11:29).
Similarly, with Paul I say to you Charismatics, “Do all speak in tongues?” (1 Cor. 12:30). The obvious answer that Paul was seeking is, “No.” When we expect every Christian to walk in an outstanding, miraculous gift, we too, just like the Evangelicals are despising a number of other, less fascinating, but no less important gifts.
Lastly, let us walk in love. Use gifts in love – teach in love – do “church” in love. “Love covers a multitude of sins,” (1 Peter 4:8, ESV) and love leaves a lot of room for others to grow – even when we may disagree with them on some points – even when they may make us uncomfortable. For love, I can be uncomfortable.
God-willing, and I believe He is, there is room enough for both of me – I mean, all of us – in the church. By the way, I’m loving my cake.