A ‘prophet’ once told my grandma and I to read the Bible naked. I wrote about it.
I’ve seen first hand how weird things can get in Charismatic circles, when the scriptures are not held in high regard. It can be harmful and wound souls. I’ve seen the criticism the charismatic movement has gotten. I’ve watched videos from the Strange Fire conference and read blogs by people who have had bad experiences.
Yet I still believe in the gifts of the Spirit.
My beliefs concerning the gifts have changed over the past decade, but I refuse to throw the baby out with the bath water.
If you plan on reading on, I’ll be sharing my general experiences gained in Charismatic circles growing up. I’ll share why I almost left, and why I decided to stay. I’ll speak on cessationism, how I believe we should view the gifts of the Spirit and more.
As a child, I remember seeing my mum’s pastor laying hands on someone before they ‘fell out’.
I wasn’t even 7 yet, but I was fascinated by what I was seeing. I asked an older boy in Church what was happening, and he told me that the pastor was pushing them to the floor. He then ‘demonstrated’ that by using his hand to push my head awkwardly until I fell down. It was anti-climatic. I shrugged and went on with my life.
When I was around 8 and living in Nigeria, I watched a popular pastor preach on TV. He was my favourite preacher. People would walk to the front of the Church, he would blow on them and they would ‘fall out’. Around this time, I decided that I wanted to be a pastor when I grew up, and I thought that this was part of the package. So I started walking up to people in my school and blowing on them.
They didn’t fall out.
In my last year of secondary school, I was part of what many would term as a ‘revival’. I, alongside other young adults in the school, started preaching what we knew of the Gospel, and many began to ‘give their lives to Christ’. As one of the first people saved, I was chosen to be a leader within this revival.
We believed in the gifts of the Spirit and encouraged everyone to walk in it. All leaders of this revival were asked to pray in tongues for a minimum of an hour per day. So I did. Other pupils who got saved, started hearing and seeing things. We began to see what many would term as the ‘gift of prophecy’ and ‘word of knowledge’.
We were radical.
I remember one significant experience, where I had a dream that a man who was a spiritual mentor to most of us, was in sexual sin. This was a man I trusted and looked up to, so to see something like this was so confusing. I flagged this to him, and told him that maybe God was telling him to be careful of temptations that may come his way. He nodded and simply told me to keep him in prayers.
A few months later, his girlfriend was pregnant.
I had these experiences. I am not trying to convince the cessationist of their validity or encourage the charismatic by them. I am simply stating what happened.
When I moved back to the UK, I decided to attend the Soul Survivor summer festivals, which were summer camping festivals run by an Anglican Charismatic organisation. There were thousands of us under the tent, with about 30 people from my Church’s youth group. We would sing songs of worship unto God, and after the sermon was preached, Mike Pilivachi would ask the Holy Spirit to come and move amongst us. He would tell all of us to be still and simply wait to see if God desired to do something, expressing that if nothing happened, that was okay. He didn’t want to do things with a false hype, but to allow God to do things that He may want to do, and nothing more.
As anyone who has been to Soul Survivor can testify, in a few minutes, you would normally hear someone crying. I was surprised when I first heard this. I was even more shocked when it came from some people in my youth group. I asked them why after and they shared different experiences. One shared that she had a vision, that left her in awe of God and she couldn’t help but scream the name of God. Others around shared stories of physical and emotional healing and how they were crying out as they released pent up pain.
I didn’t feel anything.
When I joined my present Church (of which I am now a leader in), I regularly compared myself. My Church is quite Charismatic, and I used look upon others who were having these sort of experiences and feel a twang of envy. I too wanted to fall out or ‘feel God’.
I felt like my Christian experience had been capped and there was something I was missing out on.
When I almost left
One day during a Church conference, I had had enough. The sermon had finished and in the midst of worship, some people began to fall out, cry out, etc. I stood patiently with my hands outstretched waiting for God to ‘touch me’. Yet, I felt nothing.
I decided at that moment it was all fake. I became numb. I had come down from university for the conference, and I had decided I was going to take my suitcase and leave, not knowing whether I would ever come back. I walked to the back of the auditorium and looked around one more time. But instead of walking out, I sat down for a moment and put my head between my knees and rocked.
I felt like God had forgotten me.
I had been sitting down for less than a minute, when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I looked up. It was my leader. He had been on the pulpit leading worship in song, but had given someone the mic and had gone to look for me at the back of the room. When he relayed his own experienced to me later, he said he had been leading the choir when he heard a voice tell him to go and find Michael. He found me, tapped my shoulders, smiled and said:
“You didn’t think I had forgotten about you, did you?”
I broke down. I cried in his arms whilst he prayed over me. The footage was captured by our videographer, a screenshot of which can be found above.
That was 7 years ago. Since then, my beliefs have evolved as I’ve grown in understanding that I am more of a Nehemiah than Jeremiah. I’ve also grown in faithfulness to the scriptures.
But before we get there, let’s explore some things.
The 4 major spectrums of beliefs
Some say there are two major camps in regards to the belief of the gifts of the Spirit. This is partly true, but I think this can be divided into 4. The book ‘Are miraculous gifts for today’ defined these 4 as: ‘Cessationist’, ‘Open but Cautious’, ‘Third wave’ and ‘Pentecostal/Charismatic’. This is accurate and generalises believers according to their theological view of the gifts of the Spirit. However, when splitting believers not just on theological view, but active pursuit, I believe we can split the 4 into the following;
- Cessationists: These are the believers who believe the spiritual gifts such as prophecy and healing were only meant for a certain period to confirm the preaching of the Gospel. They believe God can do things such as heal sovereignly, but they do not believe that He does so through people, like He did in the book of Acts. Popular cessationists include John MacArthur, R.C Sproul, etc.
- Theological Charismatics: These are the believers that theologically believe in the spiritual gifts, but may not necessarily ‘chase after them’. A term commonly use is ‘Open but Cautious’. They tend to be very theologically astute but wary of modern day charismatic demonstrations. These would include D A Carson, Wayne Grudem (not confirmed), etc.
- Sober Charismatics: These are the believers that believe that the spiritual gifts are still for today, believe in everyone in the Church walking in them and push for people to walk in them whilst following the strict guidelines of scripture in regards to them. They are passionate about accurate theology with active demonstrations of the gifts of the Spirit. This list (which includes both Calvinists and Arminians) would include Sam Storms, Mike Pilavachi, etc.
- Weird Charismatic: These are the individuals that believe that the spiritual gifts are for today, but do not follow the guidelines of scripture. Where they claim to do, they use a faulty and unorthodox way of interpreting the scriptures. To avoid unnecessary debates which would take away from the message of this blog, I will not be including any names for this list.
I would like to believe I am a sober charismatic (most charismatics would like to believe so). I used to fall into the ‘weird charismatic’ category at a point and on occasion probably still fall into the theological charismatic/open but cautious circle.
Why I’m not a Cessationist
- I believe the scriptures encourage us to continuously pursue the gifts: I believe the Bible speaks for the necessity of the gifts of the Spirit and doesn’t put a time frame on their necessity. 1 Corinthians 12:7 states that they are given for the common good. In Romans 1:11, the Apostle Paul expresses his desire to impart gifts unto the Church in Rome, to strengthen them (not just confirm the preaching of the Gospel). 1 Corinthians 14:1 encourages us to pursue love and desire spiritual gifts. The language of the Pauline writings seem to generally encourage a continuous desire and pursuit.
- Historical evidence: There is a lot of historical evidence, that the gifts did not cease after the first century. Part of the argument against the continuation of the gifts, is that they are not spoken of after the first century, which is not true. Sam Storms perfectly outlines this in his book ‘Practicing the Power’ and in his contribution to ‘Are Miraculous Gifts for Today, 4 Views’. I’ve listed a few of the many below.
- Justin Martyr stated in the ‘Dialogue with Trypho’ dated AD 155–170 that the ‘prophetic gifts remain with us’ (Chapter 82).
- Augustine who was formerly a cessationist, retracted this in his later writings and documented miracles of healing (City of God, Book 22, Ch 8–10, AD 426).
- Venerable Bede speaks on numerous accounts of the miraculous gifts in his book ‘Ecclesiastical History of the English People’ dated AD 731.
- Charles Spurgeon spoke in his autobiography of knowing accurate things about people as revealed by the spirit, which is the gift of prophecy (The Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon Vol 2, pg 226–227).
3. My experience: My personal experience is the least and most insignificant evidence for why I am not a cessationist. If I could see by the Bible that any of my experiences were scripturally false, I would simple label them as demonic and move on.
But despite some weird experiences, I have also received prophetic words so accurate from strangers, that the only way the speaker would have known it was true, was if they had made a machine to read my mind. I can be quite critical, and I would not be quick to label as true that which was vague or false. I have experienced what it means to have the secrets of my heart laid bare. I have seen it in others as well, including former staunch cessationists. I have seen the encouragement and relief it brings to the soul. How it glorifies God.
These are the main reasons why I believe in the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit past the first century.
I have outlined above why I am not a cessationist. I will now outline my case for sober charisma.
My heart’s desire is a perfect balance of doctrine and an avenue for the gifts of the Spirit to flow and function. Many charismatics would say they desire the same thing, but we have to be honest and assess this.
Here’s a few recommended guidelines to enable us to be sober charismatics.
Interpreting the Bible
Conrad Mbwewe (cessationist) in an interview with DA Carson (theological charismatic) regarding harmful charismatic behaviour said this;
“It wasn’t like that in late 70’s and early 80’s. You could agree to disagree over issues of cessationism and so on with your pentecostal brothers. But you had a common platform as far as evangelicalism was concerned…but that’s not the case, by and large.”
The problem is not charisma vs cessationism. The main issue is orthodox vs unorthodox doctrine.
Below are some basic principles to hold unto regarding the study of scripture.
- What the Bible said and meant then must be established before we look at its modern day application. What did the author mean? Who was his audience and how would they have received it? Do not approach the Bible with a view to see how it can apply to you first. By doing so, we can apply meanings and interpretations not originally intended.
- If the context of the conversation is on friendship, why am I using the context for spiritual warfare? When using a scripture, we must ensure we interpret it according to its several contexts. Paragraphs, chapters, etc.
- The orthodoxy of our interpretations must also be assessed. Which reputable theologian in history has interpreted this scripture as you do? It is dangerous pride to believe that in 2000 years of our faith, no one in past centuries has accurately interpreted what you are interpreting.
Scripturally check our practices
I remember an incident where I had felt discouraged and a friend of mine wanted to encourage me. She came to me and started speaking in tongues in my ear. I said nothing initially, however I had a conversation with her later, and explain why I believed she was wrong in what she did.
I believe in glossolalia (praying in an unknown language). Despite the debate, John Piper and other reputable theologians have shown why they believe that the scriptures differentiate between it and Xenolalia (a human language). However, though I believe in glossolalia, I also believe that 1 Corinthians 14:4 shows that its use is to edify the user, especially where there is no interpretation.
I did not believe it made much sense at that moment for her to come and speak glossolalia into my ears, when 1 Corinthians 14:16–19 shows us that even the Apostle Paul stated that he would rather speak in plain words when speaking to others, as that is what edifies the listener. I had a conversation with her and explained a better way.
This is how Charismatics should approach the gifts of the Spirit. Sober charisma. Not shutting it down, but STRICTLY following scriptural guidelines, as the Bible shows us that to not do so brings unwarranted ridicule upon the Church (1 Cor 14:23).
Test all things
“Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things, hold fast which is good.” — 1 Thessalonians 5:19–21
I believe part of sober charisma also includes testing ALL THINGS. Charismatics be scared to test things. Some see it as a lack of faith, dishonoring a man/woman of God, quenching the Spirit. However the scripture above shows us that not quenching the Spirit and testing all things, are not enemies. Rather, they are partners. This ranges from healings to prophecies.
God heals today. I believe so. However I also believe that we do not need to hold up unverified healings as proof that He does. The scriptures do not point towards getting verification as a lack of faith. The opposite is true. Christ commonly encouraged the individuals he healed, to go and show themselves to priests so that the healing would be verified by a certified party (Luke 17:14). With prophecy, 1 Corinthians 14:29 promoted a structure of others testing prophecies given by men, to ensure that they were not against the nature and word of God.
Testing is not a sign of faithlessness. Rather, it is an important partner of scriptural faith.
Some people have debates about the concept of ‘angel feathers’. Though I do not believe in this ‘miracle’, this would be easily resolved if the feathers were DNA tested. If it is an unidentified species, then it may be a miracle. If it is a pigeon’s feather, then it isn’t.
My beliefs now
I mentioned that my beliefs have evolved over the past decade.
My heart’s desire is not to promote skepticism, but to promote an integrity in the assessment of all things and pose the question of ‘why’ to it, so that we may seek out the scriptural answer.
I still haven’t fallen out. I have no wish to do so, as that is not evidence of God’s power upon me (that is revealed through fruit). I believe that some people do so because they feel that is what they are meant to do. I also believe some of those are genuinely experiencing the power of God. Nevertheless, such experiences should not be promoted as the main evidence that one has experienced God, as that is not what we see in scripture. As Mike Pilivachi once said, “If you give two individuals £20, one may shout and scream for joy, the other may politely thank you. However, what is important is that they have both received the same amount.”
I don’t pray in tongues publicly. I firmly believe this doesn’t edify others (unless there is interpretation). So I pray in English when others are in hearing.
I’m also thoughtful about how we see deliverance and spiritual warfare. I’m wary of encouraging born again believers to blame their sins and faults on spirits, when the scriptures puts the responsibility on us to put to death things in our earthly nature (Colossians 3:5). However there is a spiritual realm and I believe when believers don’t put on the full armour of God and resist the devil (Ephesians 6:11), we will experience oppression that we may need others to help us with.
Above all, I am continuously assessing my beliefs. Testing everything. More than can be shared in this post. I have conversations with my close friends on this. I desire to be fully convinced by scripture in all of my beliefs.
In this, I believe God is glorified.
Reputable theologians disagree on matters all the time.
John Wesley was Arminian and George Whitfield was a Calvinist. They were friends, but disagreed firmly on soteriology. Infact, the phrase “agree to disagree” was popularized because of them. However, they agreed on essential matters and loved each other. John even preached at George’s funeral.
I believe we must show that same love to each other. A love for God and brethren. An earnest desire for God to be glorified through a faithful interpretation of the Scriptures. But also, an earnest desire to express in love to our brothers, when we believe they may be deviating in a harmful manner from what is orthodox.
When it is not harmful and there is no agreement, all we should do is pray and “agree to disagree”.
Whether you are a cessationist or a charismatic reading this. I want you to know, that I genuinely love you. We may not agree on all matters on this side of eternity, but as long as we believe in the orthodox Gospel, we can banter about the matters we disagreed on when we are with Christ, and all truth is made plain.