Well the Strange Fire Conference has certainly stirred something up, let’s pray that all sides benefit from the continuing conversation.
Having been brought up a cessationist I have been for many years a scripturally and experientially convinced continuationist, though I must confess I did have a spell where because of the abuse of spiritual gifts I was tempted to go back to cessationism – it would be safer, easier and less painful. I questioned their authenticity, and whether we could really know what was of God or not (interestingly this is a question raised at this conference, how can we know that tongues are the same today as in New Testament days, yet we could also ask how do I know or you know that our born-again experience is exactly the same as in the New Testament?!). But then I began to realise that if I were to do that I would have to deny scripture, and I couldn’t do it. I realised that abuse mustn’t lead us to non-use, or even the the denial of gifts, that’s exactly what the enemy wants, but rather we needed to learn how to use and manage them correctly.
That journey has opened my own heart and life and ministry more directly to the dynamic of God’s presence and the hearing of his voice, and there is no way I could go back on it. Yes there are those round the edges who discredit the movement through excess and bad teaching, but lets not cast the baby out with the bathwater, or throw all our money away simply because of a few forgeries – Paul didn’t write off the faith and experiences of the Corinthian church because of what was going on, rather he wrote to establish a proper understanding and order to the exercise of the gifts!
If there’s something that I’ve observed having been in pentecostal and charismatic churches, old church and new church, it is that we are not pentecostal/charismatic enough! Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said many years ago to those who were cessationist, “Got it all? Well, if you have ‘got it all’, I simply ask in the Name of God, why are you as you are? If you have ‘got it all’, why are you so unlike the Apostles, why are you so unlike the New Testament Christians?” The same could be said of some pentecostals and charismatics today, only they know the doctrine, but not enough of the experience. There is indeed the very real danger of following generations arising who do not know the experiences their forefathers had – something that history documents in other movements/denominations, where over time form and the way things are done take over, professionalism becomes the order of the day, cold orthodoxy sets in and seats empty, until a generation arises that asks afresh, where is God? Where is he in all of this?
In the same way that we need to keep preaching the gospel and calling people to Christ or we end with a church full of religious people, so also we need to be making sure that they receive the gift of the Spirit, and encouraging them in the gifts, otherwise we’ll have a generation in pentecostal and charismatic churches with none of the life and power of their forefathers.
The fact that Paul has to write and encourage the believers to earnestly desire and stir up the gifts that God has given implies that they don’t automatically perpetuate themselves, rather we have a responsibility to keep them alive among us. More is what we need, not less. Doing it right is what we need, not quenching the Spirit for fear of getting it wrong. Paul’s strong desire was that all would speak in tongues, and even more that they prophesied.
What about you?