All Things Charismatic – A Mennonite’s Perspective on Visions, Prophesy, and Miracles

Image If you read this article and you like it, you can check out some of my earlier thoughts on the Charismatic movement by reading this blog post: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/a-mennonite-who-speaks-in-tongues/

In our modern world, the Charismatic movement has gotten a somewhat bad rap unless you are Pentecostal yourself.  There are two main ways of thinking of the charismatic movement according to the Christians that I have met.  The first way is to view it as a super incredible movement which is the answer to all of life’s problems.  I see this view played out all the time by churches which claim that they have raised people from the dead (I sincerely have my doubts about that one), go on mission’s trips with no other purpose than to preform healings, and have youth meetings where the only purpose is to receive Words from the Lord for one another.  Although these churches do provide a certain excitement around what the Spirit is saying to the churches[1], I actually feel this is doing a huge disservice.  Placing the expectation on youth and young adults that EVERYONE has the gift of prophesy or speaking in tongues not only adds a lot of pressure but is simply NOT Biblical.  The Bible does teach us that prophesy and speaking in tongues are both gifts,[2] yet by the same token it teaches us that of all the gifts speaking in tongues is the least important.[3]  Looking through the Scripture passages about gifts, we notice that there are many gifts but the same Spirit.[4]  Each gift (if used correctly) can be useful for edification of the church, but no one person has all of the gifts.[5]  In fact, the Apostle Paul reminds us that if everyone in the Body of Christ were an eye we would have no ears and if we had no ears how would we be able to hear?[6]

Yet, when churches make it sound like everyone should be able to receive Words from the Lord they are in effect saying that those who do not have the gift of Special wisdom or prophesy are somehow inferior Christians.  When I was at Tyndale, many of my charismatic friends believed that speaking in tongues was a sign of the Holy Spirit working in your life.  Speaking in tongues is indeed a Baptism of the Holy Spirit.  In Acts 2 we read that in the first Pentecost this is exactly what was taking place.  People were speaking in tongues and little flames were dancing above their heads.[7]  Yet, for as much as Speaking in Tongues is a Baptism of the Holy Spirit it is only one mode of baptism among many.  I would say that the true Baptism of the Holy Spirit is when your life becomes completely consumed by Christ’s Word and when you begin to live a life that daily exemplifies His character.  After all, when contemplating what true faith is, the Apostle James writes that, “true and undefiled religion in the sight of God our Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep one’s self unstained from idols.”[8]  Looking at this verse reminds us of what the Baptism of Christ truly looks like – it is about doing service and acts of kindness to others, consoling them in their hurt and need, and focusing solely on Christ.  In a world that pushes for fame and recognition we are to keep ourselves pure and only care about the reputation we have in Christ.[9]

The second way of viewing the Charismatic movement is to view it with disdain as if it has no place in the church and in fact distracts from the true message of the cross.  I have no doubt that certain televangelists and teachers do distort the truth.  Their entire message is only one to get them fame and power, they do not actually follow the teachings of Christ.  Yet, at the same time as I disagree with these televangelists, to think that God no longer uses charismatic gifts does not make much sense in my opinion either.  Why do I say that?  For one, I find it hard to believe that God only granted the gifts of prophesy, healing, and miracles for a certain time period – why would He all of a sudden abolish them?  Why are they all of a sudden not important?   Second, how can we be negligent of the fact that the charismatic gifts are still happening all around us every day?  I have seen great things accomplished when my friends have laid hands on other people.  A few times I have received timely Words from the Lord that really spoke into my situation without the other person even being fully aware of what was happening.  Yet at other times, I also have received visions and have spoken in tongues in ways that have edified the Body of Christ.

I did not grow up in the Charismatic movement by any means and when I was younger I also had a negative view of Pentecostalism because I didn’t understand what it truly was.  I saw no point to rolling around and barking like dogs – in fact, I still don’t.  I still have my reservations on many things – gold teeth and being slain in the Spirit included.  Yet, as I have spent time at Tyndale I have come to learn that miracles still do take place and God has often spoken to me in dreams.

I think part of our resistance to the Charismatic movement is the fact that our worldview (if we are from the West) does not welcome these types of responses.  Our first response as Western Christians tends to be to attribute everything on science.  When someone is miraculously healed of cancer we thank the good doctors and surgeons who looked after them.  When a person is told they only have 6 more weeks to live and 6 months later they are completely pain free and moving on with their lives we say that the doctors misdiagnosed them.  We are human and we all make medical errors.  I’m not saying that skilled doctors and nurses don’t deserve our praise, but the truth is we don’t give credit where credit is due!

Yet, on the other hand, in my studies of Global Christianity I have become aware to the many medical and spiritual mysteries that are taking place in certain African and Asian countries where medical equipment is lacking.  Muslims from Africa who have never even heard the name of Jesus have often received visions of Him in their dreams and turned to Him as a result.  There was even one case that I heard about at Tyndale of a young woman who was illiterate and had never even heard of the Bible who received a vision before her (similar to the one Muhammad received) of an open Bible which she was able to read the pages on!  This woman converted to Christ and now evangelizes to others within her tribe!  How can we ignore the fact that these things are taking place and turn a blind eye to the fact that the charismatic movement is still sweeping our globe?

So, what do we do with these two conflicting views and which one is correct?  I would say they both are correct to some extent.  We should not fear the Spiritual gifts of prophesy and tongues, nor should we extoll them as being the important gifts thus insisting that those who have never received these opportunities are somehow less valuable to the Christian church than we are.  At all times, we need to test the Spirit because we know that Satan can use what is good and edifying as a way of destroying the church.[10]

How do we test the Spirit?  This is something that the churches I grew up in never taught me to do, but yet, without testing the Spirit we are opening ourselves up to potentially fatal consequences.  When you test the Spirit you need to first of all determine if what the person is saying makes any sense.  If what they are saying clearly goes contrary to the truths of the Scripture than it is not a true prophesy or vision.[11]  Secondly, their message needs to be timely and relevant to the person who it is being spoken to – if it is overly vague you should have some reservations about it.  Third, you should do your own research to determine if the word spoken to you really was meant for you and how it will play out in your life.  If you continue to be unsure about it ask trusted friends and mentors who have walked the Christian faith longer than you have, talk to your pastor or spiritual director, and continue to wrestle with Scripture on your own.

I would add a fourth idea for testing the Spirit even though I know some people would disagree with me.  In my own experience, I believe that receiving a word from the Lord needs to come out of some pre-existing relationship that you have with the other person.  It should be spoken out of love and concern.  This is not to say that strangers can never offer you a Word from God.  On at least two or three occasions I have received prophetic words which were very timely – one from a complete stranger at a church the other from students at Tyndale who had only seen me in the hallway a handful of times but never struck up a conversation with me.  I still cherish those encounters and believe God used those people to bring light to the experiences I was having at the time.  So, do not discount the fact that God can use anyone to speak to you, but at the same time, be very careful of someone who has no pre-existing relationship with you who is claiming they have some great truth from God to bring into your life.  Many times, these people are little more than false teachers and basing your life off of what they say can end rather poorly.[12]

Especially be cautious of churches or individuals which claim that they can receive a Word from the Lord for anyone as long as you ask them.  When I was in Indiana I visited such a church.  I was invited to sit in a little room with two elders who recorded our conversation on tape and made me sign a waiver form saying that I would not do anything stupid to make the Word of the Lord happen.  The example they gave me was that if the Lord said I was to become prosperous I would not rob a bank and then say that the reason I had done it was because this church told me I would become wealthy.  There is definitely some truth to this.  I think of the story of Abraham and Sarah who were promised a son and when it didn’t happen right away they took matters into their own hands and got themselves into a huge mess which still has consequences today.[13]  On the other hand, this church had no idea who I was and yet they were claiming that God could immediately give them some type of special knowledge about me.  If you experience such a church, RUN AWAY!  These churches have a tendency to have cult-like characteristics, their pastors being little more than a wolves who run around in sheep’s clothing.[14]

So, by all means, do not write off spiritual gifts as being for a different time and a different place.  Encourage one another to use their charismatic gifts and if the Spirit is leading you continue to develop your own gifts in these regards.  BUT be very careful, use common sense, and do not ignore what the other Scriptures teach us.  Charismatic gifts have much to offer to the church, but they have as much potential as being harmful as they do of being beneficial.  In all things, seek the highest aim which is the love of Christ, and only then will the other gifts help to make this happen.[15]


[4] 1 Corinthians 12:4 –  http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Corinthians%2012:4&version=ESVUK

[10] 1 John 4:1 –  http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20John%204:1&version=ESVUK

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “All Things Charismatic – A Mennonite’s Perspective on Visions, Prophesy, and Miracles

  1. Reblogga detta på Holy Spirit Activism and commented:
    Deborah once again writes awesomingly about signs and wonders from a Mennonite perspective. I agree on *almost* everything, not being as critical as her towards the first group of charismatics she describes (those who believe that all people can prophesy).

  2. Wonderful post, Deborah! I love that you bring this topic up 🙂

    The charismatic movement tragically has had several examples of misused gifts, bad theology and weird behaviour. However, I am not as critical to the idea of everyone being able to prophesy, or use other gifts. Let me shortly explain why.

    The difference between Pentecostal and charismatic theology mainly concern Spiritual baptism and Spiritual gifts, especially the gift of tongues. Traditional Pentecostalism has tought already since its beginning in 1906 that the baptism of the Spirit is a personal experience post-conversion, and that the gift of tongues is the “evidence”, the mandatory gift everyone who are Spiritually baptized receieve. This teaching originated in opposition to evangelical cessationists that claimed that they were Spiritually baptized as well, and that the consequence of this baptism was holiness and good deeds. To refute this, Pentecostals picked the gift that had been very dominant at Azusa Street, the gift of tongues, and said that this was the evidence instead of holiness (although they believed in holiness as well as a necessity for Spiritual baptism.

    Charismatic theology developed a couple of centuries later when Christians in other denominations also started to believe in all of the gifts but they didn’t want to leave their current churches. Most of these did not see any reason to believe that tongues is the evidence of Spiritual baptism since the Bible never say so. they pointed to 1 Cor 12 where Paul says that all people do not have the gift of tongues. Many charismatic theologians also questioned if Spiritual baptism is a once-in-a-lifetime event as Pentecostals claimed, they rather believed that it is equal to being “filled with” the Spirit, which seems to be something you can experience over and over again in the Scriptures.

    And then we have the “third wave of the Spirit”, the Vineyard movement led by John Wimber. Wimber mostly agreed with the charismatic view I described above but while both the Pentecostal and charismatic view seems to see Spiritual gifts as something permanent, Wimber argued that they were situational. The Spirit gives His gifts “as He chooses”, and is not bound to any rules. Thus, Wimber criticized the idea that a believer only has two or three gifts and is banned from all other gifts until s/he dies. Since 1 Cor 12-14 deals with the context of a church service, Wimber argued that when Paul states that some cannot prophesy or heal the sick, he is not saying that some people will never ever experience something like that, but that in the context of the current service people have different roles depending on who the Spirit wants to use.

    Thus, the Vineyard recognizes that some people have more experience with certain gifts (or “anointing” as Pentecostals would put it) but they do not teach that some people never ever will prophesy. In fact, the words from Joel 2 that is repeated by Peter on Pentecost links the outpouring of the Spirit over all flesh with the gift of prophecy. This I think is the theological background of the people you know that expect all to prophesy.

    But again, awesome article and I really share your vision! Bless you!

  3. Pingback: Day 333: 1 Corinthians 10-13; Worship, Spiritual Gifts, and Love | Overisel Reformed Church

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s