In this series of posts, I’ll be showing some of the doctrinal diversity that exists within the Christian framework.  Some Christians treat these differences as small internal squabbles of no real consequence since they agree on the larger Christian “core” doctrines. However, I think we will see that these “squabbles” aren’t so inconsequential. Some groups look at them as “core”, while others see anyone not believing as they do as believers in serious error. They are second class Christians bordering on heresy, if not actual heretics. In many cases the conflicting beliefs are radically incompatible with each other and have a direct impact on faith and practice. It should be noted that each camp can support their beliefs by various scripture passages and believe that their interpretation is the one true, god-ordained belief and that other interpretations are seriously flawed. Those interpretations are going against the word of god and thus perverting what god himself has said. The results are a lot of heated debates, church splits, new denominations and other devisive (them vs. us) behaviors.

My contention is that such doctrinal variety and diversity shows that the supposed “word of god” is unclear, murky and confusing.  There is no guarantee that any group has it right and a lot of evidence that they all have it wrong. After all, can you really believe that a sovereign, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, omnibenevolent god who desperately wants to communicate with his creation in order to show them the ONLY way to salvation can bungle the job so badly? As we will see, even a “core” belief such as “what must I do to be saved?” has radically different, incompatible answers. If there is a god and the Bible is his inspired, inerrant word then he shows himself to be an incompetent communicator at best and malicious at worst. Of course, I believe that it shows the Christian god to be no god at all and the Bible to be just the ramblings and thoughts of ancient man – neither better nor worst that any other past mythology.

It should be obvious that I’m not attempting to show which “belief” or doctrine is the “correct” one.  Indeed, there is no correct belief since all Christian doctrine is simply made-up with some scripture verses and unending commentary as support. It is staggering when you think about how much has been written about, how many wars have been fought, how many people have been killed and martryed over made-up doctrine and belief! None of it can be supported. None of it can be proved. How much tragedy has been caused in the history of the world over vacuous, imaginary beliefs that supposedly came from an invisible, inaudible god?

Let’s start with something “easy” such as speaking in tonques or the charismatic gifts. Bradley correctly describes the differences as follows:

There are two basic views when it comes to the charismatic gifts debate. One of these views is the cessationist view, which basically claims that charismatic gifts such as prophecy, speaking in tongues, and healing among other things ceased to happen after the New Testament. On the opposite side of the spectrum there is the continuationist view, which claims that such gifts have continued all the way until today and that Christians are still able to perform such gifts in their lives. (The Charismatic Gifts Debate)

Of course, even this description is simplistic.  Within these 2 basic camps are a wide variety of beliefs ranging from cautious disagreement to an “if you don’t agree with me you aren’t a true believer” attitude. George Knight in the article “Facing the Charismatic Challenge” in New Horizons Magazine says:

One of the most important differences between the Reformed, and the Pentecostals and some charismatics, is the belief of the latter that the book of Acts is our guide for the special gifts and that the baptism of the Holy Spirit, as it appears in Acts, occurs as a special act subsequent to regeneration by the Spirit… How then are we to interact with our charismatic fellow Christians? When the opportunity is appropriate, we should talk with them in an understanding way and try to show them from Scripture that the supernatural special gifts have ceased because they have completed the tasks God assigned to them. When they point to their own lives as proof positive of their charismatic thinking, we should try to point out to them other ways of understanding their experiences… We must be eager to protect the Christian flock from the error of the charismatics. But, at the same time, we must embrace those who are caught up in that error as brothers and sisters in the Lord and seek to lead them away from that error. (Facing the Charismatic Challenge

Error? Explain their experience in other ways? What of Mr. Bradley’s suggestion:

I think the best way to find out is for one to experience it himself. When a person sees someone healed (or perhaps is the person being healed) it will become much more obvious that God still does these things. Or if someone is prophesied over they just might fall to their face and worship God, declaring that God is there (1 Cor. 14:25). Most of the charismatic gifts that Christians practice are Biblical and until a cessationist tries to experience it, they will have a hard time understanding or believing it, which is not only their loss, but also the Holy Spirit’s. (The Charismatic Gifts Debate)

Or is David King right?

The mania for the miraculous that one finds among charismatics has the effect of making God’s promised means of grace look dull and uninteresting to many. There is a great danger in this. If we despise what God does use in preference for dramatic “ministries” carried on and hyped up by the will and energy of man, we will get man-made “blessings” instead of God’s real work. Paul warns that when the man of lawlessness is revealed, his coming will be “in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved” (2 Thess. 2:9–10). (Are Charismatic Gifts for Today?)

Or maybe CARM’s position is the one to take:

The issue of whether or not the charismatic spiritual gifts are for today has caused much debate and division in the body of Christ. The extremes are amazing. There are groups that say that if you do speak in tongues, then you are under demonic control and are not saved. On the other hand, some say that if you do not speak in tongues then you are not saved. What’s more, both extremes use scripture to support their positions. It is my opinion that the charismatic spiritual gifts are still in effect. I do not believe they ceased with the apostles or with the completion of the Bible. (Have the Charismatic Gifts Ceased?)

Maybe Jim Feeney has it right?

Speaking in tongues? Prophecies? Healings? Discerning of spirits? These and other supernatural signs and spiritual gifts were commonplace occurrences in the early Church. On that the Bible record is clear. But should we expect such spiritual gifts in our churches today? A growing number of Christians responded “Yes!” to this question during the twentieth century and up to the present time… and expect God to confirm His word with “signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit” (Hebrews 2:4) (Gifts of the Holy Spirit Are for Today!)

We can go back and forth like this for days, but there are a few things to note:

  1. All of the articles above site scripture to support their claims, sometimes using the same verses with radically different understandings.
  2. All of the authors are confident in their understanding even calling the other view an error, seeking to please man rather than god, not taking the scripture (or god) seriously, etc.
  3. The reformed position (Calvinistic) attempts to belittle personal experience in favor or a more “intellectual” scripture based approach.
  4. The Charismatic side attempts to show that personal experience validates the scripture and hence is true.

I find the downplaying of “personal” experience as a means of validation in the Reformed, non-Charismatic camp very interesting. The fact is that the entire Christian faith is experience oriented.  Notice the word FAITH.  Without it, you cannot be saved and faith, by definition, means there is no evidence. It appears that in some Christian camps personal experience is ok to “come to Christ” but it isn’t appropriate to validate the things of Christ – an interesting and inconsistent position.

Why is this debate important? Simply speaking, if god did intend for the Charismatic gifts to remain, then opposing them is opposing god – a serious charge.  Yet, if god intended them to end with the early church, claiming that these gifts are for today is also opposing god and attributing to him something that he has done away with. Both obviously cannot be true and one party sees the other as going against the dictates of god. This is why this debate rages and is taken seriously by all parties.  It is also why this is not just a petty squabble!

Strangely neither camp sees that the Bible is not clear in this regard; rather, they see that their scripture is clear but the interpretation of the other side is faulty. Indeed, they fail to see that god is an incompetent communicator, incapable of clearly presenting his will and plan to man.  How hard would it be to say something like this: These gifts will end a decade after my death.” Or “Everyone will know you are my children because these gifts in your life will be present until I come again.”  Of course, if there really was a Christian god, he would not be so competent. I maintain that this is just more evidence that the Christian god does not, in fact, exist.

3 Comments

  1. Thanks for reading my post on charismatic gifts. Obviously, as you read through it you observed that I am a Christian and believe very much in God. My reply to your post is not here to enrage you or anything like that. I just figured I’d add to the conversation since I had been quoted above.

    One of the great things about believing, seeing and participating in charismatic gifts is that I never again have to ask if God exists. Sure, I still have plenty of questions about God—petty questions to deep doctrinal questions—but whether God exists or not is not a question that crosses my mind. And if it ever somehow does pop up, it’s immediately cancelled by the way that I have experienced His works and seen them for myself. His existence has been manifest directly in front of my eyes. And sure, that might make me sound like a crazy person, but that’s just the case for me as I discovered this charismatic side of God over the past several years.

    And yes, we Christians do disagree on different subjects, you’re absolutely right. Surely I’m more adamant for spiritual gifts than a cessationist who does not believe in such things. I’ve seen the power of the Holy Spirit at work and I’ve casted demons out of people. I want Christianity to walk in that power, so I’ll continually push for it. And surely because of my Free Methodist background, I’m going to be in opposition with some things that a Calvinist believes. However, I respect Calvinists and I love them. And the good thing about studying different Christian movements is that you get to see how intelligent all different kinds of denominational leaders are. We may be on different pages as far as belief goes and we may fight here and there, but we do so because we feel it’s important to keep each other faithful to God. However, I wish that we weren’t just known for our quarreling and bickering, because there’s definitely more going on in Christianity than just that.

    The Bible shows that Jesus wanted us to be known for our unity, and I know that we’ve screwed that up in many aspects. But I also know that there are a lot of Christians rising up who are looking to restore that unity. They’re less concerned with denominational background and seek to work together. Even when they know they don’t agree, they still seek to work together. It’s like my college chapel. There were hundreds of us sitting in one church building listening to one speaker deliver a message. Each person may walk away from the message feeling differently about it, but for the most part it seemed that all these students with different Christian backgrounds and beliefs could operate as one body of believers.

    And then there were other times in my classes where a student might get enraged about something and lash out and make us look less unified than we typically were.

    Finally, the Bible is my primary source. It’s what I always try to authenticate my personal experience through. I’ve seen too many charismatics throw the Bible out the window and say some really blasphemous things by living only off experience. Now I know that not all they experience will be found in the Bible and that they must also listen to the Holy Spirit to learn to hear God’s voice more, but there are many times where it’s written quite plainly in the Bible and they miss it because they are too involved in personal experience. I try to stay balanced between Scripture, tradition, reason and experience when coming to know God better.

    But that being said, I don’t mind that the Bible isn’t always exact in words. It forces us to really try to listen to God when we have questions we can’t answer, rather than open up a book full of direct answers. That wouldn’t push us to really pursue a relationship with Him, that would push us to read a book and try to live by it’s standards. We’d essentially try to be good people and not active Christians who walk in step with the Holy Spirit (though the Bible is straight to the point quite often and not always mysterious). We have what we need there to truly understand the basics of Christianity and talk over deep doctrinal issues. We can learn more by pursuing God and listening to his Spirit.

    Now I know you’re an atheist and so my post here may come across as the rantings of a crazy person, but I hope you’ll address me politely should you want to say anything back. And again, I did not write this to make you angry. It’s just a bit of a rebuttal.

    Reply

    • Alan

      Thank you for taking the time to read the post. I appreciate your comments.

      This may not fit into your theology but I was a believer for some 25 years or so, mostly in the reformed or Calvinistic tradition. I even attended the church of one of the Pastors quoted in the post. I had a deep born again experience, was completely committed to Christ, attended Seminary, preached a bit, taught Sunday school, defended the faith, and helped start a reformed Baptist church. My wife is still a believer. I say this to let you know I have experienced the faith.

      The problem with experience, is that everyone has them – all religions and all faiths. Many of these have radically different and incompatible views of god. You check your experience against your scriptures and so do they, using very different scriptures. Faith and personal experiences are unreliable and misleading (see http://thehappymillstone.com/?p=92). I don’t deny yours – I obviously can’t. I don’t deny the experiences of those that see UFOs, or claim to be abducted by aliens, or believe that Krishna talks the them and protects them. However without hard evidence – and faith or some Holy book is not evidence – I don’t take those claims seriously.

      There are a lot of reasons I am no longer a believer and there are a whole series of posts on this blog explaining why. We obviously disagree, but it is always nice to rationally and politely discuss the issues.

      Reply

  2. Then I’m glad we could argue politely! Have a good one.

    Reply

  3. Pingback: No Unity Here – Part I: The Charismatic Gifts | The Happy Millstone – Charismatic Feeds

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