J. Lee Grady, over at Charisma magazine, has issued a call for clearheadedness among the charis-manics in his editorial, “It’s Getting Really Weird Out There.” The article cites strange goings-on at various Charismatic churches, and some classical Pentecostal churches.
This is where I cite my earlier post, “The Problem with Pentecostal Distinctives,” to reinforce his point. This is what happens when any group elevates experience and subjectivity above a commitment to sound biblical hermeneutics. This is why Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 12-14, addressing bad theology based on experience, grounding the Corinthians instead in the greatest commandment: love.
More than anything, we need to adhere to first principles: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul; and love your neighbor as yourself. While none of us, not one, can claim to keep these commandments perfectly, it’s the goal we aim for.
If I truly love God to any degree, I will be devoted to his Word and obedience to his commands. To the degree that I love God, I will desire to know him, to seek his mind on all matters, to obey the clear reading of Scripture. When I do that, I find myself returning to the Word over, and over; I’ll read devotionally, meditate on what he has to say, memorize it, study it. (Confession: writing this is convicting me.)
The most immediate means of knowing and loving God we have is bound between leather, and it’s usually gathering dust on the table by the door—where it’s easy to grab on our way to church. Too many of us, in the pew and in the pulpit, don’t bother to read it, much less study it the way it must be studied to truly apprehend it and live by it.
What happens when we fail to ground our practice (orthopraxy) on a clear understanding of scripture (orthodoxy)? We get this:
- A pastor reveals a “new revelation,” that the Bible says church leaders can have more than one wife.
- “At one charismatic megachurch, staff pastors successfully convinced all their wives and female staff members to get breast implants.”
- A church in California (known for its revival meetings and prophetic ministry) recently imploded after members learned that several men in the church had been having homosexual affairs with the pastor, who was married.”
- “A leader with an international following (who wears the label of “apostle”) recently informed his leaders that men of God who reach his level of anointing are allowed to have more than one sexual partner. Then his own son offered his wife to his father out of a sense of spiritual obligation.”
- “In 2000 Charisma reported that charismatic preacher Clarence McClendon had divorced his wife of 16 years, Tammera McClendon, and married another woman after only seven days. The ceremony was performed by Bishop Earl Paulk, founder of the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Atlanta. Several prominent ministers attended the wedding, lending their endorsement to McClendon’s actions. Tammera McClendon later informed Charisma that Clarence had told her while they were married that God had already shown him the woman who would replace her as his wife.”
- (From the Strang message board…) “[A]t Water of Life in Plano, TX. Doyle Davidson, says God ‘took Patty’ (his first wife) ‘out of my life in 1987’ even though they lived together until her death two or three years ago. In 1987, Davidson says ‘God gave him a new wife’ who was the wife of one of his staff members. Davidson fired the staff member a year or so ago when he went to their house and caused a major disturbance. Davidson was arrested and fined for public intoxication. Of course he says it was all a lie. [This] lady … has gone under cover with her husband and has said she committed adultery with Davidson and he tells her and his parishioners that ‘they did not committ adultery because “what God has joined together, man can not do away with.”’”
Is any of this truly new? No, junk like this has gone on throughout all of recorded religious history: any time the People of the Book abandon the Word to chase after subjectively inspired interpretations or extra-biblical revelations, things go massively off-track. (Just read about Aimee Semple McPherson.) I don’t lay the blame at the foot of either Charismatics or Pentecostals. I lay the blame at the foot of people who refuse to train their minds according to Scripture. I lay the blame at the foot of people who are not loving God with their mind, and letting their thinking be truly transformed.
Elsewhere on the pneumatic blogosphere, right now, there is a debate going on between cessationists and Charismatics/Pentecostals about whether or not the Baptism of the Spirit is for today, or whether it ceased with the creation of the canon. I haven’t gotten involved, because it’s not a pressing issue for me: I think the scriptures are clear, and I don’t have anything pressing to add. But what I’ve noticed about the discussion is that cessationists routinely cite examples like the above to illustrate why Pentecostal/Charismatic doctrine is essentially unbiblical.
So, we try to re-frame the debate based on what the Scriptures say, and these examples keep coming back to haunt our discussions. We try to move the dialog away from ad hominem attacks, and these all-too animated straw men who don’t represent me, my friends, or the best Pentecostal teachers keep getting thrown into the fray. It’s disgusting and disheartening. Meanwhile, too much of the discussion lacks the hallmark of love.
And the Assemblies of God is not immune. There’s plenty of charis-manic heresy and bad doctrine floating around within our ranks. Much of it is in the pews, but there’s still some coming out of pulpits.
May God save us from ourselves.
In the blogosphere:
- Brad Boydston agrees: “Any movement which sees emotional intense experience as defining and normative is by nature subject to emotional manipulation.”
- Stacy L. Harp (I think) at WritingRight calls for more judgment, and chimes in with her own judgment: “most Christians I get flak from are ignorant of Scripture, and are usually Pentecostal types…nothing personal against Pentecostals, but that has been my experience”
- Fr. Daniel, at Misere Mei gives three cheers for Grady, and cautions pastors: “No amount of counseling and restoration processes can restore the trust of those who have been violated by reprobates in the pulpit.”
- Colin McGahey at The Resurgence is still stuck on the remnants of the Word of Faith movement: “There is no correlation in the gospel preached in these prosperity churches to the gospel preached in the persecuted churches around the world.”
- Bad exegesis is why Totem to Temple left the movement: “After seeing ‘most everything’ in the Pentecostal / Charismatic / Word of Faith / Third Wave camps and their value of the esoteric and experiences of personal revelation over the exegesis, evangelism, and the ecclesiastics of the Word and Spirit, I had to leave years ago.”
[tags]BlogRodent, Pentecostal, Assemblies-of-God, Assembly-of-God, Charsimatic, cessationist, Baptism-of-the-Holy-Spirit, tongues, debate, controversy, love, the-great-commandment, Charisma, Charisma-magazine, Strang-communications, theology, hermeneutics, Bible, Holy-Spirit, charismania, J.-Lee-Grady[/tags]