Last Sunday a new attender of our church approached me and asked me about the charismatic gifts, and if they exist. I of course answered. And I believe unequivocally that the gifts have ceased. That said I am not a committed partisan warrior in this discussion, and I wholeheartedly believe that anyone’s position of the gifts is not the litmus test of orthodoxy (but let me be clear, I’m not saying it is unimportant either). What follows while not a recreation of the conversation, follows the contours of that discussion. I offer it in a generous spirit and for the edification of the church.
The Charismatic movement claims that it is exercising the biblical gifts of tongues (and to a much lesser extent the interpretation of tongues), prophecy and healing, but are they really?
Almost without exception charismatics claim that the gift of tongues is the gift of a secret prayer language, but that is simply not supported by the biblical text. The clearest text (and the clear should always inform interpretation on the less clear passages) on what the gift of tongues was is Acts 2:1-13, and it not only defines the gift of tongues as speaking in unlearned human languages, it names some of the languages spoken, and even states that those present were amazed because they heard the tongue speakers “telling in our own tongue (language) the mighty works of God.” Anything other than this is not the biblical gift of tongues.
But the charismatic gift of “tongues” is not like this at all, it is a nonsensical or ecstatic “prayer language” that bears no resemblance, according to linguists, to any known human language. It doesn’t even contain the building blocks of human language. Even the best pro-tongues scholars admit that it is not normal human language. D.A. Carson (who I esteem highly, and is many times smarter than I’ll ever be) for example claims that the gift of tongues is a prayer language. And then baffling proposes that a self keyed linear cipher that an informed 12 year old could crack with a pad and a pencil is an undecipherable secret coded prayer language, that no human by natural means could ever understand (the pertinent part of Carson’s book Showing the Spirit is excerpted here). Thus we have to conclude that whatever it is that is going on in charismatic churches is not the biblical gift of tongues. And if it is not biblical we do not do it.
The situation with the charismatic gift of “prophecy” is similar, unless what is practiced as “prophecy” in charismatic circles matches biblical prophecy it must be rejected. The gift of “prophecy” as practiced in charismatic churches is a fallible. The typical claim is that the God sends an infallible message to a sinful human recipient, whose fallen condition may result in an incorrect interpretation of the message and the result is a prophecy that is a fallible revelation from God. (Which is an oxymoron if I ever heard one.)
[And often these prophecies are not about matters of spiritual import, but focus on the mundane, what job to take, who to date or marry and the like. Wayne Grudem, a prominent apologist for fallible charismatic prophecy even claimed to have received a prophecy that he should cancel his subscription to the newspaper (see the video here).]
How does this compare to prophecy in the bible? Not well! Scripture is clear that there is one test for the authenticity of a prophet, the prophecies he speaks. If the prophecy contradicts God’s revealed word, the prophet is false and if what the prophet says does not come to pass, then it “is a word that the Lord has not spoken (Deut 18:22).” There is simply no idea of fallible prophecy in the bible.
Although many charismatics will claim that there is a difference between Old and New Testament prophecy this is a mere assertion without any exegetical support. In fact, they often appeal to Acts 2 as a total fulfillment of Joel 2 as evidence that prophecy is normative for the church while maintaining the fallibility of New Testament “prophecy” yet they fail to note that Joel 2 calls for prophecy in the infallible Old Testament sense.
Similarly, they claim that Agabus, the prophet who predicted Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem (Acts 21:11) was mistaken because an alleged discrepancy with the details of the arrest that come later in the chapter. However, their argument is one merely from the white space of scripture, assuming that if the given details of the arrest do not include details in the prophecy, then they must not have come to pass. Additionally, their hermeneutic is overly literalistic, removing the possibility of symbolic speech from prophecy. And the details of the prophecy are entirely consistent with the account of the arrest, and Paul, in his recollection of his arrest in Acts 28:17.
There is simply no evidence at all that there was a change in the nature of prophecy from the Old Testament to the New. There is no record or evidence at all in the bible of prophecy involving the mundane details of life and to claim that God gives prophecies about continuing or canceling newspaper subscriptions is to make light of true biblical prophecy. Thus, we can conclude that prophecy as practiced in charismatic churches is not biblical prophecy and if it is not biblical it has no place in our church.
Likewise, when it comes to the gift of healing, the key question is what is the charismatic “gift of healing” and how does it compare to the New Testament gift of healing. In charismatic circles, the gift of healing comes in two forms, the pop-Pentecostal/TBN/Benny Hinn variety and the 3rd wave variety. The pop-Pentecostal idea of the gift of healing is that if enough faith is present in the sick person, then they will be healed, typically through the laying on of hands. And while they claim great success, under scrutiny, major “healers” like Hinn, Peter Poppoff and others have been unable to produce one person who remained “healed” of an organic ailment that was not being treated through conventional means. They claim that the problem is that the “healed” didn’t have enough faith to sustain their healing.
The third wave view of healing is much different, and although it is articulated a number of different ways, it is essentially that someone with the “gift of healing” prayed for the sick person, and eventually they got better, almost always concurrent with conventional medical treatment and rarely of major visible illnesses.
Neither of these practices match the New Testament gift of healing. When Jesus and the Apostles and those associated with Apostolic ministry healed (as recorded in Scripture) it was always instantaneous, immediate, permanent, apparent to witnesses and not dependent on the faith of the one healed. Jesus healed ingrates (Luke17:12-19), Peter healed people whose level of faith is not indicated just by walking by (Acts 5:15) and Paul raised the dead after a three story fall (Acts 20:9-12). Lepers, the blind, the lame, the physically malformed were all instantly, visibly and permanently healed. This is the biblical pattern of the gift of healing, and it agrees with neither the temporary “healings” of the pop-Pentecostal movement or with the prayer healing of the 3rd wave, thus we can conclude that the gift of healing as practiced by the charismatic movement is unbiblical and so it has no place in our church.
Because the “gifts” as practiced by charismatics are not biblical gifts they have no place in our, or any other church, and the charismatic exercise of them is a serious error. God still heals today, but not through the gift of healing; God still gives us special revelation, but through His word, not through prophets; and God still allows us to speak the truth in unlearned languages, but through the printing press (and google translate) not through the gift of tongues. We are deeply gifted as a church, but what charismatics do is not a gift of God, and has no place in our body.