Are charismatics more loving than non-charismatics?
|“If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (Jesus Christ in John 14:15, NIV)
“This is love for God: to obey his commands.” (First John 5:3a, NIV)
The March 2012 issue of the OPC denominational magazine “New Horizons” contains a letter to the Editor from Ms. Ann Smith (on p. 21) in which she responds to the articles on the “charismatic challenge” found in the February issue of New Horizons. In that letter Ms. Smith expresses her disappointment in those articles because, as she alleges, the “good points of the charismatics weren’t covered at all, only their problems (from our perspective).” And then she lists a number of “strong points” that she sees in the charismatic movement. I would like to take this opportunity to respond to her points, because I think the points she raises may very well represent the perceptions of many within broader evangelicalism with respect to our charismatic brothers and sisters.
First of all, Ms. Smith claims that “The average charismatic pastor reportedly spends much more time in prayer than the average noncharismatic pastor.” I am familiar with this claim, and it may very well be true. Certainly Reformed and OPC pastors must strive to be men who are devoted to prayer, including personal, family and corporate prayer in the public assembly. But at the same time her comment seems to be based upon the assumption that the length of time one spends in prayer is the measure of one’s personal piety and love for the Lord. To be blunt, so what if charismatic pastors spend more time in prayer than noncharismatic pastors? Even if this claim is true, it does not mean that charismatic pastors are thereby (due to their greater time spent in prayer) more pious or faithful servants of the Lord than non-charismatic pastors. The model prayer that our Lord Jesus taught His disciples (the Lord’s Prayer) is a very brief, succinct, to-the-point prayer. Furthermore, our Lord condemned vain repetition and hyper-verbosity in prayer when He said: “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” (Matthew 6:7, NIV) If my own limited experience with charismatic believers is typical, then the piling up of words unnecessarily (“babbling”) and vain repetition are problems in charismatic prayer practice.
This is not to say that Reformed pastors should be content with 30 second prayers or that we can ignore the biblical command to “pray without ceasing” (which, I believe, speaks more to the fact that we believers should live our lives with a constant attitude of prayer and should pray throughout the day on various occasions). At the same time, the amount of time spent in prayer is not necessarily an indication of one’s spiritual maturity, love for the Lord, or faithfulness in ministry and service to the Lord. For example, let us say there is a charismatic pastor who spends five hours a day in intercessory prayer. Given that there is limited time in each day, and given the fact that the ministry of intercessory prayer is just one of many aspects of pastoral ministry, I would contend that such a pastor is most likely being grossly negligent in his other pastoral responsibilities. That five hours he spends in prayer is five hours less time spent in sermon and lesson preparation, pastoral visitation, evangelism, worship preparation, church administration, counseling, and other aspects of pastoral ministry.
The next point that Ms. Smith makes is in the following words: “I give charismatics in general high marks for endeavoring to labor in the power of the Holy Spirit and not in their own strength.” While this certainly may be the case, it is an assertion that is based upon her own personal perception of charismatics. There is no way to prove or disprove her claim, since one would have to be able to read the hearts and inner motivations of charismatics in order to determine its truth or falsity. While no doubt charismatics do place a great emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit and would profess to rely upon Him for their strength, at the same time the theology which undergirds much of the charismatic and Pentecostal movements is Arminian, revivalistic and synergistic (meaning that salvation is viewed as a cooperative process where God and man work together as a team). These theological underpinnings actually tend to downplay the sovereign and efficacious work of the Holy Spirit in individual salvation and in the church corporate, thus throwing man back onto the treadmill of human willing, human doing and exhausting religious-emotional hype that can lead eventually to spiritual burn-out. While not all charismatics live consistently with the theology that undergirds much of the charismatic movement, as a non-charismatic Reformed believer I would assert that these theological underpinnings actually tend toward promoting the works of the flesh more than they do the sovereign, efficacious work of the Spirit. In fact, in my own limited experience with charismatics there seems to be an elitist mindset amongst some in the charismatic community, wherein they view themselves as “Spirit-filled Christians,” thereby implying that the rest of us are not Spirit-filled, and thus we are viewed as living on a lower plane of spiritual life. Churches that do not practice “the gifts” (meaning tongues, prophecy, etc.) are sometimes viewed as “dead” or lifeless churches in need of “revival”. Such elitism and censoriousness is not a manifestation of reliance upon the Spirit; rather it is an evidence of the sinful flesh (not to mention a manifestation of a lack of love).
The final point Ms. Smith makes in her letter has to do with loving Jesus. She states that “It is often easier to see this love of Jesus in the charismatics.” Certainly I would not deny that there may be many charismatic Christians who genuinely love the Lord Jesus and love His people, in spite of their doctrinal errors and unbiblical worship practices. At the same time in my own limited experience I don’t find this love as evident as Ms. Smith does. Perhaps one of the problems is that often in our North American context we confuse “love” with niceness and friendliness. Certainly I have met numerous charismatics who seem to be very friendly and nice, at least on the surface. But biblical love goes much deeper than mere niceness and friendliness. Having a bubbly personality and interjecting the phrase “praise the Lord” every other sentence is not in itself a measure of love for the Lord or love for His church. (I am not saying all charismatics are like this; but it is a fairly accurate description of some with whom I’ve had contact.) From a biblical standpoint, loving the Lord means obeying His commandments from the heart, and for the glory of God. His commandments include the command to avoid a censorious spirit and an elitist mindset among the Christian brotherhood (such as, for example, we find undergirding the divisiveness and factionalism in that most “charismatic” of the apostolic churches, the church in Corinth; see First Corinthians chapters 1-3). From what I can perceive (and I recognize that this is just my personal perception), the charismatic movement seems to me to be riddled with an elitist mindset (some “Spirit filled” charismatics looking down their noses at us pitiful non-charismatic believers for being lacking in the “Spirit-filled” department). In addition, charismatic worship is often riddled with the “strange fire” (Leviticus 10) of unauthorized worship practices. If we love Jesus we will obey His commandments; and one of the ways to obey His commandments is to make sure that the biblical elements of worship are observed in the worship services, and that reverence and awe and respect for God be shown by making sure that everything is done decently and in good order (1 Cor. 14:40). It seems to me that some (not necessarily all!) charismatic worship services are man-centered, emotionally-hyped, and incorporate unbiblical, man-made traditions (falling in the aisles, the practice of the so-called “altar call,” the incorporation of drama in the worship services, entertaining Hollywood-style “laid back” worship, etc.). The kind of irreverence and disorderliness engendered by the casual, man-centered, emotionally-hyped charismatic worship service does not, in fact, promote or express love (biblically-defined) for God or God’s people.
Are charismatic Christians more loving than noncharismatic Christians? From the above considerations I would argue that it cannot legitimately be claimed our charismatic brethren love the Lord or His people more than us non-charismatic believers. True love for God is obeying His commands from a heart renewed by the Holy Spirit, believing the truths revealed in His Word, and worshiping and serving Him in accordance with His revealed will in Holy Scripture. By this definition none of us (whether we identify ourselves as charismatic or non-charismatic) loves the Lord perfectly, and all of us have areas in our walk with the Lord where we need to grow in our sanctification. Therefore let us strive to grow in love – biblical love – for the Lord, and for our brothers and sisters in Christ.