Thursday, December 01, 2005

What is a Reformed Charismatic?

Apologies for digging out my archives again, but I've been struggling to answer Adrian Warnock's challenge to explain what a Reformed Charismatic is.

I keep coming back to a single issue: The one defining line between a Reformed Charismatic and the type of Charismatic whose theology brings criticism from those within traditional orthodoxy is the status of their doctrine of suffering.

Now, I do not want to put a burden on all Reformed Charismatics. There are some that believe physical healing was included in the atonement, and there are some that don't. I remain undecided, and I tend to side with those who argue healing in the atonement would have to provide an absolute guarantee of physical healing in this age, since Christ's atonement was the perfect sealing for the wound we caused in the fall of man. Healing in the atonement offends my understanding of the doctrine of suffering, but I leave room for argument for those who believe otherwise.

That said, I do believe all power given to the Church today takes us back the Cross. It is the source of our power, and I believe all charismatic practices come with a mandate to make central the Cross. Any charismatic practice that downplays the core message of the Gospel -- faith in Christ, through the grace of God, redeems us for eternal life in heaven after physical death on earth -- is out of character with the very intent of the work of Christ. Any charismatic practice that places more importance on the flesh is in conflict with the Gospel message, which is explicitly a guarantee for future hope, and no guarantee of an easy life in this age.

I don't want to rehash how I understand Biblical suffering, because I've already written on it. Here is an essay I wrote in May, entitled "My grounding: The doctrine of suffering" ...
Acceptance or denial of charismata has never defined Evangelicalism. It is probably one of the most misunderstood elements of Christianity today. What does separate some Charismatics from the mainstream is specific doctrines relating to the methodology of charismata, and I'm not talking about "tongues."

The greatest weakness of the categoric Charismatic churches I'm familiar with is the lack of emphasis on the doctrine of suffering. Simply put: When God does not heal or even offer a relief of pain the person they pray for, the temptation is to blame the person for whom they are praying as lacking in faith. Without discernment that is the case (and it does fall under a possibility - Matt 13:58), I find this an especially unloving practice.

If the person was brave enough to seek prayer for that ailment in the first place, I have a hard time believing God would not accept that faith as sufficient in most cases. God's requirement for sufficient faith is not stringent. (Matt 17:20)

No Christian can always offer healing, but we can always offer love. If we have a proper understanding of the doctrine of suffering, we might also offer understanding to those who do not receive healing:

  • Our flesh is condemned to pain, suffering and death the moment we are born. This is product of Original Sin and God's judgment. (Gen. 3:17-19)

  • We may suffer because God loves us, and uses our suffering to conform us. (Heb. 12)

  • We may put ourselves in harm's way because of our sin. (Gal. 6:7-12)

  • In some cases, we may even be persecuted because of our faith. (Just read the New Testament from Matthew to Revelations).

    To deny this doctrine is to put the greatest burden on those that are already afflicted, which is all of us (but some more than others). One would have to assume we possess the power of healing, that God has somehow surrendered his authority in this matter, which is stopping just short of saying that we are also gods. It denies the very purpose of our existence on earth, which was defined for us the moment Adam and Even fell in the Garden of Eden.

    Some Charismatics like to point out that Jesus had a perfect record when it came to healing, and so should we, we just need to "claim it." I see a much different model in Jesus' ministry. Jesus, as God in the flesh, also had perfect discernment. I believe God the Father was already doing the healing, and God as Man saw what God the Father was doing before He prayed for people.
    In John 5, Jesus says:

    19 Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these.

    I infer several distinctions from Jesus' explanation on His view of His own miraculous works:

  • The miraculous starts with God the Father.

  • Jesus can only work in the miraculous when the Father begins it.

  • Jesus performed 100 percent accurate signs and wonders because He had perfect discernment what the Father was doing.

  • Discernment what God is doing is an essential tool for a healing ministry.

  • Without discernment, praying for a miracle it is a hit-and-miss (and likely miss-miss-miss-miss ...) tactic.

    I would not expect perfect discernment from anyone who is not Jesus any more than I would expect a perfect record of healing. Lack of discernment would not stop me for praying for healing for anyone who asked me to do so (or where I see a need), but I would not put impossible expectations on my prayer, either. I have faith that God can heal someone of any affliction we ask Him to heal, but I know, by reading His Word, that God loves us whether He heals us in this age or not, and we will have the universe's greatest health care plan after death. The latter is the only message I wish to convey to anyone I pray for, whether or not they receive healing.

    Ultimately, Jesus did not come to heal our flesh. Jesus came to deliver us from the fate of our flesh, which begins the process of death at birth. Healing is a part of the ministry that reflects on God's dominion on earth. He is in control, and any display of His perfect power should point back to the Cross.
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