Saturday, February 16, 2008

On Charismatism: Scripture, experience and the issue of ultimate authority

[continued from here and here]

It is a fact that Charismatism tends to make its adherents more focused on experiences, and most definitely, the Christian life encompasses experiences; the experience of being set free by Christ's death, the experience of intimacy with God etc. The problem comes in however, when we deal with the issue of authority. Pentecostals/Charismatics in general seem to place a very high importance on their experience, and such may well lead to them placing experience on par or even superseding the authority of Scripture1, not to mention the exercise of the so-called "gift of prophecy" in granting new revelation2 which may even contradict Scripture.

As such, it is imperative that a foundation for the examining of the charismata must be established. This foundation must be none other than Scripture, and Scripture alone. Experience must be interpreted in light of Scripture, and not the other way round. After all, Scripture is THE final authority for the Christian, and if it is, then we must need examine everything by what it teaches.

It is here that I must need disgress into the issue of the doctrine of the Scriptures (bibliology) with regards to this issue, and in actual fact all doctrinal issues. Now, no true Christian and even some cults (ie Jehovah's Witness) would deny that the Scripture is authoritative. The issue therefore is not one of authority, but one of ultimate or final authority, or in other words what is known theologically as the sufficiency of Scripture. Is what is revealed in Scripture sufficient for the entirety of the Christian walk, life and experiences? Or to simplify it, with only the words of Scripture, can I know everything there is to know about God, His will and His plan, interpret all things that happen to me in all my circumstances, be a source of encouragement and comfort without necessity of aid, give me all necessary tools to equip me for ministry such that I shall not want in all things necessary for the Christian life (Ps. 23:1)? This is the "layman's" definition of what does it mean for the Scriptures to be sufficient, both materially and formally[3].

To answer this question, since we ARE and should be coming at it as a Christian, we must need look at what the Scripture say. And to this we look at 2 Tim. 3:16-17

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)

In my previous article on the doctrine of Scripture which I have done some time ago, which anyone interested in the topic may look at as a primer, I mentioned

I would like to focus now on the later part of the passage in verse 17, where it is stated that "... the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work". From this part, we can see that Scripture is meant to equip us Christians for EVERY good work, not just some, but EVERY single one of them. Furthermore, we are to be made competent to do these good works. In the NIV, it is stated that the man of God may be "thoroughly equipped" and the NASB translates the word as adequate. The word translated 'competent' here is αρτιος (transliterated: artios) in the Greek, which according to the NAS New Testament Lexicon on is used only once in the Greek NT and its definitions are:

1) Fitted,

2) complete, perfect (a) having reference apparently to "special aptitude for given uses" [4]

Scripture therefore teaches that it is competent, complete, perfect such that they can equip us for all the facets of Christian living (teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness), such that we do not need another aid. And also as I have mentioned in that article:

... if Scripture itself does teach that Scripture is sufficient, then all other sources will either agree with Scripture, or disagree with it. If it agrees with Scripture that Scripture itself is sufficient, then the extra proof is superfluous. Consequently, if it does not agree with Scripture and thus contradict Scripture, since Scripture is necessary and thus it must be accepted, Scripture's verdict on its own sufficiency will stand while the others will fall. Of course, if the sources do not speak at all on the subject at hand, it is totally useless with regards to this topic. [5]

And therefore Scripture IS sufficient and MUST be sufficient if we are to call ourselves Christians who believe in the necessity of God's Word, which all Christian claim to do. After all, which true Christian will ever say that the Bible is not neccesary? And if it be necessary, then as I have shown through an exegesis of 2 Tim. 3:16-17, Scripture is sufficient. The only way out is to reject the authority of 2 Tim. 3:16-17, which would then make the person doing so sitting in judgment of the Word of God (or at least trying to do so) and thus rejecting its authority over his/her life, and such is clearly NOT an option for true believers.

So how does this apply to the issue of the charismata? Since Scripture must need be our Final authority, with Scripture being sufficient, then any other "proofs" like experience must be subjected to the examination of Scripture first. Therefore, we must examine the Scriptures independently of our experiences to determine what it teaches on the topic, and then after we are convinced from the Scripture that this is what it teaches, then we can then ask the question "So given that this is what Scripture teaches, how can my experience be interpreted so as not to violate the teachings of Scripture?", rather than "So since I have this experience, are there any passages in Scripture which confirm the validity of my experience?" This therefore will be our approach to all the issues we would examine in the next couple of posts on this topc. Experience will only be taken into account last of all, NOT first. Until the biblical position on this topic is established, none of our experiences in the exercise of the charismata, or lack thereof, makes a difference.

And speaking of experiences, there is an additional reason why we cannot trust experiences; because they are highly subjective. And even if they are genuinely reflective of the Truth, can you interpret your emotions rightly? Or as it is often the case, you will see only what you want to see because of your different orientation and focus? Not to mention thay they are so flippiant and transient, like being happy one hour before and going into depression one hour later. And people want to base their theology, and even their life and eternal destiny on that? It thus can be seen that depending on emotions to prop up your idea of the truth is a disaster even before it can take place, and thus we shouldn't trust our emotions, which includes the feeling of the possession of some gifts like the speaking in tongues.

[to be continued]


[1] John F. MacArthur (1992), Charismatic Chaos, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, Chapter 1 pg. 25

[2] J. Rodman Williams (1971), The era of the Spirit, Logos, Plainfield, N.J., as quoted in MacArthur, Chapter 2 pg. 58

[3] For those who are interested, the concept of 'material sufficiency' implies that no extra-biblical material (ie new revelation) is needed in order for scripture to be sufficient. The concept of 'formal sufficiency', however, implies that no extra-biblical method/ tradition/ interpretive grid is needed to understand Scripture and utilize its treasures; the interpretive grid to interpret Scripture is derived from Scripture itself — Scripture interprets Scripture. For more information, please do check out Volume 1 of the 3-volume set by David King and William Webster (2001), Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith, Christian Resources Inc., Battle Ground, WA.

[4] Daniel HC Chew, Sola Scriptura: The necessity, sufficiency, authority, preservation, perspicuity of Scripture.

[5] Ibid.


Anonymous said...

Great posts, Daniel. You leave me thirsting for more, brother!

The LORD bless and keep you.


Daniel C said...

Brother, and you too =)

vincit omnia veritas said...

It is sad but true that some (perhaps most) Christians are in some way directed by their emotions/personalities, particularly in the understanding of Scripture.

It is even sadder that some are stifled/gagged by "leaders" in order to "keep the peace" of ignorance and error; these are "encouraged" not to ask questions or point out certain mistakes in the leadership ...

Daniel C said...


eh.... =)