Charismatic Concern, Tradition, and Other Miscellany

January 5th, 2008

Wendy commented on my entry, Keep in Step with the Spirit. I’d like to give it and my reply their own post.

Well, Tim. This is a first for me; hope I don’t mess up! I liked some of the stuff I read. I was concerned about your blog because as missionaries in Brazil we run into this a lot.(Charismatic) You mentioned tradition in a tone that might be negative and I immediately remembered II Thes. 2:15 and cross-referenced to IIThes. 3:6. Tradition isn’t necessarily wrong. A great way to stay on course is through tradition.(check out II Tim. 1:5 and my husband just reminded me about the Rechabites-Jer. 35, esp. vs. 18,19. Just be careful (I say that to my kids and it really means “I love you and want the best for you.”)

Hi Wendy,

I can certainly imagine how charismatic issues would be a pressing concern for you! Both because “many spirits have gone out into the world” (including false ones) and because even legitimate workings of the Spirit might be abused or misunderstood or emphasized in ways that distract people from Jesus or from digging deep into that great work of the Spirit: The Scriptures. I’m sure you have some good insights into these issues, through your experience.

One aspect of the situation of which I’m sure is that any claimed manifestation–whether speaking in tongues, alleged healers, people whose lives are spent in war against the demonic, and most especially anyone claiming to be a prophet–must be tested very carefully. If they do not point people to deeper relationship with Christ but rather distract, if moral fruit of the Spirit is lacking, if their teaching is Biblically suspect & historically novel, then what’s called for is careful, loving, firm correction–to build up our brothers and sisters in Christ, and to expose false teachers. We need to exercise prayerful discernment for the good of the Body. Urgently.

Of course, there’s more to be evaluated and figured out and understood and said about charismatic/Pentecostal issues, and these principles do apply more broadly (to all movements and teachers and practices), but this is a fair starting point.

On tradition: Thank you, I did not want to give the impression that I view tradition in a negative light, and I can see how it might have come across that way. Some people do tend toward an anti-intellectual, rebellious, bitter spirit toward tradition & history. That frustrates me to no end. On the contrary, I believe that the more mature we become and the more the Holy Spirit grows us in our knowledge of God through his Word, then the more we will be rooted in the tradition & history of the Church–and vice versa. Anything truly new is probably wrong.

But tradition is also very dangerous, if it is unexamined and untested. It can blind us to what the Scriptures actually teach.

Here’s what I was concerned about: I grew up in a mix of Evangelical Free and Baptist General Convention (John Piper’s denomination) churches. Other people grew up Methodist, others Catholic, Presbyterian, Orthodox, and Pentecostal. And others Muslim, Mormon, and Buddhist. What we can’t afford to do is believe a doctrine just because the church we grew up in taught it–then no one will learn, and no one will be letting God’s word change their theology. Similarly, we can’t assume a verse means one thing just because we’re used to reading it that way. If we truly want to submit ourselves to Scripture, we must try very hard to step back from the way we’re accustomed to read it. That’s not to reject our theology, but we must try to “distance” ourselves from our preconceived ideas, test them anew, and try to see God’s word with fresh eyes. (It’s sort of like, “The unexamined theology is not worth having.” 🙂 ) Otherwise, we’re relying more on our parents and pastors and teachers than on the inspired, inerrant, authoritative teaching of the apostles and prophets: The Bible.

On the references to Paul’s references to tradition, we have to be careful. Paul was specifically telling them to hold fast to the doctrines he had taught them. He does not say, “Stand firm and hold to tradition,” he says, “Stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” He wasn’t mainly addressing “tradition” as such, he was talking about specific teachings. And the way that we follow Paul’s command to the Thessalonians is by holding to Scripture. His inspired letters hold those teachings as he passed them on to us; God worked through the apostles and prophets to give us their teachings in a sure, unalterable form. Catholics and Orthodox misuse these verses, reading them more as “Hold fast to tradition”–as though Paul was setting up an on-going infallible authority in the traditions of a visible, organized church structure. I do not believe his command can apply to any currently-available set of teachings other than the Bible; I do not believe we have a legitimate promise from God that any organization will maintain pure theology throughout history, or will always articulate doctrines correctly. (Of course, unless you are Catholic or Orthodox, I’m sure that’s not what you were saying.)

I would guess you were thinking something like this: The Holy Spirit has been working in Christian men and women for the last two thousand years, and it would be foolish and childish for us to ignore all that accumulated wisdom. We should be “always reforming” our theology, but we should not overturn tradition lightly, nor should we dismiss out-of-hand the wisdom of all those who have gone before us.

With that, I wholeheartedly agree.

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