Well I know this is going to catch the eyes of a lot of people simply because of how controversial this subject is, however a lot of people keep asking me this question, so I thought I might as well give it some thought.
I guess the first thing that comes to mind is “What do you mean by Charismatic?” In other words the label itself masks an enormous diversity that exists within the so-called charismatic movement. These days we talk about wacko Charismatics and moderate Charismatics. The famous Mark Driscoll talks about Charismatics with seat-belts. We even now have the ‘reformed’ charismatics. Still others use the term, not to describe a theological position but a style of worship. I was talking to a friend who said his worship service was “charismatic”. What he meant was that they have drums, raise their hands and the person upfront uses a roaming mic. In short the question assumes a homogeneity that doesn’t seem to exist within the group, well not from what I can see.
However the problem of ‘labelling’ people is not simply confined to the ‘charismatic’ movement. We use other labels like Evangelical, Reformed, Calvinists, Lutherans etc. From what I’ve heard about in the States an evangelical is anyone who is not a Catholic and calls themselves a Christian. Even the word Christian is almost meaningless these day. Anyway who goes to church, tries to be a good person and knows the golden rule (and nothing else because they have never read the bible) and vote for one political party would happily call them self a Christian. A few years ago I heard a radio talk back show host describe Australia as a Christian country even though, at the time, church attendance at the time was only in the order of about 4%.
The difficulty of labelling people was highlighted to me a few years ago. I was participating in a conference where two pastors friends were preaching. Prior to the conference we were gently cautioned to be careful of pushing the “Reformed” label. We were sensitive that in the past there had been some issue with pastors who held to a reformed position, so we wanted to be sensitive, gracious yet not compromise on foundational truths. Although the label was never used, my friends nevertheless preached the scriptures and unpacked what has traditionally been called ‘reformed’ theology (but without the label) They spoke about Scripture alone, Christ alone, Grace alone and Faith alone. There was no holding back on this. My friends preached it hard, powerfully and graciously. After the conference one of the delegates feedback was that she was thankful that we did not preach ‘reformed’ theology but simply stuck to the bible. You can imagine that we were somewhat amused.
No one wants to be labelled but unfortunately it is not something we can avoid. We all do it. It’s part of life. But that being said, I would suggest that it is not necessarily a bad thing, nor something we should avoid. The truth of the matter is that we need to put labels on things, churches, movements and groups otherwise it’s very very difficult to hold a conversation. Indeed labelling is an essential part of conversation. They are short hand ways of explaining ideas, practices, customs or whatever it is. As such it saves us having to keep describing something again and again in every sentence. Without labels conversations would becomes awkward, tedious and tiresome. Therefore categorizing and labelling people and groups etc makes our conversations both efficient and effective.
Be that as it may, I want to suggest that the real problem is not in the labelling but HOW we use these labels. As we all know from experience people can often use the same words but mean very very different things. Alternatively we can have people who are essentially saying and believing the same thing but are simply using very different words. Words and meaning – if they do not match up between groups can cause all sorts of confusion and conflict. Now admittedly some conflict is necessary. We are told that the Devil often disguises himself as an angel of light. However in other cases the conflict was purely unnecessary because people were essentially saying the same thing but saying it in very different ways. So in my experience I find people who don’t like being called “reformed’ still holding on to reform theology. They simply don’t like the label for whatever reason.
What are the implications of this? In some cases an inappropriate use of labels means we end up sleeping with the enemy. So choosing the right label helps to distinguish the truth from the lies. In other cases it unfortunately creates division between those who are essentially on the same page, but, for various reasons, use the labels differently.
What this essentially means is that labelling, branding, categorizing (whatever you want to call it) only really works between people who use the label in the same way. Outside this group it can cause all sorts of problems and confusion.
What this means is that we need to know who we are talking. When this is clearly established then we will know how to talk with them. So amongst some people when I label myself as “reformed” we are talking the same language and conversation becomes efficient and effective. However in other circles the label is unnecessarily inflammatory, not because they reject reform theology but because, in their mind, it conjures up a certain caricature, which I personally would also reject. Maybe describing myself as ‘biblical’ might be better? However we call ourselves we need to be conscious of how ‘we’ and ‘they’ are using the label.
So what do I think about the charismatic movement? Well I guess it comes back to my earlier question “What do you mean?”.
The least I can say is this. I’m not a very smart guy. I just scrapped through uni and theological college. I love apple computers and Star Trek. And I am no expert on the Charismatic movement. But this I know. I believe in the supreme authority of scripture and its sufficiency for all matters of doctrine and faith beyond which nothing else is necessary or essential for salvation. I believe that we are saved through Christ alone, Grace Alone and faith alone. I believe that all men, without exception were born in sin and as such are totally and completely unable to do anything good or to save themselves and as such live under the anger and wrath of a holy and just God. Furthermore I believe that God has generously and unconditionally chosen some from before creation itself to be saved. Without this unconditional election no one could be saved at all. I believe that Christ died as our substitute and a propitiation for our sins. I believe that those whom he has elected he calls through the preaching of the gospel and, through the regenerating work of the spirit gives them new life so that they can turn to Christ in faith and repentance. And I believe that all those whom God has called to himself he will enable them to persevere to the very end.
This is what I believe. So what do I think about the charismatic? I guess it all depends but like I said I’m not that smart. But one thing I can say – anyone who holds to the above is OK in my books.