Monday, 10 October 2016

Charismatic Churches and Their Attitude to the Mind

At the beginning of the 20th century, something very significant took place within the church. After centuries of neglect, Christians in quite large numbers began to see the importance of the gifts of the Holy Spirit referred to in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10.

It is true that the use of these gifts had never actually died out. But they had been very neglected, and this began to change in a big way early in the 20th century.

Since then, the use of gifts of the Spirit by Christians has increased dramatically, especially among evangelicals. In fact, it would surely be right to say that today quite a large majority of evangelicals worldwide either use the gifts or accept their use as valid. What is more, the signs are that the percentage of evangelicals who take this position will continue to increase, and this is very good news.

Charismatic Christians

Christians who use or approve of using the gifts of the Spirit listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 are commonly called “charismatic Christians.” And churches of charismatic Christians are known as “charismatic churches.” The word “charismatic” comes from the Greek word “charisma,” meaning “gift,” which is used several times in 1 Corinthians 12 to refer to gifts of the Spirit.

Problems in charismatic churches

Although charismatic churches are right to stress the importance of gifts of the Spirit, it should be regarded as a fact that big problems often arise in these churches. Here are some of the main ones:

·       The importance of the Bible is often downplayed.
·       The so-called “prosperity gospel” is frequently taught.
·       Various extreme views on supernatural healing are common.
·       The importance and role of hardship in the Christian life is often underemphasized.
·       Personal experience is often excessively stressed.

These are all serious errors that cause huge problems.

Downplaying the importance of reasoning and the mind

There is, however, another major error that commonly occurs in charismatic churches. Many churches and church leaders are at fault for downplaying and underemphasizing the importance of reasoning and using the mind. And this is the mistake I want to focus on in this article.

Charismatic churches will usually place a lot of emphasis on gifts of the Spirit such as prophecy and healing, and it is quite right that they do so. This is a thoroughly biblical emphasis.

However, just because Scripture teaches that there is a prominent place in the Christian faith for experiences of the Spirit, this in no way means that reasoning with the mind should not also play an important part. And the Bible makes it clear that there is indeed an important place for reasoning in our faith.

There are several things in Scripture that point in this direction.

Theological argumentation

To begin with, there is the fact that the Bible contains a great deal of profound theological argumentation. The letters to the Romans and the Hebrews are probably the clearest examples of this.

The apostle Paul wrote Romans, and we know that he had a lot of experience of gifts of the Spirit. See, e.g., Acts 13:9-12; 14:3, 8-10; 15:12; 16:9-10; 19:11-16; 1 Corinthians 14:18; 2 Corinthians 12:12.

However, Romans (and large parts of his other letters) makes it clear that he also believed it was right for him to use his mind to discover truth.

As for Hebrews, we don’t know who wrote this letter. Nevertheless, whoever the author was, he was clearly a fan of gifts of the Spirit. See Hebrews 2:4 (and probably Hebrews 6:4-5).

But his letter shows plainly too that, like Paul, he believed that he could gain deep insights by reasoning with his mind.

It is actually difficult to overstate the intellectual depth of Romans and Hebrews. These are works full of carefully crafted logical arguments by men with high IQ’s who are using their abilities to the maximum. And the same could be said of other parts of Scripture too.

It is a fact, then, that the Bible contains a lot of profound theological argumentation. And by itself this disproves the idea that there is no important place for reasoning in the Christian faith.

The practice of Paul in Acts

The practice of Paul as revealed in Acts also shows how important reasoning and the mind are.

Acts, of course, contains many references to miracles, not least in connection with Paul (see the texts cited above).

However, this book also makes it clear that Paul spent considerable time discussing the Christian faith with people, trying to persuade them to become Christians.

In Acts 19:8-9, for example, Luke tells us what Paul did while in Ephesus: 
8 Then he entered the synagogue and spoke boldly for a period of three months, engaging in discussion and trying to persuade them about the kingdom of God. 9 But some became hardened and refused to believe, speaking badly of the Way publicly. So he left them, taking the disciples with him, and held daily discussions in the lecture hall of Tyrannus.” 
(Bible quotations in this article are my own translations of the Greek text.)

Paul’s activities as referred to in these verses would surely have involved a great deal of reasoning, both from the Hebrew Bible and in other ways too.

And it was not just in Ephesus that Paul spent time doing this. Luke says that he did so in Thessalonica (Acts 17:2), in Athens (Acts 17:17), in Corinth (Acts 18:4), and with the Roman procurator Felix (Acts 24:25). And we can be sure that there are also plenty of other examples that Luke has not recorded.

Paul’s practice as revealed in Acts, then, is a strong piece of biblical evidence that reasoning should play an important part in how Christians evangelize and teach.

1 Peter 3

In 1 Peter 3:15 Peter instructs his readers: 
“Always be ready to give a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that you have.” 
There are different ways in which Christians can follow Peter’s instruction in this verse. But one of the main ones is by engaging in what is known as “apologetics.” This is a term that refers to using reasoned arguments to support the Christian faith and to overturn objections that are made against it.

Apologetic arguments are surely part of what Peter has in mind here.

Summing up

The combined weight of the above points makes it clear that there is a big place for reasoning in the Christian faith.

Why do some charismatics downplay reasoning?

Given, then, that the Bible clearly shows the importance of reasoning, why is it that some charismatics downplay this?

I think a few seem to have a vague idea that experiences of the Spirit and reasoning with the mind are somehow contradictory. I am sure that not many actually go this far, and it is not a viewpoint that has been carefully thought through. But I do think there are a few charismatics who would see something of a contradiction between these things.

Second, a larger number just seem to think that experiences of the Spirit make reasoning rather unnecessary. This group wouldn’t see an actual contradiction between experiences of the Spirit and reasoning. But they do feel that reasoning is something rather cheap and unspiritual, not something that devout Christians should concern themselves with very much.

Those in each of these groups, however, are making a big mistake, as we have seen above.

Consequences of downplaying reasoning

When reasoning is underemphasized in churches, there are always negative consequences.

To begin with, in churches that make this mistake Christians are often seriously lacking in knowledge. In-depth study of the Bible is frequently not something that is encouraged, so believers can have simplistic and shallow understanding of various things. What is more, charismatics have often been reluctant to undertake theological training to any high level, and the results of this are sometimes seen in poor understanding of Scripture among leadership.

Secondly, charismatics are often poor at engaging in apologetics. It is, of course, very common for non-believers to have questions about the Christian faith and to challenge us to provide answers. Too often, charismatics find themselves completely at sea when trying to do this.

The human spirit and mind

In 1 Corinthians 14:14-15 Paul writes: 
14 For if I pray in a language, my spirit prays but my mind is unproductive. 15 What shall I do, then? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind. I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind.” 
(The “pray[ing] in a language” here refers to what is commonly known as praying in tongues.)

Paul makes it clear in this passage that there are two aspects to the immaterial part of human beings – we have spirits and we have minds. And he obviously sees no conflict between using his spirit and using his mind in prayer and in praise.

It is true that Paul is talking specifically about praying and praising here. Nevertheless, he would surely have said something very similar about the Christian life in general: “I will follow Jesus by using my spirit as and when appropriate, and I will follow Jesus by using my mind as and when appropriate.”

For centuries the importance of the human spirit in the Christian life was neglected. And the charismatic movement has succeeded in elevating the significance of both the human spirit and the Holy Spirit in the Christian faith.

However, we often find that correcting one under-emphasis leads directly to another, and that is something that seems clearly to have happened in this area. Having reacted against a position that downplays the spirit, many charismatics take an equally unbalanced position that downplays the mind.

Yet to exalt either the spirit or the mind at the expense of the other makes no sense, when God has given us them both and the Bible has many examples of His people using both. Experiences of the Spirit and reasoning with the mind each have an important place in the Christian faith, and this needs to be recognized clearly.

Final thoughts

If you are a Christian who supports using the gifts referred to in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, and are sceptical about the value of reasoning, I would therefore encourage you to reconsider. God expects us to use our minds to their full potential.

If, on the other hand, you are part of the shrinking segment of the church that denies that these gifts are for today, I would encourage you also to reconsider.

Let us allow our spirits and minds to work together, complementing each other, to achieve our best for the Lord.

See also: