Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Non-devisive Doctrine

A common argument heard from cessationists is that continualism, in it's many shades, is a divisive doctrine that splits churches and separates brothers. I remember, however, hearing one of my former pastors and one the the best preachers I've ever heard, preach from the Book of Acts concerning the unifying nature of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit and the concomitant manifestation of tongues (click this link for a sample of Rex Bornman). He noted that people of all classes, cultures, and languages were brought together, not by common doctrine, but common experience. What would have taken only God knows how long (if ever), through discussion, committees and findings, occurred almost immediately through experience, and no one got the glory but God!

As an Arminian, I have had enough encounters with Calvinists, who assume they have found the be all and the end all of truth in the so called doctrines of grace, for me to suspect that Calvinism was something that would keep its proponents and myself from ever getting along or pursuing ministry together in harmony. Then, I encountered a phenomenon that I had not before-- Charismatic Calvinists. Whereas we don't share some fundamental doctrinal distinctives, we do share experience of God the Spirit. That, in and of itself, allows us to truly acknowledge each other as brothers and to cooperate with each other in the advance of gospel ministry and the search for practical truth.

Furthermore, I have found this true not only for other doctrinal differences, but also for cultural and linguistic ones as well. When people share the same experience of the Holy Spirit, walls of division and hostility break down. Black, white, American, Asian, African, rich, poor... regardless,
being baptized in the Holy Spirit and then experiencing signs and wonders brings folks together. By my reckoning, it is not acceptance of continualism that breeds division among brothers, but the insistence of cessationism. I would wager that I have more in common with a charismatic Calvinist than I do with a cessationist Arminian. So, Cessationism causes fellowship to break with the one who comes into the biblical experience of charismata; whereas Continualism, on the other hand, is truly the non-divisive doctrine!

33 comments:

  1. Great Word!

    The Holy Spirit never divides, He works in unity!

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  2. Where is this Charismatic Calvinist I want to meet him/her?

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  3. I agree with you David. Let's pray for a lot more unity!

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  4. Anon,
    I'm not sure you're serious, or whether or not you're shocked from the Arminian or the Calvinistic viewpoint. I can't give anyone's name who isn't in the public domain, but here are a couple of blogs that fit the bill:
    Resurgence
    Voice of Grace
    Adrian Warnock
    Spirit of God
    God Entranced Vision
    or check out Sovereign Grace Ministries.

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  5. slw,
    My daughter and son-in-law come from charismatic/Armenian and Word of Faith backgrounds and they are presently in a Sovereign Grace Ministries church on the east coast. They are very aware of some of their doctrinal differences but for my daughter and her husband, it is "no big deal" to them, as they have been thoroughly blessed by the fellowship and friendships they have made in this church. BTW, it is 45 minutes one way to their Sovereign Grace church and down the road 5 minutes from their house is a good Word of Faith church.(???)

    Ps. 133.1-2, gives us an idea of how significant and effective the unity of the brethren is. I once heard a preacher say that the devil hates it, as it is the one thing in Christendom that he cannot break through. I've also heard it said that there is unlimited power made available to the body of Christ when there is unity...the devel is defeated when we are in unity.

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  6. Pastor,
    Help me!!! What am I?

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  7. As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

    from a letter to the Ephesians, from Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus

    brother s,
    so important,
    bearing with one another....in love, i do like your reminder to think upon unity and the importance of the Holy Spirit in this.

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  8. Rita,
    If you don't know, you already know how much it actually matters! ;-)

    To boil it down to the most fundamental concept: Calvinists believe God's saving grace pushes a button within folk which causes them to to turn to Christ and stay turned; Arminians believe that folk are saved and stay saved by cooperating with the saving grace of God through placing faith in Christ.

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  9. AmeriKan,
    Your own family seems to be a confirmation of what I attempted to communicate with this post. Commonality in experience of the Holy Spirit is a more effective basis for unity than arcane doctrine (anyone know how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?).

    You are right about unity: not only is there a high and mighty anointing in it, but when expressed through agreement in prayer, it makes anything possible.

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  10. Nancy,
    Sometimes, in the midst of all this turmoil over doctrine in the church of Christ, I wonder if those with common experience of the Holy Spirit are the only ones capable of expressing the kindness and deference of brotherly love. I know that's not true, but at times, my own sense of indignation makes me perceive it that way. It's good, I suppose, to keep one's eyes on the prize and never fixate oncircumstances!

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  11. brother s,
    i am always delighted that you take the time to reply to the comments that are left on your posts. that is very caring. you are a loving and generous person. may God continue to work in and through you.

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  12. If you don't know, you already know how much it actually matters!

    I thought so... D:

    I've read the definitions of the doctrines ... My opinion: They only serve to make divisions among God's people and hinder the body in the commission we are called to.
    Just as each of us "individually" is equally important in the body of Christ, so is each "doctrinally speaking" equally important in that same body.

    I see and hear criticism of many of the more highly visible Pastors and teachers... Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, T. D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer, John Hagee... (I'm sure you know the list goes on and on.) My opinion: Each of these fulfill a purpose in the body of Christ. Their content, methods, or styles of delivery may differ, but there is a lost society of individuals who each need to hear a specific message that opens their spiritual eyes, ears, and hearts, to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    I think the key word here is: division...

    Anything that divides God's people has the potential to serve to assist Satan in weakening the power of the body.

    BTW,
    Your opinion and correction on my thoughts is welcome to me.

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  13. It can be disturbing when one hears the destructive criticism of the aforementioned preachers/teachers who are in the public eye (Meyers, Jakes, Osteen, etc.). However, on the "less seen side" of Christianity, there are 31 flavors like ice cream from which to choose...that side of Christianity is even more diverse from what the public sees on TV. Every other block down your hometown street has diversity in the body of Christ called houses of God. I guess it is the devil's duty to inflate, explode, divide and bring generalized havoc. I am so thankful that within the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ we can find what rings our bell, pushes our button and sets us on higher ground.

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  14. AmeriKan, Rita, et al,
    Unity is always sacrificed at the altar of ego. When brethren are unwilling to lay down their lives for their brothers, and instead make them targets to defeat and trample over the result is the enervation of the body accompanied by the gruesome cackling of the evil one (often perceived by the human ear as a stridently screeched "heretic"). If someone is practicing what is in the Bible (NT in particular) why should anyone seek to exclude, preclude, or occlude them?

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  15. I've been carrying your post around in my head and sought to find a quote of John G. Lake about harmony. Finally found it and thought it apropos:

    "But I tell you, if the Apostolic Faith Mission is going to lose her character, her progressiveness, and aggressiveness, and her staunch standing by the original principals and the original doctrines in order to get everybody to work in harmony, my own expression would be, the devil take the harmony. There is a unity that only tends to weakness. The necessity of unifying is many times imaginary, especially if one is forced off your original basis. . . . Principle is better than unity, and the ultimate end of principle will be oneness."

    In light of many of the doctrines that we hear of today, e.g., God collapsed the Minnesota bridge, etc., I can't say that I disagree with Lake.

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  16. Thank you for such a powerful example from the Word. When I listen to some folks talk about their experiences, I am slow to accept them as real or biblical. I find myself observing them more closely to find the fruit of their experience. Your post is a reminder to me to listen for 'who is getting the glory'. If indeed their experiences gloryfy God, who am I to be at odds w/them?

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  17. Good work, Peter....Lake brings up another side where, "there is a unity," that brings compromise. I think Jesus showed us what "principle" was/is. We can "unify" ourselves right out of what we are called to do. When I read the Gospels, I realize I must love my brothers, do good to the household of faith and yet, foresake all!(?)!

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  18. Peter and AmeriKan;
    When we use the word unity, sometimes we envision a brigade of stormtroopers goosestepping in perfectly synchronized march. Everyone dressed the same, moving the same, with the same expression in the same rhythm. Throw a wrench into the works and you get a lot of dead Nazis, oops sorry, you have a big mess!

    Church is an organism not an organization. We don't have to be so neat and clean as to wind up jamming everybody into the same costume and making them all march lockstep to the same drummer. We just need to have the same [spiritual] DNA. People doing different things with different motivations is a healthy thing for us. It does require us to treat each other with tolerance and respect-- to neither oppress or be oppressed, and for goodness sake, to not lob the Molotov cocktail of "heresy" quite so casually.

    There are lines that need to be drawn (see this post), but, imho, we tend to draw them where they are not required. If a person testifies that Jesus is his Lord, accepts the Word as inspired of God, lives life in a biblical pattern, do we really need to find an excuse to exclude him? Jesus never said the world would know we are his disciples because of how well we march together, but by how we love each other. When we ostracize brothers because they don't dot their doctrinal i's and cross their creedal t's the way we do, whose interest are we serving beside the Devil?

    What I'm suggesting is that unity is better defined in terms of our common experience of being born again and filled with the Holy Spirit than it is in the minutae of "doctrine." It seems to me that charismatics, regardless of their other doctrinal positions, exhibit this capacity for unity (as I'm explaining it) better than non-charismatics.

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  19. Sista C,
    That's an interesting take on things! The diagnostic question is truly discerning, and the consequential reaction, truly unifying.

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  20. Interesting perspectives...all I believe baring truth.
    I like what everyone has said. It's the "doing" part that snares me.

    I started out Methodist, then to A/G, to Word of Faith and back to A/G...well, let's just say this transpired for many years...well over 5__ ...I have quit counting, too scarey. :)

    I've seen false/pseudounity and its reults.
    I have seen disunity and its results.
    I have seen true unity and its results.

    slw, as you said, the bottom line is love. I don't think God cares what we do, if the fruit of the spirit isn't there we can just forget all of our lofty, cool efforts to "serve Him"...in the church, out of the church, on the streets, the net... We've become the "sounding brass, tinkling cymbals and nothing."

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  21. I'm anon from comment 2,

    I'm pretty sure Calvin taught the gifts had ceased. I know that's not the foundation of the 5 Point Calvinism as we know it today. So I guess it's possible to be a Charismatic Calvinist because you can still believe in the TULIP with the gifts. Anyway, good post and hopefully the church can establish a doctrine that unites us. We need it,

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  22. Anon #2;
    It sounds as if you are well aware that the formulation of TULIP (what generally construes Calvinism) was "codified" after his death by those who embraced his viewpoints. Although Calvin was, strictly speaking, a cessationist, a person can certainly accept TULIP while acknowledging continualism (as you said).

    I don't think we will ever come to doctrinal unity in the church. I don't want to say the dream of 1 Corinthians 1:10-12 is impossible, but there are as many variations in doctrine as there are individuals. There are some non-negotiables that could presumably be the foundation of such unity, but that would only make us good neighbors rather than brothers and sisters who live in the same house. We would still cluster around those who follow who we follow and separate from others. It seems the one astonishing lesson of 1 Corinthians escapes us: common experience in the Holy Spirit is sufficient to keep people of disparate viewpoints in harmony.

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  23. "It seems to me that charismatics, regardless of their other doctrinal positions, exhibit this capacity for unity (as I'm explaining it) better than non-charismatics."

    You are right about that. As we travel in charismatic churches, we find that there is a genuine communion in the Spirit. Honestly, we do not find the same kind of communion or teachability among those who do not believe in the Baptism.

    In our neck of the Body of Christ, there are not a lot of political/theological tags. In my opinion, the tags are most divisive and are used mostly to cut off discussion or exploration of the real content of the scriptures.

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  24. As for I Cor. 1:10-12, one commentary states it like this..."some church members were becoming more attached to certain ministers of the gospel than to the gospel itself. This disposition can cause them to betray Christian principles, and further divide the church."

    At different points throughout the history of the church, we have found the church to be more solidified and in greater unity. Whether in the Acts of the Apostles or subsequent to that time, it was persecution that drew the church together.

    I am not a doomsday believer. But is that what it might take for the modern church to "get on its knees,as one."(?) I recognize that in areas of today's world the church is under great persecution and they don't seem to have the petty doctrinal issues that plague us. Perhaps we have too much idle time. :) OR not enough to do, like being about the Father's business...

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  25. Wow AmeriKan, that's almost too scary for me to think about. I could never wish for persecution, but I understand what you're saying. I hope that isn't what it takes, I know it didn't serve the pristine church well. Persecution drove that church underground and concentrated authority in the hands of a few leaders. That set the table for the monarchial bishopric, and that led to no good whatsoever. I don't think the Devil incites persecution because he's imperceptive. But then, the experience of the Chinese church over the last 60 years bodes much better for us.

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  26. slw, I really agree with your comment:
    "It seems the one astonishing lesson of 1 Corinthians escapes us: common experience in the Holy Spirit is sufficient to keep people of disparate viewpoints in harmony."

    There is a discernible sense of unity possible between believers who are otherwise strangers, who compare notes and find that they have a *living* faith in God.

    There's an even stronger sense of unity among those who have truly experienced the manifest presence of God and been both humbled and thrilled by the experience. The actual experience of being touched and surrounded by the beautiful holiness of his Spirit creates a bond that can be compared to that experienced by soldiers who've experienced combat together. You can't describe it, but *know* it.

    Paul took this experience of the Spirit's presence for granted as he addressed his churches via letter, which is why so much modern teaching of his instructions comes across as legalism -- unless you've *experienced* something of the Spirit-revealed, Christ-centered doctrine Paul expounds in Ephesians 1-3, for instance, it's hard to understand the need for grace-empowerment in order to fulfill his practical instructions in the latter part of that letter.

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  27. Don,
    Interesting analogy-- the common experience of the Holy Ghost producing a foxhole brotherhood.

    Perhaps your last paragraph provides the pillars for a bridge between Arminians and the Calvinists.

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  28. Peter,
    "the tags are most divisive and are used mostly to cut off discussion or exploration of the real content of the scriptures."

    Sorry I didn't respond earlier, I just noticed your comment tucked in amongst the others. Hope that's not a sign of old age! :-) I think you may be right. Once someone adopts a tag, they defend it rather than look at the scriptures objectively.

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  29. SLW, you said in an earlier comment:

    "Calvinists believe God's saving grace pushes a button within folk which causes them to to turn to Christ and stay turned; Arminians believe that folk are saved and stay saved by cooperating with the saving grace of God through placing faith in Christ."

    I've never been able to side 100% with the Calvinist camp because of my skepticism concerning that 'button' concept. It appears to me in scripture and in my own experiences that God's grace of forgiveness and adoption is amazing not only because it's freely offered, but also because it can be freely accepted or rejected. Else couldn't satan rightly accuse God of having a kingdom composed of robots, not people who freely choose to return His love?

    I once had a friendly disagreement with a Calvinist pastor who claimed that if the people addressed by the Hebrews epistle ended up turning away from God, it only proved they'd never really been saved in the first place.

    I disagreed, saying that the writer's appeal to their having "tasted the heavenly gift," etc., in 6:4-6 were clear references to the baptism of the Holy Spirit - and if one was so baptised and thus sealed into Christ, one must surely be one of the elect -- yet still allowed permission to exercise one's own (admittedly rebellious) will and decide to turn against Christ (else why would such a letter need to be written?).

    And besides, the writer refers to "drifting away" and "laziness" in the letter, as causes of turning away from Christ, which to me are clear references to actions within one's own control.

    Obviously God alone knows the heart of man, so in the end such disagreements are pointless. But it appears to me that the Hebrews writer was speaking to long-established, Spirit-filled, fruit-producing believers who, despite their direct experience of Christ through the Spirit, were in danger of falling away. That certainly sounds like free will, to me.

    What do you think?

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  30. Don,
    Let me quote something from a comment by Nicholas Anton on Imonk's blog:
    "I am only a determinist from God’s perspective. Nevertheless, since I am not God but human, I am not a determinist from humankind’s perspective. I however believe in both the complete Sovereignty of God (from God’s perspective), and the free will of humankind (from humankind’s perspective). Can I explain it? No, not satisfactorily! Do I believe the Bible teaches it? Absolutely!"

    That sums up very nicely how I handle the fundamental differences between Calvinism and Arminianism. From God's perspective things look very (not entirely, mind you)Calvinistic, from our perspective, things look very Arminian. In otherwords, every good, evangelistic Calvinist preaches repentance and faith as if he was Arminian: every God fearing Arminian thanks God for his grace like he was Calvinist.

    Like you, I have a fundamental and implaccable disagreement with the notions or irresistable grace and the perserverance of the saints.

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  31. Thank you for that quote and your comments - very helpful to me!

    Have you read any of Greg Boyd's works? He's stirred up a hornet's nest, apparently, in the Calvinist camp, with the so-called "open God" view. I've only read his (excellent) GOD AT WAR, so don't really know what the fuss is about.

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  32. Don,
    I am unfamiliar with him except for running across him on the internet. I'll have to look into getting something he's written.

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  33. Gregory Boyd is one of the leaders in the open theism debate. He once taught at Bethal Seminary in Minneapolis, MN but I don't believe he does now. He and John Piper were once close friends.

    I don't believe Boyd is charismatic though his roots are in the Oneness Pentecostal movement in which he wrote an excellent book in defense of the Trinity called "Oneness Pentecostals & The Trinity."

    I admire Body for some of his positions but his open view is alarming and to me dishonors the Word of God and the sovereignty of God. I would not like to debate Boyd however because he is quite a scholar and a graduate of Princeton (?).

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