Why Charismatics and Non-Charismatics Can Get Along
We live in a world where we like to talk about our disagreements. Debates are exciting, and some say that if we agreed on everything life would be boring. But if we think about the new creation that’s coming, we see that such a perspective is mistaken. When this life is over and we live in the new world that is coming, there won’t be any theological disagreements. We’ll agree on everything, and the debates of this present age will be over forever. Even though our disputes will end, life in the new creation will not be tiresome and monotonous; it will pulsate with excitement as we are continually astonished by our God.
In this article, I have in mind charismatics and non-charismatics who agree on the authority of the Scriptures and the central doctrines of the Christian faith. Given human nature, we are prone to focus on where we disagree (spiritual gifts) instead of where we agree. But we need to stop for a moment and reflect on the fact that our agreement is massive, and we agree on the most important truths in the universe. Let me put it another way: we’re brothers and sisters in the same family. We’re saved by grace through faith; we belong to one another. We confess the same Father, the same Lord, and the same Spirit. We don’t trust in our goodness to save us but we put all our trust in Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified and has risen for our sake.
Paul reminds us in the middle of his discussion on spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12–14) that there’s something more important than spiritual gifts, and he tells us what that something is in chapter 13: love! As charismatics and non-charismatics, we not only can get along, we must get along! We’re commanded by God himself to love one another. To paraphrase Paul, if I have the right view of spiritual gifts but I don’t have love, then I am nothing.
Sometimes, Christians make the mistake of thinking that every doctrine of Scripture is equally important, but that’s clearly not true. For instance, even husbands and wives might disagree on the meaning of a particular verse of scripture. My wife has disagreed with me quite a few times over the years about the meaning of a particular verse, and yet we have complete agreement on all the major doctrines in the Bible. Often sincere believers have disagreements on eschatology, such as the timing of the rapture, or whether premillennialism, postmillennialism, or amillennialism is correct. Almost all believers recognize that such eschatological disagreements shouldn’t divide us from one another. We acknowledge that wonderful and sincere Christians disagree on these matters.
Some believers, however, are dogmatic about everything; they speak about every debate and discussion with equal certainty. Such a stance is a bit scary and can easily become cultic; it may reflect spiritual arrogance and pride. We need a bit of proportion by recognizing that not everything in Scripture is equally clear. We need spiritual maturity to distinguish between what is central to the faith and matters over which believers may disagree.
When it comes to the matter of spiritual gifts, of course, the matter is a little more complicated. Churches have to decide whether their church will be a place where all the gifts are exercised. In other words, churches either live out their life as charismatics or non-charismatics. We need to honestly tell people who visit our churches where we stand. Still, we can acknowledge and should acknowledge that churches that differ from us but subscribe to the central doctrines of the Christian faith and faithfully proclaim the gospel are good churches. In some cases, churches that differ from us may, in terms of overall health, be better than the church we are in.
Personally, I’m what I call a nuanced cessationist, but some of the pastors and theologians I admire most are non-cessationist. I think of John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and others. All of these men have written about spiritual gifts and disagree with my perspective. I think they are wrong, but it is possible that they are right and I am wrong. In any case, they confess and preach all the vital doctrines of the Christian faith. I love these brothers and they love me because we agree on the main things and the plain things.
I’m fairly certain, by the way, that I am right on spiritual gifts and that my charismatic brothers and sisters are mistaken. I also think there are some important consequences which flow from holding a charismatic position, and I worry that the view of prophecy many charismatics hold can and sometimes does lead to inadequate views on the sufficiency of biblical revelation. But charismatics like Piper and Grudem argue strongly for the inerrancy of Scripture. In fact, Grudem is one of the strongest proponents of the doctrine in our generation.
We don’t have to deny that our view on spiritual gifts or on whether or not infants should be baptized are important. These issues do matter, but they’re not first-order issues. They’re matters on which faithful believers disagree. And we celebrate the good work that the Lord is doing in those who differ from us, and we acknowledge that we don’t see everything clearly now (1 Cor. 13:12). We know that spiritual gifts will pass away, but “faith, hope, and love” remain, and “the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13 CSB).