A friend of mine recently “accused” (I use this in the most loose sense!) me of lazy blogging by referencing the blogs of others I had recently read. Well that’s partly to do with how good some of the other blogs are, and how good some of their recent postings have been. And this morning’s post will be no different :P
In the wake of Mark Driscoll’s whirlwind tour of Australia (or was it just Sydney and Brisbane?), some blogs of note have been feverishly putting down notes, thoughts and reflections. When Mark brought 10,000 people to the Sydney Entertainment Centre for one talk comparisons were made to the Billy Graham crusades back in the 60’s, and, just like Billy, Mark has drawn his fair share of criticism, revulsion and praise.
So here’s a bit more reflection upon his visit by the Sola Panel. Firstly a summary of Mark’s talk given to Sydney Anglicans on the ‘18 Obstacles to Effective Evangelism‘. Similar notes were taken by Gordon Cheng (one of the Matthias Media men) at his blog, but also including notes from both talks he gave that day. Also of note is Gordon’s posting on his reflection upon Mark the man himself.
But in response to the 18 points talk, Sandy Grant over at the Sola Panel posted these thoughts in reply. Sandy’s post is both self-effacing and humble in accepting the points Mark made which were accurate of himself (and just like a good preacher does, applies the message to himself in a very helpful and practical way) yet balanced in his critique of one of Mark’s other points.
Essentially Sandy’s point of criticism revolves around Mark’s challenge that ‘we are afraid of the Holy Spirit’. His point is summarised here (as copy and pasted from the Sola Panel site):
You don’t know what to do with it, so the trinity is Father, Son and Holy Bible. You are so reactionary to pentecostalism that you have reacted also to the charismatic. The Holy Spirit calls people into ministry. He also empowers people for ministry. You don’t have to be charismatic but you should be a little charismatic, enough at least to worship God with more than just all of your mind. The word charismatic here means prosperity, excessive, bizarre. In London, it means you’re not a liberal. Don’t get hung up on all the terminology. Do you love the Holy Spirit? Jesus says the Holy Spirit is a ‘He’ and not an ‘it’.” Ministry cannot be done apart from the Holy Spirit—I think that is in part leading to the lack of entrepreneurialism and innovation, because if it’s not already done and written down, you’re suspicious of it.
Sandy’s take on this is well worth reading. However I’d like to throw in a few thoughts of my own that I have been thinking through and experienced in our time as pastoral apprentices.
It has been my observation that most Chinese churches tend to hold to a cessationist view of the gifts of the Spirit, whether knowingly or just simply in practice. Mark holds a continuationist view which obviously runs counter to our practice and theology. Does that make him a ‘charismatic’? He would say, ‘Yes!’ But I would say, ‘Well, it depends…’
See, even in the summary statement above Mark points out that being ‘charismatic’ means different things to different people. For instance, in London it means ‘you’re not liberal’. In Sydney it means ‘prosperity, me-centred theology and tongues’. In our church it simply means ‘tongues’. However the biblical definition is simply ‘gifted’. That is, Spirit gifted for a particular ministry – the Greek word, charismata, is often translated as ‘gift’. So when Mark says we need to be “a little [more] charismatic, enough at least to worship God with more than just all of your mind” his critique in relation to my observation in our church is devestatingly accurate.
“But wait”, you might be saying, “isn’t the cessationist view biblically accurate?” Whilst there are plenty of arguments going around that it is, but I’d like to point out that it seems to me that Christian academics has resolved this issue in the negative – for further reading J.I Packer’s – Keep in step with the Spirit and Don Carsons’ – Showing the Spirit. Both Packer and Carson deal faithfully with the scriptural texts and both sides of the charismata argument. Both end up on the side of continuation, but with the ‘seatbelt’ of 1 Corinthians 12-14 to guide (that is, affirming the continuationist perspective whilst cautioning against excessive focus or devotion to the Spirit).
“But wait”, you might again be saying, “does it really matter in the end so long as people are loving each other and our churches are doing ok?” No it doesn’t matter so long as people are loving each other, and there are good books out there from cessationist views with very gracious views towards continuationists (for instance, Graham A. Cole – “He who gives life: the doctrine of the Holy Spirit“).
However, the more I reflect upon this issue the more I come to realise that the cessationist view has a pretty devastating effect upon ministry. Recently at a training meeting we discussed an article from ‘The Briefing‘ by Colin Marshall. In that article Colin discussed the ministry mind-shifts we need to make in order to better serve and minister to the people in our churches. Leading the way in his 10 point argument was that we need to focus more on people rather than on programs. We need to minister to the people and encourage their areas of giftedness rather than search for people who can slot into the programs we have already established. My reflections upon this issue has lead me to conclude that one consequence of holding the cessationist view has been that our church has geared itself towards thinking that the maintenance of the programs we run will bring about growth numerically and spiritually. Instead of seeing the areas in which people are gifted and finding/creating a ministry to build upon them, we squeeze people into particular ministries and expect them to flourish. As a result people complain that they are ‘burning out’ because ministry revolves around ‘doing’ rather than ‘serving with joy’. Serving becomes about doing what you can to maintain the ministry area you’ve been given rather than encourage you shape it according to your giftedness.
Hence, Mark’s last point in that summary statement, “Ministry cannot be done apart from the Holy Spirit—I think that is in part leading to the lack of entrepreneurialism and innovation, because if it’s not already done and written down, you’re suspicious of it“, is a devastatingly accurate and biting piece of commentary upon the way we operate. In what ways can the Chinese church be more innovative? Let’s put our heads together and see if we can’t come up with something.