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Charismatic teachings and practices of tongues-speaking, faith healing, demon casting etc sound so biblical—they are all in the Bible. But if they are indeed biblical, why are they causing so much confusion?
There is a need to know how we ought to read and understand the Bible. This is because in discussing charismatism, we are discussing the Bible, and what it says concerning its doctrines and practices. It goes without saying that our practices are based on how we understand the Scriptures. The question is: Have we understood the Scriptures correctly? What makes certain practices right, and others wrong? How can we be sure about what is right and what is wrong? Can the charismatics be right after all? Or are we correct in warning against modern-day charismatic teachings and practices? It all boils down to how we read and study the Scriptures.
Nature of God’s Word
Let us first of all deal with the nature of God’s Word. The Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God (2 Tim 3:16). When we read the Bible it is not man’s words that we are reading but God’s Word. As Paul said, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” The Bible is literally “God-breathed.” As such it is no ordinary book. It is an extraordinary, supernatural book. It is the sole authority of our faith and practice. Our doctrines and practices should not be based on human opinions, traditions, or experiences. Our doctrines and practices must be founded on and governed by God’s Word. Opinions, traditions, experiences have very little authority outside of God’s Word. Only God’s Word is fully and absolutely authoritative, and its authority is independent of human opinions, traditions, and experiences.
It is required of every Bible student to interpret the Word of God correctly. In the Old Testament, we find Ezra not only reading, but also giving the sense or meaning of the Scriptures, thus causing the people to understand the Scriptures (Neh 8:8). The Apostle Paul charged all ministers: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). The Bible has only one meaning. It is our duty to study the Bible to understand what it truly means. There is a need to interpret the Scriptures accurately.
Principles of Bible Interpretation
Knowing how to interpret God’s Word accurately is particularly necessary when dealing with the charismatics. How many times have you tried to explain what God’s Word means only to hear the retort: “Well, that is your interpretation?” This happens especially when one’s interpretation or explanation is unacceptable to the other. So how should we interpret Scripture? What are the principles of interpreting Scripture?
The Analogy of Faith
The Westminster Confession of Faith presents the biblical approach to Scripture interpretation: “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly” (I.9). This approach of using Scripture to interpret Scripture is also known as the analogy of faith or the analogy of Scripture. No other book is infallible as the Bible is infallible. As such, the Bible is its own infallible authority and commentary. Note that the Westminster Confession also states that there is but one meaning to the Scriptures: “the true and full sense of any Scripture ... is not manifold but one.”
Scripture Interprets Scripture
The Bible interprets itself. For an example, see Daniel 2:31–45. In verses 31–35, we have the vision of Nebuchadnezzar, and in verses 36–45, we have Daniel’s interpretation of the vision. God gave the vision and its meaning. There is therefore no question about what the vision means, and we ought not to create meanings other than that which God had intended. Another example would be Isaiah 7:14. Here we have the wonderful prediction of the virgin birth of the Messiah. Who is He? When was it fulfilled? Matthew 1:22–23 explicitly tells us that this prophecy was fulfilled in none other than Jesus Christ at the time when Herod the Great was king (Matt 2:1).
Interpreting Scripture in Context
In the interpretation of Scripture, context is important. What is context? Context is that part of the text that leads up to and follows the text in question. Many false teachers claim to base their doctrines on the Bible. But under close scrutiny, we find that many of these “proof-texts” are really taken out of context. For example, an atheist can claim that the Bible supports his view that there is no God. He can cite Psalm 14:1 which does say, “There is no God.” But this statement when read in its context means something quite different: “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” When we quote someone, we want to quote him within context. Nobody likes to be taken out of context, including God!
Scripture Does Not Contradict Scripture
In Bible interpretation, Scripture must not be made to clash with Scripture. If my interpretation of a certain verse or passage of Scripture goes against what is clearly taught in other verses or passages of Scripture, then my interpretation must be wrong. For example, Jesus said in John 14:28, “my Father is greater than I.” If I interpret this to mean that Jesus is a lesser god than God the Father, then I would be contradicting other statements where Jesus equates Himself with God (cf, John 1:1, 8:58, 10:30; see also Acts 20:28, Phil 2:5–11, Col 2:9). A single text that appears to go against many other passages of Scripture must be interpreted in the light of the majority. In this case, majority wins. The obscure text must be read in the light of the clear.
Theology Guides Interpretation
We must not forget theology in our interpretation of Scripture. The body of faith has once for all been settled in the canonical Scriptures comprising just 66 books. It is essential for the Bible interpreter to know Christian Theology well. He must be very familiar with the doctrines taught in Systematic Theology under the basic headings of Theology Proper, Biblical Anthropology, Christology, Pneumatology, Soteriology, Ecclesiology, and Eschatology. Theology serves as a fence to keep us from going astray or off the mark in our interpretation of Scripture.
Charismatic Twisting of Scripture
When interpreting Scripture it is important to realise that the Apostles were infallible in their preaching and writing of the Holy Scriptures (1 Thess 2:13, 2 Pet 1:20–21, 2 Tim 3:16), and in their administration of the churches (Acts 5:1–11, 19:13–17, 2 Cor 13:2–3, Gal 1:8, Jude 17). A failure to appreciate this may lead a Bible interpreter to conclude that the Apostles were wrong in those areas of their ministry which seem contradictory. For example, there are charismatics who in an attempt to prove that signs and wonders are necessary for evangelism say that Paul failed in Athens because he merely preached the gospel without performing miracles. This led him to change his method to that of signs and wonders when he was in Corinth, which brought success. The text used to support this is 1 Corinthians 2:4 where Paul said, “And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.”
Such an interpretation of Paul and 1 Corinthians 2:4 is erroneous because the Apostles were infallible in their ministry of the gospel. Moreover, that Paul had made a mistake in Athens receives no scriptural support whatsoever. In the light of Acts 17–18, it is evident that there was no difference in the way Paul went about preaching the gospel.
Charismatism and Experience
The fundamental fallacy in the charismatic method of interpreting Scripture is its promotion of experience over against Scripture as the primary basis for faith and practice. Instead of reading their experiences in the light of Scripture, charismatics subject the Scriptures to their experiences. It is not an overstatement to say that charismatics base their faith and practice not on the Bible but on an extra-biblical source, namely, their experiences. Their experiences have blurred them from the truth taught in the Scriptures.
A typical charismatic argument against relying on Scripture alone as the basis for all our faith and practice is this: “I don’t need the Bible to tell me what is right or wrong; I have the Holy Spirit, and you have no business questioning my spiritual experiences if you yourself have never experienced them yet.” Is this a valid argument? Actually the above statement is quite contradictory and unbiblical. We do need the Bible to tell us right from wrong. The Apostle Paul, for example, commended the Berean Christians for searching the Scriptures daily to ascertain whether the things he taught were true or not (Acts 17:11). This vital need for searching the Scriptures is even more acute today. Paul had warned, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Tim 4:3–4). In order to protect ourselves from being deceived by false teachers, Paul instructed Timothy to know the Scriptures “which are able to make thee wise …All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim 3:16–17).
Is it correct to say that since I have the Holy Spirit, I do not need the Bible? No, it is not correct at all to say that. The Holy Spirit does not work independently of God’s Word. The Holy Spirit works through God’s Word. The Word of God is called the Sword of the Spirit (Eph 6:17). The Holy Spirit is also called the Spirit of Truth (John 15:26). Jesus said, “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). The Truth of God is not found in experiences but in the Word of God. Jesus said, “Thy Word is Truth” (John 17:17).
The problem with charismatic interpretations is that it is not based on Scripture but on sentiment. The operating principle is not “I know this is true because God’s Word says so,” but “I know this is true because I feel so.” “It must be right because I feel good about it.” Indulging in sinful pleasures may make us feel good, but that certainly does not make it right.
In saying that experience should not be the primary basis of our faith and practice, I am not saying that experience is unimportant in the Christian life. I believe the Christian religion is a religion of experience. However, experience is not the basis for establishing biblical truth. Experience must be subject to Scripture, not vice versa. JK
If you want to know the answers to charismatism and how to reply the charismatics when they question you, read Charismatism Q&A just reprinted, hot off the press. Get your complimentary copy at the book table today.
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