Confessions of a Charismatic Cessationist

IcefireIn the South African spring of 1999 I left the Charismatic fold. The timing was not intentional, but it coincided beautifully with what was going on in my heart. My ecclesiastical winter had finally passed. The cognitive dissonance caused by reading authors like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, CS Lewis and Watchman Nee, whilst enduring an outbreak of the Toronto Blessing in the denomination that had ordained me into the professional pastorhood, was something of the past.

I had discovered a new world, lush with expository sermons and void of emotional excess. I began devouring anything anti-Charismatic I could lay my hands on and was more than proud to call myself a Cessationist. And, of course, I told everyone in hearing distance to read the final, conclusive word on the Charismatic movement: John MacArthur’s Charismatic Chaos.

Nearly two decades of inner turmoil had left me seething with anger, and so, quite predictably, my rant soon became condescending, judgmental and pharisaical. I eventually realised that I needed to repent, but it wasn’t easy. There were people like David Wilkerson and Lee Grady, I had to remind myself. Pentecostals who did not fit the image of the stereotypical charismaniacs that I had created in my mind. And then there was a disturbing intellectual arrogance amongst some of my new found non-charismatic friends, something that made me feel at times that we were worshiping an icy cosmic computer who would freeze every single time that we got the TULIP code wrong.

At the time I was reminded of an air-conditioning advert that I had once seen in a Time magazine: A man holding a fire in one hand and a block of ice in the other. That pretty much summarised my experience. I did not want either of the two, and I did not know how to bring them together.

But thankfully I was also reminded of something else, a lesson that the Lord had taught me many years before: Christianity is about the person of Christ, not about an ideology. In Him all things meet and hold together, even if we cannot figure out how this actually works.

And so I rediscovered my first love: The Lord Jesus Christ. I repented, and resolved to walk with him again, which happens to be the best decision I have ever made.

As I did, I was reminded that there exists no tension in Christ, that he truly “is our peace”. Not only does he reconcile us with one another, as the famous passage in Ephesians tells us, but he also reconciles our impossible theological dichotomies in himself. There are times when he sounds like a Charismatic (“…you do not know the power of God…”) and times when he sounds like a Reformed theologian (“…you do not know the Scriptures…”). We are clearly dealing with two realities of the person of Christ here, each of which will become corrupt and antagonistic towards the other when separated into its own little corner.

Perhaps this explains something of the sad divisions amongst us as Christians. Our Lord is so huge, so rich, so multi-dimensional, that one can find an aspect of almost anything somewhere in him. And so it is no big feat to do so and to enlist that part of him as an apologist for our particular theological crusade, making it appear that we are indeed his truest representatives.

No, the real challenge is much bigger. It is to deny that part in us that are peculiarly attracted to a part in Christ, and to allow all of him to consume us. Only then will we see the fullness of the Father in the face of Christ.