One of my daughters and her husband ban “bad” words from their childrenlike “stupid” (whoops!).  Is “charismatic” a “bad” word?

Charismatics are Christians who believe the gifts of the Holy Spirit have been given to the church from apostolic days until Jesus returns.  That includes today. 

What and why are the gifts of the Spirit?  Theologian Wayne Grudem defines a spiritual gift as “any ability that is empowered by the Holy Spirit and used in the ministry of the church” (Systematic Theology, p. 1016).  According to the New Testament, spiritual gifts include prophecy (not foretelling the future but spontaneously forth-telling God’s Word), service, teaching, exhortation, contributing (giving), leading, showing mercy (Romans 12:6-8), a word of wisdom, a word of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, working of miracles, ability to distinguish between spirits, various kinds of tongues, the interpretation of tongues, helping and administration (1 Corinthians 12:8-10,28).  God gives these gifts for the good of the church.  “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7).

How are the gifts of the Spirit given?  “Charismatic” comes from the Greek (in which the New Testament was originally written) charisma.  It means “a gift” (freely and graciously bestowed).  It’s used of general blessings from God and of special spiritual gifts bestowed graciously by God on individual Christians, as below.

  • “As each has received a gift (charisma), use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10).
  • “Having gifts (charismata) that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them . . . ” (Romans 12:6).
  • “Now there are varieties of gifts (charismatone), but the same Spirit . . . ” (1 Corinthians 12:4)
  • ” . . . gifts (charismata) of healing by the one Spirit . . . ” (1 Corinthians 12:9).
  • “And God has appointed in the church . . . gifts (charismata) of healing . . . ” (1 Corinthians 12:28).
  • “Do all possess gifts (charismata) of healing?” (1 Corinthians 12:30).
  • “But earnestly desire the higher gifts (charismata)” (1 Corinthians 12:31).

So spiritual gifts are gifts, given by God on the basis of his grace, not the merit or maturity of the recipient.

Why do some Christians reject the gifts of the Spirit today?  I know of pastors who sound as if they’d like to plywood church windows and tape doorways to keep charismatics from blowing in!

Why?  First, abuses.  Some charismatics have utilized spiritual gifts contrary to biblical order.  Turned them into circus acts with themselves in the center ring.  Minimized the gospel of Jesus Christ to maximize their personal profit by sensationalizing gifts. Claimed healings that couldn’t be documented.  Preached a gospel contrary to that of the apostles, so should be accursed (Galatians 1:8).  But, in my experience, that’s not true of most.

I grew up in a Pentecostal church (an early version of “charismatic”) and can’t recall such abuses.  My first ordination was from a Pentecostal denomination.   And, if pushed to be labeled,  I would call myself a “Reformed Charismatic.”   (Not a charismatic abuser who reformed, a charismatic who essentially stands with the faith of the Reformers.)

Second, (I think this is the main reason for charismatic critics):  they believe spiritual gifts ceased with the death of the apostles (essentially the close of the 1st century).  They speculate that spiritual gifts were necessary to authenticate the apostles’ gospel.  But once the Scriptures were completed, such authentication was no longer needed.  Biblically they base their “cessationist” view primarily on 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 . . .

“Love never ends.  As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.  When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.  For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

My conclusions. Yes, prophecies will pass away and tongues will cease and knowledge will pass away.  Spiritual gifts will end.  When?  ” . . . when the perfect comes.”  When we see “face to face.”  When we “shall know fully.”   The easiest phrase to interpret here is “face to face.”  The Old Testament uses it of seeing God personally.  “So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face'” (Genesis 32:30).

In the New Testament the apostle John writes of the time when believers will see the Son of God return:  “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).  This refers to Christ’s second coming—when we see him “as he is.”   That’s when we will see “face to face.”  That’s when the “perfect” will come.  That’s when we shall “know fully.”  And that’s when spiritual gifts will end.

Yes, abusers must be condemned.  Yes, extremists must be identified for what they are.  They are people who dishonor the Lord, disobey his Word, deceive the people and sicken me.  But the gifts of the Spirit must not be rejected.  There is no sound biblical warrant for doing so.  They are (still today)  manifestations of God’s grace among us.  They strengthen God’s people for his glory.  They aid the church in functioning as the Body of Christ.  Let’s not say “no” to what the Spirit gives—or, as we used to say, throw out the baby with the bath water.

“Charismatic” is not a bad word!  It’s a good biblical word pointing to the gifts of God’s grace to his people for his glory until he comes.