Charismatic, Reformed & Missional
When I was asked to write for this site it was an easy decision to make. Why, when I have a blog of my own? Quite simply because I believe passionately in this vision of bringing together three often quite separate strands in the modern church. I am eager to pursue being reformed, charismatic and missional.
How then do these three influences come together? The simple answer, would be to say that I believe they are biblical and leave it at that. But the things that I grew up with and took for granted do need explaining. More than 30 years ago, I began attending a church that valued the Bible, believed God was sovereign, worshipped him passionately, experienced and eagerly sought the gifts, and, judging by the constant stream of baptisms, was engaged in mission. To understand why these strands not only can but must come together, let's look at what happens when we emphasize only one of them.
Reformed people rightly emphasize doctrine. The reformers began a great tradition of raising a battle cry "back to the word." We learn from them that human ideas cannot be trusted, only God's infallible word. They also had a remarkable emphasis on the sovereignty of God. I do not know how any Christian can survive long in this fallen world without trusting that, despite frequent appearances to the contrary, "all things work together for God for those who love God" (Romans 8:28). Knowing that it is God who both began and will complete his work of salvation in me also gives me great confidence. But there are two major weaknesses that can easily arise.
Firstly, our honor of the Bible can give rise to us seeking a relationship with a book rather than a person. Cold intellectualism which despises all emotional response to God is not an inevitable result of being reformed, but it is a real danger. Secondly, it is possible to so trust in the sovereignty of God that we begin to resemble stoics, passively waiting for God's will to unfold. We might even stop working out or own salvation and foolishly "let go and let God." Prayer becomes mere formalism, since we are so convinced God has the whole universe in his hands, that we do not see the need to wrestle in the quiet place seeking for his kingdom to come. We can also become locked in defeat and condemnation in our personal lives, not expecting to be transformed. Evangelism can become halfhearted at best, since we conclude that God can save the unbeliever without our help if he so wills it. One could argue that reformed people risk discovering to our shock that we love books more we love God or the world.
Loving the Spirit
Charismatics pursue a vibrant relationship with God, who is alive and active and speaking to us today. Next to the latest encounter with God, academic study of his word can seem boring. We do not have a reputation for intellectualism. The temptation is to cast aside the anchor of the truth of God's word, and, instead of testing prophecy, naively believe that every thought which comes into our minds is a now word from the Lord. Doctrine may be weak at best, and frankly heretical at worst. For all the emotion, and power on display, many charismatics simply do not have a deep root that will help them stand when things get really tough. We may feel on top of the world when we are in the latest conference, but what happens when we get back home and face the troubles which Jesus promised us in this life?
Charismatics can also become very inward looking, and, seeking a deeper experience with God, many congregations have the feeling of an intimate family that any unbeliever would struggle to join. Gifts of the Holy Spirit often flow freely in such an environment, but may well lack any real content, and to an outsider seem frankly weird. A lost world can be forgotten as we are lost in wonder and praise. No wonder many charismatic churches do not grow, since perhaps charismatics risk loving God, but not loving his world, or his unchanging Word.
Out into the world
Missional people rightly immerse themselves in the world in order to reach it. But the culture has a magnetic power that can soon make us forget why we were sent. We are not meant to feel completely comfortable in this world. We are meant to be in the world, but not of it. We stand as a prophetic people that both welcomes in the outsider, and confronts the world with it's rejection of the God who made them. We do need to be a community that is full of love for the world, and eagerly pursuing the task of evangelism God has given us. But some churches begin to feel more like a mission station than the family of God. It is by our love for each other that the world will know we are Jesus' disciples, not by how aggressively we pursue "attractional church growth", or "incarnational culture penetration." Such fancy phrases do not in any case communicate to the man on the street. God calls us to build a people who love each other, and, from the overflow of that love, offer Jesus to the world.
Unless we study God's word with vigor and grasp it's teaching as strongly as any reformed believer how can we know what message to bring the world? Unless we know God as clearly as any charismatic, and experience his life-changing power, how can we expect our neighbors to believe that Jesus is alive and in the business of setting us free? God's word was given to help us learn what to say to a lost world, and his Spirit was given to empower us, and equip us to be able ministers of the gospel. As this new blog begins, I pray it will be used by God to raise up a people who will love God like a charismatic, love his Word like the Reformed, and love the world like every missionary should. What God has put together, let no man try and separate!