To my ‘Peter Pan’ charismatic brethren

“. . until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.”  (Ephesians 4:13-14)

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” (1 Corinthians 13:11)

Right away, there are going to be persons who look at the title—on both sides of the charismatic/cessationist divide—and say, ‘Grow up.’ That’s what he’s really saying, just ‘grow up.’ Oh, and when’s the news come on? I want to hear about the fly that landed on the vice-president’s head.

Although there have been times I’ve felt that way, that’s not a fair summary of what I have to say. There have also been times, working on a slow computer network, where I’ve felt like pitching my laptop across the room. Then I’ve thought better of that strategy. (As if destroying the laptop will make the network work faster. That’s childish.)

Telling someone to grow up is an appropriate approach in a limited number of scenarios—very limited. In most cases it’s said to please the one saying it; it feels good to unload on someone. The caboose on that train is the rationalization that says, well look, they need to hear that.

And then the Peter Pan reference (book’s subtitle: The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up). Is that really necessary? Paul called the gifted and “enriched in knowledge” Corinthian church—those were his words of commendation (1 Cor 1:5-7) –“still worldly—mere infants in Christ” (1 Cor 3:1) in the same letter.

Paul didn’t have the warehouse of literary and cinematic allusions we have at our disposal and which, in fact, we depend on to hold an audience’s attention. He just spoke plainly. I thought I could meet in the middle.

Anyone who’s spent any time in charismatic churches—or “Spirit-filled” for those who prefer “pre-owned” for “used”—knows that the worldly and the gifted can be sitting in the same pew. It’s not as contradictory as it appears.

There’s actually a simple explanation for that, and not offered as an excuse: there are the fruit of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit. A good place to start learning how to reconcile the two is 1 Corinthians 13 (“Love is patient, love is kind”). Think of it like the intertwined elements of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro overture. Complementary parts of the whole, not oil and water.

It used to be a common criticism that many charismatic believers had no root, like the seed sown on rocky soil. My response to that is that there are people who grow roots and people who bear fruit. You can’t bear fruit if you don’t have roots. But having roots is no guarantee that you will bear fruit, which, after all is what Jesus called us for (more specifically, “fruit that will last,” Jn 15:16).

Now that I’ve spent about 400 words defending my charismatic brethren as well as loading up to criticize them, you might wonder why. There’s also a simple explanation for that. I’m not very denominational.

The best church and the worst church I ever attended—they were the same church, discussed in the ‘Nebuchadnezzar’ posts recently—was charismatic. I don’t attend a charismatic church now and the last church I attended when I lived in Maryland a few years ago wasn’t either. And the walls haven’t collapsed on me.

I once took one of those theological profile quizzes online that claim to locate you on the denominational spectrum. It employed a series of statements about which you register your approval, neutrality/no strong opinion or disapproval, on a scale of 1 to 5. I was Wesleyan or Free Methodist, two churches I’ve never even passed on the way to the mall. I told you I wasn’t denominational.

And neither was Paul, even though denomination may not have a koiné Greek equivalent. The whole “I follow Paul, I follow Apollos” problem was incipient denominationalism. He was alarmed by the development of separate followings for different ministers, not pleased by the recognition.

He wasn’t looking for SEO advice or poring over demographic data for different religious markets to promote his ministry on the assumption that “God has given me something to say to the church.” Yeah, you and a lot of other ministers since the first century.

Why don’t you recognize there are complementary parts (i.e., hand, foot, eye) and work together rather than compete? There’s something ridiculous about the picture of an eye and a foot and hand moving around and trying to function separately; it sounds like a Salvador Dali painting.

There’s a reason for the brethren in the post title (borrowing the NT term but, for me, denoting sisters as well as brothers). And it’s not the weary resignation of [sigh] you can choose your friends but not your brothers.

There are two things Paul wrote (at least) that account for brethren rather than those charismatics. “Love must be sincere” (Rom 12:9) and “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3). Every effort. Work at it. They’re your brothers and sisters.

Charismatics all look the same to some people in the same way everyone on a Beijing street looks the same. If you can’t or won’t look closer because the differences really don’t matter to you, you’ll never realize individual characteristics, both strengths and weaknesses. But you should, because they’re your brethren, too.

The truth is I have charismatic brethren, Baptist brethren, Church of God brethren (overlaps with charismatic but not completely), Episcopal brethren, Presbyterian brethren—I could keep going but it would be simpler to find you a link to a chart that catalogues every denomination in the United States. I probably have brethren in most of them, even if it’s just a handful.

I look at it like one of those 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles my grandmother used to love to do when she came for a visit. You dump all the pieces on a card table, then go to work. You flip them upright, then you pick out the colors. This is dark green, for the trees on the left side of the photo. Grayish-white for the breakers crashing on the rocks. And so on.

You look at the box cover to see the whole picture. In the meantime, here are the pieces of the trees on the bluff we’ve started to put together over here, there’s the waves over there. Eventually the lower right hand corner and the upper left hand corner and the middle converge to form the picture. But it takes time to fit them all together.

Whoa, just hold on there. Not the Church of the Immaculate Lawn (2010 membership 83,000; don’t Google it, because I made it up. But you knew that.) They’re not. of. God.

Oh, and how do you know that?

My brother-in-law’s pastor has a cousin that belongs to that church, and he says they’re not of God.

So on the basis of third-hand information about one person out of 83,000, you can make the generalization that they’re not of God, the whole lot? With the exception of an outsized emphasis on lawn care that could use some correction, I really don’t think that’s “making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Just sayin’.

Brother, just stop sayin’ for a change. Oh, and about the fly on the vice-president’s head. The phrase “strain at gnats” comes to mind.

3 Replies to “To my ‘Peter Pan’ charismatic brethren”

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