Open but Cautious

I am struggling to keep up with the pace of the charismatic versus cessationist debate that has been raging in the Christian blog world over previous weeks. However, I did want explain my mention of the words “open” and “cautious” near each other in my last post, as Dan has taken this to be an advocation of the “open but cautious” position, which it was not supposed to be.

There is in fact a broad range of positions from the cessationists who see any modern day tongues and prophecies as being of the devil, right through to the raving charismatics who seem to think that tongues and prophecy are the only elements to the Christian life. The common division of evangelicals into three distinct groups (cessationist, open but cautious, and charismatic) is in fact over-simplistic.

For example, some who are broadly cessationist will still be open to the possibility of occasional supernatural occurrences of the charismatic gifts, but were they to occur, they would not expect or seek their recurrence afterwards.

The “open but cautious” camp itself consists of those who are not opposed in principle to the ongoing use of the gifts today, but are unsure that what they see in charismatic churches is either genuine or desirable. Within this group, there are those more accurately described as “closed and critical”, and no one would dare attempt to use such a gift during one of their meetings. But there are also those who are quite happy that one or two members of their church exercise these gifts publicly on occasions, but the rest of the church are not encouraged to follow suit.

Even within the charismatic group, there is variety, from those who insist that all believers without exception should seek and receive the charismatic gifts, and consider it dreadful for a meeting to go by without a prophecy or tongue, to those who place a lesser priority on these gifts.

However, I am not in the “open but cautious” group myself, because I believe their caution all but cancels out their openness to the charismatic gifts. However, I used the terms because they have a Biblical mandate.

We are called to be open. “Eagerly desire the greater gifts”. “Do not treat prophecy with contempt.” But we are also called to be discerning (which is probably a better word than “cautious”). The Bible repeatedly warns of deception and false prophecy. So I would say that the Biblical position is to be “open but discerning”.

In summary if “caution” is used as an excuse not to seek after God with all our hearts and to welcome all that he wishes to do through us and in us, then I want no part of it. All I meant to say is that I want the real deal, not a fake plastic replica.

11 thoughts on “Open but Cautious

  1. If all it takes to be in the open but cautious camp is to wish it remain two or three people using tongues in a service, then Paul was surely a member of that camp. I’m not sure how insisting on that restriction counts as canceling out the openness when someone who spoke in tongues more than the Corinthians could insist on such a restriction.

  2. I agree that the 2 or 3 tongues in a service limitation is a biblical idea, and it serves to stop one aspect of public worship from dominating (similar to having a maximum sermon length), although on occasions it may be appropriate to exceed such a limit.

    I was (somewhat ambiguously) referring to churches that have one or two people who are the only people at all who ever use those gifts. They are ‘accommodated’ by being allowed to share their prophecy once in a while. They are usually discouraged from bringing a tongue, because it is taken for granted that no one will be able to interpret.

    In other words, in an open but cautious church, believers who exercise these gifts are seen as the exception not the rule, while in charismatic churches it is usually seen as the other way round.

    In fact, in my experience, “open but cautious” churches would greatly prefer it if their one or two charismatic members could just content themselves with praying in tongues in the privacy of their own homes.

  3. That’s probably so about most churches who would describe themselves this way. I’m not sure it’s a criticism of a church that they happen to have only a few people, though. I think it’s more a sign that people with these gifts tend to prefer churches where no limit is placed on their use.

  4. Great post Mark. I think our similarities are more than our differences. It was good to be reminded of the diversity of groupings – we shouldnt get too eager to “classify”.

    My concern and my thoughts are with these “troublesome” gifts. Why is it that we are so obsessed with them? I don’t think charismatics will ever convince dyed in the wool cessationists to speak in tongues. Forgive me Wayne Grudem, but I think you’re barking up a gum tree.

    So my thoughts at the moment are with what we CAN unite around – and that to me can and MUST be the power and Presence of the Holy Ghost. Post and response to follow shortly.

    But let me re-iterate .. thank you. I am benefiting so much from interacting with you … and don’t worry, I haven’t “classed” you as anything other than a friend!!

    D x

  5. Grudem doesn’t care if cessationists speak in tongues. His goal is that cessationists will cease arguing that certain gifts are no longer for today. That doesn’t amount to wanting them to manifest those gifts personally, particularly when he doesn’t believe those gifts are for everyone.

  6. thanks Dan,

    you are certainly right about uniting around the “power and presence” of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes you hear charismatics writing off non-charismatics as “not believing in the Holy Spirit for today”. This is careless talk, and needlessly offends, as the ministry of the Holy Spirit is so much bigger than just the “troublesome” gifts.

    I look forward to reading your coming post.

  7. Jeremy, you have touched on something that I think is quite important in your last two comments here, concerning the frequency of use and proportion of members exercising the “charismatic gifts”.

    My reading of 1 Cor causes me to draw the following conclusions:
    1. In a healthy church, all gifts of the Spirit are in evidence, even though not all individuals exercise those gifts – there is a diversity. Thus if one is lacking, it should be cause for concern.
    2. It is right and proper to encourage people to desire that they may exercise gifts of the Spirit. This includes prophecy and tongues but is not limited to them.

    “Open but cautious” churches may in theory agree with point number 1, but in practise they are not too bothered if prophecy and tongues are missing. On point 2, they are far more likely to encourage other gifts.

    Charismatic churches also may in theory agree with point number 1, but in practise often elevate prophecy and tongues above the rest. This puts imbalance on how they handle point 2.

    I must also admit that I myself have focussed entirely on the gifts of prophecy and tongues in my discussion here, mainly as it keeps things simple. As Dan has pointed out, there is a wider issue at stake of our desire to truly know the Spirit in more than a theorectical way.

  8. I actually would have to disagree with you on the presence of tongues. Paul makes it quite clear that tongues are not for the building of the body. There’s disagreement on what he thought they were for positively, but the fact that he didn’t think they serve to build the body suggests to me that a healthy church need not exhibit it at all.

    My own view is that it’s intended for the sake of those who are not far enough along in their walk to identify other ways they are gifted for the sake of building others to demonstrate to them that God has gifted them, and some people then just enjoy it (e.g. Paul) and continue to practice it, while others discontinue it as they mature (some wrongfully later dismissing it and becoming cessationist and others just no longer continuing it). But I hold that view because it seems plausible, doesn’t conflict with scripture, and best explains the personal experience of people close to me, not because I think it can be established from scripture. But if this is correct, then a healthy church need not exhibit it at all, since its purpose may not be necessary. The low emphasis Paul wants to place on it as compared with the gifts in I Cor 12 seems to me to mean that he wouldn’t have a problem with a church with no tongues-speakers.

    I agree on prophecy. One problem that arises, though, is what counts as prophecy. Craig Blomberg, for instance, thinks it’s any time God speaks through someone, so preaching can be prophecy, and so can someone who just feels led to speak an encouraging word to a brother or sister. If he’s right, then any Spirit-led preacher or encourager will be prophesying. He doesn’t think prophecy is limited to that. Those conscious of receiving a message that they then convey and call a prophecy would also be prophesying, and he thinks that still goes on today, but he doesn’t think it needs to be like that to be prophecy.

  9. You say, “[Paul] wouldn’t have a problem with a church with no tongues-speakers” – I would prefer to say “he wouldn’t have a problem with a meeting with no tongues-speakers”.

    The primary benefit of tongues is personal edification for the speaker, which is not something to be minimised. Jude 1:20 (which might even be referring to tongues) urges us to build ourselves up. I am therefore a bit surprised that you suggest that a mature Christian would want to discontinue private use of this gift.

    I agree that the gift of prophecy is more diverse than just spontaneous utterances given in meetings. Perhaps that is why Paul uses such a diversity of terms – “word/message of knowledge”, “revelation”, “word of wisdom”, “word of instruction” and of course “prophecy”. I do not equate prophecy with preaching, but I do believe preaching can be prophetic.

  10. Paul doesn’t say how it builds up oneself, though, and it’s consistent with everything he says that for some people that building up is only for a less mature period of their life. I’ve never been able to fathom how it could possibly build someone up if it has no content intelligible to the person except that it allows them to see that God has gifted them with something miraculous, some sort of encouragement. That really is the only way I can think of that it can build someone up. If you have other suggestions, I’m curious. But if that’s its primary purpose, then it does seem that more maturity would make it unnecessary unless one way the person hasn’t become more mature is in this one area that it helps. That doesn’t make sense of Paul’s case, I realize, but I haven’t figured out exactly how this gift is supposed to edify Paul. That makes me think his primary purpose for it was enjoyment and not edification. As I said, though, I’m open to suggestions. I just can’t think of anything beyond what I’ve offered.

  11. Pingback: What’s the Point of Public Tongues?

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