#strangefire and Augustine

On Twitter #strangefire has been trending. It's a conference headed up by John MacArthur and raising significant concerns about the Charismatic movement from a Reformed perspective. You can find a live feed of the conference on the Strange Fire website, and read some transcripts of talks at The Cripplegate.

At face value the conference would seem to be targeting the extremes of the Charismatic movement. The stuff that airs on certain Christian TV channels and generally goes under the banner 'Word of Faith'. But this was put to bed last night when Steve Lawson targeted Charismatic Calvinists.

On one hand I don't have a dog in this fight. On the #strangefire Twitter Feed I pointed out that I am a Thomist not a Calvinist:

I have to smile at the idea that Thomas Aquinas is some sort of modern Charismatic innovation!

Among Charismatic Calvinists there have been some good responses. I have a deep respect for @adrianwarnock who has been blogging responses. And yet even with Adrian I hit a problem. He writes:
Does he really reject Hillsong music like this, not to mention Jesus Culture, and a host of others?
Jesus Culture is a ministry of Bethel, which last time I checked had hyper kenotic leanings, and plenty feel Hillsongs tends towards a prosperity gospel. Both groups have had their theology and practice questioned in a not unreasonable way.

Yet, at heart the very nature of the Charismatic movement means that it crosses theological boundaries, Catholic, Reformed and Arminian. Ecumenically this has been a great benefit to the whole church, but in terms of doctrine it creates a tension which the movement caries. Association can imply agreement, and a wide range of novel teachings can be presented as historic orthodoxy when they are not. Drawing lines in the sand is difficult when you have to share a platform with someone next week. Reformed Charismatics have historically operated a tight ship, but they still live in the same big Charismatic tent as groups that have some very strange theology. The scale of that tent is huge - and if you accept that there are theological, pastoral and financial abuses going on it makes the selling of the indulgences in the late medieval era look pretty amateur.  It's all a bit of a mess.

#strangefire is drawing a line. But unfortunately it is wrong, and discordant with historic Christianity, which has recognised the ongoing supernatural work of the Spirit in the church in word, sacrament and the miraculous. It is the sacramental which balances the excesses of the charismatic, assures us of the supernatural work of God in quiet gentle ways throughout our Christian lives - but I have written on this before. Unfortunately within Charismatic Calvinist circles the narrative of Restorationism tends to downplay the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in the historic church.

What the Reformed and Thomists do share perhaps is Augustine, so I will let him have the final word:
Meanwhile, their pamphlet being finished, I instructed them to withdraw from the gaze of the people; and I had begun to discuss the whole matter somewhat more carefully, when lo! as I was proceeding, other voices are heard from the tomb of the martyr, shouting new congratulations. My audience turned round, and began to run to the tomb. The young woman, when she had come down from the steps where she had been standing, went to pray at the holy relics, and no sooner had she touched the bars than she, in the same way as her brother, collapsed, as if falling asleep, and rose up cured. While, then, we were asking what had happened, and what occasioned this noise of joy, they came into the basilica where we were, leading her from the martyr’s tomb in perfect health. Then, indeed, such a shout of wonder rose from men and women together, that the exclamations and the tears seemed like never to come to an end. She was led to the place where she had a little before stood trembling. They now rejoiced that she was like her brother, as before they had mourned that she remained unlike him; and as they had not yet uttered their prayers in her behalf, they perceived that their intention of doing so had been speedily heard. They shouted God’s praises without words, but with such a noise that our ears could scarcely bear it. What was there in the hearts of these exultant people but the faith of Christ, for which Stephen had shed his blood?

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