Even though I plan to criticize Orthodox Bridge (hereafter OB) in this post on charismatics, let me begin with a few words of appreciation:
- Despite their best efforts, this post actually was a “bridge” of sorts. One sees several areas of overlap and potential for dialogue.
- Their take on charismatics is infinitely superior to Macarthur’s shrill hatchet-job.
My main issue with their post is they water down their strongest arguments for the continuation of Jesus’s Kingdom Power. But more on that in a bit. What is their goal in this essay?
Initial Thesis: One of the main debates between the modern Charismatic movement and traditional Orthodox Christianity is over which better represents the Christianity of the Apostles’ era.
Is there really a debate? I honestly don’t know. How many charismatics are even aware of the Orthodox Church? The author then further clarifies his task:
(2) both Orthodox Christians and modern Rationalists see the modern charismatic movement as unreliable in its claims of miracles, because they see those claims as originating in the witnesses’ psychological phenomena, rather than as accurate depictions of material phenomena.
Really? This is an interesting assertion. Maybe with some premises it could even be an argument.
Unfortunately, this essay continues the same line of self-praise that we expect from OB:
The Orthodox Church’s teachings are those of the Ecumenical Councils, Scripture as understood by its Tradition, the Church Fathers, and its saints.
Getting them to define the content of that tradition is another question. Let’s pretend the question is “What is 6+6?” They will answer by saying “6+6 = 7+5.” Quite true, but not very helpful.
He then offers several areas of overlap:
1) Belief that the world would end in Jesus’s lifetime? or at least our current generation. Well, yeah. I hope Jesus comes back soon. And I hope that you hope it. It’s rather hard to have a Christian ethic that doesn’t take the Parousia seriously.
But then OB drops the ball:
they do not share the practice of some Charismatics of proposing a date by which the Second Coming would occur.
Do Charismatics really do this? I think the author has confused charismatics with some American fundamentalists. He even cites Hal Lindsey. This is embarrassing. Lindsey is a critic of Charismaticism!
2) Speaking in Tongues. He writes, “It’s important to note that in this incident, the Apostles were not babbling nonsense, but rather speaking other languages coherently.”
This is an uncharitable reading. Evidently one is either “speaking another language” or “babbling nonsense.” He has poisoned the well. But fortunately, he is wrong. When Paul says “if I speak with the tongues of men and angels,” does the “angels” refer to a human tongue or an angelic tongue? To be sure, he mentions that verse but brushes it aside and says Paul believed tongues inferior to prophecy. Yes, he did. So what?
OB then lists some horror stories and concludes,
“Can any sober Orthodox Christian possibly confuse these dangerous psychic games with the gifts of the Holy Spirit?!”
Again, more poisoning the well.
3) the third overlap is “informal styles of worship.” This is a half-truth. But quite wrong on some levels. Are charismatic Anglicans or even Roman Catholics engaged in “informal styles of worship?” Not likely. Or even some Reformed bodies like my own, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. While not formally charismatic, it does allow for it as adiaphora, but our worship is quite structured.
4) The final overlap is the belief that charismatic gifts are widespread. This is a bit more difficult to pin down. It can mean several things:
4a) Should there be the expectation for Jesus’s Kingdom Power in the church today? I think we are obligated to answer, “yes.” But whether they are actually evident or not is a completely different logical issue from whether they should be evident.
4b) Are there in fact widespread instantiations of Jesus’s Kingdom Power? I think there. I can even give examples. Even a few from my own life. But they won’t work because I, a schismatic, am not part of the true church.
OB notes “A common view in Orthodox tradition about the gifts is that they were frequent in the Apostles’ time, but then became severely restricted.” Well, kind of. I have to say with all due respect to Chrysostom, they were quite frequent. In fact, why even call men “Thaumaturge” if they weren’t? Or maybe they did become restricted in some places. So what?
But here is the most damaging claim,
While the Orthodox Church considers the gifts less widespread, according to Bishop Ignatius, they exist in Orthodox Christians “who have attained Christian perfection, purified and prepared beforehand by repentance.”
In other words: only those in the Orthodox Church can work miracles. But this raises a huge epistemological question: What of those who aren’t in the Orthodox Church (TM) but can work miracles? Remember, according to the above claim, only the Orthodox ascetic can work miracles.
4c) They are actually empowered by devils.
4d) They are empowered by God, but only because he is leading them to the church.
4e) They are fake.
Let’s look at the first one (4c). What evidence do we have that the demonic is at work? Very little is forthcoming. Further, it’s odd that Satan would be furthering Jesus’s kingdom. In fact, we can dismiss (4c). It makes no sense for Satan to cast out Satan, heal those under Satan’s bondage, or prophecy to the edification of the church.
But what about (4d)? This is a nicer claim but still problematic. First of all, it contradicts Bishop Ignatius’s claim, so one or the other is wrong–but both are not right. More obviously, if he is leading them to the Orthodox Church, few very of them actually make it there! In any case, (4d) is simply an assertion and need not be taken any more seriously beyond this point.
What about (4e)? This is the official position of the Humeans at Puritanboard. But it is so easy to refute I need not bother with it here.
This is one of OB’s better posts, but it is still plagued by the logical sloppiness we have come to expect. In looking at the works cited (37 endnotes in all), there is NO interaction with the leading Charismatic and Continuationist scholars today. One would have expected to see works by James K. A. Smith, J.P. Moreland, John Wimber, N. T. Wright, Sam Storms, and Wayne Grudem. Nothing.