California fundamentalist pastor John MacArthur recently sponsored an anti-charismatic conference. His promotion of the event included MacArthur’s blanket condemnation of Pentecostals and charismatics in general. Not only are charismatics the fastest-growing element in the global Church, they (and their sympathizers) are some of the most highly-respected evangelical pastors, teachers and other leaders today– including Gordon Fee, John Piper, Francis Chan, Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, Wayne Grudem, and Donald A. Carson. But we are very close to the scene. How, we might ask, would the 17th century Puritan author John Owen of England, for example, respond to today’s charismatic movement? Since Owen is long dead, neo-Puritan author J. I. Packer answers for him in four points. My comments follow in italics.
“1. Since the presumption against any such renewal is strong, and liability to ‘enthusiasm’ is part of the infirmity of every regenerate man, any extra-rational manifestation like glossolalia needs to be watched and tested most narrowly, over a considerable period of time, before one can, even provisionally, venture to ascribe it to God.” COMMENT: He says when the subject is spiritual gifts, we should automatically assume they no longer exist and that even spiritual people who claim them are probably deceived. Do not even allow the possibility that they are genuine unless you test them for a very long time, and even then be very tentative if some gifts appear to be genuine. In other words, tilt the board, rearrange the playing field, and slant the game against the reality of genuine charismata (grace-gifts) today. I say wrong!
“2-3. Since the use of a person’s gifts is intended by God to further the work of grace in his own soul . . . the possibility that (for instance) a man’s glossolalia is from God can only be entertained at all as long as it is accompanied by a discernible ripening of the fruit of the Spirit in his life. To be more interested in extraordinary gifts of lesser worth than in ordinary ones of greater value; to be more absorbed in seeking one’s own spiritual enrichment than in seeking the edifying of the church; and to have one’s attention centred on the Holy Spirit, whereas the Spirit himself is concerned to centre our attention on Jesus Christ—these traits are sure signs of ‘enthusiasm’ wherever they are found, even in those whom seem most saintly.” COMMENT: Here are some solid scriptural warnings which responsible charismatics themselves often give. (“Enthusiasm” here means extremism.) The Spirit is about character and service, not show. The Spirit glorifies Jesus, not us or God’s gifts entrusted to us.
“4. Since one can never conclusively prove that any charismatic manifestation is identical with what is claimed as its New Testament counterpart, one can never in any particular case have more than a tentative and provisional opinion, open to constant reconsideration as time and life go on.” COMMENT: We cannot offer scientific proof that gifts are genuine, but we can “test” them, use good sense, and conclude as a matter of faith that they are or are not. The same thing is true of claims that someone has been born again. These are matters of faith, not of worldly certainty.