Ironically though oft-noted, one of the most wretched crimes of Charismaticism is the shabby treatment they give to the Holy Spirit.
"I don't see how you can say that," a reader might respond. "No movement talks more about the Spirit than Charismatics and their spinoffs."
"Talks," yep. True enough. But what do they say about Him? That's the issue.
We understand that there is a great deal of mystery about the Holy Spirit, in Scripture. Assembling a true and coherent doctrine of the Spirit from the Word is a challenge for anyone. This is true, first, because of His name. He doesn't precisely have a personal name like "Jesus," or a title with a personal connotation like "Father." Given that the Greek and Hebrew texts don't provide capital letters, it isn't always easy to tell when the Hebrew or Greek words for "spirit" are referring to the Third Person, or whether they're referring to wind or breath or the human spirit.
A second factor contributing to the Spirit's mystery is that He is not the focus of the text. He may come to the fore of a narrative, but as Jesus Himself says, the focus of the Spirit is not the Spirit. The focus of the Spirit is Jesus. The Holy Spirit is not a failed master of ceremonies.
As it is with the Spirit, so it is with some of the gifts of the Spirit. Revelatory gifts were designed to have limited shelf-life. So there can be little wonder that to us who live long after their expiration-date, some of them are mysterious — "mysterious" as in "we have no idea what they were" (1 Cor. 12:8). As Chrysostom noted just three centuries after the apostles —
This whole place is very obscure: but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place. And why do they not happen now? Why look now, the cause too of the obscurity hath produced us again another question: namely, why did they then happen, and now do so no more?
[John Chrysostom, “Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the First Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians,” in Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Hubert Kestell Cornish, John Medley, and Talbot B. Chambers, vol. 12, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889), 168.]What was true a scant 300+ years after the New Testament events is, to say the least, no less true 1900+ years afterward.
Faced with impenetrable obscurity, there are fundamentally two options: accept the obscurity, or make something up to "clarify" it. Enter the Charismatics. Like the government, they're "here to help."
Here is what I've observed for decades. Never content to stay within the lines Scripture draws, nor content to focus on what God has revealed (contra Deut. 29:29), Charismatics use these mysteries, these obscurities, to load in and thus canonize their own peculiarities and alien-conflagration inventions.
It works like this. Do you get flashes of insight that feel significant to you? But you don't want to call them that, do you? Put that way, they have little meaning beyond the personal. No, you feel the need to imbue them with some sort of holy, divine mantle. You feel they deserve more attention and authority. Well, lookie here: nobody knows what a "word of wisdom" or a "word of knowledge" was. So just call it one of them. Nobody can prove you wrong!
Or: Do you feel like barking like a dog? or giving up all bodily control and dignity? or acting like a drunk or a druggie? Do you find that normal behavior isn't drawing enough attention, or satisfying your itch, but you have some bizarre capacity to shake your head, or something? Well, lookie here: nobody's sure he knows everything the Holy Spirit does. Even saying "Holy Spirit" is mysterious. So just say He made it happen. This is some work of the Holy Spirit. Who can prove you wrong?
So you see, we end up with a kind of backwards exegesis which is just a subspecies of eisegesis. We start with a phenomenon we like, we're sure it's got to be in the Bible somewhere, so we just find what we see as a bit of rug loose enough for us to sweep it under. Given the mysteries associated with the Spirit and His gifts, that's an oft-used recourse. Find even the appearance of ambiguity, and Robert is our mother's brother.
After all, Scripture says He "leads," right? Well, maybe this is that. Scripture says we're to "walk in" the Spirit, right? Well, maybe this is that. Just fill those words with your content. That's the first step.
Next step: subtract the "maybe." Say it again with confidence instead of tenuousness.
And voila! Another Charismatic crowd-pleasing distraction is born.
Because rather than revering the Holy Spirit as God, and cleaving as closely to the Word He inspired as they can in grateful, faithful contentment, they use "the Holy Spirit" as a sort of rug. They sweep all their unsightly made-up embarrassments of irresponsibility and indulgence and carnality under that phrase. Then it doesn't look so ugly anymore.
It's covered up, by a phrase you use as a rug: "the Holy Spirit."
NEXT WEEK (Lord willing): what it actually means to be led by the Spirit.