Strange Fire, Holy Fire
- Thursday, March 05, 2009
A recovering charismatic admits that a line has been crossed, a wound has been inflicted, a conscience has been offended, or a bunch of hooey has been believed. Not only is this so, but now you regret it. Deeply.
Anger characterizes my initial feelings when I reflect on my experience. But since anger is a secondary emotion, something lies far deeper. What is it? I'm still figuring it out, but I think it's pain. The pain of doing some pretty wacky things in the name of the Holy Spirit. The pain of buying into a brand of Christianity that is distinctly Western. The pain of realizing how fallible I really am.
2. The vices that drive us into recovery are inherently good.
Everything is created by God to be enjoyed within the context of his divine plan. The apostle Paul wrote, "All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God" (1 Corinthians 3:21–23).
Did you notice that word all? Do you know what all means in the Greek? All means "all." Alcohol isn't inherently evil and neither is sex (whew!). But they can place us in a position where we allow them to master us or take advantage of us and as a result, inflict pain.
The charismatic movement has proven itself to be inherently good: lives changed, people healed, the church empowered in new ways—undoubtedly a sovereign move of God. But somewhere along the way, miraculous gifts and the emphasis on power all too often became the main thing.
Many carnivals and amusement parks incorporate a booth where an artist draws caricatures of people who pass by. The drawing exaggerates a person's distinctive features, which may include a big nose (think Jimmy Durante), a prominent chin (Jay Leno), or poofy hair (Don King).
In a caricature, the peripheral thing becomes the main thing. The "charismatic" gifts, especially speaking in tongues, become the measure of spirituality. And where do caricatures belong? At carnivals and amusement parks. I fear at times our churches resemble those places, as well.
3. Recovery is more a journey than a destination.
People in recovery acknowledge that their journeys never come to an end. Because of this, we never see ourselves as completely "over" our experiences.
I grew up a charismatic, and I'll always carry that experience with me. At times those feelings of affection and gratitude degenerate into revulsion, pain, and embarrassment.
In my thirty-plus years of involvement in the charismatic movement, I've met people who wanted very badly to speak in tongues, but for some reason, they couldn't or didn't. Others struggled with chronic illnesses and pleaded with God to be healed, but he didn't answer their requests—at least not in this life. These folks remained in their churches, but were relegated to a lower caste—fit for those who weren't spiritual enough or didn't have enough faith.
My malady? I won't let you in on it just yet, but you'll probably figure it out as you read on. My point is this: I don't want to stay in the revulsion, pain, and embarrassment. And if you're a recovering charismatic, or on the verge of becoming one, you probably don't either. We want to get better. We want healing and wholeness.
We're all in different stages of recovery from our shortcomings and flesh (affectionately called our sinful nature), but hopefully this book will give you an opportunity to move on.
Your experience may be similar to mine. You may have been severely hurt by people in this movement, or its theology, and now you're ready to find meaning in it.
Then again, you may be that window shopper who simply wants to make heads or tails of this strange, intriguing yet alluring movement. (You may even be attending an independent charismatic church, and you're trying to get a sense of what's legitimate and what's not.) (I use parentheses because using them is like talking in a whisper ... so no one at church will hear!)
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