An Examination of Misunderstanding among Orthodox Presbyterians as to the Term Charismatic, and Their Use of This Term in Their Self Image.
James A. Zozzaro
Extracted from Ordained Servant vol. 6, no. 4 (October 1997)
Within the Orthodox Presbyterian Church a problem has arisen in regard to the relationship between the Holy Spirit, the gift/gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the believer. This has arisen in reaction to the neo-pentecostal movement and its stress upon certain gifts of the Spirit. Since the neo-pentecostals have stressed sign gifts, such as tongues and prophecy, to an unbiblical extreme and have virtually equated these with the charismata (i.e., gifts) of the Spirit it has become common to refer to neo-pentecostals as Charismatics. Since members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church do not agree with the neo-pentecostals regarding the presence of authentic sign gifts today, many among them have chosen to describe themselves as anti-charismatic or non-charismatic. Herein lies the problem. For a Christian to think of himself as either an anti-charismatic or a non-charismatic would, in fact, be contrary to what the Bible says about the gift/gifts of the Holy Spirit. To my knowledge Orthodox Presbyterians who use these titles to describe themselves do it in an attempt to disassociate himself from the neo-pentecostal movement. But using the title of non- or anti-charismatic in this way could also indicate a misunderstanding as to what the gift/gifts of the Holy Spirit is. In order to solve the problem we must examine what the gift of the Spirit is and come to understand the concept charismatic as we find it in the Bible. We will do this by examining the two types of uses of the word group which we usually refer to as charismata (i.e., doron and charismata) found in the Scriptures in regard to the Holy Spirit. The first group sees the Holy Spirit as the gift, the second group sees the Holy Spirit as the giver of the gifts. After examining these two groups it will also be seen that only when we use the charismata terminology in a biblically correct manner will we truly understand the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church today.
The Holy Spirit as the Gift
The first and most important thing that we must realize is that the Holy Spirit is the gift. This is borne out by the following statement by the Apostle Peter, Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). The word here is dorea which like charismata means gift. One would be hard pressed to find a substantial difference between the two words which in the English are both translated gift and thus when we speak of charismatics in English we are really referring to both doron and charismata in Greek. In Peters statement the Holy Spirit is in the genitive case and is being used as an objective genitive. This means that Peter here sees the Holy Spirit Himself as the gift that is received by in repentance and baptism. Thus when we refer to Spiritual gifts in Church we must start our discussion by referring to the gift of the Spirit from whom flows the gifts of the Spirit.
That the Holy Spirit Himself is the gift is obvious from Peters statement recorded above, but who receives this gift of the Spirit and when this gift of the Spirit is received are debated in Christian circles. Neo-pentecostals believe that the gift of the Spirit is received by only some Christians and that this gift is received at a time subsequent to conversion. If this is true then only some Christians (those who have received the gift) could be referred to as Charismatics. This position is not biblically tenable, however. First of all, the Acts passage above links reception of the Holy Spirit directly with repentance and baptism. The point here would seem to be that all those who repent and are baptized immediately receive the Spirit. This would mean that every Christian has received the gift or is Charismatic in the biblical sense of this term. This conclusion is strengthened when we look at Romans 8:9 which says: You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in You. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ he does not belong to Christ. The point here is that those who do not have the gift of the Spirit do not have Christ! Thus every Christianwho by definition must possess Christtherefore also possesses the Spirit. These two passages along with a multitude of others (Rom.8:11, 1 Cor.3:16; and 2 Cor.13:14 for example) prove that in order to be a Christian one must have received the Spirit as a gift.
Since the Holy Spirit is Himself the gift and every Christian has received this gift, it must be concluded that every Christian is charismatic (i.e., gifted by God). Thus for persons to think of themselves as anti-charismatic or non-charismatic would be, in effect, to deny that they are Christians. No Orthodox Presbyterian Church, therefore, should have this mind-set but should understand the biblical concept of charismatic as having received the gift of the Holy Spirit. By admitting to being charismatic, understood as explained above, members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church should begin to see more clearly the centrality of soteriology (i.e., the application of salvation) in the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The unordained members will also start to see the possession of the Holy Spirit as being a present reality for the Christian and not just a future hope and thus will see the power of the Spirit as more readily accessible to them.
The Gifts of the Holy Spirit
When we speak of the gifts of the Holy Spirit we come to the area where the term charismatic really comes to the forefront in present-day American ecclesiastical circles. In the Orthodox Presbyterian Church two major misconceptions could easily arise as to what the gifts of the Spirit are and how they function in the body of Christ. In this section we will examine the two misconceptions and then seek to demonstrate from Scripture that every Christian is charismatic in the sense that each has been given a gift by the Holy Spirit.
The first misconception that some Orthodox Presbyterians may have is to equate the gifts of the Spirit exclusively with sign gifts such as tongues, prophecy, and healing. When the gifts of the Spirit are seen in this way, the term charismatic will continue to be monopolized by the neo-pentcostal churches. But, as we will see in part three of this section, it is biblically incorrect to limit the gifts of the Holy Spirit only to the sign gifts which are so closely identified in our country today with the neo-pentecostal movement.
The second misconception that some Orthodox Presbyterians may have is to equate the gifts of the Spirit exclusively with those gifts listed in the New Testament gift lists (Rom.12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:4-31; Eph.4:1-16). When the gifts of the Spirit are understood exclusively in this way then only those identified as possessing one of the gifts on these lists are considered to be charismatic. This results in seeing some Christians as being charismatic while others are not. The non-charismatic Christians are then urged to pray that the Spirit would give them one of the gifts also, a prayer that is seen as being answered only if in doing a gift inventory of himself the believer discovers that he does indeed have a gift that is found on one of the gift lists. This understanding of the gifts of the Spirit, though perhaps less serious than the first misconception, is still erroneous because it too ends up distinguishing between charismatic and non-charismatic Christiansa distinction that is not supported by the biblical text.
Instead of limiting the gifts of the Holy Spirit to either sign giftsor only those gifts specifically mentioned in the gift listsa closer reading of Scripture will reveal that anything that serves to build up the body of Christ is a gift of the Spirit. This is especially apparent in two passages which we will now look at in a little more detail.
The first passage we must take note of is 1 Cor.12:4-7. The NIV translates this as follows:
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men: Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
The first thing to notice is that the terms gifts, service, and working are being used here as parallel terms and thus are basically synonymous in this context. Thus Spiritual gifts include works and services among the members of the body of Christ. The second thing to notice is that God works all the gifts in all men and that to each a manifestation of the Spirit is given. The terms all men and each are in this context references to those in the bodyin other words, all Christians have been gifted by the Spirit. The third thing to notice is that these gifts which are services, and workings are given for the common good of Christs body. Thus this passage teaches that every Christian has been given a gift which is to be used for the common good of the body of Christ.
The second passage we must look at is 1 Peter 4:10. The NIV translates this passage as follows:
Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering Gods grace in its various forms.
Again we must note three things here. First, gift and Gods grace are here parallels. The gifts then come in various forms and therefore cannot be limited to certain sign gifts or gift lists. Second, each one has received a gift. In the context each one refers to each believer. Third, the various forms of gifts are given so that the recipient might use them to serve others. Thus this passage also teaches that every Christian has been given a gift to be used in serving the people of God.
These two passages demonstrate that all Christians have been gifted by the Spirit for service in the kingdom of God. In other words each Christian has received a charismata from the Spirit and therefore should rightfully be seen as being charismatic (when we use this term in a biblical way). The Bible therefore does not support any view that distinguishes between charismatic and non-charismatic Christians. Thus Orthodox Presbyterians need to see themselves as gifted by the Spirit, charismatic (in the scriptural sense), and recognize that whenever they do any type of work or service which is for the common good of the Church they are exercising their spiritual gift.
Every Christian is charismatic in the sense that they have received both the gift of the Holy Spirit and have been gifted by the Holy Spirit for service in the church. It follows, therefore, that as Orthodox Presbyterians we should be careful in our use of this term. To distinguish ourselves from neo-pentecostal groups is, of course, proper and necessary. But there is no need to use biblical terminology incorrectly in order to do so. We are not anti-charismatic if, by charismatic, we mean what the Bible means. But we are anti-charismatic when we are confronted with those who use that term in an unbiblical way. We should insist that the term charismatic be used in a way that is in accord with biblical teaching in order to foster a correct understanding of the gift of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit. Thus we as Orthodox Presbyterians need to understand the terms charismatic and Christian as functional equivalents and therefore to think of ourselves as biblical charismatics.
Our thanks to Rev. James A. Zozarro for this fine contribution to the pages of Ordained Servant. Mr. Zozarro is currently in his third year as a pastor of the OPC and is serving Calvary Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Wildwood, New Jersey.