When the fog of Charismania started to lift for me, and I began to acknowledge that a lot of teachings at our church did not really line up with what the Bible said, I wrote the following little blurb for my own personal use. It felt good to define in black and white what I’m now realizing is the crux of the whole issue: Biblical interpretation. And, while I wrote this just to help myself articulate what I was observing, I believe it might be helpful to others. So I’m sharing it with you today. Here goes…
It all comes down to how we view Scripture. Charismatics and Evangelicals both claim to view the Bible as their final, ultimate authority. But it’s always important to define the terms that we use. A traditional Evangelical would define “ultimate authority” far differently than a Charismatic.
Evangelicals see the Scripture as perfect and complete, and, when it comes to interpretation, are vigilant about examining the context of a particular passage, the intent of its original author, the original audience, etc., BEFORE offering up an interpretation or application. A Charismatic, on the other hand, views interpretation much more loosely. When Charismatics say that the Bible is a “living, breathing document,” they mean exactly that. In the same way that, with every breath, a human being is in a constant state of molecular regeneration—cells are perpetually dying and being replaced, to the point where, ten years later, an individual has become a much different-looking person—so the Bible is constantly being “rejuvenated” by the breath of the Holy Spirit, bringing new revelation every time a reader cracks open its pages.
For instance, it is commonplace for a Charismatic preacher to take a couple of verses from the book of Isaiah and use them to bring a new teaching to his congregation. When the “Toronto Blessing,” with its manifestations of “holy laughter” and “chicken flapping” hit in the 1990s, one of the Scripture passages used to support the movement was Isaiah 43:19, which says, “Behold, I will do a new thing, Now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
Evangelicals, on the other hand, would put much tighter boundaries on that verse. They would say, “Whoa! Wait a minute! That was God speaking to the literal nation of Israel, through the prophet Isaiah, with a specific directive for a specific period of history. Just because you read that passage to a congregation, that does not mean that God is intending to do a ‘new thing’ to the hearers of the passage. You can’t use that verse to support laughing like a hyena or dancing like a chicken, no matter how much you feel the Holy Spirit is telling you to do so, because Scripture is anchored by context and original audience.”
Throughout the history of the Church, many have abandoned the literal method of interpreting the scriptures, the method used by our Lord and His Apostles, for what is called the “allegorical” or “spiritualizing” method of interpretation. Basically, this method denies that the primary meaning of the Biblical text is the literal one and teaches that the true meaning is a deeper, “spiritual one” that is hidden beneath the literal rendering of the text. In other words “It doesn’t mean what it says, it means what I say it says!”
Here’s another quote from the same document:
In 1990 I began to hear the term “prophetic interpretation” in our church which simply meant our pastor (now elevated to an apostle) could make the text mean whatever “the Spirit” was revealing. In Latter Rain circles truth is changing and evolving. Scriptures do not have one meaning; the meaning evolves, as does the Church. What Latter Rain people look for in the Bible is the “present day truth” which is arrived at by the Holy Spirit as revealed through His current crop of apostles and prophets.
So you see, while Evangelicals view Scripture within tight boundaries, Charismatics view Scripture as a springboard for new truths and observations that the Holy Spirit might be trying to teach them.
Both views have their dangers. Obviously, when you open the door to interpreting Scripture based upon what “the Spirit is speaking,” it becomes a much more subjective exercise. How do we then determine truth?
But on the other hand, if we think that we can know every last mystery or intention of God based upon context or audience or author’s overarching theme, then we are arrogant and are studying the Bible only within the tight box of our own presuppositions.
The question becomes, how do we develop parameters?