Third Wave Charismatic theology believes in the continuance of the Spiritual gifts, but it has some distinct nuances from Pentecostalism. As we move along the spectrum of views starting with the complete termination of the Spiritual gifts to the complete and identical continuance of the gifts we find two mediating positions in the middle. Last week we looked at the “Open but Cautious” view, which we said does not functionally distance itself enough from Cessationism to be truly helpful. This week we want to explore the Third Wave view which agrees with Pentecostalism regarding the continuance of the spiritual gifts, but it differs in that it seems some distinction between the way in which these gifts operate in today. Along these lines Third Wave Charismatic theology needs to do more to explain those temporal shift in functionality and authority of the spiritual gifts.
Two examples may help to illustrate this weakness: (1) The gift of prophecy, and (2) the gift of tongues. The Bible presents Old Testament prophecy as divinely authoritative and without error. To disobey the prophets of the Old Testament was, then, to disobey the very voice of God. The prophets in the Old Testament spoke direct, infallible, divine revelation from God. We find in the New Testament that there is ongoing prophecy (1 Cor. 13:8-12; Acts 2:17-18). We note especially that the apostles heard directly from God and were commanded to communicate specific things by divine revelation. Clearly, apostolic prophecy was direct, infallible, divine revelation from God. Paul even insists that what He writes is the command of God (1 Cor. 14:37; 1 Thess. 4:8). Yet, within Third Wave doctrine there is an insisted distinction between what the prophets in these contexts say and what prophets in our modern-day context say. So, Wayne Grudem, as one example, has argued:
Most charismatic teachers today would agree that contemporary prophecy is not equal to Scripture in authority. Though some will speak of prophecy as being the “word of God” for today, there is almost uniform testimony from all sections of the charismatic movement that prophecy is imperfect and impure, and will contain elements that are not to be obeyed or trusted. (Systematic Theology, 1055)
Likewise, Sam Storms has said:
However, although rooted in revelation, prophecy is occasionally fallible. (Are the Miraculous Gifts for Today?, 207)
The desire to subject all modern prophecy to the authority of Scripture is to be greatly respected. Third Wave Charismatics do not reject the infallible authority of Scripture. The Bible is the supreme rule for life and faith. Yet, it is not clear from Third Wave doctrine how this distinction came to be. Where in Scripture do we see a stated difference between the prophetic ministry of the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles on the one hand, and the prophetic ministry of the New Testament saints and believers today on the other. This lack of textual support is a major flaw in the system of Third Wave doctrine.
Add to this weakness the lack of clarity and distinction when speaking of the gift of tongues. The gift of tongues described at Pentecost comes as part of the apostles’ preaching and is understood by each hearer in his own native language. That is to say, from all appearances the tongues mentioned in Acts 2 are an example of xenoglossia (the ability to speak a foreign language that you have never learned). Not all scholars agree on that interpretation, but whatever it was the contemporary counterpart is noticeably different. Modern tongues are not understood in terms of a contemporary foreign language. How are we to explain this noticeable difference?
Third Wave charismatic theology sees a distinct difference in the operation of some Spiritual Gifts today and those ascribed to the apostles. Apostleship has not continued past the first generation of those whom Jesus appointed. Their exercises of spiritual gifts was unique and different from what the rest of the church experienced and continues to experience. This is an important distinction and yet it opens up the view to some important criticism: namely, how do you validate that distinction Scripturally. There is much about the Third Wave view that I find very appealing, and yet I recognize it is not without its own limitations and flaws.