The blogosphere has been ablaze this week with reactions pro and con to John MacArthur's Strange Fire conference, in which MacArthur, R.C. Sproul Sr., Joni Ericksen Tada, and several other speakers criticized the Charismatic Movement. It is not my intention to address the conference itself, and I could not since I have not heard the talks or read the transcripts. But I do want to comment about how we in the Evangelical Free Church deal with matters charismatic. If I misstate anything about the EFCA, I invite others who know better to contact me, and I can make adjustments to this post.
The Evangelical Free Church is not a Pentecostal or Charismatic denomination. I say this because we do not accept the core Pentecostal dogma of a second work of grace, also known as "the baptism of the Holy Spirit evidenced by speaking in tongues." We teach that every Christian is born-again and indwelt by the Holy Spirit (John 3:5-8, Romans 8:9b). Spirit-baptism happens at the same time as conversion, for all believers (EFCA Statement of Faith, article 6).
We also teach that the filling of the Spirit, spoken of in Ephesians 5 is an on-going experience -- it is a present continuous command, not a one-time event. Its manifestations are witness (Acts 1:8) and worship (Ephesians 5:18-20). There is no evidence in Scripture that every Spirit-filled person throughout time will speak in tongues at some point in their life.
We also teach that the Bible is a completed book. Because the Bible was out-breathed by God, it is able to equip the man of God for every good work (2 Timothy 2:17-17). It is the Christian Church's highest authority for faith and practice. In Twila Paris' song God Is In Control, she sings that "there is no power above or beside" the Lord. The same can be said about the Bible: no matter what claim someone might make about a dream, a vision, an angelic appearance, a gift of prophecy, or divine guidance, none of it equals the Bible.
We are not apostles. We have not been given any authority to bind or loose the Church (Matthew 16:19). Whatever our personal views of divine guidance may be, they must fit inside this uncompromised parameter of Scriptural inspiration and authority.
The Evangelical Free Church's classical past was that of believing that the controversial gifts ended in the first century. This has come to be known as a "cessationist" view of the gifts, and it was due to the influence of Dispensationalism. However, the EFCA's official doctrinal statements (whether the original 1950 statement or the revised 2008 statement) do not take a stand on the issue, and there was always the belief that God could miraculously heal.
The dominance of the traditional "cessationist" view in the EFCA has changed over recent decades, partly due to the theological work of men like Dr. Donald Carson, Dr. Wayne Grudem, and Dr. John Piper, among others. My own phrase is that these men teach a view of the gifts that is "non-charismatic but continuing."
On this matter the EFCA exists on a continuum, a spectrum of positions, between cessation and continuation. There is no official policy on the gifts. Not everyone in the EFCA agrees with Grudem or Carson. Others do. The EFCA does not require its pastors or its teaching faculty to be "continuationist" or "cessationist." What we are not, however, is Charismatic. We are on the non-Pentecostal side of that line. We do not teach second-blessing. Even if some of our pastors believe in the gift of prophecy for today (and some do), all such utterances are inferior in authority to the Bible. Our long-time motto is "Where stands it written?", a motto that is built on a foundation of Scriptural inspiration, authority, sufficiency, and completion.