Matthew 22 contains a story of Jesus’ confrontation of the Sadducees, the theologically liberal branch of Judaism in his day (Matthew 22:23-33). The Sadducees sheared the Old Testament of its supernatural nature, denying such things as accounts of resurrections and appearances of angels.
Their denial of these things made them “sad you see” (I couldn’t help it).
When they came to Jesus, they asked him to weigh in on a supposed scenario in which each of seven brothers had married a woman. This was based on Moses’ injunction that if a man died without producing any heirs, his brother was responsible for marrying her and producing seed in order to keep his offspring alive in Israel. After presenting the case, the Sadducees asked Him, “In the resurrection whose wife will she be since all seven had her?” (Matthew 22:28). Their question was not an honest inquiry, but an attempt to trap him in something he said since they themselves didn’t believe in resurrection.
Jesus, in his characteristic way, saw through their subterfuge and went straight to the heart, pointing out their error. They were wrong, He said because they failed to know neither the “Scriptures or the power of God (22:29). If they knew the Scriptures, they would have known from the passage of Moses at the burning bush that God is the God of “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—not the God of the dead but of the living. And they would have also known that God’s power is not limited. Men and women who are resurrected are brought into a state similar to that of the angels and are no more given in marriage. I have found this truth (that men and women are no more given in marriage) a helpful tool for marriage counseling. I remind a couple when they are dealing with problems that if they can just hold on to the resurrection, they can make it.
Jesus told them they were wrong because they didn’t know the Scriptures nor the power of God. He expected them to know both, but sadly they didn’t. Consequently, they drifted into error.
I believe these words of Jesus apply not only to ancient Jews but also to churches and leaders today. By them, He warns if we don’t hold steadfastly to both, we face the real threat of being imbalanced in our lives and service. Sadly, it is rare to find churches or believers today who partake of both. Typically, we see believers hunkered down in one of two camps; each claims their camp is the most important while rejecting the others’ emphasis. Evangelicals rightly emphasize the need to understand the Scriptures so as to ensure that things are solidly built on God’s Word Written. And the Charismatic branch of the church lays stress on the biblical truth of the need for the power of God through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
The truth is, both camps emphasize important aspects of truth that each need. The Evangelical camp has produced a wealth of scholarship, which continues to serve the body of Christ with keen insights and understanding to this day. For almost five decades I have fed deeply from this camp. They have kept my love for the Word of God brimming. Yet Evangelicals, if they are not careful, can easily allow things to become cerebral. Charismatics, seeing that tendency reacted, reminding us that it is the Spirit, which gives life to the Scripture. But in their zeal, they forgot that Jesus Himself describes the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth, which means that, his ultimate aim is to bring believers into the knowledge of the truth (John 8:32).
But there is good reason to be encouraged. Over the last few decades, each camp has begun to recognize their need for the other. Many Evangelicals, though not fully embracing Charismatic theology and practice, realize their Charismatic brethren are right in their emphasis upon the work of the Spirit. And, on the other hand, many Charismatics today, tired of living a life based on waiting for the next move of God, have recognized the need for a ministry firmly based on biblical truth.
I refuse to be buttonholed into a life bound by a particular camp but continue to enjoy what each has to offer. I love the theological richness I continue to feed on through my Evangelical brethren. For the most part, I read dead guys who have provided the church through the ages with amazing insights into the Word of God. Yet I can put down the book I was reading and attend a prayer meeting with people who have come, expecting an immediate experience of God’s presence. I don’t feel that I have to choose since both are my heritage.
Perhaps the best example of one who lived in both camps is Jonathan Edwards, the Eighteenth Century pastor and theologian who served during the First Great Awakening. Even his detractors admitted he possessed one of the finest minds America has ever produced. His books reflect the richness of the theological subjects he engaged and wrote about, revealing a rich treasure house of biblical understanding. But we would be wrong if we assumed that Edwards was a mere academic, dealing with theology in a cold, calculating way. His journal records rich and powerful experiences of the Spirit of God, making truth alive in his soul. Indeed, his wife Sarah records how at the height of the First Great Awakening, she experienced days on end in which she was caught up in the presence of God. While Edwards certainly wouldn’t have embraced the superficial and in some cases heretical teaching of many Charismatic leaders today, he would heartily endorse the basic tenets of biblical teaching regarding the enlivening of truth by the power of the Holy Spirit and the immediacy of his presence.
It’s time that both camps recognize their need for the other and come together. My hope is that we would see a glorious wedding of that which God never intended to be severed. What God has joined together let no man put asunder!