The Charismatic Movement; what’s the big deal? Surely it is just another manner in which some Christians worship, as acceptable as any reformed, more conservative style of worship? Why is there such a strong reaction against the Charismatic Movement from many evangelical preachers today? Is it really that big an issue? On one occasion John MacArthur described the Charismatic Movement in the following terms; 'It's a kind of Spiritual AIDS. AIDS is a deficient immune system, and this kills the Church's immune system! The Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement kills the immune system, because it makes it a sin to question their theology'a. To many people this statement will be a great exaggeration of the issues in the Charismatic Movement and an outrageous thing to say. To compare a particular form of Christianity to a deadly disease is surely too much. Yet when we examine the Charismatic Movement closely, when we understand what the Charismatic Movement actually is, and consider what is actually taught within it, then we will find that it is very difficult to argue with that statement. As we look at the serious errors, and indeed heresies, that are found within that movement, we believe that an honest analysis of the facts can lead to only one conclusion; that the Charismatic Movement is indeed a form of ‘spiritual AIDS’, and that it leads Christianity in only one direction; back to the darkness of Rome.
When the Charismatic Movement is mentioned many people have very different ideas about what we talking about. Some think that all that is of concern is the style of worship and singing, that a charismatic church is simply one where the worship is a bit more lively than they are used to in more conservative churches. Whilst the worship in charismatic churches can range from the lively to the completely chaotic, that is not the sole issue. Others believe that the Charismatic Movement is limited solely to the Elim Pentecostal Church. This however also gives a severely restricted view of the Charismatic Movement, for despite the Charismatic Movement having its beginning within Pentecostalism, charismatics are now found in almost every denomination. There are charismatic Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Roman Catholics and more. The great difficulty that there is in defining the Charismatic Movement is down to the fact that it is not a denomination, but a movement. There is no definite confession of faith which sets down the beliefs of the Charismatic Movement, for the views of charismatics are wide ranging, and vary to a great extent from church to church. There are however certain defining beliefs which are common across the whole panorama of charismaticism, and to which every charismatic will hold to some extent. Before we consider these beliefs, it will be useful to give an outline of the beginnings of the Charismatic movement, so that we can understand it better.
2. The Origins of the Charismatic Movement
Although the charismatic movement is not limited to Pentecostalism, it was within that movement that it had its origins at the beginning of the 20th century. There are two events at that time which are vital in understanding the beginnings and history of what is known as the Charismatic Movement. The first was an instance of supposed speaking in tongues which took place in Topeka, Kansas in 1901 and the second was the 'Azusa Street Revival' which took place in Los Angeles, beginning in 1906.
In 1900 Charles Fox Parnham, an independent evangelist, had a school near Tokepa, Kansas called Bethel Bible School. There he taught that the New Testament gift of speaking in tongues was available for the church today, and indeed was the sign of being filled with the Holy Spirit. On 1st January 1901 a number of his students spoke in tongues, the first of these supposedly a female student called Agnes Ozman. This speaking in tongues was considered to be the evidence of their being baptised with the Holy Spirit. Parnham taught that the tongues in which they spoke were real languages and that was certainly the belief of the students at the time, for Ozman herself said ‘I talked several languages, and it was clearly manifest when a new dialect was spoken’b. Parnham and his followers, believing that these were authentic languages, therefore believed that it was no longer necessary for missionaries to study foreign languages before going to the mission field. However those who went to the mission field with this belief were soon to return home in disappointment, as their 'tongues' could not be understood by anyone. This caused Parnham to revise his views on tongues speaking, now claiming that it was not an earthly language, but a heavenly one.
In 1906 the preaching of one of Charles Parnham's students, William J Seymour, sparked a 'revival' in the Apostolic Faith Mission in Azusa Street, Los Angeles that was to continue for a number of years. Once again tongues speaking was present in the meeting, people were ‘slain in the spirit’, and faith healing was also promoted. The meetings were described in the Los Angeles Times as being a ‘Weird Babel of Tongues’c. The meetings which took place at Azusa Street were so overly emotional and chaotic that even Charles Parnham soon distanced himself from them. It is these two events in Topeka, Kansas and in Los Angeles which are considered by church historians to be the birth of modern Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement.
3. The growth of the Charismatic Movement
Up until the early 1960's the Charismatic Movement was by and large a movement which existed outside of the mainstream Christian denominations. This period of the Charismatic Movement has been described as the 'First Wave'. The 'Second Wave' then took place from the 1960's through until the early 1980s. During this time the Charismatic Movement moved beyond the confines of Pentecostalism and began to penetrate (infect would be a more appropriate description) the mainline Protestant churches and in the late 1960's also penetrated the Roman Catholic Church. Several tenets of the charismatic movement became especially prominent at this time, including the continuance of signs gifts such as miracles, new extra biblical revelation received directly from God, and an emphasis on demonic activity and deliverance ministries. These existed alongside the traditional Pentecostal doctrines of baptism in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues. The 'Third Wave' of the Charismatic Movement then took place from the early 1980's until the present day. During this time signs and wonders, the healing of the sick and the casting out of demons have become more prominent within the Charismatic Movement, along with the more recent health and wealth prosperity gospel and Word Faith heresy.
Over the past 100 years charismatic theology has become more and more widespread, and has been more and more accepted within churches around the world. It is one of the fastest growing forms of Christianity and today boasts over 300 million adherents, some 15% of what is considered to be Christianity. It is because of its size and influence that the Charismatic Movement must be regarded as one of the greatest dangers that there is today to the purity of the gospel. The vast majority of tele-evangelists are charismatic and it is the best selling charismatic authors who line the shelves of most Christian bookstores.
4. The central beliefs of the Charismatic Movement
What then are the defining beliefs of the Charismatic Movement? As we have already intimated the dificulty with the Charismatic Movement is that is so hard to define. Not all charismatics will hold to every view that is found within the bounds of the charismatic movement, some may be more extreme in their views, and others less so. Yet what used to be regarded as the extreme fringe of the Charismatic Movement is now mainstream, and this is what is taught in the majority of charismatic churches, particularly the mega-churches. It is the 'extreme' charismatics, not the 'moderates', who have millions of followers. Yet the one thing which binds together all those within the Charismatic Movement is the belief that the supernatural New Testament gifts of the Holy Spirit are still available for believers today. To be charismatic means holding to this view, particularly concerning the continuation of the gift of tongues and interpretation of tongues, of supernatural revelation and visions from God, of faith healing and the gift of prophecy. Add to this being slain in the spirit, trance like experiences, the casting out of demons, eastern mystical practices, the health and wealth prosperity gospel, New Apostolic Reformation and Word of Faith teaching and we get some idea of all that is encompassed within the Charismatic Movement today.
Whilst by no means being the limit of the Charismatic Movement, these are the most prevalent and popular teachings of charismatics today, and anyone who holds to these doctrines must be considered, to a lesser or greater extent, to be charismatic in their theology. As we seek over the next number of weeks to examine the Charismatic Movement we will see that those teachings which are central to it, are not leading people closer to God, but are actually leading the church back to Rome. The one world religious system which will arise before the return of the Lord must surely do so under the authority of the Pope and the Charismatic Movement is one of the vehicles which helps make that union possible. There may be, and doubtless is, enough gospel light within some charismatic churches that people can still be brought to Christ, yet the Charismatic Movement, as we look at it in detail, will be seen to be a means of undoing the glorious work of the Reformation. It is for this reason that we must warn against it and ultimately reject it. Galatians 2:18 says ‘For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor’. If the Reformation of the 16th century was a work of God, and we believe it was, then the Charismatic Movement is a corruption and reversal of that work, and those involved in it make themselves transgressors.
a ‘John MacArthur Questions and Answers Part 50 June 10 2001’
b ‘With Signs Following: The Latter Day Pentecostal Revival, 1946, Gospel Pub House, Stanley Frodsham ’
c ‘The Los Angeles Daily Times 18/04/1906’