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THE CHARISMATIC MOVEMENT

 

Many people [1] have questions about a relatively new movement which teaches that believers should speak in tongues, be baptized in the Holy Ghost, and exercise the nine spiritual gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10.  A small minority of Protestant churches have been associated with the modern Pentecostal Movement, beginning with the “Catholic Apostolic Church” led by Edward Irving about 1830 and more recently in what is known as the “Azusa Street Revival” [2]in southern California.  People from mainline Protestant churches and Roman Catholic churches have been involved with this movement since the 1950’s.

NAME AND EMPHASIS

The Charismatic Movement gets its name from the Greek word charisma which means “a gift of grace; a favor which one receives without any merit of his own.”  The plural of this word, charismata is the technical word for spiritual gifts indicating the power of divine grace operating in them for some specific service.  The Bible teaches that every Christian has some spiritual gift with which to serve the Lord (1 Cor. 12:7-11; Rom. 12:3-8).

The Charismatic Movement has a strong emphasis on these gifts, especially the gift of tongues which some feel is the “sign” or indication that a person has received the baptism in the Holy Spirit (Mk. 16:17,18).  A small minority teach that a person is not really saved unless he has a baptism in the Spirit and speaks in tongues.  The majority of evangelical believers are not in agreement with this movement because of its over-emphasis on subjective experience, the sign gifts, and some doctrine’s regarding the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

It seems that the Charismatic Movement has become an established phenomenon and includes evangelicals, liberals, and Roman Catholics.  It has become a “movement” somewhat like the “holiness movement” which involves a doctrinal emphasis held by some believers and not by others.  Most movements have a strong emphasis of some kind which tends to ignore other doctrines.

One will find that this movement is “experience” oriented, and anyone having this experience becomes a part of the movement regardless of his theological position.  People differ in their emotional make-up and some are more prone to have an “experience” than others.  The world has seen some strange experiences such as “swooning” at concerts by popular musicians and at rock  concerts.  Many young people have had unusual experiences because of involvement in the drug culture. People with little spiritual knowledge and discernment have had an experience of some kind in a religious setting which may not have been from God.  The Bible clearly teaches that our salvation depends on faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, not on some indefinable “experience” (Jn. 6:28,29; 14:6).

DANGERS RESULTING FROM DIFFERING DOCTRINES

A serious problem of the Charismatic Movement is its emphasis on the gift of prophecy which involves an extra-Biblical revelation in contrast to the Bible teaching that the Word of God is complete as we now have it (Rev. 22:18,19).  Some real difficulties can develop when people give more emphasis and attention to these “prophecies” than to the Word of God. Why bother to take the time and effort to study the Bible when a fellow Christian has a message directly from God?

A problem has arisen over leadership and authority when several people claim to  have a prophecy or message from God. Who is right when “revelations” are contradictory?  Who leads the assembly when all claim direct messages from God.

The Charismatic Movement also places great emphasis on healing and miracles and looks upon such an experience as a basis for validating a person’s message or practice.  If a person has had a supernatural healing, he will often be accepted as a spokesman in the Charismatic Movement.  The Bible warns that Satan is transformed into an angel of light that he might more effectively deceive God’s people (2 Cor. 11:13-15).  Satan has power to perform miracles (2 Thess. 2:9,10) and will, deceive many when the coming antichrist will perform miracles by the power of the devil (Rev. 13:2-15). 

THE MINISTRY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

The Charismatic Movement differs with most evangelical Bible teachers on the doctrine regarding the work of the Holy Spirit. Charismatics teach that believers do not receive the Holy Spirit until they have a “baptism” experience which is usually accompanied by speaking in tongues and which occurs sometime after a person receives Christ as Savior.  Most evangelical scholars agree that all believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit from the time of salvation (Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 6:19,20); that they are sealed with the Holy Spirit until the day of redemption (Eph. 1:13,14; 2 Cor. 1:21,22); and that they are baptized in the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-27).  However, not all believers are filled with the Holy Spirit which gives power for service (Acts 4:31-33; Eph. 5:18). Most Charismatics look upon the baptism in the Holy Spirit and the filling with the Spirit as one and the same.

SPIRITUAL GIFTS RESTORED TODAY?

This is a question which has concerned many of God’s people as they evaluate the Charismatic Movement which teaches that the spectacular gifts of the Holy Spirit are being restored in this generation.  First of all, God is sovereign in the bestowal and/or withdrawal of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:7,11; 1 Sam. 16:1).  We also would point out that three specific gifts of the Holy Spirit were not to be permanent (1 Corinth. 13:8-13).  The difference of conviction among God’s people is over the meaning of the word “perfect” in verse 10 of this passage.  Some believe that this refers to the completion of the Word of God and that the gifts were in operation until the canon of Scripture was completed in around 95ad with the Revelation.

God’s written revelation was finished (Heb. 2:1-4; Rev. 22: 18,19).  Others believe the word “perfect” has reference to the coming of Jesus Christ when these gifts will no longer be given. Since the various gifts of the Holy Spirit are for edification of believers in the church, it would seem that there would no longer be the need for any gift of the Holy Spirit after our Lord returns and we will then be in His likeness -(1 Jn. 3:1,2; 1 Cor. 15:35-57; Phil. 3:20,21).

Others point out that in this passage Paul is contrasting spiritual childhood with spiritual maturity (“that which is perfect”).  During childhood there is a need for a specific type of instruction limited to the understanding of a child, but when a person becomes mature, he will put away childish things.  The examples of the sign gifts are found in the early days of the church during the spiritual immaturity of believers. However, with spiritual maturity and the completion of the written revelation in Scripture, there was no more need for sign gifts.

EVALUATION OF THE CHARISMATIC MOVEMENT

A number of letters have been written to us by people in the Charismatic Movement and the majority of them were gracious and kind.  I believe this would indicate the ministry of baptism of the Holy Spirit uniting believers into the body of Christ with a mutual care and concern for one another ..(I Cor. 12:12-27). It is also instructive to notice that the apostle Paul wrote his great treatise on love in this same context (1 Cor. 13). Many who have written to us have glorified speaking in tongues as the very acme of Christian experience.

I do not believe this would be in keeping with the emphasis placed on this gift by the*apostle Paul.  Somehow, people today claim more for this gift than it accomplished for the Corinthians.  The apostle Paul recognized that this church was “enriched by Him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge” (1 Cor. 1:5), indicating, that they had an abundance of spiritual gifts.  However, this was a carnal church torn by strife and division (1 Cor. 3:1-8) in which they went to law with other believers before the unsaved (1 Cor. 6:1-8); and were guilty of drunkenness and other disorders at the Lord’s Table (1 Cor. 11:17-22).  In other words, the spiritual gifts did not produce spiritual maturity and godly living as some seem to claim.

In an extensive study of the gifts of the Holy Spirit for a seminary thesis, there was found an interesting statement by one of the early church fathers.  He said that the changed life of believers in the fruit of the Spirit was of more value in convincing the heathen of the truth of the Gospel than the spectacular gifts of the Holy Spirit.  Some pagan religions produced similar experiences but could not duplicate the changed lives of believers (2 Cor. 5:17). The Radio Bible Class is not in agreement with the Charismatic Movement and its strong emphasis on subjective experience and the gift of tongues.  The Bible gives the proper balance and sequence when it teaches that sound doctrine precedes experience.

In his lengthy discussion of tongues in 1 Corinthians 14, the apostle Paul does not encourage the use of this gift, but rather demonstrates the limited value of tongues compared to the gift of prophecy.  There is no scriptural example or command for believers to seek the gift of tongues.

[1] This is a paper originally produced by the counseling department of Radio Bible Class.

[2] Please send for our booklet The New Age Charismatic Seed of Corruption from PMI.

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