Have you ever heard of the phrase charismatic theology? Does anything in particular come to mind when you think of it? Charismatic theology is a very interesting theology indeed. The need to study charismatic theology has grown over the last half century, since it began to emerge in the middle of the 20thcentury. While studying charismatic theology we must understand where its roots lay, the major tenants of its theology, some of the more drastic off shoots of its theology, and the major players (pastors, theologians, etc.) in the formation of this theology (and its subsets). By the time we conclude our study of this subject, we should be able to argue whether charismatic theology is biblical and historical, or is it heretical and merely a modern phenomenon. At either cost charismatic theology should not be taken lightly because there are many true followers of Christ who hold to a view on each side of the issue.
The Roots of Charismatic Theology
When we try to understand charismatic theology we should go back to the beginning, and for most that would be the early church. When I say the early church I am not referring to the church around the enlightenment, but the first believers during or just after the time of Christ. John Drane in his work Introducing the New Testament says, “The story of the earliest church in Jerusalem shows that it too began with a charismatic understanding of its own life.” After the emphasis on the early church and its charismatic gifts we do not hear much of them until the early part of the twentieth century, with the beginning of the Pentecostal church. The Pentecostal church has its beginning with Charles Parham who founded a bible college in Topeka, Kansas in 1900 and by 1901 had closed its doors.It would be on the first day of 1901 that one of his students Agnes Ozman would begin speaking in tongues. In 1906 in Los Angles, William Seymour would have one of the greatest impacts on the Christian community since the reformation. Seymour would lead what has become known as the Azuza Street Revival, teaching that after a believer’s conversion that there is a “second-baptism” of the Holy Spirit, and the evidence of this new baptism was speaking in tongues. During this revival, “people shrieked and shouted, danced, fell over and, most of all, babbled incomprehensibly in tongues. This happened at three services a day, seven days a week, for three years.”Because of the nature of these gifts and their behaviors, traditional “Pentecostals” did not find a place in the traditional church system, which lead them to start their own.
The technical beginning of the Charismatic Renewal Movement that would take place in 1960 with an Episcopal priest named Dennis Bennett in Van Nuys, CA.One of the biggest things that distinguishes the Charismatic Renewal Movement from the Pentecostal church is that they have never felt the need to separate themselves from traditional denominations. Elwell points out, “Hence today the charismatic movement, despite its “classical” parentage, exists almost totally outside official Pentecostal denominations.”Since there are differences between the two types of theology, we will be well suited in taking a closer look at them.
The Differences in Theology
Most people might assume, since the Charismatic Renewal Movement has its roots in Pentecostal theology, there would be no demarcation of the two. And in making that assumption you would be wrong! Most scholars are willing to recognize that while there are many similarities there are also distinctions between the two. Paul Enns writes, “Theologically, Pentecostals subscribe to “a work of grace subsequent to conversion in which Spirit baptism is evidenced by glossolalia” (speaking in tongues). Charismatics do not necessarily teach a second work of grace by the evidence of speaking in tongues.”In knowing this, there is another group of believers who go a step farther know as the Third Wave; this group of believers chooses to be distinct from Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Renewal Movement, by operating in their own congregations in a more moderated approach.
F.L. Cross in the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church defines Pentecostal theology in this way,
Its adherents emphasize the corporate element in worship (often marked by great spontaneity) and lay special stress on the practice of the gifts listed in 1 Cor. and recorded in Acts (e.g. speaking in tongues or ‘*glossolalia’, prophecy, divine [*spiritual] healing, and *exorcism), and on possession of these gifts by all true believers. Most of them claim that the ‘power’ to exercise these gifts is given initially in an experience known as ‘*baptism in the Holy Spirit’, usually regarded as distinct from conversion and from sacramental (or water) *Baptism, and the movement came to be distinguished by the claim (first made in 1900) that ‘Spirit baptism’ is normally signified by the recipient’s breaking into tongues.
One major tenant that both Pentecostals and charismatics seem to share is there are two “blessings” of the Holy Spirit. Most scholars agree that the both parties believe that a sign of receiving the baptism of the Spirit is speaking in tongues. MacArthur says, “Most charismatics define Spirit baptism as post salvation, second blessing experience that adds something vital to what Christians receive at salvation.”
A. Baptism of the Holy Spirit
While we have seen that both charismatics and Pentecostals believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit what exactly is it? What did the early church believe about it? One of the first arguments we will hear from those in favor of the baptism of the Spirit comes from the baptism of Christ himself. The first question that arises from this argument is, “If all believers who are baptized with the Holy Spirit speak in tongues after their baptism, why didn’t Christ?” The phrase baptism of the Holy Spirit is often defined as an event that occurs after salvation in which the Holy Spirit descends upon a believer. According to Gregg Allison this event is supposedly, “typified by enthusiastic devotion to Jesus Christ and possessing a tireless energy for evangelism and missions, Pentecostalism and the charismatic movement have turned the church’s attention to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.”Another argument often heard in favor of the baptism of the Holy Spirit deals with the day of Pentecost, and events that took place before hand as Wayne Grudem points out, “It is true that the disciples were “born again” long before Pentecost, and in fact probably long before Jesus breathed on them and told them to receive the Holy Spirit in John 20:22.” Some try to use this as an argument that the Lord always intended for there to be the reception of the Spirit and then the baptism at a later date. What they often fail to realize is that the Lord told them the Spirit could not come until the Lord had returned unto the Father (John 15:26). Grudem in his footnote (13) on this text explains how this could have very well been a foreshadowing of the day of Pentecost. With that being known we can better understand what he means when he says, “…we must realize that the day of Pentecost is much more than an individual event in the lives of Jesus’ disciples and those with them. The day of Pentecost was the point of transition between the old covenant work and ministry of the Holy Spirit and the new covenant work and ministry of the Holy Spirit.” While many charismatics believe that all the gifts are still in effect for today, one of the most talked about and the most easily abused is the gift of tongues.
B. The Issue of Speaking in Tongues
Of all the different theological topics that come into play when dealing with the Pentecostal and charismatic movement, tongues has to be one of the most highly debated issues around. According to David Dockery,
Many scholars would agree that tongues are ecstatic utterances. Another interpretation is that the tongues in NT days referred to foreign languages. Some charismatic Christians want to make this gift normative for all Christians. Other interpreters believe that the gift of tongues ceased in the NT era. Some interpreters see tongues as a gift for some Christians as a way to remind the whole body of Christ of the need to use human emotion as a way of developing spiritually.
It seems that Dockery has read a majority of continuist materials because throughout my research there have been a number of authors on either side of the issue, each with their own valid points.
How would you explain to a person what “speaking in tongues” is, who has never heard the phrase used before? Elwell gives us a great definition, “Speaking in tongues is generally understood to be communication with God in language that is other than one known to the speaker. A person does the speaking—that is, he freely uses his vocal apparatus—but it is claimed that the Holy Spirit gives utterance. It is viewed as transcendent speech by the enabling of the Holy Spirit.” Dr. Grudem and Pastor MacArthur have whole chapters in their works referenced in this essay dealing with the issue of tongues. Dr. Grudem is a proponent of what is known as the “third wave” and believes that tongues along with the other grace gifts are still in effect today.
However, Pastor MacArthur is of the cessationist camp that believes all of the miraculous gifts have ceased since the completion of the canon of the Bible. While Pentecostals claim that everyone who claims to be a Christian should speak in tongues and cessationist claim that all the grace gifts have ceased some is not most charismatics tend to be more toward the middle ground on this argument. Enns writes, “While some Pentecostals emphasize that speaking in tongues is necessary as evidence of the reception of the Holy Spirit, charismatics tend to deemphasize the importance of tongues. Chuck Smith states, “We certainly are not advocating that everyone speak in tongues.”
C. Scripture vs. Experience
One of the hardest things to reconcile for members of the Pentecostal or charismatic tradition is the authority of Scripture in their walk. MacArthur says that, “there are only two basic approaches to biblical truth. One is the historical, objective approach, which emphasizes God’s action toward men and women as taught in Scripture. The other is the personal, subjective approach, which emphasizes the human experience of God.” Patti Gallagher Mansfield in her work As By A New Pentecost, has very little scriptural support for start of the Charismatic Renewal Movement in the Catholic church, it is primarily a large gathering of stories of experience, whether hers or her companions. MacArthur feels that, “both the Pentecostal and charismatic movements of today are based on experience, emotion, phenomena, and feelings.” All while suppressing the authority of Scripture. Mark Cartledge emphasizes the experience of God when he says, “Later charismatics relativized this by speaking of more frequent ‘encounters’ with the Holy Spirit as part of the ongoing life of the believer. Therefore charismatics expect God toe revaeal his glory in worship, to answer prayer, to perform miracles, to speak directly by means of dreams, visions and prophecy.”
Gregg Allison, quotes Wayne Grudem on the sufficiency and authority of Scripture while legitimizing ongoing prophetic revelation.
(1)the encouragement that comes from knowing “that everything God wants to tell us about [any particular doctrinal issue or personal situation] is to be found in Scripture”; (2) the reassurance “that God does not require us to believe anything about himself or his redemptive work which is not found in Scripture”; (3) the reminder “that nothing is sin which is not forbidden by Scripture (either explicitly or by implication)”; and (4) the comfort “that nothing is required of us by God that is not commanded in Scripture (either explicitly or by implication).”
While experience has a place in every part of our lives we must never allow it to become a greater authority than Scripture. Peter Hocken suggests that we keep a place open for the Spirit to speak and for us to be more flexible to hear him and follow his promptings.
The largest and most popular sub-sect of charismatic theology has to be the prosperity gospel, also called neo-pentecostalism. As Cheryl M. Peterson says, “Neo-Pentecostalism can be distinguished from earlier Pentecostal movements by its global character and its message of prosperity.”The prosperity gospel is also known as the health and wealth movement. It promises that if you love God with all you heart he will hear your prayers, heal you from every disease and you have no reason to be poor. It seems that most of the biggest names in Televangelism are all preachers of the prosperity gospel. Most of us have all heard of Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, and Joel Osteen, just to name a few. According to Enns, Kenneth Copeland completely denies the incarnation of Jesus and especially his deity; “Copeland states, “This man—Jesus was a carbon copy of the one who walked through the Garden of Eden…. He never made the assertion that He was the Most High God. In fact, He told is disciple that the Father God was greater and mightier than He (John 14:28). Why didn’t Jesus openly proclaim Himself as God during His 33 years on earth? For one single reason: He hadn’t come to earth as God, he’d come as man.”How absurd is this comment because, “ Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9 ESV)
The health and wealth movement teaches that Jesus not only died for our sins but to allow us to have a life free from sickness and poverty.Why would Jesus who spoke about money on so many different occasions guarantee that we would have a life full of financial prosperity? Was in not the Lord himself who told the rich young ruler to go and sell everything he owned, or did he not mention that birds had nest and foxes had holes but the Son of Man had no place to lay his head? When it comes to the theology of the health and wealth movement we must denounce all that it stands for because, as Enns exclaims
They demean the precious name of Christ, denying that he claimed deity, teaching that he was dragged into hell and had to be born again and then claiming that they themselves are gods. The prosperity people focus on this world and the things in this world, encouraging covetousness and worldliness. Jesus and the Scriptures speak clearly about the believer’s relationship to the world (John 15:18-19; 1 John 2:15-17).
To demean Christ and to exalt man to deity is heretical and blasphemous. The health and wealth movement stands outside of historic, biblical Christianity and must be rejected. It is not Christian.
There will be some who will try to refute the examination of this sub-sect of the charismatic movement, saying that we are being too harsh on its propagators. However, we must beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing that penetrate the flock to cause harm.
Through out this study I have attempted to present a balanced and biblical view of charismatic theology. It is my understanding that the grace gifts have not fully ceased, but unlike many Pentecostals and charismatics; there is no need for a “second blessing”, or the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We are all endowed with the gifts we have to nurture and allow the Spirit to reveal them to us. As Paul reminded the Corinthian believers not all have the same gifts, and we should appreciated the gifts given to us, because we are all important to the body.
While we may want to have our experiences rule in our lives, we must remember that the highest authority we have in our lives is the Bible and if our experiences do not line up Scripture then we have done something wrong. Never be afraid to examine the things you are learning from the Bible the same way the Bereans did (Acts 17:11). And if what you are learning requires change, allow the Spirit to make that change in you for your good. I will end on this note from Mark Cartledge, “Charismatic theology invites change at the levels of affection, behavior and belief. However, it is always the Holy Spirit who is the true agent of such transformation.”
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Cheryl M.Peterson, “Pneumatology and the cross: the challenge of neo-Pentecostalism to Lutheran theology.” Dialog 50, no. 2 (June 1, 2011): 133-142. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed July 25, 2012)133.
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