A Brief Discussion of the Charismatic Movement

Introduction

 

One of the most influential movements in the last 100 or so years has been the Charismatic movement. It has transcended denominational lines and has led to many significant developments in Christianity. Through rise of the charismatic movements new perspectives to theological issues may have been brought up which need to be addressed both from within and external to the movement.

The church in the United States of America is incredibly divided to the point where many church refuse to even work with other churches in the area which result in situations where churches are literally next to each other on the same street are at odds with each other and refuse to cooperate. The only times these church come together is through para-church ministries despite the fact that many of the differences are not doctrinal issues. Of late some churches have started criticizing the other denominations and showing infighting and personal attacks against other Christians. This infighting and squabbling has resulted in confusion and is a bad witness to those who don’t know Christ.

Much of the fighting has risen between traditionalists and those who are associated with the Charismatic movement. Even within the Charismatic movement some churches attempt to differentiate within the Charismatic movement. One of the problems with this movement is the overall range of which specific churches fit into the Charismatic movement and therefore it is essential to be able to discern what churches fit within Biblical Christianity. This rise of the Charismatic church in America has presented a unique challenge to traditional Christianity and specifically to the understanding of the organization of the church and the understanding of the spiritual gifts.

 

Movement’s Beginnings

 

There are two main beginnings to the movement, first is in Kansas where Charles Parham would lead his college students to praying and asking for God to come and give the spiritual gifts. His premise revolved around what had been a common assumption that the spiritual gifts present in the book of Acts had ceased after the apostolic age. He looked at this as being a flawed assumption whereby there is no record of the gifts ceasing to function. So him and his students had a prayer meeting whereby they would start speaking in tongues and other manifestations of the Holy Spirit.

While the prayer meetings in Kansas were important, the real key came at Azusa Street in California. Led by William Seymour, the movement on Azusa Street is what sparked what is today considered to be the modern Charismatic church. “The original movement, of 1906, soon evolved into a variety of Pentecostal denominations, most of which are still growing rapidly. But then toward the end of the 1950s a fresh, largely lay, semiautonomous expression appeared, only partially originating within the older Pentecostal context. It includes large numbers of laity and clergy from and remaining within the major denominations.”[1]

With the continuing presence of the charismatic movement much scholarly debate has centered around some aspects of charismatics and whether their insistence on the Holy Spirit is something new or whether it has been seen throughout the history of the church. One of the best studies on this movement centers around the Anabaptists who may be considered early charismatics and they would see “visions, dreams, signs, and miracles, though possible through the Holy Spirit’s working, have a relatively minor role in theory and practice in evangelical Anabaptism— a supportive and confirming and inspirational role under Christ and the Scriptures.”[2] These tendencies would lead to fighting with other Christians. The key defining feature that would incorporate Anabaptists into the Charismatic movement is that “the evangelical Anabaptists, in theory, seem not far from Würben and Bucer except that, unlike Bucer, they relegate none of the gifts to the apostolic age alone.”[3] This is what tends to be the key theological basis for defining a Charismatic church.

The modern movement though can be attributed to the Holiness movement and then now has been incorporated into many other churches. This sows “a continuity with previous moves of the Spirit, is evident from the Pentecostals* complete adoption of the terminology used by Evangelicals and Holiness people to describe the work of God. These terms include revival, awakening and outpouring. They are basically used by Pentecostals in the same sense as they have been by Evangelicals[4]

Pentacostalism

Pentacostalism started “at Azusa Street with the preaching of black Baptist W. J. Seymour, one of Parham’s students, Pentecostalism gained attention and spread in a national and international movement.[5] Pentacostalism has become one of the largest denominations in the world despite many denominations rejecting them compared to other denominations. There is a general hesitancy to accept Pentecostals as a legitimate denomination from many groups such as Baptists, Episcopaeleans, Lutherans and other groups.

NeoCharismatics

The Neo-Charismatic movement essentially encompasses the non-pentecostal charismatic grouping of denominations. The majority of these churches are non-denominational churches. But also often include Vineyard Churches as well as Calvary Chapel Churches. This grouping has been defined by David Barrett who “adopted the term third-wave and applied it to what he recognized as observable categories and trends in global pentecostalism that did not fit into classical Pentecostalism or the Charismatic Movement. Barrett called these third- wavers Neo-charismatics”[6]

Many trace the origins of this third wave to the Wesleyan tradition, but it would move “beyond the limits of the Wesleyan tradition, and was taken up by many Baptists and others.”[7] This expansion has lead to many areas of Christian thought. “National and regional meetings, books and articles, prominent personalities, and powerful organizations are evidences of the vitality of the charismatic movement. Few geographical areas or religious groups have escaped the influence of the movement entirely, and Southern Baptists are not among the exceptions.”[8] This movement has taken Christianity by storm and has lead to many church leaders acting in response to the Charismatic movement either for or against the movement.

This new form of Charismatic church has transcended denominational lines, and instead of joining Pentecostals, “most of those involved in this new Charismatic wave remained loyal members of their churches; but at the same time there was a feeling of kinship among charismatics of various denominations, thus giving rise to an ecumenical movement that had little or no connection with organized conciliar ecumenism.”[9] Because of this, the Neo-Charismatic movement tends to be the most accepted of all the branches associated with the Charismatic movements.

 

Word-Faith

The Word-Faith movement represents a trend in the church, which has been rejected by even many within the Charismatic movement. This movement is similar to the Neo-Charismatic movement where it transcends denominational lines. “Leading American exponents of this approach within the Pentecostal tradition include Oral Roberts and Benny Hinn.”[10] Also, it tends to be incorporate many non-denominational churches as well. This movement is represented in the idea of positive confession.

One of the most prevalent teachings within the present-day charismatic movement is a doctrine called “positive confession.” This doctrine is accompanied by a basic presupposition: that all Christians are to be physically healthy and materially rich. The presupposition controls the confession. Thus, if one is in need of physical healing one must find a verse concerning healing, such as Matthew 8:17, and then audibly quote this verse in the face of all physical circumstances to the contrary. By believing in one’s heart and speaking with one’s mouth this verse, the healing will eventually be manifested by faith. The result is always to be positive, hence, “positive” confession.[11]

This idea of positive confession is the defining doctrine of the Word-Faith churches. Because of this, the Neo-Charismatic churches and non-Charismatic churches alike have rejected Word-Faith churches.

Emerging

Emerging churches have become the next big trend as churches attempt to respond to the Post-Modern culture. Emerging churches have taken many of their cues from the charismatic movement. Similarly to the Word-Faith movement churches, Emerging churches have been deemed as unbiblical if not full on heretical. The final impact of these churches has yet to be seen, but pastor’s like Brian McLaren who lead the mega churches in America continue to make the emerging churches popular.

Present Day Status

 

We know the origins of the Charismatic movement have been varied a bit throughout history, but presently, “the Charismatic movement is the most rapidly growing element of Christianity today. Penetecostalism in its various forms is now the largest single Christian group apart from Catholicism and outnumbers the sum total of all other forms of Protestantism.”[12] This huge uptick has happened around the world and is not isolated to one country or region. Unlike previous movements, the Charismatic movement has benefited from the global framework set forth by the most recent revivals that took place in the United States and England with the focus on sending missionaries to the rest of the world.

We see many aspects of the Charismatic movement having incorporated itself into the protestant groups, we see a renewed sense of vitality coming from places all around the world. For example, “the surge of spiritual and intellectual energy now animating African Protestantism can be seen from one of the most significant publications of the opening years of the twenty-first century.”[13] This trend is looking to continue as Christian populations in America shrink but growth in previously non-Christian countries continues to rise.

Conclusion

 

Ultimately the Charismatic movement should be thought of in two distinct groups. The first group would be composed of the Neo-Charismatics and some if not most Pentecostal churches. This is the group that believes in the ongoing gifts of the Spirit and the baptism of the Holy Spirit but does not engage in the schemes such as the Word-Faith movement, the prosperity gospel, or considering itself part of the emerging church. These primarily non-denominational churches do tend to be Biblically based even though there is some disagreement of other areas of theology. But similarly to Luther and Calvin who’s followers couldn’t agree on the nature of communion, the differences are not something to be calling these churches heretical when they are more frequently seeking the original church.

However, those Pentecostal groups that would belong to churches that teach any type of Word-Faith, prosperity gospel, health and wealth or emerging theology should rightly be called out for the incorrect theology they teach as many within the Charismatic movement have rightly done to this day.

 

Bibliography

Bustraan, Richard Anderson. “The Jesus People Movement and the charismatic movement: a case for inclusion.” Pentecostudies 10, no. 1 (January 1, 2011): 29-49. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 5, 2014).

Chou, HG. “The religious life and happiness of Protestants involved with the charismatic movement.” Mental Health, Religion & Culture 11, no. 4 (May 2008): 359-367. CINAHL Plus with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed April 5, 2014).

Davis, Kenneth R. “Anabaptism as a charismatic movement.” Mennonite Quarterly Review 53, no. 3 (July 1, 1979): 219-234. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 5, 2014).

Elwell, Walter (ed). The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. 2001

Erickson, Millard. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Books. 1998.

Gonzalez, Justo. The Story of Christianity Volume II: The Reformation to the Present Day. New York: HarperOne. 2010.

Hocken, Peter. “The Pentecostal-charismatic movement as revival and renewal.” Pneuma 3, no. 1 (March 1, 1981): 31-47. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 5, 2014).

Howe, Claude L. “Charismatic movement in Southern Baptist life.” Baptist History And Heritage 13, no. 3 (July 1, 1978): 20-27. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 5, 2014).

McGrath, Alister. Christianity’s Dangerous Idea. New York: Harper Collins. 2007.

Neuman, H Terris. “Cultic Origins of World-Faith Theology Within the Charismatic Movement.” Pneuma 12, no. 1 (March 1, 1990): 32-55. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 5, 2014).

Smylie, James H. “Testing the spirits in the American context : great awakenings, pentecostalism, and the charismatic movement.” Interpretation 33, no. 1 (January 1, 1979): 32-46. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 5, 2014).

 

 

[1] Davis, Kenneth R. “Anabaptism as a charismatic movement.” Mennonite Quarterly Review 53, no. 3 (July 1, 1979): 219-234. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 5, 2014).

[2] Davis, Kenneth R. “Anabaptism as a charismatic movement.” Mennonite Quarterly Review 53, no. 3 (July 1, 1979): 219-234. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 5, 2014).

[3] Davis, Kenneth R. “Anabaptism as a charismatic movement.” Mennonite Quarterly Review 53, no. 3 (July 1, 1979): 219-234. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 5, 2014).

[4] Hocken, Peter. “The Pentecostal-charismatic movement as revival and renewal.” Pneuma 3, no. 1 (March 1, 1981): 31-47. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 5, 2014).

[5] Smylie, James H. “Testing the spirits in the American context : great awakenings, pentecostalism, and the charismatic movement.” Interpretation 33, no. 1 (January 1, 1979): 32-46. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 5, 2014).

[6] Bustraan, Richard Anderson. “The Jesus People Movement and the charismatic movement: a case for inclusion.” Pentecostudies 10, no. 1 (January 1, 2011): 29-49. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 5, 2014).

[7] Gonzalez, Justo. The Story of Christianity Volume II: The Reformation to the Present Day. New York: HarperOne. 2010. 340

[8] Howe, Claude L. “Charismatic movement in Southern Baptist life.” Baptist History And Heritage 13, no. 3 (July 1, 1978): 20-27. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 5, 2014).

[9] Gonalez, Justo. The Story of Christianity Volume II: The Reformation to the Present Day. New York: HarperOne. 2010. 498.

[10] Mcgrath, Alister. Christianity’s Dangerous Idea. New York: Harper Collins. 2007. 434

[11] Neuman, H Terris. “Cultic Origins of World-Faith Theology Within the Charismatic Movement.” Pneuma 12, no. 1 (March 1, 1990): 32-55. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 5, 2014).

[12] McGrath, Alister. Christianity’s Dangerous Idea. New York: Harper Collins. 2007. 415

[13] McGrath, Alister. Christianity’s Dangerous Idea. New York: Harper Collins. 2007. 447.


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