Clear and Present Danger #3: Pentecostalism, Charismatics, and Word Faith
The Book of Acts gives an account of many miracles that the apostles accomplished at the beginning of the Church Age. The church begins with the appearance of tongues of fire and the ability of the apostles to communicate in languages they did not know. Miracles, healings, visions, and tongues seemed to be the normal experience for the early church. The question is, should the church of today experience the same kind of phenomena? That is, should believers expect to speak in unknown languages, to heal the sick, to have supernatural visions, or to accomplish other miraculous signs and wonders?
A large segment of the church teaches that the experience of the apostles should be normal for the church in all ages. The modern church should encounter the same phenomena that the early church did, especially miraculous healing and speaking in tongues. Those who teach this are called Pentecostals or Charismatics. And they number close to 500 million adherents.
Background and history of this movement
The term charismatic comes from the Greek word charismata, which means gifts of grace. Charismatics teach that the Holy Spirit still grants supernatural, extraordinary gifts and powers to believers, such as faith to perform miracles, the power to heal, to prophesy and interpret prophecy, and to speak in tongues (glossolalia). They believe that all the spiritual gifts mentioned in the Bible still exist and should still be practiced in the church, including the miraculous sign gifts.
The Pentecostal movement has its roots in John Wesley, an eighteenth-century revival preacher, and the Methodist movement he founded. The modern Pentecostal movement in the U.S. began in 1901 at Bethel Bible College, in Topeka, Kansas, when an eighteen-year-old girl named Agnes Ozman received what she called the baptism of the Spirit and spoke in “tongues” (Chinese, supposedly). Soon, most of the others at the school were speaking and singing in tongues. In 1906, the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles became the center of a revival where hundreds fell under the power of the Spirit. Visitors took the experiences back to their home churches. Most consider the revival at the Azusa Street Mission to be the beginning of the modern Pentecostal movement.
In 1960, in Van Nuys, California, the modern Charismatic movement (or neo-Pentecostalism) began in an Episcopal Church. After that, the movement spread among the mainline denominations like Lutherans and Presbyterians. The movement spread to Dartmouth, Stanford, Princeton, and even to the Roman Catholics at Notre Dame.
Charismatics trace their movement through three “waves”: 1) Old or Classic Pentecostalism, which began in 1901; 2) New Pentecostalism or Charismatic Renewal, beginning in 1960; and 3) The Signs and Wonders Movement, a name coined in 1983. This supposedly new movement of the Spirit is sweeping into churches that have not traditionally been part of Pentecostalism. Evangelical churches began opening up to charismatic experiences as part of this third wave.
Within the 3rd wave Charismatic movement is the Word Faith movement, also known as the prosperity Gospel, or health, wealth, and prosperity, or “name it and claim it” theology, or positive confession. Unfortunately, this is the fastest growing segment within Christianity. Influential within this movement are characters such as Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyers, Jesse Duplantis, Paula White, TD Jakes, and Rod Parsley. Kenneth Hagin (1867-1948) was the grandfather of this movement, but it actually originates in mind-science cults like Christian Science. Some of the key ideas of Word Faith are not biblically based.
Another form of charismaticism has arisen recently (began in 2001), a movement known as the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR, not NRA). I’ve heard it described as Pentecostalism “on steroids.” It has much in common with Pentecostalism and Charismaticism, but goes beyond them in some ways. There is even more emphasis on the sensational and bizarre within the NAR. People in that movement are even more willing to accept unusual and outrageous behavior.
Are there genuine believers within the charismatic movement? Yes, I don’t doubt that many within the movement are genuinely saved. Many of them have a great love for God, his Word, his church, and the lost. Many are serious in their devotion to God and service to the church. They generally affirm the fundamentals of the faith and have a deep devotion to Christ. We would agree with them on many things.
We don’t want to characterize the whole movement by the worst elements of it. We don’t define a movement by its excesses or extremes. E.g., we would not want to be defined as Baptists by the worst examples of those calling themselves Baptist, and there are many bad examples that we would repudiate. So we must do the same for the Charismatic movement. We try to define it by what the majority of the movement believe and practice.
Unfortunately, even if we consider the mainstream of the movement, there are still serious errors evident. Because there is so much error in the movement, I believe that many within it are lost. Many are in serious doctrinal error. In some churches, the Jesus that they teach is not the Jesus of the Bible. The message that they preach is not the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is in large part a man-centered appeal—what can God do for me? How can I become prosperous? How can I have authority in my world? How can God solve my problems?
Why do the charismatic/Pentecostal/signs and wonders/Word Faith/NAR movements threaten the church?