Charisma – The Fourth Branch of Christianity?

Charisma: The Fourth Branch of Christianity?

Christianity is divided into three main branches: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant. Without going deeply into the whys and wherefores, it will be enough to say that this essay recognizes the three distinctions. While there are doctrinal differences among these three, their core theologies are surprisingly similar.

This essay suggests that there is now emerging a fourth branch of Christianity, which I am referring to as Charisma.


The apostle Paul lists the gifts of the Holy Spirit in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. In the Greek text the word translated “gifts” is transliterated as charismata. From this we get both “charismatic” and “charisma.”[1] Most simply put, a charismatic person is one who speaks in tongues.

Some Christians are cessationists, viewing that the writing of the New Testament and the death of the Twelve Apostles ended the need for and viability of the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church. Their belief is that these gifts are no longer operative and therefore are not seen.

In marked distinction, some Christians are continuationists, believing that the charismatic gifts never ceased and are yet operative in the life of the Church. This belief lies at the heart of the idea that there is emerging, or has already emerged, a fourth branch of Christianity.


Some Christians, like me, are semi-cessationists or semi-continuationists. To clarify, I think that during times of awakening, those times when God pours out His Holy Spirit to sweep many into salvation, the charismatic gifts of the Spirit may be in evidence. But during “normal” times, which are most  times, the gifts are rarely observed.

At the church I pastor we pray for people to be healed and follow James 5:14: “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” We do this on Sunday evenings and also give an opportunity for deliverance, which is when demons are cast out of those who understand their need for this ministry. No one that I know of speaks in tongues at our services, and we don’t have much of a praise band, so we are fairly tame. “Semi” is the right word.

Moving in the flow of the Spirit

There are large and growing numbers of Christians world-wide who claim to be “moving in the flow of the Spirit.” They further claim that God’s Spirit is being poured out on all those who are open to it. This predominantly occurs in Pentecostal churches, but not solely.

During the Jesus People Movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s I was a charismatic. We saw the miracles, we spoke in tongues, we had prophecies, and we had healings by the hundreds. Now, we did not understand that we were right in the middle of a national awakening and that all over the country similar things were happening. We flattered ourselves in thinking we were part of a special elite group of spiritual commandos taking the world for Christ. We had power, spiritual power, and we could not seem to help thinking more of ourselves than we ought to have.

The movement came to an end in 1972 or somewhat later, depending on where you were. But this insight was hindsight, as we did not learn of this until decades later. It was almost panic time when the conversions dramatically slowed and the healings were few and far between. What happened? Who took the power away? What will we do now?

Since we were flexible, we learned how to infuse people with excitement like in the good old days, and we accomplished it mostly through music. No, I am not against praise music. To this day, decades later, I still play the guitar and lead a kind of praise band, but we sing solid Jesus-centered songs and don’t get carried away with the beat of the drum and a cranked up amp. We play and sing for short periods with nothing like the now famous 7-11 routine, that is, seven words sung eleven times.

More, More, More

More is what so many want. They want to experience more of God, they want to be touched by His power, and they want the power to heal and do miracles. Sitting quietly in the pews listening to doctrinal sermons from uninspired preachers simply will not do. They want moving, shouting, falling, soaking, shaking, burning, and prophesying – charismania. They want more!

And more is what they are getting. It is all over YouTube from IHOP in Kansas City, Morningstar in North Carolina, and the Bethel Church in Redding, California. Young people, who have largely vacated the churches of the three branches, are present and fully engaged in intense activity. It is very compelling.

Why not us?

If Charisma is enjoying incredible success, why don’t the rest of us get on board? We would, but we sense something is wrong, and it is not merely jealousy or envy or because we are stuck in our ways. Neither is it a rejection of what God is doing by the power of His Holy Spirit.

We sense something wrong in the craving for more. We think it opens the door to deception.

We see disproportionate attention given to the Holy Spirit, or what is thought to be the Holy Spirit, while the Trinity, as a complete entity, is ignored. Father and Son seem to drop out of sight or are only peripherally mentioned. We cannot but notice Jesus’ teaching in John chapters 14, 15, and 16 to the effect that the Holy Spirit will glorify Jesus; the Holy Spirit will not glorify the Holy Spirit.

We are dismayed at the notion that the Scripture is no longer authoritative for both practice and belief, for that is the implication in the claim that we are “off the charts” or that we can receive truth directly from angels, Jesus, or even the Father.

We smell a mediumistic odor here, emanating from the mouths of those who sway seekers into avoiding their Bibles in favor of rolling on the floor straining to hear the actual voice of God in their entranced ears. To many of us this is repulsive and even demonic.

Give me that old time religion  

Worship for many of us means gathering together with other Christians to pray, sing, study the Word, hear the Word proclaimed, and enjoy fellowship with each other. We love reciting the Lord’s Prayer, saying the Apostles’ or the Nicene Creed, listening to prayers written by brothers and sisters long gone, and thinking through what our God means to us. We do not think we have to “experience” God, especially since there is nothing in the Scripture that teaches us to do so. It is a life of faith and service, sacrifice and giving, prayer and praise. It is decent, orderly, respectful worship of the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the “more” we need, and it is enough.

Unity, and if not, respect

We do not need a gigantic organization that enfolds all the world’s Christians. There is no need, and it simply will not happen until, and there is an until, the kingdom of God comes in all its glory. Then there will be unity.

Respect is what we can hope for. Respect for each other, however many branches there may be, respect that comes from the fact we all worship the same God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And in that sense of respect, we can learn from each other out of humility. We can critique, evaluate, repent, confess, ask for forgiveness, and work together, even with those whom we consider a little off track in terms of doctrine.

The enemy who wars against Christ’s Church loves to divide and conquer. An elitist attitude divides. The thinking, “I have more of the Spirit than you do,” divides. When Jesus is not the center of worship and praise, then there will only be splintering and factioning, not unity.

[1] Transliterated here means to put English letters in place of corresponding Greek letters. For example, kai is the transliteration of kai, alpha, nu, a word meaning “and.”