Charismatic and Pentecostal: An Opinion
I admit it; I am a charismatic and a pentecostal.
A “charismatic” is a person who believes in and/or practices or has one or more of the ‘grace’ gifts. The Greek word for grace as transliterated from the Greek is charis. The word charismatic, then, is an adjective turned into another noun built from charis. All but cessationists, who are those who deny the operation of grace gifts now that the New Testament is published and the age of the Apostles is over, would be classed as charismatics or at least persons believing that the grace gifts are still bestowed on believers today.
A “pentecostal” usually means someone who, in the tradition of the early part of the 20th century in the Azusa Street Revival (Los Angeles in 1908) to the present, speaks in tongues. Early in their tradition, pentecostals believed that if a person did not speak in tongues they were not really born again, since the evidence of the indwelling Holy Spirit was tongue speaking. (Some denominations still teach this while most do not.) Pentecostals generally hold that, even if tongue speaking is not evidence of salvation, it is at least something everyone will do if they are truly seeking after God.
I myself spoke in tongues from 1968 to about 1990, with the frequency going steadily downhill until finally it ceased completely. During the Jesus People Movement I also received words of wisdom, knowledge, and prophecy, plus consistently had the gifts of discernment (distinguishing between spirits), healing, and miracles. This is no exaggeration; in fact, I am purposefully minimizing my experiences.
Let us look at the grace gifts:
|1 Corinthians 12:1-11||Romans 12:|
|utterance of wisdom||Prophecy|
|utterance of Knowledge||Service|
|gifts of healing||Exhorting|
|working of miracles||contributing (in generosity)|
|prophecy||leading (with zeal)|
|ability to distinguish between spirits||acts of mercy (with cheerfulness)|
|various kinds of tongues|
|interpretation of tongues|
Many contend, as do I, that Paul cites an additional grace charismatic gift, celibacy. 1 Corinthians 7:6-7 seems to teach this.
Let us take a moment to examine the charismatic gifts.
The cessationist ought to have a problem with the idea that the charismatic gifts are no longer operational, since many of these gifts seem to be in evidence today. Among them are wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, distinguishing between spirits, service, teaching, exhorting (which means encouraging), contributing, leading, and acts of mercy. To look at one of these, acts of mercy, it is apparent to most pastors that some will have this gift while others do not. There are observable differences then and not with acts of mercy only. Others that I have seen are leading, contributing, encouraging, teaching, and serving.
What the cessationist actually rejects however are the so-called ‘power gifts’ – tongues, miracles, and prophecy; the others are ignored or accommodated in some way or another. Prophecy, in particular, is generally misunderstood. It is essentially a forth telling or proclamation of the Word and Truth of God, which, ever since the publication of the New Testament, is simply the preaching of the Word of Christ. In the Jesus People Movement we used to think prophecy was a ‘Thus saith the Lord’ thing, the prophet communicating new information. After long exposure to and experience with this form of prophecy, I concluded that the ‘prophet’ would tend to announce what was in his or her own mind, however sincerely. I thought and practiced in this manner for a decade, much to my regret now.
Being an actual pentecostal
Whether one speaks in tongues or does not is of no consequence. If such is necessary for proclaiming the glory of God, then God will supply it.
The real problem surrounding tongues speaking occurs in a congregational setting. As a senior pastor of a fairly large church during the 1970s I ignored the teaching about the necessity of interpreting tongues for the understanding and teaching of the congregation. I also turned a blind eye to the statement of Paul’s that there should be only a few tongue-speaking messages (see 1 Corinthians 14:27).
Another significant issue arises in a situation where many people, in a service, are speaking in tongues. Others who are new to the group may feel expected to join in. I suspect that whatever can be observed, that is, seen or heard, can be mimicked. Frankly, I have seen this hundreds of times. If one wants to be seen as spiritual and have a need to be approved by the group, he or she may well copy or mimic what the others are doing. Then the group will congratulate, approve, and welcome the new tongue speaker into the inner circle of the truly born again.
A kind of cognitive dissonance is operative. There is pressure to speak in tongues, the urging to do so, the prayers offered up for the gift to be granted, only to have nothing happen. Eventually, the tension must be broken, and the result will be either mimicry or abandonment of the whole effort.
I am pentecostal
This is my testimony: I am pentecostal. In has been decades since I have spoken in tongues, but it could come back. No, I will not carry on speaking in tongues with a whole group of others doing the same thing and without interpretation, as it is a complete violation of Scripture. (Carefully study 1 Corinthians chapters 12, 13, and 14, making every effort to set aside pre-conceived views. We must be more concerned about being faithful to the Word of God than to the traditions of men.)
At this present time, in September of 2013, I consider that many gifts of the Spirit abound in tens of thousands of congregations around the world, probably without many of these people even being aware of it. My experience has been that those who least suspect they are being gifted by the Spirit are, in fact, the most gifted.
Here is where I see the real evidence, the most biblically oriented evidence, of the working of the charismatic gifts: in proclaiming the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.
In Acts 1:8, Jesus set His agenda for the Church to continue until His Second Coming: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Indeed, when the day of Pentecost arrived, the Apostles spoke in tongues, to the effect that people heard them telling in their own languages “the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11). Three thousand converts came from the proclaiming of a dozen, less one, preachers.
What were the “mighty works”? They were the old, old story of Jesus and His cross and resurrection. Yes, the Messiah had come and died in the sinner’s place. Nothing has changed since then, but when the babbling goes on and on, confused and clamoring, it is not the Spirit of God. It is either human confusion or demonic imitation.
Another kind of speaking in tongues – prayer language
It is characteristic of charismatics and pentecostals to distinguish between speaking in tongues as a prayer language and the speaking in tongues in a congregational setting. It is this latter form that demands interpretation. Let me repeat: if there is so-called speaking in tongues in a group of Christians with an absence of interpretation, then something is drastically wrong.
“Prayer language” is what the lone Christian utters, words that are unintelligible to the human ear but which are supposed to be the indwelling Holy Spirit praying through the mouth of the believer. We are on murky ground here, because the material in support of a private prayer language is not perfectly clear but is open to interpretation. In 1 Corinthians 14:2 Paul writes, “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.” Now this verse is connected with Romans 8:26-27 by most charismatics and pentecostals:
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Here I am not as certain as I would like to be. It was private prayer language in which I most often engaged and which slowly went away without return to this date. I must admit that I am still convinced that this type of spiritual prayer is genuine. The validity of this form of prayer I observed when casting out demons from people during the 1970s, during the Jesus People Movement. This form of prayer caused dramatic reactions from two different people on two separate occasions, about one year apart. These two raised their hands, covered their ears, and said, “Stop that perfect prayer.” However, I do not want to anchor the validity of private and personal praying in unknown tongues on the retorts of demonized individuals.
Whether or not the Spirit intercedes for the Christian in the form of private speaking/praying in tongues I cannot say for sure, but either way, it does not violate Paul’s concern that, in the congregation, tongues must be interpreted.
Of greater concern: Christian-oriented shamanism practiced by some pentecostals
The Shaman, while in an ecstatic state, can go to heaven or to hell and deal with angels, deities, demons, or the souls of the dead. Pentecostal Christians are also claiming to have met with angels, either in heaven or on the earth. Some describe taking a journey to heaven and conversing with angels. Some even claim to have talks with Jesus in the “throne room.” These assertions have been made for several years now. One wonders if this is not simply an example of one-upmanship – “I am more spiritual and closer to God that you” – since pride is a powerful motivator even in the broad Christian community. Or perhaps it is delusion; or trickery; or lying. Who knows, but it is reminiscent of the Shaman’s ‘soul journey.’ Talking with Jesus in heaven – how could this find acceptance with Bible-oriented Christians?
The rationale runs something like this: Since we are living in the last days, God is doing something new. We are off the charts now, being so close to the rapture and the years of tribulation. The Bible, while perfectly fine, does not cover the final period and so God is speaking with some specially chosen servants directly. God’s chosen anointed will communicate what God is saying to the Church. So, why be limited by the Bible when you can go direct? And the Church, the real and true last days Church, becomes those who listen to and obey the words of the chosen anointed.
And if someone like me questions such assertions, the rejoinder is: “Well, how do you know God is not doing this?” Or, “Aren’t you in jeopardy of committing blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?”
Many would-be questioners will retreat if so confronted. They may even be cowed into accepting and joining in. I personally have been confronted with those exact statements, and I found it difficult to give a credible answer. It is like being asked, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” There seems to be no good, at least no direct reply to the accusations.
Taking a stand
It is not established in the New Testament that there would be a time prior to the Second Coming of Jesus that sends us off the charts, requiring direct communication with angels or deity. There is no passage of Scripture that indicates Christians will do this; nothing even close.
The Revelation of John, the last book in our Bible, details the very end of history. In the last chapters of that apocalyptic book are the accounts of the defeat of Satan, the victory of Christ, His return, the celebration of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, and the inauguration of the Kingdom of God. What began in Genesis is completed in Revelation. What more is needed?
The Holy Spirit has not been taken from the Church or individual Christians. When we gather in Jesus’ name, He is still in our midst, and He will be with us until the end of the age (see Matthew 28:20).
Then lastly, there are the words of John himself. He gives readers a warning not to add to or subtract from the revelation given to him by Jesus. Such warnings were not uncommon in that era; they served as a kind of an ancient copyright mechanism. John inserted it for a reason, and it is applicable to those who insist that we have moved beyond the Book:
I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book. If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
The role of feelings in the charismatic/pentecostal experience
Since 1968 I have been involved with those who are charismatic and pentecostal. While not a terribly emotional or feeling-centered person, still I enjoyed the rock and roll bands of my teenage years. My friends knew me as a rather even-tempered person without major highs and lows, emotionally speaking.
During my years as pastor of a charismatic church, increasingly I found myself the odd-man-out. In our services and other gatherings, the ‘worship time’ was the centerpiece and it was assumed to be the time when God showed up. Feeling good became identified with God’s presence. Quiet times, silent prayer, reflective listening to Bible portions, the repeating of creeds, and reciting of prayers we considered be ‘lame’ even sub-Christian. Over time I began to question these assumptions.
By way of my pastoral counseling efforts I found that people would be worried if they did not feel good. Sad, depressed, uneasy, discomforted – these were to be avoided. I began to hear, “Doesn’t God want us to feel good?” “If God is present shouldn’t I feel good?” “God wants me to feel bad?” “Doesn’t God care about how we feel?” “Aren’t praise and worship enhanced when we feel good?” And so on.
These are tough questions, especially for the generations that have grown up to think that everything has to do with feeling good. After all, sad is not the goal of life. But from a biblical perspective, both in terms of precedence and warrant, our feelings are pretty much downplayed if mentioned at all. Yes, there is joy, real and legitimate joy, but upon further study it becomes evident that joy and feelings have little to do with each other. Joy can be present in sadness, even despair.
Sometimes I think that feeling good in worship is, or can be, an attempt at assuring oneself of salvation. I learned that healing was that way, too. If you are healed, it must mean you have God’s gift of salvation. Right? If you ‘feel’ good this must be a sure sign of genuine conversion? Right?
Paul, in Romans 8:14, speaks directly to the issue: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” This is what counts. Here there is a gentle but strong assurance of salvation that is not dependent upon feelings. We may be sad or glad, no matter; we may be struggling mightily or rejoicing with “joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (see 1 Peter 1:8), no matter.
Growing up into Christ we learn to distrust our feelings and rely instead on the finished work of Christ, both for our salvation and our sanctification. Walking through the “valley of the shadow of death, we fear no evil because God is with us,” David said in Psalm 23. We will endure times of distress, pain, and grief, until gladness appears and this may not come until we are in the presence of God in heaven. It is the inner witness of the indwelling Holy Spirit that we cherish. Feelings come and go, but Jesus is with us until the end of the age. To that I say, Hallelujah.
Why we cling so tenaciously to that which is contemporary than to time honored points of theology and practice is not completely understood. We tend to embrace what is new and exciting, large and loud. If crowds of people are flocking in, this must be evidence of genuineness. Numbers, influence, popularity, and money are the proof of the pudding.
Charismatic and pentecostal – these adjective/nouns are still divisive and growing more so as people pray for and earnestly desire the authentic moving of the Holy Spirit in revival and awakening. There is a kind of desperateness apparent and along with it a rush to sanctify anything that looks like it is attended by miracles. The desire is a good and true one. But it is here in the hunger and the yearning where mistakes are made and well-intentioned people go off the charts, ignore boundaries, and depend on supposed power gifts and miracles as evidence of a fresh move of God. According to Jesus and Paul, we should expect demonically inspired signs and wonders (see Matthew 24:24 and 2 Thessalonians 2:9-11, among others). Maybe some of us who lived through the Jesus Movement and who had to deal with the dark aftermath of it may have a helpful word to speak here. This is what I am hoping to do in this essay.
 This essay does not refer to any specific denomination with “Pentecostal” in its title.
 Paul made it clear that even in the Corinthian Church where there was tongue speaking, not everyone did. See 1 Corinthians 12:30.
 Based on Scripture it has been long understood that Satan is capable of counterfeiting the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit. This sad, confusing, and alarming, but true nevertheless. The story of Simon the magician, see Acts 8:9-25, is a case in point.
 No one knows what speaking in tongues looked like or sounded like on the day of Pentecost. It is simply an assumption that what is seen and heard today is the same as what took place in the New Testament era. But it is only a guess, as there were no tape recordings made. The fact is that many religious groups, and non-Christian groups among them, claim to speak in ecstatic tongues. The phenomenon is not limited to Christianity. Some who so practice are as far from Christianity as could be. Considering the vast and confused spiritual marketplace that has overrun the world, critical analytical thinking is advised.
 We do expect Jesus to return, but no one knows when this will be. Some try to set dates only to find themselves embarrassed and Christians scandalized as a result. There is nothing in the biblical record that reveals even signs of a run-up to the Second Coming. A careful study of Matthew 24 makes this clear.
 A study of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 shows that the “rapture” and the Second Coming are the very same event and not two events.
 This is a formula for the development of a toxic faith, or to put it another way, this is how cults come to be.
 By ‘precedence’ I mean direct mention in the Bible. while ‘warrant’ refers to biblical teaching that clearly justifies a doctrinal position or practice.