Chatting recently, someone said to me “I’m not too keen on charismatic things anymore. I had enough of that when I was younger.” I imagine that there are many Christians out there who would have sympathy with this kind of thought. Been there, fell over, was given a wierd ‘prophecy’, seen it, not very impressed – left without a t-shirt.
For the uninitiated, a few words of explantation. A charismatic Christian is one who believes in and experiences the ‘gifts of the Holy Spirit’. Primarily these focus on the 9 gifts listed in the bible in 1Corinthians 12:7-10:
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.
The beginning of the 20th century saw the beginning of the Pentecostal Movement, which many Christians see as the recovery of these gifts for the church, that had been substantially forgotten for much of church history (for an excellent history of the Pentecostal story I recommend the “Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition” by Vinson Synan). Many of the largest and fastest growing churches in the world today, can trace their roots back to the early days of this movment in Los Angeles in 1906.
In the 1960s many Christians from established denominations began to experience “the baptism in the Holy Spirit” and the gifts of the Spirit. Christians from Episcopalian, Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Baptist etc. churches were coming into a new lease of life ‘in the Spirit’. This movement – ultimately called the Charismatic Movement – has probably been the greatest single influence on the church worldwide in the last 100 years. Over 600 million people around the world would identify themselves as Pentecostal or Charismatic Christians.
I became a Christian in 1990 into a church (the Vine Christian Fellowship) that had been born into the Charismatic movement. So it was normal for us to think about, and experience supernatural healing, prophecy, the word of knowledge, speaking in tongues etc. I didn’t know that there was any other way of being a Christian. Since that time, I have continued to pursue these things in my walk with God and my ministry – convinced from both the bible and experience that these things are a normal part of the Christian life.
However, I will not be alone in having encountered practices, behaviour and ideas within the Charismatic Movement that have given me cause for concern. But my thesis is, that the majority of Christians who have walked away from charismatic things (such as the person at the start of this piece) have not walked away from the gifts of the Spirit, but from other things that have become associated with ‘being charismatic’.
What do I mean? Well, here are some of the things that often cause people concern in this area:
- Domineering and controlling church leadership – talk of ‘covering’ and ‘authority’
- The health and wealth gospel
- Untested prophecy
- Unfulfilled promises regarding “what God is going to do”
- Certain approaches to music
The list could go on – but these are the main ones. Now, if one begins to examine where some of these ideas and practices emerged from, you soon realise that they all had their origin in a particular church, or leader at a particular time – they didn’t just appear on their own – and didn’t just ‘fall out of the bible’. Gordon Fee, the author of an excellent commentary on the work of the Holy Spirit in the letters of St Paul believes that the 2 things for which the Charismatic Movement will be judged most severely are 1.Untested Prophecy and 2. The Health and Wealth Gospel. I have some sympathy with this view.
But, and it’s a big but – these things are not in themselves part of what it means to experience the power of the Holy Spirit and excercise that Gifts of the Holy Spirit. I believe these gifts and God’s presence should be hungered for by every Christian:
1 Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy (1Corinthians 14:1).
So I want to be charismatic – without the charismania.
If you’d like to delve into this subject further – then may I recommend Rob MacAlpine’s excellent book “Post-Charismatic?”. In this book “”Rob McAlpine writes with a positive and constructive voice. He shows us that the answer to misuse or excess concerning the Holy Spirit is not `no use’ but right use. For burned-out and hurt former charismatics, Post-Charismatic? leads the way forward toward a mature and sane re-engagement with the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Post-charismatic is not post-Holy Spirit, it is a call for post-weirdness.”
Amen to that. Come Holy Spirit