Modern Day Charismatism: A Biblical Appraisal
Part Three of this book surveyed in some detail the New Testament teaching regarding the miraculous gifts. The study would be incomplete apart from an appraisal of the Charismatic movement, for it is the Charismatics who make so much of these gifts.
The purpose of this chapter must be made clear at the outset. While fundamental disagreement with the Charismatics' claims is already evident, to condemn or vilify all who are involved in the movement would serve no purpose. Our concern is merely with the truth of the Word of God and the good of His people; doctrinal correctness is essential.
While there are many within the Charismatic movement who are no doubt sincere believers, the movement as a whole has some very serious errors which must be recognized.
First of all, let us look at Charismatism in general.
1. Perhaps the most obvious aspect of Charismatism is that it focuses on experience rather than on inscripturated truth. The important questions seem to be what one has experienced, felt, or seen, whether it be tongues, healings, "slayings by the Spirit," revelations, visions, or other miracles. This, in turn, fosters a faulty system of hermeneutics (the science of interpreting the Bible) which interprets the Bible by and subjects it to the seemingly infallible standard of experience (see chapter 21). But even with those first believers who enjoyed the miraculous gifts legitimately, God was not so concerned with their experience as He was with their understanding of Divine Truth as a means to their spiritual growth. To focus on emotions or personal experience in the arena of faith will produce a hollow Christian life. Statements such as, "I just want to have what they had in the early church!" are often mere self-centeredness. All we need and so all we should want is what God says in His Word that He has for us. To discover what He says in His Word, then, should be our goal, not emotional experiences.
2. Closely associated with this emphasis on experience is an under-emphasis on Scripture. Not only is its authority questioned (however unintentionally) by the strict adherence to the (supposed) truthfulness of experience, but further revelations are encouraged, thus leaving the devastating implication that Scripture is not sufficient.
3. Closely related with this inadequate emphasis on Scripture is the devaluation of sound doctrine. Often their call is to get away from all this doctrine which, they claim (and mistakenly so!), only tends to "dry you up" spiritually. They seek to get together on the basis of a common experience -- the gift of tongues. Clear Scriptural teaching is then left somewhere in the background, and it has virtually no prominent place. Theology, then, the very basis of the Christian life and growth, is rendered unimportant.
4. Ecumenism follows along very naturally. With doctrinal truth devaluated, doctrinal differences do not matter. Charismatics often make much of their unity -- getting together with unbelieving denominations simply on the basis of tongues, etc. -- but it is not a true unity, for there is no true unity apart from truth. The Biblical requirements for separation from doctrinal apostasy still remain, and genuine holiness is impossible apart from it.
5. Charismatics also err in their obvious and deliberate over-emphasis on the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit and His activity are the center of their worship and the most prominent part of their message. In contrast to this, Jesus directly said that when the Holy Spirit would come, He would magnify Christ, not Himself (John 15:26 and 16:13-14)! In other words, where the Holy Spirit is elevated above the Lord Jesus Christ, we may be certain that it is not a result of the Holy Spirit's ministry.
6. The teaching of the Charismatics also fosters a subtle form of spiritual pride. There are those (according to their teaching) who have met the requirements for the blessing of the Spirit. There are also those who "have enough faith" to be healed and remain healthy. This not only produces a feeling of guilt on the part of those who have not experienced tongues and to whom God has not granted health, but it also creates a feeling of superiority, or pride, on the part of those who have. It is not a matter of arrogance on the part of many of them but rather a seeming attitude of pity for those who are not so blessed. This is an inevitable fruit of their doctrine.
7. Another error is their surrender of self control. This is a part of their tongues speaking (both publicly and privately) and tongues interpretations during which the person simply is supposedly) "overwhelmed" by the power of the Spirit and completely out of touch with reality and out of control of self. This is also what characterizes their so-called "slayings in the Spirit." But the surrendering of the mind is not only dangerous, it is wrong. Such "carrying away" is characteristic of paganism, not Christianity (I Corinthians 12:2). Losing one's self-control was precisely the effect of demon possession (I Corinthians 12:2). Such lack of self-control never characterized the apostles. The tongues spoken were understood by the speaker so that he himself was edified in the process (I Corinthians 14:4).
What's more, Paul expressly forbade this kind of practice when he said that "the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets" (I Corinthians 14:32). Mark this well: the gifted person is able to control his spirit and the exercise of his gifts, if, indeed, he has a true spiritual gift. Loss of self control is sure proof that the experience is not a work of the Holy Spirit.
8. Charismatism also elevates the miraculous gifts. This was a part of the immaturity of the Corinthian believers which Paul rebuked (I Corinthians 14:20). It is a mark of unbelief to require a sign (Matthew 12:38-39; Luke 16:1-4; John 4:48). Miraculous gifts were never intended to be the focus but rather the ministry of the Word of God.
9. The basic assumption of Charismatism is wrong. Charismatism assumes that we have a right, today, to have what existed in the early church. Who says? Such an assumption is lacking support entirely -- either from Scripture, logic, or history. There is simply no way to establish the permanence of all gifts. As was shown in chapter 13, it has always been God's pattern to give miraculous abilities for a period only and then to remove them; to claim that He now is doing otherwise lacks foundation entirely.
10. Finally, the underlying doctrines of the movement are unscriptural. This is true in regards to tongues and the other miraculous gifts, the nature, timing, and recipients of Spirit Baptism, as well as its general subjectivism and basically man-centered foundation.
It has already been demonstrated (chapter 18) that the gift of tongues is not being given today. But (for the sake of argument) even if it could be shown that genuine tongues could be experienced today, many problems would still remain.
Apart from the fact that the gift is no longer given, there is clear evidence that what is witnessed today could not be the genuine gift of tongues.
1. The nature of modern tongues differs from that of the true New Testament gift. The tongues of Scripture were genuine human languages. The tongues of today are ecstatic utterances, gibberish. Therefore, the tongues of today are not the true New Testament gift.
Some today claim to be actually speaking in some foreign language, but this claim has never been proved. Linguistic analysis of their utterances, the facts that their sounds are never any different from English syllables (usually no more than a few different syllables jumbled together), their supposed interpretations so often closely resemble King James English and are usually mere loose quotations of Scripture, all point to the fact that their "tongues" are mere gibberish and not human language.
2. The purposes of modern tongues are different from that of the true New Testament gift. The tongues of Scripture were a public sign to unbelievers. The gift today is used for private worship.
3. The place of the exercise of modern tongues is different from that of the true New Testament gift. The tongues of Scripture were a public sign to unbelievers. The gift today is used for private worship.
4. The distribution of modern tongues is different from that of the true New Testament gift. The gift today is (supposedly) to be enjoyed by all Christians, it is allowed to women, and all are instructed to seek it. The tongues of Scripture, on the other hand, were given to only a relative few, women were forbidden from the use of it, and none were to seek it.
5. The emphasis of modern tongues is different from that of the true New Testament gift. The tongues of Scripture are of little importance. The gift today is elevated and emphasized greatly.
6. The New Testament regulations for the gift of tongues are ignored and violated by the modern "gift" (see the twelve New Testament regulations listed in chapter 18).
With all these glaring differences, it is obvious that what is experienced today is not the true gift of tongues. The Holy Spirit will never give an experience which is contrary to His Word.
If today's "tongues" are not the true gift, then what are they?
1. Some are obviously Satanic. Such could easily be so with the "tongues" of the pagan religions and the cults as well as the obvious deceivers and frauds within Christianity itself.
2. Some of it is merely a learned practice. This certainly applies to those who give instructions on how to speak in tongues. It is true, as they say, that "anyone can do it," but such is not the true gift.
3. Some of it is caused by the proper state of a willing mind. It is caused psychologically rather than by the Holy Spirit.
Whatever the alternatives, it is clear that the modern phenomenon is not the true gift. The genuine gift is no longer given, and the "tongues" of today break all the rules.
The Bible, history, and experience itself all declare that the practices of the modern Charismatic movement are not of God and that their supposed gifts are not genuine but counterfeit.
It may be puzzling to some at this point, for if the movement has so many errors, how have some been so truly edified while in it? The question is a fair one, and the answer is clear. There can be no question that many within the Charismatic movement have a genuine hungering for a more meaningful Christian life. Tongues and post-conversion Spirit baptism are not the answer, but on the way to a supposed experience of these, there is often a sincere seeking of the Lord and reading of His Word. These things are always rewarded, and thus the person is edified to some extent in spite of his incorrect doctrinal beliefs. This does not mean that doctrinal correctness does not matter, nor should anyone so excuse the errors of the movement; doctrinal correctness would enhance the edification. It only means that God graciously rewards those who sincerely seek Him in His Word.
A word of caution is in order here, a caution to those on both sides of the issue. Those within the movement should be more careful to base their teachings and experiences on the teachings of God's Word, and they should not be condemnatory of those who insist on it. All feelings, experiences, beliefs, and thoughts must lie subject to the authority of Scripture. Such an attitude of commitment to the authority of Scripture is rarely found within Charismatism.
Those outside the movement must likewise be careful to recognize that while correct Biblical doctrine is important, so also is a correct Biblical attitude. They must determine never to let down their strict adherence to Scripture, but at the same time they must be loving. There are many in the Charismatic movement who simply are untaught in the truth of God's Word in regard to these things; these people especially should be the objects of patient concern.