A Closer Look
HAS the holy spirit been at work in the charismatic movement? Charismatics must appreciate that each individual would want to be certain of that, especially since Christians are directed in God’s Word: “My dear friends, do not believe all who claim to have the Spirit, but test them to find out if the spirit they have comes from God.”—1 John 4:1, Today’s English Version.
Of course, sincere charismatics feel that the things they experience testify to the holy spirit’s work among believers, reproducing what it did with Christians in the first century. On the other hand, those not involved would expect to see in the charismatic movement a repetition of other evidences of the work of the holy spirit in the first century as well.
For example, what about the unity achieved? How real is it? The fact is that charismatics usually have continued to be members of whatever church they associated with before their experience. But, for observers, that raises serious questions.
To illustrate: Does a devout Pentecostal truly believe that a charismatic Presbyterian who smokes tobacco is really saved? Does a charismatic Baptist honestly believe that a previous Catholic or Episcopalian sprinkling now suddenly constitutes valid Christian baptism just because a person has become a charismatic? Will a Lutheran charismatic now genuinely agree with a charismatic Catholic that Roman Catholic priests actually do change bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ when celebrating Mass? The list of such differences could be extended much longer.
Should these divisive barriers make any difference? They surely did to first-century Christians. The apostle Paul wrote under inspiration of holy spirit: “Agree among yourselves, and avoid divisions; be firmly joined in unity of mind and thought.” (1 Corinthians 1:10, The New English Bible) Obviously, disunity was not fitting for those true Christians. Holy spirit did not work that way back there. Rather, it unified Christians by overcoming previous differences. Theirs was a solid union of doctrine, practice and organization, not a loose unity based on a common emotional experience.
Some within the charismatic movement acknowledge the disunity. Christianity Today reported: “Some leaders said that the unity experienced by charismatics so far has been at the emotional level. Serious doctrinal differences do exist, and they have been passed over too easily, thus posing a threat to future unity efforts.”
Some of the leaders in the charismatic renewal movement became quite well known. But, in time, their different backgrounds gave rise to different opinions as to how to direct matters. They became divided over direction and leadership.
Knowing the serious threat that such divisions were to charismatic renewal, concerned ones called for a sort of summit meeting of leaders. It was held at Dallas, Texas, in 1980. The speaker who opened the meeting said frankly: “We are here to admit the scandal of our division.”
But was there a healing? No. One faction advocated development by groups under an elder or a teacher who looks after his disciples. Opposers alleged that “the elders take unscriptural control of others’ lives, even to the point of usurping Christ’s authority.” One leader charged another with “sheep-stealing,” adding: “They are not discipling sinners to Christ; they’re discipling members of other churches to themselves.” Obviously, the divisions remain.—Christianity Today, April 4, 1980.
The breakdown of unity must be tied to a real cause. That cause is traceable to the rejection of the authority of the Bible.
Rejecting the Book of Unity
If you are a charismatic, you may sincerely feel that charismatic leaders would never reject the Bible. But remember, one of the “gifts” claimed in the movement is that of prophecy. It is believed that the written word “must always be subservient to the authority of the living, ‘dynamic’ word” made known in prophesying, reports the book The New Charismatics. As one charismatic put it: “The Spirit as the living God moves through and beyond the records of past witness.”
However, the apostle Paul said: “Even if we or an angel out of heaven were to declare to you as good news something beyond [“at variance with” (NE)] what we declared to you as good news, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:8) Now, if an apostle or an angel should not go beyond the good news recorded in the Bible, is a charismatic personality today authorized to do so?
Author and charismatic Catherine Marshall says that “not all the truth and instruction Christ has to give us is contained in the canon of the Old and New Testaments.” But the Bible itself says: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living, so that the person who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good deed.” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17, TEV) Since this is the Bible’s role, why minimize its contents?
At first it might seem innocent enough that one puts one’s own personal experience ahead of the Bible itself. But do you realize what that could lead to? Recall that in Guyana the leader of the Jonestown group tragedy cast aside the Bible and impressed his followers with the need to listen to him and his ‘revelations from God.’ He had convinced them that they should trust their “experience” with him over God’s written Word. Do you see the danger that comes from such a position—how vulnerable it makes a person? Without the Bible as a guide, what protection would there be against the influence of mass hysterics and crowd manipulation?
While a person is not to treat prophesying with contempt, he is also directed to “make sure of all things; hold fast to what is fine.” (1 Thessalonians 5:20, 21) Thus, the command at 1 John 4:1 to “test the spirits to see if they come from God.” (Moffatt) That same text advises: “Not all prophetic spirits, brethren, deserve your credence.” (Knox) Obviously, not all are from God. Some are from Satan the Devil.
Now, how does a person tell one spirit from another? One’s own experience is not sufficient to “make sure.” And, certainly, no present-day revelation by God’s spirit would contradict the revelations by that same spirit to Jesus, his disciples and the Bible writers.
Charismatics hope that their differences will eventually be resolved. But admitted one pastor: “The charismatic movement as a whole is doctrinally unpredictable.” The obvious reason for the continuing division is that many charismatics do not recognize the Bible as the final teaching authority. Thus, the substituting of personal experience will mean that genuine unity will never be achieved.
Thinking persons inside and outside the movement now ask: Does the charismatic movement really reflect God’s holy spirit in action? And where is the movement headed?
[Blurb on page 5]
At first it might seem innocent enough that a person puts his own personal experience ahead of the Bible itself. But do you realize what that could lead to?
[Blurb on page 6]
How does a person tell one spirit from another? One’s own experience is not sufficient to “make sure”