Some Thoughts on the Charismatic Movement

Where We Stand

8 April 2015

Where does real spiritual fruit come from?  The charismatic movement, launched in the 1960s, argued that fruit came from a special "second-blessing experience", attested by so-called “speaking in tongues”.  The movement spread to major the Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and other churches around the world.

The Phenomenon of "speaking in tongues"
Already in the 1830s speaking with ecstatic utterances and other charismatic phenomena occurred under the ministry of Edward Irving--a Presbyterian minister in London--as well as among the Shakers in the United States and the Mormons in New York, Missouri and Utah.  The larger context of the rise of Pentecostalism was the Holiness Movement, which emphasized a "second blessing" crisis experience of sanctification, much of this rooted in nineteenth century American Methodism.  This crisis experience was labeled the "baptism with (or in) of the Holy Spirit".

The Birth of Pentecostalism
Dating from the early twentieth century at the Bethel Bible School, Topeka, KA, the experience of the baptism with the Holy Spirit as an endowment of power subsequent to conversion led to the establishment of early Pentecostal groups, such as the Assemblies of God, the Pentecostal Holiness Church, the Church of God, and the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.  These groups found no foothold in mainline churches, but the movement became a worldwide trend after the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles (1906-1909).

The Charismatic movement flowers
In recent years the charismatic renewal has become one of the most influential and widely known movements within Christendom. It has become a significant factor in ecumenical dialogue, most recently promoting fresh entente with the papacy. It has emphasized miraculous healing, signs and wonders, and the supremacy of religious experience over truth.

The charismatic movement is often traced to the Episcopal rector Dennis Bennett of Van Nuys, CA, who introduced spiritual manifestations usually associated with classical Pentecostalism into the American Episcopal denomination.  Since then many mainline churches have opened themselves to charismatic teaching and practice: Lutherans and Presbyterians (early 1960s); Roman Catholics (at Duquesne University in 1966); the Greek Orthodox (1971); and almost every other historic denomination in the West and across the globe. 

Where is CCC on this question?
CCC publicly states its position on this issue in its doctrinal statement.  We understand the baptism of the Holy Spirit to be an integral part of salvation, by which the Holy Spirit places every believing person into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).  There is therefore no such thing as a Christian who has not been baptized by the Spirit, and this ministry of God's Spirit is not a "second blessing" intended to give special empowering for service to a spiritual elite.  Instead, it guarantees that all Christians belong to Christ.  On the other hand, all the enabling we need for Christian service is available to us as we daily depend upon the Spirit's filling (Ephesians 5:18) and display the fruit of His presence in us as we yield to Him (Galatians 5:22-24).  Born again people bear fruit for God as they are in fellowship with Christ, just as a branch bears fruit when it is attached to the vine stalk (John 15:1-6).  This way of daily living, rather than spiritual experiences, are the key to a Christian's growth and thriving over the long term. 

Whereas we confidently affirm that God is always able to do just as He pleases, either through the natural laws He himself has established, or by acting supernaturally, we believe that the miraculous gifts of the apostolic era have fulfilled their purpose (attesting the apostles' message, Mark 16:20; Acts 4:33; Hebrews 2:3-4) and have therefore ceased. These miraculous signs include the gifts of apostle and prophet, who were unique vehicles of unerring revelation from God to the early church.  In addition, the gift of tongues--the ability to speak in a true human language without having had to learn it (Acts 2:8-11)--as well as the ability to interpret tongues, were a sign to unbelievers, not a means of ecstatic worship for believers (1 Corinthians 14: 22).

At the level of the local church's spiritual life, we believe God desires His children to grow in grace and to be filled daily with His Spirit, rather than to seek to be a part of an "elite" who have achieved a defining "peak experience" this side of heaven.  Furthermore, we emphasize that all spiritual gifts were always given for the benefit of others, never for oneself.  Both Pentecostalism and charismatism have gotten these issues out of focus. 

We therefore do not subscribe to the teachings of the charismatic movement and hence cannot co-operate with churches of this persuasion, although we acknowledge that there are born again people in these groups.

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