The Charismatic Church: Chariscentric oversimplification demystified by Pastor Rudolph Boshoff.

(Average reading time: 5 minutes)
As a Christian in South Africa, I recognize the absolute incredible need for Biblical Christianity to be centre stage. Currently we are witnessing an incredible influx and popularization of the Charismatic experience. Exorcisms, Prophetic proclamations, transfer of wealth at the cost of just a ‘seed’ and even promises of shaping your own world with the right confession. All of these under the banner of the Charismatic practice. The real question set before us is one of grave importance, one that can mean the difference between unity and diversity or rather one that can sum up the way the current Church globally refers to itself. There seems to be an upsurge in a desired identity, the new Calvinist on the right, and the third wave Charismatics on the left. Longtime friend like Dr James White was severely criticized for his participation with certain Charismatic individuals like Dr Michael Brown. Church history has always been a messy quandrum of different opinions and this issue is nothing different. There are obvious criticisms necessary on both sides, one looks at the ranked self-justification of being God’s only elect and the popular indebtedness that can shape a man’s own destiny. Just say the right word or just sow the right seed and all will be well, name it, and claim it! We need to discern, but in our own self –righteous way, we sometimes fail to evaluate ourselves seeking to be critical of others accept ourselves or our own. So how do we deal with the Charismatic movement? The problem with today’s approximations of what seems to be the Charismatic tradition seems tainted with a shallow interest that analyzes anyone in this movement with broad strokes.[1]
John MacArthur says;
“Every day millions of charismatics offer praise to a patently false image of the Holy Spirit,”… “No other movement has done more damage to the cause of the gospel.” [2]
Is this true? Is the Charismatic tradition a monolithic entity and can we indefinitely hold to the claim that everyone in this movement are all just the same? What about the Charismatic experience? If we hold that is about continuism verses cessationism, is that a fair evaluation? Do all Charismatics hold the same beliefs and are they orthodox? Let us define this movement.
A definition of the Charismatic movement.
Mark J. Cartledge sums it up best in saying that at the core of charismatic spirituality is the conviction that God is not absent but deeply present. . . . God loves to give himself to his people!”[3] Far from being semi-deists, Charismatics believe that there is a very deep and personal apprehension of the Divine that can be exemplified through their lives evident in their everyday experiences. These experiences can place a special emphasis on:
Baptism in the Holy Spirit – An event where the individual is filled with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit… at the moment of initiation or conversion…where there is a powerful witness to Jesus Christ.
Speaking in tongues – “Communication with God in a language that is other than one known to the speaker… as the Holy Spirit gives utterances [or]… a miraculous utterance of an unlearned foreign language.”
The Spiritual Gifts – “Whereas in large sectors of Christendom many of the gifts have been viewed as belonging only to the first century Christianity, the charismatic movement stresses their continuing importance.”[4]
The point of the three above-mentioned facts in foundationally fueled by the desire to see God’s majesty and power evident on earth through the manifestation of His Spirit’s working and ordering things in our tangible realities. The central reason for these gifts is to aid the individual devotees to declare Christ’s Kingdom upon the earth. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church defines the ‘Charismata’ (Greek: χαρίσματα) as a temporal and spiritual blessing on every believer for the sole purpose to enable them for their vocation.[5] This is exactly what we should expect! Luke writes;
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8).
It is detrimental to understand that the purpose of the working of the Holy Spirit is to testify to the person of Jesus Christ enabling the individual to be a witness. This is not a negotiable effect that is only given to a select few, but a definite fact for all those who believe. The emphasis is the Gospel and the witness of Christ, not the functioning gift or the ‘experience’ of the Holy Spirit!
What is the Charismatic movement?
The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology defines the Charismatic Movement as “a movement within historic churches.”[6] Commenting on the worldwide Charismatic movement the Oxford dictionary makes a valid point that this movement is not an institution. It has no formal gathering of official delegates as the Pentecostal Churches do. It has no general secretary or representative council. It is a popular culture more than a structural movement.”[7] Charismatics seldom prescribe to a set creed or a common pragmatism concerning the movement of the Spirit of God. Some Churches are focused on dynamic worship, others a specific gift or tongues, and some even the account for frequent healing. Some Churches include all of these, but it is important to note that the Charismatic movement is evident within some Churches and not a Church constituted in itself!
Few things to note about the charismatic Church:
1) It is not a monolithic movement.
This might come as a shock to some readers, but the Charismatic Church is not a uniform group or constituency. Varied in many senses and emphasizing specific points, the Charismatic movement is not characterised by an identical aim, result, and practice. Even though critical Reformed Scholar Gary Gilley writes;
“What was once known as the Pentecostal movement has now splintered into numerous diverse, yet overlapping movements: Pentecostal, Charismatic, Vineyard, Word-Faith, and Holy Laughter.”[8]
Even though some groups are clearly deviant and not deemed orthodox, we do find a plethora of individual groups that are labelled as Charismatic but recognize that the “Charisma” is not a denomination but a declared impartation.
2) The Charismatic Church is growing at a rapid pace.
Christianity is growing in Africa, and the Charismatic movement with it![9] One News outlet describes the growth as follow:
“Half of Africa’s population is Christian, with a growing number migrating to churches on the fringe. The group with the most explosive growth within the Christian faith, is the Pentecostal movement. By 2008, membership had reached 12.5 million in South Africa. Pentecostal churches now command an estimated following of between 250 and 500 million worldwide, and are reshaping Christianity in the 21st Century. Their mass appeal has been attributed to the prosperity gospel. The message – poverty is a curse that faith can break and financial blessing is the will of God.”[10]
With the rise of Islam and Christianity in Africa, we know that the future allure to both these faiths can be ascribed to the high pragmatic value of both of these. The Challenge of Christians in Africa is to sustain, challenge and produce a Biblical based, Christ-centered faith that is not adhered to as a result of superficial expectations. Even though this is not the scope of this article to give some remedies to this ailing need it is worth noticing that people, even in a Charismatic framework still affirm the foundations of the faith, and usually sincerely start with a clear confession of the person and work of Jesus Christ! If we offer any critique of this movement it should be done directly from this premise to edify and help in building Christ’s true Church. J.D. Douglas writes;
“Several considerations counter such an assessment of charismatic behaviour. First, the motive is Christ-or Jesus- centered. Charismatic Worship is directed to the Trinity, not to God alone. Focus[ed] on the glory of God makes the praise central to worship. The fatherhood of God justifies much of the concentration on human welfare in the exercise of gifts such as healing. The roles of Jesus as Savior, Lord, baptiser in the Spirit, and coming King dominate the renewal evangelism, the heightened enthusiasm for and obedience to the biblical teaching of Jesus, the insistence that communication with Jesus is the object of baptism in the Spirit, and the world-denying expectation of the alternative Christian society with its stress on personal holiness and authoritarian community discipline.”[11]
3) Not all Charismatics embrace excesses, error, and they welcome criticism.
 In a recent video, one of the world’s leading Charismatic evangelists, Benny Hinn, confessed certain excesses.[12] I welcome the self-scrutiny of evangelical leaders that are seemingly without reproach. The wonderful opportunity that we have here in Africa is to produce leaders that are never above any form of accountability. We should name heresy and expose that which is false, but we should also instruct those who stray or wander in love and respect. For those schooled in Apologetics and even Systematic Theology, your skill should not be used to vilify or state outlandish attacks towards an individual. Seek to correct! But not at the expense of the individual relationship and seek to love those with whom you might disagree. The Apostle Peter writes;
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1 Peter 3:15-18).
Joseph Mattera writes for a popular Charismatic publisher about the Word of Faith Movement and gives due criticism of this movement.
He exclaims;
“All of us only know in part and see through a glass darkly—even the apostle Paul (1 Cor. 13:9,12). Consequently, it often takes years for the body of Christ to discern how to have balance when old truths are restored. One of the keys to life is balance—and biblical balance cannot come until we attempt to embrace the whole counsel of God!”[13]
Bert M. Farias also comments on some of the popular notions found in the Charismatic movement to confess everything away when he writes;
“Disobedience results in condemnation and condemnation causes your faith to shrivel. Confess and quote the Word all you want. Without obedience your faith won’t work. Obey the written Word of God, especially concerning your love walk. Obey what His Spirit is saying to your heart. Walk in the light of what He’s revealed to you, and the blessings of God shall be fully manifest in your life”.[14]
Bert M. Farias also notes that a form of nominal Christianity has penetrated the Church and that there is a great need for biblical repentance!
He writes;
“These are people who claim to be born again! … Those in this category are a great liability in the church and in our nation. They are like a sore in the eye. They are a virus in our immune system. They are a bacterial infection in the bloodstream of Christianity. They are imaginary, delusional, cosmic “Christians” who live in a make-believe spiritual world… How do we explain the existence of this substantially large group, four times larger than the evangelical group, who believe they’ve obtained salvation and the hope of heaven, all without a spiritually and biblically sound belief system? Their denial of the most foundational Christian concepts of the faith such as the inspiration and authority of Scripture calls into question the very basis of their salvation.”[15]
There is a clear attempt within the Charismatic movement to be seriously critical of themselves and to weigh themselves if they are still ‘in the faith’. This is evident by the writings and public declarations of Dr Michael Brown, Dr Sam Storms, and Dr Adrian Warnock etc. Allow me also to state as a casual observer that there is a lack of self-evaluation evident in all the Christian traditions and sometimes an equal lack of scrutiny individual critics apply to themselves.
4) Is the Charismatic my brother or sister?
A phrase I hear often when those critical of the Charismatic movement speak about them is; “they are in it for the money” or ‘they want to be seen” or “they are inspired by the devil.” Now, no doubt there are serious problems within the theological spectrum and intention of some individuals in the Charismatic movement. Again, we cannot brush with a broad brush! Too many times, have I witnessed dissension and factions in Christ’s Church. Paul writes about this to the Corinthians;
“For I fear, lest by any means, when I come, I should find you not such as I would, and should myself be found of you such as ye would not; lest by any means there should be ‘strife, jealousy, wraths, factions, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults;” (1 Cor.12:20).
He adds earlier;
“Now I have applied all this [about parties and factions] to myself and Apollos for your sakes, brethren, so that from what I have said of us [as illustrations], you may learn [to think of men in accordance with Scripture and] not to go beyond that which is written, that none of you may be puffed up and inflated with pride and boast in favor of one [minister and teacher] against another.” (1 Cor.4:6).
Let me be clear, we need to discern and contend for the faith that was once delivered to us (Jude1:3) but we should also be accommodating and clear about the intention of fellow Christians. We should edify and correct all brothers in love (Matt.18:15-17, Gal.1:6, 2 Thes.3:15).Can I call the Charismatic my brother? I know of individuals that will say the Charismatic is not my brother and they should be shunned. Blatant statements of Dr John MacArthur also does not help. The sad reality is that the label of ‘Charismatic’ is given to anyone that does something out of their own constituency of faith, may it be raising their hands in Church, having drums or guitars in their worship, praying fervently and out loud, or being excited and full of energy when speaking about the Lord. Well, what qualifies someone to be a brother or a sister in the Lord? Your definition of grace defines your perspective on who deserves it! Biblically none of us ‘deserves’ it and neither is it something we can boast about. It is by faith alone in the work and person of Christ alone (Tit.3:3-6, Eph.2:8-9).
5) The Charismatic movement is not a modern-day phenomenon.
In his book ‘’2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity’’, Eddie L. Hyatt gives the following quotes from church fathers that recognize these gifts amongst them:
Justin Martyr (100-165): “For the prophetical gifts remain with us even to the present time. Now it is possible to see among us women and men who possess gifts of the Spirit of God.”
Irenaeus (125-200): “In like manner we do also hear many brethren in the church who possess prophetic gifts and through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages. … Yes, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up, and remained among us for many years.”
Tertullian (150-240): “For seeing that we too acknowledge the spiritual charismata, or gifts, we too have merited the attainment of the prophetic gift … and heaven knows how many distinguished men, to say nothing of the common people, have been cured either of devils or of their sicknesses.”
Novation (210-280): “This is he [the Holy Spirit] who places prophets in the church, instructs teachers, directs tongues, gives powers and healings, does wonderful works … and arranges whatever gifts there are of the charismata; and thus making the Lord’s church everywhere, and in all, perfected and completed.”
Origen (185-284): “Some give evidence of their having received through this faith a marvelous power by the cures which they perform, invoking no other name over those who need their help than that of the God of all things, along with Jesus and a mention of his history.”
Augustine (354-430): In his work The City of God, Augustine tells of healings and miracles that he has observed first-hand and then says, “I am so pressed by the promise of finishing this work that I cannot record all the miracles I know.”[16]
Hyatt mentions that these accounts;
“clearly demonstrate that spiritual gifts continued to be common in the church from the Day of Pentecost and up to the beginning of the fourth century. The Episcopal scholar Morton Kelsey was correct when he said, “These men were well aware of Paul’s list of the gifts of the Spirit and what it included. In no place do they suggest that any of them had dropped away.”[17]
Even though we find variant ideas concerning the nature of these events in Church History, it is evident that these gifts were practices in every dispensation and evident within the orthodox Christian witness. Again, we need to be clear that there is a lot of clarity needed in conversation amongst both sides when we look at these gifts! I personally call for dialogue and not isolation! And in this may Our Lord and Savior receive His glory due to Him!
We live in a time where the Church of Jesus Christ and the secular world are moving so far away from one another that the differences are clearly made visible. May our speech be seasoned with salt and righteous in all we account for. Further, may we engage with anyone within this movement, receive clarity, and give biblical correction in love where it is necessary. Let us not stand in the way of God’s Kingdom to grow and for Christ to empower His Church as He sees fit. Let us be ferocious against heresy and passionate about orthodoxy but equally gentle with those who differ with us in the exercise of their faith.
Rudolph P. Boshoff.
[2] Strange Fire Pg.14.
[3] Encountering the Spirit: The Charismatic Tradition by J Cartledge Mark Pg.29.
[4] Evangelical Dictionary of Theology edited by Walter A. Elwell. Pg. 220-224.
[5] The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by F.L.Cross. Pg.268.
[6] Evangelical Dictionary of Theology edited by Walter A. Elwell. Pg. 220.
[7] The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by F.L.Cross. Pg.1062.
[11] New 20th century Encyclopedia of religious knowledge. Edited by J.D.Douglas, 1991.
[16] Refer to bottom link.

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