Full title of paper:
Why do those who experience a “Second Blessing” so often continue into Excessive Charismatic Behaviour?
By Malcolm Bowden
I have long puzzled over the above question, mainly to find a reason, but also to check on the possibility that their experience is truly a work of God, and therefore is something that all Christians should seek.
Let me say at this point in my Christian life, I attended a Pentecostal church for two years, so have seen a number of charismatic events at first hand, “speaking in tongues,” “interpretations”, “holy laughter”, marching around the room in a triumphalist procession, etc. This was several years before the entrance of the Toronto “Blessing,” “being slain in the spirit”, acting like animals, etc. These came much later, but I can now see that the ground was already prepared for such “movements of the spirit” – [the lower case is deliberate!]
Many will read this and say that, whilst they are charismatic, they do not accept the extreme practices that some churches indulge in. These extreme practices do concern me, but even more important is the attitude of mind that can even entertain them, whether to a lesser or greater degree. It is this underlying cause which is the subject of this article.
My reason for writing this article
It may be thought that I should not be critical of fellow Christians; there is so much opposition to the sound Christian faith that internal (minor?) differences of biblical interpretation should not be raised in public so that the unity of the Christian faith is maintained. This I do not accept.
I have been examining the charismatic/Pentecostal (C/P) churches and theology for many years, and have concluded that its –
(i) biblical interpretation
(ii) resulting practices
(iii) the emphasis upon emotions and feelings
– are so much in error that the movement could be construed, not as just a variation, but as an aberrant form of Christianity – despite its professions of orthodox Christianity, love for Jesus, strong evangelism – and much else. The real question is “Are their beliefs and practices truly based upon a correct interpretation of the Bible?” If they are not, as I hope to demonstrate, is does put a question mark over the spiritual situation of the members. I leave this to the reader’s own thoughts.
It is this potentially serious situation that I wish to draw to the reader’s attention, partly for the consideration of those who are already members of these movements, but more particularly to warn those who are attracted to and are considering joining them.
In order to check what C/P church leaders thought of this article, I sent an earlier copy to seven C/P ministers and one ordinary member. I received replies from about five of them. All said that they do not have any of the “extreme” practices that I refer to – so my criticisms do not apply to them! I will quote from a few replies in the article.
The main division is well known to be whether the “gifts” recorded in the early chapters of Acts are still available today. I have always considered that they had ceased, that the “perfection” (“perfect thing”) of 1 Corinthians 13:10 was the completion of the canon of Scripture, even though the majority of good sound evangelical ministers considered that it was Christ’s Second Coming. Several replies challenged me to prove this from the Bible. It was only after the first draft of this article that I reread Victor Budgen’s “The Charismatics and the Word of God” that I found no less than 25 biblical reasons that fully confirmed my interpretation. This is a vital point in all that follows for it completely demolishes the C/P claim that the “gifts” are still available.
This article is on my website at www.mbowden.info/perfectthing.htm – entitled “The “Perfect thing” of 1 Corinthians 13 is the completion of Scripture – John Piper is wrong!”
This paper is referred to within another of my papers – “The cessation of Prophesies, Tongues and Knowledge” – at www.mbowden.info/cesstong.htm, which shows that tongues, etc. MUST cease BEFORE the Second Coming.
What I am seeking enlightenment on is why some Christians go on to exhibit what I call “charismatic excesses” – i.e. slain in the spirit, healing meetings, etc. In THIS subject, there is little or no Biblical guidance because it is a comparatively recent phenomenon that has entered into the mainstream Christian church. There is therefore little point in searching the Bible on such a recent topic.
Therefore, – and this is important in all that follows, – it must be clearly understood that this is very much a personal enquiry and my own interpretation of these events. My conclusions are likely to annoy and even anger many charismatics, but unless they can adequately answer my arguments and then give a better supported explanation, then I see no reason to change my interpretation of these events. I would add that after starting this article, I received other articles written by Christians who had left the charismatic movement and had come to similar conclusions as I had. With that very important background to all that follows, let us now examine the subject.
The basic divisions
In trying to think about a very confusing subject, I always find that it greatly helps to set out the problems and evidence in writing. This forces my “butterfly” mind to be logical and sequential and obtain some broad principles or patterns out of a mish-mash of ideas.
To this end I made a list of features that are characteristic of the cessationist and non-cessationist believers, or even more clearly, the non-charismatics and the charismatics. The list was as follows–
|1. Emotion||moderate – controlled||v. high|
|2. Self Control||v. high||low|
|3. Humility||fairly good||not so good – sense of spiritual superiority|
|4. Bible doctrine||Good||Poor – interpreting Scripture to conform to their views|
|5. Miracles and healings||v. rare||often or fairly often|
|6. Reformed theology||many||not usually|
|7. Tongues||v. few||many – most?|
|8. Revelatory and sign gifts||ceased||still available|
Table 1: Basic Definitions of “charismatic” and “non-charismatic.”
I have no doubt that many will react strongly to these categories as “gross misrepresentations” – particularly those under the right hand column! – but I have warned that this is a very personal assessment of the present situation! I have many interests, and find that some of them are controversial, and an increase in flak on one subject will not make all that difference to the whole!
A key Personality factor?
In viewing this list, it seems to confirm what I have felt for many years; that the thread running through most of these differences is suggestibility, particularly 1, 5, 7 and 8 above. Some people are more easily persuaded than others, and this reminds me of an incident regarding a stage hypnotist told me by a friend many years ago. The hypnotist called people from the audience wanting to participate. He lined them up and then went along the line slapping each one on their face. He then rejected some and kept others. What was he looking for in their reaction to his slap that determined whether they were suitable for hypnotism?
My guess is if they did not react but maintained a blank face, then they were the more suggestible people he was looking for. If, however, they reacted with some measure of annoyance, they were NOT suitable – because they were not willing to be subjected to his slapping treatment – and reacted to it with an indication of resentment.
I have looked on the internet about hypnotism, and it is quite clear that no one knows really what is happening. I did come across two passages about suggestibility;
[pre-hypnosis tests] “are usually used to select out the most suggestible and compliant subjects from the audience”; and
“There is a general consensus that heightened suggestibility is an essential characteristic of hypnosis.”
This supports my view that some are far more suggestible than others, and I will show that this could be an important psychological factor in charismatic excesses.
There was also this comment “By asking for volunteers to mount the stage, the performer also tends to select the most extroverted members of the audience.”
This was an aspect of stage hypnosis that I would not have expected. Extrovert characters are usually strong characters, and I would have thought they would be LESS prepared to be hypnotised; i.e. place themselves under the mental control of another person. There seemed to be a contradiction between these two descriptions in one person. Neither could I see how it could apply to the situation arising in churches that we are considering.
In thinking about this, it occurred to me that the word “extrovert” is really a wrong description of those who are prepared to make a foolish exhibition of themselves on a stage in front of a large crowd of people. I would suggest that a more accurate word to describe such volunteers is “exhibitionists” or more bluntly “attention seekers.” Ask yourself, “What sensible, mature person would be prepared to make such a public and ridiculous exhibition of themselves?”
For me, this clarified the issue, and I found that it then applied even more closely to the main subject we are considering.
The charismatic/Pentecostal “baptism in the Holy Spirit”
One key question that arose from my examination was that there were significant differences between what I would call a “normal” conversion experience and that of a C/P “baptism in the Holy Spirit” which was usually accompanied by speaking in “tongues,” sometimes falling on the floor etc. What was really going on with such “baptisms,” physically, mentally and spiritually? I had never read anything that examined this issue. I got Peter Master’s “Only One Baptism in the Holy Spirit” but this did not deal with this particular feature.
It was the evidence provided by a friend that gave me at least the beginnings of insight into these dramatic “conversions.”
The “training process”
My friend wrote,
“All the people I know who have had this experience, without exception, have been exposed to the teaching that this is what you should expect to happen when you believe, so they have already been conditioned to behave this way. Most of them have attended charismatic meetings and witnessed it happening to other people prior to their own experience. Many people will tell you that it just happened to them one night in their bedroom, with no prior knowledge etc. However I have found this to be false, because everyone I know who has claimed this has been their experience has later revealed that they previously attended meetings where these things were occurring, or were exposed to Pentecostal teachings from a book or some other source.
“People are actually very suggestible, and I would even go as a far as to say gullible. In the meetings, a combination of music, repetitive phrasing and a desire to fit in cause people to experience mind tricks. It is actually common to hear ex-charismatics say that they faked tongues just so they didn’t feel like second class Christians…. I know that is how I used to feel when my friends spoke in tongues but I couldn’t. None of this is unusual in foreign cultures, as it is quite popular in eastern religions, such as hinduism, where it is common for people to fall down on the floor or use ecstatic speech. In fact this was the very error of the Corinthians that Paul was warning about, because when they were formerly pagans, that is what they used to be like… ‘babbling away ecstatically, hoping to be heard because of their many words.’”
Thus, these “baptisms” do not happen absolutely spontaneously “out of the blue”, but are always preceded by the person becoming very familiar with such dramatic events. One can then see that for many very suggestible people, they become convinced that this is the way that you become a Christian, and unless they have this dramatic conversion experience, they will feel that thereafter they will be only a “second class” Christian – and more important, not one of those real Christians that are so very evident and plentiful in their church. The pressure to conform to the church “norm” is obvious.
Evidence from ex-charismatics
Having written much of this article, I received from a friend who knew I was looking into this subject an issue of “Briefings” (April 2010) containing two articles dealing with this subject:
 “Where have all the miracles gone? by John Woodhouse
This is an excellent review of the differences between the “Cessationists” and the “Continuationists” (a new word to me!). He is a cessationist but rightly says that God can and indeed does some miracles still. My view on this is that these are often in ground-breaking missionary situations – usually overseas but not always. I was speaking to a minister who, when fresh from a training school, was sent to revive a failing church in the UK. For some time he saw strange, unexpected events taking place that he could not explain except that God was at work. Then, quite suddenly, they ceased. I said that this conformed to my view that such events were to “kick-start” a new work, but once a church was established, God was then effectively saying “Now you must learn to stand up on your own two feet and begin (what I [MB] call) the “joyous slog” of sound Christian work and evangelism with my Word as your guide.”
The second article was –
 “A continuing story: 19th century Methodists, charismatics and me” by Tony Payne
As a young man, he was drawn into the charismatic church, but after leaving it, looked into the reasons why he was drawn into it in the first place.
A third paper written in 2004 was later sent;
 “The Charismatic Movement” by Tony Payne, Briefings November 2004 issue 314
I will be quoting from these papers by the name of the authors or reference numbers in what follows.
Let us begin to summarise under headings various aspects the answer to the question posed in the heading.
1. An emotive word!
In thinking about the subject, there was one word that I felt was applicable but I was very hesitant to use as it was somewhat demeaning. I have already mentioned that charismatics seem to be of a “suggestible” nature. There was an even more emotive word that I was reluctant to use, but then I saw it used in a quote in Woodhouse’s article. So I am emboldened to use it here!
J.W. Robbins said “Churchgoers [today], being ignorant of the Bible, confuse that religious gullibility with faith. But Christian faith is not gullibility; it is, in fact, a shield against gullibility.”
This same word was used in a translation of Calvin where he was speaking about the Roman Catholic church.
I cannot hide the fact that I consider most charismatics tend towards some degree of gullibility. Let me give an example. A friend who had been in a charismatic church, but was beginning to question certain practices and beliefs, heard a conversation between a church leader and an enquirer, who had pointed out that although a healing had been claimed for a person, they could not see any improvement. The elder replied “Well, there has been a healing, but it is hidden.” To my mind, anyone who accepts such an explanation, is simply very gullible, whilst the giver is wilfully deceitful.
The New Testament gifts
On this subject of healings, I can never understand how charismatics can maintain that they are still available today as they were in Acts. Indeed, I would raise the stakes even higher and charge all charismatics with blatant and wilful misinterpretation of the Bible.
In the NT, healings:
(i) only took place when the Apostles knew that they had the power to heal for a spiritual purpose (spreading of the Gospel or authenticating the Apostles claims). They did NOT have this ability at all times. Paul left Trophimus sick at Miletus and Epaphroditus “nearly died,” but the Lord had mercy on him.
(ii) were instantaneous and complete, performed by Jesus and afterwards almost always by the Apostles only, so outstanding as to be immediately recognised even by the bystanders as a miracle – (a) raising from the dead, (b) instant visible healings of serious illnesses, (c) an Apostle’s clothing and shadow effecting healings, etc.
Today we have no such level of events:
(i) C/P healings are assumed to be available to all at any time – but many are NOT healed.
(ii) C/P healings are far from being as dramatic as in Acts. No one is healed by a shadow or a handkerchief. Special “healing meetings” are organised at which the Holy Spirit will be expected to be present – which I do not read of in Acts.
It would appear that ALL charismatics are assumed to have this power of healing – if not themselves, they can assure the sick that if they have enough faith they can be healed by God. If they are not healed, they can always say that the sufferer “did not have enough faith.” George Verwer told me that he could run a full time ministry counselling people whose spiritual life had been badly damaged because they expected to be healed but this had not taken place.
If it is claimed that ALL the gifts are available today, why do we not have tongues of fire descending upon all new converts, or houses being shaken? You cannot be selective about what is still available with some NT events and not others and then claim “All the gifts are available today.”
Why are they so selective in what they say still applies today and why are the present “healings” only a pale shadow of the clearly miraculous NT healings? This objection is so obvious that it raises the important question of just how honest their exegesis of the NT is. Peter Masters in his “Only One Baptism of the Holy Spirit” has shown how they deliberately misinterpret the Bible and take passages out of context in order to support their doctrine that Christians should experience a “Second blessing.” It is for this reason that I have given the comment in item 4b in Table 1 above.
2. Why are some people attracted to the charismatics?
Payne gives the reason. As a young man in a conventional and dull church, “The charismatic movement offered dynamism and excitement by the shed load. I had a powerful intuition that I was part of something radical and real – a movement that was the power and reality of New Testament Christianity by restoring to it the spiritual gifts, experiential richness and miraculous flavour that had somehow become lost or forgotten.”
Here is the key. Who would not want to join a church like this? Away with convention, let us have all the New Testament miracles, healings, tongues, and any new “revelation” that God will give to the church in these spirit-filled times – slain in the spirit, prophesies etc. Payne gives the sequence of “fashionable” influxes in the movement – (mid 80’s) spirit baptism and miraculous healings, then prophecy and signs and wonders, then (early 90’s) spiritual warfare and deliverance ministries, then (mid 90’s) holy laughter and Toronto blessing, and now (2004) worship and personal prosperity.
A sequence such as this shows how people are attracted to anything that will feed their demand for an unending succession of “uplifting experiences” that will keep them excited.
Such seems, at times, to be the essential aim of the charismatic church. Many will dismiss it as an exaggeration, but I feel sure that it is nearer the mark than they are willing to admit.
This desire for “excitement” struck me forcibly with its similarity to drug addiction. I remembered a very revealing account by an ex-drug addict of what attracted him to the drug scene. I quoted it in our book “Breakdowns are good for you” [p135-138] [Readers requesting this revealing article can email me on email@example.com when it can be sent electronically.]
I will quote only a few relevant passages. All emphases are his.
“Often we felt lonely and confused amongst the pleasant, well dressed, smiling people at church, none of whom seemed to have any serious problems. Some of us experienced ‘Baptism in the Holy Spirit’, only to find that after a few months of excitement our spiritual glow disappeared and we were back at square one having to live with and deal with our all too-familiar mind conflicts, emotional pain, loneliness and the unhappiness of the ‘real me’…. We then discovered that as addictive, obsessive personalities, we could become addicted and overly dependent on anything or anyone, including religion; [This is an important observation – authors] the emotionalism and high pressure atmosphere of some churches only fed our desire to feel totally different from the way we were feeling about ourselves…. Living in the midst of very straight and conventional people, we often longed for the excitement and risk of our old drug-using days; we missed our drug-using friends and especially missed the feeling we got from our old drug of choice…. We were not taught that our old self refuses to act as though it is dead and that our stubborn carnal nature had to be slain over and over again as we died daily in Christ (Galatians 2:20 and 5:24).”
In this account, I cannot help hearing overtones of charismatic worship. I have been with and seen charismatics in both high excitement and almost silent adoration which, to me on looking back, more nearly resembles the trance like state of hypnotism.
To return to Payne, having been in the charismatic movement, he eventually left, and at the end of his article he notes –
“My problem was that I didn’t want to wait with patience. I wanted the power and the gifts and the glory, and I wanted it now. I wanted to share in the miracles and the victory of Christ, not his suffering…. Our imitation of Christ, Paul and the apostolic churches is in laying down our lives in sacrifice for the sake of others and their salvation (1 Cor. 10:33-11:1). As I should have known and have now discovered, this is the more excellent way.”
I.e. he has returned to the “joyfull slog” of the Christian faith.
3. The conduct of charismatic meetings
It is obvious that these meetings are quite different to those in most other churches. There is lengthy and repetitive singing of choruses, speaking in tongues with translators or mass speaking in tongues, hand and/or flag waving (if it is the current fashion), periods of ecstatic silence, which seem more like mass trance-like states, etc.
It is an old actors trick for learning their lines to breathe very heavily first for some time until there is slight giddiness. While the brain is in this confused state, it more readily absorbs the lines as some part of the critical faculties have been bypassed.
What happens in charismatic meetings? There are long periods of “warm up” with endless chorus singing, highly charged prayers and speaking in tongues, and then an equally charged sermon is delivered to a congregation, whose state by then could be described by the phrase “boondoggled.” It is little wonder that many may feel that they have experienced a “spiritual high” and a close encounter with God – but have they really?
I was speaking to a family that had been in a charismatic church for four years but had returned to a sound church having become disenchanted with what they saw going on. Two comments they made –
(i) whenever there were times of being “slain in the spirit,” they noticed that it was always the same people who fell down. The children returning from their Sunday School had to step over their bodies.
(ii) Their children learned a Bible verse but then played games until they returned to the church. “They learned far more in two weeks at this church than they ever did all the time we were there.”
4. The leaders
All this “hype” is generated by the “worship leaders,” a major part of the worship time being strong rhythmic music, which, just on its own, can have a powerful effect upon people.
One friend said to me when we were talking about being slain in the spirit and other non-biblical manifestations of the “presence of the spirit,” that he found he also had this power to manipulate meetings in this way, but deliberately gave it up.
I abhor anything that has a whiff of manipulation in it; people must be respected and allowed to go their own way because they are made in God’s image and are to be respected as individuals under all circumstances. You will see that Jesus and Paul NEVER used emotion to change people’s lives, they simply presented the gospel evidence and allowed the Holy Spirit to work in people’s hearts.
There is no doubt that there are some people who have great “charisma,” are very persuasive, and provide such a strong leadership that many, who seem to want their lives directed for them, will follow them. I have been struck over the years by the number of good sound churches that have been broken up by the introduction of the charismatic element. But such contention was strongly condemned by Paul. In his first letter to the chaotic Corinthian church, of all the many serious matters he criticises, it is the division into factions that he deals with first as being of priority!
Often, it is started by a strong personality who speaks privately to a few friends with strong criticism of the present leadership. They form a rebellious faction within the church, and eventually this new leader takes them off to another location – and automatically becomes their leader.
I get the impression that there is a deep seated desire in such people for power over others. All their ambitions and faculties may be subconsciously aligned to this end. That such an aim is self-centred and full of pride does not need further comment.
This is NOT the same as a person with leadership abilities rising to a position of authority because their abilities are recognised by the people and they vote him into position even though he may not seek it. This is a good and natural way. Unfortunately the reverse is not unknown. Leaders in all spheres of life can block an able person as they are fearful that he may question their actions – even succeed them – and they may lose their power, prestige (and salary) and control over their underlings!
5. Matthew 7:22-23 – “I never knew you”
“Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
If I were a member of the charismatic movement, this passage would strike fear into me. Irrespective of the high emotion and the seeming confirmation that engaging in these activities may produce, to read that they do NOT guarantee a place in heaven is surely worrying at the very least! This is not to say that all those who DO engage in these practices will not enter heaven, but there will be some of them who will not. Quite what the difference between those who will get in and those who will not, I hope will be the subject of another article.
What is noticeable is that Christ’s condemnation is specifically directed at those claims that are characteristic features of the C/P movement.
On this subject of “saved or not?” I recount two incidents.
The first is Rev. Dr. Robert Law’s counselling meeting with a young lady –
“3. ‘A real Encounter with God.’
A young woman came to see me and talked to me about her problems. I asked her if she was a Christian. “Yes” she replied. “Tell me something of your Christian life,” I said. She did. She told me of the wonderful experience she had had when she came to Christ and how she could now speak in tongues etc. When she had finished, I told her that nothing of what she had told me was any real Biblical evidence that she was a true Christian.
“Now I have heard of the fear of the Lord falling on people, but I had never seen it happen. But that afternoon I saw the fear of the Lord descend on her. I explained to her the basis of a true Christian faith and then told her that I was going to leave her in the hands of the Holy Spirit to lead her through to a real faith and a true repentance. “He will do a true and thorough work in you, whereas I may well hinder the work he has begun in you this afternoon.” She returned the next day a new person in Christ with the joy of the Lord in her heart.” [Breakdowns are good for you. p25]
The second is John MacArthur saying that he had been asked by more than one charismatic who had left the C/P movement to be baptised by him again as they felt that they had not been baptised in the true church of God! (In one of his books on the charismatics.)
6. The loss of inhibitions vs. self control
For anyone who has attended a charismatic meeting, it is clear that there is a considerable freedom from inhibitions. I heard one woman break out into lengthy peals of laughter. When she eventually stopped, the minister said “Well, now we have all heard ‘holy laughter’.”
But what does the Bible say about our general conduct? A frequent word in the AV (KJV) is “sober.” Today, this word, unfortunately, has overtones of not drinking. I prefer the modern translation of “Self control” (Greek “Sophronos” and “nepho”). A Bible study on this word will show just how frequently it occurs in the Bible. Titus 2 says it should be specifically taught to three of the five groups of people in the church, and it is implied for the other two. Surely, this is all in keeping with Paul’s injunction to do all things in an orderly manner.
This is not to say that there should be “rigid conformity,” but that the sound Christian, whenever he may feel deeply moved, perhaps during the singing of a hymn, can have a very emotional and uplifting sense of he presence of God. He does not have to immediately begin “dancing down the aisle” to demonstrate to others what he is feeling, but can still find his heart swelling with love for God and experience an internal sense of “joy unspeakable and full of glory.”
Payne considers the root problem of the movement is wanting heaven NOW, with all its euphoria, whereas we are only promised this in heaven itself. A charismatic theologian, Thomas Smail, makes exactly the same point. This present life is to be a period of “suffering and groaning.” I would suggest that even here, however, we are nevertheless to have a hope within us for heaven, and on this account we can rejoice, but this should not be a false and excitable form of emotional expression.
Payne also contends that “If there was a way for that basic problem to be addressed, and corrected, I think that evangelicals and charismatics might have a bright future together.”
I think he is both right and wrong, because, if the charismatic movement were to “correct” their euphoric seeking of “heaven now,” it would cause dramatic and fundamental changes not only in their theology and practice but in their whole attitude to the Christian life – a change that few could make. If, however, this were to take place, they would no longer be the charismatic movement we would recognise, but would have returned to the forms and orderly worship that is the general practice in so many sound churches today.
I would put the problem elsewhere.
(1) To me, firstly, it is one of insufficient appreciation of the vital role of REPENTANCE and brokenness, before one starts on the Christian path, and this applies to such courses as the Alpha course, where the emphasis is on the joys, social fellowship and blessings of the Christian life – and repentance hardly gets a look in as being too negative and discouraging! Yet, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” [Psalm 51:17]
I once asked the leader of a charismatic church about the place of repentance and he replied “Oh, we deal with that after they have been converted”!
(2) Secondly, what is lacking in their attitude to God the Father is a real sense of awe when contemplating His holiness. So strong is the sense of joyfulness in the Holy Spirit that there is little room left for the true sense of awe that will overwhelm us all when we catch our first glimpse of the Godhead in heaven. Indeed, Thomas Smail has written about this in his book on the central weakness of the charismatic movement – The Forgotten Father. (Hodder Paperback 1987)
In his book he is critical of the charismatic movement, for he claims that they have concentrated so much on the Son and the Spirit, that they have “forgotten the Father.” The result is imbalance and a tendency to “run out of steam.” Hence the need for ever changing new stimulus to their worship and dramatic events. But let me quote a few passages from this very challenging book.
“The charismatic experience can most certainly rejuvenate people and churches, but how much evidence is there that it can mature them, by delivering them from their insidious self-concern and making them profitable and outward-moving members of the body of Christ? The answer to that depends in considerable measure on how they relate to the Father. It is the centrality of that relationship that this book attempts to expound, as one major pointer towards that Christian maturity that we all find so elusive.” [p10]
“…it is hard to resist the conclusion that the renewal movement has an inbuilt immaturity.” [p47]
[regarding the Corinthian church] “You are still worldly…” “The church that was strongest in charismatic expression was shortest in holiness…” [p47]
“But even worse than the failure to increase is the failure to mature”. [p15]
What is so very surprising to me is that at the time he was writing (1987) he had been a member for twenty years, and a leader for seven of them. Indeed, he was considered to be the theologian of the charismatic movement at that time. Let me observe here that these are the considered opinion of one of their own theologians who has perceived that there is a fundamental and serious weakness at the heart of the charismatic movement. His views, today, however, were dismissed by one minister to whom I had sent the first version of this paper saying “…few Christian commentators would recognise what Tom Smail wrote over 20 years ago as being still useful or relevant.” This is no answer to the serious charges he makes but simply avoiding the very important issues that he raises. That they were raised 20 years ago is irrelevant.
Regarding the hunger for ever new spiritual experiences, I would contend that once we have caught a true glimpse of the overwhelming AWE of a holy, triune God, this is so ultimately and deeply satisfying, that there is then no need or hunger for any “gimmicks” that are provided to stimulate worship and continuance in the Christian faith.
The Reformed faith
There are charismatics who claim they are of Reformed faith. However, it seems to me that the majority are Arminian in their belief. I would expect this as symptomatic of the subjective attitude they have to their approach to their faith; “It is what I feel that is important to me”! This can then expand into the attitude “I have made a deliberate choice to follow Christ.” Yet the Bible makes it abundantly clear that we were chosen – “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world… In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons in Christ Jesus… In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:4, 5, 11).
Ignoring these and many other similar passages, Arminians contend that they made the decision to become Christians, unaware that they were “dead in their trespasses and sins” and totally unable to help themselves until the Holy Spirit entered them and gave them the power to appreciate spiritual matters.
I mention this to highlight the very subjective and personal approach charismatics have which underlines (and indeed may undermine!) their Christian faith. This subject I dealt with more fully in the essay “A Critique of ‘God’s Strategy in Human History’” by Forster and Marsden. This is on my website at www.mbowden.info/godstrat.htm. In this paper it refers to another on my website dealing with the “perfect thing” in 1 Corinthians 13. This is another paper – “The ‘Perfect Thing’ of 1 Corinthians 13 is the completion of Scripture; John Piper is wrong” – at www.mbowden.info/perfectthing.htm.
Are there other influences?
I once had a most interesting conversation with a German Christian who had been in the drug scene etc., was “saved” and went to a Pentecostal church, and was then “saved” out of that by sincere evangelical friends. On looking back at his experience, he said that he saw all the influences of his drug days reflected in the Pentecostal movement. He also pointed out that there are two distinct periods of “wonders, signs and miracles” in the NT. The first is during the period of Acts and all promote the glory of God. The second period is at the end times, when these same “wonders, signs and miracles” will be deceptive. I checked this out and found him correct.
What really does happen when a person experiences a dramatic “second blessing”?
Let me now return to the subject of the heading of this paper. I have read many accounts of people in meetings, falling down as if in a trance, being prayed over and claiming they have a new life in Christ, etc. What is actually happening?
In more than one account, it seemed to me that the falling onto the floor with writhing and twitching had all the hallmarks of an epileptic fit! This seemed so obvious to me that I enquired of two doctor friends on what were the symptoms of an epileptic fit, and they matched very well. One, however, said that there was such a thing as a “hysterical seizure,” which looked very similar to an epileptic fit and it was sometimes difficult to tell the difference. One difference was that the sufferer did NOT lose control of their elimination functions as sometimes an epileptic did.
Let me give an expert’s description of these events from the internet:
“Pseudoseizures have also been known as hysterical seizures, hysterical epilepsy, and conversion reactions. Although they closely resemble epileptic attacks, pseudoseizures are a psychologic illness, lacking the abnormal paroxysmal electrical discharges from the brain seen in epilepsy. The incidence of pseudoseizures is twice as frequent in women, and are more often seen in younger age groups.
“In 1885, Gowers developed 12 criteria for distinguishing epileptic seizures from pseudoseizures [Table]. Gowers stated that in hysterical seizures rigid fixation of the trunk and limbs alternates with wild movements in which the limbs are thrown about; the arms strike out, the legs kick, the head is dashed side to side. Although Gowers’s criteria are still applicable today, the use of simultaneous electroencephalography and audio/video monitoring have made diagnosis simpler.
“After anxiety is reduced by the appearance of the pseudoseizure, the patient is indifferent to symptoms. He or she receives secondary gains during a seizure in the form of increased attention from observers. Dependence develops, which further reinforces the behavior. A sick role is created, which allows the patient to regress and reinforces the dependent role. …. they occurred more commonly in the presence of a witness [Emphasis MB].
Charcot (1825-1893) studied these cases, but six years after his death, a young intern could bribe some of Charcot’s women patients with a small sum of money to “act out” all the symptoms that they had displayed for Charcot’s benefit! [“Breakdowns are good for you” pp.167-9]. It is not clear what these symptoms were, but if they were those of a hysterical seizure, then we have the possible factor that they are in some degree under the control of the patient.
I remember reading about a girls residential school where a girl fainted for some reason. Soon, another girl fainted, then another until either almost the whole class or even the school had many fainting girls on their hands. I cannot remember the outcome but it was clear that this was a case of mass hysteria spreading through a group of girls who may have been under great pressure due to perhaps a strict regime. They were possibly all highly stressed and it required only one “escape” route from the stress to appear in the first girl, and quickly the “effect” spread throughout the whole school. There may have been the additional pressure “to be like everyone else.” This seems to be a case of mass “hysterical seizures.”
The experts say that the real cause of these seizures is not known, but they can arise from purely emotional pressure alone. The stress on an individual in a highly charged meeting can rise to an unbearable peak, such that there is triggered a “breakdown,” of either a psychological or neurological nature, the person virtually passes out and falls to the floor.
It is at this point that I must make what is to me a very obvious and most telling observation. Those surrounding such prostrate and possibly writhing figures always interpret these events as “being overcome by the power of the Spirit”. With sometimes many people present, it never seems to occur to a single one of them that what they are seeing is not a “spiritual visitation” but a medical/psychological crisis – a hysterical seizure!
Has not a single person in these large gatherings ever seen a person having a fit of some sort before that had nothing to do with religion, and recognise it for what it is? Surely they must have done. But what happens? These seizures (for such they are) are always interpreted as a “spiritual blessing” and the possibility of it being a medical fit or seizure is never considered.
I have therefore come to the conclusion that C/P adherents that claim these “slain by the spirit” events are special visits by the Holy Spirit upon that person, are, frankly, living in an attitude of mind where everything, including obviously medical crises, are all “spiritualised away,” This is surely living in an unreal world that refuses to acknowledge facts when they are clearly present.
This whole attitude to life is the basis of their claim that they have a “higher spiritual life” that is superior to those who have never experienced such a “blessing.” In all this, the possibility of being blinded by a deep spiritual pride that will affect everything they do must surely be raised. It is usually accompanied by an appearance of humility, but this could be punctured when they are confronted with the unbiblical errors of their stance. But they rarely allow themselves to be drawn into any such dire situation, carefully avoiding public debate or even personal discussions on the whole subject.
This also explains why trying to discuss the lack of real Bible basis for their doctrinal position can become so very frustrating. They can only see life through their “rose-tinted ‘spiritual’ spectacles” at all the events that take place. Frankly, they are not living in the real world of hard facts, but make slippery excuses for their practices that simply defy common sense and simple logic. As I mentioned above, this became very obvious during my exchange of emails with one C/P minister who was prepared to discuss the subject of the C/P movement. It was I who eventually gave up the correspondence in the face of the sheer twisted logic and devious arguments he used that I found so frustrating. It made me ask the question “With an attitude of mind like that, what errors is he responsible for in the teaching of his congregation?”
What is God’s view of all this?
It would be very easy to give a final summary of my views at this point, but these are clear from the above. Of infinite importance, however, is God’s view. No one can say what this is, but it is possible that with such shaky biblical foundations, 1 Corinthians 3:11-14 (“…wood, hay, stubble…) could apply, and even Matthew 7:22-23 (“…I never knew you”) and Matthew 22:11-14 (the man at the wedding found not wearing a wedding garment who was cast out. Is this the garment of true Godly humility that is required to enter heaven?). If they are not C/P who I think they may be, then I must ask the reader “Who are these people referred to in the Bible that give every appearance of being true Christians, yet are denied entry into heaven by the Lord? If they are not C/P, then who are they?”
I am sure that almost all charismatics will be greatly annoyed, indeed probably infuriated, at many of the comments I make in this examination. I have used some emotive words, but have pointed out that others, including one of their own theologians, have also applied similar views to the members of the movement – so I am not alone in making such a comment.
What has made me hesitate to give my thoughts any publicity is the negative attitude it has. I would be horrified if I were to damage the faith of a believer. However, we are required, if we see our brother is in error, to warn him of his ways, and furthermore, I consider the movement a dangerous distraction from a sound, truly biblical Christian faith. If I am proved wrong when I face God, then I must take the responsibility for such an error. I am also aware of the possibility that I am committing the “Unforgivable Sin” in questioning what may be the work of the Holy Spirit, but from all that I have examined, I do not think it is. It will be no comfort to say that I will not be alone!
If this paper has caused just one member of the charismatic movement to rethink his position and distance himself from the movement, it will have more than served its purpose.
– Malcolm Bowden
[Version 9 (27 January 2011);
original paper 19 December 2010.]