The Charismatic Phenomenon

by Peter Masters and John C Whitcomb

The Charismatic Phenomenon, by Peter Masters and John C Whitcomb

Published by the Wakeman Trust.

Available here.

Introduction

Since the Holy Spirit came down on the newly-formed church of Jesus Christ on the Day of Pentecost, two thousand years of Christian witness have passed, and momentous battles have been fought between the devil and the Church. Satan has launched brutal physical persecutions from without, and by infiltration has campaigned to overthrow evangelical doctrine from within. But, by the mighty power of the Spirit, a true Church – made up of myriad living congregations throughout the world – has prevailed and grown.

The history of the church is studded with countless triumphs of grace, seen in mighty awakenings and periods when the wonderful light of God has streamed from his unchanging and inerrant Word. Yet all these glorious events of the Spirit have occurred, including all the battles of persecution, reformation and revival, without the benefit of the charismatic movement.

Pentecostalism began only towards the end  of the 19th century, and never became more than a tiny part of the Christian witness scene for the first fifty years of its existence. The modern charismatic movement did not begin to emerge from Pentecostalism until around 1955. At the present time [1982] it has existed for less than 40 years of the nearly 2,000 years which have elapsed since Pentecost.

For all this, charismatic teachers and authors are undaunted in their claim to have rediscovered the lost doctrines of the Spirit. They contemptuously sweep aside the witness of the centuries as a witness conducted in semi-darkness, coldness and powerlessness! Many say that there was no real worship until the charismatic movement came along – not for two millennia! some assert that Christ’s people have had their basic spiritual rights and blessings denied them for all these centuries because of wicked clergy, in order to sustain their elitist power and dominance, suppressed the facts about the gifts which should have been exercised and enjoyed by everyone. With such ideas as these, charismatics deride the age of the Spirit as an extended dark age of lifeless formalism. It is claimed that an ugly breach occurred in the spiritual life of God’s people, extending from the close of the book of Acts until about 1955, when light and power broke forth again in the tongues and visions of Charismatic pioneers.

The idea is chilling; the implications staggering. Is the charismatic movement really a rediscovery of authentic Christianity? Has the genuine article really been missed by the great instruments of reformation and revival in ages past? Have all the sermons preached and hymns written over a period of 2,000 years been composed in the shadows of an age of spiritual ignorance? Has all the worship of these past years been void of life and power? Have numerous lifetimes of devoted labour been sacrificed on the altar of an inadequate and partial faith?

It has been said that the doctrines of the charismatic movement are either true, in which case the last 1,900 years have been an age of tragic spiritual deprivation, or these doctrines are false, in which case they represent a message of monumental arrogance, decrying the faith and experience of all our spiritual forbears.

There have, we know, been some extremely rare and isolated incidents and phenomena corresponding to present-day charismatic experiences, but these are so few as to be statistically irrelevant in the history of the Church of Christ. However, they are eagerly clutched at by charismatic authors anxious to convince their readers that the ‘gifts’ of the Spirit have always been manifested. But these writers know perfectly well that their use of history is slick and unethical. They build and Empire State Building out of two or three bricks, shamelessly misleading their readers with ludicrous exaggerations and generalisations. The incontrovertible fact is that the history of the Church of Christ – the age of the Spirit – has proceeded for the most part without the charismatic movement.

As we have already indicated, it was around 1955 that Pentecostal doctrines began to spread into other denominations. At first, this occurred extremely slowly, but in 1960 a rector of an Episcopal church in California announced to his congregation that he had received the baptism of the Spirit and spoken in tongues. This event, which attracted widespread television coverage in the USA and gave rise to a best-selling book, is often cited and the effective launching of the modern charismatic movement.

At first, the movement spread rapidly among people with a fairly loose hold on evangelical doctrines, appealing also to any liberals and Catholics. Interestingly, the first crop of societies set up for the promotion of charismatic gifts made it their declared aim to employ the ‘gifts of the Spirit’ as a means of joining all Christians together in a united Christian front. The overwhelming majority of charismatic leaders still hope for a world-wide ecumenical church under the leadership of the Pope. The charismatic movement has certainly spread extensively within the Roman Catholic Church. However, while vast numbers of priests now employ charismatic jargon and methods of worship, their Catholic doctrines remain totally unchanged. In Third World countries the charismatic movement has seen quite phenomenal expansion, but the kind of churches which have sprung into being often resemble cult meetings much more than Christian churches.

Alongside all the extremism and all the excess, it must be recognised that the charismatic movement includes many people who are genuine and earnest disciples of the Lord. Equally there are some charismatic fellowships which remain untainted by the worldliness, shallowness, gimmickry and phoney claims which characterise charismatics generally. Nevertheless, even in these better groups, charismatic practices are a great and serious departure from the Bible which will seriously injure true believers, conditioning them for the worse excesses and extremes which are coming in like an irresistible tide.

We cannot be vague or indifferent in our attitude to charismatic claims, and it is hoped that the points raised in this book will help many friends to examine the movement in the light of our only source of guidance for spiritual matters – God’s perfect and infallible Word.

 

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