A Personal Testimony of a Former Charismatic
By Michael J. Ives
By God’s blessing, I was born into and raised up in a Christian home. Both of my parents were sincere, devout believers in Christ, loving His Word and loving the church. Each of them had come to the Lord and were subsequently exposed to charismatic teaching, which they came to believe and to practice.
Throughout my childhood, we attended various types of charismatic and pentecostal churches. At times, we would attend more biblically-oriented congregations. But we also were exposed to churches that laid great stress on the gifts and tended to downplay a rigorous, intelligent study of Scripture. My mother was also influenced by the Word-Faith movement, following teachers such as Kenneth Copeland.
My father passed away when I was thirteen, and the Lord used this event to trigger a spiritual quest on my part. Eventually, the Lord wrought a gracious change in my soul, and I came to profess “my father’s God” (Exodus 15:2). Naturally, as I was still a minor, I continued to attend my mother’s choice of church. I did not initially question the charismatic gifts and even submitted myself in several instances to the laying on of hands that I might ‘receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.’ I did sincerely believe that this was the teaching of Scripture as best as I could understand in those days. By God’s mercies, however, that was not meant to last.
Looking back on it, I do recall even in my unconverted childhood having strange impressions of what I was experiencing in church and at home. While I was very much a child of darkness, despising the things of God and only attending the ordinances by constraint, yet I think my natural judgment could sense that not all was right.
For example, I witnessed many strange and even absurd phenomena in the churches where I went. In some of them, it was a kind of a baptized circus. I remember in one church the minister telling the congregation that they ought to get out of their pews and begin running around the interior of the sanctuary in what was dubbed a “Jericho run” (cf. Joshua 6)! This was the same church where a woman came up to me and prophesied that I would be as Jacob, my brother as Esau, and that my brother would serve me (cf. Genesis 25:21-23). Yet, I was the older brother!
I also distinctly remember being puzzled at the phenomena of ‘tongue speaking.’ It did seem that certain people who practiced this were seriously troubled in their own personal lives, and this experience was for them a kind of drug they took temporarily to relieve them of their troubles. Further, I became familiar with the some of the stylized, repetitive language. I can still to this day repeat portions of what I recall. It seemed like a self-devised mantra. Was this not – in at least many instances – something that one could easily acquire at will with a little effort?
I think another thing in God’s providence that may have prepared me to abandon charismatic teaching was the tragic experience of my father. My father was a very joyful, enthusiastic Christian. But he also suffered from depression and would enter long bouts of it in my childhood. During those times, he would want to sleep all the time and avoided almost all social interaction. It was very hard on all of us. Well, these charismatic friends of my parents, well-intentioned as they were, tried to exorcise the ‘spirit of depression’ from my father. I remember my mother telling me one day that they were going to have a lengthy prayer vigil with him, with the laying on of hands, and we were virtually promised that our father would come home ‘good as new.’ How heartbreaking it was when he came back even more despondent than before. I can only imagine the sheer agony and shame he experienced.
Nevertheless, when I did come to personal faith in Christ, I continued in these beliefs. But the more I read Scripture and the more I was in this environment, the more my doubts grew. The church I attended during these years was, thankfully, not as wild and zany. And yet, I was coming to see through many of the practices. Some of the same kinds of people, discouraged, depressed, and looking for a ‘solution’ would constantly go to the front of the church for a fresh fix. Others, who obviously liked to hear themselves talk, would always stand up and give a solemn prophecy. How odd it was that the same themes would come up again and again. Even in this church, where they tried to abide by the order of 1 Corinthians 14, it was still all so highly subjective and ungovernable.
I especially was having serious misgivings about the Word-Faith teachers my mother would watch on television. More and more I was seeing them for what they were. Modern day Tetzels, preying on poor, suffering people – and usually women – for a price. All these sufferers had to do was call the toll free number on the screen, give their credit card information, and claim their blessing. I was becoming scandalized by all this madness, and especially as these wolves were after my own widowed mother.
My official journey out of charismaticism began when I approached a pastor I knew took a different position. I asked him if there were any good books I could read on the subject, and he recommended John MacArthur’s The Charismatics (later, Charismatic Chaos). I remember going to a local seminary library to check the book out, and how I had to bring in home and read it almost under cover of night. I knew what charismatics said about MacArthur. He was dangerous. And worse, he was ‘touching the Lord’s anointed.’
But as I read the book, everything began clicking. My doubts were confirmed. In the book, MacArthur made a very persuasive biblical case for the unique place of the gifts and especially of tongues in the apostolic era. I distinctly remember being struck by his tracing the gift of tongues in Acts from its initial bestowal on the Jews, to the Samaritans, and finally to the Gentiles. The tongues, as Paul said, were a sign that all the nations were being ushered into the Kingdom. Once the sign was given and the point was made, it had served its purpose. Further, all of the miraculous gifts were tied up with the unique, foundation-laying ministry of the apostles, and the Lord has ceased giving an apostolic ministry to the Church. This just made sense, and it fit very well with my growing disillusionment with the whole business.
This was not easy news to break to my mother, quite understandably. We had a very good relationship, but this did put a bit of a strain on things for a time. Thankfully, my mother eventually left the charismatic movement after I became Reformed. She never really left charismaticism strictly on the merits of the arguments, but because she was getting solid, expository preaching from the Reformed and not the charismatic church. She had long been hungry for the Word, and now she was really being fed. The old charismatic appraisal of our churches as ‘not having the Spirit’ now rang quite hollow.
Of course, once I became Reformed, there was no turning back. When introduced to this biblically rich and faithful heritage, with a very high view of God’s infallible Word and a living, vibrant experience informed and regulated by it, it was clear that this was “the house of God, and the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:17). May the Lord ever keep me in it by His sovereign, almighty grace. And may He grant that many other sons and daughters of Zion, presently in the charismatic movement, may return and find peace, safety, and true joy within her walls.
Michael J. Ives is the minister of the Presbyterian Reformed Church of East Greenwich, Rhode Island, USA