Doctrinal Distinctives of the Charismatic Movement*

By Gary E. Gilley  

The focus of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements has always been centered on shared experiences, not theology. This is especially true of those in the charismatic movement, which transcends all denominations. Thus, for example, there are Catholic charismatics, who believe in a sacramental form of salvation, and there are Lutheran charismatics, who believe that infant baptism is redemptive, and there are Baptist charismatics, who believe they are saved through faith alone. While these three types of charismatics might vary widely in their views of the fundamentals of their faith, what they have in common is an experience -- the experience of speaking in tongues. While all charismatics do not personally speak in tongues, all would accept the validity of tongues-speaking. This experience does have a doctrinal framework, of course, which could be expressed in the following two statements: 

1) The baptism of the Holy Spirit is a second work of grace that brings power in the life of the believer.

2) The evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues.

The logical conclusion of these statements is that a person who has not been baptized by the Holy Spirit is a "second class" Christian and is not experiencing the power of God in his life. If the charismatics are correct, an important ingredient is missing from the spiritual life of most Christians. If they are wrong, then they have elevated a questionable at best, or at worst, a fraudulent practice to the centerpiece of Christian living. If the baptism of the Holy Spirit is truly a subsequent experience, with the evidence of speaking in tongues, then all Christians should seek this baptism. If it is not, then this theology should be exposed and denounced. One cannot have it both ways. 

The Biblical foundation for the unique theological position of charismatics is found almost entirely in the book of Acts. Four passages are critical: 

Acts 2:1-8 -- The day of Pentecost where tongues were first spoken.
Acts 8:14-18
-- In Samaria where the new believers did not receive the Holy Spirit until the apostles came, even though there is no record of tongues being spoken.
Acts 10:44-48 -- At Cornelius' house when the Gentiles received the Spirit.
Acts 19:1-7
-- When John's disciples received the Spirit at conversion and spoke in tongues.

A careful study of the above passages, and others, will reveal that it is extremely difficult to base doctrine on the book of Acts. Acts is a book of history, tracing the transitional nature of the early church. Note the transitional nature and the diversity of the reception of the Holy Spirit in these four passages. For example, there is no speaking in tongues in Acts 8; no wind or fire except in Acts 2; some, who were already saved, received the Spirit, along with some new converts; etc. However now, according to Romans 8:9 and I Corinthians 12:13, the Holy Spirit is always received at the moment of conversion.

It should also be noted that most converts, even in the book of Acts, did not speak in tongues. The following believers apparently did not speak in tongues: 3000 at Pentecost (2:41); 5000 men (4:4); the eunuch (8:35-38); Saul (9:3-18); Sergius Paulus (13:7-12); at Antioch (13:43); Lydia (16:14,15); Philippian jailer (16:27-34); Berea and Thessalonica (17:4,12); Athens (17:34); Crispus (18:8); and at Ephesus (19:18). 

The epistles clearly teach that the purpose of Spirit baptism is to bring us into the body of Christ -- Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:26,27; Ephesians 4:5 (one baptism); Colossians 2:12; I Corinthians 12:13 (as well as verses 14-26 pointed out that not all speak in tongues). 

So how do charismatics deal with the apostolic teaching that Spirit baptism occurs at the moment of conversion, brings us into the body of Christ, and is not accompanied with tongues? They deal with it by teaching that there are actually two Spirit baptisms in the New Testament. This view holds that the first baptism, called the baptism of repentance, happens to all believers and brings them into the body of Christ. The second baptism is the baptism with the Holy Spirit, or endowment with power, which is signified by tongues. The first is baptism by the Holy Spirit; the second is with the Holy Spirit.  

The charismatic position is that when Paul referred to tongues in I Corinthians 12-14, he was speaking to believers who had received the first baptism (by the Spirit) and were, thus, already part of the body of Christ. As part of the body of Christ, some had received the gift of speaking in tongues -- but not all. Obviously then, not every believer will receive the gift of speaking in tongues. On the other hand, when a Christian has received the second baptism (with the Holy Spirit) the evidence will be speaking in tongues as a SIGN of that experience. Therefore, according to this view, some Christians have the gift of tongues, but all Christians who have received the second baptism will evidence this fact with at least an initial experience of speaking in tongues.  

It is easy to see that a poor understanding of the book of Acts is overturning the clear teaching of the epistles. Even Acts refutes this "two-baptism" view when in 11:17 Luke declares the tongues "experiences" of chapters 2 and 10, which were signs, as gifts. Tongues, in the early church, were "sign-gifts." (See below for a discussion of sign gifts.) 

In addition, opposition to the charismatic position is found in Ephesians 4:5, which says that there is only one baptism. The distinction between "by" and "with" cannot be sustained. The same Greek preposition "en" is used both in I Corinthians 12:13 and in Acts 1:5. In I Corinthians 12:7-13, we are told that God has already given the gifts as He wills. He tells us that we do not all have the same gifts (read 12:4, 7-11, 14-18 and 28-31). In all of the New Testament, only I Corinthians 12:13 explains the purpose of the baptism of the Spirit, which is to bring us into the body (church) of Christ. To claim that its purpose is to give us power from God, and is evidenced by speaking in tongues, is without Biblical basis.

The Purpose of Biblical Tongues 

The New Testament is clear that tongues were actual foreign languages -- not incoherent gibberish. Acts 2:4-8 is the only passage in the New Testament that sheds light on the nature of tongues. At that event, those who heard tongues spoken by the apostles were able to understand them in their own language. The apostles apparently spoke in languages they did not understand -- but they spoke in known languages, understandable to the listeners.

Why did God use tongues in the early church? Much debate has taken place over this question. The major theories are presented in the following few paragraphs, with a short commentary following each theory: 

The First Theory: Church Edification

The idea is that the gift of tongues was, and is, given for the edifying of other believers. However, the whole purpose of I Corinthians 14:1-19 is to emphasize that tongues were worthless for this purpose. 

The Second Theory: Evangelization

At Pentecost, it was Peter's gospel message -- not tongues -- that brought people to Christ. With Cornelius (Acts 10), it was new Christians who spoke in tongues and no unsaved people were present. At Ephesus, there was no indication that any unsaved people were present when tongues were spoken (Acts 19:6). Tongues at Corinth were clearly not evangelistic. In fact, Paul remarked that unbelievers observing them would likely be repelled, just as they were at Pentecost (I Corinthians 14:23 and Acts 2:13). 

The Third Theory: Proof of Spirit Baptism

In the New Testament, many believers are said to be filled with the Holy Spirit, with no mention of speaking in tongues. Spiritual baptism always has reference to our baptism into Christ. The difference between baptism and filling is found in Ephesians 5:18. We are commanded to be filled; therefore, it is not universal among Christians, whereas baptism is. 

The Fourth Theory: Devotional

Paul said that he would rather pray and sing with the Spirit AND the mind than with just the Spirit alone (I Corinthians 14:14-15). The purpose of tongues is as a sign (Mark 16:17), not for personal spiritual growth. 

The Fifth Theory: Condemnation

According to I Corinthians 14:21, which quotes Isaiah 28:11,12, tongues were a sign to the nation of Israel that God was bringing judgment upon them for their sinfulness and rejection of Christ. 

The Sixth Theory: Apostolic Authentication

Since, on the testimony of Jesus, tongues were a sign, it remains only to determine what they were a sign of (Mark 16:17). In II Corinthians 12:11-13, Paul appeals to signs and wonders as the proofs of the apostolic office. If that is what they were, then that is their purpose. No unusual manifestation of the Spirit's presence (no sign) ever occurred except in the presence of an apostle or by those who had been directly ministered to by an apostle. 

A combination of the final two theories rings true. Tongues, as a sign gift, point out two things: the judgment of Israel, and in a secondary sense, to the authority of the apostles. 

Support for the Apostolic Authentication Theory 

There are five facts that show the distinctive character of the apostolic office

1) the church was founded upon them (Ephesians 2:20); 
2) they were eyewitnesses of Christ's resurrection (Acts 1:22 and I Corinthians 15:7-9); 
3) they were special authorized agents (Luke 6:13);
4) the fact of their appointment was authenticated by signs; the absence of miracles would invalidate the claim of one who asserted that he was an apostle (II Corinthians 12:12 and Acts 5:11-13); and
5) the fact of their apostolic authority (II Peter 3:2, 15-16; I Corinthians 4:12 and II Thessalonians 3:6,14).

Tongues as a sign 

Mark 16:17-20 -- Signs were to be manifested by the apostles and by those to whom they ministered. In verse 20, Mark already (by AD 68) considered these signs past. 

Acts 2:14-21; 4:3 -- Only the apostles spoke in tongues or performed signs on these occasions. 

Acts 8:13 -- Phillip was not an apostle, but had the apostles' "hands" lain upon him (6:6). However, his converts performed no signs or wonders. Only when apostles came from Jerusalem and laid hands upon Philip's converts was there any unusual demonstration of the Spirit's presence in them (8:15-17). 

Note: Acts records new groups (Jews, Samaritans, Gentiles and Old Testament believers) in the initial act of receiving the Holy Spirit, which would later be the mark of all Christians (Romans 8:9). 

Acts 10 -- God employed a series of supernatural visions in order to have Peter be the one to present the Gospel to Cornelius. 

Acts 19 Acts 19:2 would be better translated, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" These men were not yet converted. In 19:6, tongues came to authenticate Paul as an apostle. 

II Corinthians 12:12 -- Some at Corinth who had been converted under Paul received the gift of tongues to validate Paul's claim to apostleship. 

All signs are temporary 

Jesus predicted signs only in association with the apostolic ministry. Mark considered the signs as past (AD 68). Hebrews 2:3-4 was written around the same time and also considered the signs as past. 

The last recorded miracles in the New Testament took place about AD 58 (Acts 28:3-9). In AD 60, Epaphroditus became sick, but he was not healed miraculously (Philippians 2:25-30). About AD 62, Timothy had a stomach ailment, which remained uncured (I Timothy 5:23). Around AD 64, one of Paul's associates was so seriously ill that Paul had to leave him behind, uncured (II Timothy 4:20). Yet earlier, Paul had been instrumental even in restoring life to the dead. 

Some gifts were temporary 

All signs may be considered as spiritual gifts, but not all spiritual gifts were signs. The gifts of miracles, healings, and tongues were sign gifts. All the sign gifts were temporary (compare Acts 11:17 with Mark 16). As with the miracles of Jesus, they served to authenticate the position and authority of the apostles. 

Support for the Judgment Upon Israel Theory 

The argument runs as follows: God had warned Israel on several occasions (Isaiah 28:11,12; 33:19; Deuteronomy 28:49,50; Jeremiah 5:15) that when they found themselves invaded and surrounded by those speaking in languages they did not understand, it was a sign to them that they were being judged by God for their disobedience. When, at Pentecost and in the early years of the church, tongues were spoken in the presence of Jews, it would be a sign to them that judgment was coming because of their rejection of the Messiah. That judgment came with the destruction of Jerusalem, the temple, and the scattering of the Jewish people in AD 70. At that point, the purpose of tongues (as a sign to disobedient Israel) had been fulfilled, and therefore, tongues ceased. This was the primary purpose for tongues. 

Tongues Have Ceased 

Biblical Evidence 

I Corinthians 13:8-10 -- Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part, and we prophecy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 

This passage was written around AD 55, and clearly states that tongues shall cease. The question is, when? The answer to that question is often seen as hinging on the meaning of the word "perfect" in the text. 

What is "that which is perfect"?  - - Three views: 

1) The Rapture (a view often held by tongue speakers)

However, the term "that which is perfect" cannot refer to the Lord because of the neuter articles. It can be translated "when the perfect thing arrives." This view also contradicts other Scripture, which states that there will be prophecy after the rapture -- during the Tribulation (Revelation 11:3-13) and during the Millennial Age (Joel 2:28).

 2) The Canon

Not even the New Testament allows us to know fully, there is much that we still do not know. 

3) The Eternal State

This is when we will see face to face, and is the best understanding of "perfect." The passage is therefore teaching that both prophecy and supernatural knowledge will cease forever at the point when God ushers in the eternal state. But carefully notice that tongues is not named among those gifts that are said to be made inoperative by the arrival of the perfect. Therefore, tongues could cease prior to this event. With prophecy and knowledge the verb "shall cease," meaning "to lay aside" or "render inoperative" is used. With tongues a different verb is used meaning "to stop" or "they will be done away." It carries with it the idea of a natural cessation. 

It is also important to note the voice changes: "will be done away," is in the passive voice, meaning that they will be forced to stop by an outside agent (i.e. that which is perfect). However, "cease" is in the middle voice, which allows for the possibility that they could cease in and of themselves -- naturally -- when their purpose is fulfilled. 

I Corinthians 13:8-10 does not give definitive evidence that tongues have ceased and are no longer operative today -- but it strongly allows for such a view. Paul implies that tongues will cease when their purpose is fulfilled. If, as demonstrated above, the purpose of tongues was to authenticate the apostles and their message, and to serve as a sign to Israel of judgment for rejecting their Messiah, then tongues have fulfilled their purpose. Phrased another way, since there are no longer apostles to authenticate, and since Israel has already been judged (in AD 70), tongues no longer have a purpose in the church today. Tongues cessation should then be expected with the passing of the apostles and the judgment of Israel. Both the testimonies of Scripture and of church history verify this fact. There is no record of anyone speaking in tongues in the New Testament after AD 70.  

Church History Evidence (Church history does not prove any doctrinal issues. However, in this case, church history verifies what we would expect from a study of the New Testament: That tongues, having fulfilled their purpose, ceased to exist by AD 70, and were not found in the history of the church.) 

Apostolic Fathers

It is significant that the gift of tongues is rarely alluded to, hinted at, or found, in the Apostolic Fathers. The Fathers wrote to defend Christianity, to correct Christians, to explain doctrines, etc. after the death of the apostles. Yet they did not mention tongues in a favorable light, and for the most part, totally ignored them. 

Some examples: 

  Justin Martyr (AD 100-165) wrote about spiritual gifts but did not mention tongues. He never mentions anyone speaking in tongues. 

Montanus (AD 126-180) did speak in tongues, but was regarded as demon-possessed by Christians of his day (refer to the section "History of Tongues," Think on These Things, Vol. 5, Issue 3). 

Irenaeus (AD 140-203) said he had heard that some spoke in tongues. He had, however, been influenced by the Montanists and did not speak in tongues himself nor apparently witness anyone that did. 

Tertulian (AD 150-222) was converted to Montanism for a period of time. He wrote about one lady who spoke in tongues and was a Montanist. This was the last witness to tongues-speaking by any of the Church Fathers. 

Origen (AD 185-253) said that in his day no one spoke in tongues. 

Chrysostom (AD 347-407) made no mention of tongues being spoken in his day. 

Augustine (AD 354-430) did not write of tongues being spoken during his life. 

Half-Way Summary 

If, as has been demonstrated, the gift of tongues has fulfilled the purpose for which it was designed, and therefore, has ceased, what is going on today? That is, how do we explain the present day phenomenon of speaking in tongues if the Holy Spirit is no longer bestowing this gift upon people? What is the origin of speaking in tongues in the modern church? 

Certainly there is more than one origin. Tongues can be demonic, as is demonstrated by documented tongues-speaking in pagan religions. Tongues can be faked for the purpose of peer-approval. After all, if you attend a church that teaches that speaking in tongues is a sign of spiritual maturity, the pressure to conform could be enormous. 

It appears that the majority of tongues-speaking in the modern church is a learned response. In other words, people are being taught, either directly or indirectly, how to speak in tongues. Let's take a look at this theory.  

Characteristics of the Modern Tongues Movement 

The nature of tongues:

Clearly, tongues in the New Testament were languages, understandable by those who knew the language being spoken. This is not the case today. Linguists have described modern tongues as a form of ecstatic speech, similar to that which occurs all over the world in many religious practices. Interestingly, the first Pentecostals believed they were speaking in foreign languages for the purpose of propagating the gospel on the mission field. Some early Pentecostals even rushed to foreign countries without any language training, and began preaching the gospel, trusting that the listeners understood them. When it became obvious that they were not understood, these zealous missionaries had to come home and revise their understanding of this phenomenon (see Christian History Magazine, "The Rise of Pentecostalism," Vol. XVII, page 2). 

The absence of spontaneity:

Contrary to the spontaneous and surprising reception of tongues in the book of Acts, modern day promoters of tongues present formulas and instructions designed to teach people how to speak in tongues. Usually these instructions include a prescription to begin by making sounds of some kind, such as by repetition of a phrase. 

Charismatics present speaking in tongues as an act of faith. It is something that you must knowingly begin, and trust that God will continue. Larry Christenson, a charismatic Lutheran, said: 

"In order to speak in tongues, you have to quit praying in English ...You simply lapse into silence and resolve to speak not a syllable of any language you have ever learned. Your thoughts are focused on Christ, and then you simply lift up your voice and speak out confidently, in faith that the Lord will take the sound you give Him and shape it into a language. You take no thought of what you are saying. As far as you are concerned it is just a series of sounds. The first sounds will sound strange and unnatural to your ear, and they may be halting and inarticulate (have you ever heard a baby learning to talk?)" (quoted by Robert Gromacki, The Modern Tongues Movement, p. 41). 

Harold Bredesen gave these instructions to tongues seekers at Yale: 

"1. Think visually and concretely, rather than abstractly: for example, try to visualize Jesus as a person. 

2. Consciously yield your voices and organs of speech to the Holy Spirit. 

3. Repeat certain elementary sounds, such as 'bah-bah-bah,' or something similar. Bredesen then laid his hands on the hand of each seeker, prayed for him, and the seeker did actually speak in tongues" (quoted by Gromacki, p. 42). 

John Kildahl, in an interesting book entitled The Psychology of Speaking in Tongues, explains it this way: 

"When I hypnotize someone, I begin by saying 'Lie back ... Shut your eyes ... Relax ... Breathe deeply And listen to the sounds of your breathing as you relax, you can feel yourself getting tired and drowsy.' A sample of a tongues leader teaching someone to speak in tongues is, 'The Lord is in your presence ... He is with you now ... Open yourself to Him ... Let all your anxieties flow out of you ... The Lord wants to give you the gift of His Holy Spirit ... Open your mouth, and He will give you utterance.' The hypnotist has essentially a two-pronged strategy: that of sensory deprivation and of developing a special kind of relationship, in other words, a relationship of dependence and trust" (Gromacki, p. 37). 


Christenson cites two universal temptations in regards to tongues. One is artificiality -- the temptation to think, "I am just making this up." He says to repel this temptation with all vigor. The second temptation is ineffectuality -- when the enthusiasm of tongues has dimmed, a person may begin to neglect or cease to use tongues. Christenson says that every gift of God involves stewardship, and, therefore, one must resolve to use it all the rest of his life. This amounts to saying that the "gift" which was sought and begun by artificial means, must be continued at all costs, even when common sense says it is a hollow mockery. 

In addition, Kildahl claims that when tongues are an important life goal, there is always a relationship to a leader or a group that conveys a feeling of acceptance and belonging. If confidence is lost in the authority figure then quite often the person will stop speaking in tongues. Kildahl, in his studies, said he "found no tongue-speaker who was unrelated to a glossolalia authority figure that he esteemed. Those who had spoken in tongues, but were now indifferent to it in this research, had in each case had a falling out with the leader of the tongue-speaking group" (The Psychology of Speaking in Tongues, p. 53). 

The Modern Gift of Interpretation:

If tongues-speaking is problematic, the interpretation of tongues is more so. While tongues can be faked, or explained as a heavenly language, interpretations are not so easily handled. The interpretation of tongues is the supernatural ability to understand and interpret a message, in an unknown language to the interpreter, for the benefit and edification of the body of Christ (I Corinthians 14:5-19). The progression should be: God gives a message in tongues to Joe who speaks that message at a church service, but doesn't understand it. Bill is then given the ability to understand what Joe has said and relays it to the church.

It is at this point that the modern gift of tongues breaks down most dramatically. A number of studies have been done that are anything but supportive of the charismatic position. Tongues-speaking has been recorded and then played back to those claiming the gift of interpretation. In every experiment of this nature, each interpreter interpreted these recorded messages differently. In one instance, John 3:3 was recited in the German language, but the interpreter claimed that Acts 19:2 had been recited in French. Another time Psalm 23 was recited in Hebrew, but the interpretation had nothing to do with Psalm 23. Sometimes the interpretation contradicts the clear teaching of the Lord. Interpretation has always been found wanting (see the Handbook on Tongues, pp. 80,95). 

Kildahl and his researchers taped several people speaking in tongues for interpreters: 

"In no instance was there any similarity in the several interpretations When confronted with the disparity between their interpretations, the interpreters offered the explanation that God gave to one person one interpretation of the speech and to another person another interpretation" (The Psychology of Speaking in Tongues, p. 73). 

Such studies poke gaping holes in views held by charismatics and reveal tongues for what they are -- a learned response, not a supernatural gift from the Holy Spirit.

Natural Explanations 

Kildahl offers the following possible explanations for the modern tongue movement: 

A motor automatism -- Some tongues are the result of a trance-like condition. 

Ecstasy -- Some tongues result from a strong and unusual emotional excitement. 

Hypnosis -- Due to repeated suggestions as to what is expected of one and the repeated appeals to yield oneself to the "power," many writers have concluded that hypnotism is frequently involved in causing tongues. 

Psychic catharsis -- Kildahl found that anxiety was a prerequisite for developing the ability to speak in tongues. Additionally, persons with a low level of emotional stability tended to be extreme in their affirmation of the benefits of glossolalia. 

Kildahl, p. 40: Research proved that glossolalists are more submissive, suggestible and dependent in the presence of authority figures than non-tongue-speakers. This was important because one has to follow a leader's suggestions to be hypnotized. Research also proved that tongue speakers think about some benevolent authority person when they began to speak in tongues. 

Kildahl, page 54: Hypnotizability requires that the subject be trusting enough to turn himself over to someone else and place his destiny in his hands. If one can be hypnotized, then one is able under proper conditions to learn to speak in tongues. 

Kildahl, page 74: It is our definite opinion that those who have the necessary psychological characteristics can learn to speak in tongues. This gives rise to the question, "If it is truly a gift of the Holy Spirit, why must it be demonstrated and taught?" I have observed the same routine everywhere I have been: 

1) A meeting devoted to intense concentration on tongue speaking, followed by
2) An atmosphere of heightened suggestibility to the words of the tongue speaker leader, after which
3) The initiate is able to make the sounds he is instructed to make. It is the same procedure that a competent hypnotist employs. I have reached the conclusion that tongue speaking is a learned phenomenon. 

Other Matters 

Why the present interest in tongues? 

In our society, there is a seemingly strong desire for a genuine religious expression in the midst of the pressures of a secularized society. People are longing for an authentic relationship with God, but they are not nearly as interested in knowing God in truth. If spiritual maturity can be attained attending emotionally-charged meetings and receiving instantaneous supernatural experiences that deliver spirituality, why do the hard work of Scripture study, memorization, prayer, and walking by the Spirit? The charismatic movement has offered a shortcut to godliness. That this shortcut is really a detour leading people to a dead end, is often not recognized until one has traveled far down this detour and has come face to face with disillusionment. By then, however, many have hopelessly lost their way and know of no scriptural compass to guide them safely back to the path of truth. 

"Forbid not to speak in tongues" (I Corinthians 14:39). 

Charismatics will often throw the above words in the face of one who disagrees with their view on tongues. But it must be remembered that these words were written in AD 55 to a group of people who had received this gift from the Holy Spirit to authenticate the apostleship of Paul, AND to warn Israel that judgment was coming for their rejection of the Messiah. The Holy Spirit had not yet ceased giving the gift. The purpose for the gift was still alive and well. 

The Affects of Charismatic Doctrine Upon Other Areas of Theology 

Charismatic doctrine undermines the teachings of Scripture and authentic Christian living. Below is an outline of how the teachings of the charismatics taint, to some degree, every doctrine found in the Word of God. The following are some examples: 

Theology in General 

Those who teach charismatic doctrines tend to downplay theology. John Wimber said, "When are we going to see a generation who doesn't try to understand this book (the Bible), but just believes it?" 

Charismatic doctrine places experience above truth of Scripture. Jack Deere said, "The idea that fallen humanity, can arrive at pure biblical objectivity in determining all their practices and beliefs is an illusion" (Surprised by the Power of the Spirit, p. 46). His solution? Experience and modern prophesies.  

Both Paul Cain and John Wimber are credited with coining the phrase, "God will offend your mind to reveal your heart" (The Father's Blessing, p. 182). This is a reference to the charismatic view that the Holy Spirit will often do an end run around our rational thinking ability, including the understanding of Scripture, to reveal truth to us. John Arnott teaches, "Do not take control, do not resist, do not analyze; just surrender to His love. You can analyze the experience later; just let it happen" (The Father's Blessing, p. 127). This is a sure recipe for disaster. 


There are several concerns here: 

Charismatic doctrines undermine the authority of Scripture -- Take, for example, a quote from this charismatic author: Ultimately this doctrine (the sufficiency of Scripture) is demonic even (though) Christian theologians have been used to perfect it (Spiritual Warfare, page 11).

They believe in extra-Biblical revelation "Today, after years of practical experiences and intense study on the subject of God's speaking, I am convinced that God does indeed speak apart from the Bible, though never in contradiction to it. And He speaks to all of His children, not just to specially gifted prophetic people. And He will speak to us all in amazing detail" (Surprised by the Power of the Spirit, by Jack Deere, p. 214).

This is the error of all cults as well as the Roman Catholic Church. If God is still giving revelation today, how are we to discern when God is speaking and when He is not? The charismatics tell us that as long as the revelation does not contradict Scripture, then we can be assured that it is from God. However, that leaves the door wide open for every kind of error. For example, the Roman Catholic Church's doctrines of purgatory and Mariology, while they may contradict Scripture, for the most part simply add to the divine revelation. The Mormon's view that the Book of Mormon is the story of the gospel coming to America is the same type of error. 

It is also their belief that prophets today make mistakes -- "Anyone who has experience in helping to nurture 'baby prophets' realizes that they have difficulty in distinguishing the words that the Spirit speaks from those that come from their own hearts or even from evil sources. At first they make many mistakes" (Some Said It Thundered, page XIV). "Prophets are, of course, human beings. As such, they can make mistakes and lie. They need not cease to be prophets for their mistakes and failings" (ibid., page XVI). 

As can be seen from these quotes, the charismatic view of revelation would throw the believer into a sea of subjectivity. God considered the authenticity of His Word so important that He required the death penalty for Old Testament prophets whose prophecies did not come true (Deut. 18:20). How do we discern which prophet is right and which has made a mistake? When do we know that a prophet has spoken truthfully or has lied? Are we at the mercy of fresh revelation or can we still go to the Scriptures to find, "Thus says the Lord"? While charismatics give lip service to the authority of Scripture, in practice, their "words of knowledge," prophetic revelations, and messages in tongues reign supreme. Thus, the undermining of the Word of God is perhaps the greatest error that charismatics have fostered among God's people. 


Since charismatics are found in every type of denomination and church background, there tend to be many gospel messages among charismatics. Even in denominations such as the Vineyard Church, the gospel often takes such a backseat to the "gifts and phenomenon of the Spirit" that the content of the gospel is muted at best. For example, in John Wimber's book on evangelism, Power Evangelism, he never once discusses what the gospel is. The book is devoted instead to what Wimber believes to be the only authentic method of New Testament evangelism, something he calls "power evangelism." In Wimber's mind "proclamation evangelism," in which a person is shown from Scripture the message of salvation, just won't work. In Wimber's view, to win substantial numbers of people to Christ, one must first soften them up by performing some miracle, or by giving a "word of knowledge." Not only does power evangelism miss the boat Scripturally, it also serves to confuse the unsaved. The emphasis is upon signs and wonders rather than Christ and Him crucified. Most are being attracted to the show rather than the cross. 


Many within charismatic circles hold to some form of dominion theology, which confuses the church with Israel and teaches that we are looking for a latter day revival that will sweep multitudes into the kingdom and transform society before the return of Christ (i.e., Reconstructionism).  In addition, the majority of charismatics are highly, and unbiblically, ecumenical. Many are actively pursuing reunification with the Roman Catholic Church, and some even consider the Pope to be an evangelical Christian. The purpose of the church is often distorted as they concentrate on the showy gifts (miracles, tongues, prophecies) rather than the balanced functioning of the body. 


Some charismatics are not looking for the return of Christ, but for the "latter rain," in which they believe there will be a special outpouring of the Spirit that restores the supernatural gifts to the church and bring a great revival. They do not believe that Christ can return until the world is prepared for Him by the "latter rain." 

Earl Paulk says that the pretribulational rapture position is a "heresy" inspired by Satan to rock the church to sleep. His view is not based upon a thorough study of Scripture, but on a supposedly new revelation from God (Biblical Perspectives, Vol. 4, #4, page 6). 


Many believe in a second work of grace often called the "baptism of the Holy Spirit." This baptism gives the believer special powers and gifts. Others, such as the Vineyard Movement, would not agree with the term "baptism of the Holy Spirit," but teach essentially the same thing. They say the evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives is powers, signs, and wonders. 


Angels, demons, and "spiritual warfare" are popular today in charismatic circles. Based upon experience, rather than Scripture, a whole new theology has been developed concerning angels and demons that completely misrepresents the teachings of the Word. (See our report on "Spiritual Warfare" for a better understanding of this subject). 

In conclusion, the charismatic movement is not just a harmless segment within evangelical Christianity, but a devastating error that undermines many of the cardinal truths of the Word of God.

* This report has been excerpted and or adapted from two articles by the same name (Parts I & II) in the August and September 1999, Think on These Things, Southern View Chapel, Springfield, IL, Gary Gilley, Pastor.

Biblical Discernment Ministries  -  8/00