Pentecostal and Charismatic: Is There or Was There Any Difference?
By James Jacob Prasch
Will Rejecting Pentecostalism and Charismatic Gifts Solve The Churches’ Problems?
In the recent few years a number of people who had always been open to the gifts of the Holy Spirit have felt driven away from that belief into a stoic non-charismatic or even an anti-charismatic or anti-Pentecostal Christianity. There exists a combination of reasons for this trend. Among them are the unbalanced and anti-scriptural extremism of Toronto and Pensacola, the essentially mystical and New Age perversions of biblical theology by the Vineyard Movement, the Shamanism copied from Buddhism and Hinduism by Yongee Cho, and the Altered States of Consciousness as Christian experience argued for by Patrick Dixon. To this has been added the failed prophetic predictions of men like Paul Cane, Mike Bickle and the Kansas City Prophets’, Gerald Coates, and Rick Joyner. Perhaps worst of all has been the wild televised proliferation of money-oriented faith-prosperity preachers and bogus faith healers who are too numerous to mention, that seem to be good for nothing other than discrediting the Gospel in the eyes of the public, conning undiscerning and biblically ignorant Christians out of money better donated to honest missions, Christian charity, and biblical forms of evangelism, and too often even getting people killed when they cease vital medical therapy wrongly believing they have been healed when they have not been. (When Jesus heals people without medical intervention, as He sometimes does, they do not die.)
Let me say first of all that I have tremendous empathy for those Christians who have been hurt and exploited by such false doctrine, and such false teachers. I also share the indignation of those appalled at the damage done to our evangelical testimony by such outrages. I doubt if any ministry has been more vocal in opposing such things than Moriel. We have been deluged lately by letters of all kinds by sincerely hurt Christians who have very valid complaints and very biblical grounds for their positions on these kinds of important issues.
Many of these people feel not only let down, but sometimes out-and-out betrayed by churches, denominations, and leaders whom they have trusted. We have copies of letters from Baptists saved out of Roman Catholic backgrounds sent to their leader Douglas Baine in Britain, complaining about his ecumenical embrace of Cardinal Hume as a featured speaker at this years U.K. Baptist Conference. A leader of the Roman Church in England, Hume represents the very false gospel and idolatry they were saved out of. We have letters from moderate charismatics in “Prayer For Israel” groups who quite understandably feel terribly betrayed by Lance Lambert aligning himself with Mahesh Chavada, who condemns these people as “wicked Witches” for not agreeing with the Toronto style charismania that is the very hallmark of what Chavada now represents. These people ask us “How can Lance, a man we have always trusted, team up with someone who calls us wicked witches and how can Lance claim God called him to team up with someone who has departed from biblical truth when God’s Word says to mark such people and avoid them?” (Romans 16:17)
Moderate Pentecostal people are also expressing their frustrations. They want to know how after Benny Hinn was exposed recently on BBC prime time TV pronouncing people healed who then died, and was shown on TV engaged in some of the most indefensible activity in the area of money and finance imaginable, and admitted to nocturnal necromancy with the “ghost of Kathryn Kuhlman”, Ken Gott of ‚ the Assemblies of God and Elim’s Colin Dye of Kensington Temple could have joined his platform at the Royal Albert Hall two weeks later. Anglicans are confused how their vicars can continue to take their offerings and pay into a diocesan fund that pays the salary of Bishops like Bishop Harries of Oxford, who not long ago demanded the law be changed so a middle-aged homosexual man could sodomize a teen age boy on his sixteenth birthday.
I agree with the indignation of all of these people. They all have legitimate grievances. What I disagree with however is making unfounded generalisations asserting that the root problem is confined to churches believing in the Gifts of the Spirit and that by returning to a non-charismatic/non-Pentecostal form of fundamentalism we can solve these problems. This argument has increasingly equated traditional Pentecostalism with the Charismatic movement saying that Pentecostalism from its inception was as crazy as popular charismania today and things like Pensacola or Toronto are but the natural climax of things that were incipiently wrong to begin with going back to Asuza Street. It appears that the infamous “Clowning in tongues” video of Rodney Howard Brown and Kenneth Copeland has led some people to dismiss all tongues or at least argue that genuine tongues can only be a human language.
When things become confused and difficult, human nature tends to look for easy explanations and scapegoats. We tend to identify something as the source problem and then target it in the wrong assumption that our problems will be automatically solved. Unfortunately, reality does not always operate that way. The only fundamental solution is seeking Jesus on the basis of His Word. The rest becomes man’s quest for quick fix solutions to complicated problems.
Is the heresy and immorality undermining so much of today’s church squarely in the charismatic and pentecostal domain?
To begin with, the erosion of biblical standards and compromise with things not acceptable to the Lord is not restricted to Charismatics and Pentecostals. To begin with, leading Reformed figures like J.I. Packer and non-charismatics like Bill Bright joined Charismatics like Pat Roberstson sand igned Chuck Colson’s Catholics and Evangelicals Together document at a time when millions have been saved and are being saved out of Catholicism. This accepts Catholicism as biblical and renounces the conversion of people out of Roman Catholicism with its apostate system of veneration of images, atonement for ones own sin in purgatory, the sacramental cannibalism of transubstantiation, the necromancy of calling on spirits of dead saints in prayer, the belief that Mary is theotokos or God’s Mother who co-saves us and is co-mediator between God and man, that salvation is by sacraments that work ex opera operato (meaning the ritual itself is the means of saving grace) and the antichrist doctrine of the papacy that teaches the pope is the infallible vicar of Christ who cannot be in error when speaking ex cathedra, and its doctrine from Trent that it alone is the one true church. Ecumenism is a deception that many conservative believers take on and many Pentecostals , especially in Latin America, Italy, and the Philippines reject.
More painful is the sorry saga of fundamentalist Jerry Falwell. Falwell extolled Korean cult leader Sun Yung Moon of the Unification Church (who claims Jesus’ mission failed and that he as Lord of the second advent is in effect the return of Jesus Christ) as an unsung hero who is to be lauded. Falwell’s ministry was implicated in fund raising scandals when he asked for funds for famine relief for Ethiopia. When on national TV it was revealed that his organisation was not even operating in Ethiopia according to two reports by the American State Department listing American charities contributing to the famine relief. Preacher Jack Van Impe, who stems solidly from the fundamentalist camp appears to have become as heterodox in some of his beliefs as even the most extreme Charismatic or Pentecostal. It is common knowledge in the U.S.A. that tragically a very major conservative evangelical TV preacher (who broke with the Pentecostalism he grew up in) does not even cohabit with his wife. Blaming it all on Charismatics and Pentecostals is not the answer.
Cessationism and Its Real Roots
Misguided too is the foolish doctrine of cessationism, which argues that the gifts of the Spirit , especially glossalalia or tongues ended with the apostles. We must note that in Romans 11:29 Paul writes “The gifts and valling of God are without repentance”. Before this verse Paul writes about God’s unrevoked call of Israel. After this verse in chapter 12, Paul writes about spiritual, including charismatic, gifts such as prophecy. The false doctrine of cessationism, which says Romans 11:29 is wrong and God has revoked the gifts is the natural compliment of the error of replacementism or supercessionism which says Romans 11:29 is wrong and God has revoked His calling of Israel and the Jews.
Those who propound this wrong doctrine deny Holy Spirit Baptism. The Bible in fact does teach “One Faith, One Baptism”, and we do indeed receive the Spirit upon regeneration. But 1 Corinthians 10 1-2 shows the one baptism is both water (immersion) and cloud (The Shekinah or Spirit). Jesus breathed on the apostles in John 20 and the Spirit indwelt them. But He told them to wait in Jerusalem for the Spirit to be outpoured. As one can be saved and indwelt by the Spirit without yet being water baptized, one can be saved and indwelled by the Spirit and not be Spirit Baptized.
While there is one baptism, there are many subsequent fillings (eg. Acts 4:31). It is not a matter of second experience, but of a third, a fourth, a fifth etc. The proof of being Spirit-filled is sanctification-power over sin to live a holy life and power to fulfill one’s calling and ministry, and not necessarily tongues. Here most classical Pentecostals confused descriptive accounts of Spirit Baptism with the prescriptive ones, and in their choice of the descriptive passages they were very selective and not comprehensive. They forgot that some places people were first saved , then water baptised and then Spirit-filled (as the Samaritans in Acts 8), while in other places as with Cornelius and his family in Acts 10, they were saved, Spirit-filled, and then baptized in water, while the 3,000 on the Day of Pentecost got the package deal. Sometimes there were tongues, other times not. There were various combinations of experience and chronology. The error of traditional Pentecostalism is that too many made their own experience a template for everyone else. Not all Pentecostals believe the classical tongues doctrine that it is the initial evidence of Spirit Baptism. however. Neither I nor the leaders of my Pentecostal denomination believe it although we certainly believe in a gift of tongues understood scripturally. The Elim Pentecostal denomination never believed it either. Very few Pentecostals of any persuasion have ever believed it is the determining sign of salvation.
While there have been variations in experience and chronology of whether one was water baptized and or Spirit baptized at the time of salvation, or after, there is no biblical basis for baptism, either water or Spirit, apart from salvation. Here we have two errors. One is the error of infant baptism. Romans 6 teaches baptism is a funeral or burial. Upon salvation, our old nature dies with Christ. How can we bury a baby if it is not dead? So too, how can someone who is unsaved be filled with the Spirit? They cannot, but many who have joined the charismatic and who claim ‚ becoming Christians through things like the Alpha Course are claiming to be just that. Many of these people were never saved, and it appears that most people who are supposedly saved through the likes of Alpha Courses cannot explain the basis of the Gospel in terms of repentance and substitutionary atonement. Rather, they follow the Nicky Gumbel programme that says with the “Holy Spirit Weekend Away” aspect of Alpha, Alpha Courses are a way to get people into the Toronto Experience.
This is the first historic and substantive difference between Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement. The Early Pentecostals always stressed “The Power In The Blood” and preached a clear Gospel, while the Charismatic movement preached a “Renewal” of something that was too often never there to begin with. While Matthew 7:22 speaks to the Charismatic movement particularly, false salvations however are from a Charismatic monopoly. As non-Charismatic John Mac Arthur rightly preached, many who respond to the cheap grace “just put your hand up” preaching in even conservative churches were never really saved either. I do not doubt many were initially saved in the Charismatic movement, but others simply had a religious experience or joined a movement. Among those who were saved , I must ask what were they saved into? Ecumenism ? Toronto? Jesus never said to make converts, He said to make disciples. Converts alone mean nothing. Jesus told the Pharisees that they indeed made converts, but that those proselytes became twice as much sons of hell as they had been.
The erroneous claim that Charismatic gifts ended with the apostles is often derived by very bad exegesis (which is not exegesis at all because it does not draw something out of a text, but eissegesis ““ reading something into a text not found in it) of 1 Corinthians 13. This argument is that because Jews “seek a sign”, tongues were a sign for Jews only who were the first believers and we no longer need tongues. The argument goes on that the “perfect” in this chapter is the New Testament Canon, so having the “perfect”, these gifts ended when the last book of the New Testament was written.
The first error in this argument is that it divorces chapter 13 from the prologue in chapter 1 verse 7 that sets the scope for the epistle. Read in the context of the letter in light of the introduction, chapter 1 verse 7 confirms the “perfect” is the return of Christ and not the New Testament. So cessationists must take the text out of context to construct a pretext. They in fact engage in the same dangerous folly that hyper-Charismatics do. We need to be careful of this. This is what Satan attempted to do in the temptation of Jesus.
Their second error is that they ignore the context of the specific passage itself. Since only love endures forever, if the “perfect” has come we should not need faith or hope either, because we no longer see through a glass dimly; we fully know as we are fully known. Have you ever heard one of these people denying that we need faith or that we no longer require hope?
Their third error is the same Paul, who wrote “Jews seek a sign”, also wrote in Romans 11, that Jews would again begin to believe in Jesus in the Last Days as we see happening incredibly in our own lifetime. So even if we are to take their argument that tongues are a sign only for Jews, I must wonder what are my wife and children who are Jewish believers suppose to be ““ Pygmies? If tongues are only a sign for Jews (which I do not believe Scripture teaches) and if Jews are prophetically destined to turn to Christ as Messiah in the Last Days, then their argument becomes a supporting text for tongues, not an argument against it.
Their fourth error is that in Acts 2 in Peter’s Pentecost kerygma he quotes Joel stating clearly that gifts like prophecy must re-occur eschatalogically before the return of Christ.
Their fifth problem is that the context of the letter has specific commands against forbidding tongues and prophecy, and if they can nullify these commands, on what basis can they oppose extreme Charismatics, for instance, for claiming drunkenness is of God’s Spirit when the New Testament plainly commands sobriety and says in Galatians that ekreitei or “self control” is “the fruit of the Spirit’? Just like the charismaniacs they claim a biblical command is no longer for today and they too ignore Paul’s caveat not to exceed the things that are written in Scripture (1 Corinthians 4:6). Both violate the bounds of Scripture.
Their sixth problem is that the early patristic record of church history shows the Pre-Nicean Fathers closest to the Apostles recording that charismatic phenomena like miracles, healings etc. continued beyond the lifetime of the apostles in the early church.
We must remember that Satan only counterfeits things that are real and that are worth counterfeiting. To dismiss all gifts because of the counterfeit is like burning ones money because of counterfeit notes. It is silly and sad to see so many people who once believed in the gifts allowing themselves to be misled into a new error in reaction to an old one.
A more moderate expression of the same kind of thinking does not dismiss all charismatic gifts but focuses on tongues, claiming that when Paul referred to “tongues of angels and of men” he was speaking purely hyperbolically. Indeed the Greek text makes it clear he was using hyperbole about the tongues of men (the Greek conveys the notion of even if being able to speak all human languages). Thus they argue that valid tongues can only be a human language.
To be sure spiritists, witch doctors, Mormons and other cults have tongues just as the ancient Greeks had automatic speech. Some charismatic Catholics pray in tongues to Mary (this of course is idolatrous). Tongues can plainly be demonic, as well as a gift of the Spirit. Tongues can also be learned or contrived or purely psychological. I have never believed that most so-called tongues today are authentic. However, unless tongues are audible, the bible does not call upon us to judge or discern it. If tongues are not a sign to someone of a foreign language or interpreted, they are to be done privately and not in a meeting. But if they are done inaudibly, it is no one’s concern except the one praying.
Cessationists and those who say Spirit Baptism must always be at the time of salvation (which it may or may not) and can never be a subsequent experience forget that both Arminian founders of the evangelical church tradition (John Wesley), and Reformed Calvinistic ones (Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield) both gave place to what we would today call charismatic experience. True, while Guy Chevreau in his book Catch The Fire grossly misrepresented these facts by failing to point out that Wesley called hysterics “devilish” and Daniel Roland and George Whitfield saw excesses as disruptions of what God was doing, while Jonathan Edwards in his Fourth Sermon on Religious Affections argued that experiences prove nothing, the fact remains that all of these people were by modern definition all charismatic. Additionally, both D.L. Moody and R.A. Torrey for instance testified to Spirit baptism. The real founding father of cessationism in its modern form was B.B. Warfield.
Does Scripture Prove Tongues Always Be A Human Language?
Some people who describe themselves as “formerly Pentecostal” do not take a sweeping cessationist view of Charismatic gifts, but focus on one aspect of the gift of yongues.
Those teaching that real tongues can only be a human language however have three problems, all of which again derive from exceeding what is written. First of all there is nothing in the grammatical construction to indicate that while tongues of men are actual, tongues of angels are not. Secondly, the text of Corinthians states that those praying in a tongue speak mysteries to God. There is nothing linguistically mysterious about French or Chinese or any human tongue. Thirdly, while John was plainly able to understand what he heard in heaven in the book of Revelation in Aramaic and wrote it in Greek, were those angels in heaven actually speaking Greek or Aramaic? While Zechariah was able to understand and write down the conversation between God and Satan before the throne in Hebrew, as was the author of Kings when the spirits spoke to God in the days of the deception sent on King Ahab. But were these angelic beings speaking Hebrew ? Or did they speak Hebrew in the Old Testament, but by John’s day had the lingua franca in heaven shifted from Hebrew to Greek? This is of course silly speculation. We cannot determine from Scripture that there is no angelic language or languages!
I have no particular problem with those friends who hold that genuine tongues must always be an actual human language. But they certainly cannot doctrinally conclude that there is no such thing as tongues of angels from the Bible; they must exceed the things written.
Has “Pentecostal” Always Been the Same as “Charismatic”?
I personally know a number of Christian leaders who, while not members of Pentecostal churches, do believe in the Charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, but are not given to what is often called “charismania”. While I might disagree with them on certain points, I would place such brethren as David Pawson, David Noakes, Dave Hunt, Tom McMahon and Clifford Hill in this category. Their essential doctrines are the same as my own, and most of their views on most issues in the main are at least broadly similar to my own, although they may express them differently. I do not believe that all Charismatics are deceived into heretical beliefs. What I do believe is that the popular expression of the Charismatic Movement is in the main deceived by beliefs that are at best unbalanced, but very commonly in recent years increasingly heretical, especially with Restorationism and, alas, the Toronto Experience.
I also know or have known of a number of Pentecostal leaders who are not hyper-Pentecostal and have not adopted the same errors as the “charismaniacs”. Among such brethren are David Wilkerson (Time Sq. Church), Chuck Smith (Calvary Chapel), Augustus Topi (General Secretary of Assemblies of God, Italy), George Wood (General Secretary of Assemblies of God, USA), and Philip Powell (former General Secretary of Assemblies of God, Australia).
What I do believe however is that in America, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and in most other Protestant countries, popular Pentecostalism has gone into all manner of hype and lunacy, often to a degree that can only be described as heretical.
The difference between the two has been is that while most of the Charismatic Movement has always been unbiblical in much of its doctrine and in most of its practice, mainstream Pentecostalism was until recent times mainly biblical and quite sane.
Today however, I hear more and more people alleging that Pentecostalism was always crazy and riddled with serious doctrinal error. Some say that early Pentecostalism was the same as the Toronto and Pensacola situations we confront today, so what we see today is nothing other than what has always been the case. This is simply not true.
The Historical Differences and Similarities Between the Charismatic and Pentecostal Movements
The reappearance of spiritual gifts and charismatic phenomena and manifestations as seen in the Early Church did not begin with either Pentecostalism or the Charismatic Movement. Good and bad expressions of these things have repeatedly surfaced throughout much of church ‚ history. The French Huguenots, the Ana Baptists, the Quakers, the Shakers, the Catholic Apostolic Movement of Carlisle, and Early Methodism to name but a few, were Christian sects that displayed this matter of activity. In some cases it was moderate, balanced, and edifying. In other instances it was the kind of chaotic and nearly blasphemous extremism we often see so much of today. There are indeed lessons, both good and bad, to be gleaned from each of these past movements. The Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements were simply the most recent in a line of succession throughout church history to experience charismatic phenomena. We do ourselves well to remember this. We also do ourselves well to note that such experience was not confined to any school of systematic theology. Dispensational and Reformed, as well as Arminian and Calvinistic churches, and also Baptist and Pseudo-Baptist churches all have histories of charismatic activity. In none of this are Pentecostals or Charismatics historically unique.
Two further aspects of commonality between Pentecostals and Charismatics are that both began as bona fide moves of God’s Spirit, and both almost immediately degenerated into experiential theology, an eclipse of both reason and spirituality by emotion and mysticism, unbiblical doctrines, extremism, and counterfeit manifestations. Here however the similarity ends. Something happened in early Pentecostalism that has never really happened among Charismatics. When things began to go off the rails in the ministry of Amy Semple McPherson causing public scandal, there was a backlash that stressed holiness. Sometimes this went into nomianism (a soft form of legalism) , but the kinds of public scandals we see common place today with the televangelists were not allowed to continue by the early Pentecostals who knew that the Holy Spirit was the Spirit of Holiness, and a moral standard was upheld that is today largely abandoned.
As important was that the early Pentecostals realized there was “poison in the stew” and threw grain into it (2 Kings 4:38-42). When things went off the rails at Asuza Street there was a reaction. The first Pentecostals had few Greek or Hebrew scholars , but their Pentecostal experience drove them deeper into the Word of God and not away from it as is commonplace in most (but by no means all) of contemporary charismatic circles. The second generation of Pentecostal leaders in Britain like John Whitefield Foster, Aaron Linford, and Aaron Morgan were not unlearned men. In America and Canada there were even scholarly Pentecostals who became academic theologians. Pentecostals worked out a theology that included not only a doctrinal understanding of a restoration of spiritual gifts, but also a restoration of Pre”“Millennialism. Most held to a moderate dispensationalism and had a biblical compass for what they believed and where they were going. While we are painfully forced to admit that this has now deteriorated and these biblical standards have largely been abandoned in most of mainstream American, Australia, South African, and British Pentecostalism by the majority of the current generation of ministers and leaders, this represents a sad departure from the traditional biblical Pentecostalism of their fathers. The Charismatic Movement by and large never developed a biblical standard to begin with.
We would also point out that traditional Pentecostalism withstood not only ethical corruption but the heresy that so much of popular Pentecostalism not only tolerates, but even embraces today. Nearly thirty years ago when the hyper-faith money preachers first began to peddle their wares, T.L. Osborne came to Great Britain. At that time, Assemblies of God preacher David Powell stood up at the Pastors Conference and warned that what was arriving was “a combination of mysticism, emotionalism, and demonism”.
We must remember that although today E.C.I. Elim minister James McConnell in Belfast preaches British Israelism (the doctrine that the British people are Israel’s ancient 10 tribes), at one time the Word of God was so esteemed in Elim, that when George Jeffreys ““ Elim’s founder ““ espoused British-Israelism the Elim ministers united to withstand him.
So too, in the nineteen forties and fifties the Assemblies of God universally rejected the “Manchild/Manifest Sons ““ Latter Day Rain” heresy that is the basis of so much popular charismatic thinking and Kingdom Now/Dominionist deception. Today, of course, many in the Assemblies of God have no reservations about incorporating such fallacy into their belief system. Historical Pentecostals also popularly rejected such figures as A.A. Allan, E.W. Kenyon, and William Branham as heretics. Today we often see men like Paul Cane and Rodney Howard Brown praising the virtues of such men as great prophetic heroes.
By the nineteen seventies, the Calvary Chapel Movement, (a chain of moderate Pentecostal churches that split from the Four Square Movement after the influx of large numbers of hippies saved during the Jesus Movement of the hippie era) took its stand against the New Age “paradigm shift” deception of Lonnie Frisbee (who died from AIDS) and the late John Wimber. This led to a split between the Calvary Chapels (which remains a vibrant and essentially doctrinally solid movement with some very large and growing churches) and the Vineyard Movement with its ecumenism, mysticism, and cultic mixture of Charismatic Christianity with the New Age spirituality. To this very day, the Assemblies of God in Italy (the fastest growing Pentecostal church in the EEC) bans the ministry of Benny Hinn. Again, traditional Pentecostalism held to a biblical standard that the Charismatic Movement mainly never even had, and the faithful remnant of biblical Pentecostalism represented by preachers like Chuck Smith, David Wilkerson, Philip Powell, Augustus Topi, and Barry Chant still does hold to such a standard. Within Charismatic circles however, there has only ever been trace elements of biblical sanity to begin with, and even these are now fewer and further between than ever.
Unlike as in Pentecostalism, no one ever threw the grain of God’s Word into the toxic stew of the Charismatic Movement. On the contrary, its leaders went from bad to worse and from worse to worse still, and from worse still to Toronto or Pensacola. Right from the onset, there was no biblical leadership or direction. Charismatic leader David Watson died believing the Reformation’s split from Roman Catholicism was a mistake. Michael Harper left the Charismatic Movement he for years heralded as the great spiritual breakthrough in disillusionment only to immerse himself in his new great spiritual breakthrough he says he found in the idolatrous “iconic” mysticism of the Eastern Orthodox Church! I bear none of these men, living or dead, any personal ill, but I found their ignorance of biblical doctrine astounding.
Further essential distinctions between Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement are found in the area of ecclesiology (the study of the nature and structure of the church). In Latin America, the Philippines, and countries like Italy particularly, the traditional Pentecostal opposition to the false gospel of Roman Catholicism remains strong. From its outset however, the Charismatic Movement has jumped on the ecumenical bandwagon back to Babylon via Rome.
The Pentecostals also had such an uncompromising view of doctrine that they planted new churches that blossomed into new movements and denominations with their doctrinal distinctives. The Charismatic Movement largely never even cared about biblical truth enough not to compromise on essential truths. Biblical doctrine to Pentecostalism was the teaching of Jesus – to reject it was to reject Him. Among most Charismatics, because doctrine is inherently divisive (1 Corinthians 11:19), it was undesirable. In practical Charismatic thinking , doctrine at best is an option that is subordinate to experience; it is experience and not God’s Word that authenticates a manifestation or belief. Admittedly, most, but not all Pentecostalism in the Protestant countries has now become much the same as the Charismatic Movement. This however is far from its biblical heritage.
A sociological difference between Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement is that Pentecostals, like the early Christians and Wesley’s first Methodists, understood what Jesus meant when He quoted the prophet Isaiah about “preaching the gospel to the poor”. Pentecostalism prospered among the poor and from its onset, be it in Asuza Street, the Sunshine Revivals of Australia, the Pentecostal Revivals of Armenia, or the early Pentecostalism of Northern England associated with people like Smith Wigglesworth ““ in each case it cut across all racial and class divides and huge numbers were saved having a socially transforming impact on everything from the divorce rate to the crime rate. We see this tradition continuing even today at the genuine revival in New York City radiating from Time Square Church. Here a multi-ethnic, multi-class move of God has witnessed everything from a 30% fall in the crime rate in four years to the once massive pornography industry all but closed down around Time Square. This comes about by people actually being saved and not people already claiming to be Christians responding to altar calls as in Pensacola where the crime rate has actually gone up. In Britain and Europe a similar demonstration of traditional Pentecostal power is seen among the tremendous conversion rate among the Pentecostal Gypsy Movement.
The Charismatic Movement however has always been an introspective white middle class “Bless Me Club” with no real power to spiritually change much of anything in the general society around it. It has not impacted the crime rate or the divorce rate. It has made no positive difference on the downward moral spiral of western Protestant society, and it because of its shallow biblical premise and deficient leadership it never shall.
A final difference between Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement however is the issue of the Gospel, discipleship, and the Person of Christ. Traditional Pentecostalism was always focused on Jesus (Christo-centric) and not focused on the Holy Spirit (Pneumo-centric ). The biblical understanding of the Holy Spirit that Pentecostals up until recent times held to was that He pointed people to Jesus.
The Charismatic Movement however focused more on the idea of “Renewal By The Spirit” instead of “New Birth” understood biblically where the Spirit convicts of sin, draws us to Jesus, and indwells us as the Person communicating Christ in us and to us upon regeneration. We see this unscriptural notion of the Holy Spirit in popular charismatic worship which is unbiblically focused on the Holy Spirit and in Benny Hinn’s unscriptural book Good Morning Holy Spirit. We also see it in Alpha Courses.
Additionally, while biblical Pentecostalism followed a scriptural programme of discipleship with an emphasis on things like baptism as fundamental to biblical Christian discipleship, Charismatic models of discipleship (to what degree they have ever existed at all) like Alpha courses have no scriptural teaching on even the most fundamental aspects of biblical discipleship such as baptism. Again, it is void of doctrine because doctrine, although the teaching of Jesus, divides. Under this unscriptural concept of unity where instead of unity being based on truth, truth is sacrificed for the sake of unity, false doctrine or heresy are not seen as problematic, only division is. Again, while so much of Pentecostalism has sunk into this same quagmire of compromise and deception, this quagmire is not representative of any classical form of Pentecostalism. This horrible quagmire is, however, the very signature of the Charismatic Movement.
While I must agree that most of Pentecostalism has gone down not only the charismatic road, ‚ there is a historic difference between the two movements. While little if anything good remains of the Charismatic Movement, I can still thank God for the biblical Pentecostalism that still remains. I can still thank God for Time Square Church and the Calvary Chapels, and the Assemblies of God in places like Italy, and the Pentecostal Gypsy Movement, and my own British Full Gospel Movement.
I also know that the decline and departure from its biblical roots is not only a Pentecostal dilemma. Similar articles highlighting the same kinds of trends and problems could well be written about the Baptist, the Presbyterian, Anglican, Brethren, and Wesleyan churches among others. Each has seen a major exodus away from its own biblical roots, but each has a faithful remnant of congregations and ministers who have held fast to their true heritage.
To each of these and to my fellow Pentecostal moderates I believe Jesus would say, as He said to the Church in Sardis, which also heard the truth but departed from it: “Hold Fast To What You Have Heard And Strengthen The Things That Remain, For I Am Coming Quickly” (paraphrased from Revelation 3:1-6).