Theology should reflect a form that God chooses to manifest Him to humanity in the contemporary society. In that way, humanity is faced with the challenge whether there has to be Charismatic theology in the modern Christian society. In a bid to establish a theology, there must be talks concerning God, but this should be handled in a critical manner.
This translates that the apprehension of God generated becomes the formulae in tackling the dilemma the contemporary religious fraternity manifests to theology. Moreover, the theology that develops must also reflect the tradition of the religious fraternity from which it emanates. The theology must also mirror the manner in which God has been presented concerning the religious past1.
Consequently, to be Charismatic entails how humanity acknowledges the existence of the Holy Spirit. In practice, charisma entails receiving and presenting the works of the Holy Spirit to the contemporary society. In other words, Charismatic is a term referring to Christians who hold the notion that the doings of the Holy Spirit experienced in the early Church, such as miracles, tongue speaking, and healing, are also promises to the modern Christians.
Therefore, to be genuinely charismatic, a doctrine should assume its meaning from the basis of the existence of the Holy Spirit as transcribed in the scriptures. Thus, a charismatic theology needs to consider the experience of the existence of the Holy Spirit as manifested in the Holy Scriptures2.
It is only through the working of the Holy Spirit that a charismatic doctrine is established. Contrary to this claims, theology is seen to bring a misunderstanding about God and may fail to influence the believers. This paper seeks to show that the doctrine often spread within the Charismatic movement regarding self-imparted uniqueness, is widely uninformed and unbiblical. Since the movement accredits itself as sent by God to continue with his divine undertakings, it does not grant it a Christian experience.
The purpose of this paper is to evaluate the various controversies surrounding the Charismatic doctrine as well evaluate diverse opinions from different quarters sharing or refuting the claims of the Charismatic movement. Much attention will focus on St. Paul’s perspective of spiritual gifts as it is written in 1 Corinthians 12- 4. Eventually, this paper will assess whether the Scriptures affirm exceptional Charismatic gifts to the modern Church.
The proliferation of the Charismatic renewal can be traced in the early 1960s3. The idea of filling with Holy Spirit diffused swiftly via the mainstream denominations. Many conventional churches were highly influenced by the Charismatic renewal, and later independent Charismatic churches started to emerge. Currently, most Charismatics have shifted from the mainline denominations to independent Charismatic churches.
Following their break from the mainline denominations, these churches abandoned the doctrinal traditions that shaped them and then formulated others that guide the modern Charismatic. Following this freedom, the church started to transform in many ways.
Apparently, charismatics of diverse faith and beliefs exist all over the world making it difficult to define the movement. Despite the fact that many people have joined the Charismatic movement, there are still problems that face this movement. Most Charismatic argues that their teachings supplement the traditional teachings.
The distinctive contentions
In the current decade, Charismatic Christians have experienced vast criticism by both Christians and non-believers. Just because the Charismatic movement or rather belief is widely spreading does not imply that its entire creed is justified. It is critical to consider the scriptures and examine the Church background in tackling the theological dilemma that is brought forth by the Charismatic values, practices, and beliefs4.
It is highly disputable claiming of a second blessing or speaking in tongues as a proof of being filled with the Holy Spirit. Moreover, some of the gifts of grace and miracles are bizarre. In essence, the Holy Spirit dwells in the souls of all true believers, and this is not always evidenced by divine powers.
The miracles manifested in the Bible were accrediting the scriptures. The “primary theological distinctiveness of the Charismatic movement includes speaking in tongues, the baptism in the Holy Spirit, the power of healing, and the importance of having a personal experience”5.
These factors have contributed to the movement’s proliferation and popularity. While everyone cherishes growth and change, these two attributes cannot be employed as evidence for divine accredits. False religions and cults have also enjoyed massive growth and popularity.
Regarding blessings and worldly possessions, Charismatics believe in a Christian life that is far much better than a non-Christian life. They claim that their faith leads them to riches, better health, and joyful lifestyle. However, it is clear that many Charismatics have good health, worldly possessions, and happiness6.
The promise of good health and material possession has made new converts eager to abandon their ways to join the Charismatic theology for a better life. Unlike Charismatics, Evangelicals indicate that God is not fascinated by worldly things. For Evangelicals, the Christianity should not entail worldly possessions but heavenly wealth granted freely upon salvation. Thus, this claim is misleading for anyone to believe that the Christian faith will unconditionally result in wealth, happiness, and good health.
Thus, Christians should expect it but the absence of such blessings should not mean the absence of God. Both non-believers and Evangelicals have condemned such focus on worldly riches as diverting believers away from heavenly riches promised in the Scriptures. Evangelicals hold that Christ is the light all Christians need and promise for worldly prosperity manifests serious theological error7.
Common viewpoints held by Charismatics
Undoubtedly, Charismatic Christians demonstrate a high knowledge of the Scriptures but they often fail to abide by its content. In most instances, Charismatic Christians rely on what they believe rather than what is written in the scriptures. During the apostolic times, those who joined the faith in Christ went through water baptism.
However, they also expected to go through a second step involving baptism with Spirit. The baptism in the Holy Spirit was highly valued as it was evidenced by characteristics of the Spirit particularly tongue speaking. The many gifts of the Holy Spirit transcribed in the Bible are also promises of the modern Church.
Charismatics believe there are steps followed for one to attain baptism in the spirit. First, full commitment to Jesus Christ’s will, continuous prayer for the gift, waiting for the gift patiently and by faith, glorifying God for the gift, and freeing the Spirit by glorifying God in an unknown tongue.
According to 1 Corinthians, as a Christian praise God in tongues, his/her mind rests as the spirit engages in prayer8. Despite the view that the Christian may not comprehend with the mind the utterances one says; there is a clear communication with the Lord.
Charismatics also believe that speaking in tongues is an authority that Christ bestows upon the Christians to express and exalt the Lord in a new language. Thus, this gift should be respected and encouraged in the church. Charismatics also view that speaking in tongues does not divide the Christian family since division is only brought by the sinfulness nature of man9.
Charismatics claim that the gift of healing is evidence that God exists, and there is the unquestioned truth about His word. Charismatics go further to show that the gift of miraculous healing is still availed to the modern Christian Church as it were in the first Church. However, since there is no ready reception in modern Church because of the influence of Western beliefs, Christians may not appreciate the divine intervention and the God’s healing.
Tongue speaking is a common practice to all Charismatics as well as Pentecostals. However, despite this being a common practice, there are variations in how these two denominations understand and define tongue speaking. Charismatics often believe in three varying applications of tongues. First, a massive number of Charismatics claim that speaking in tongues is the baseline proof of acquiring the baptism in the Holy Spirit.
Charismatics believe that what transpired during the historical events as manifested in the teachings of Acts as extending to the contemporary Church. Second, “tongue speaking should be utilized in public worship for the elevation of the body”10. However, this tongue speaking must be meaningful and translatable to enhance clarity to all people. The comprehension that anyone experiences the baptism of the Holy Spirit should proof it by speaking in tongues is misleading since it blatantly contravenes the Bible.
A third “use of tongues is meant for personal edification”11. In this case, tongue speaking is perceived as a personal connection language to God. These claims manifest a poor understanding of the Holy Scriptures. This assertion contributes to dividing the Christian family because not all Christians can speak in tongues yet they abide by the true word of God.
Tongues are confirmed in various scriptures to be real languages rather than what Charismatics argue is special undefined personal prayer language. In most cases, it is agreeable that tongues are meaningless to the listeners merely because they are presented in a foreign language.
Thus, tongues should be translatable to bring meaning to the listeners. According to 1 Corinthians, 14:12-13, Paul emphasizes the need to interpret tongues12. In this passage, Paul claims that anyone who uses tongues edifies himself. The Charismatics misinterprets this passage since Paul is defining a person who uses tongues in public worship without an interpreter.
However, tongue speaking in a Church without an interpreter does not benefit anyone and results to self-edification. Charismatics should ensure that what speaking in tongues is not viewed as a primary tool that every Christian must possess.
Undoubtedly, it is essential to view tongue speaking as a foreign dialect but not meaningless utterances13. It is fundamental since it provides an objective criterion to establish if contemporary tongue speaking is valid or constructed utterances.
Due to these contentions, many observers have called into question the authenticity of the Charismatic theology as a representative of the divine work of God. If contemporary tongues differ from the Biblical tongues, then it means that the Charismatic movement has abandoned true Biblical teachings. Unless, Charismatics can translate tongues, then tongues will have no impact in edifying the Church.
Baptism of the Holy Spirit
Spirit baptism is one of the cornerstone ratification of the Charismatic theology. Charismatics refer the Spirit baptism as an experience that one acquires following conversion. As evidenced in the book of Acts 11: 13-18, God is said to have poured out His Holy Spirit on the Gentiles, who had come to Him14.
As shown in this passage, true believers in the early Church always acquired the baptism of the Holy Spirit free, but not as a reward gained, based on one’s doing. Contrary, Charismatics hold that Christians have to devote themselves in the course of seeking the Holy Spirit. Looking keenly at the events that transpired before the day of Pentecost, Jesus promised His disciples the Holy Spirit would descend to dwell in them.
There were no requirements needed of the disciples before the Holy Spirit would pour on them. Jesus did not require them to pray or work hard for the gift of the Holy Spirit. There is no evidence in the Scriptures that some of the followers of Christ were declined the spirit due to inadequate preparation.
The contemporary Christian Church should expect any gift from God, different or similar to those provided by the apostolic Church. However, with the massive spread of false prophets, it is critical for Christians to seek guidance from the Scriptures to know the true prophets guided by God. Charismatics admit that many members of the movement are taught the process of speaking in tongues, and others acquire the gift through prayer.
During the apostolic times, tongue speaking was not learned or earned but God gave the gifts freely. However, training people to speak in tongues misleads the Christian community to believe of extraordinary need for having such gifts. The Holy Spirit shows Himself to the humanity through gifts with which He bestows the Christians.
As mentioned in 1 Corinthian, 12: 8-10, such gifts include several tongues as well as the ability to interpret them15. These gifts are not meant for a particular group of believers, but rather to Christians who are given different gifts. The spiritual “gifts endowed by Spirit to every believer are meant to benefit the whole Church because Spiritual gifts are granted for the common good”16.
The question whether God is still communicating with the modern Church through direct revelation is debatable. The Holy Scriptures in the book of Acts 2, 10 and 19 interprets the gifts of prophesy, healing or raising the dead as historical events that happened in apostolic times. Charismatics have caused the controversy as to whether these gifts are provided by God to His people in the modern society. Charismatics still hold that believers “still experience direct revelation from God”17.
Most Charismatics refute the claim that contemporary prophecies should reflect the Scripture. Consequently, Charismatics underrate the New Testament prophecy as a lesser revelation. In a bid to solve this controversy, it is essential to understand what prophecy is. True prophecy manifests the words of God passed to humanity via a prophet. Thus, a real prophet must speak the correct doctrine in the name of the real God.
Additionally, all that is prophesied must happen with time. If a person proclaimed as a prophet and never makes a genuine prophecy, then there is no point to believe that person has a gift of prophecy. The Old Testament prophets manifested the qualities of real prophets because what they said happened.
The teachings of Luke “present the story of the gifts of the Spirit as historical events and no attestation that such gifts are also pledged to the future generations”18. However, the Church should expect that the Holy Spirit would provide it with the blessings that are required to develop the Church over years. Besides, God has other reservations for His people rather than those He gave the early Church.
The contemporary Church must refrain from the assumption that because the Holy Spirit granted Daniel, the authority over Lions, the modern church should also expect God to provide such powers. Similarly, the modern Church should not argue that since the early Church had Christians with the gift of tongues, thus the modern Church must be endowed with matching gifts.
When it comes to physical healing of the body, God wants Christians to focus on earthly ways that God has offered to for healing of the physically challenged. In this case, Christians are taught that they are yet in the existence of glory where pain and suffering will cease. Furthermore, Christians should never expect to undermine the control of God, through prophecy or prayer. The Charismatics should refrain from thinking that they have the power to avoid suffering because they still live in a realm where sin and suffering are prevalent.
Even in the early Church, not all believers were granted with the gifts of prophecy or tongue speaking. Thus, the modern Christian Church must be cautious not to impart excessive concerns on such gifts. For instance, when tongue speaking is viewed as the key feature it results into a perception that undermines other benefits of the Holy Spirit.
Through the Holy Spirit, the Christian fraternity is united to fellowship together in the glorification of God. Thus, it is lamentable that the Charismatics differentiate between those Christians baptized with the Spirit and other Christians. This divisive inclination fosters false belief that the former include a spiritually advanced cadre of Christians.
The ultimate approach to determining a Spiritual gift should entail seeking whether it builds the Church and abides by the written word of God. Christians should assess the impact that speaking in tongue has in building the Church. At times emphasizing on speaking in tongues might have negative effects to unbelievers for it might cause them think they are troubled. In many cases, these Spiritual gifts have been misused but these should not be used to discredit that such gifts exist.
God has the power to bless the people with gifts that build the Church to future generations. Since they are no compelling Biblical evidence to discredit the existence of these gifts, it is upon the Christians to seek guidance from the Bible to understand genuine gifts. In a bid to reduce the confusion pertaining Charismatic theology, it is essential for Christians to learn from the Scripture and let it guide them in every matter.
Middlemiss, David. Interpreting Charismatic Experience. London: SCM Press, 1996.
Mühlen, Heribert. A Charismatic Theology. London: Burns & Oates, 1978.
Peppiatt, Lucy. “New Directions in Spirit Christology: A Foundation for a Charismatic Theology.” Journal of Theology 117, no. 1 (2014): 3-10.
Pinnock, Clark. “The Work of the Spirit in the Interpretation of Holy Scripture from the Perspective of a Charismatic Biblical Theologian.” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 18, no. 2 (2009): 157-171.
Poloma, Margaret. “Practical Theology: Charismatic and Empirical Perspectives.” Pneuma Journal 29, no. 2 (2007): 335-336.
Quash, Ben. Found Theology: History, Imagination, and the Holy Spirit. Oxford: Bloomsbury, 2014.
Spawn, Kevin. “Knowing the Holy Spirit through the Old Testament.” Pneuma Journal 30, no. 1 (2008): 174-175.
Stronstad, Roger. The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012.
Thomas, John. “The Charismatic Structure of Acts.” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 13, no. 1 (2004): 19-30.
Williams, Rodman. Renewal Theology. Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1988.
1Heribert Mühlen, A Charismatic Theology (London: Burns & Oates, 1978), 24-25.
2Lucy Peppiatt, “New Directions in Spirit Christology: A Foundation for A Charismatic Theology,” Theology 117, no. 1 (2014): 7.
3David Middlemiss, Interpreting Charismatic Experience (London: SCM Press, 1996), 41-42.
4Ben Quash, Found Theology: History, Imagination and the Holy Spirit, (Oxford: Bloomsbury, 2014) 76.
5Kevin Spawn, “Knowing the Holy Spirit through the Old Testament,” Pneuma Journal 30, no. 1 (2008): 174.
6Clark Pinnock, “The Work of the Spirit in the Interpretation of Holy Scripture from the Perspective of a Charismatic Biblical Theologian,” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 18, no. 2 (2009): 159.
7Margaret Poloma, “Practical Theology: Charismatic and Empirical Perspectives,” Pneuma 29, no. 2 (2007): 335.
8Poloma, Practical Theology, 336.
9Roger Stronstad, The Charismatic Theology Of St. Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 65-68.
12Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich: Academie Books, 1988), 15-17.
13John Thomas, “The Charismatic Structure of Acts,” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 13, no. 1 (2004): 19-30.
15Stronstad, The Charismatic Theology, 19-20.
18Quash, Found Theology, 93.