Cleansing the Charismatic Crackup, Part 1


ShatteredIf you read last Thursday’s post (“Burned“), then you know all about the latest piece of bad news coming out of the Lakeland “revival.” By now, I’m sure the news has proliferated throughout charismatic ranks like the plague. Only time will reveal the extent of the damage.

This much I know: Change must come to the charismatic movement. This post and ones to follow are about the changes I believe must take place.

Before I get into that, though, my only legitimate credentials for speaking on this issue come from my degree in Christian Education and nearly 25 years in the charismatic movement. I’m not even a fan of the term charismatic;  I don’t believe it means anything. I wish I didn’t have to use it to describe any one group within the Church, but it exists as a distinctive, so I have to use it.

I came to the belief in the continuing charisma, the supernatural gifts of the Spirit, through the Lutheran Church. While that may seem odd, many people fail to realize that the modern charismatic movement really got its boost through mainline churches, especially those of the Episcopal/Anglican stream. Yes, liturgical churches. My spiritual mentor in this was the manager of a Lutheran camp. To this day, I have never met a man more filled with the Spirit of God than he is. Trying to explain how this man could pray for people and they would be healed, or how he knew things about people that no one else could know, or that he spoke in tongues, or that he could call to the animals and they would come to him—none of it fit in my existing worldview. So in my mind I sought ways to explain him .

I experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit, as it is often called, on a weekend at that camp while serving as a chaperone for my church’s youth group. That night is as clear as crystal; I still find it amazing after all these years.

So I didn’t come to the movement through the Pentecostal/Assemblies of God/Third Wave channels. I tend to identify most with the school of charismatic thought typified by such godly men as Andrew Murray, R. A. Torrey, Leonard Ravenhill, and A. W. Tozer, none of whom were found within the denominations that exemplify the charismatic movement as it stands. That said, I am a member of an independent Pentecostal today but largely because of the quality of the people in that church more than anything else. My theology still largely rests on a Lutheran understanding, with boosts from my sojourns in Presbyterian, Methodist, Evangelical Free, non-denominational, and Vineyard churches or camps. For this reason, I believe I am a little bit more removed from what constitutes the contemporary charismatic movement.

If you want to read what I’ve written in the past on the topic of charismatic issues, please check out the “Charismatic” category listing in the right sidebar or click on the link.

With that background in place, I write this post because I have been profoundly grieved by the train wreck that is the contemporary charismatic movement. What grieves me is that the meltdown within the movement threatens to burn even the legitimate people, the ones that haven’t succumbed to the rank carelessness and non-existent discernment that have been the hallmark of the majority of the movement for the last twenty years or so.

To that end, I offer the following solutions:

Problem: In our rush to regain a proper pneumatology, today’s charismatics abandoned a proper Christology.

Solution: We need to get the focus back on Jesus.

The love relationship that is the Trinity consists of three persons united as one Creator God, wholly bound up in each other, but with unique roles. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified. He dwells within believers and empowers them to do the work of the Father. It is good that charismatics have nudged the modern Church to look at the Holy Spirit anew. For too long He was the forgotten member of the Trinity. Even today, I believe most Christians in the West have a deficient pneumatology, though the churches born out of the Azusa Street revival have worked hard to overcome that lack.

But the Holy Spirit will A-L-W-A-Y-S point back to Jesus. Jesus Himself makes it clear in John 15 and 16 that the Spirit comes to glorify the Son. The focus is on Jesus.

Yet I would suspect that in too many charismatic churches today, the word spirit is spoken ten times as often as the name of Jesus. That’s a travesty, and it comes out of the shrunken, deficient Christology that afflicts many charismatic churches.

How can it be that so many charismatics can go on and on about the Spirit, the power, the anointing, but can’t put together a decent, sharable testimony about the person of Jesus? Lee Grady, in his forensic analysis of Lakeland, states that a prominent charismatic evangelist is convinced that many charismatics will follow the antichrist one day. The sheep hear Christ’s voice and know the voice because they know the speaker. Yet too many charismatics, in their overemphasis on the knowing the Spirit, have instead fallen prey to not knowing Jesus Christ except on the most superficial level. To me, that calls into question how well they actually know the Spirit, especially since the Spirit always points to Jesus. You can’t know one and NOT know the other.

The cure for this is simple: More Christ-centered preaching and teaching.

Which leads me into the next set of problems…

Problems: Too much of the charismatic movement is self-centered. People rush around looking for a spiritual fix for selfish reasons. Too many are obsessed with more power. Too many leaders lack even the most basic humility.

Solution: Get the cross back into the picture.

Nothing bothers me more than charismatics who have no sense of what it means to die to self. I think the main failure of the modern charismatic movement hinges on this point. I believe a majority of charismatics want everything that Christ bought for them on the cross, but none of the cross’s death. The problem is that one has to die at the cross before one can tastes of its glories. There can be no end-run around dying to self.

But what else explains the mad rush for the limelight that practically defines the movement today? The dog and pony shows. The million dollar preacher boys (and girls). The Brylcreem prophets. What else explains the need for people to hop a jet and fly to the other side of the world so they can “get me some o’ dat!” at the latest “revival” to crop up?

Self, pure and simple. The contemporary charismatic scene is filled with an enormous two-letter word nearly everywhere one looks: ME.

The only answer to that insanity is the cross. If you’re preaching Jesus like I said above, you can’t get around the cross.

Problem: The movement is awash in Old Testament rituals or theology that were fulfilled in Jesus.

Solution: Get back to the New Testament and its New Covenant.

Somewhere, the charismatic movement fell in love with the Old Testament. That would have been great—since many Christians don’t understand the Old Testament at all—except that charismatics went nuts trying to recreate Israel at the time of David rather than living out a genuine New Testament Church. Remember, as the Lord Himself said, “Something greater than the temple is here.” Christ’s Kingdom more than trumps David’s. The Lord outshines Moses.

Why the fascination with Old Testament worship patterns? Why the need to brew up batches of anointing oil using herbs mentioned in Old Testament recipes? The shofar-blowing. The Jericho marches. Joel’s Army. And what about the abject legalism everywhere you look? I swear, some of the bizarre rituals charismatics cook up look more like witchcraft than anything of God.

Folks, the answer to so much of what some people are trying to recreate out of the Old Testament is Jesus. If anything, trying to recreate the Old Testament today shows a profound lack of understanding of the finished work of Christ. I guess that’s to be expected, though, when the Christology of much of the movement is so lacking.

There’s no need for charismatic practices today that look like something that came a thousand years before the Savior. That’s not going to work. We need to define ourselves according to a New Testament model, not the Old Testament model that was intended to point to the Christ—the Christ we already have, the one indwelling us by the Spirit, a reality the Old Covenent could never provide.

Problems: Discernment of any kind is sorely lacking at all levels within the movement. Many charismatic teachers craft entire theologies from disconnected or lone passages of Scripture.

Solution: Build a holistic worldview by teaching the Bible from cover to cover, not from topic to topic.

The legacy of 20th century Christianity in the West can be summed up nicely: “My people perish for lack of knowledge.” We simply are not getting sound biblical teaching. I cringe every time I see the latest biblical literacy figures from George Barna. Needless to say, J. Vernon McGee must be doing his best gyroscope imitation in that casket of his.

Charismatics are no worse than most other Western Christians in this regard, though. However, charismatic teachers seem much more likely than non-charismatic teachers to build elaborate theologies based on an out-of-context passage of Scripture that they then ply as “new revelation.” And their pupils suck it all up. The result? Well, have we looked around lately?

Having been around the denominational block, I can say without hesitation that many charismatics have a poor grasp of the breadth of Scripture because their teachers tend to teach the Bible topically rather than from book to book. For that reason, the students of charismatic teachers may never see the wider picture. No one has given them the view that unites biblical truth from Genesis to Revelation. Because of this lack of scope,  when discernment issues arise, charismatics may have little or no basis from which to make godly decisions about truth claims. They end up falling for lies that would never get past someone who has even a cursory overview understanding of the Bible.

I also think that too many people are sucked into going “by the spirit” instead of by the word of God. The Spirit never contradicts the Scriptures, though. Therefore, the Scriptures are ALWAYS the prime source by which decisions about truth claims must be made. Yet the carnage out there tells the real story.

That “charismatic theologian” is practically an oxymoron compared with some other streams of Christianity should shame us. It also explains our shortcomings well.

If the movement doesn’t start teaching the Bible holistically, it’s people are doomed to fall prey to the antichrist, just as that prominent charismatic said. The hope is this: It’s an end game that is completely avoidable.

Those are my comments for today. What are yours? Tell me what you think. I’ll tell you more of what I think in posts to come.


Posts in the “Cleansing the Charismatic Crackup series: