Cleansing the Charismatic Crackup, Final Thoughts


Over the last few days, thousands of people have come to Cerulean Sanctum looking for answers concerning the meltdown in the charismatic movement in light of what happened at Lakeland. People are searching. They want answers and reassurance.

Here is the word that I have for them. It comes from a prophet who did no miracles but was called the greatest by the One who truly matters:

“He must increase, but I must decrease.”
—John 3:30

John the Baptist said this in context of knowing his ministry was not what mattered in the end. He said it because he knew he was being surpassed, because he understood his place was to shine the light on the Lord and not himself. His curtain had risen, but now it was falling. And John rejoiced in that.

Because John was, above all else, humble.

I do some of my best reflecting in the shower. Something about being alone and naked brings clarity. It’s quiet and peaceful. The whispered voice of God stirs among the waters. Or something like that. Whatever the case, my morning shower has been the birthplace for many a post here.

During Tuesday’s shower the word that God dropped into my heart was humility.

If we are to clean up the mess within the contemporary charismatic movement, above all else, we need to rediscover humility.

We need leaders who have been tested by the twin crucibles of time and tragedy. It’s those folks who speak softly who often possess the most wisdom, but among the noisy clamor of the modern charismatic scene we have drowned them out. We have ignored them because they are not flashy, hip, or “charismatic” in the other sense of the word.

I believe they are the ones who must rise up at this time in history.

We need people who understand the grace of God. People who, like Job, can stand before God and put their hands over their mouths because they understand that they are nothing in the presence of God. Yet that same God offers them mercy because they realize they are dust before Him.

We need people in the charismatic movement who, again like Job, are so concerned with the holiness of God and our tendency as fallen creatures toward sin that they make sacrifices on behalf of others who may have sinned so as to ensure that God has not been slighted. Fostering that kind of mentality will stifle excess before it has a chance to poison others.

I believe that charismatics need to stop promoting those people to leadership positions because of the force of their personalities or the novelty of their ministries. Our servant exampleInstead, we need to seek out those who would otherwise have been forgotten, those who are not shameless self-promoters, but promoters of Jesus Christ. In other words, humble servants.

Do we remember the word servant ? Is it still in our vocabulary? Find me a servant who is dedicated to pouring herself out and who finds her filling not before adoring crowds but before God alone in her prayer closet and I’ll show you someone ready to lead.

Do we understand humility? Have we seen any signs around us that it still exists? Give me a man who would rather be wrong before millions of people than besmirch the character and name of Jesus Christ and I’ll show you a man worthy of his calling.

But where are those people in the charismatic movement in the West?

I see their counterparts in the East every Sunday in my church.  We support a number of native missionaries in Asia through Gospel for Asia, a charismatic missionary organization. Their pictures line the wall outside the sanctuary. For the most part, these are poor people who have nothing but their names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. They live for Jesus alone. They are nameless, faceless people who have counted the cost and know that He is worthy even as they are not. They are the reason that the Gospel goes forth in power in developing countries even as we in the West flock to the next dog and pony show looking for the next spiritual fix.

They are people who understand that He must increase while they must decrease.

I used to meet people like that here in the States. Not so much anymore, though. Most of us have our own agendas. We squeeze the Lord in when we can, but it’s still mostly about us, about our families, about getting ahead in life.

When I told my Dad that I was going to go into ministry full time, he said something I will never forget: “Then prepare to be poor because you won’t get anywhere in life.” Ouch, right?

Still, that kind of statement doesn’t make humble people flinch because they know their treasure is in heaven, not on earth.

Have we American charismatics counted the cost? A quick look around would answer that question, and not in the positive. We are a proud, selfish people who look down on the publican beating his breast and say, “Thank you, Lord, that I am not like that sinner.”

The problem is we are like that sinner. We’re just not humble enough to admit it.


In closing, I wish to offer a few links to other sites with good words concerning the charismatic movement and what can be done to prevent further damage and how we might repair the broken down walls before us:

I like so much of what Frank Viola writes. He has many good thoughts here.

John Piper wades into the mess with his usual sense and sensibility.

Dr. Harold Bussell contributes some excellent thoughts on the evangelical susceptibility to being lured into cults and cult-like activities. Good warnings and wisdom here. In addition, he takes a look at authority issues as well, something that most charismatics need to heed, especially as everyone goes nuts over “coverings.”

On this issue of humility, the best book I have read on the topic comes from Andrew Murray, the South African pastor who oversaw a great revival in that nation during the 19th century. Murray reads like a kinder, gentler Jonathan Edwards, sharing many experiences with Edward’s own during the Great Awakening. Murray, an amazingly prolific author, should be required reading for all charismatics as far as I am concerned. To our great fortune, Murray’s book on humility is online in its entirety.

I mentioned Watchman Nee’s book The Latent Power of the Soul in a previous post in this series. Fortunately, that book, too, is online in its entirety. We can learn much from Nee’s understand of soulish power versus genuine Holy Spirit power. I suspect that if we stripped soulish power out of the contemporary charismatic movement very little Holy Spirit power would be left. And that should alarm us.

Rob McAlpine discusses what it means to be “postcharismatic.” (I believe, though, that it might be better to think of reform as being “precharismatic”. Also, in a case of horrid timing, it seems McAlpine’s publisher in Canada is forgoing releasing his book here in the U.S. on postcharismatic thought.  I would think this would be the perfect opportunity to ride the wave of confusion concerning this blowup within the charismatic movement.)

(Hat tips go to many people, some of whom I owe an apology because I have misplaced their names as sources. Bill Kinnon, though, had several good links at his site.)

Posts in the “Cleansing the Charismatic Crackup” series:

Cleansing the Charismatic Crackup, Part 2


The yolk is on us...Something is amiss in the charismatic movement.

If you read the first part of this series, in this post you’ll find more analysis of what’s wrong with the charismatic movement and what we can do to clean up the mess it has created in the Western Church.

Problems: Too many charismatics are more interested in what they can get than what they can give. Also, we love to talk about taking dominion over the kingdom of darkness, but we forget the primary means by which we cripple the Enemy’s purposes.

Solution: We need to be drilled on the Great Commission.

The selfishness of the charismatic movement that I mentioned in the first part of this series is dramatically evident in the general lackadaisical attitude too many of us have toward the Great Commission. So many of us in the West are chasing after gifts and ecstatic experiences that we’ve completely lost the others-centric focus of the Gospel. We’re experts at claiming promises and prosperity for ourselves, but terrible at leading people to Christ. And even when we do get that juxtaposition of soul-winner and Spirit-seeker like you find in some Pentecostal churches, the discipleship program consists of “Now here’s your Bible, good luck.”

As they say in my neck of the woods, that ain’t gonna fly.

Now we can talk all we want about Joel’s End Times Army and psych ourselves up for spiritual warfare, but nothing breaks the Devil’s back more than leading others to Christ and discipling them to maturity. So for all our talk of dominion, unless we’re making disciples, we’re losing the war. End of story.

And we are losing, I hate to say. At least in the West. In other countries, charismatics are astonishingly good at leading others to Christ. They stand as an Ichabod-like statement against us Western charismatics, especially those of us obsessed with prosperity gospel teachings. My fear is that our disease will infect the still-vibrant Third World charismatic Church some day and not the other way around.

Problem: The charismatic movement is a cult—of celebrity.

Solution: Time for the old guard, who failed to guard what they were entrusted with, to get off the stage.

I mentioned in my post entitled “Burned” that the prominent leaders of the last 20 years of the charismatic movement need to move on and let someone else lead for a change. By and large, the self-appointed apostles and prophets out there have run the movement into the ground. They simply don’t know what they are doing, and for people who supposedly exemplify Spirit-controlled leadership that’s a damnable crime.

We need to see new faces in the charismatic movement who are untainted by past stupidity. Better yet, we need more nameless and faceless people rise up. I think the second someone in the movement announces “Hey, I’m a prophet,” we should run the other way. The mark of God’s blessing on someone’s ministry is that he draws people to Jesus without drawing attention to himself. That’s the gold standard as far as I’m concerned. That’s humility. It recognizes that if we’re doing this thing right, then anyone is replaceable.

I’m really sick of these slick charismatic celebrities and their private jets and Armani suits. They’re killing the movement almost singlehandedly. Their followers should be ashamed, too, not only of the way their “heroes of the faith” act, but at the braindead way in which they’ve followed them.

Listen, no one should be immune from questioning. This “touch not the Lord’s anointed” thing is little more than a power trip used by self-centered leaders (and their minions) and a “check your Bible at the door” capitulation to spiritual sloth.

Frankly, I’m appalled at the backtracking I’m seeing from some of those supposed leaders involved with Lakeland. They’re repudiating people and events faster than you can say “blind guides.” That’s despicable. Those people deceived many. If the cadre of jokers leading the charismatic movement today won’t get off the stage, then we either need to boot them off or just start ignoring them. Sadly, the best way is to stop the flow of money. That will be immediately noticed, let me tell you. It may even wake some of these posers up. Repentance is a good thing; so is a little reliance on the need for daily bread.

Problem: We let the miraculous enthrall us.

Solution: We need to be more discerning and less surprised by the miraculous.

“But what about the miracles?” some will say.

You mean the normal Christian life?

Yes, normal. The wordly should be surprised by the miraculous, but charismatics shouldn’t be. Yet we giggle and fawn like Hannah Montana fans, running screaming to wherever the slightest inkling of the miraculous appears, often wasting huge amounts of money in the process.

That’s inane and childish.

What about the miracles? We should be used to them. Not in a ho-hum sort of way, but as mature believers accustomed to moving in the Spirit. Faith makes it so. We trust that God will make good on His miraculous promises, so we rest. It’s the faithless who should go ga-ga.

The Enemy can make miracles. Jannes and Jambres threw down their staffs and those inanimate pieces of wood turned into snakes, just as Moses’ did. The Bible speaks plainly that the antichrist will do miracles. Miracles, by themselves, are proof of nothing.

I will even contend that without the power of either God or the Devil, people may still work miracles. I offer Watchman Nee’s very deep book The Latent Power of the Soul for evidence. I didn’t understand that book the first time I read it. What Nee was saying went over my head. My review at Amazon was not all that positive. A few years later, though, and I see it now. Witnessing some of the so-called revivals that have cropped up in recent years, I wonder if we’re not seeing perfect evidence of the power of the soul on display. It would explain quite a bit.

Look, I’m absolutely in favor of “…with signs accompanying.” But one crucial lead-in statement must go before that trailer: “The Gospel of Jesus Christ preached in doctrinal purity….” If the charismatic movement misses that, it’s missed everything.

Problem: The charismatic movement is obsessed with novelty.

Solution: We must understand that there is nothing new under the sun.

I’ve written in the past about this obsession charismatics have with novelty. If I hear “new move of God” one more time, I’m going to scream. Why? Because that’s marketing hype, not Holy Spirit truth. If God moves in a untouched place on the globe among people who have never heard the name of Jesus, then by all means call that a new move of God. But the manner in which God moves doesn’t change because the means by which He has chosen for us to minister is perfect as is. We are to minister by the Spirit of God according to His Word. That was new once, but that was a long time ago. We should have gotten well acquainted with how that works by now.

Instead we work to add on to what God has done. We try to make it fresh when there was nothing wrong withits freshness to begin with. we are the ones who got stale, not God. And for the reasons I’ve already outlined in these last two posts.

My advice? The smartest thing any of us can do is to ignore the circus barkers who keep yelling “new” and “anointed.” If we do that, we’ll keep out the tired lies that are the foundation of so many of these supposed “new moves.”

Problem: We continue to tolerate the aberrations of the past, the worst excesses of the charismatic movement, digging them up repeatedly for each new generation after they were long buried.

Solution: It’s time to grow up and face today. In many cases, the good old days weren’t all that good. Wrong doesn’t get right over time.

Big-league heretic William Branham has been dead for decades, yet his name was invoked over Lakeland. Then someone dredged up Paul Cain. Sadly, the charismatic movement today resembles a bad horror flick: we are overrun with vampires who suck out the life out of people or zombies who eat our brains. And then there are the vampire zombies. Hey, if you’ve been hanging around the charismatic movement long enough, then you know what I’m talking about….

You know a movement has reached the putrefaction stage when it starts mining its old heresies and heretics for new material. I just don’t understand the fascination.

I’m going to end today’s comments with a warning.

While many aspects of Lakeland were old news, one was not. I’ve not seen anyone comment on this, but it’s something to watch for. This kind of convergence may serve as a warning in the future.

Lakeland was new in one startling regard: It brought many of the different streams of charismatic practice together.

Looking over the most recent “revivals,” each had a flavor unique to their particular stream. Toronto was largely a Third Wave charismatic happening. Pensacola was Pentecostal.

But Lakeland was different; it attracted everyone. It was the Rosetta Stone of charismatic events. You had charismatics of all stripes: Pentecostal, Third Wave, Mainline, Sympathizers, and variations thereof. Toward the end, in what was probably the pivotal moment of Lakeland, you had Third Wave poobah C. Peter Wagner swooping in with his New Apostolic Reformation banner attempting to tie it all up under the auspices of his group.

I’m telling you now, watch out for this. The days ahead will be marked by increasingly bold attempts to unite all the streams of the charismatic movement. I believe that will not be a good thing because instead of bringing a cleansing to the movement, it will instead unite all the craziness. Lakeland already proved this to be the case. We have not seen the last of this, though.

Be open to the Lord, but never stop being watchful, faithful, and wise.


Posts in the “Cleansing the Charismatic Crackup series:

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: