A few years ago I had developed a friendship with a man who I shared a great deal of respect for and similarity in theology. He and I both considered ourselves “Reformed” (Calvinistic), were convinced that the Bible teaches that baptism is by full immersion for professing believers, and completely convinced that Dispensational Premillennialism (i.e., Pretrib rapture) wasn’t a biblical concept. I know that’s a lot of terminology for some, but those issues
are were “hot button” items for us, so finding agreement was… interesting? Yeah, interesting.
After hanging out and discussing theological topics a number of times, the subject of the charismata (spiritual gifts) came up. I don’t remember how, but the issue was addressed. I found out that this person was vehemently opposed to any and all expressions of modern day spiritual gifts such as “prophecy,” “tongues,” or “healing” (we’ll discuss those buzz words later). He actually considered everyone who was “charismatic” not only wrong, but also anti-biblical, undermining the gospel, and possibly demonically inspired. It was also implied that “charismatics” had actually not studied Scripture enough and weren’t very intelligent.
For this post, I want to talk about labels. Why use the label “charismatic”? I think that’s a good question. Labels are often more a cause for division than is really helpful. And yet I can’t abandon using them because words have meaning! So why use a term that is sometimes associated with people like Benny Hinn, Peter Popoff, or the television network TBN? Well, as I stated before, lots of people use the term “Christian” who are far from representing orthodox Christian doctrine or the ethics found in the life and ministry of Jesus (e.g., Mormons and those who participate in the Crusades). If I changed the label I used every single time someone didn’t represent that label correctly, I wouldn’t be able to use any labels! I mean, I wouldn’t be able to be a Christian, an American, a pastor, and especially a “charismatic.”
So let’s talk labels. I actually have a love/hate relationship with the term “charismatic.” But before explaining that, I want to tell you the labels I am most assuredly not interested in using, as well as some explanation as to why:
I don’t use the term “Pentecostals” or a number of reasons. First, Pentecostals traditionally believe that the “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” occurs subsequent to salvation; I do not believe that. Secondly, Pentecostals traditionally believe that “speaking in tongues” is the initial physical evidence of that baptism; I do not. Those are the technical reasons why I don’t use that term. I simply am not Pentecostal, though I share with Pentecostals the belief that the spiritual gifts in question have not ceased and will continue until Christ returns. Yet there’s another concern that I have about that term. In the community that I live in, the term “Pentecostal” is used primarily to describe the United Pentecostal Church. This group takes some of the Pentecostal distinctions (subsequence and initial evidence) further than evangelical groups such as the A/G or Foursquare (baptism and speaking in tongues are part of “full salvation”) as well as denies the historic orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.
So if I use the term “Pentecostal” to describe myself, most people around where I live will assume that I (1) deny the Trinity, (2) believe people have to be water baptized by full immersion in the name of Jesus only to be “saved,” and also (3) speak in tongues to be “saved.” I don’t use that term, not as a slam on the A/G or other evangelical Pentecostal groups, but because I am both not a Pentecostal in the traditional sense and I am not interested in being connected with a local group that has some very questionable doctrine. So I’m not going to call myself “Pentecostal.” It’s too narrow for me.
I have a simple reason for not using this term. It sounds sooooo arrogant. Every time someone around me uses it, what I subtly here is, “Everyone else isn’t Spirit-filled, but we are!” Perhaps that’s not the intention, but are people who do not believe that there is a subsequent Spirit-baptism or that certain spiritual-gifts are for today really not Spirit-filled? Really? I’m fairly certain that the Bible makes it quite clear that if a person isn’t filled with the Spirit, they aren’t Christians (cf. Rom. 8:9-11; 1 Cor. 12:3; Gal. 5:16-25, etc.).
I use the term “Spirit-filled” to describe all true believers in Christ. You can’t be a Christian without being filled with the Spirit. And that term is, while maybe not intentional, quite arrogant to use. If Methodists aren’t “Spirit-filled,” why would I dare call them a brother in Christ? We don’t even have the same Spirit indwelling us! So I reject it’s usage because I don’t believe it’s biblical, nor helpful. It’s essentially too narrow and, quite frankly, arrogant sounding… especially if you have dialogue outside of your little theological camp.
I used to hear this term and have a lot of agreement with what it was trying to communicate (I think). Paul talks about his preaching to the Thessalonians in a similar way when he says, “our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess. 1:5; cf. Rom. 15:18-20).
I believe that proclamation and demonstration are important aspects of the Great Commission. I draw this largely from the Gospel of Luke and Acts as well as in observing the ministries of Jesus and the apostles. And I strongly dislike minimalistic approaches to salvation (i.e., I don’t like the term “I got saved” because it doesn’t do justice to the “process of redemption” or the “walking with Christ” or the “growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus” or of the “story of salvation.” Following Jesus is a way of life and not the crossing of a finished line. And I say all of those things as a convinced Protestant Calvinist who believes that Justification is based upon faith alone by God’s grace alone due to the work of Christ alone.I don’t like minimizing the work of the kingdom of God as being simply information transfer but I won’t deny that information transfer (proclamation) isn’t crucial.
But… Yes, there’s a “but” for this term. Most of my non-charismatic friends take this term to mean that “charismatics” don’t believe that non-charismatics are preaching the gospel. It’s like saying, “Hey, you guys aren’t telling people about Jesus! We are, because we’re “full gospel,” right?” Wrong. Very wrong. Very, very, very wrong.
So I agree that gospel proclamation and gospel demonstration are important. I want to push back against the idea or concept that the participating in “supernatural” work of the Holy Spirit is a waste of time and unimportant. But I also want to recognize that belief in the historic person Jesus Christ’s death, burial and resurrection isn’t sufficient (cf. 1 Cor. 15:3-8). So “full gospel” is just confusing and requires a lot of tip-toeing and explanation because it insinuates that other Christians aren’t teaching the “full gospel.”
Technically, everyone who believes that the charismata continues until Jesus returns is a Continuationist. That’s pretty obvious, right? The spiritual gifts continue. When I’m talking to theologian types, I use this term because theologians know that this means that I believe there some people may legitimately “speak in tongues” or give a “prophecy.” It means that if someone says, “Hey, I’m sick,” I am going to respond by saying, “Hey, let’s pray and ask God to heal you.” Why? Because those supernatural gifts are still around, as God sovereignly wills (1 Cor. 12:11).
Those within the “Continuationist” camp might disagree upon whether Spirit-baptism occurs to all believers (my position) or is subsequent to conversion (Pentecostalism), but they agree on the main issue – the charismata. There are still disagreements and discussions over the continuation of modern-day apostles, how speaking in tongues w/ interpretation is best understood, to what extent “healing” is “guaranteed (if it even is), and the exact nature of the kingdom of God. But regardless of those disagreements, there is wide agreement on the overall main point – the spiritual gifts are still available and active and to be expressed in the life of the church until Jesus comes back.
So I really like the term “Continuationist.” It cuts to the heart o the matter. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people that I know simply don’t know what it means and I spend a lot of time explaining it and then having to explain what “Cessationist” (non-charismatic) means! Therefore, most of the time I just use this term amongst those who I know understand it, which isn’t very many.
So why am I “Charismatic”? Let’s start off by clarifying that I’m essentially “Charismatic.” I say essentially because I want to qualify that term. But since I have to qualify everything I generally say, I find this term the easiest to navigate around.
When people hear the term “Charismatic,” they often think about a number of things, such as:
- A commitment to seeking after the spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:31; 14:1, 5, 39);
- Experiential worship that doesn’t ignore or avoid human emotion;
- A high view of Scripture (when’s the last time you heard about a “Charismatic” who denied that Scripture was the authority for the church?);
- A commitment to some form of missional living, be it domestic or international (cf. being “charismissional“!).
Those are just a few of the assumptions that people make about those who claim the title “Charismatic.” Since they are assumptions that I believe are based off of properly interpreting the relevant passages of Scripture, I’m comfortable with the term.
Plus… *and this is simply for the sake of full disclosure*… it’s kind of fun telling people that I am “charismatic.” Why? Because you can’t be a Calvinist and a Charismatic at the same time or the universe might implode! This is serious stuff!
And I say that I’m a “Charismatic” with the full assumption that all Christians are, in some shape or form, “charismatic.” After all, the apostle Paul says that serving and teaching and contributing and being generous and leading and being merciful can all be spiritual gifts (cf. Rom. 12:7-8). What Christian doesn’t believe that mercy is still a quality for today? What Christian would suggest that going “super mercifully” isn’t a quality that we’d like to see in our churches more often?
So call me “charismatic” and know that I’m neither arrogant with that statement nor ignorant of the fact that some people use that title that make me want to slap someone. Call me “charismatic” and know that I’m also committed to spiritual gifts being used to build up the church in biblically qualified ways. Call me “charismatic” and understand that I’m not committed to a certain “style” of worship music but to a certain “ethos” that should be found in the worship of all churches, regardless of music style.
Call me essentially “Charismatic”… I’m okay with that; I’m not offended.
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.
Luke, I think much as you do about the terminology. I’ve used “continuationist” more lately simply b/c I’m finding more and more peops associate “charismatic” mostly w/ say, Bill Johnson’s movement, GodTV, etc. (something more specific and something that I am not). But for the reasons you describe, “continuationist” is rarely helpful among non-theologians (so I think I need to abandon it). As for Christian T.V.: In the first couple of years that I actively pursued prayer for healing, a couple of different people w/ healing ministries were convinced that God was telling me that I needed to get a certain Christian tv channel and leave it on all day and night if I were to receive my healing. I knew for many reasons that this was ill-advised, but I thank God to this day that the house I was in literally could not take a satellite dish b/c otherwise I might have been manipulated into drinking the kool-aid for a couple of years straight. As if the theologies I was coming in contact w/ had not messed me up enough…. Yikes.
This has got to be short and probably not nearly as well thought out as your blog, but I have some bones to pick. One is that you emphatically mention “biblically qualified”. I’m not sure exactly what you mean by that, but I’ve had some go-rounds with some people in the past-primarily out of Calvary Chapel. “If it’s written in scripture, we believe it. If it’s not, we don’t.” One of the early areas of “conflict between Wimber/Vineyards was over this belief system. Wimber believed and said specifically in some of his seminars that “there are a lot of things that God honors that we don’t understand and don’t specifically find in scripture. We proceed from the understanding that ‘if it’s not written against in scripture, and God honors it, we will do it.’ ”
I guess my point is that like John, the Beloved, said, Jesus said many things besides, if they were all written down, there wouldn’t be enough room in the world for all the books.
In line with this, I don’t believe that we can be too very adamant about things like the baptism in the Spirit, or whether tongues are the first evidence. In my experience, I had trouble with tongues due to the fact that I didn’t understand that wind had to pass over vocal cords for any language at all to happen. A week later, I spoke in tongues, God confirmed it that it was His gift, and I knew that it had been there from the moment I came out of the water. There’s more to the story, but the point is, I think it is potentially the initial evidence; it’s there, but we are so hung up on ourselves, so self conscious that many have problems stepping out and possibly looking foolish. Marrying into a family of long time, old-line Pentecostals, and having passed thru many of the denominations, I have some quibbles with some of your comments. None are major, but sometimes it comes down to the old line about, “Someone who’s had and experience with God is never at the mercy of someone who has a theology”. I’m not advocating heresy, but God’s a lot bigger than we are, and His ways are infinitely higher than ours.
Besides all that, I really liked your blog. I also like picking nits. The real point is, in the absence of heresy, major on the majors, and be tolerant of the little stuff. You will never hear me tell someone that they have to speak in tongues, etc., or get too much on my high horse about adult baptism by immersion. When I was confronted, God convicted me and showed me His plans for me. He can do that with others.
Bert, good thoughts and questions. I’ll respond with mine…
What I mean by “biblically qualified” is that I think the Bible is fairly clear, generally speaking, about spiritual gifts. When theologians talk about things being “biblically qualified” I don’t think they GENERALLY mean “if it isn’t in the Bible, we don’t even address it.” I know some advocate that view… but the majority of people I know don’t (thank God!).
What it does mean is that the general hermeneutical “guidelines” or “principles” that the vast majority of scholars accept are helpful. God isn’t going to tell someone to divorce their wife in order for them to marry another because there is a better “spiritual connection” to be found. Scripture informs us, in a number of ways, on how to understand that issue.
But I would also push back a little on the “free for all” approach that is found in some circles within the Charismatic Movement. Anyone can say, “The Holy Spirit told me that this was to be done” and if it isn’t in Scripture… it needs to be carefully thought about. I have found many to be far too “accepting” and less discerning. Not always, but often.
Of course, that discussion leads to issues related to the Regulative Principle… which I think can be helpful but is difficult to be consistent on across the board. That’s probably a topic for another discussion. But I don’t have really have a problem when you say, “if it’s not written against in scripture, and God honors it, we will do it.” The issue comes down to how people conclude that God honors something. Is it based off of numbers? Money? Acceptance? I sure hope that there’s more to it than that.
I’m not sure that John’s noting that Jesus did a lot more miracles means what you could be advocating. Does that mean that since it’s POSSIBLE that Jesus drop kicked someone to heal them, we should allow for it (i.e., is Todd Bentley’s methodology something we want to accept and follow?)?
I will also push back on the issue of Spirit-baptism. I think Scripture is a bit more clear on that issue. But I’ll also agree that for most, the issue is really one of semantics. I call an experience being “filled with the Spirit” and many Pentecostals call it “baptism in the Holy Spirit.” Fine… we can split theological hairs or just acknowledge that we approach that issue differently 🙂 I would, however, suggest that there are some concerns I have about two-stage subsequence theology from an exegetical, theological, and practical perspective. I plan on fleshing these out later… so I will just acknowledge that my way isn’t the only perspective and let it be. ha ha ha!
I would return your quote about experience and theology with another: “Early Pentecostals had an experience in search of a theology.” I’m hesitant to use our experiences to determine our theologies because I don’t believe they are as trustworthy as Scripture. But I also want to say that people’s lack of experience is still an experience that determines people’s theology! The sword cuts both ways, right?
To summarize my view: I take my experience (and the experience of others) and filter it through Scripture first, then church history.
And to be more transparent: I had an experience that I grew up calling the “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” and was told that was what it was… later, as I studied Scripture and came to some conclusions… I determined that it was a real experience that didn’t quite match that term… but still a very real and important moment in my life.
What do you think?
I want to say that I agree with much of the ethos of what you are saying… I’m not a fundamentalist I tell ya! 😉
I was going to say that all three of us are too pretty and too smart to be fundies, but that’s unkind so I won’t say it. I like what you have to say Luke. I’ve just found over the last 35 years that I’m not half as sure, perhaps, as I once was about a whole number of things. What I am becoming more sure of is that God doesn’t play by my “Bert Hermelink approved Playbook/Rule Book”. He just seems to walk in His own agenda. What I said in my comment earlier about if it’s not written against, was a pretty much direct quote from John Wimber. Although I have sometimes disagreed with him in the past, I think his approach is right in this. Now, I am not defending the abuses you cited or the thousands of other abuses from the history of pentecostalism, or of charismania, but I think their history and impact on the church has been monumental, and in some ways it far exceeds the “institutionalized evangelical” church. The excitement of actually seeing God bring forth signs and wonders, of seeing Him actually bring forth dramatic changes in peoples lives right in front of me. Seeing Him raise the dead, eliminate cancers, put marriages back together, and generally be God in our midst, changed me in a heartbeat to an absolutely committed Christian. Sitting before His throne for three years plus, as He taught me His word, transformed and established my life. My foundation has been the Word of God, period, for 37 years, to some degree giving preference in my understanding, to my plain “un-seminary-tutored” reading. Along the way, I have encountered been taught by a number of exceptional teachers, but I always return to what the Word says. Not a proof-text, but the whole counsel of God. I have also encountered way too many highly educated “theologian/pastors” who have a whole lot of education, but probably wouldn’t know God if He bit them on the ___. I think it is probably most key to live our lives before God the way you said. Have the experience and measure it against scripture. That’s probably what is bothering me about the threads in SVS today-one about homosexual lifestyle, the other about prophecies about Messiah. A couple other kettles of fish.
I think you meant to type “ass.” Please do not patronize me with your holiness. Just type the cuss word.
HA HA HA HA HA HA.
Great response. I agree.
So we’re both Charismatic, right? 🙂
Actually it was going to be “butt”. I wasn’t trying to patronize you with my holiness. I was just trying to act like I had some (and maybe some class). Very difficult some days.
I didn’t read your whole response. I am sort of a Presbyterian, Lutheran, Catholic Charismatic, Pentecostal Independant with a focus and an expectation of the Restoration of the 5-Fold ministries. I am currently a Wesleyan Church member, but my understanding of what God is up to has to do with the Local Body, elder-driven (sorry), with apostolic/prophetic oversight. My expectation is that, to quote a good friend, the “men and women of Galilee, the nameless faceless generation following after Jesus, are somehow going to be led out of the current situation and into something more resembling what God wants. It’s probably going to require suffering and persecution, but, what we have now is very hard for me to reconcile with what I think God is going to do. Obviously, no disrespect intended.
Good start(second) to your series Luke.
Having been regenerated while in a pentecostal church, discipled in a pentecostal church, loved in a pentecostal church, and always attended a pentecostal church, I have much love, admiration, and respect for pentecostals. That being said, I no longer consider myself pentecostal no refer to myself as one.
I mainly refrain from labeling myself as such because I don’t hold to the pentecostal distinctives in regards to tongues and spirit baptism. However, I do not hesitate to tell people that I attend a pentecostal church.
We don’t have much oneness pentecostals up here so that isn’t much of an issue in terms of labels.
I am most comfortable with charismatic and will use continuationist if the person I’m speaking with recognizes the term.
I became a pentecostal/charismatic by default; it was all I knew. As I studied more I became confident in the continuation of the gifts but not so much the pentecostal distinctives.
I would be interested to look at how similar/different Canadian pentecostals are compared to American pentecostals … my guess is their would be some interesting differences.
Looking forward to the rest of the series!
Since my bible college years, I’ve lost touch with a lot of the finer distinctions between these sorts of terms. Since very few of the people I interact with would be familiar with them, I guess I haven’t really had much use for them. Additionally, I think I found a good sense of freedom actually coming out from under certain labels; freedom to explore previously “forbidden” viewpoints such as predestination, the baptism of the Spirit apart from tongues, etc. So I think I probably benefited somewhat from getting away from all the terminology for a while.
However, there’s also a great deal of value in being able concisely define what you believe (terminology). After a few years of independent studying, it’s interesting to come back to these terms and to see how much I’ve shifted on certain issues. It’s a great help when these terms are use properly such as, “I see the Bible saying this. [Insert theological term] succinctly sums up what I’ve come to believe. From henceforth I am a [Theological label].” I think that sort of thing is helpful. However, it seems to be just as detrimental when lazy or biblically illiterate people use it as cover. The church they go to believes it, their father believes it, their father’s father believed it and so THEY believe it… though they couldn’t give you a reason why to save their soul.
But, hey! I just learned that I am no longer Pentecostal, but am very much a Charismatic and, to those with ears to hear, a Continuationist. Where can I buy a t-shirt?