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Introduction To The Charismatic Movement
Neil Armstrong B.A., M.Div.
Within the Christian Church today there is great interest in the Charismatic Movement. This is partly due to the fact that it is one of the fastest growing segments of the Church and in the last few years has become a world wide phenomena. This article is not a history of the movement but is an attempt to provide answers to some of the basic questions people ask when they first encounter the Charismatic Movement.
Where do the unique teachings of the Charismatic Movement come from?
Most of what the Charismatic Movement teaches is based on the same doctrine that other Evangelical churches believe. However, this movement has unique interpretations of several key doctrines. These unique interpretations are largely based on the doctrine of the Pentecostal Church: re #6 & #9. These teachings form the basis of the modern day Charismatic Movement.
Why is this important to know?
This is important to know for several reasons. First, knowing this gives someone who wants to learn more about the Charismatic Movement a place to begin their research. Although there are differences between various Charismatic groups most of them have a common doctrinal tradition. Secondly, the doctrines on which they have different interpretations from other Evangelical Christians are central to the Christian Faith. Their unique teachings impact other important doctrines like the atonement, new covenant, new birth, redemption, salvation and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Because of these differences some Christians view the Charismatic Movement as a separate branch of the Christian church.
How does someone check out their doctrines?
To check out their doctrines someone needs to know which teachings are unique to the
Charismatic Movement. Most Christians believe in the Trinity, the authority of Scripture, the divinity of Jesus Christ, Satan, the fall, sin, the resurrection, justification by faith, the second coming, hell, the judgment, and heaven. Charismatics believe these doctrines as well but their central emphasis is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, Tongues and Healing. Although many other Christians believe these doctrines, Charismatics have their own distinctive interpretations.
What is the fundamental difference between Charismatic and Evangelical churches?
The fundamental difference is the degree of emphasis which is put on the authority of the Word of God. All Christians agree on the authority of Scripture. But the problem is how we establish it on a practical level. Some put too much emphasis on certain facts and become dogmatic. Others, like the Word Faith Movement, put too much emphasis one aspect, like faith. Still others put too much emphasis on feeling and experience. The best approach is to put one's faith in the facts while keeping a balance between the truth of Scripture and experience. God's inspired Word is the only authoritative source for establishing the facts of the Christian Faith. Feelings and experiences are subjective and must be evaluated in the light of God's Word. It is at this very practical level where Evangelical Christians significantly differ with the methodology and emphasis of the Charismatic Movement.
Because of this difference Evangelicals keep asking, what do the Scriptures teach? How do you know if your experience is from God? What is the standard by which you test your experiences? Evangelicals maintain that the only way to be confident that something is true is to establish everything; every teaching, every practice, every experience, by the Word of God. Establishing everything by the Scriptures may take some of the excitement out of the experience but it is absolutely necessary. When there is not enough emphasis placed on the authority of Scripture, the Christian faith becomes distorted and there are excesses. Unfortunately, some Charismatic churches, TV evangelists and healing ministries are known for their excesses rather than their knowledge of the Scriptures.
How does someone know if they are putting the emphasis in the right place?
Someone is putting the emphasis in the right place when they are willing to change their opinions if they do not line up with Scripture. The attitude must be one of seeking the truth, not one of trying to defend one's point of view. This requires work and the development of some tools to study the Scriptures. These tools include reading the Bible and working on how each book fits into the overall theme. Then finding the purpose of the book and looking for the context of each verse. The next step is to become knowledgeable of the major doctrines. One way to do this is to do word studies and ask specific questions. For example, when doing a study on the Spirit ask, where does one put the emphasis? Is the emphasis on Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit? It does not take long to see that the emphasis is on Jesus Christ, not the Holy Spirit. When someone establishes the same point of view as the Word of God, they are putting their emphasis in the right place.
It is very hard to be a Christian today without some exposure of the Charismatic Movement. If someone does not have a good handle on the doctrines of the Charismatic Movement, it is easy to adopt their approach to Christianity. Unfortunately, many Christians do not have a good enough knowledge of the Bible. Consequently, some Christians are becoming involved in groups and adopting teachings which could potentially cause them confusion or even be detrimental to their faith. The best way to avoid this is to do a detailed study of the beliefs of any church or group one is interested in and make sure their beliefs are affirmed by the Word of God.