January 16, 2021

iMonk Classic: A Growing and Awkward Silence

Classic iMonk Post
by Michael Spencer

Note from CM: This is an older piece — from the early to mid-2000’s —  by Michael Spencer in which he recognizes and laments some of the changes that had taken place in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement over the years in which he encountered it.

Like me, Michael first encountered this kind of faith when it was in the charismatic stage, infiltrating mainline and evangelical churches. He says something dramatic happened when the Third Wave expansion of non-denominational, Word-of-Faith churches and ministries took place, leading the movement into more questionable areas of teaching and practice.

The final part of the article, where Michael gives specific critiques, is reflective of that particular time and place and the things he was observing. If you are involved in these movements today, you are welcome to bring us up to date and tell us things have changed (for better or worse) with regard to his criticisms.

* * *

Things I can’t I talk about with my Pentecostal and Charismatic friends

We used to be able to talk. Over coffee, at church, and long into the night. I actually enjoyed the conversations. Sure, there were always challenges and differences, but we weren’t fighting as much as we were trying to explore a common fascination. We were pilgrims on the same road, discovering the adventure together. We both wanted to know, “What is the truth?” “What does the Bible say?” “How can we find the reality of God, and experience it every day?” We respected one another. Even if the conversation got intense there was always plenty of laughter, and we could pray together in genuine fellowship. Those prayers and conversations always left me wanting to get together again, and dig further and deeper. But this doesn’t happen much anymore, and I miss the good times we shared. Things have changed. There is a growing, awkward silence between myself and my Pentecostal/Charismatic (P/C) friends, and it’s not a good thing.

The Pentecostal/Charismatic movement has always had an uncomfortable relationship with the rest of evangelicalism. It hasn’t been easy from the first rumblings of Azusa Street to these days of TBN, Rod Parsley and Benny Hinn. Pentecostalism’s founding vision said that the mainstream church had, through neglect and rationalism, lost the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit that Christians were always intended to enjoy and manifest. Miracles and supernatural gifts were for today. Pentecost was still going on. God was speaking through prophets, in visions, and even in sending angels to do his work. The mainstream of the Christian church had said these things were ancient history, or had boxed them up in the theological attic and forgotten they were there.

Pentecostals and Charismatics made sure we remembered that Jesus cast out demons, that God spoke in visions, and that the early church spoke in tongues. They wouldn’t let us forget those pesky chapters in I Corinthians with all their mysteries. They prayed for the miracles we were too shy or doubtful to pray for. They didn’t just sing hymns that said “Hallelujah!” They said it. Loudly and often. They talked about a kind of faith that believed God would act in your behalf in the present, and that the power of the Holy Spirit to bring down walls and raise the dead was still available. The Charismatic movement brought these lively insights to the church on the corner, and even with all the resulting controversy, I count it as a good thing.

I remember going to a conference many years ago sponsored by the United Methodist Conference in our area and held at the big UMC church in town. The main speaker was Oral Roberts. This was Oral at his best, before he went really nuts, when he was first building ORU and there was plenty of good will between Pentecostals like Oral and Charismatic sympathizers in the mainlines. The conference was on the work of the Holy Spirit, and I recall it as a sweet time of fellowship, with plenty of curiosity and conversation, but little controversy. Oral wasn’t fuming at the deadness of the church, but was rejoicing in the openness and renewal going on in the church.

For those few days, Oral Roberts wasn’t a strange televangelist, but a wonderful, Spirit-filled man who represented the hunger for the reality of God that has always been part of genuine Christian experience. He spoke for a movement that would, we all believed, benefit the church. I think my Methodist friends looked at the Charismatic movement of those days as a possible repeat visitation of what God had done with Methodism in the past, revitalizing the church in ways unexpected. For many Charismatics and their sympathizers, that conference and many others represented hope that windows and doors were opening, and the Spirit was doing a fresh work in the body of Christ.

We could talk to one another in those days. I was drawn into the Charismatic movement by way of an Episcopal family who were involved in a “Spirit-filled” prayer group in a Catholic church. We talked for hours about what the Bible said and what the Holy Spirit could do. I met lots of Charismatics in the Methodist circles I moved in, and I enjoyed fellowship with Pentecostal brothers and sisters at work. Yes, they seemed to have something my experience didn’t have, but even accounting for that initial curiosity, there was good fellowship based around a common faith. Even when I left the Charismatic movement over my own understanding of Spirit baptism, our fellowship remained good, and we loved and respected one another.

Part of the reason for that harmony was the fact that the “non-denominational, generic, Charismatic/Pentecostal churches” were rare. Most of my Charismatic friends were in “regular” churches, but attended conferences, prayer meetings and special events with other Charismatics and Pentecostals. In a few years, most Charismatics would be in their own churches, and part of the Charismatic-Third Wave explosion in evangelicalism.

It would be in these churches, ranging from the Vineyards to thousands of Independent Charismatic fellowships and Word-Faith Churches, and in the resulting expanded network of P/C influence- that the alienation between evangelicals like myself and many Charismatics would become more profound.

These early days of fellowship with my P/C friends is represented in my mind by Gary and Fay, two of my co-workers at a grocery store where I was employed for several years. Both were Pentecostal, but both treated me graciously and as a Christian brother. Gary loved his Bible, and was devoted to Biblical preaching and teaching. When we disagreed, we quickly went to see what the scriptures said. He was open about his own spiritual experience, but he never argued with me about mine. He answered my questions and responded to my criticisms, but we enjoyed many times of prayer and worship at work and away from work.

I dated Fay for several months, and we had a good relationship that continued as a friendship for several years. In the many hours we talked about spiritual things, she never implied that her Pentecostal experience was superior to my Baptist experience, or attempted to persuade me to attend her church. Beyond the well known tenets of Pentecostalism, I never heard Fay advocate anything that seemed at all bizarre or strange in her church or experience. In fact, our devotion to our respective church backgrounds was part of why we did not continue dating. I had much better Christian fellowship with Gary and Fay than with my Roman Catholic, Church or Christ or Independent Baptist friends. The kind of fellowship we enjoyed is almost unknown in my experience today.

Today I have many more Pentecostal/Charismatic friends, but few- and I emphasize very few- are friendships where significant discussions of our faith can take place without real tension and discomfort on my part because of significant and irreparable deviations in how we each understand basic Christian concepts. Despite many years of being around the P/C community, I continue to experience feelings of inferiority and rejection as many of my P/C friends find it impossible to fellowship as equals. Over the years, something has changed in the way Pentecostal/Charismatics view themselves and their relationship to the larger body of Christ.

This change is, of course, mutual in some respects, and I recognize that I may be less open-minded and generous in my attempts at fellowship than in the past, but this essay wants to look at the changes I have seen in the P/C community. I certainly recognize that Pentecostals and Charismatics have been the subjects of negative criticism and harsh reviews from the evangelical and conservative mainstream. ( I give most books critical of the P/C movement very low marks.) I’ve heard Baptist pastors say cruel things about Charismatic friends, and I know that issues of worship style and Christian experience have brought about ugly responses from all sides of the fence. But I am not writing about the obvious flaws in human nature. I want to explore where Pentecostal-Charismatic belief and practice are creating a significant barrier to fellowship. I will restrict this essay to four important areas where fellowship has become difficult, uncomfortable and sometimes, impossible.

(I am very aware that some of my Pentecostal/Charismatic co-workers, friends and readers may read this essay and be surprised at what I am going to say. PLEASE hear me out, read carefully and read to the end! I believe this will be fair in every way to your concerns and criticisms of myself and other evangelicals. And please note that in every case I have tried to make it clear that I have P/C friends about whom none of this is true at all.)

1. Scripture. Clearly, the P/C community is in very troubled times when it comes to how the Bible relates to contemporary Christianity. From the beginning, Pentecostalism looked at the Bible as more about what God had done in the past than as a final, authoritative word that could not be supplemented. In many ways, the P/C view of the Bible tended towards the kinds of Biblical theology you might hear from liberals who said the Bible should not be a final guide for us today, but is a record of how God worked in the past. Here was the record of what God had done before, but the question was now what was God saying and doing today?

Here is an observation: I have never heard a high profile P/C pastor exposit and interpret the scripture systematically. (Jack Hayford is the closest to an expositor, but even he does not expound the Bible verse by verse.) The great heritage of Protestant Biblical teaching is held in suspicion among P/Cs today, and many P/Cs have never heard an actual exposition of a Biblical passage in their church. (Watch T.D. Jakes or Paula White to see what P/C preaching is all about .) Today, most P/C Christians approach the Bible in the way a Rod Parsley or a T.D. Jakes does: How can we most rapidly jump from the Biblical story to the present action of the Holy Spirit? This method is well known in the African-American Church, and is not, if practiced cautiously, always the wrong way to go. But unhinged and exiled from solid Biblical interpretation and hitched to the unchecked personality of the latest P/C prophet, chaos ensues. Combined with the personal Word given only to the prophet and a deviant theology, the Bible becomes secondary, if not an outright obstacle.

I recently heard a Charismatic preacher using the story of David as a model for how God brings revival. Saul was the opponent of revival. David was the anointed leader of revival. Jonathan was the waverer, still hanging out in the dead church. The lessons on revival were flimsy, but the use of scripture was frightening. Yet, in the P/C community, this type of Biblical preaching is common and hailed as the very Word of God. The problem is that no one else could or would ever read the Bible this way, and now I cannot read this Biblical story with my P/C friend. I am apparently involved with the legalistic, religious words of the Bible, and not the living “Rhema,” prophetic words that P/C prophets and ministers routinely proclaim. My assumption that the Spirit says whatever the text says is not shared by many P/Cs. They believe the text is true, but the Spirit has something fresh to say today and that message isn’t found in the text, but in the Spirit’s speaking to individuals.

On another occasion a coworker showed a tape of P/C preacher Jesse Duplantis- the “Happy Heretic”- describing a vision of heaven. The sermon contained a lot of obvious sensational material, likely fabrication and a generous helping of outright contradictions of the Bible. My P/C friends admitted that the message was flawed, but felt it was helpful anyway. How does a bizarre vision on a subject the Bible so obviously talks plainly about qualify as “helpful?” More significant, what is the view of scripture implied in the whole business?

Many Charismatics are involved in teaching that is openly announced as “special messages for the end times church.” Here the Bible is read in a way that explains current and future events mystically and spiritually. Images, parables and teachings of scripture are given a special meaning for the “last generation of the church.” Dreams and visions become interpretative tools for understanding obscure passages. Again, no one would normally read the Bible in the way these convinced end-times Charismatics read it, and real discussion about the Bible is made impossible.

Actual criticism of “Word-oriented” churches is not unheard of in the P/C world. A whole array of P/C prophets now speak a “living Word” to the P/C community, only marginally relating to the actual meaning of scripture passages. It is difficult to discuss what the Bible says and means with people who have seldom experienced Biblical interpretation and instruction, but have usually only encountered the Bible as the launching point for highly personal, subjective prophetic words and interpretations.

Many of my good memories of conversations with my P/C friends were over what the Bible said and taught about the Christian life. Today, P/C friends who gladly say the Bible is the final and authoritative Word from God are very rare indeed. (I thank God for those I know, and encourage them to faithfully study the scriptures.) True fellowship in the Word is almost impossible, unless I agree that God is speaking through prophets today, and such words are the “living Word of God” for today. How can evangelicals and P/Cs continue to fellowship when the Bible plays such a shrinking role in the P/C understanding of Christian experience?

2. Worship. Pentecostal/Charismatics have always maintained a strong and vital understanding of worship. Much of this is grounded in Biblical truth neglected by the mainline churches and evangelicals. Clearly, the stifling traditions of many evangelicals could benefit from appreciating the more expressive and diverse worship of P/Cs. With the advent of contemporary “praise and worship” music, Pentecostals have demonstrated their more creative, expressive, and emotional worship style with undeniably good results. Evangelicals are far better for the contribution of P/Cs to our worship.

It is sad to see, however, that worship has become one of the great divisions between P/Cs and other evangelicals. And here I may particularly anger my P/C friends, but again, I ask for your patience and consideration. Clearly, P/Cs have won the day in terms of influence in worship style. A vast number of non-P/C churches are now using praise music, raising hands during worship, and encouraging individual expressions of praise during worship. More than one Baptist senior adult is convinced his church has been taken over by “Holy Rollers.”

Initially this P/C influence provided a good basis of fellowship, as non-P/Cs and P/Cs were enjoying much of the same kind of worship, and the “worship renewal” held out the promise of uniting a vast generation of Christians around common expressions of worship. This hope continues, and the good influence continues.

Sadly, however, many P/Cs have become proponents of a strident rejection of any kind of worship other than their own. Instead of appreciating the influence of P/C worship in the larger Christian tradition, many P/Cs now believe that “worship” is what they do, and only they really do it. “Worship” has now come to mean “Pentecostal/Charismatic worship.”

It is a characteristic of most Christian traditions to suspect that they are closer to the mark than anyone else. Certainly a Roman Catholic, an Anglican, a Pentecostal and a Campbellite could each make their case that they are expressing the best worship tradition. But in the end, most Christians can come to a point of seeing the value and the Biblical basis in a large variety of worship styles that present a panorama of Biblical truth and many aspects of God’s nature and praise. Here, however, many P/Cs hold firm: their worship is uniquely an expression of the Holy Spirit, and other kinds of worship are “dead rituals” and “human traditions.” It is sadly the fact that one can go to a large number of P/C churches and hear that their worship is the Holy Spirit’s “restoration” of true worship in the last days.

It is easy for an educated and analytical person to want to educate P/Cs that their worship is as much a part of history and culture as any other church, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Many P/Cs are convinced that the emphasis on praise, emotion, individual “freedom,” and the direct intervention of God is uniquely what true worship is all about. Rather than be generous toward other worship traditions and styles, many P/Cs are arrogantly critical in ways not unlike the way mainline Christians might sometimes look at rural and lower class Pentecostal worship.

In the last several years I have been unable to discuss worship with more than a handful of my Pentecostal/Charismatic friends. When the subject comes up, they quickly and authoritatively denounce every aspect of traditional worship as being human traditions at best or spiritual bondage at worst. When they attend a traditional church, they are overwhelmed with criticisms of anything that is not spontaneous, highly expressive, or novel. Strong value judgments abound. One Charismatic friend expressed genuine wonder that our church would want to say the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday. (I wonder how one bad worship chorus can be sung to the point of mesmerization.) Another friend routinely classifies all liturgy or unified response as evidence that a church has been utterly forsaken by the presence of the Holy Spirit and has become a museum of dead spirituality.

This hostility toward other worship traditions, coupled with the inability of many P/Cs to find any Biblical or reasonable boundaries to worship practices, has contributed to a Grand Canyon of separation between non-P/C evangelicals and many P/Cs on the subject of worship. When we do talk, we are most often defending our own understanding of worship from what we fear about the other tradition. Evangelicals fear the weirdness and wildness they see in Brownsville and elsewhere. P/Cs fear being closed off to the next move of the Spirit in and out of the church by a preference for predictability. Instead of finding ourselves brought together by the worship renewal of the last few years, traditional evangelicals and P/Cs are often farther apart than ever.

One last word before I move on. This continuing separation and disagreement is grievous to me. Frankly, some P/C concerns are substantial, and others are ridiculous. Rejecting all non-P/C worship as “ritual” and “tradition” is immature and needlessly divisive. The Bible approves of many kinds of worship, and of many different kinds of behaviors in worship. Evangelicals need to take that diversity more seriously. P/Cs need to realize they haven’t been deputized by the Holy Spirit to tell the rest of us whether or not we are really worshiping.

3. Prayer
. Historically, it has been true that Christians who disagreed over various matters could at least pray together. Jesus taught that prayer should be simple, and the simple prayers of Christians from radically different backgrounds have often brought them together. Sadly, prayer has become one of those areas of greatest difficulty between P/Cs and the rest of us.

By this I do not mean that P/Cs are more expressive and vocal in prayer. Such a small difference is not a real hindrance to fellowship in prayer. Everyone can adjust to someone who prays in a slightly different “mode.” What has created this division is a vast difference in understanding the purpose of prayer itself.

Pentecostalism has always been about praying for God to act, but in recent years a collection of Bible teachers began to teach doctrines about “praying in faith” that have popularly come to be called, “Name it, Claim it” or “Positive Confession.” This approach to prayer places the believer in the position of calling the shots, or as heretical Bible teacher Kenneth Hagin calls it, “writing your own ticket with God.”. “Faith” teachers go on endlessly about the fact that faith allows us to create reality, and move the hand of God in the same way as prophets such as Elijah. So while P/Cs used to simply pray more confidently and loudly than many evangelicals, today they are quite likely to pray in a way that seems to challenge the very sovereignty of God, and place us in a position of rejecting “not my will, but Thy will be done,” a phrase that has actually been ridiculed by more than one P/C Bible teacher as not meaning what it says.

Most of us are aware of the uglier aspects of this approach to prayer. Certainly any pastor who has encountered P/Cs “claiming” healings for hopeless cases and then explaining the lack of a miracle as a failure of faith knows how insidious and hurtful this doctrine can be. More than once, I have watched sincere P/C friends proclaim events that were going to happen as if they controlled weather, finances, and the operation of the human body. Rather than “making our requests known to God,” these prayers dictated to the Almighty what seemed best from their very human point of view. (Example: Pat Robertson’s prayers to clear the bench at the Supreme Court.) Frankly, this sort of prayer makes me more than uncomfortable. It is offensive, and sometimes even blasphemous.

Right alongside the “prayer of faith” have come prayers reflecting current beliefs about spiritual warfare. Spiritual warfare is a Biblical theme that P/C Christians have helped bring back into the vocabulary and teaching of the church. For this we should be grateful. But many spiritual warfarists have gone too far, making Satan and demons the explanation for too much, and making deliverance from demonic forces the answer to too many complex problems. The recent death of an autistic 8-year-old in a P/C healing service is an example of the tragedy that can come from simplistic application of spiritual teaching.

On many occasions, when my P/C friends have filled their prayers with direct addresses to the devil and demons, and have gone on to claim various results that they believe will be guaranteed by their faith, I have been tempted to just walk away. It is difficult to feel that this is prayer as Jesus taught it, and difficult to not believe that it is something more akin to magic and shamanism than Christianity. It has created a division between Christians right at the very throne of the Father, where we should be the most united in humble dependence. P/Cs are people of prayer, and that is a great gift to the church. But the false teachings about prayer that increasingly fill the P/C community make it less likely that we can pray, minister, or work together.

And of course, again, the P/C community hasn’t hesitated to claim that their approach to prayer is literally carrying out the plans of God in history. Such confidence can be part of a positive emphasis on missions and church growth, or it can descend into the “word of knowledge” follies that are increasingly common in P/C circles. With the Bible increasingly a book of examples, and communication with God frequently based on subjective impressions, visions and voices, fellowship with Pentecostal/Charismatics is increasingly difficult for evangelicals who do not have these experiences. For many of us, it has become difficult to fellowship with Christians whose views of prayer are so divisive and confusing to Christian unity and ministry.

4. Spiritual leaders. Pentecostal/Charismatics are a personality driven community. There is no doubt that the average P/C Christian gives a greater degree of loyalty and confidence to pastors, evangelists, prophets, and other spiritual leaders than almost any other Christians. Roman Catholics believe in the authority of the church. Liberals give authority to those who are properly educated. Evangelicals are consumers who give loyalty to whoever has the biggest church and the high charting CD. Pentecostals/Charismatics give loyalty to anyone who can demonstrate he has an anointing from God.

The concept of an “anointed” ministry has grown in Pentecostal circles over the years to the point that it occupies a position I am not sure any non-Pentecostal can really understand. Pentecostals, once convinced a leader has an anointing from God, will demonstrate amazing patience, forgiveness, loyalty, and support for that person far beyond almost any other segment of Christianity. Not one of the major televangelists involved in the scandals of the 1980’s is without a church and followers, and many are still on television. Financial scandals, personal irresponsibility, even clear evidence of heresy, fraud and lying–none of these things can derail the support P/Cs give to their leaders. No one has a tougher job than the person who tries to convince the P/C community to withdraw support from someone who is not worthy of support.

This loyalty extends beyond rooting for “our team.” It has become a self-perpetuating, “anointed” class. Benny Hinn proclaims his credentials as receiving the mantle of previous faith healers. Charismatic prophets are expected to anoint their successors like royalty. P/C churches may appear congregational, but in most cases they are wholly owned and controlled by founding pastors, their families, and appointed successors. This is all just fine among P/Cs, and stands in real contrast to most other evangelicals, particularly Baptists.

Who can exercise any authority or correction over an “anointed” spiritual leader? That is a question P/Cs have been unable to answer. Leaders like James Robison or Jack Hayford have a modicum of respect, but no one could persuade a whoremonger like Jimmy Swaggart to step out of the pulpit for even a year. And this leads to more significant problems than the occasional scandal.

A sizable minority of P/C pastors teach errors and even heresy. There is really no other way to say it. I am not talking about the odd or the unusual or even the unheard of, which are all common among P/Cs. I am talking about significant heresy and errors in fundamental and important Christian beliefs. In the P/C community, the Trinity is regularly denied. Christ is demoted. Scripture is denigrated. Salvation by grace, through faith and not by works is replaced by various schemes of salvation unrecognizable within the classical Christian tradition. Many P/C pastors feel no responsibility to the larger Christian tradition (thank God for the exceptions!) and have nothing good to say about any creed or confession.

It is a generalization, but it is true enough to share. One can hardly imagine any doctrinal deviation that would not receive a significant nod of approval among P/Cs if delivered by a recognized “anointed” leader and with a convincing story of how God revealed the message.

When a heretic like Kenneth Hagin or Kenneth Copeland denies the person and work of Christ and invents entirely unheard of categories and interpretations of the Christian life (many of which are occultic in origin), the average doubtful evangelical knows that he or she will be told we are not to criticize or question because this is an anointed teacher. Listening to the nightly roll call of new revelations of TBN, there is no doubt that this is a different world than mainstream evangelicalism, where novel theologies are not unheard of, but generally can only be spread at the cost of great controversy. (Ask Harold Camping.)

I recall reading about a prominent faith healer whose heresies and deviations from orthodoxy were well-known and notorious, but because there were continual testimonies of healing at his meetings, he continues to be cited as an important and “anointed” prophet and teacher. This is the contradiction that P/Cs seem reluctant to resolve. When it is resolved, too often the solution is to be open to the possibility that God cannot be put in the “box” of Christian orthodoxy. The problem them becomes, can we talk about anything or anyone being genuinely Christian because of what they do or do not confess and believe? Is this not an entirely new “box” that may not be Christianity at all?

Sadly, it is hard to predict how much fellowship will be possible between Christians when the central issues of the faith can be denied or compromised, but criticism of those false teachers is not allowed or taken seriously. P/Cs are the largest segment of evangelicalism, and there is a growing concern among many P/Cs to relate positively to the larger Christian tradition, but the issue of what constitutes a legitimate ministry stands in the way.

There are other areas that deserve consideration. Theology is important to the church, but the P/C community is often hostile to the entire project of doing Biblical theology. The P/C movement has produced some fine scholars and adequate theologians, but one can easily see that this is the back row of the P/C show, and we should not expect P/C theology to be driven by serious scholarship any time soon. The Christian life and experience is a major interest of P/Cs, but increasingly the P/C version of the normal Christian life is unrecognizable to many traditional Christians. (What P/Cs see in “revival” movements like Brownsville and Toronto seems a different and frightening universe than the honored path of Christian devotion, obedience and discipleship.) Certainly the well-worn area of Spiritual gifts continues to stand as a controversy, particularly as gifts such as “words of knowledge” have taken on huge significance among P/Cs. Many of us would like to hear some solid application of Biblical teaching to the whole area of prophetic ministry, as it appears the “prophets” have ascended into the leadership of much of the P/C movement and are dominating the future direction of a significant number of P/C Christians and churches. If Kim Clement and other prophets are the future of P/Cs, the prognosis for fellowship is not good.

* * *

In conclusion, I want to repeat that I am aware the issue of fellowship between P/Cs and myself is not a one-way street. I am certainly guilty of frequently being stand-offish. I can easily become guilty of making hasty judgments and of being overly critical. But I am a person who understands and supports much of what I have seen in the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements. I have a generous nature towards my P/C Christian brothers and sisters, and it is out of a heart for the good I have seen over the years that I write this essay full of concern. I have many times come to their defense, and I have risked my good standing with my fellow Baptists many times to allow P/Cs the opportunity to minister to the students I work with. But my P/C friends also know I try to be a “straight-shooter” when it comes to the work of the Lord. I want to see P/C churches and Christians rooted, grounded, and growing in the good soil of Biblical truth. If my words have seemed hurtful, it is not out of a desire to tear down, but to encourage.

A large part of my own energy and vision in ministry has come from a desire to see the church experience the kind of renewal so many of us hoped for in the early days of the charismatic movement, when it appeared that the best of what Pentecostalism represented could be brought into the church on the corner without a war between people who all loved God and wanted more of the Holy Spirit in our lives. I am wondering if we must reach a point where, in order to be faithful to the Bible and what God has revealed to the church throughout history, we must cease calling some Pentecostal-Charismatics our brothers in Christ, and urge them to come back to the family they have influenced so positively, but like impulsive young adults, have ultimately abandoned for their own path.

In the meantime, maybe we could get together and talk….like we used to.


  1. I am still trying to figure out where the “Post-Pentacostal’s” fit in, those who follow in Joel Olsteen’s footsteps. They seem to be dominant in my area.

  2. Understanding that this essay is several years old and that Michael isn’t with us any more, I think a good place to begin “dialogue” (if that is the correct word) is to stop throwing around the word “heretic” to apply to anyone who doesn’t agree with your favorite doctrine. Smacks too much of needing to be burned at the stake and of wanting to do light the match, in my opinion. Let’s major in the majors and minor in the minors, to use a cliche. In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity; to use another.

    • Michael did not throw around the word “heresy” too easily, and most certainly not when someone merely disagreed with him. His friends (And wife!) from other church traditions should be enough of an example of this,

      When Copeland teaches that the Cross is a sign of Satan, it’s heresy. When he pulls out his “You are little Gods” line, it’s time to run, not look for common ground. When Word-Faith teaching tells us that we can speak words to create our own realities if we just believe enough, there is no unity in that Claim. When a man in a wheelchair is told that he is in his condition because his faith isn’t real enough, there is no charity.

      “Heresy” is a harsh word, and it’s a harsh judgment. But if we’re talking about the desire to move beyond the essentials of the faith, it’s a fair claim.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        When Word-Faith teaching tells us that we can speak words to create our own realities if we just believe enough, there is no unity in that Claim.

        “Abracadabra” — originally slurred Aramaic for “I Speak And It Is So”.

  3. …especially since in the secular arena this fall’s election in the U.S. is between a Black Liberation Theology candidate and a Latter-Day Saint. Both claim to be Christian even though most evangelicals might have a different opinion.

    • At the risk of venturing off-topic, I am curious to know what aspects of Mr. Obama’s (rather understated) theology you find un-Christian. As far as I know, he avoids the rhetoric of “black liberation” (what’s wrong with black liberation, anyway?), while his social proposals like the health care bill are floundering politically. In terms of denominational affiliation, early in his career he joined a (predominantly black) UCC congregation in Chicago, then ultimately left in the wake of embarrassing behavior by its pastor, Mr. Jeremiah Wright.

      In any case, considering that every U.S. president since Washington has been a Christian (at least nominally), surely it is time for Christians to learn to accept politicians with different religions than themselves, just as non-Christians have had to do for the past several centuries.

      • I do not think Washington was a Christian. He refused to take communion. As for a Latter Day Saint, nuf said. Mr. Obama is working against God ( in the end, an impossibility) and our Constitutional Right to practice with a clear conscience our religion. Or do we not notice because of the color of his skin? He whole heartedly embraces Planned Parenthood. His Healthcare Bill would have us pay for abortions. I will not say he is not a Christian as he claims, but I fail to see the fruit.

  4. In our independent church out here in the bushes we don’t talk about ourselves as being part of any movement except the movement of God in the world, but I suppose by Michael’s lights we are pentecostal. We’ve laid the prayer rings aside and ceased from the Jericho marches in favor of orderly worship, but we have our prayer languages and we believe that God does move in the world today and that he desires a personal relationship with each person who will respond. We believe that churches, like any human institution, become ossified centers of self-congratulation over time, and there must needs be a constant effort to break out and welcome the inbreaking Kingdom. It seems to me that most of the stuff Michael is criticizing flows in a sensible way from that collection of attitudes. Sure there are excesses, mistakes of judgment, and the intrusion of ossifying self-congratulation, but if somebody really wants conversation, maybe they should be careful about using words like “heresy”, labeling people “heretics”, expressing concern for “legitimacy”, and making threats to “cease calling some P/C’s our brothers in Christ”.

    Going point by point would take too much space, but to pick one thing: What he says about Biblical interpretation sounds like “my way or the highway to Hell”. Seems to me taking the Saul/David chapters as a story about renewal is next to obvious … would like to hear more about what Michael’s objections might be? Does he insist it’s “just” history? Does a story have just one meaning? I notice that when you lay any given Bible story down over various modern-world situations you can develop any number of insights … that’s an important feature that asserts to me that the mind of God is expressed in the Bible. It’s kind of a postmodern thought maybe, but believe me Pastor doesn’t think of us as postmoderns.

    I know Michael has passed on, but anybody wants to talk, here I am. I’ll even buy the first round.

    • What’s an “in breaking Kingdom”? I’ve heard of the “Kingdom of God” As in “seek ye first the Kingdom of God” but “in breaking”?

  5. I’m a Pentecostal. Not only was everything Michael said true, these topics are, believe it or not, subjects of great discussion among us Pentecostals. We’re not any more happy with sloppy exegesis, spiritual elitism, prayers of “faith” that have nothing to do with what Christians ought to ask in Jesus’s name, blindly following shaky leaders, and the like, than Michael was.

    Yeah, there are those who are perfectly happy to blindly go along with these things—just as there are many who are perfectly happy to uncritically go along with everything John Piper or Pope Benedict says. Sad to say, most Christians don’t think deeply about their faith, so the majority of every sect will be unthinking sheep. Which is tolerable if you have good shepherds, but we should never settle for such a status quo.

    If I can venture a guess as to why Michael found it hard to discuss these subjects anymore: We Pentecostals get very, very tired of critiques from non-Pentecostals about our practices. Our critics regularly assume the extremists reflect the mainstream. Our critics are quick to assume we’re demonized, or psychotic, simply because their experiences and ours are so very different. Our critics are far too quick to be sarcastic and mocking. It’s exactly like when Bill Maher starts picking at Christianity: It’s no fun to be on the receiving end of that, and we’d rather not waste our time when we know we’re just throwing pearls to pigs. Even when someone is as open-minded and generous as Michael was, our knee-jerk reaction is, “Aw, not again,” and we clam up.

    And that’s the knowledgeable Pentecostals. The less-knowledgeable ones aren’t up to the discussion, and know they’re just gonna get crapped upon. So why bother? There are better things to do with our time.

  6. Good thoughtful article. Thanks for bringing it back. Otherwise, I would have never read it. I feel I should be able to add something here but I’m not sure what. I accepted Christ, then, within a year, started going to P/C events such as “Jesus in 79,” started attending a Charismatic church. I was a senior in high school. From there, I attended Rhema Bible Training Center for a year, started by Kenneth Hagin whom you mention above. If you trace his teachings to the occult, I’ll trace Easter there too. Kenneth Hagin took a lot of mysterious and difficult things that Jesus said and ran with them wherever they lead without sufficient context or purpose. Where did it lead us? You couldn’t tell someone how you were feeling if you felt bad. Conversely, you never asked someone how they felt. You didn’t live in your emotions. I noticed people substituted chatter for personal conversation. I think faith teaching lead to shallow relationships and loneliness. My relationship with Christ began to feel the same way. Sometimes, you know a doctrine is wrong by where it leads us. Then, it got worse. A teacher at the school was teaching a heresy concerning Christ that the Council of Chalcedon dealt with in 451. This was a great heresy in the Church and it popped up again in exactly the same form. This teacher was teaching this over a year before he was removed. I attend an Episcopal church now and love the reverent and meaningful corporate worship. I’m so thankful I found a place to worship where I feel at home and the people are genuine. Morning prayer has helped me find the structure and discipline to have a consistent prayer life. Sometimes, when under stress and duress, I’ll still pray in tongues.

    • Several ancient churches also reject Chalcedon (although the consensus now is that the two sides were using the same language in different ways, without really bothering to understand what the other meant). Basically all of the Oriental Orthodox churches (Coptic, Armenian Apostolic, etc.).

      • I had to sit through this gifted teacher’s class. The doctrine (heresy), I don’t even want to name, is not another way of looking at the same thing. It is a way to separate the human from the divine natures of Christ which dilute his love and sacrifice for us. It unnaturally separates the spiritual from the natural creation. It comes from an elite hyper-spiritual mindset and has an almost supernatural seductive quality. In the end, it makes you feel less loved by God and less near Christ.

      • In addition to the above, this doctrine turns Christ into a hideous dual natured curiosity that you can’t understand or relate to. It took a long time of reading the Gospels to get this stain from my mind once it settled there.

    • “You couldn’t tell someone how you were feeling if you felt bad. Conversely, you never asked someone how they felt. You didn’t live in your emotions. I noticed people substituted chatter for personal conversation. I think faith teaching lead to shallow relationships and loneliness.”

      Wow. That speaks volumes. This is true of non-Pentecostal churches, too. When being a Christian means not having bad days nor doubts, the honest thing to do is withdraw; the dishonest is to put on the masks and play the church game.

    • “You couldn’t tell someone how you were feeling if you felt bad. Conversely, you never asked someone how they felt. You didn’t live in your emotions. I noticed people substituted chatter for personal conversation. I think faith teaching lead to shallow relationships and loneliness. My relationship with Christ began to feel the same way. Sometimes, you know a doctrine is wrong by where it leads us.”

      You hit the nail on the head there. Something that bothered me about our old church and my deep loneliness despite all the ‘love’ and fellowship that was spoken of.

    • Wow, something I never knew. I only recently encountered actual P/Cs having grown up in a Catholic tradition, it was never really discussed. This loneliness you speak of, explains something these P/Cs recently said to me. We were kind of forced together when our kids got married, so we’re not the kind of folk they’d normally hang out with but now it’s a bit hard for them to avoid us. We’ve actually become good friends and they said something like, it had been a long time since they’d have friends they could talk to. Thank you for giving me this insight, Dan.

      • It brings joy knowing what I shared was meaningful to you and your relationship. Thank you for sharing. I’ve only recently discovered this blog. The community in addition to the articles is wonderful.

  7. My church in Wisconsin was a Third Wave church, so I very much appreciate this article. You know I like Michael’s words. There were som many times when I practiced faith that I walked out of church, etc.. with this knawing feeling. Something just wasn’t right. And it’s nice to know that others noticed difficulties or problems that were below the surface.

    Michael alludes to another topic that maybe CM can expand upon one day. The ability within Christendom to agree to disagree and still be brothers/sisters. That is largely gone from Christianity today as elemnets of it have become “Fundementalism 2.0” Often it’s a “my way or the highway” approach. I saw this growing in my Third Wave Church. I saw in growing in mainstream evangelicalism. I saw it growing in para -church minstries, and I saw it in the refromed camp. I wish there could be more of a middle ground where Christians can agree to disagree..and still consider one another Christians in the end.

  8. “This was Oral at his best, before he went really nuts…”

    Note the qualifier! Which leads us right into the problems mentioned in subsection 4.

    Really, any church that would let people like the Rev. Mr. Roberts rise to the top, and keep them there, has huge problems. Too much of the P/C movement consists of “prophets” “healers” and “tongues speakers” who are obviously deluding themselves / putting on a show for others, and their admirers whose most fervent wish is to receive these spiritual gifts in order to prove that their personal faith (if not the entire religion) is genuine.

  9. I was involved in the Pentecostal movement around when Michael wrote this. I eventually left for many of the reasons he mentioned. The outsider’s feeling of being a second-class Christian just because God hadn’t given me the gift of tongues. Small, silly things like “prophets” who sounded more like horoscopes. Big, deeply disturbing things like hearing a supposed “bishop” making crude, sexually explicit comments about a woman who had just been “slain in the spirit” under his influence. And over-arching it all, the sense that it was wrong for me to question or criticize any of that.

    Yet, I still _do_ believe in the gifts of the Spirit. And I’ve seen places where, with occasional excesses, those gifts are used in ways that are healthy and deeply transformative for people, and are coupled with serious, humble study of Scripture. I myself have experienced the Spirit working through me in “prophetic” messages that turned out to be exactly what needed to be spoken, and even once in the physical healing of a friend. And, I still love Pentecostal worship – not every Sunday, but every once in a while. So like Michael says at the end, I am still hopeful to see the best aspects of the charismatic tradition recognized by evangelicals and others.

  10. This was the article I alluded to in a comment this week, where Michael found redeeming qualities in Pentecostalism. Perhaps we need more dialogue and less criticism between the different schisms of Christianity. I suppose we are afraid dialogue will spread more heresy that it will foster good will, iron sharpening iron, and accountability.

    • Do you think that perhaps the mainstream’s criticism has in some way led to more and more radical behavior on the part of these “over the top” p/c’s? I’m just thinking about a child’s behavior where sometimes the more you criticize, the more daring their behavior gets. I think you bring up a valid point here. But I worry that far too much has been said….on both sides for there to be a unity withi my lifetime.

  11. Pastor Don says

    I was an Assemblies of God pastor for 23 years. I and many A/G clergy I knew did not respect the teachings of Parsley, T.D. Jakes, Oral, Hagin, Copeland, et. al. were not well-received. Yet there were still the teachings that raised those who were “Spirit-filled” over those who weren’t. It’s a long story but having entered the post-Evangelical wilderness and exited it in the light of grace and love (words used in P/C circles) I am now attending a Christian Reformed church.

    Michael states very well the main problems with that teaching. Some may think heresy is too strong a word but that’s exactly what much of it is. Any teaching that elevates people in any way above the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit, is heretical. “Having enough faith” has destroyed people and driven many away–hopefully not forever. The term “Spirit-filled” does not unite God’s people. While Scripture does tell us that God’s will is our sanctification, encouragement to live holy lives (in itself a Scriptural teaching) is presented legalistically. Most I knew were too busy defining “saving faith” to have much time to encourage people in their faith. I’ve heard so much teaching on “getting your breakthrough” I can puke! Words like “triumphalism” describe much of that teaching but not what Scripture teaches.

    I know for some iMonks this will not sound good but I believe it’s a valid summary. In P/C circles, the emphasis on glory far overshadows the cross. That’s where I believe that teaching goes wrong. And that’s why I am among those who hunger for a “modern reformation.” It’s all about Christ crucified and our invitation to join him. If there is a breakthrough to be had, it’s the never-ending appreciation of what Jesus wrought for us on that piece of wood through his pain, suffering, and death. Living every day in thanksgiving for the Gospel and in letting the Gospel lead us in all we do is the real “breakthrough.” That kind of breakthrough will see prayer answered, the prayer “your will be done, your kingdom come.”

  12. Some thoughts – The Third Wave movement started because the denominations started kicking the Charismatics out. For the most part they were literally “driven” to start their own independent churches because they had nowhere else to go. I was booted out of the Anabaptist denom I grew up in when I became a Charismatic. So as for P/C “coming back”, well it certainly is a two way street.

    I was late to the party, so to speak, since I didn’t become fully involved in the P/C movement until ’85 and stayed involved until 2001, at which time I joined an E-Free church. I left the P/C movement mainly because of reason 4, Spiritual Leaders. Yes, the personality cult is a huge problem, rock star pastors and all that. But I disagree with reason 1, Scripture. In my experience, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who would put a spoken prophecy on the same level as Scripture. It was firmly taught in the AG and independent Charismatic circles I moved in that prophecy was to be judged by Scripture and thrown out unless it lined up. In fact, I think P/C’s have a much higher view of Scripture that does the average “liberal” mainline Christian.

    And along those lines, I have always been a little leery of using Scriptural stories allegorically although I know Paul did this very thing in Galatians 4:21-31. So I have an honest question here; what is the difference between “…using the story of David as a model for how God brings revival” and the way CM/IM used the story of the Road to Emmaus to represent conversion experience?

  13. Richard Hershberger says

    This is an enlightening essay to this non-Evangelical outside observer. We non-Evangelicals sometimes have trouble keeping our scorecards straight with regard to who among Evangelicals is Pentecostal/Charismatic and who isn’t (and is there any difference between “Evangelical” and “Fundamentalist”?–but that is a different story). This essay is quite helpful in that regard. That being said, the phenomenon of the P/C who is prone to “proclaim events that were going to happen as if they controlled weather, finances, and the operation of the human body” is not that different, at least to an outsider, from the Evangelical who knows God’s plan for him, in extreme cases down to whether we should order pizza or Chinese, and therefore believes that anyone opposing that plan (by suggesting Thai, for instance) is doing the Devil’s work. Hanging about someone like this gets old very fast.

    • I second this heartily. I have not had much exposure to the whys and wherefores of these churches and the differences between them. I also had no idea of these teachings that he pointed out in his post. I am blown away by this post and now have a better understanding of these names that have been ascribed to these various practices. Thank you for reposting this, it has explained a lot!

Speak Your Mind