December 18, 2017

The Charismatic Problem

Wally Morris

I grew up in Southern Baptist churches, baptized when I was 12, saved when I was 17, and re-baptized a few months later. Except for reading the Sunday School quarterly, I had not been to any Bible studies until I went to college and became involved with a college student ministry (the old Forever Generation ministry) which introduced me to serious Bible study. While in college I met, for the first time, a few people who believed that speaking in tongues and healing ministries were valid works of God for today. At this time, in the 1970s, charismatic influence was growing and seemed to dominate many churches. The growing and popular churches in town were the churches which emphasized the charismatic gifts, healing and tongues in particular. The people who were involved in these churches were persuasive and excited about their churches and helping people know Christ as Savior. Since I had never been exposed to this kind of teaching and experience, I began to research and study this issue more carefully.

The entire issue of charismatic gifts was confusing to me. Working through and understanding the different positions on tongues and healing took about two years. Even though I understood the attraction of this type of experience, some problems about it kept bothering me. The whole issue just didn’t seem quite right. For example, those whom I knew who believed in speaking in tongues weren’t following the teaching of 1 Corinthians 14 when they practiced their version of tongues. The “prayer language” they practiced wasn’t mentioned in 1 Corinthians 14 and didn’t fit the teaching of Romans 8:26, the verse they used to justify what they did. When someone spoke in “tongues” and someone else gave an “interpretation”, there wasn’t any objective way to verify what they said they were saying, except to take their word for it. The words coming out of their mouth were incomprehensible gibberish and did not have any similarity to any human language. I noticed that the focus on charismatic gifts seemed to attract a type of person who tended to be influenced by his emotions and emphasized feeling good and obtaining a good feeling from the experience. In fact, “experience” was a common way people used to describe why they were involved in these types of churches. The emotional benefit from participating in the “experience” was very important to the people I knew who were involved in charismatic churches. (And still is for people I know today who attend these type of churches.)

I concluded that what I was seeing from my charismatic friends and their churches did not agree with what the Bible was teaching. Some of my friends thought I was being too “intellectual” and should “follow my feelings” more than my mind. Yet their reasons for participating in charismatic experience never seemed convincing. In fact, some of them were hypocritical as they talked about Jesus so passionately while also being involved in questionable moral behavior (to put it tactfully).

My purpose here is not to engage in a detailed exegesis of the relevant Biblical passages concerning charismatic gifts. Many others have done that better than I could here. One of my purposes, however, is to caution those Fundamentalists who are hesitant to criticize charismatics or who are being influenced by the theology of those Evangelicals who believe, for example, that the gift of tongues is still active today. Although we can frame our theological discussion in nuanced language and scholarly work, vagueness in this area will affect our children and grandchildren and leave them more open to charismatic influences. If we believe that charismatic teaching is wrong, then we need to make that clear and explain why, something some Fundamentalists seem hesitant to do today in their attempt to promote a “kindler, gentler” Fundamentalism.

We do not need to apologize for or qualify our beliefs. A careful analysis of Biblical passages relevant to charismatic teaching shows that these passages do not teach what charismatics believe these passages teach. For example, a common proof text for the charismatic use of a tongues-like “prayer language” is Romans 8:26, where supporters of a “prayer language” use this verse to justify their praying in unintelligible sounds. Yet the verse explicitly states that the Holy Spirit is the One speaking, not ourselves. Charismatics routinely practice “eisegesis” (reading into) and “extragesis” (adding to) in their explanation of Biblical texts. (At the risk of offending some, much of this interpretation I would call “stupid-gesis”.)

One reason for the increase in charismatic interest over the last 100 years is related to the increase in populist tendencies in America since the 1800s. Populism is basically an emphasis on the “common person” rather than some “elite” group or ruling class. Populist politicians appeal to the interests of the “common person” who is being manipulated and taken advantage of by those people who are more powerful and wealthy. This populist emphasis has influenced many churches. For example, the emphasis on speaking in tongues and a personal prayer language is partly the result of stressing the rights of the “common church member” versus a “ministerial class”. Those who speak in tongues and have a personal prayer language therefore do not need a “ministerial class” to help them in their relationship with God. The charismatic movement is a populist movement that fits well with the skepticism people have toward those “in power”. Other reasons exist, of course, for the growth of and interest in charismatic gifts. But I suspect the natural American emphasis on individualism and populism helps explain some of this growth and interest and really has very little connection with what the Bible teaches.

A common tactic of those promoting error is to label those who insist on the truth as being divisive. However, the division is being caused by those who insist on a practice which the Bible does not allow. Those who insist on a belief which is wrong and insist on practicing that belief are the ones who are divisive. Those who follow the truth are not being divisive in following the truth.

Teaching and preaching about the charismatic gifts must be done carefully and tactfully yet clearly. Sadly, out of fear of being criticized and labeled with unappealing names, some Christians fail to defend the truth and stay silent. If we stay silent on this issue, we will lose much more than the current opportunity to oppose charismatic teaching. We might possibly also lose much of the next generation of Christians who will be influenced by the persuasive teaching and experiences of those who promote some of the charismatic gifts for today. Once again, Satan is using a controversial issue to bring division in the church of Jesus Christ.

Pastor Morris is pastor of Charity Baptist Church in Huntington, IN and can be reached at . The church blogsite is He has also published A Time To Die: A Biblical Look At End-Of-Life Issues by Ambassador International.

Although Proclaim & Defend is the blog of the FBFI, the articles we post are not an expression of the views of the FBFI as a whole, they are the views of the author under whose name they are published. The FBFI speaks either through position statements by its board or through its president. Here at Proclaim & Defend, we publish articles as matters of interest or edification to the wider world of fundamentalist Baptists and any others who might be interested.

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