Charismatic Beliefs

Charismatic beliefs and practices are a spin-off from classical Pentecostalism among the mainline denominations, which became popular in the 1960s and 1970s. The so-called "Charismatic Movement" has had a profound effect on both Protestant and Roman Catholic Christianity.

Kathryn Kuhlman

Above: Kathryn Kuhlman meeting

In the late 1940s and 1950s, Pentecostals participated in the general economic prosperity in postwar America and were increasingly seen in leading positions in education, business, industry, and medicine. Their distinctive charismatic beliefs and style of Christianity was no longer limited to the lower classes in American society.

At the same time a heightened interest in divine healing swept North America. Several prominent Pentecostal evangelists held healing/evangelistic crusades which extended their ministry far beyond the normal Pentecostal groups, including Oral Roberts, William Branham, Jack Coe, T. L. Osborne, and Kathryn Kuhlman. By the mid-1950s, Oral Roberts was pioneering his crusades on television.

Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship International In 1951, Demos Shakarian (1913-1993), a wealthy Armenian Pentecostal dairy-farmer in southern California, founded the Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship International (FGBMFI). This was the first organized outreach among non-Pentecostals. Today the fellowship has thousands of chapters organized in over 130 nations (click on the FGBMFI logo).

The FGBMFI provided a major impetus for the rapid dissemination of charismatic beliefs among the historic Protestant denominations. The fellowship claims that a person who is filled with the Holy Spirit will prove more successful in business, make better automobiles and computers than his competitors, will be a better educator or doctor than the person who is not baptized in the Spirit. The majority of FGBMFI members have not been from traditional Pentecostal groups and have enthusiastically taken its message back to their denominations.

Leading figures in the spread of charismatic beliefs in the 1960s and 1970s include South African, David du Plessis; in North America, Dennis Bennett, Harold Bredesen, Kathryn Kuhlman, British philosopher turned preacher Derek Prince, Bob Mumford among others; in the United Kingdom, Michael Harper, Colin Urquhart, David Watson, Cyril Ashton, Michael Green, Stanley Jebb, Bryn Jones, John Noble, Gerald Coates and others.

Learn more about the leaders of the charismatic movement.

Read about my first encounter with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit at Rev. Colin Urquhart’s church in the mid 1970s.

Charismatic beliefs in the Roman Catholic Church

The Catholic renewal movement began by the formation of a student prayer group at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University in February, 1967. It was led by two lay instructors in theology, Ralph Keifer and Patrick Bourgeois. Their interest in the baptism in the Holy Spirit had been aroused by two books: David Wilkerson’s The Cross and the Switchblade (1963) and John Sherrill’s They Speak with Other Tongues (1964). This group decided to spend a weekend in prayer, meditating on the Book of Acts.

According to David L. Smith, vice president for academic affairs and professor of Christian theology at Providence Theological seminary, “the result was repetition of the Azusa Street experience.”

In March 1967, the Duquesne group visited Notre Dame University. In April 1967, about 100 students and faculty from Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Duquesne met on the campus of Notre Dame to discuss their charismatic beliefs. The story of the conference was carried in major Catholic papers and sparked national interest.

Leo Jozef Suenens

As the renewal movement spread among the Roman Catholics worldwide, Pope Paul VI appointed Belgian cardinal, Leo Jozef Suenens (1904-1996), to oversee it, who established the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Office. In agreement with Protestant charismatic beliefs, Catholic charismatics see Spirit baptism as a crisis experience which must be sought through sincere prayer and which may be facilitated by others who have already received the experience.

They expect the baptism in the Holy Spirit to be demonstrated by an accompanying gift, although they do not insist that this must be tongues. However, they affirm the importance of tongues, especially as a devotional language, and hold the gifts of prophecy and healing in high regard.

Essential elements of charismatic beliefs

Centrality of Christ

A strong emphasis on the lordship of Christ characterizes the charismatic movement. Those who have experienced the baptism in the Spirit generally emphasize Christ as Lord of their life. They affirm that Jesus is the One who immerses them in the Spirit.

Spiritual authority

Charismatics claim that their experience has given them a deeper love and reverence for the Bible as God’s Word. Those from denominations which traditionally embrace higher critical methodology in biblical studies usually become more conservative in their interpretation of the Bible. Charismatic beliefs have a high regard for biblical authority. However, Prof. Smith observes, “Charismatics are more likely to feel that the written source of authority, the Bible, must be subservient to the living source of authority, the Holy Spirit, who is the source of Christian unity.”

The subordination of the Bible to the experiential authority of the Holy Spirit allows for extra-biblical revelation. Many charismatics believe that God speaks just as authoritatively through prophecy in the contemporary church as through Scripture. Smith concedes, “Rarely, however, do these extra-biblical revelations comment on doctrinal matters; they generally relate to worship or counseling matters.”

Charismatic worship

Praise and worship

Praise and worship is a major aspect charismatics beliefs and practices. Worship is both in tongues and in rational speech. The Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements notes, “The central focus of the [charismatic] service is not the sermon or the music, but the moving of the Holy Spirit. There is the expectation that God will minister in love to the worshiper through the agency of the Holy Spirit.”

Direct divine communication

Charismatic beliefs affirm that God communicates with his people in the same manner as in the New Testament church. God may communicate with them through: a word of wisdom; prophecy; tongues and interpretation; through the counsel of the church or its leaders. The Spirit may also employ an inner, subjective direct communication, such as intuition, dreams, and visions.

Spiritual gifts (charismata)

Charismatics regard the nine spiritual gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 as normative gifts to be received and practiced by believers. They are regarded as basic to God’s equipping if the local church for ministry. Dr. Derek Prince (1915-2003) contends, “All of the gifts of the Spirit are ‘for the profit of all.’ Through them Christians can minister to one another. They all serve some practical purpose. They are tools, not toys.”

Spiritual power

The baptism in the Holy Spirit is as basic to charismatic beliefs as it is to traditional Pentecostal theology. It is regarded a baptism of power for worship and service. Charismatics view Spirit baptism as a crisis experience separate from and subsequent to conversion. Unlike the older Pentecostal tradition, charismatics believe that Spirit baptism is not always accompanied by speaking in tongues.

Spiritual warfare

The baptism in the Spirit brings a deeper sensitivity to the reality of Satan and evil. Charismatics become more aware of demonic malevolence towards humanity in general and Christians in particular.

Derek Prince

Right: Dr. Peter Derek Vaughan Prince (1915-2003)

Derek Prince suggests, “The baptism in the Spirit does not merely lead into a realm of new spiritual blessing; it leads also into a realm of new spiritual conflict. As a logical consequence, increased power from God will always bring with it increased opposition from Satan.” Like Prince, many charismatic are involved in ministries of healing, exorcism, and deliverance. Prince claims this is a key distinction between liberal and charismatic beliefs:

"Liberal theologians often suggest that the description of demonic activity in the New Testament are not to be taken literally, but are simply a concession to the superstitious ignorance of the people in Jesus’ time. To the contrary, I must affirm that, time and time again, I have witnessed demonic manifestations that are exactly in line with the descriptions of the New Testament."

Evaluation of the charismatic beliefs

Those who take a cessationist view that the charismatic gifts ceased with the first century apostles view modern charismatics as misled and do not see the movement as beneficial. However, most Christians today generally regard the charismatic beliefs as having a positive contribution to contemporary Christianity.

The charismatic movement occurred within the mainline denominations. It has brought to them a renewed emphasis on the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. It has brought a higher regard for supernatural activity at work in the everyday world. It has brought a renewal of spiritual vitality to many denominations. The Spirit has acquired a new and greater place in practical theology. New hymns and choruses in praise of the Spirit have been introduced into worship services.

Charismatic worship

The three most lasting and widely accepted aspects of the legacy of charismatic beliefs to the wider Church are what Smith calls total worship, total ministry, and full commitment.

1. Charismatics promote the total involvement of every worshiper and openness to God at the deepest level of one’s being. More time is given to worship, which promotes spiritual warmth and genuine fellowship.

2. Charismatic beliefs affirm the Pauline doctrine that every believer has a gift or gifts to be used in God’s service for the building up of the church. Every believer must be raised up, resourced, and released for service.

3. The quality of Christian relationships for charismatics is based upon the concept of having Christ in common and sharing what one has from him. Smith observes, “Their practical desire to love puts most Christians to shame!”

Smith concludes that the charismatic movement, “despite some flaws and in spite of friction that it has led to, has been great blessing to the cause of Jesus Christ in our world.”

A more complete discussion of charismatic beliefs within the broader context of current theological movements is available in my eBook, Survey of Contemporary Theology, Vol.1.

Return from charismatic beliefs to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit home page.

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