Satan is never more dangerous than when he has a Bible in his hand” (C. H. Spurgeon). The devil himself quoted the Word of God in Eden and in the temptation of the Lord Jesus; he has many millennia of experience on his side. Therefore, today, the toughest challenge for many believers will be to evaluate those who say they are “saved by grace” and point their fingers to Bible verses as the basis for what they believe and practice, and yet are in doctrinal error.
In the early 1900s in the heart of the USA, the modern charismatic movement was born and has since spread like wildfire around the world. Today it has wormed its way into thousands of denominations and is even becoming an attraction for some assembly believers.
Paul prayed that the Philippians would have all “discernment so that ye may approve what is excellent” (Phil 1:9-10 ESV). Spiritual 20/20 vision is especially needed in our day since we are surrounded with so much charismatic and Pentecostal teaching which can sound Christian and Biblical. We must be able to identify truth and error and be ready to give an answer for our faith according to the Word of God.
So what is the big attraction? Why is it one of the fastest growing religious movements in the world? What draws people to charismatic teaching?
Listen to what it offers. You might experience the emotional thrill of holy laughter, the release through weeping in the Spirit, the excitement of speaking in tongues, or the catharsis of the filling of the Spirit. You might see visions, receive fresh revelations, enjoy healing, or witness a casting out of demons. There are frequent promises of health and wealth for you and your family. Who wouldn’t be drawn to all that? Everyone wants to feel something good, so who wouldn’t feel a natural pull to something that fantastic?
But does a sensational experience and something that makes us feel good really mean it is of God?
The largest single congregation in the world today is the charismatic Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea with over 800,000 members. The sixth largest religious body in the world is the Assemblies of God denomination. Currently, 43 percent of people who identify themselves as Christians in the USA believe that charismatic gifts such as tongues and healing are active today.
Everyone wants to belong, and no one likes to be with the numerical minority. But just because it is a religious (even evangelical) movement, does that automatically mean it is of God?
In 1900, there were 20,000 charismatics in the world. In 2000, there were estimated to be 80 million charismatics just in the USA where one out of every four Protestant churches is a charismatic congregation. Now, just 10 years later, conservative estimates are at 800 million charismatics in the world, of which two-thirds live in third world countries. With an increasing growth rate of about 20 million per year worldwide right now, it is predicted that there will be over 800,000,000 charismatics by 2025.
But, just because something is growing, does that really indicate it is of God?
One of the difficulties in quantifying exactly how many “charismatic” people there are in the world is that some types of charismatic teaching and practices appear in most denominations. In the spring of 1998, Christian History reported that there were about 11,000 different Pentecostal or charismatic denominations worldwide. Some estimates indicate that half of the people involved in charismatic practices are Catholics. But just because it is an accepted and common practice in so many denominations and churches, does that automatically mean it must be of God?
In the New Testament, the Greek word charisma means “a gift of grace” (Vine). This is a general word used 17 times of which 10 times it would more specifically refer to “grace or gifts denoting extraordinary powers, distinguishing certain Christians and enabling them to serve the church of Christ, the reception of which is due to the power of divine grace operating on their souls by the Holy Spirit” (Thayer). The Spirit of God gave these special abilities as gifts to believers for specific purposes to be used under His direction and control.
There is no question that God gave these gifts to Christians. Just because He did it in the New Testament, does that automatically mean that what we see and hear today is really from God as well?
The Lord Jesus promised some of the charismatic gifts in Mark 16:17-18. The first recorded appearance of the gifts is in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended to earth and began to indwell believers. In the book of Acts there are three recorded occasions of people speaking in tongues, eight recorded healings, three times when demons were cast out, and five cases of unspecified miracles, signs, and wonders. In the epistles, there is teaching on the subject of charismatic gifts in Romans 12:1-8, 1 Corinthians 12-14, Ephesians 4:11-14, and 1 Peter 4:10-11.
Clearly, speaking in tongues, healing, and other miracles, were an amazing confirmation to the gospel after the death and resurrection of our Lord. It was God’s plan for the beginning of the Church age, but does that necessarily mean it is still His plan for us today?
Any truth should be able to stand the test of the Word of God. Therefore, when the great apostle Paul arrived in Berea, “they received the Word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11). The measuring stick of validity is the Scripture itself.
You likely have family, neighbors, friends, fellow students, or coworkers who are involved with charismatic belief and practice. If not, stand by, there will likely be a charismatic church on a corner near you very soon.
In the following series of articles, we intend to look at the subjects of speaking in tongues, healing, casting out demons, and prophesying. All of these charismatic subjects will be passed under the microscope of Scripture. May the Lord help us to be honest and not biased and to be courageous and not cowardly. Above all, our prayer is that this series will instruct us to be true to our Lord, “holding fast the faithful Word” (Titus 1:9).