by Robin Arnaud
Decades ago when bible-based churches and denominations first examined and weighed the teachings and impact of the Charismatic movement, they largely deemed it to be a benign and relatively harmless popular movement toward informal liturgy and enthusiasm, with a few peculiar practices such as speaking in tongues tied on. It has only rarely been examined by church courts in all the years since, but in the intervening years the Charismatic movement has morphed into a shrouded form of renegade gnosticism that threatens not only the doctrines of the faith once delivered, but the spiritual well being of the people and churches in which it has been given room to flourish. Much of today’s Charismaticism bears little resemblance to biblical Christianity beyond the nominal employment of “Christian” identity and the use of historically Christian terms and organization.
Those of us who have been plucked from the storm and newly planted on the firm foundation of God’s infallible Word share a deep burden for those still caught in the seduction and superstition of the movement. Just as we once longed to see our non-Charismatic friends and loved ones who we felt were “caught in cold, dead orthodoxy” become “liberated” into the “move of God in the gifts and fullness” of the Charismatic movement, we now long to see them return with us to the certainty and stability of the faith once delivered to the saints. Having been ourselves once seduced by the illusion of signs and wonders like those known to the first century Church, we understand all too well why those still lost in that world would wish to stay.
Millions today are fleeing from Pentecostalism’s disastrous, lingering effects. The majority of those who finally see the hollowness and deception of Pentecostalism leave the movement and remain unchurched for the remainder of their lives. But there are many who turn back to the Bible, back to the roots of their Christian heritage in search of purity, simplicity, and genuineness in their faith. Historically orthodox churches have not ministered effectively to these “refugees.” It is not for any lack of love for them, nor because ex-Charismatics have not sought help from orthodox churches. Rather it is in large part because most non-Charismatic churches simply do not understand what today’s Charismatic teachers are meting out in the name of Jesus, nor why so many find Pentecostalism so appealing.
“Non-liturgical” appeal won’t help
“Contemporary” church services and “relaxed” liturgies do not offer a viable alternative to the Charismatic experience. Upbeat music and casual dress are seen as cheap substitutes for the very real thrill of expectancy that is characteristic of Charismatic gatherings. Knowing that the Spirit has liberty to move in any way He wishes; expecting to witness a “manifestation of the Spirit” rather than following a pre-printed script or having an informal sing-along and sermon, Charismatics and Pentecostals truly anticipate a close encounter with God when they gather together. Their non-Pentecostal counterparts really ought to do the same. We are there to meet God; and He has promised to disclose Himself to those who love Him (John 14:21). He is genuinely present among even two or three who gather in His name (Matthew 18:20). Yet all too often we gather as if to pay homage to a distant God, with no real expectation that He’ll actually show up, let alone show up and do what He has promised in the above verses. That sense of expectation and openness to whatever God might do is part of the appeal of Pentecostalism. That is what they think they’d be giving up if they come out of Pentecostalism. We must demonstrate that their fear is not justified! But all too often our churches appear to demonstrate just the opposite.
Reason Won’t Help
Charismatics are taught that logic and reason are “man’s wisdom” and are not to be employed or trusted by people who walk “by the Spirit.” Just as the ancient Gnostics drew a sharp line of division between soul and body (all that is of the body was thought to be temporary and inconsequential while all that is of the soul was said to be eternal and good), so many in Pentecostalism and its offspring maintain a distinction between “soul” (temporal reason, logic) and “spirit” (eternal and that which transcends human comprehension). And just as the Gnostics disregarded the body to pursue their secret knowledge, so also the Charismatics abandon reason to “experience life in the spirit.” Charismatics can point to Scriptures like 1st Corinthians 2:9-16 and 2nd Corinthians 3:6 to justify this abandonment of reason and to distort the plain meaning of the Scriptures that command us to “study to show yourself approved (2nd Timothy 2:15)” and to stand fast and continue in sound doctrine (1st Timothy 4:6, 6:3, 20; 2nd Timothy 1:13 and 3:14-17; 4:3; Galatians 1:8-9 and many more). “The letter kills,” they warn, “but the Spirit gives life!” The entire original context of that saying (2nd Corinthians 3:6) has nothing whatever to do with reason-versus-revelation, but rather lawkeeping-versus-faith! Faith is not an alternative to reason, as they would have us believe. Rather, faith is supposed to result from Spirit led reasoning from the Scriptures (Isaiah 1:18, Acts 17:2, 18:4), for “the law is our tutor to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24).” Yet Charismatics have been taught to dismiss reason as “a hindrance to the spirit.”
What we are really dealing with in our Charismatic friends is religious addiction. It is every bit as real and as damaging as any other addiction. And like most addicts, only those who are brought low enough to see the truth finally seek help, or give up hope. It is only when the drink or the drug or the pleasure fails to deliver as promised — over and over again — that the addict is finally prepared to listen to reason. When a soul is seduced by the empty promises of Charismaticism and reason is dismissed as a hindrance, the grip of this heresy tightens incredibly. One trapped in its hold seldom is prepared to reemploy long-abandoned reason until real drought and famine have set in. A Charismatic has to want help before he or she can accept it. As long as they remain content in Pentecostal delusion and satisfied with the ear-tickling, soul-thrilling “high” it conveys, they will not hear our pleas to return to what they consider to be the bondage of “cold, dead orthodoxy.”
How can we help them?
Prayer is the most effective help we as Christians can offer to anyone — saved or lost, bound or free, sick or well, aware of the danger or seduced by its allure. At some point or another, the false teachings they cling to will fail them. Pentecostalism hedges its bets by blaming the victim; sometimes for “lack of faith,” sometimes for “hiding unconfessed sin,” and sometimes due to demonic oppression. Their prescriptions for these maladies always involve some equivalent of hypnosis, further feeding on subjective emotion and deepening the grip of cultish soul addiction. By keeping their captives seeking after that which they already have in Christ, these wolves attack the heart of the gospel; the fullness of Christ, and the sufficiency of His finished work. They claim that believers don’t “experience” what Christ has won for them because of some failure on their part — never on the failure of their own teachings! But at some point, often a point of utter despair, a broken Charismatic may actually be willing to question the doctrines of their teachers. It is at that point that they may be willing to reason from the Scriptures.
The Truth is Unchanging
The Bible never changes and is the final authority in all matters of faith and practice. That simple fact becomes an anchor for the despairing Charismatic, who by now may be questioning everything they’ve ever been taught. The Bible is a bridge back, a reminder that though winds of doctrine change constantly, the plain teachings of God’s word have never changed. The simple disciplines of Bible study and catechism that so many of us take for granted are either completely foreign to Charismatics or were dismissed long before as unnecessary relics of “dead orthodoxy.” But having tried all the Charismatic remedies without success, even the most despairing ex-Charismatic who doesn’t abandon the faith altogether may be willing to revisit the old tried-and-true tools that have sustained the Church throughout the centuries. Their search for purity, simplicity, and rest may finally drive them back to the unchanging word of God as it is revealed in the Bible.
The Reformation Revisited
At a time centuries ago when the Bible was not available to most people, the gospel was buried in Roman Catholic malpractice, superstition, and corruption. So it is today in the Charismatic movement. The Bible is pushed aside except as a prop for “proof texting” popular teachings and for lending credibility to some “prophetic word.” The truth is obscured for the sake of keeping the sheep in bondage to the influence of corrupt wolves and hirelings who care not for the sheep, but for themselves (Ezekiel 34, Jeremiah 23). Modern Charismaticism is exactly like Roman Catholicism was in the Middle Ages; steeped in unbiblical superstitions, false doctrines, and control over the flock.
The solution today is exactly the same as it was back then — a return to the Scriptures; a new reformation that absolutely insists upon the supremacy of the Scriptures in determining what is so and what is not. But now even as in those days, it is not to be a “just me and my Bible” approach! The Bible is to be interpreted according to “the analogy of faith” as the early fathers called it — the foundations laid by Christ and the Apostles. As inspired interpreters of the Old Testament, it is their interpretations of the Old Testament and their sayings and writings in the New Testament that formed the basis for all generations to follow. The Church is called “the pillar and ground of the truth” in 1st Timothy 3:15, and its “common confession” (verse 16) of the Christian faith appears over and over again in the “faithful sayings, worthy of acceptation (1st Timothy 1:15, 3:1, 4:9, 2nd Timothy 2:11, Titus 3:8, Revelation 22:6)” and elucidated in the ancient creeds of the Christian faith. Those “faithful sayings” that Paul and John refer to are the most ancient creeds! They were the “rule of faith,” the basis for all interpretation of Scripture. It is this rule of faith and the Scriptures alone that the Reformation restored to the Church. And it is exactly the same that must be restored to those emerging from modern-day