What Do We Mean By Charismatic?

To be refocharismissional is to affirm a continuationist perspective on the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer and the church. In this article Johnny Carson traces the roots of the charismatic movement before considering practical implications for refocharismissional churches in Ireland.

Roots of the Charismatic Movement

The Waves of the 20th Century

The concept of a “wave” is taken from Peter Wagner who taught and wrote about church growth. In the early 1980s Wagner spoke of “the third wave” that had arisen within Evangelicalism. This wave referred to an experiential outpouring of the Spirit in sections of the church resulting in certain emphases. What are these waves?

First wave: Classic Pentecostalism (Early 1900s)

Historians would point to the three main sources of the early Pentecostal movement: The theology of John Wesley, the revivalism of Charles Finney, and the National Holiness Movement which was a renewal movement within American Methodism. The two main doctrinal emphases that were held were:

  1. A second blessing, identified as the baptism of the Holy Spirit was to be sought after and received post-conversion
  2. The evidence that this has been received is the gift of speaking in tongues

The major event that is pointed to which launched Classic Pentecostalism was the Azusa Street Revival which lasted from 1906-09. As yet, Pentecostalism was not a denomination, but a movement birthed from claimed experiences. Denominations would develop within time. Like every movement, this had its supporters and critics.

Second Wave: Charismatic Renewal (1960s)

Various people and groups began to claim experiences of the infilling of the Spirit and speaking in tongues from Anglican ministers to university campuses. Even groups within the Roman Catholic Church began to be open to “A New Pentecost”.

The Charismatic renewal was particularly prevalent in England, but the main impact of the renewal is that it affected every mainline denomination.

Birthed out of this renewal were groups such as the Jesus Movement and the house-church movement. A lot of modern worship choruses and songs also arose from this period.

Third Wave: John Wimber & Vineyard

I’ll quote Sam Storms at this point as to the definition of the Third Wave:

“The Third Wave, a phrase coined by C. Peter Wagner, refers to the growing, and increasingly organized, numbers of conservative evangelicals who now embrace the full range of spiritual gifts… The “third wave”, therefore, is the embracing by evangelicals of the gifts of the Spirit while at the same time rejecting several of the classical Pentecostal and charismatic distinctives such as:

  • The insistence that the baptism in the Holy Spirit is a distinct experience separate from conversion;
  • The insistence that speaking in tongues is the initial physical evidence of baptism in the Spirit;
  • The insistence that since “healing is in the atonement” all believers may justifiably “claim” complete physical health in this present age;

The “third wave” has also distanced itself from the errors of the Word of Faith movement as well as other forms of the so-called “Health and Wealth” or “Prosperity” gospel.”[1]

It is my plan to do a later article on “Baptism of the Holy Spirit”, because I think there can be a healthy third way between reducing it as either a singular conversion or post-conversion experience. Nevertheless, you can see that charismatics are not monolithic. My position would be closest to that of the third wave. Let me expand on defining charismatic and what this means practically.

Defining Charismatic

The phrase “charismatic” is taken from the Greek word for “grace gift” (charisma; plural – charismata) which refers to the spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit. No Christian denies the existence of spiritual gifts, but not every Christian believes that all the gifts listed in the New Testament are still in operation today. Theological cessationism believes the following gifts ceased either at the death of the last Apostle, or the completion of the canon of Scripture: tongues, prophecy, healing, words of knowledge and words of wisdom.

To be Refocharismissional is to hold onto theological continuationism. Refocharismissional churches affirm that these gifts never ceased, and that the Bible makes it clear as to when they will cease – namely, the return of Jesus Christ (but that’s for another article).

In light of the above historical distinctions, and the definition I have just given, practically this means the following for Refocharismissional churches:

  • We affirm alongside classic Pentecostals that the Spirit of God gives gifts subsequent to salvation – including the gift of tongues; however some may disagree that the gift of tongues has to be the universal experience for every believer;
  • We agree that there are to be ongoing experiences with God in the life of a believer;
  • We embrace the biblical mandate to vigorously pursue both the fruit of the spirit, and the gifts of the Spirit;
  • We believe in the existence of signs and wonders accompanying the word of the gospel, and that these include the salvation of the lost, physical and emotional healing, deliverance from the demonic and other gifts of the Spirit;
  • We also lament the abuses, extremes and downright nonsense that gets promoted under the charismatic (or ‘charismaniac’) label. We repudiate televangelists asking for money for the promise of a miracle; the lavish lifestyles of certain teachers on television, and other such practices.

Abuse and misuse are not an excuse to avoid rightful use. We believe Scripture is clear as to what gifts are, when they’ll exist and how they are to operate. Future articles will help to tease out further these theological convictions and practical implications, but hopefully this article is clear enough as to what we mean by “charis”.

[1] https://www.samstorms.org/all-articles/post/history-of-the-pentecostal-charismatic-movements

Johnny Carson

Johnny is married to Sandra and is the pastor of The Way Church Ballyclare.

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