Interesting points about the
from J. L. Packer, Keep in step with the Spirit , Inter -Varsity Press, page 193-199
Parker after pointing out 12 positive
aspects about the Charismatic Movement (Christ centeredness,
Spirit-empowered living, Emotion finding expression,
Prayerfulness, Joyfulness, Every-heart involvement in the worship
of God, Every-member ministry in the body of Christ, Missionary
zeal, Small-group ministry, Attitude toward church structures,
Communal living, Generous giving) points out 10 negative aspects
of whom I present the last five.
5. ILLUMINISM. Sincere but deluded claims to direct divine revelation have been made in the church since the days of the Colossian heretic(s) and the Gnosticizers whose defection called forth 1 John, and since Satan keeps pace with God, they will no doubt recur till the Lord returns. At this point the charismatic movement, with its stress on the Spirit's personal leading and the revival of revelations via prophecy, is clearly vulnerable. The person with unhealthy ambitions to be a religious leader, dominating a group by giving them the sense that he is closer to God than they are, can easily climb on the charismatic bandwagon and find there good-hearted, emotionally dependent folk waiting to be impressed by him. So, too, the opinionated eccentric can easily invoke the Spirit's direction when he refuses to let his pastor stop him from disrupting the congregation with his odd ideas. Living as it does on the edge of illuminism, the movement cannot but have problems here.
6. CHARISMANIA. This is Edward D. O'Connor's word for the habit of mind that measures spiritual health, growth, and maturity by the number and impressiveness of people's gifts and spiritual power by public charismatic manifestations. The habit is bad, for the principle of judgement is false; and where it operates, real growth and maturity are likely to be retarded.
7. SUPER-SUPERNATURALISM. This is my word for that way of affirming the supernatural which exaggerates its discontinuity with the natural. Reacting against flat-tire versions of Christianity, which play down the supernatural and so do not expect to see God at work, the super-supernaturalist constantly expects miracles of all sorts striking demonstrations of God's presence and power—and he is happiest when he thinks he sees God acting contrary to the nature of things, so confounding common sense. For God to proceed slowly and by natural means is to him a disappointment, almost a betrayal. But his undervaluing of the natural, regular, and ordinary shows him to be romantically immature and weak in his grasp of the realities of creation and providence as basic to God's work of grace. Charismatic thinking tends to treat glossolalia, in which mind and tongue are deliberately and systematically disassociated, as the paradigm case of spiritual activity and to expect all God's work in and around his children to involve similar discontinuity with the ordinary regularities of the created world. This almost inevitably makes for super-supernaturalism.
8. EUDAEMONISM. I use
this word for the belief that God means us to spend our time in
this fallen world feeling well and in a state of euphoria based
on that fact. Charismatics might deprecate so stark a statement,
but the regular and expected projection of euphoria from their
platforms and pulpits, plus their standard theology of healing,
show that the assumption is there, reflecting and intensifying
the "now I am happy all the day, and you can be so too"
ethos of so much evangelical evangelism since D. L. Moody.
Charismatics, picking up the healing emphasis of original
restorationist Pentecostalism - an emphasis already strong in
"holiness" circles in North America before
Pentecostalism arrived - regularly assume that physical disorder
and discomfort are not ordinarily God's beneficent will for his
children. On this basis, with paradigmatic appeal to the healings
of Jesus and the apostles, plus the claim, founded on Isaiah
53:3-6,10 as interpreted in Matthew 8:16, 17 and 1 Peter 2:24,
that there is healing in the atonement, plus reference to Paul's
phrase "charismata of healings" ("gifts of
healings," AV; "healers," RSV) in 1 Corinthians
12:28, they make supernatural divine healing (which includes,
according to testimony, lengthening of legs, straightening of
spines and, in South America filling of teeth) a matter of
constant expectation and look for healing gifts in their leaders
almost as a matter of course.
But the texts quoted will not bear the weight put upon them, and the New Testament references to unhealed sickness among Christian leaders make it plain that good health at all times is not God's will for all believers. Also, the charismatic supposition loses sight of the good that can come in the form of wisdom, patience, and acceptance of reality without bitterness when Christians are exposed to the discipline of pain and of remaining unhealed. Moreover, the charismatic supposition creates appalling possibilities of distress when on the basis of it a person seeks healing, fails to find it, and then perhaps is told that the reason lies not in God's unwillingness or inability to heal, but in his own lack of faith. Without doubting that God can and sometimes does heal supernaturally today and that healings of various kinds do in fact cluster round some people's ministries, I judge this expression of the eudaemonist streak in charismatic thought to be a major mistake and one that works against Christian maturity in a quite radical way.
The same must be said of the crass insistence by some charismatics (and others, too, be it said) that if you honour God, he will prosper your business, and you will make money and enjoy comfort. In practice it often does not work so. A long line of bankrupt believers proclaims this, and while some may have brought trouble on themselves by supposing that because they were Christians they were somehow exempt from the rigors of proper business management and coping with economic change, that is not the case with them all. In Scripture Christians are given no general promises of wealth, only of testing and tribulation. Directions are certainly given for handling wealth if in God's providence it comes your way, but it is evident that universal wealth is not expected.
In theology, what is being affirmed here is another form of the eudaemonist error: God (so it is being implied) does not mean his children ever to suffer the pains of poverty. The claim may sound plausible when made by a wealthy speaker in a luxurious hotel ballroom, but one has only to imagine it being voiced to Christian villagers in India or Bangladesh or some drought-ridden part of Africa to see how empty it is.
God does indeed sometimes bless the business life of his children in a striking way (first, however, by giving them commercial wisdom, which they use to good effect), but when folk are told that he will do this for all his children, eudaemonism is once more taking over and false hopes are being raised, which could bring on total breakdown of faith when events dash them down. And even if they are not dashed, but fulfilled, their very presence in a man's heart will have encouraged him in unreality and kept him from maturity.
9. DEMON OBSESSION. In recovering a sense of the supernaturalness of God, charismatics have grown vividly aware of the reality of supernatural personal evil, and there is no doubt that their development of "deliverance" ministry and the impulse they have given to the renewal of exorcism have been salutary for many. But if all life is seen as a battle with demons in such a way that Satan and his hosts get blamed for bad health, bad thoughts, and bad behaviour, without reference to physical, psychological, and relational factors in the situation, a very unhealthy demonic counterpart of super-supernaturalism is being developed. There is no doubt that this sometimes happens and that it is a major obstacle to moral and spiritual maturity when it does.
10. CONFORMISM. Group
pressure is tyrannical at the best of times and never more so
than when the group in question believes itself to be
superspiritual and finds the evidence of its members'
spirituality in their power to perform along approved lines.
Inevitably, peer pressure to perform (hands raised, hands
outstretched, glossolalia, prophecy) is strong in charismatic
circles; inevitably, too, the moment one starts living to the
group and its expectations rather than to the Lord, one is
enmeshed in a new legalistic bondage, whereby from yet another
angle Christian maturity is threatened.
Yet, having said all this, it is well to remind ourselves that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. No type of Christian spirituality is free from dangers, weaknesses, and threats to maturity arising from its very strengths, and it is not as if Christian maturity (which includes all-round liveliness of response to God, as well as sobriety of judgement) were overwhelmingly visible in noncharismatic circles today. In matters of this kind it is the easiest thing in the world to dilate on specks in my brother's eye and to ignore logs in my own, so we had better move quietly on.
Is Charismatic Experience Unique?
An important question to ask at this
point is: How far are the distinctives of charismatic experience
confined to professed charismatics? I suspect that something of
an optical illusion takes place here; from the strangeness to
them of charismatics' outward gestures, other Christians infer
that charismatics' inward experiences must be very different from
their own. But I doubt whether this is so.
Take Spirit baptism. The experience that charismatics and Pentecostals describe under this name was analyzed above in terms of assurance of God's love and preparation for the conflict with evil. Because speaking in tongues is regularly said to be part of the experience, many jump to the conclusion that charismatic Spirit baptism differs entirely from anything known to nonglossolalics. But if we leave the tongues on one side for a moment and focus on the analysis itself, we realise that this is not so. Substantially identical with Spirit baptism, as described, is the experience of "the sealing of the Spirit" spelled out by Thomas Goodwin, the seventeenth-century Puritan, in his sermons on Ephesians 1:l3. Similar also are many of testimonies to the moment of entry upon "perfect love" among Wesley's followers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The same correspondence of content appears in the experience of baptism in the Holy Spirit, understood as an enduing of the Christian with power for service, which such last-century leaders as Charles Finney, D. L. Moody, A. B. Simpson and R. A. Torrey set forth in their teaching, and by which each claimed to have been personally transformed in his ministry. The socalled "Keswick experience" of being "filled with the Holy Spirit," as described for instance by the Baptist F. B. Meyer, also corresponds, and so do many of the spiritual intimacies recorded by exponents of the Christian mystical tradition, both Catholic and Protestant.
Nor is it only to mystics and Evangelicals that such experiences come. The Anglican Bishop Moorhouse was a reticent and unmystical High Churchman. He wrote, however, for posthumous publication a testimony to the night when, in the year before his ordination, after anxious prayer for closer fellowship with God, he "awoke filled with the most marvellous happiness, in such a state of exultation that I felt as a though a barrier had fallen, as though a door had suddenly a been opened, and a flood of golden light poured in on me, transfiguring me completely. I have never felt anything in the least like it. ..". It is only natural to suppose that these experiences, all of which have assurance of God's love at their core, are the result of characteristically similar action by the Holy Spirit in each case. It is certainly impossible to treat any one of them as wholly different from any of the others.
Or take glossolalia itself. One man voices the ardor of his praise or the agony of his prayer in tongues, another in his native speech; but is the exercise of heart essentially different? Richard Baer affirms a "fundamental functional similarity between speaking in tongues and two other widespread and generally accepted religious practices, namely, Quaker silent worship and the liturgical worship of the Catholic and Episcopal churches," arguing that in all three the analytical reason rests to allow deeper dimensions of the person to be touched by God. Is this idea obviously wrong?
Or take the Spirit-wrought awareness of how the God of the Bible sees us and how his word in Scripture applies to our life situations. If one man objectifies it by calling it prophecy and announcing it in oracle form, while another expresses it as his personal certainty of what God is saying to him and to others, does that argue any essential difference in the inward work of God in the heart in the two cases?
Is it only charismatics who seek or who find bodily healing through prayer or who practice successful exorcism by prayer in Jesus' name?
Is it only charismatics who minister in love to each other, however little others may have been instructed in the developed doctrine of spiritual gifts?
I suggest that, in reality, charismatic and noncharismatic spiritualities differ more in vocabulary, self-image, groups associated with, and books and journals read, than in the actual ingredients of their communion with the Father and the Son through the Spirit. Charismatic experience is less distinctive than is sometimes made out.