A History of the Charismatic Movement: A Response to Michael Brown

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Michael Brown is a well known author and flamecontributor to charismanews, an online Pentecostal and Charismatic magazine. Recently though, Brown has been increasingly agitated by John MacArthur’s anti-Charismatic comments and the upcoming Strange Fire Conference. In his most recent article, An Appeal to John MacArthur to Embrace God’s True Fire on July 5, 2013, Brown tries to defend the Charismatic movement against MacArthur’s claim that it is “bizarre and unintelligible.” According to Brown, it is generated by true, sound, biblical teaching.

This claim though, could not be more unmerited.

In another article Brown wrote, he stated, “I am far more concerned about denying the true fire than I am about putting out every aberrant charismatic brush fire.” What’s funny is that to refer to the problems of the Charismatic movement as merely a “brush fire” just might be the understatement of the century. Brown makes it seem as though MacArthur is identifying those on the extreme fringe of Charismaticism to represent the whole, while these select few poorly represent all of Charismatic Christianity. MacArthur, in Brown’s opinion, shouldn’t be painting with such a broad brush stroke. Unfortunately, reality is not in Brown’s favor and if Brown doesn’t identify himself with the “many abuses in the charismatic movement—including our flesh-exalting personality cults; our carnal prosperity message; our manifestation mania; our superficial sensationalism; our mindless gullibility; our cheapening of the word ‘apostolic’; our constant fascination with the latest trend,” then he is the one on the fringe of the movement – not the other way around.

Brown declares, “Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.” The only trouble is, it’s all bathwater! To help prove my point, let’s take a 33,000 ft. view of the history of the Charismatic Church, and I’ll let you determine for yourself if the Charismatic movement bears any credibility.

Pre-Pentecostalism

Although many in the Charismatic church would like to think that the miraculous gifts have continued throughout church history, this has not been the case. Pentecostal theology was first given a foothold due to certain teachings of John Wesley (which were unorthodox), especially that of the “second blessing” experience subsequent to justification. Much of the Pentecostal “second filling of the Holy Spirit” is derived from the unbiblical second blessing theology. Wesleyanism (or Methodism) and his teachings quickly became established in the United States, and it was later even more established by the Keswick Higher Life Movement, which taught a modified form of the second blessing experience. In Keswick theology, the second blessing doesn’t accomplish perfect sanctification, but there is a higher level of Christian living brought on by a sort of “crisis” event in the Christian’s life. Firmly rooted in American thinking, America was then ripe for the birth of Pentecostalism in the early 20th century.

The First Wave
Pentecostalism had its official beginning in 1901 at Charles Parham’s Bible school in

Ozman's Chinese Writing, 1901

Ozman’s Chinese Writing, 1901

Topeka, Kansas. Parham, who was a former Methodist pastor, led his students to pray for the gift of tongues when one of his students, Agnes Ozman, began writing and speaking in Chinese. While there are an infinite number of discrepancies in the account, there was one mistake Ozman made that had a serious affect on her credibility: she wrote in Chinese, making it incredibly easy to disprove that she was, in fact, speaking in tongues. She did no such thing, but this was nevertheless the beginning of the First Wave.

The Second Wave
The Second Wave of Pentecostalism began in 1960 in Van Nuys, CA when Pastor Dennis Bennett of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church began praying in tongues. If legitimate, this would be the first church considered “respectable” to speak in tongues since the close of the first century. Nevertheless, this opened the gateway for Pentecostalism to spread to other mainline denominations such as the Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, and even the Roman Catholics. However, what made the Second Wave especially unique from the first, was that the Greek term glossolalia was no longer viewed as being an actual spoken language. Instead, many adopted an alternative view that the word referred to some sort of spiritual or angelic language. This was only too convenient, since speaking in tongues is one of the identifying factors of the “second filling” experience, and glossolalia was redefined from its Biblical usage, to suit the agenda of the Charismatic movement. “Tongues” was always taught throughout church history (except by notorious heretics) to be real spoken languages. Advancement in technology and television helped the new meaning of the term to spread faster than ever before. This led to the Third Wave in the 1980s.

The Third Wave 
The Third Wave of the Charismatic movement consists mainly of those who do not want to be associated with the first and second waves, having recognized their utterly bizarre behavior, the lack of personal holiness by its leaders, their lack of credibility in the interpretation of Scripture, and their gross exaggeration of so-called “miraculous” events. This group now views speaking in tongues as mainly a prayer language, and they view decisiveness on the matter as something to be avoided at all cost. No one, it is believed, has the authority to question the experience of someone else. Apparently, they understand the importance of accuracy in defining the work of Christ, but view the work of the Holy Spirit with much less importance. This movement was largely established by the “Vineyard Christian Fellowship” and the “Signs and Wonders Movement (SWM),” whose leaders are notorious for having an unprecedented amount of immorality, deception, adultery, and fornication of gross measure. This begs the question, if these are representative men who are the most filled with the Spirit, how could they at the same time be identified by rampantly wicked behavior? However, the Third Wave has a strong foot-hold in the United States and around the world, and is rapidly growing today.

But what about those in the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement who have proven themselves to be men of integrity? Do they at least make strong biblical case for their practice? Watch the video below. It’s long, but well worth it (and BTW… it will take a few seconds to start)! So get out the pop-corn or T.V. dinner. Observe Wayne Grudem making the best defense of the gift of prophecy I believe I’ve heard, and ask yourself, is he making a biblical defense? I’ll let you make your decision and tell me what you think.

EMA 2010: discussion about prophecy from The Proclamation Trust on Vimeo.

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