The year was 1996 during a challenge weekend in our high school. The weekend had been ‘power packed’ with so many boys coming to Christ. Then came Sunday afternoon, the climax of the whole weekend – The rally, when CU’s from other schools could join in and everyone looked forward to it. The visiting team (missioners) came from a ministry based in Thika and they were very well prepared. I could see them pacing up and down in the special classroom that they had been assigned and from where they would get their meals and hold special prayers in preparation for the main sessions.
Then the meeting begun. After a series of choruses, presentation from other CU’s – finally the speaker took to the stage. He preached a sermon from Acts 2 reminding us – about 1000 teenagers gathered in the Assembly Hall that in the latter times the Lord will pour His spirit on all flesh and young men will see visions. He later made an altar call for people to come to Christ and many went to the front to be prayed for to receive Christ – but it was not over. There was another alter call for those who wished to receive the holy spirit in their lives.
At first I was stunned – I did not realise that one needed a second, separate event to receive the Holy Spirit different from conversion. I had never heard of that before. I had been a Christian since childhood but this was a new teaching all together. Yet it was attractive. Those boys who had experienced this before spoke of it in very enticing terms – One would be caught up in ecstasy, speak in a new tongue and might even be overcome in the power of the spirit and fall on the floor.
Out of curiosity I went up the stage. A huge number of us had responded including girls from other schools. Then the prayers begun. The speakers came round laying hands on each of us to be ‘baptised in the Holy Spirit. They asked us to close our eyes and open ourselves up to ‘receive’ the holy spirit. They would stick their fingers into our ears, sometimes hold our stomachs or at times lightly tap on our foreheads while blowing air into our faces and whispering the words – receive. The results were dramatic to say the least – many burst out in strange, though familiar phrases which we were told are tongues. Some fell down backwards – losing all control of their bodies and had to be covered in lesos so as not be indecently exposed. The whole experience was labelled a great move of God among us. I did not experience anything spectacular myself. I assumed I did not have enough faith and the teachings afterwards introduced doubt in my life. I always felt like a second class Christian.
My only prior experience of this new spiritual emphasis were akorino movements I saw in our village shops then known as ‘saika’ who wore distinctive colours and usually went round a spot, under a flag and would be caught up in trance-like experiences and would go round shouting ‘saika’. I knew such groups to be outrightly cultic but did not realise the same was being introduced to us in school only packaged differently.
It was not until much later that I learnt in a church camp that the Holy Spirit was given to the church (all believers) and the way to know is in bearing spiritual fruit.
Of all the teachings in the body of Christ for the last 150 years none has been as divisive as the question of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. A new movement that begun mid19th century begun to teach that it was not enough to receive the gospel but that Christians needed to also be filled with the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. The movement was known as the charismatic movement and had as its key emphasis the infilling of the Holy Spirit, then known as second blessing. It was also characterized by manifestation (public display) of gifts (charismata) such as supernatural healing, word of knowledge, prophecy (foretelling the future), dreams and visions, faith and miracles (extra-ordinary or supernatural experiences). The movement had for its leading lights people like Smith Wigglesworth in the UK, John G Lake in South Africa, Charles Parham and William J Seymour of Azusa Street Mission in the US and many others including Katherine Kuhlman, Benny Hinn, Morris Cerullo and Kenneth Hagin.
Here in Kenya, the movement did not quite gather pace until the 1970’s. However, it exploded in the 1980’s and 1990’s and it is still a major religious movement to this day. Earlier this month a well known city church advertised for a job and one of the requirements was that applicants needed to be filled with the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. In fact, another well known established church in this country still requires the evidence of speaking in tongues before admission to membership.
Charismatic teaching is mainly drawn from the apostolic experience of the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, 9 and 10 and Paul’s teaching 1 Corinthians 12 – 14 about the nature of spiritual gifts in what appears to be a response to a question arising out of an existing practice. (12: 1 – Now, concerning spiritual gifts…). Paul outlines that indeed the Holy Spirit has given many gifts to the body for the edification of the whole. This is all good and healthy for the church and there is much to rejoice about. In fact, the charismatic movement has been a blessing to the wider body of Christ by
- Calling the church to be spiritually alive. Through much prayer and dependence upon the Holy Spirit the church has been awakened spiritually. Spiritual hunger has led many to seek the Lord.
- Increased zeal for the lost. The charismatic zeal and boldness has no doubt inspired many to witness to their friends and neighbours leading to many conversions and churches growing.
- Recognizing the place of affections (feelings/emotions), whereas the evangelical movement was busy serving the mind with its deep concern for truth, the emotions were left behind. The charismatics recognized the place of emotions in our faith journey.
- Real belief in miracles. Charismatics not only believed in the supernatural but actually expect it in their daily lives. Among the charismatics there is real belief in in Satan and the demonic is taken quite seriously. Evangelicals on the other hand can live as if God is distant and has nothing to do with our world today.
- Joy: Charismatics insist that Christians should rejoice and praise God at all times and in all places. This is seen in the music, dancing and even sermons. There is an openness to the Spirit and childlike trust, joy and humility, which is refreshing to see.
However, this has also come with certain excesses and obvious doctrinal errors that should be called out and the church warned against.
- The charismatic movement teaches that not every believer has the Holy Spirit. This is an open contradiction to scripture (Romans 8:9, 1 Cor 12:3, 1 John 4:3). This has created doubt among many believers leading to some thinking of themselves as second class Christians. All believers in Christ have the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5, 2 Timothy 1:14, Ephesians 1:13 -14, 1 Corinthians 6:19) for no one can come to faith in Christ except by the power of the Holy Spirit.
- The charismatic movement puts personal experience in a position higher than God’s objective word. The whole second blessing experience is pushed by personal testimonies of those who have already experienced. Instead of trusting God’s word, one is encouraged to seek an encounter. The movement makes people a source of authority who have a bigger say in the lives of believers than the word of God.
- The charismatic movement unhelpfully puts tongues as the evidence for the Holy Spirit. Although the Pentecost experience of Acts 2 involved speaking in new tongues (languages) this description does not mean that it would happen again or in the same way every time. Jesus who was full of the Holy Spirit never spoke in tongues. Paul clearly says all beleivers have been baptized in the spirit (1 Cor 12:13) and that not all would speak in tongues (1 Cor 12:29). Yet the charismatic movements says the opposite – not all are baptized and that all should speak in tongues. The true evidence of a spirit filled life is departure from evil (2 Timothy 2:19 and Galatians 5:22ff)
- The charismatic movement has unbiblical obsession with the person of the Holy Spirit often at the expense of the gospel (Christ). Whereas the Bible calls us to know Christ as the way, the truth and the Life, charismatics obsesses about the Holy Spirit sometimes even praying to the Holy Spirit in a way not patterned for believers. Jesus teaches that the Holy Spirit will not draw attention to himself but actually glorify Christ (John 15:26; 16:13-14). The Spirit bears witness to Christ! The Spirit ever points people to Christ! The glorious ministry of the Spirit is to glorify and lift up Christ! If the Holy Spirit is really working in my life, then CHRIST will become more and more precious to me each day! His blessed office work is to produce Christ-like saints (Gal. 4:19; 5:22-23; 2 Cor. 3:18)!
- The charismatic movement implies that the Bible is not sufficient and that we need something else – visions, prophecies, revelations etc. Nothing is more important to a believer than God’s written Word. Although God once spoke at various times and in “divers manners” (through visions, dreams, etc.), He has in these last days spoken by His Son (Heb. 1:1-2). All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable . . . that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly equipped for all good works (2 Tim. 3:16-17) Though Peter actually heard God’s voice from heaven, he assures us that “we have a surer word of prophecy . . . the Scripture” (2 Pet. 1:18-20). Jude writes concerning “the faith” (the body of Christian truth) which has once for all been delivered to the saints (Jude 3). At the end of the book of Revelation, The Lord issued one final warning: LET NO MAN ADD OR TAKE AWAY FROM MY WORD (Rev. 22:18-19) We don’t need any extra biblical revelations or words of knowledge – the word is sufficient.
Conclusion: 1 Corinthians 13
It is worth noting that the basis for much of charismatic theology is two chapters in 1 Corinthians (chapters 12 and 14) written to a divided church that was caught up in an obsessions display of power and wisdom. Interestingly, the subject is not addressed elsewhere in any of the other epistles at least not to the degree we find in these two chapters. However, sandwiched between these two chapters is a precious poem that calls believers to a higher path, that which Paul calls a more excellent way. Let us read it together and draw some lessons to take away today.
A more excellent way
- Love is true mark of a believer (verse 1 -3)
- The nature of love (verse 4 -7)
- Does not envy or boast
- It is not arrogant or rude
- Does not insist on its own way
- Does not rejoice at wrong-doing
- Rejoices with the truth
- Bears all things (persevering)
- Believes all things
- Hopes all things
- Endures all things
- Love never ends.
- Gifts are temporal, fruit is eternal (verse 8)
- We do not see in full (check your pride)
- Fruit is more important than gift. Know your focus. Verse 13.