This is my current take on what I think of the “Charismatic Christian” movement. Because it is such a sensitive topic, I have been trying to avoid the subject until I felt like I had gathered and researched enough of the underlying information out there before making a call. However, there seems to be more and more charismatic Christians out there, and due to my where I stand as a Christian (in terms of my statement of faith – which I haven’t really properly written up) I find it as something that desperately needs to be addressed. Let me say in short that I am very strongly opposed to “charismatics” because it seems to pervert what a relationship with Jesus is all about; but let me spend the rest of this post qualifying what I mean by “charismatics” and why it doesn’t exhibit what a Christian’s relationship with Jesus should be about.
Let me start by trying to explain what I think is the core of the “problem”. See, the thing I strongly disagree with people who are “charismatics” is the way they treat the Holy Spirit and the way they let it permeate their beliefs and their actions. The people I would term “charismatics” are those who make the Holy Spirit (or “spiritual” things in general) a fundamental and essential part of their Christian lives; in fact, it seems to be the most important thing in their lives that (for one) it misplaces the Bible as the central source of authority – and this is a big mistake! Now I will admit that we need the Bible and the Holy Spirit in our lives; what I’m trying to say is that “charismatics” put much more weighting onto listening to the Holy Spirit, over the Bible, when I believe it should be the other way round.
As a side note right now, I do not want to make an extensively long post and refer to lots of different Bible passages to back up my argument – to reduce the length of the post, I am going to just going to give summaries of what Bible says, but note that there are many passages to refer to, we just don’t have the time right now. Looking into the notion of charisma does indeed take a long time, even this post is meant to be just a summary of my thoughts, findings and experiences over the years.
Now when we come to the Holy Spirit, there are many things to learn about it which we don’t have time for in this post, but I think we mostly link this to “spiritual feelings” and the “charismatics” want to utilise these feelings as much as possible because they think it’s the best way to commune with God. Since God is a “spiritual” being (he’s not human at least – God the Father, I mean) it’s somewhat makes sense that they best way to reach God is through spiritual means, ie the Holy Spirit and things related to the Holy Spirit. The life of a Christian is to grow in a relationship with God and if you believe that the works and acts of the Holy Spirit are the best way to experience and have a relationship with God, then the way you live as a Christian will reflect those beliefs.
Now I don’t know how these beliefs shape the way a charismatic Christian lives their life (since I do not believe these things), so instead of looking from the inside out (that is, the way “inward” beliefs shape “outward” actions) let me put forward my own experiences of outward actions and suggest how they might reflect what the inner beliefs are. Let me start with some minor things, and though these may be things that you do, that does not mean I’m calling you a “charismatic”. The logic is “being a charismatic means you will do these things” but not vice versa, it is not a reflective property. I remember from many years ago people who used to raise their hands during singing/worship. My understanding is that you lift your hands and sway your body to the music being played because on the inside it does feel like you’re really connecting with God in your singing, and lifting your hands makes you feel just that much closer to God, that you could perhaps touch him; I understand that feeling. However, the reality of the situation is that you aren’t getting any closer to God by lifting your hands, and frankly, it is quite distracting to have the person in front of you blocking the lyrics on the screen at the front with their hands. If everyone was lifting their hands as they sung, how does anyone read the words to sing along to? It seems quite unloving and unedifying to lift your hands while singing (in contexts where lyrics are not displayed, it’s more appropriate) but why do so and gratify your own feelings at the cost of the people behind you not being able to see the lyrics?
Example two, and a smaller one that I don’t see too often nowadays. I blogged about this many years back about people who mutter during prayers, when it’s not their turn to pray. What typically happens is someone is praying, and when they say something that connects with the other people there listening, those people who are listening will interject with a “Yes, Lord” as a form of agreement and support with what was just said. I don’t think there is any need for such interruptions to show that you agree, that is what the word “amen” at the end of a prayer is for. Rather, to interject midway through someone else’s prayer is kind of rude and simply distracting. If one person does it, it’s not too bad; but when lots of people keep muttering “Yes, Lord” over one person who is praying, then it becomes really difficult to hear what is being said. I’m not too sure what the rationale behind this action is; my weak guess is that people may feel more spiritually involved in the prayer if they combine their voices for the things being prayed, so that God may hear you more (just my weak guess like I said). But God knows the things that are in our hearts, we don’t need to mutter things for Him to hear us.
Now these are but two small things that I’ve noticed again and again, and though they don’t convict someone of being “charismatic”, they seem to be actions that people who are “charismatics” would do because they all compose of this “spiritual” element that attracts such people. If you’re a Christian and you’ve kept your eyes open to the things around you, you would probably be familiar with “speaking in tongues” as a common (and very dangerous) trait that “charismatics” exhibit. In a nutshell, “speaking in tongues” is a reenactment of Acts 2 where the Holy Spirit descends on a bunch of Christians, and they are start jabbering away in various languages that the people around them could not understand. And because this is a Holy Spirit-centered act, the belief is that those who are spiritual and are full of the Holy Spirit should be able to do this and should keep utilising it as a way to connect with God. I have heard of people who even dare to make the outrageous claim that Christians who don’t speak in tongues don’t really have the Holy Spirit and so aren’t actually considered to be Christians. This is a huge perverting of the Word of God; we all know the classic John 3:16 says nothing about having to speak in tongues to be a Christian.
The question I found myself asking at a time was “are these spiritual feelings really connections with God?” and if so, does that mean I should pursue them to keep growing as a Christian. Here is my major experience from an undisclosed time which helped me answer this question; this is the first time I’m sharing this experience publicly. So there was this night session event whereby the leaders were going to call upon God’s spirit (lowercase ‘s’ as I wasn’t sure whether they meant the Holy Spirit or some other spirit) to fill the room that we were in, that we would feel the spirit and then be moved greatly by it and have our hearts changed. And I was there standing in a dimly light room with my eyes closed listening to soft music playing in the background waiting to see what was going to happen. But of course curiosity got the better of me and I kept opening my eyes here and there to see what was happening to the people around me. And steadily there were people around me who were breaking into tears and fell to the ground crying/sobbing. I didn’t know why exactly they were crying, and of course they fell to the ground in that no-one stands crying – that’s what children do.
I shut my eyes and ignored the people around me and tried reflecting on my life and the struggles I was going through at the time. And surely as you, the readers, would expect, within the next few minutes after that, I felt overwhelmed with sorrow as the troubles I was having in my life and I broke down sobbing in a way that I hadn’t done ever. I can still remember that really broken feeling I had inside of me at the time, and the way I was sort of “crying” out to God from inside of me. In terms of “feeling” God’s spirit, something definitely did tip me over the edge suddenly that made me sob really hard, I can’t say for certain that it was God’s spirit but whatever it was, it emotionally overwhelmed me. And as I was crying, I did feel part of me change on the inside; though I can’t quite remember how that “change” felt like I do recall that after that incident I felt really joyful, wanting to love everyone around me and set relationships right; things that would put my life “right” so to speak. Overall, I felt a lot “charisma” inside of me, all that good feeling that I would use to live life the best that I could. That feeling, which I’m quite certain is what a “charismatic” feels, lasted merely for a year, it was not a permanent change. Soon in a year I suddenly lost that “good” feeling and I lost the energy to continue being super happy to the people around me. I didn’t “lose” a part of myself, it was something I had for a while, and then I didn’t, kind of like your high school ID card when it becomes redundant, I wasn’t attached to those “happy go lucky” feelings I got from that spiritual experience.
That experience that I mentioned, did it help me grow as a Christian? I would think not, it didn’t make me know any more about God than I did before; it was merely a good feeling that helped push me through for a year. And this brings me to my main argument against “charismatics”. Seeking all these spiritual experiences, in whatever manner they may be in (tongues and what not) doesn’t really help one grow as a Christian. Rather, wouldn’t one do better by going to the major source that talks about God, ie the Bible? It most certainly makes sense that the way we grow as Christians is mainly dependent on the Bible, so dependent so you could do away with spiritual experiences entirely. At one time I was suggesting a point of reconciliation whereby it’s okay to have both the Bible and spiritual experiences, as long as the Bible is the main authority in a Christian’s life, but apparently I have since turned my back on that idea. In fact, seeking these spiritual experiences can easily tempt one to keep pursuing them, mainly because we as humans are driven by feelings. If it feels good, we are tempted to pursue it (which makes pursuing God a difficult task since the Christian life comes with suffering).
See, at the end of the day, being driven by a feeling to do anything is a very weak conviction, because your will to do that thing will last only as long as the feeling persists. So, if I was a Christian based on that feeling I had from that incident described above, I would’ve stopped being a Christian one year later once that feeling disappeared. And I so fear the same with a lot of the younger Christians of this generation; I hear a lot of how “wonderful” God is and how good a feeling it gives people, but I don’t hear much of how they learn specific things about God (from the Bible) and the way they struggle to figure out how that applies to their life. Such characteristics of being a Christian by “feeling” make for really dangerous leaders. Telling people about how “wonderful” Jesus is doesn’t mean going around and sharing about how “good” being a Christian makes you feel. How do you even do that? It’s not easy to communicate your feelings across, and even if you find a way to do so, you need the other person to be able to sympathize with you. But sadly this should be impossible. For a non-Christian, to liken the comfort that God brings with something similar in the world seems to drag God down to a material level, when He is clearly much superior to the things of this earth. No, telling people about God means showing who He is from the Bible.
“Charismatic” Christian leaders who are putting more emphasis on spiritual feelings rather than the Bible run a huge risk of being false teachers (yes, I’m going that far enough to make such a statement). Sadly, we are already seeing some of the effects of such teaching; lots of people call themselves Christian but don’t actively go to the Bible to find out more about Jesus and what he commands us to live our lives like. And then what happens? The passionate ones get elected to leadership positions but they don’t know how to teach the Bible. This ends up in a new generation of “Christians” that look like that:
20 The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. – Matthew 11:20-21
Starting off as a Christian based on a feeling will mean that you will fall away from being a Christian once that feeling goes away. We need to root our faith in something more solid, trustworthy, and unchanging; this is found in the Word of God.
If you do categorise yourself as a “charismatic” then I apologise for my harsh words, however I do not apologise for the intent behind my words. Our connection with God is found in the Bible, this is how God chose to communicate with us (that, and the fact He sent Jesus to earth in human form) and so we do not and must not go seeking for other ways to “feel’ spiritual or to get closer to God.
If you are not “charismatic” I hope you will fight hard to defend the truth of God’s Word, hopefully with much nicer words than these here. I feel a strong urgency for a lot of the younger Christians of this generation because they seem to be rooted in feelings rather than the Word of God simply through the culture of things at this present time. While we can’t stop “charismatic” events from running, we need to actively reach to the people around us to teach them to grow in their relationship with God through the Bible.
And finally, if you’re still confused about all this, I would like to direct you to the Bible, and start from there to find out how to live and grow as a Christian. This is just as a first step. But if you’re still hesitating at that first step let me challenge you with this: Would you rather find out about God through an unknown mystical “ritual” or from a book that’s dead set in front of you?
Do feel free to leave feedback and rebuke. A part 2 may follow depending on how much controversy this post creates.