For some people, the charismatic way is the best way, the biblical way, God’s way for us today. They want all Christians to be charismatic Christians; they want all churches to be charismatic churches. This is the stance of John Leach, for example, in his delightful book entitled, The Spirit Comes (as part of the package), (Marshall Pickering, 2001). Some might think that such people have gone too far. Actually, I don’t think they go far enough, and here’s why.
1. The charismatic movement has sought the renewal of the church by a rediscovery of (amongst other things) the empowering presence of God, a return to Holy Scripture as God’s inspired word, a participatory style of public worship, an every-member ministry of spiritual gifts, active involvement in service and witness, and a high level of expectancy with regard to ‘extraordinary’ manifestations of God’s grace, such as prophecy and healing. The charismatic movement has also contributed largely to the development of small-group patterns of ministry and has given the church significant offerings in the area of praise and music. The movement’s aims have been honourable, and, in the grace of God, its degree of success in achieving them has been notable.
3. However, the charismatic movement, like all movements, sits in its own historical slot. It was a powerful, if flawed, force for good in the church and in the world in roughly the period 1960-1985. But things have moved on. The charismatic movement begat the ‘Signs and Wonders’ movement, the so-called ‘third wave’ of Pentecostalism. A number of the original emphases have changed, some for the better. We rightly hear less, for example, about ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ as a distinct second blessing, and more about the need for continued filling with the Holy Spirit according to Eph 5:18. There is also an increased recognition that the very term ‘charismatic’ is divisive, implying a separate class of elite Christians (so C. Peter Wagner, in Dictionary of the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, p844). Going charismatic at this stage is beginning to look like a step backwards.
3. But, in any case, did charismatic Christianity ever represent God’s best for his people? I suggest not. It was too often marred by (amongst other things) a failure to recognise God at work in ‘natural’ processes, an artificial separation of the work of the Holy Spirit from that of Christ, an inadequate appreciation of the radical nature of the new birth, a weak historical sense, an unintentional but real tendency to elitism, an irrational pragmatism (“it seems to work, therefore it must be true”), a shallow pastoral understanding of God’s purposes in human suffering, and a tendency to reduce spiritual empowerment to a set of inviolable ‘laws’ (robbing the Lord of his own sovereign prerogative in the matter).
4. In the light of such strengths and weaknesses, I commend the following assessment by Jim Packer: ‘The charismatic movement, though a genuine renewing of much that belongs to healthy biblical Christianity, does not exhibit all the features that belong to God’s work of revival. While vigorously grasping the joys of firm faith, it knows too little of the awesome searchlight of God’s holiness and the consequent godly sorrow of radical repentance. Also, in settling for the joys of faith and the celebration of gifts the movement has, as it seems, been satisfied too easily and too soon. There is need to go, not back, but on from the point it has currently reached to seek the richer reality of God’s reviving visitation, towards which this movement, please God, will prove to have been a step on the way.’ (Keep in step with the Spirit, p234, emphasis added)