Swinging between dry evangelicalism and charismania
Note: we are neither endorsing nor opposing the teachings of any particular side in this issue but rather are setting forth a “new” perspective for the last days
Before the advent of the Charismatic Renewal in the 1950s and 1960s, following Christ for many evangelical believers meant patient suffering through trials and carrying one’s cross daily. Almost all physical sicknesses and trials were viewed as a thorn in our flesh to be accepted as a lesson from God teaching us humility. The miraculous healings seen in the gospels and in Acts had ceased. In order for God’s power to be made perfect in us, we were to delight in our every weakness (1 Corinthians 12:7-9) which came to include even personal failures and shortcomings.
On top of that we were taught that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance…” (2 Timothy 3:12, Romans 5:3). Evangelicals were taught a heavy dose of self-denial, to grit our teeth silently through life’s many trials. For many Christians there was little experience of the promised “inexpressible joy” and “the peace of God which transcends all understanding” (1 Peter 1:8, Philippians 4:7). A stoic attitude enduring a journey with few bright spots might have summarized life for many evangelical believers at that time.
The times back then…they were a bit dry for many faithful believers.
But with the Charismatic Renewal came a most refreshing rain. Through the Holy Spirit, gifts were available to minister supernatural healing, restoration, and encouragement to believers. We cultivated the nine fruit of the Holy Spirit to experience actual joy and peace in our hearts, and to walk in actual love, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. We could actually experience the delightful presence of God and His indescribable love in our hearts. We actually lived in “victory.”
Many of us are thankful to the Lord that the pendulum had begun to swing away from dry evangelicalism. But as (human) nature would have it, we kept the pendulum swinging all the way to the opposite extreme. Some conservative evangelicals have called the result charismania.
“God loves us more than we can imagine. Not only has He forgiven our sins through His Son Jesus Christ, He wants to heal our every sickness and infirmity. He wants to bless us and our families in all that we set our hands to do—as long as we are generous with our tithes and seed offerings. There’s no more suffering for us since Christ already suffered on the cross our behalf, but only victory after victory (for His glory, of course). He wants us to be successful and to become champions in this life as His witnesses. He wants all His children millionaires. After all, we are king’s kids and our Father is incredibly rich. Nothing is impossible for Him. He wants to bless us on earth so that we can be a blessing to the nations. We can do greater works than Christ, even seeing miracles and unusual supernatural manifestations not found in the Scriptures.”
We have gone from the one extreme of stoic self-denial for the sake of Christ with the denial of the miraculous as recorded in Acts to the opposite extreme of focusing on success, material prosperity, and physical comfort in this life. We seek out and involve ourselves with sensational supernatural manifestations we don’t find in the Bible, claiming they are the “greater works” Jesus promised we would do. Just like the predictable motion of a pendulum, this human tendency can’t be resisted.
But just like that pendulum, however, we are beginning to swing back to the middle during these last days—when the Great Commission must be fulfilled before the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are returning to the central message of the New Testament. And what is that message?
In his unfathomable love, our Father has already provided for us an unimaginable eternal inheritance for us through the death and resurrection of His Son—which is really all that matters. In view of that, we should overflow with thanksgiving to Him and seek to please Him, obey His commands, and serve Him with all our hearts. That is the central message of the New Testament. All other themes are peripheral.
We are to bear much lasting fruit for Him here on earth, especially in view of our standing before the Judgment Seat of Christ in the next age to receive our eternal reward. We can produce good fruit as we preach the gospel to the lost and make disciples of all nations. The Holy Spirit is not primarily for us to receive personal blessings for ourselves, but rather He enables us to become fruitful witnesses of Jesus Christ everywhere to the ends of the earth.
Abundant life is not to be measured in terms of success now and material blessings in this life. Rather, it is to be experienced in daily victory over our sinful nature and living in a way pleasing to God. It should be measured in terms of bearing much fruit for the kingdom of God by loving and serving others, and by reaching the lost and making disciples. If we obey God in this way, “all these [other] things will be given to us” as well. He will certainly provide for our earthly needs.
That is the primary purpose of the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. We are filled with the Holy Spirit ultimately not for our own personal benefit, but rather for the advance of the gospel and the kingdom of God (Acts 1:8).
It is now time for charismatics to grasp and focus on the primary purpose of the coming of the Holy Spirit. Because at the beginning they did not for the most part, the Spirit is now no longer moving in their churches in the extraordinary way He did decades ago at the outset of the Charismatic Renewal. It’s possible that some ministers eventually came to see the move of the Spirit as a means by which they could draw crowds to their meetings and build big ministries with promises of God’s blessing in this life. Sadly, that is not why our Lord sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. He came primarily to empower us to be witnesses for Jesus Christ.
Evangelicals, however, need not shy away from the things of the Holy Spirit if we understand and focus on the primary reason why Jesus sent the Spirit after He ascended to the Father.
Let us then guide the pendulum back to the center, and keep it there until Jesus Christ returns. Maranatha!