Evangelicalism and the Charismatic Movement

The following is excerpted from The Pentecostal-Charismatic Movements, a 317-page illustrated book that is available in print and eBook editions from Way of Life -- www.wayoflife.org.


Over the past four decades, the charismatic movement has leavened evangelicalism with its mystical approach to the Christian life and its sensual contemporary worship music.

Prior to the 1970s, most evangelicals looked upon the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement as fanaticism and worse.

Arno Gaebelein said, “We are convinced that this movement is one which is not of God” (
Our Hope, July 1907).

Harry Ironside called it “the disgusting tongues movement” and stated that “superstition and fanaticism of the grossest character find a ‘hotbed’ in their midst” (Ironside,
Holiness: The False and the True, 1912).

Brethren minister Louis Bauman wrote in 1941 that “probably the most wide-spread of all satanic phenomena today is the demonic imitation of the apostolic gift of tongues.” He further asserted, “The first miracle that Satan ever wrought was to cause the serpent to speak in a tongue. It would appear he is still working his same original miracle.”

R.A. Torrey said Pentecostalism is “emphatically not of God, and founded by a sodomite.”

G. Campbell Morgan called Azusa Street Pentecostalism “the last vomit of Satan.”

Merrill Unger represented the predominant view in the 1960s when he called the Charismatic Movement “widespread confusion.” He said: “When the Word of God is given preeminence and when sound Bible doctrine, especially in the sphere of the theology of the Holy Spirit is stressed and made the test of experience, the claims of charismatic Christianity will be rejected.”

The man who helped break down the resistance against the Pentecostal-Charismatic movements was none other than Billy Graham, the prince of evangelicalism. In 1962, Graham spoke at the Full Gospel Business Mens’s International (FGBMI) conference and praised the charismatic-ecumenical movement. Graham was featured on the cover of the October 1962 issue of the FGBMI’s Voice magazine.

In 1967, Graham was the keynote speaker at the dedication ceremony of Oral Roberts University. No personality represented a more radical, unscriptural, wild-eyed brand of Pentecostalism than Oral Roberts. He claimed apostolic healing power, but many died during his healing crusades, and after he claimed that a 900-foot-tall Jesus promised His blessing on the City of Faith hospital, it went bankrupt.

By the 1970s, the attitude within evangelicalism had changed dramatically.

In March 1972,
Christianity Today observed: “A new era of the Spirit has begun. The charismatic experience moves Christians far beyond glossalalia [tongues speaking]. ... There is light on the horizon. An evangelical renaissance is becoming visible along the Christian highway, from the frontiers of the sects to the high places of the Roman Catholic communion. This appears to be one of the most strategic moments in the church’s history.”

By the 1970s, “the majority of younger evangelicals in the Church of England were charismatic” (Iain Murray,
Evangelicalism Divided, p. 135). By 1987, the Evangelical Times in England observed “that a large--some would say the greater--part of the evangelical world is in some measure influenced by the various branches of the charismatic scene.” By 1999, the Evangelical Alliance in England included Pentecostals at every level of leadership, and “no group on the council is opposed to the Pentecostal position” (Renewal, March 1999).

The same was true in the United States. By 1992, 80% of the membership of the National Association of Evangelicals was Pentecostal, up from 62% in 1987, and the president of the NAE, Don Argue, belonged to the Assemblies of God.

Roughly half of the attendees at Billy Graham’s 1983 Conference for Itinerant Evangelists in Amsterdam were Pentecostal or Charismatic.

In 1984 Fuller Theological Seminary made Pentecostal David DuPlessis its “resident consultant on ecumenical affairs” and in 1985 Fuller established the “David J. DuPlessis Center for Christian Spirituality.” By then both the dean of Fuller Theological Seminary and the president of Gordon-Conwell Seminary were Pentecostals.

In 1989 J.I. Packer, a professor at Regent College and a senior editor of
Christianity Today, said the Charismatic movement “must be adjudged a work of God” (Calvary Contender, July 15, 1989). He said, “Sharing charismatic experience ... is often declared ... to unify Protestants and Roman Catholics at a deeper level than that at which their doctrine divides them. This, if so, gives charismaticism great ecumenical significance.”

Many of the evangelicals that have adopted a positive view of the Charismatic movement do not call themselves Charismatic. The term “third wave” was coined in the 1980s by Fuller Seminary professor Peter Wagner.

He said the first wave was Pentecostalism in the early 1900s; the second wave was the Charismatic movement of the 1960s; and the third wave has been occurring since the 1980s among evangelicals.

“The Third Wave is a new moving of the Holy Spirit among evangelicals who, for one reason or another, have chosen not to identify with either the Pentecostals or the charismatics. Its roots go back a little further, but I see it as mainly a movement beginning in the 1980s and gathering momentum through the closing years of the twentieth century. ... I see the Third Wave as distinct from, but at the same time very similar to the first and second waves. ... The major variation comes in the understanding of the meaning of baptism in the Holy Spirit and the role of tongues in authenticating this. I myself, for example, would rather not have people call me a charismatic. I do not consider myself a charismatic. I am simply an evangelical Congregationalist who is open to the Holy Spirit working through me and my church in any way he chooses” (Wagner, The Third Wave of the Holy Spirit, 1988, pp. 18-19).

The Third Wave is characterized by the following:

* An acceptance of “tongues speaking” as legitimate even though it is mere gibberish
* An openness to divine healing as something promised by God
* A yearning for experiential worship that involves yielding to sensual contemporary music
* A focus on charismatic style spiritual warfare, including the concept of territorial spirits that must be identified and bound by prayer before evangelism can be successful
* An openness to the continued gift of prophecy
* An ecumenical mindset


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