The charismatic movement – What is it?

The modern charismatic movement finds its origin in the Azusa Street revival of 1906 in Los Angeles, California. During this time, people claimed to be baptized by the Spirit similar to what took place in Acts 2 in the New Testament. This included claims of speaking in tongues and divine miracles. This series of meetings continued to grow in strength and served as the beginning of the larger Pentecostal and charismatic movements in the United States and beyond.

Until the 1950s, the experiences and teachings of the Pentecostal movement were not generally accepted in traditional churches. In 1960 Dennis Bennett embraced Pentecostal teachings in the Episcopal Church. Many consider this event as the beginning of the charismatic movement (as separate from the more specific Pentecostal movement). This trend expanded to many other churches in mainline denominations in the 1960s. A specific movement known as the Third Wave took place in the 1980s in which charismatic teachings became more accepted in evangelical churches in the United States, including the growth of the Vineyard Church movement.

Distinctive teachings of the charismatic movement include speaking in tongues, prophecy, divine healing, and emotional worship gatherings that have included many new songs and a more participatory style of worship. These areas have been greatly debated and discussed in contemporary churches, causing many questions and controversies in the process.

While God has clearly operated in powerful ways such as healing and prophecy in the past, there is debate regarding whether these gifts continue to operate today. Continuationism is the view that these miraculous or sign gifts continue or can continue to operate today. Cessationism is the view that certain sign gifts no longer operate in the church today.

Of special concern are views held by some (but not all adherents) in the charismatic movement that teach all Christians should speak in tongues or that doing so is required for salvation. First Corinthians 12 lists speaking in tongues as a gift. Therefore, not every Christian could have this ability. Salvation is by grace through faith alone in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), not by any work, including certain spiritual gifts.

Clearly, God continues to work in powerful ways today. Yet it is also clear there have been troublesome aspects of the charismatic movement in both theology and practice. Christians are called to study to show themselves approved (2 Timothy 2:15) and to investigate Scripture to evaluate whether certain practices are biblical (Acts 17:11-12).

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