When Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity emerged a century ago, many conservative Christians denounced the movement. Part of this was due to the egalitarian and counter-culture nature of the movement. Another part of it was that the incorporation of the gifts of the Spirit into worship seemed crazy – perhaps even demonic. At this point, Christians were mostly used to some variety of ordered worship, so when Charismatics came into church services and started speaking in tongues or dancing, it made a lot of people uncomfortable. They thought that Charismatic Christians were deceiving people and obstructing proper worship. A term was coined as an insult towards Charismatics – Charismania.
Charismania is commonly used as an insult to describe Charismatic Christians as unstable. People may perhaps see our prophetic visions, speaking in tongues, and claims of supernatural healings as delusional. It is a criticism of the Charismatic Movement that I know well.
While I do not think that Charismatic spirituality and worship are false, I must say that as a Charismatic looking into the wider world of Charismatic Christianity, we do have a serious problem. The movement has for a long time been infested with false doctrines such as end times theology, prosperity preaching, and cults of personality. The movement is also infested with false prophets, false healers, and con artists. And like the early church, the movement has been twisted in order to serve the empire. We have a very serious problem of not “testing the spirits” (1 John 4:1).
While the term “charismania” has been used in a derogatory way against Charismatic Christians as a whole, I cannot think of a better word to describe these harmful tendencies in the movement, especially looking back at what I have witnessed within the Charismatic world in 2020.
During the course of the past year, I have seen Charismatic churches deny the existence of COVID and spread misinformation about the COVID vaccine (and other efforts to stop the virus, such as masks). I have seen Charismatic churches fall into what can only be described as idolatry when it comes to Donald Trump. There have been many Charismatic churches contributing to conspiracies around the election. A few “prophets” still insist that God will step in and make Trump president again. I have also seen Charismatic churches work against social and racial justice.
There is one Pentecostal church where I live that comes to mind. The church’s clergy and laity ignored and downplayed COVID eventually leading to quite a few people catching the disease. I have no doubt that many people have died due to reckless worship. In fact, quite a few COVID outbreaks have been traced to churches.
Unsurprisingly, many people no longer look at the Church with respect. This is certainly true with Charismatic churches. Despite being one of the largest Christian movements, people often see us as fundamentalists or fascists thanks to the disturbing partnership between Pentecostals/-Charismatics, right-wing politics, and pseudo-science here in the US.
The question that we are left with is — how can we redeem the Charismatic Movement in the US? It seems that many people see two paths forward. Option one is to embrace the problems in the movement. (I suspect that many pastors go this route to save their careers even though they know better.) Option two is deconstruction. This is a term that I often seen used within progressive Christian circles to describe the ways in which they have deprogrammed themselves from these negative forces in the movement.
I want to propose a third option – renewal.
When Charismatic Christianity started out, it was a force for social justice and spiritual righteousness. That first generation was well known for being egalitarian, anti-racist, and anti-war. We need to revive those traditions in the movement if we hope sever the connection between Charismatic Christianity and far-right politics that has taken place in countries like America and Brazil.
Additionally, Charismatic Christianity needs orthodoxy. We need a better connection historic, mainstream Christianity. Without that connection we leave ourselves open to fanaticism and false teaching. Peter Halldorf, a Swedish Pentecostal pastor and abbot, has learned from the desert fathers and Orthodox Christianity in an effort to save Pentecostalism from worldliness. In addition, my church is part of the Convergence Movement – a movement in which Pentecostal/-Charismatic churches strived to reincorporate historic worship and theology (e.g. Catholic, Anglican) into their spiritual and ecclesiastical lives. We need more of this. We need Pentecostal/Charismatic Christians to have a stronger connection to historical Christianity and to our brothers and sisters in other denominations.
I think these words from the Apostle Paul are very relevant for us today:
Always rejoice. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus toward you. Don’t quench the Spirit. Don’t despise prophecies. Test all things, and hold firmly that which is good. Abstain from every form of evil.– 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22
Paul teaches us a balance. We shouldn’t despise prophecies, but we also need to test all things. It is on the latter point that Charismatic Christians need to do better.
Rev. Kevin R. Daugherty is an Elder in the Convergent Christian Communion, Abbot for Kindling Fires: A New Monastic Order, Curate (Assistant Pastor) for Solomon’s Porch, and works as a clerk in Elizabeth, PA.
Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!