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).
I have learned many great things from pastor Bill Johnson, whom I deeply respect. One of these things is the power of our words. Your words become your reality, Johnson has argued in his sermons. We cannot separate who we are from what we say.
Of course, a politician’s policies are important. But so are their words. James, the brother of Jesus, warns us against the power of the tongue, likening it to a small spark that can set an entire forest on fire (James 3:5). “Sound bites” can have disastrous consequences.
Take Trump’s suggestion in April that COVID-19 could possibly be cured by injecting disinfectants in the body, “cleaning” the lungs. Health officials had to immediately warn the public that this would in fact kill you, as poison control centers all over the country reported a significant increase of household disinfectant ingestion.
Trump later claimed that his comment was sarcastic directed at reporters, even though he hadn’t been talking to them but to his medical advisors.
Why are many American Pentecostals disobedient regarding efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19? Are Pentecostals and Charismatics in other parts of the world behaving differently? How was the strong faith in healing that characterized early Pentecostals impacted by the pandemic known as the “Spanish Flu”?
A few weeks ago, PCPJ gathered a panel of scholars and Pentecostal leaders to discuss these important questions. The panel consisted of:
– Jörg Haustein, doctor of World Christianities, University of Cambridge. – Erica Ramirez, president of PCPJ, director of applied research, Auburn Seminary. – Daniel Isgrigg, director for the Holy Spirit Research Center, Oral Roberts University. – Niclas Lindgren, director, PMU Interlife. – Andrea Johnson, Assistant Professor of History, California State University DH. – Micael Grenholm, pastor, editor at PCPJ.
Everybody brought interesting food for thought to the table. Isgrigg compared Pentecostal reactions to the Spanish Flu with what we see today. Ramirez spoke about what aspects of the Pentecostal faith makes it vulnerable to conspiracy theories. Haustein pointed to the nuance between different Pentecostal and Charismatic groups even in the same country. Johnson gave a historical backdrop to how American Pentecostals view politics.
As I continue to survey the American Christian landscape regarding responses to the coronavirus pandemic, my disappointment and bewilderment grows daily. Much of the responses from the Evangelical community – and especially those within the Pentecostal-Charismatic framework – have been frankly dangerous, conspiratorial, hyper partisan, scientifically illiterate and theologically bankrupt.
There are two dominant heresies alive in American Christianity today, which would be fundamentalism and nationalism.
Fundamentalism advocates an entirely unhistorical theological viewpoint that the Bible is a scientific textbook, and that any scientific hypothesis, theory, or fact that “opposes” some supposed scientific principle believed to be written in the Bible must be rejected as some sort of atheist attack on the faith.
This is a fairly modern heresy, one that entirely rejects historical theological discovery and exegetical studies, and only really came into prominence in the earlier part of the 20th Century. No one in antiquity, the early church, or the vast majority of the history of the Church held to any notion of fundamentalism.
The Pentecostal World Fellowship has produced some excellent material about COVID-19 that will be handed out in areas with limited access to information. Through Pentecostal churches and networks, it will hopefully reach 100 million people.
“As far as I know, this is the first time ever that the Pentecostal global network has coordinated an informational campaign about an urgent crisis in society in this way. We hope we will reach out to people in churches all over the world and be able to contribute in limiting and reducing the spread of COVID-19 in societies. This is a chance to be there for marginalized groups who might otherwise not be reached,” Niclas Lindgren, director of Swedish organization PMU that has helped producing the material, said in a statement.
Some examples of the advice provided in the material:
If someone gets COVID-19, it does not mean they have a spiritual ailment or they are punished by God.
No person should be stigmatized for contracting COVID-19 or blamed for having had little faith.
Encourage those who are very sick to seek medical attention according to the national health guidelines (see the example set by Jesus in Luke 17:14).
No person should be condemned for having practiced caution, remained home or avoided physical greetings. Instead, the exemplary behavior should be highlighted in the church.
The importance of praying for the affected; comforting and encouraging those who are experiencing fear and anxiety.
We are at the moment living through a Covid-19 pandemic and many are asking the question why would God allow such a harmful virus and why would he allow so many people to die? Some Christian preachers are attributing this viral outbreak to our nation’s sin–two in particular but such preachers conveniently ignore other types of sins such as disregard for creation. Regardless, the preachers seem to be saying that we have this horrible virus because God is punishing us. But is that what the Bible really teaches and is that really who God is?
I begin with how the Bible speaks of God as LOVE. In 1 John 4:7-8, we are taught that God is love. Not that God loves or that God does loving things, but that God is himself love. I don’t believe God is sending lethal viruses.
God has chosen to partner with human beings
In the beginning of Genesis, God created human beings in God’s image. As image bearers God gave human beings the task of ruling in the garden. They were to produce families, food, tend the animals and cultivate the garden and co-work with God in creative ways. The first humans were to do this in relationship with God, accepting God’s wisdom, guidance and influence. But as the story goes, human beings were led astray by a deceptive being and found themselves following the wisdom of the serpent. (The serpent is an image for wisdom in the Ancient Near East). (Genesis 1-3) Continue reading Viruses, Creation Care and the Problem of Evil→
Within the span of weeks, the United States has gone from having a handful of cases of COVID-19 to leading the world in cases of infection. This has left much of the world bewildered. Seeing how the virus was affecting other nations, with months of notice, we were still left unprepared. What is it about the structure and function of our country that left us so vulnerable to what should have been a more manageable situation?
For two millennia, in times of turmoil Christians have turned to the Revelation of John for insight. The text has wisdom to share in this time of pandemic as well. By understanding the nature of apocalyptic literature—a type of writing that would have been familiar to the earliest church who experienced Pentecost but is strange to us—American Christians can begin to address difficult questions about our nation’s response. More importantly, we can turn to the biblical text to learn how the church can faithfully respond in this time.
The translation Revelation in the book’s title comes from the Greek apokalypsis, which literally means uncovering or revealing, like removing a veil. In the case of the Apocalypse of John, Jesus Christ has opened something up to the Seer that is meant to be shared. When Pentecostals share a dream or vision with the church, they are engaging in the continuation of this tradition. Paul uses the same Greek term to refer to the spiritual gifts when he writes that “each one of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation” (1 Cor 14:26, NIV). In the same verse he names the purpose of these gifts: “that the church may be built up.” And if there was ever a time the church was in need of building it up, it is now.
I have a tradition: when I get sick, I listen to John Wimber. The former leader of the Vineyard movement who went home to God in 1997 is my absolute favorite theologian and he often talks about healing and hope, which is encouraging when one’s own health fails. His Bible studies on evangelism, poverty reduction and discipleship are just as good.
I especially love when he connects these topics with his charismatic theology as a true charismactivist! Wimber’s charismatic ministry is characterized by a great deal of realism, caution and humility, where suffering finds room alongside healing.
My wife Sarah and I are, like millions of others around the world, isolated in our home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In my case, this means more time for writing and reading, but I also like to listen to good teaching and this is a golden opportunity for me to return to John Wimber’s fantastic lecture series from the “Signs, Wonders and Church Growth” conference in Pasadena 1985. Fortunately, these lectures are still on YouTube.
As the new coronavirus spreads across the world there is a big risk of it becoming a full-blown pandemic, killing tens of thousands if not millions of people. The complaint of the World Health Organization is that many countries are ill-prepared for handling this.
It’s not hard to see why.
Two things are crucial for stopping an infectious disease before it transforms into a pandemic: international cooperation and universal health care of good quality. When these are missing, the likelihood of certain areas around the world becoming infection hubs increases, which in turn spreads the disease uncontrollably.