Criticisms of Charismatic and Pentecostal Belief

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Charismatic is an umbrella term used to describe those Christians who believe that the manifestations of the Holy Spirit seen in the first century Christian Church, such as glossalalia, healing and miracles, are available to contemporary Christians and ought to be experienced and practised today.

The word charismatic is derived from the Greek word charis (meaning a grace or a gift) which is the term used in the Bible to describe a wide range of supernatural experiences (especially in 1 Corinthians 12-14). [1]

Often confused with Pentecostalism (which it was inspired by), Charismatic Christianity tends to differ in key aspects: many Charismatics reject the preeminence given by Pentecostalism to glossolalia, reject the legalism often associated with some sectors of Pentecostalism, and tend to stay in their existing denominations instead of forming new groups (although this is no longer as true as it once was, and most house churches freely use charismatic gifts).

Charismatic expressions are not exclusive to any single denomination, nor is Charismatic theology uniquely Protestant. There is a burgeoning Charismatic movement within the Catholic Church.

Pentecostalism is a specific movement within evangelical Christianity that began in the early 20th century. It is typified by enthusiastic religious gatherings and the firm belief that God can empower the Christian for victorious life and service via the Baptism of the Holy Spirit - proof of which is found in part in the external evidence of tongue speaking. Historic Pentecostalism has its roots in the Holiness Movement and the Revivalism of the Second Great Awakening in America during the early 19th century.

More recently, the term Neocharismatic has been used to designate those groups with pentecostal-like experiences that have no traditional connection with either the Pentecostal or Charismatic movements. The Third Wave, a term coined by American theologian C. Peter Wagner, is regarded as part of the larger Neocharismatic movement, and it is typified by the growth of churches in the Vineyard Movement, among others. For the purposes of this article, this new movement will exist under the Charismatic terminology. More detailed information on these movements and what they believe can be found in their respective articles.

* 1 The nature of criticism
* 2 Criticisms from Evangelical Christians
o 2.1 Blessings, money and prosperity
o 2.2 Exegesis
o 2.3 Influences of the Latter Rain Movement
o 2.4 Oneness Pentecostals
o 2.5 Scripture, authority and guidance
o 2.6 Speaking in Tongues
o 2.7 Theology of worship
* 3 Criticisms from Catholic and/or Orthodox Christians
* 4 Criticisms from other religions
* 5 Criticisms from society generally
o 5.1 Faith Healing
o 5.2 Prosperity and Faith
o 5.3 Religious ecstasy as a psychological phenomenon
o 5.4 Word of Faith theology
o 5.5 See also
* 6 Criticisms from within the Pentecostal / Charismatic movement
o 6.1 Authoritative leadership
o 6.2 Psychological Abuse
o 6.3 Theological scholarship
o 6.4 See also
* 7 External links

The nature of criticism

Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians and organisations have, either fairly or unfairly, been subjected to numerous criticisms by both those within the Christian faith, as well as by those in the wider world.

The debate between Charismatic and non-Charismatic Christians occurs at several levels. One fundamendal theological question is usually whether the charismata described in the New Testament and apparently widely used by Jesus, the Apostles and early church leaders were a special dispensation for New Testament times only, or whether the gifts were for the Christian church down the ages.

At one time (1958) Pentecostals made up two-thirds of the membership of the National Association of Evangelicals, and by some estimates they still comprise the largest segment of Evangelicalism. Nevertheless, today many Evangelicals are not sympathetic to the beliefs and practices of the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements. Evangelical critics hold that the movement has departed from the Bible and is teaching unbiblical ideas. The Cambridge Declaration, written in 1996 by Reformed Evangelicals, is an expression of resistance against modern trends within the evangelical movement, as well as some of the issues raised by Charismatic and Pentecostal belief.

Since the Roman Catholic Church has been influenced by Charismatic teaching since the late 1960s, there are also critics within the movement that argue that Catholic Charismatics have departed from the church's traditions and teaching, and have replaced the authority of the church with a subjective way of guidance.

Both Charismatic and Pentecostal churches aggressively evangelise "non-believers", and although intentional proselytizing from other evangelical groups is discouraged, the recruiting of members from other religions does occur. Adherents of these other religions may also find the movement's tenets to be offensive to their belief system in a way that is unique and not simply part of the general offensiveness they might find in all forms of Christian belief.

Society generally is beginning to experience the movement as well, and have critiqued it according to psychological and behavioral norms, finding in the movement expressions of human behaviour that they might find offensive.

The movement itself has also spawned its own critics. Many of the fiercest critics of Charismatics and Pentecostals are those who have either "given up" the Christian faith altogether, or have moderated their beliefs somewhat to bring balance to what they see as offensive.

Criticisms from Evangelical Christians

See also: Cambridge Declaration

A number of critics of Pentecostal / Charismatic beliefs have established themselves in Discernment Ministries to promote their theological viewpoints. The main areas of criticism are outlined below. Please note that the use of the term Evangelical here refers to those Christians who claim to be Born-again but do not hold to many Pentecostal or Charismatic beliefs, rather than the broader common definition. These Evangelicals are likely to come from a Reformed or Dispensationalist point of view.

Blessings, money and prosperity

See also: Word of faith, You Need More Money (Book)

A significant portion of the Charismatic movement and a number of Pentecostals believe that the Christian life is lived in a better way than a non-Christian one, and that, as a result of this better life, God will bless them and make them prosperous. Many Charismatics believe that their faith will lead to better health (physical, mental and emotional), more money and worldly possessions, and a much happier and joyous lifestyle. Although this belief in health, wealth and happiness is common throughout some of the Charismatic movement, there are different degrees and emphases throughout.
Many Charismatic and Pentecostal teachers believe that God will reward us in this life with riches and health.
Many Charismatic and Pentecostal teachers believe that God will reward us in this life with riches and health.

There is no doubt that many new converts give up common worldly vices, such as smoking and gambling, and, as a result of this change of spending habits, end up with more money in their bank accounts and a healthier body. There is also no doubt that conversions to any religion will often lead to a subjective sense of peace and happiness in those involved. Furthermore, a religious conversion almost always leads to the individual subjecting themselves to external rules and ways of thinking, which allows a different perespective on their lives and the ability to make relatively objective choices that will lead to greater levels of prosperity. What all this indicates is that there is some truth in the claim that the Christian faith can lead to greater health, wealth and happiness - at least from a behavioural point of view.

The difference between Evangelicals and Charismatics on this issue is that Evangelicals, while agreeing that some level of worldly prosperity may result, will contend that God is not really interested in worldly possessions. For many evangelicals, the Christian faith is not about worldly prosperity at all, but about heavenly riches especially those given freely through the death and resurrection of Christ. For Evangelicals, it does not therefore follow that the Christian faith will automatically lead to health, wealth and prosperity, and nor should a Christian expect it or ask for it.

Evangelicals have, however, argued that such an emphasis in the Charismatic movement has led people away from the heavenly riches that are promised in Christ. Rather than focus upon Christ and the Cross, Evangelicals argue that, when Charismatics focus upon worldly prosperity, they are both teaching serious theological error and failing to teach the true Gospel. Additionally, many Evangelicals believe that Christians have every Spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3), a position that precludes any demand or promise for further blessings from God. For the Evangelical, Christ is all the blessing a Christian needs. Many Pentecostals and Neocharismatics are in agreement with this aspect of the Evangelical argument.

A problem therefore arises when Charismatics claim that God is offering Christians more blessings than the gift of Christ. Since they are not given automatically to Christians, Charismatics hold to the idea that these blessings can be appropriated by obedience in the Scriptures, specifically, faithfully tithing 10 percent of one's income to his or her local church. However, Charismatic Christians believe that the mere act of the giving of tithes and offerings does not automatically return blessings. Giving must be done in faith and out of a heart of worship. The beliver must have the motivation of advancing the Gospel, not the accumulation of wealth. Many Evangelicals believe that this idea seriously undermines the biblical teaching on God's grace. Evangelicals would pose such questions as Why would God give a Christian salvation and eternal life as a free gift, but offer worldly blessings only to those who perform better than others? For the Evangelical, if God specially rewards greater faith in Christians by giving them worldly prosperity, then it is one step away from saying that all of God's blessings, including salvation, are based upon works. The Charismatic response would be that faith is not a work; rather, it is a trust in and reliance upon that which God has revealed in His Word regarding these matters.

Teaching on prosperity, while common throughout some of the Charismatic movement, differs in emphasis from church to church. As in the Evangelical Christian world, Charismatics themselves can be wary of false teaching and will often self-regulate against any obvious excesses. Evangelicals would argue, however, that such self-regulation is not enough.

Several leading Pentecostal denominations, including the Church of God (Cleveland), openly renounce the hyper-prosperity message. To the credit of Pentecostals, many have been confronting this error for a number of years. Recent efforts of the Center for Pentecostal Leadership and Care, directed by Dr. James P. Bowers, have resulted in the publication of a document entitled, You Can Have What You Say: A Pastoral Response to the Prosperity Gospel. This volume evaluates the threat posed to the faith and practice of Pentecostal believers by the “prosperity gospel” and provides a practical analysis of its roots and appeal. The book (1) considers how prosperity theology is affecting local congregations, (2) examines the philosophical and theological roots of prosperity teaching against the backdrop of classical Pentecostal doctrine, (3) addresses how Pentecostal pastors can strategize a response within the context of the local church and (4) offers resources, exercises, and activities that will assist the pastor in implementing an effective and faithful approach to this concern.


Exegesis is the way in which Biblical passages are examined and interpreted. Although Charismatics and Evangelicals alike believe that the Bible can be understood and applied by all believers, Evangelicals are often critical of the way in which Charismatics (and Pentecostals) interpret and apply scripture.

This issue is a much larger one in modern society because it has to take into account modern ways and methods of interpreting written text. Evangelicals tend to take a Structuralist view of interpreting the Bible. This means that Biblical texts should be interpreted according to their literary type and takes into account the text's purpose, its audience and its historical and philosophical context. Moreover, an Evangelical will argue that a Biblical text can only be understood and applied in this manner, and that any departure from this will lead to a misinterpretation of Scripture. In this sense, Evangelicals believe that the Bible is like any other text in the manner in which you read it, but unlike any other text because its ultimate authorship is divine.
A Pentecostal preacher. The content of preaching is often determined by Biblical interpretation (exegesis)
A Pentecostal preacher. The content of preaching is often determined by Biblical interpretation (exegesis)

Charismatics, however, are less likely to follow a Structuralist approach to interpreting scripture. While they may not discard the Evangelical approach, many Charismatics believe that the Bible's divine authorship allows it to be interpreted in a more subjective and reader-centred manner. In many ways, it could be argued that Charismatics are more likely to take a Post-structuralist or even Post-modernist way of interpreting Scripture. Thus a Charismatic will be able to take a verse of Scripture out of its literary context and apply it in a subjective manner. Such an approach could be defended by arguing that God's power to guide cannot be limited by human conventions such as textual structure. Furthermore, since it is God who is guiding the individual through this interpretive process, it could be argued that it is a superior way of interpretation since it assumes that God is able to give the Christian immediate and clear guidance. The Evangelical approach to interpretation, however, could therefore be seen as a limiting of God and has an overly intellectual and transcendent view of God, rather than a personal and immanent view of God that typifies Charismatic interpretation.

Evangelicals argue, however, that many modern day Charismatic leaders have gone beyond this subjective interpretive model and are actually teaching things that are contrary to orthodox Christian belief. The fact that there is such a diverse range of beliefs within the Charismatic movement (beliefs which are often contrary) is proof, according to Evangelicals, that such an interpretive model is flawed. After all, the Evangelical would say, why is God not guiding his people in a consistent manner?

An example of the difference between a Charismatic and an Evangelical interpretation of Scripture can be seen in a quick examination of 1 Corinthians 2:4-5, which says My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power (NIV).

One way that this verse could be interpreted by Charismatics is that it backs up the belief that God is acting in our world to produce miracles. Therefore, it could be argued, church meetings should include times when God can work miracles. On the other hand, preaching conducted solely on the basis of the human understanding could be classed as the “wise and persuasive words” mentioned in this verse, and such preaching should not be the focus of the Christian meeting. This interpretation basically assumes that Paul's ministry in Corinth was both a preaching ministry and a ministry that involved supernatural manifestations. The implication for Charismatics is that since Paul did this, so should the modern-day church.

Another way this verse could be interpreted by Charismatics focuses on the phrase “so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power”. What this could prove is that the Christian should trust not in various arguments or in intellectual knowledge alone, but upon a more experiential knowledge of God. On the basis on this rationale, some Charismatics conclude that it should not matter, therefore, if someone disagrees with them or challenges them in their faith – they can trust in their personal experience. However, many Charismatics and Pentecostals alike hold that all subjective experience is subject to the authority of the objective Word of God.

The Evangelical interprets these verses in a very different way. The verse needs to be taken in context with the rest of what Paul says, especially chapter 1:22-23 which says Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. Critics of the Charismatic understanding of the supernatural would say that these verses contradict the idea that Paul's ministry was primarily one of performing miracles. 2:2 is also important to the Evangelical because it states that I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. Thus the demonstration of the Spirit's power found in 2:4 could in fact be the conversion experience of the Corinthian readers, and “God's power” in 2:5 is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Evangelicals argue that this way of interpreting the text fits into a structuralist model because it takes the verses in its historical and grammatical context. Charismatics and even Pentecostals would counter-argue that such an interpretation reads more into the text than is clearly stated and ignores the historical context -- a context that was characterized by the dynamic of the Holy Spirit manifested through supernatural signs and wonders. Furthermore, if 1:22-23 is a condemnation of reliance upon signs and wonders, then it is equally a condemnation of an overly intellectualized approach to the Gospel.

It needs to be pointed out that claims of "faulty" exegesis are not a criticism that can be applied solely to Charismatics. It is entirely possible for Charismatic Christians and leaders to understand and apply a Biblical text in a manner which is acceptable to a Structuralist approach (and thus meet the interpretive framework that many Evangelicals hold to). It is also entirely possible (in fact, it is probably very common) that many Evangelicals themselves are guilty of "faulty" exegesis. Evangelicals will argue, however, that this phenomenon is far more likely to occur within a Charismatic church than in an Evangelical church. On the other hand, Charismatics and Pentecostals hold that Evangelicals do injustice to the Scriptures by forcing interpretations that reinforce what might be called preconceived cessationist conclusions -- ideas based more on experience than on the message of the text.

Influences of the Latter Rain Movement

Main article: Latter Rain Movement

The Latter Rain Movement was a religious movement that was prevalent in American Pentecostal churches in the 1940s and 1950s. Led by William M. Branham and others, it taught that the Five-fold ministry would be returned (including prophets and apostles), that special Christians would arise who would have supernatural powers (the Manifest Sons of God), and that specially ordained "overcomers" would rise to political power and take over secular institutions in the name of God (Kingdom Now theology). This movement denied some of the more Fundamentalist teachings such as the Rapture, and also held to Jesus-only doctrines popularized by Oneness Pentecostalism.

The US Assemblies of God declared the movement heretical but its teachings remained influential for some years. [2]

There appears to be evidence that suggests that, since 1975, Charismatics have engaged in fellowship with all Christians who have had the same religious experiences as they had - which included both the traditional Pentecostals and the Latter Rain movement. As a result, both the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement presently share a great deal in common theologically, and this has come from a resurgence in Latter-rain teaching in both movements.

Evangelicals and traditional Pentecostals would still argue that the teachings of the Latter Rain movement were heretical. There is evidence to suggest that, while the term "Latter Rain" is not associated with modern Charismatic and Pentecostal theology, the teaching certainly is.

Oneness Pentecostals

Main article Oneness Pentecostal

An offshoot of the Pentecostal movement, Oneness Pentecostals believe that there is one God with no essential divisions in His nature (such as a trinity) . He is not a plurality of persons, but He does have a plurality of manifestations, roles, titles, attributes, or relationships to man. Furthermore, these are not limited to three. Whereas Trinitarian Christianity teaches that God is existent in three Persons, Oneness doctrine states that there is only one member of the Godhead, namely Jesus. He is the incarnation of the fullness of God. In His deity, Jesus is the Father and the Holy Spirit.

The rejection of the trinity has also been called Sabellianism, or modalism, and is considered heresy by most evangelicals and those within the Charismatic and Pentecostal Movement.

These churches are sometimes known as Pentacostal churches - the difference in spelling being an indicator.

Scripture, authority and guidance

See also: Sola scriptura

One of the issues that Evangelical Christians have with Charismatics and Pentecostals is the place of the Bible in terms of authority. Most Charismatic and Pentecostal Christians will agree that the Bible is divinely inspired and was written by men under the supervision of the Holy Spirit. This belief is also held by evangelicals and serves as one of the many points of agreement. However, many evangelicals see the Bible as not only divinely inspired, but also divinely sufficient - that the Bible is all the Christian needs to be guided by God and to live the Christian faith. The protestant reformers called this Sola scriptura. This point of view appears to be backed up by 2 Timothy 3:16-17, which states that the scriptures are not only "God breathed" but "thoroughly equip" the believer for every good work - the idea here being that "thoroughly equip" is synonymous with sufficiency. Pentecostals and Charismatics, on the other hand, expect direct guidance from the Holy Spirit in the form of dreams, visions and various other subjective experiences. The fact that many biblical figures (such as Noah, Moses, King David, Jesus, Peter, Paul and so on) have been guided directly by God appears to back up their belief that God can and will use subjective experiences to guide his people.
Image:Bible old.jpg
Many Christians believe that the ultimate author of the Bible is God himself.

Evangelicals have criticised this approach to guidance because, firstly, just because direct guidance is described in the Bible does not mean it is prescribed for the Christian life and, secondly, because the individual relies upon subjective experiences for God to guide then there is a temptation to rely solely upon these for living the Christian life - a process which takes the believer away from the Bible as the means by which God speaks. Many evangelicals have been concerned with what they perceive as "misleading" or "false" teaching arising from the movement - with teachings such as Word of faith (prosperity), the Toronto blessing and Signs and Wonders as examples of this. Many evangelicals have labelled popular televangelists (such as Benny Hinn, Marilyn Hickey and Kenneth Copeland to name just three) as being, at best, seriously misguided and, at worst, satanically inspired. To be fair, many Pentecostals and Charismatics do not adhere to these teachings, which indicates the complexity of criticism in this area. For evangelicals, however, an over-reliance upon subjective experience as the means by which God guides will lead to lower levels of Biblical knowledge. This, they argue, will inevitably lead to the Christian being influenced by people and movements that teach and preach strange and misleading doctrines.

Although it may appear that there is a clear polarization between guidance by the Bible and guidance by experience, most evangelicals and pentecostals accept a combination of the two - with Evangelicals accepting some form of direct experience (so long as it does not contradict the Bible), and with Pentecostals accepting some level of Biblical authority (so long as it does not prevent God from guiding directly).

External links

* List of articles that defend Sola Scriptura
* Continuing Revelation: What's the big deal?

Speaking in Tongues

Some Pentecostals believe that Speaking in Tongues is a direct result of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, and that believers who do not undergo this work of God are unable to experience the fullness of being Christian. By contrast, Charismatics accept that Tongue Speaking is a valid Christian experience, but, like other Pentecostals, do not always accept that the Baptism in the Spirit automatically leads to Tongue Speaking.

Evangelicals generally believe that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit occurs at the point of conversion - in this sense all Christians have been baptised by the Holy Spirit, and there is no "dual-stage" in the Christian faith. They also question the validity of Tongue Speaking in two ways. The first is to argue that Tongues were for the first-century church only and that it, along with Prophecy, have "passed away" (1 Cor 13:8-10). The second is to identify Tongues as Xenoglossia (the supernatural speaking of another human language that is recorded in Acts 2:1-13) which is purportedly not what is manifested in Pentecostal or Charismatic Christians today.

However, the belief that prophecy and Tongues have "passed away" as some non-Charismatic Evangelicals state 1 Cor 13:8-10 says, is challenged by Charismatic Christians. They say that while Scripture is the infallible authority in our lives, man is not perfect, and therefore, man cannot know everything about God in his sinful state (I Cor. 13:8-10). This argument does not mean Charismatics believe the Holy Bible is not the sufficient, infallible Authority in the life of a Christian. They defend the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture fervantly. However, what is meant by this is that while on earth, man cannot know God in His Entirety. As a result of the infiniteness of God and the finiteness of mankind, this is not possible. The Charismatic Christian believes that when they are with God after sin is destroyed and all believers are raised up and their physical bodies are freed from the grip of sin and death, then "the perfect" will come and gifts of the Spirit will no longer be necessary. In short, Charismatics believe this passage is referring to the Christian, not Scripture. "The perfect" is interpreted as referring to the Christian's regenerated state in Heaven.

Theology of worship

Public expressions of Worship in Pentecostal and Charismatic churches can generally be described as energetic and intensely personal, often accompanied by a specific style of music that can include Gospel music in Black Pentecostal churches and the contemporary worship music of Hillsong Church.

Many Charismatic churches in the early 21st century have adopted a contemporary worship style that focuses heavily upon "uplifting" music and repetitive and simple lyrics. Charismatic churches that have embraced Transformationalism are likely to have a worship style that reflects this theological stance.
Pentecostal Worship is often spontaneous, emotional, uninhibited and honest.
Pentecostal Worship is often spontaneous, emotional, uninhibited and honest.

Evangelicals have levelled a number of criticisms of Charismatic worship.

One major criticism is that there is an over-emphasis upon the subjective experience of worship rather than upon any objective experience that finds its basis in the Bible. Evangelicals, particularly those from a Reformed background, argue that Worship should be regulated by what God has revealed in Scripture. Meanwhile, the Pentecostal or Charismatic believer would most likely point out that focussing on one's subjective experience of God's biblical nature is quite valid.

Additionally, many Reformed Evangelicals place a great emphasis upon the centrality of the Gospel and the Word of God throughout public worship. This means that the Bible is publicly read during worship, that the congregation is exposed to carefully researched Expository preaching on a regular basis, and that all songs and hymns are clearly biblical and Christ-focused. By doing this, Reformed Evangelicals believe that the Holy Spirit will be working in the lives of all people present - and that such a work of the Spirit cannot necessarily be recognised by a subjective feeling or any visible, measurable occurrence.

By contrast, Charismatic worship does not necessarily involve a public reading of scripture, nor would the preaching be based upon a systematic explanation of a Biblical text. Evangelicals have often criticised Charismatic preaching for misunderstanding the Bible, with many preachers allegedly guilty of inaccurate exegesis. Since Charismatics have a higher regard for personal experience, preachers can often use their own subjective experiences, or even what they consider to be direct guidance from God, as the basis of their teaching. Since many Evangelicals see Scripture as divinely sufficient, they find such Charismatic teaching problematic.

Charismatic song lyrics, although simple and honest, may not necessarily be Biblical in their content. Some evangelicals have even (either fairly or unfairly) labelled such songs as having "Jesus is my boyfriend" lyrics. Evangelicals argue that any Christian hymn or song should be explicitly Biblical in nature, and focus upon what God has done rather than on what we feel about God. For the Evangelical, "Declaring God's praise" involves singing and preaching about God's divine characteristics, such as his omnipotence, omnipresence, providence as well as his love for his people in sending Jesus Christ to die on the Cross as a sin substitute. Hymns and Songs that explain the person and work of Jesus Christ are also important to Evangelicals.

A simple (but not always accurate) assertion that Charismatics make about differences between themselves and Evangelicals is that they focus on worship while Evangelicals focus on teaching. While this assertion has some truth in it, it fails to recognise that, for the Evangelical, bible teaching forms an integral part of true worship. In his book Engaging with God,[3] Evangelical author David Peterson[4] asserts that true worship involves the church approaching God in worship on God's terms, and that God himself is engaging with his people during the ekklesia (gathering) as his Word is read and explained, and as the Gospel is proclaimed.

But while Evangelicals will criticise Charismatic worship as being too subjective and shallow, Charismatics will criticise evangelical worship as being too impersonal, unemotional and intellectual.

Criticisms from Catholic and/or Orthodox Christians

The Catholic and Orthodox churches would agree with the basic belief that the manifestations of the Holy Spirit seen in the first century Christian Church, such as glossalalia, healing and miracles, are available to contemporary Christians and ought to be experienced and practiced today. Many stories of the saints include examples of these things occurring throughout the history of Christianity. It is often believed that God can and does work such miracles both through the normal exercise of the sacraments of the Church, and at times in unexpected ways. However, they also believe that such miracles would not and should not generally be disruptive to the prayers of the assembled church, believing instead that all things should be done "decently and in order."

Criticisms from other religions

Criticisms from society generally

Faith Healing

The following articles are useful in examining the possible reasons why Faith Healing in Charismatic churches continues to be popular.

* Faith Healing
* Correlation implies causation (logical fallacy)
* Post hoc ergo propter hoc
* Regressive fallacy

Prosperity and Faith

Many Charismatic and Pentecostal churches champion the idea that God will materially bless those who love and serve him. In order to prove this assertion, many examples and testimonies exist within these churches that appear to validate this belief.

Since Charismatic and Pentecostal churches exist within growing market economies, the belief that God will bless you if you "go out" in faith simply produces an environment of entreprenurial risk-taking. If this environment develops enough, the church community will eventually produce successful businessmen and -women (not to mention a number of business failures). The presence of these people within the church therefore only validates the assumption. Thus the belief that God blesses certain people materially could actually be a logical fallacy.

Religious ecstasy as a psychological phenomenon

See also: Ecstasy (state)

The stereotypical worship service that is prevalent amongst many Charismatic and Pentecostal churches involves repetitious phrases uttered during emotionally uplifting music, the raising of hands and the closing of eyes, an open and willing attitude to the "presence of God", a dependence and focus upon the preacher or worship leader who himself/herself is acting and speaking in an emotionally charged way. This sort of experience is common amongst many non-Christian religious adherents and has been described as Religious ecstasy.

Therefore, it could be argumed that Charismatic and Pentecostal churches that exhibit these features are only reproducing a psychological phenomena that is common to humanity regardless of their religion, rather than engaging in an entirely unique Christian activity where a supernatural force is present in the gathering. That this phenomena can be exhibited in a group of people engaging in a common religious activity actually makes this explanation more likely.

Charismatic and Pentecostal manifestations such as Speaking in Tongues, being Slain in the Spirit, the laughing and crying caused by the Toronto blessing and the placebo effect of Faith healing can all be explained by the prevalence of Religious ecstasy in these gatherings.

Word of Faith theology

An examination of Word-Faith theology seems to match the experience of those who advocate Neuro-linguistic programming as a form of behaviour modification. Thus Charismatics and Pentecostals who "succeed in life" due to this brand of theology may only be replicating the efforts of secular proponents like Anthony Robbins.

See also

* Autosuggestion

* Suggestibility
* Visualization

Criticisms from within the Pentecostal / Charismatic movement

Authoritative leadership

Some people tend to follow the leaders within these movements from a motivation of either loyalty or a belief the leaders are anointed (chosen by God to be a spiritual leader). This could create problems as many will often believe what the leaders say and tend not think critically through these issues. Objective biblical and theological research may quite often be discouraged. The leaders may often wield enormous power within their churches and often try to harness this power for good; Many former Charismatics would argue, however, that this power has no Biblical basis.

At an even deeper level, the issue becomes goes back to authority and guidance. Charismatic and Pentecostal leaders will often claim the bible as their final authority in all matters of faith and life. Many former Charismatics would argue, however, that when these leaders believe the Holy Spirit is speaking directly to them, this often becomes the final authority. It really comes down to which view of God's guidance has greater emphasis - personal experience or the Bible.

Psychological Abuse

See also: Psychological abuse

Many former Charismatics and Pentecostals have complained that they have experienced undue psyschological pressure and abuse from their former churches. Church members who openly complain about the church or the leadership, or dispute decisions, have been subjected to this abuse because they pose a threat to the church's leadership and stability.

Some organizations argue that this abuse is endemic to the movement, and is a result of a combined number of issues. These include rapid numerical growth; uneducated pastors; an anti-intellectual attitude; the need for order and strong leadership; the belief that God is dealing with the church in a special way; a lack of accountability; and the need to suppress dissention.

It needs to be pointed out, however, that many people are attracted to the Charismatic and Pentecostal movement by the genuine love and care exhibited by individuals in these churches. It is erroneous to assume, therefore, that all churches in the movement are naturally abusive. It is also erroneous to assume that psychlogical abuse is unique to these churches, and that other churches, including evangelical ones, are immune from it.

While this love and care may be genuine, it does not necessarily mean that the church is not abusive in some way. Many Charismatic and Pentecostal churches exhibit the phenomenon of Communal reinforcement whereby community belief in someone or something is so strong that even empirical evidence to the contrary is discounted. A dissenter may therefore be ostracized by the church community despite having a reasonable and objective point of view. Alternatively, the dissenter may choose to keep their reservations to themselves, thus creating a spiral of silence.

While there have been cases akin to Brainwashing within these churches, such extreme activity is actually quite rare. Nevertheless, The Children of God developed out of the Jesus Movement in the 1960s, which was closely linked to the Charismatic movement, and The People's Temple was heavily influenced by the Pentecostal Movement in the 1950s. [5]

Theological scholarship

Some former Charismatics are of the opinion that recognised Pentecostal and Charismatic theologians are very difficult to find and that the movement is highly dependent upon scholars from Evangelical or Reformed backgrounds to formulate any rudimentary beliefs. In the early years of the Pentecostal movement, this assessment may have been true, for in the formative years of the movement Pentecostals were given more to the practice of their faith and engagement in their mission than to theological reflection. However, in recent years Pentecostals have become much more adept in reflecting upon and articulating their theology. More information related to Pentecostal, Charismatic and Neocharismatic theologians is covered under Renewal Theologians.

See also

* Consensus reality
* Group-serving bias
* Groupthink
* Herd behavior
* Informational cascade
* Love bombing
* Mind control

External links

* An Evangelical laments over how he feels Pentecostal and Charismatic beliefs are now dividing the body of Christ
* Ex Pentecostal forums - a forum for those leaving Pentecostal and Charismatic congregations (formerly ex-pentecostals.org)
* "I was a Flaky Preacher" - how a pastor gave up on the Charismatic movement but retained his faith and ministry.
* A Charismatic Apologetics Directory - scholarly articles defending Charismatic doctrine

This text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License


Craig Schwarze said...

What a tremendous effort! It would be a great shame for it to be lost from Wiki.

Doranc said...

Just read your articfle, absolutely tremendous! I am a oneness Pentecostal, and appreciate this kind of treatment of the subject in a scholarly and informative fashion, leaving judgement calls on the subject of Pentecostalism to other venues, providing some factual info for those like yself looking for information rather than opinion. Thank you, Rev. Doran Conroy

Mari said...

This is a very interesting article, but factually wrong in much of it's content. It is a dangerous thing to say that Pentecostals or Charismatics as a whole believe in the whole "prosperity" doctrine, when in fact, I've grown up in the Pentecostal church my entire life, and we've always preached against that, I mean, look at Paul! Anyways, I'd encourage you to get your facts straight, much of this is fundamentally untrue, unfortunately.

Neil Cameron (One Salient Oversight) said...


You said:

"It is a dangerous thing to say that Pentecostals or Charismatics as a whole believe in the whole "prosperity" doctrine"

In the article I say this:

"Teaching on prosperity, while common throughout some of the Charismatic movement, differs in emphasis from church to church. As in the Evangelical Christian world, Charismatics themselves can be wary of false teaching and will often self-regulate against any obvious excesses."

Which means, of course, that I don't assume that all charismatic Christians embrace prosperity

Unknown said...

I would like to thank you for this article, I am actually at a crossroad in my life concerning what denomination I believe. I have been Pentecostal for many years, I belonged to a church for 5 years, but had to leave because I felt I could not be myself, I started to see how legalistic they were, and how more emphasis was put on experience and feelings rather than God's word, I am a military brat and have always had a hard time praying in public, so I was told my heart is cold, I also have crohns disease, and I was told I wasn't healed because of my lack of faith, I have witnessed first hand the destruction of the word of faith movement, but anytime I tried to tell them what I was seeing, they told me I had secret sin in my heart, after I left I had to go through intense counseling, I am conflicted about tongues, because when I pray sometimes tongues does burst forth, but I do not believe tongues should be brought forth on the command of the pastor, example : pastor would say "everyone that can speak in tongues speak it now" I believe it should only be brought on by the Holy Spirit, anyways, thank you

Neil Cameron (One Salient Oversight) said...


The idea that people have said that you are at fault for your lack of healing is one of the more destructive elements of your church. I am glad you have left it.

Understand that Christians everywhere may suffer all sorts of physical, emotional and mental illnesses. God can heal them, yes, but we should never assume that healing is assured. We should pray for healing, but also for strength to continue on despite the pain and suffering we might undergo.

Ultimately we will all be healed - on the day that the Lord Jesus returns and we will be raised too with bodies immortal.

jatorres02 said...

Great article - it was exactly the compare\contrast type research on Pentecostalism I was looking for! Thanks for your hard work on this piece,and keeping it online. :)