Among the many profundities uttered by Dr. Edward Panosian, the long-time chairman of the history department at Bob Jones University, was a statement that went something like this:
We live in an “ismatic” age.
Dr. Panosian went on to explain what he meant by that statement. It is apparent that many people in the past 60 years or so are finding things which become very powerful influences in their thinking and practical living. These “things” may include political positions, theological perspectives, or philosophical systems, to name a few areas of their influence.
A partial list will illustrate how influential “ismatic” thinking is:
The “ismatic spirit” has entered into religion. Here is a partial list to demonstrate the point:
This ismatic thinking/attitude is not new. Here are two simple examples:
Several mentions should be made about the modern Charismatic/Pentecostal movement.
1. Its worldwide influence is undeniable.
Today, when pastors, evangelists, and missionaries gather together, no matter what denominational background the group may have, one of the most common discussions centers around the various reactions people have toward the Charismatic movement.
The Pentecostal movement is on the growing edge of the Christian mission in the world today. And while some within the Church might find that edge untidy and a few might even question if the movement propelling it may be properly called Christian at all, none can deny that the movement is growing. It is to be recognized that, whether approved by us or not, the Pentecostal movement is in the world with increasing numbers and significance. Pentecostalism wishes to be taken seriously as a Christian movement. Its assessment is due.
In the past decade or so, the movement’s impact has grown even more.
Even a casual observer of the movement’s influence can easily discern that most denominations have at least a vestige of Pentecostal/Charismatic thinking in them. Further, the missionary efforts are quite impressive, the offerings of radio and television programs are numerous, and the number of “independent” churches with Pentecostal perspectives is skyrocketing. These trends are, of course, in addition to such recently established denominations as the Assemblies of God, Four Square Gospel Churches, and Church of God in Christ churches, to name a few.
2. Its doctrinal stance concerning the Holy Spirit generally focuses on two New Testament books.
The Pentecostal use of the New Testament for the doctrine of the Holy Spirit draws most extensively from the book of Acts and I Corinthians chapters twelve to fourteen….
3. Its overall theology is orthodox and conservative. The main difference between them and other Christian groups is a strong emphasis on their understanding of experiences in the Christian life and how the Holy Spirit ministers to believers.
Here is a brief doctrinal statement from an early Pentecostal/Charismatic document:
(1) “We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God; (2) that there is on God, eternally existent in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; (3) in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning sacrifice through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, and in His personal return in power and glory; (4) that for the salvation of the lost and sinful man regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential; (5) that the full Gospel includes holiness of heart and life, healing for the body, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the initial evidence of speaking in tongues as the Spirit gives utterance; (6) in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit, by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life; (7) in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation; (8) in the spiritual unity of believers in our lord Jesus Christ.
Theologically, the adherents of the Pentecostal movement unite around an emphasis upon the experience of the Holy Spirit in the life of the individual believer and in the fellowship of the church. The Pentecostal does not normally care to distinguish himself from evangelical believers in the fundamentals of the Christian faith—he is, by choice, “fundamental” in doctrine. But the Pentecostal finds his raison d-etre in what for him is crucial: his faith in the supernatural, extraordinary, and visible work of the Holy Spirit in the post-conversion experience of the believer today as, he would insist, the days of the apostles.
4. It feels it has a definite and urgent mission to complete.
Pentecostals agree and unify around their belief that their recent successes in missions, church planting, and education are due to their strong adherence to their distinctives, particularly the ideas of emphasis on experience, the role of the Holy Spirit in the lives of a believer, and the concept that Pentecost is not only possible, but actually necessary, for any significant progress in today’s church. In fact, they consider any church which does not hold to their distinctives to be “dead” and in need of a revival as described in the book of Acts.
Although many in the movement sometimes seem aware that it has significant shortcomings, few of them doubt that God has blessed them in an extraordinary way and that it has an important mission to fulfill in the modern church.
After fifty years our Lord’s classic text “By their fruits ye shall know them” can be safely applied to the Pentecostal Movement. It makes no claim to perfection… But by and large, the Movement’s great and solid achievements in missionary work; in its fervent contribution to the cause of true Revival; and most of all its utter loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ in His divinity and humanity, and the work of His atonement for our sins by His precious blood should still the tongues and pens of those who still publish evil of this great work of the Holy Spirit.
And so we come to the purpose of this book.
Several factors should be considered:
Because we live in an “ismatic” age, surely one of the most influential isms with Christianity needs to be examined from time to time. This author makes no pretense of being an authority on the history or recent trends of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. Such a book would require many years of devoted research into areas where others have far more expertise and background. It is clear, however, that all in Christianity can rally around the idea that the Bible is God’s Word: authoritative in all matters, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and inerrant in the original autographs.
That being the case, a thoroughly Biblical look is not only helpful, but is actually quite important, to determine the trustworthiness of any group calling itself “Christian.”
“Ismatic” adherents have a way of moving to one end or the other on the spectrum of beliefs/practices. Take a look at the list of isms listed above. Since the Bible is our only reliable Word from God on this and all other subjects, and because the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement is susceptible to trends that are often rejected by others, it is quite obvious, then, that a Biblical analysis is the best way to evaluate it.
It would be a great thing is all believers would “just get along,” but it seems that since the inception of the modern Pentecostal movement barriers have been raised, causing significant divisions. That is why missionaries, pastors, and other leaders have all the discussions they have. The author recognizes that he is likely to be branded as a “hero” or a “heretic” by virtually everyone who reads this book.
It is apparent that many are afraid to tackle the tough issues. It is just as obvious that many seek (and eventually find) someone who agrees with their opinion but generally offers little Biblical support for their views.
To state the case frankly, there are many in the body of Christ who will discuss their views with others who are for the most part of like mind but are afraid to offend them by offering disagreement on certain points.
Of course, this problem has existed since the beginning of the Church.
Today, however, we live in a “politically correct” environment in which many do not want to stress man’s sinfulness before a holy God, the Bible’s absolute authority to teach and guide us in all matters of faith and practice, or the fact that Jesus offers the only solution to man’s need of salvation. These points were not often debated a century ago, because pastors, evangelists, Christian college professors, and leaders in all areas of the Church were united in defending such Biblical truths.
Simply put, we have a number of leaders who are rather cowardly in their presentation of the Gospel.
The same applies to the issue before us. While it is not the author’s intent to be divisive or obstinate, the truth of God’s Word must be clearly presented to all who will read or listen to it. Of course, as will be pointed out in the commentary, love is crucial in all that we do (I Corinthians 13)!
And so the challenge is to present the truth in love.
Since I Corinthians 12-14 is so widely employed in the modern Pentecostal/Charismatic movement, it is apparent that a verse-by-verse commentary is much needed.
The author would like to take this opportunity to thank all the readers for their interest in this subject. It is his prayer that this book will be both instructive and helpful to all who will read it. Surely these are great needs in the Church today!
Bruner, p. 19. It is interesting to note that these words were written in 1970. Obviously true then, they are more true today.
Ibid., p. 15. Of course, preaching does come from other portions of Scripture in Pentecostal churches, but their actual doctrine does center largely on the two New testament sources.
”The Constitution of the Pentecostal Fellowship of North America,” in E.E. Mayer, The Religious Bodies of America (2nd ed.: St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1956), p. 319.
Pentecost, No, 42 (December, 1957), p. 17.