The words ‘charismatic’ and ‘pentecostal’ have passed their use-by dates

Two adjectives which seem to have passed their use-by dates are ‘charismatic’ and ‘pentecostal’.

Where used as a noun, e.g. as part of a church name, ‘Pentecostal’ has some usefulness in that it describes a historic path through which that church (or family of churches) reached its present state.

However, as descriptors of a form of church life, I seriously doubt whether these two words any longer say very much. There are charismatics and non-charismatics within almost every church fellowship or grouping. It is now more a personality and lifestyle designator than anything theological. Many Baptist, Presbyterian, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Churches of Christ, Anglican, etc., Christians freely exercise spiritual gifts and/or speak in tongues.

On the other hand, some Pentecostal churches appear to outsiders to be anything but charismatic (or ‘pentecostal’ in its original sense)! As is usual with distinct groups of people, eventually the very distinctives which made them different become the means by which the group becomes constrained or even controlled.

So, there has emerged a Pentecostal tradition which can be as rigid as any other historic Christian tradition. (I don’t wish to over-generalise here – of course there also exist many fine Pentecostal churches whose people live in great freedom.) Given the freedom and life which should be at the very core of any movement characterised by the Holy Spirit, it seems paradoxical that this tradition so quickly became invested with a strong form of top-down, pastor-to-people control, and a theological hardness which persists even now that ministerial education of Pentecostal pastors is expected rather than discouraged.

The tradition which, at the turn of the 20th Century and on into the 1970s, was used by God to bring fresh life and power into the mainstream Western church, now seems so often to be wary, defensive, and to an increasing degree isolationist. And this at the time when the clear move of the Spirit is towards breaking down of barriers and the revealing of the one-church-in-the-city. In other words, rather than joining with us they have instead become just like us. I find this incredibly sad.

As a charismatic baptist pastor with a church full mainly of wounded people, and who knows the stresses that come with going against the mainstream of one’s own tradition (or what that tradition has now become), I too have felt like one of my Pentecostal pastor friends when he said, “I feel like an alien in my own movement!”

May I encourage my Pentecostal brothers and sisters to not give up the battle. The freedom can be regained – that is what it means to be filled with the “wind which blows wherever it pleases” (John 3:8).

About Mal

Pastor, prayer ministry centre director, theologian, philosopher, musician, radio amateur, electronic engineer, webmaster
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