Fatal Flaws Of The Current Charismatic Revival

Daniel H. King
Lakeland, Florida

It is not our intention to be purely negative in our presentation of this material. Our love for those caught up in the fervor of the system will not allow it. Many whom we have known have been honest people, delightful to have as neighbors, warm and congenial to others, filled with ardor and zeal, and willing to share themselves and their faith with their friends. Again, though, this is not the only genuine test of whether the system itself is right or wrong. Do not the Mormons in many instances demonstrate the identical characteristics? And yet most charismatics will agree that Mormon doctrines are, all but a few, of the Devil. Piety and zeal, along with other Christian virtues, are part of the common store of principles with which very few in any religious (or even non-religious) movement would argue. These things are important, even essential to salvation, but they are not the only tests of genuine discipleship. Possession of truth must be the ultimate test.

And, while I want not to be taken as purely critical, I must nevertheless voice my criticism of this ideology, just as I do of Mormonism. The Holy Spirit (about which charismatics So often speak) is, after all, the Spirit of Truth (Jn. 16:13). in any essential point there is a well-defined difference between the work of the Spirit of Truth and the spirit of error. For those Christians in the apostle John's lifetime it was the question whether or not Jesus came in the flesh (1 Jn. 4:1-3). In practically every generation the issue will be a different one, and may even consist of many such issues. But the solution will ever be the same: "Whoever knows God listens to us (i.e., the apostles) and he who is not of God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error" (1 Jn. 4:6).

So, the only safe course to follow in every situation is the course the Bible steers us through. God has given us both the Bible and the brains to understand it. If anyone tells you not to listen to what the Bible says, don't you listen to him. Or, if they tell you not to make use of the intelligence God has granted you, then beware of this approach also. Remember that it was God who said, "Come, let us reason together, said the Lord" (Isa. 1: 18). Notwithstanding all of the strident appeals to the Bible made by charismatics, the simple truth is that neither the Bible nor reason are the real platforms which support this system. Let me explain what I mean.

Emotions and inner feelings were never meant to supplant a reasoned approach to the Word of God. In my own dealings with those involved with the modem charismatic movement, I have often thought that the most fatal flaw plaguing the system and those entrapped by it is the tendency to exalt emotion above reason. Jesus repeated the ancient "first commandment," including the demand that a man love the Lord God with all his mind as well as his heart (Matt. 22:37; quoting Deut. 6:5). The religion of the Bible is both a heart and head religion. Many of the leaders of the current movement ensnare well-meaning but ignorant people in a web of ecstatic emotionalism and hold them secure through the spiritual illiteracy that they encourage in their preaching. They keep them on a religious "high" and discourage them from coming down long enough to examine with some amount of intelligence how they got up there and whether or not that is where they really belong in the first place.

Another but kindred problem is the tendency to exalt subjective experiences, whether real or imagined, to a place above Holy Scripture. The Bible plainly says that it is to be the source of unrivaled authority in our fives: "All scripture is inspired of God, and is also profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Yet, on several occasions in discussions with charismatics, I have had them to say that their experiences are superior to exhaustive Bible study in the ascertaining of what is true or false on different questions pertaining to what are, by their very nature, biblical issues. How could that possibly be? Either the Bible is the final court of appeals in religion or emotions are! Again, either the Bible is the last and final court of appeal in religious affairs or personal experiences are! Since both emotions and experiences are highly subjective and often totally wrong, I will take the Bible to make me "perfect, throughly furnished unto every good work. " I will elect to leave off emotionalism and subjective experiences from the deciding of questions that touch the eternal destiny of my soul. And, I would humbly encourage others to do likewise. Every false system that comes along can supply a rich variety of personal testimonials to its "miracles," Christian Scientists and Mormons included. An objective standard is unquestionably the safer measure of right and wrong. The man who follows the Bible alone cannot fail of the mark of divine truth. But that man who allows his attention to be diverted from Scripture to these alternatives to its authority (emotions, experiences) places himself in a dangerous position.

Another basic problem with this approach is that it is escapist in its relation to daily living. What do I mean by this allegation? I have reference to the tendency that charismatics have of giving over all of life to God's determination and direct guidance. They go to outlandish extremes, beyond the biblical doctrine of divine providence, to the point that God determines every little incident and directs every trivial happening. When they are sales people, it is God who brings them customers. If they are doctors, then God sends them patients. If they are looking for a parking place, God delivers one. If they are looking for their scissors, then it is God who directs their attention toward the proper spot where they may be found.

Anyone who reads the Bible is aware that God knows of all happenings, and that He cares for all His creatures, great and small (Matt. 10:29). He also knows that God answers the prayers of His faithful children (1 Jn. 5:14-15). God is not dead nor is He presently inactive. But to say this is to say what the Bible says. To proceed to demand of God that He control every facet of one's life and direct every frivolity is not only unscriptural but is just plain absurd! Man has had bestowed upon him by his Creator the freedom of choice between good and evil, the right to choose to do right or to do wrong. In similar fashion, He has put the world and its inhabitants under the dominion of many natural laws, laws of force and energy, gravity, etc. God has at times utilized those laws to man's benefit, and at others He has permitted Satan to test man by using them to his hurt. If one has not been given a direct revelation from the Almighty to the effect. that a given thing was His doing, then a man must be very cautious about ascribing to Him the accomplishment of every trivial thing. In the case of a thing as important as the deliverance of the Jews by the hand of Esther the queen, Mordecai, in the absence of direct -communication from God, was cautious in the way in which we are suggesting that we need today to be: "Who knoweth whether thou art not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14). Are we better off than Mordecai in a similar or even less important situation? Would we not be wiser to say "Who knows," than to risk ascribing to God what may not be His work?

How is this way of looking at life essentially "escapist" as I have earlier described it? First, it tends to be an escape from crises -- from burdens, disillusionments, shocks and disappointments. It also delivers one from decision-making. Further, and more importantly, it is an escape from personal responsibility and liability, since God directs whatever actions that take place. Moreover, in a very real sense it is an escape from inferiority. Many of the first enthusiasts of this system were taken by it because it gave them a feeling of superiority, whereas they had been born into poverty and an inferior social standing. Today it is still a feeling of spiritual superiority that is relished even by those who are socially prominent.

Members of charismatic churches claim to be led by "inner voices" or "inner urgings" which they identify as the leading of the Spirit of God. In Bible times, men were upon occasion directed by communications from heaven. But one will search in vain through the Bible for evidence of these inner voices and inner urgings. I do not wish to be taken as unkind, but a careful look at such voices and urgings will find them to be no more than one's own desires interpreted as God's will. Such phenomena are not judged by the standard of true miracles in the Bible, that is, they are not tested for accuracy in foretelling the future (Deut. 18:21-22), but are naively accepted at face value.

For example, in one case a lady stated that when she lost her scissors she would turn around in circles until the Lord told her to stop. She would then proceed in that direction until she located them. "Have you ever gone in that direction and not found them," asked her friend. "Yes," she replied. Then she added quickly, "That just means that the Lord didn't want me to sew that day! " If this sort of thing were reported by a palm-reader or gypsy princess, we would label her a fraud and laugh her out of town. But seeing it is put forth in the name of Christianity, we are to take it seriously! Such naivety boggles the imagination!

One should also mention tongues in this connection, "Tongues," or more accurately, ecstatic nonsense syllables, seem to be a major thrust of the present movement. The tongues of the first century church were miraculous visitations of heaven. They were genuine miracles with all the marks of divine presence and miraculous intervention. They, along with other such supernatural incidents, served to establish that God was active in the church and that the apostles and prophets of the first generation were not merely fabricating the revelations which they delivered to the men and women of their generation. They were confirmation or proof, if you will, of God's ultimate authorship of the things they required of their converts.

But several other things are true of them (even then) which are not widely appreciated by charismatics: (1) They were considered inferior to prophecy, by Paul's own estimate of them (1 Cor. 14: 1); whereas, with modem charismatics prophecy is almost an unknown commodity (given their realization that the Bible is a completed revelation of spiritual truth, fixed for all time) and tongues are exalted above all other gifts. (2) They were inferior to the "more excellent way" of 1 Corinthians 13, a way of faith, hope and love (1 Cor. 12:3 1; 13:13). Paul said that tongues would cease along with the rest of the gifts temporarily bestowed upon the church during its infancy (1 Cor. 13:8-10). This is a fact completely ignored by those of this permission. (3) Paul described them as "imperfect" or "partial" as opposed to the "perfect" which was to come (and did come with the completion of written Scripture and the end of the Apostolic Age (1 Cor. 13:10). (4) Paul also inferred that they were childish, remnants left over from the earliest stage of the church's development (1 Cor. 13:11). Even in his own time they had almost outlived their usefulness and were ready to be laid aside. Paul was even then preparing them for their replacement by more permanent resources, much as an adolescent lays aside childhood toys for more serious and mature concerns. (5) Likely the most devastating oversight of charismatics is in the essential nature of biblical tongues. Bible tongues were completely different from the tongues spoken by modern advocates of tongue-speaking. How so? Modern tongues are clearly nonsense syllables, often practiced by those who utter them as they wash their dishes or vacuum their living room. They are then reproduced in states of ecstacy in the gatherings of charismatics. The fact that these utterances form no sensible language has been oft established through the analysis of interested by objective researchers. If the reader does not believe these findings, then (if he has a sincere desire for the truth) let him search out and produce some evidence from qualified linguists that these utterances represent real languages rather than empty babblings.

It will do no good to attempt to make a case for "angelic tongues" (as some argue from 1 Cor. 13:1) and to identify these untranslatable vocalizations as such. Paul nowhere states that men spoke with tongues of this sort. He only suggests in the passage that "even if" he were to do so it would be of no value to him without love. And, if it were possible to argue that there could be angelic tongues, it would remain to be proven that the utterances of charismatics are these tongues. However, this is no small order, in light of the insurmountable evidence that these vocalizations are not languages at all but are rather mere nonsense syllables.

All of the evidence points to the fact that the tongues of the first century church were real human languages and nothing more or less! The very best illustration of this derives from Acts 2. This chapter not only illustrates the nature of biblical tongues but also gives explanation of their purpose in the first church. The occasion of this demonstration of God's power was the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus. Jews were gathered to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast "from every nation under heaven" (v. 5). When the apostolic twelve were empowered by the Holy Spirit to address the assembled crowds, they were given the ability to make men understand them who could not have done so otherwise. Jesus had promised this earlier as He prepared them for their work, i.e., that they would "speak with new tongues" (Mk. 16:17), not that they would invent languages previously unknown but communicate in languages new to them, languages they had not previously studied or understood. When they began to speak, the multitudes immediately became aware of the nature and proportions of this miracle: "the multitude . . . were confounded, because that every man heard them speaking in his own language. And they were all amazed and marveled, saying, Behold, are not all these that speak Galileans? And how hear we, every man in our language wherein we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites . . ." (vv. 6-9). They further marveled, "We hear them speaking in our tongues the mighty works of God" (v. 11). The purpose of the gift here was to bring the crowd to faith in Christ by giving evidence of His enabling power: He it was who gave the apostles the ability to speak in languages they had never before known. It was but a step from realizing this truth to appreciating that He was also possessed of the power to save and to redeem. The languages under consideration here are manifestly human ones, living languages spoken by those gathered for the feast. One looks in vain here for speech which resembles the modern tongue-speaker's jumble of nonsense syllables.

Some have alluded to the fact that the word "unknown" is used of the tongues of 1 Corinthians 14 as proof such mysterious languages were spoken in the early church. It is even asserted that the speaker himself did not know what he was saying. But what Paul says of the speaker contradicts this: "He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself" (1 Cor. 14:4). Actually, the word "unknown" is printed in italics where it appears in the King James Version (modern translations do not use the word). This signifies that the word was supplied by the translators and does not occur in the original Greek. It was supplied for obvious reasons, however, and they are not such as are supposed by glossolalists. These languages were tongues not generally spoken by members of the church at the time. They were just as unknown to them as Russian, Chinese, or Japanese would be to most of us. Yet this does not mean that these languages are "unknown" in the sense that they are not known by anyone. In truth they are spoken by millions, each of them. But they are unknown to us because we cannot speak them. Were someone to arise in the church today and speak in one of these languages he would only edify himself. The rest of those assembled would not understand his speech and so could not benefit from this teaching. This was true also at Corinth. As one investigator wrote: "The attempt to make a difference between the tongues of Corinthians and those of Acts is wholly artificial" (E.J.G. Titerington, "The Gift of Tongues," Faith and Thought, Vol. 90 (1958), p. 65). Further, "Paul as well as Luke (author of Acts) viewed tongues as bona fide foreign languages" ("Ecstatic Utterance' (N.E.B.)," Journal of Theological Studies, Vol. 17 (1966), pp. 299-307).

There is no proof whatever that early Christians uttered nonsense syllables, swooned, or acted under the influence of feverish emotionalism - modes which, int eh first place, are uncharacteristic and unbecoming of the dignity and high purpose of Christian worship. In fact, the ecstatic and hysterical activity regularly encountered in gatherings of charistmatic people does not have its origin in Christianity at all. It instead derives from paganism, as a little careful study and honest research will show. Consider the following:

In the case of the ancient Greek "Oracle at Delphi," documents from the time mention that Apollo replied to questions during "ecstatic and enthusiastic" behavior by the medium. In the cult of ancient Dionysus, the people behaved "irrationally," with "outbreaks of dancing, collective hysteria," and it was further noted that "Dionysus leads people on to behave madly." (Could not this same thing be said with equal truth of the Holy Spirit of God, if modem charismatics are motivated by the Lord to act in the ways they do?) Ecstatic utterances are mentioned also in early Egyptian writings. There were oracles at Dodona, Epirus, and elsewhere, and Plato, Plutarch and even Virgil recorded such phenomena as part of their activity in revealing "the will of the god." The names of the gods have changed but the claims of the devotees remain essentially the same. Between the ancient pagan cults and the modern advocates of glossolalia there exist these formal similarities: (1) Both claim God takes over the vocal cords; (2) Both obtain this state in the context of religious devotion with the identical result: excited frenzy, behavior that is irrational, and speech that is incomprehensible; (3) Both claim to be possessed by God; and, (4) both have total faith that the experience itself is proof of divine activity in their lives and that the utterance thus produced is a communication from Heaven. We believe it is impossible to ignore these resemblances. If they do not come from paganism directly, it certainly suggests that identical influences and human yearnings and beliefs arises in a "Christian" setting or not. Also, they clearly call into question the real origin of modern charismatic activities!

In this context it is necessary to consider a kindred matter. This is the modern occurrence of activities noticeably similar to charismatic behavior among non-Christian spiritualists. Helene Smith (ca. 1900) is a case in point. The language that she claimed to speak was "Martian language." In reality it differed little (if any) from what we hear from charismatics. Later Miss Smith claimed to speak UltraMartian, Uranian, and then Lunaire (Moon-language). A similar instance is the case of Albert LeBaron. Connected also with spiritualists, LeBaron said he involuntarily spoke an unknown language that he was unable to identify after extensive research. Other nonreligious instances of glossalalia have been reported.

In primitive societies, the phenomenon has occurred frequently among medicine men and shamans in such widely scattered places as Micronesia, North Borneo, among the Eskimos of Alaska and Greenland, Indonesia, Polynesia, China, Africa, etc. Documentation is easy to come by (see for example: L. Carlyle May, "A Survey of Glossolalia and Related Phenomena in Non-Christian Religions," American Anthropologist, Vol. 68 (May, 1956), pp. 75-96). Emile Lombard says the languages take four forms, whether they occur among professed Christians or professed pagans: (1) Incomprehensible sounds: mumbling, gurgling, groaning, etc.; (2) Pseudo-languages: fabricated sounds simulating a sentence using parts of real words; (3) Verbal fabrication: use of an invented language; and, (4) Foreign tongues previously learned or spoken which are revived by the subconscious mind and spoken anew. Again, the only explanation for this resemblance between modem "Christian" and non-Christian glossolalia is that they derive from the same source. Sad to say, that source is not God!

Some charismatics realize that the Bible describes real human languages in those texts which speak of tonguespeaking in the early church. They therefore make the claim that they speak in some exotic language. One writer reports it this way: "A person speaks in tongues at a group gathering. Among the group is someone having a knowledge of some exotic language. He astounds thegroup (or maybe they expected it all along) by telling them that the glossolalist spoke this particular strange, foreign language 'fluently."' But professional linguists have consistently found glossolalia devoid of any linguistic substance. And, although speaking in a real language "is claimed by Christian charismatists to be part of the tongue-speaking experience, they would be unable to provide a case that would stand up to scientific investigation" (William J. Samarin, "The Linguisticality of Glossolalia, " Hartford Quarterly, Vol. 8 (1968), pp. 52-55). Let the reader who is in earnest about the divine origin of modern tongue-speaking accept this last statement as a challenge. If evidence of the sort requested by Dr. Samarin is available, then let it be presented and examined under the careful eye of the scientist. If it is not, then, for heaven's sake (and I mean that quite literally) give up this contention.

For the sake of brevity, we will simply list some of the other objections we have to "tongues" and their handling in this movement today: (1) They teach tongues are for all, but the Bible by rhetorical questions denies this (1 Cor. 12:29, 30); (2) They claim to be Pentecostal, but do not speak languages that others recognize as did the Pentecostians (Acts 2:14, 6-11); (3) They look on tongues as a personal sign that one has received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Paul said they were rather intended as a sign to unbelievers (1 Cor. 14:22), and this was their use in Acts 2 and 10; (4) They teach that one must desire to speak in tongues and pray for it in order to receive it. This was not the case in any Bible example (Acts 2, 10, 19:1-7); (5) They do not regulate tongue-speakers to three or that they speak one at a time in an assembly. Inspiration did when this gift was present (1 Cor. 14:27); (6) They speak in tongues even when there is no interpreter. Paul said not to do this (1 Cor. 14:28); (7) Consequently, they have confusion and disorder in their worship activities. This is contrary to Paul's command (1 Cor. 14:33, 40); (8) They do not restrict women in speaking in tongues or in any way. At times they even have women preachers. This is contrary to Paul's injunction that women be silent in the church's assemblies (1 Cor. 14:34, 35).

Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 4, pp. 101-102, 118-119
February 16, 1984