Part I of Three Part Series: The Modern ‘Charismatic Revival’

By Daniel H. King

There is something exciting about anything we call a “revival.” It is like bringing an antique clock out of a musty old closet, dusting it off, putting a new coat of stain on it, and placing it on the center of the mantle above the fireplace. It catches everyone’s eye and takes them back to yesteryear – to a time now long past, but not forgotten. Thoughts of the “old days” come streaming back. Memories flood the mind with sights and sounds and scents of things that others saw and heard and smelled before we came to be.

No essential wrong attaches to the desire to revive and relive the past by ornamenting our homes with antique tables and lamps and such, or our garages with classic cars. But it is wrong to live in the past. It is wrong to try to bring to the present what cannot and should not be transferred into today. We appreciate this fact in most departments of life. For example, many procedures and methods were used by people a century ago to treat illnesses which no one would dream of resurrecting today. They have been replaced by modern technologies that are more effective. It would be almost criminal to attempt to revive such outdated modes of health care. In instances of this sort we would do well to remember the words of the wise man of the Old Testament: “Do not say, ‘Why is it that the former days were better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this” (Eccl. 7:10).

It would be religiously and spiritually improper to attempt to be justified under the Old Law. Reviving the Old Testament as a means for salvation and justification would be a form of spiritual suicide. While it was once the avenue of divine grace and forgiveness of human sin and the only source of revealed knowledge about the true God, it has been displaced by the New covenant and “nailed to the cross” of Christ (Col, 2:15). The New Covenant is in every way I better” than the Old and so represents a spiritual progress akin to the strides which man has made in medicine over the last century (see Heb. 8:6-8). When some in Galatia tried to revive the Old, they were warned that they would end up “severed from Christ” if they sought justification through this outdated and discarded system (Gal. 5:4).

The purpose of this study is to attempt to persuade fair minded people that the modern charismatic revival is not a mere harking back to better times or even an attempt at recapturing from the past what was once valuable and good. It rather represents a form of spiritual escapism, an attempt at living in a past that cannot possibly be recalled, and another way of rejecting the finality of God’s revelation of truth through His ancient apostles and prophets. I know that this will sound harsh to some who may read it. But I hope you will do me the courtesy of hearing me out. At least read the rest of what I have to say before you formulate a conclusion about this matter. On the following pages I intend to present the evidence for the case I am trying to make. Read it before you pass judgment. If it is the truth, then above all else you need to know it. If it is not true, then you want to reject it. But a few moments of reading you with is not really asking too much, is it?

What Are We Talking About?

For those who may be puzzled at the terminology used here and below, it may prove wise to define some words before we go any further. The term “charismatic” is normally used as an adjective to describe a contemporary movement and its adherents. It derives from the Greek word charismata, “gifts”, and is employed in the New Testament to describe the gifts of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 12:9, etc.). Use of the word “revival” in conjunction with it suggests that this movement is characterized by a belief that such miraculous manifestations of the Holy Spirit have been once more bestowed upon Christians.

Another word which we will find occasion to use is “glossalalia.” This combination word is made up of two Greek words: glossa, meaning tongue,” and lalia, “speech.”; The consequent term “glossalalia” thus connotes “tongue-speech,” and describes the most important element of the movement, the claim that the Holy spirit enables certain moderns to speak in tongues as the early disciples of Christ did (Mk. 16:17; Acts 2:4; etc.).

“Pentecostalism” describes the charismatic movement from another angle. This designation denotes an approach to Christianity which attempts to revive the experiences of the apostles at Pentecost and afterward. Again though, it is the miraculous experiences which predominate in their thinking, so that “pentecostalism” involves primarily these four things: (1) Ecstatic tongue-speaking-, (2) Claims to healing; (3) Direct guidance of the Spirit; and, (4) Visions from God. “Neo-pentecostalism” is the technical term for the overflow of the views and practices of Pentecostals into our denominations besides their own.

Historical Background of the Movement

It has often been said that those who do not know of the mistakes made by men of the past are doomed to repeat them. The study of history is the key. If we are willing to invest some time in a survey of ecclesiastical (church) history, we can avoid duplicating gross errors made by churchmen of the past. In this case we can observe clearly that charismatic movements of the early centuries were always viewed as heretical. Moreover, we can also note what early Christians, soon after the deaths of the apostles of Christ, thought about the continuance or discontinuance of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit. It comes out as indisputable in their works that they entertained the notion that these gifts were never meant to be permanent. They saw them as only temporary appurtenances, suited for the infancy of the church. In their own times they saw that infancy period as over and the gifts as having passed out of the reach of post-apostolic Christians.

Some will think this of little importance. After all, by this time there was much that they thought and did which was not to be identified with the earliest church, i.e. that of the first century. While this is true, it is still worth noting what they thought and practiced on this count. While this is true, it is still worth noting what they thought and practiced on this count. What they believed about the gifts of the Spirit is quite different from some other things about which they made dogmatic assertions and issued decrees. If the first apostles had left in the early church the faith that manifestations of the Holy Spirit were more than momentary and ephemeral, then possession of the gifts would have continued to be a proof of divine pleasure and their absence would have shown that God was not “among” those who were devoid of their influence and power (cf. 1 Cor. 14:25; 2:4). Instead, appeal was made to apostolic, succession among bishops. Bishops claimed to have their authority because they derived it in direct line of succession from the original Twelve and men whom they had appointed in various localities. They knew no promise had been left them of an abiding miraculous presence of the Spirit in the church. They knew it because they did not possess it. Moreover, they called those who made claims to spiritual gifts in their time “heretics,” and dubbed their miracles “false.” This fact is of monumental importance in a study of whether spiritual gifts are for today and no amount of sophistry can minimize it.

The two clearest and most unequivocal statements made on this subject in the early centuries are drawn from the writings of two of the giants of the early church, Chrysostom and Augustine. Chrysostom (A.D. 345-407), commenting on 1 Corinthians 12:1-2, wrote: “This whole place is very obscure; but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place” (Homilies on First Corinthians, Hom. 29). Augustine (A.D. 354-430), commenting on 1 John, said that, “In the earliest times, ‘The, Holy Ghost fell upon them that believed and they spoke with tongues which they had not learned as the Spirit gave them utterance.’ These were signs adapted to the time. For there behooved to be that betokening of the Holy Spirit in all tongues, over the whole earth. That thing was done for a betokening and it passed away” (Ten Homilies on the Fyrst Epistle of John, Hom. 6:10). Both Chrysostom and Augustine made their point on this subject in a simple and matter-of-fact way. No sophisticated argument or protracted discussion is present. This, though, is what we would expect if they were trying to convince their people that they should give something up or take on some new belief. Rather, they speak as if everyone agrees and accepts this most obvious conclusion which they draw: namely, that the gifts of the Spirit were temporary manifestation of God’s power and presence, suited only for the very first Christians, and that they have now passed out of circulation.

That the claim to miraculous gifts was limited to heretical sects in early centuries is evident from the sources at our disposal. Montanism offers one instance for illustration. Also known as the Cataphrygian Heresy, this was a movement founded by a self-proclaimed prophet named Montanus in Asia Minor in the second century. Montanus had been an adherent of the ecstatic cult of Cybele, mother goddess of fertility. Converted about 156, Montanus fell into a trance and began to “prophesy under the influence of the Spirit. ” Soon he was joined by two women, Prisca and Maximilla, in his prophetic claims. The result was a movement that filled Asia Minor, sweeping several entire towns. The essential principle of Montanism was that the Paraclete (the Holy Spirit, or Comforter) was manifesting Himself to the world through Montanus and the prophets and prophetesses associated with him. It soon became clear to all that Montanus’ was reserving for himself and his prophets the final word of the Holy Spirit. He implied, therefore, that something could be added to the teaching of Christ and the Apostles, and that the church would have to accept from him a fuller revelation than was earlier given through the Scriptures. He also said the Second Coming was imminent and that the heavenly Jerusalem was soon to descend to earth between the two villages of Pepuza and Tymion in Phrygia. Many of his most faithful followed him there to await the Coming. His claims were rejected by the vast majority of early churchmen, however; and he was ex-communicated along with the adherents of his system around 177. Time has proven him a false prophet like others who arose before him and have arisen since.

This movement represents the major example of an early attempt at reviving spiritual gifts. The following centuries witnessed isolated instances of people claiming possession of such divine graces. Certain Roman Catholic “saints” had legends to grow up about them to the effect that miracles attended their lives. St. Hildegarde, for example, is said to have spoken in Latin without learning the language. The Huguenots of France in the 17th and 18th centuries claimed their children “spoke with tongues.” But false prophecies and predictions were uttered by them which did not transpire. They were discredited by such reckless words, and it provided evidence that their movement was not inspired by Heaven. The “Shakers” or “Millennial Church” which began in England in 1747 also constituted a group that claimed miraculous visitation. All types of jerks and seizures attended their meetings. Mormons or Latter-Day Saints also claimed for themselves these gifts. The seventh Article of Faith of their church stipulates belief in the presence of apostolic gifts and powers in their midst. Joseph Smith instructed early Mormons to “rise upon their feet and speak in tongues.”


Modern “pentecostalism,” the movement most often identified with claims regarding spiritual gifts, has its roots in John Wesley’s doctrine of sanctification. His teaching about a “second work of grace” or “holiness” gave rise to the holiness movement. Revivalism among Protestants in the 1800’s was therefore accompanied by emotionalism, shouting, and exercises. Chronicles of the time tell of religious services characterized by activities that seemed uncouth and unbefitting Christian worship: falling into states of coma, the jerks, uncontrolled dancing, barking and grunting, ecstatic laughing, running and frenzied singing. Such activities were unquestionably reactionary against the coldness and formality of “high-churchism” and the liturgical services of some of the churches. They offered people an emotional outlet through which to vant their fears and frustrations as well as an opportunity to feel personally involved in religion. Up till then they had stood as bystanders watching priests and clergymen go about the closely regimented but unfeeling public demonstrations of religion. Their dissatisfaction with this state of affairs was commendable; but their zeal led them to over-react.

The Church of God of Cleveland, Tennessee had its origin in this environment. A former Baptist preacher named Richard A. Spurling is usually credited with having given rise to it in 1896. The Pentecostal movement itself had as its father Mr. Charles F. Parham. In 1901 one of his students began to “speak in tongues” (utter incomprehensible syllables) after he had laid hands on her. This marked both the beginning of this phenomenon in his group and the distinctive characteristic of the movement. Parham went on to establish a school in Houston, Texas, where one of his students, a black holiness preacher named W.J. Seymour, began to preach Parham’s doctrines. Seymour went to Los Angeles and started preaching on Azusa St. in a lumber store. The origins of the Church of God in Christ, the Assemblies of God, and the United Pentecostal Church (the “oneness people”) all-trace to Azusa St. and to Parham and Seymour.

Neo-pentecostalism had its origin in the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International. This organ is largely responsible for spreading pentecostalism into other religious groups through their breakfasts, conventions and conferences. On April 3, 1960 an event of major importance occurred. An Episcopal minister in Van Nuys, California announced that he had undergone a “pentecostal experience.” He later resigned as rector of his church, but a great deal of attention was called to this incident by the news media. Since then, this movement has affected most of the mainline denominations. In 1967 the Catholic Church even began its own “charismatic renewal,” calculated to halt the loss of great numbers from its ranks to charismatic churches. This general movement affecting many religious bodies in America and elsewhere has been dubbed “neopentecostalism” or “new pentecostalism” because in a sense it has “come over to the other side of the tracks” in terms of acceptance by the larger mainline religious bodies. No more is it reckoned as the frenzied religious experience of the illiterate backwoods buffoon; now it is cultivated in “cell groups” of the most culturally and educationally elite churches in the land.

But is this newly-found sophistication and public approval a mark of God’s acceptance? The answer to that question is, of course, “No.” It is only Scripture that can provide proof that Heaven smiles down upon any religious activity or article of faith. So, as the Bible itself says, “To the law and to the testimony,” (Isa. 8:20), and, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4:11). The Word of God must ultimately decide the issue. Let us therefore turn our attention to what the Bible teaches about the beliefs and practices of this “charismatic revival.”

Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 3, pp. 65, 87-88
February 2, 1984