Charismatic Myths

Some of the claims made by charismatics* are based on misunderstandings. I call these charismatic myths. These myths are believed and propagated by serious, highly (and rightly) respected Christian leaders. This shows that even the experts can be wrong! Here are some myths.

  1. All Christians can/should speak in tongues. This claim comes from two places: Paul saying that he wants all to speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 14), and the 'tongues apartheid' seen in most churches. What Paul is actually saying is that he would prefer if they publicly spoke in tongues less (and used prophecy more), but he wants to encourage the correct use of tongues (mainly in private). He has already said in Chapter 12 (twice!) that not all do speak in tongues. So he is saying that he is keen on tongues, not banning them, but wants them to be used properly by those who have the gift. Christians who move almost exclusively in 'tongues' circles find it easy to believe that all should speak in tongues; the opposite is of course true of those who move almost exclusively in 'non-tongues' circles!
  2. Tongues is the sign that someone has received the Holy Spirit. This is a deduction made from some examples in Acts. It is true that in many cases when someone received the Holy Spirit the evidence of this was tongues, but it is not possible to say that this was always the case. The most which can be biblically claimed is that tongues is often seen when someone receives or is filled with the Holy Spirit.
  3. Receiving the Holy Spirit is distinct from conversion. This second event is often called baptism in the Spirit. There are examples in Acts where people seem to have a second experience, but the clear teaching of Scripture is that all Christians have the Spirit. It may be that the 'second experience' incidents are to be regarded as possible, but unusual. An alternative view is that we should stop seeing conversion as an event (linked by cessationists and charismatics alike to repentance and faith alone) but instead view it as a process involving repentance, faith, receiving the Spirit and baptism in water. It is these four events together which constitute the full biblical Christian initiation. We have separated them from each other in both our doctrine and practice. Ideally, they should happen within a few hours or days of each other (as we see in Acts). Reception of the Spirit should happen consciously (as claimed by charismatics) rather than silently (as claimed by cessationists), but it is not necessarily accompanied by charismata. In some cases 'spirit baptism' is actually the new birth taking place (so before this the person was merely a God-fearer); in other cases it is a conscious experience of what in fact was already true. Christians should know that they have received the Spirit, with the same certainty that they know that they have been baptised in water; in both cases it should be an event they remember!
  4. God always wants to heal the sick. This usually arises from a belief that there is guaranteed healing in the atonement. The healing mentioned in Isaiah 53:5 is healing from sin, not sickness. God heals for three reasons: as a sign of the kingdom, out of compassion, and to bring glory to himself. This is as a response to individual or corporate faith: the sick person, the healer and/or the people around such as church or town. Over all this is God's sovereignty. We cannot demand healing, and we should never blame the sick person or the healer when healing does not happen. Sickness is a normal part of human life since God cursed the world after the Fall. When we pray for healing we are asking God to make an exception in our case. Sometimes he does, more often he doesn't.
  5. Too much doctrine or Bible study quenches the Spirit. This is rarely stated explicitly, but its effects can sometimes be seen. A true understanding of doctrine, which can only be obtained from Scripture, will enhance the work of the Spirit. However, there is a grain of truth in the statement: trying to use the Bible as a substitute for the work of the Spirit will create problems (the converse is also true).
* A charismatic is a Christian who says that the supernatural gifts (sometimes called charismata), such as those listed in 1 Corinthians 12, are still given to the church because they are still needed. Many charismatics also believe that all genuine Christians should speak in tongues, as the sign that they have received the Holy Spirit.

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created 28 July 2009