What Is the Charismatic Movement?

The Charismatic movement is most known for its acceptance of speaking in tongues, divine healing, and prophecies. These are the primary reasons for the movement’s growth and popularity. While growth and popularity are certainly desirable, they cannot be used as a test for truth.

Contributing Writer
Updated May 27, 2021
What Is the Charismatic Movement?

The charismatic movement stems from a group of spiritually zealous people who seek to manifest the gifts of the Holy Spirit within some mainline and non-denominational churches. It can exist through worship music alone or encompass many parts of the service and life of the believers. The movement is not a separate denomination; however, it is an infusion of charismatics into existing congregations. Its proponents seek to share their experiential fervor and zeal with other congregants, thereby enabling others to enjoy the gifts of the Spirit as they feel they do.

The word, charisma means “a special spiritual gift or power divinely conferred, talent from God.” The Charismatic Renewal, as it is sometimes called (and is also called Neo-Pentecostalism), promotes the experience of the Holy Spirit as manifested in spiritual gifts (especially speaking in tongues and healing) and communal prayer. The movement came into being in the 20th century, and it continues to experience dramatic growth throughout the world within established denominations, such as Roman Catholicism, Episcopalian, and other Protestant denominations. The Bible versions they use are as varied as any Christian’s (KJV, NKJV, ESV, etc.). The Charismatic movement does not have a set doctrine save for the work of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life, the use of the gifts of the Spirit, and miracles. Charismatics do not form a denomination so much as an inroad of self-professed Spirit-filled Christians within other churches.

What Is the Charismatic Movement - Origins

Part of what we must discern is the difference between Pentecostals and Charismatics and how that difference influences the growth of the Charismatic movement. To understand the movement (it is often referred to as a renewal), we must trace a timeline back to the 19th century Holiness movement that began in Protestant churches. The Holiness movement in a broad sense traces its roots back to John Wesley, who broadcast a call for Christians to be “perfect” and to become holy through a sanctification process that made the believer sin-free, inside and out. He said a “second work of grace” was available and to be desired by Christians. Rapid-fire growth emanated from Holiness’ initial introduction and brought a spiritual “awakening.” This rise of religious fervor led to the Pentecostal faith and its reliance on the full indwelling of all the gifts of the Spirit.

To better understand the tenets to which charismatics hold, we will take a brief history tour of Pentecostalism, the belief system which gave the Charismatic movement its impetus. Pentecostalism stresses the Holy Spirit’s work within a person and the direct manifestation of God’s presence. They believe faith must be a powerful experience, therefore physical demonstration is expected, not just the thought.

In 1901, Topeka, Agnes Ozmen, a student at Bethel College, requested Holiness pastor, Charles Parham to put his hands on her and pray for the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” It was reported that for the next three days she only spoke and wrote in Chinese. This was deemed “speaking in tongues,” and Charles Parham called it biblical evidence of the baptism of the Spirit. That initial occurrence turned many Holiness “believers” into Pentecostals. Parham and William J. Seymour were the initial proponents of Pentecostalism. Thereafter in 1906-1909, the Azusa Street Revival caused a global spread of the Pentecostal doctrine, and it continues its worldwide growth.

While Pentecostals are a denomination in and of themselves with an easily distinguishable history, the charismatic movement is difficult to confine in its growth because the movement is not set to any specific hierarchical standard (such as a governing body that oversees charismatics).

The movement began in an Episcopalian church, where, on April 3, 1960, Rector Dennis Bennett stood and shared how the Holy Spirit was at work in his life, including speaking in “tongues.” Reaction was strong and he was forced to tender his resignation. He later served with an Episcopal church in Washington State, sharing his beliefs about using the spiritual gifts. Time and Newsweek stories about Bennett exposed and brought forth more advocates, and from that sprang the charismatic renewal.

As many church bodies move away from denominational confines, charismatics find an open door in which to propel their beliefs about a Spirit-filled life. Charismatic proponents soon were affiliated with many mainline Protestant denominations and in Roman Catholicism (1967). Hotbeds of the Charismatic Movement may be found in the United States, Brazil, the Philippines, and Africa.

While the Pentecostals believe unity within their association is mandatory, charismatics do not; they readily stay within fundamental churches, sharing their beliefs and hoping to persuade others.

What Does the Charismatic Movement Believe?

Charismatics believe the involvement of all the spiritual gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 are normative for the believer’s life today. They believe the gifts come through the baptism of the Holy Spirit (a “post-conversion, second blessing”) and are received with or without the laying on of hands. The more stunning “sign gifts” (speaking in “tongues,” translating the “tongues,” miracles, and healings) are given the most attention. They believe that "speaking in tongues" is the outward manifestation of the indwelling Holy Spirit, but do not insist it is a sign one is saved. They believe it is an “angelic” language that the devils cannot understand. Charismatics are more interested in the experience of the gifts than what the gifts mean (being “slain” in the Spirit is included in these). Being slain in the Spirit, as they believe, means falling over when a preacher lays hands on someone, therefore evoking the filling of the Holy Spirit. As such, charismatics hope to bring new life when they stay in the mainline churches so others may partake of the Spirit as they say they have.

The gifts in question are taken from a number of passages, the most prevalent being from 1 Corinthians 12, where the gifts as listed by the apostle Paul are:

The word of wisdom – A speaking gift that enables the receiver to understand God’s Word and His will and to apply it to life today

The word of knowledge – The ability to understand and speak God’s truth with insight into His mysteries

Faith – Displayed as persistent intercessory prayer and strong confidence in God amid difficulties

Healings – Physical healing of various illnesses

Miracles – Godly acts contrary to the natural world

Prophecy – Speaking out (announcing God’s Word publicly.)

Discerning of spirits – Recognition of deceiving spirits and identifying errant doctrine

Different kinds of tongues – Understanding and translating different known languages

The Bible mentions these and other gifts of the Spirit, with some overlaps, in different sections of Scripture: Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:28-30, 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, 1 Corinthians 13:8, 1 Corinthians 14:6, 26; Ephesians 4:11, and 1 Peter 4:12.

What Are Some Scriptures that the Charismatic Movement Was Founded On?

Acts 1 and 2 record the events (as told by Peter to Theophilus) surrounding the ascension of Jesus to heaven, the choosing of the apostle to replace Judas the betrayer, and the miraculous movement of the Holy Spirit during the day of Pentecost. The root of the word, Pentecost, comes from a Greek word that means the 15th day after Passover. Amazing things happened that day, and most striking was the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, as Christ said would happen (John 16:7-15, Acts 1:4-5; 8-9) and began speaking in other known languages which the crowd understood (Acts 2:5-12). The Pentecostals as well as charismatics use these chapters to affirm their views.

Other important passages they interpret to corroborate their beliefs include:

Romans 4:17 – (speaking words to bring things into existence)

Isaiah 53:5 – (all believers physically healed because of Christ’s atoning work)

Deuteronomy 8:18 – (believers have the power to get wealth)

Acts 19:6 – (it’s normative to speak in tongues as evidence for the Holy Spirit)

Matthew 18:18 – (binding the devil is possible by believers)

An important caveat to keep in mind regarding the Charismatic movement: Since it places so much emphasis on personal experience, it’s individualistic in its nature. Therefore, its tenets can be seen as nebulous. One charismatic will not necessarily embrace nor hold to all the rituals practiced by another. When conversing with a Charismatic, it’s always good to ask questions so you may discern their beliefs.

For further reading:

What Really Happened at Pentecost?

What Is the Gift of Speaking in Tongues and Is it for Today?

Are Miracles Today Violations of Nature?

Photo Credit: ©Unsplash

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Lisa Loraine Baker is the multiple award-winning author of Someplace to be Somebody. She writes fiction and nonfiction. In addition to writing for the Salem Web Network, Lisa serves as a Word Weavers’ mentor and is part of a critique group. She also is a member of BRRC. Lisa and her husband, Stephen, a pastor, live in a small Ohio village with their crazy cat, Lewis. 

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