Victory! Healing! Prophecy! Salvation! Wisdom! Prosperity! Worship! (…and oh, yes, Tongues!)
Pentecostals and Charismatics say these words with exclamation marks. At our worst — which is how most of our critics judge us — we sound shrill and insincere, or oddly entertaining, mostly due to very creative hairdos. At our best, we are believers filled with faith, hope, love, and the Word of God, which inspires us to attempt great things for Christ.
An Exclamation-Mark Faith!
I believe it was Gary North who once called Charismatics “operational postmillennialists,” and he was right. We are action-oriented, concentrating on building, fixing, subduing, and even healing. We tend to live exclamation-mark lives driven by an exclamation mark Faith!
One reason the Charismatic movement continues to grow so rapidly despite many faults (and I have written about our faults regularly) is that it has, perhaps more than any other group of Christians, embraced the entire Bible in an attempt to re-spiritualize the world — and I use that term in the best sense. True Charismatics see the world with a spiritual clarity or vibrancy that many non-Charismatics find threatening or perhaps just too simplistic.
Charismatics read the Old Testament and believe it! They take for granted that God created the entire cosmos in six days and don’t doubt that there was a real Adam and Eve who actually sinned after their encounter with Satan and temptation. From the start we see the awesomeness of God’s power and authority even as Satan is acknowledged to be seeking the destruction of man and the planet.
We affirm, unconsciously, perhaps, that there is no neutrality in the universe. The battle is joined and we are called to participate as God’s warriors. God’s people win brilliant victories as they obey and act in faith, but we also understand we risk spectacular failure if we are disobedient, rebellious, and fearful. This emphasis on action causes us to charge ahead in such a way as to anticipate victory, endure defeat, but absolutely despise complacency.
Indeed, because the entire Bible is given for all of life we see a continuation of God’s purpose and provision throughout Scripture. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever and the Bible speaks often of healing,1 prosperity,2 prophecy,3 and worship.4 God provides all these to overcome the works of the devil (whom Jesus Himself described as killing, stealing, and destroying) and to reestablish covenant believers and all creation to its proper order, fulfilling His intent. This means we’re called and equipped for spiritual warfare and are promised victory!
The entire Bible is relevant to the charismatic because he sees Old Testament examples of the gifts of the Spirit and believes Scripture indicates that rather than quietly disappearing during some future dispensation, there will someday be a general outpouring in which hosts of covenant believers receive and utilize them. Joel 2:28 speaks of prophecy, visions and dreams this way:
I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your old men shall dream dreams,
Your young men shall see visions.
Isaiah 65:20 indicates a future time of widespread good health. James thinks it normal that if you’re sick you will call upon the elders to hear a confession of sin if necessary, anoint you with oil, pray the prayer of faith, and be healed. Rather than looking for the point in time that many of the “Old Testament” promises and gifts were repealed or ceased to operate, Charismatics read the entire Bible and see a continuation of these blessings today. In fact, we would see them as even better promises and more powerful gifts finding their fullness or completeness in the risen Christ.
With this re-spiritualized vision of the world, it’s no wonder Charismatics seem so animated and passionate about their faith in God. With the gifts of the Spirit liberally poured out and in operation, we have confidence that we can do battle with a supernatural foe and vanquish the demonic realm in Christ’s name. This Biblical mindset creates the vision of the cosmic Christ, King and Ruler over all creation, and all tribes, nations, and tongues shall praise Him.
Vibrant, dynamic, wholehearted worship is a trademark of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. Many non-Charismatic denominations and groups have tried to imitate the energy and powerful emotion that are the hallmark of our “praise and worship services,” without success. In my opinion this is because non-Charismatics have approached worship from the wrong direction. Many believe that if they can offer a similar worship service or experience, they will experience the same church growth rates as the Charismatics.
However, the Charismatics’ worship service is not a stand-alone phenomenon, but flows from their understanding and view of God and His Word in its entirety. Believers have always lifted up holy hands to the Lord. They have always praised Him on every instrument available. They have always “sung a new song to the Lord.” They have always danced in His presence. They have always cried out with a loud voice of praise and adoration. They have always given a “positive confession” of God’s grace, mercy, and provision and have always spoken withfaith, walked byfaith and celebrated in faith. You cannot replicate the worship until you replicate the full-orbed Biblical view!
Worship that flows from a view of “all the Bible for all of life” underscores deeply held assumptions about God and reenergizes individuals and congregations to live a life of faith and optimism. If God is for us, who can be against us? With God, all things are possible! Charismatic clichés? No. God’s unchanging Word? Absolutely.
There have been some shaky moments and bad theology in the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements (and high-profile examples of the same today), but we are maturing in theology, ecclesiology,and eschatology and are serving the entire body of Christ in exciting ways. Even as our critics focus on our shortcomings and weaknesses, Charismatics have reintroduced the (entire) Bible themes of Victory! Healing! Prophecy! Salvation! Wisdom! Prosperity! Worship! (…and oh, yes, Tongues!) to the church once again.
1. Num. 21:8; Ex. 15:26; Ps. 103:3; the book of Job; Mt. 4:24, 8:13, 16
2. Dt. 8:18, 28:1-14; the book of Job
3. Num. 11:25-26; 1 Sam. 10:10; all the prophets; Ac. 19:6, 21:9
4. 1 Ch. 16:29; Ps. 29:2, 96:9, 150; Jn. 4:23