Distinctions Between Classical Pentecostals and Charismatics
In my late teens I had a bit of rebellion, right after high school. I was an army reservist, my parents moved from pastoring one of the local Pentecostal (PAOC) churches (Dublin Street, now Northview Community Church), to giving leadership to the Evangelism, Home Missions & Church Planting National Director, at the PAOC (Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada) head office in Toronto in 1977. I was enrolled for university. I was a mess emotionally. At the time I had wanted to go to the local Bible College, EPBC in Peterborough, but my father, one of the local pastors, he refused to sign off on my going (pastors had to endorse a prospective student), as I wanted to go for one year, figure things out, and then decide what to do. The result of this instability in my life led to a five year rebellion and wandering. I was angry and messed up. It was only when my life was truly messed up, when I was financially strapped and had to leave university. It was then, that I returned home, much like a prodigal son. My five year hiatus and wandering through the wilderness set me up for a crisis, not so much of faith in God, but faith in the Church, Christian people, a lack of trust in people, a broken heart and shattered dreams and a life filled with disappointment and self-loathing.
My faith and personal life was a faith filled with experience, emotionalism, and drama
My life and faith were not distinct parts. It was and still is an integrated part, which can at times, as it has over the years, become splintered when there have been clashes between belief and practice, and what I understand to be true. My parents raised me to be logical and rational. Much like other people from the land of my birth, people who embraced Christianity, embraced it for its veracity and its practical implications to life. To declare you were a Christian, meant that you not only believed the key truths and confessions of the faith, but that you actually practiced the faith. As a wee lad, my parents modeled for me the importance to live my life with integrity and truth, that my word was my bond. My faith made sense logically and experientially. It could be lived out morally and ethically, and it could be enjoyed in practical joyous ways, in service others in God’s name and strength, and just loving people and living out the grace of God among the people.
It did not matter if you were a pre-teen, a teen or an adult. Life in Christ was fun and enjoyable and a delight and you could share burdens with other people who would share the load and minister in love and friendship with you. You knew you were not alone. You had God in your corner, and you had Christians, stable and strong and resilient, who walked life with you.
A typical day in my life right up to my rebellion, and my post-rebellion included:
- A daily Bible reading and time of prayer
- Meditating on a Scripture throughout the day
- Praying for people who came to mind through my day
- Writing down a thought or prose or poetry on a regular basis
- Looking for ways to be of help to others
My typical church life week included:
- Being a Pentecostal Crusader leader (children’s weekly ministry like scouts and guides)
- Prayer meeting – joining the adults for weekly prayer and Bible study
- Small group ministry – small groups were initiated by my father in the 1970’s
- Friday night youth group – in one church in the 70’s the youth even included the adults, but it was the youth that ran the youth church gathering and meeting. At other churches, it was the youth and only the youth that held and ran their own meeting
- Sunday school – participated and became a co-leader of the youth Sunday School class
- Sunday church service in the morning – participated as a member of the congregation
- Sunday evening service – participated as a member of the congregation
Extra Christian Gatherings took place throughout the year:
- Participated in missionary fund raisers
- Participated in the Christmas pageant
- Participated in the Easter pageant
- Participated in monthly regional youth meetings throughout the district
- Participated in the yearly district youth convention
- Participated in the city wide Christian youth ministry projects with partner churches
- Participated in and gave leadership with Intervarsity (ISCF in High School) at local and regional levels throughout the school academic year
- Participated in the regional Pentecostal Summer Camp Meetings with Youth and Family Camp
I had my share of life drama at home, being the eldest child in a church pastor’s home. I was expected to be a role model and leader, both in the home and the church community and the wider community as a whole. There was an expectation, a code, if you will, that you would conduct your life and your dealings with people in an upright and goodly fashion that would not being dishonor to God or to your family.
This code of conduct was not really a lot of pressure
I was a normal teen that was pretty well adjusted. I was more of an academic student, than a school athlete. I participated in some extra-curricular sports, but found even more gratification in things like chess, backgammon, the philosophy club, strategic board games, reading and the like. I was always comfortable being around rational, logical people who were more or less somewhat people of intellectual capacity. People who were not afraid to think, and think for themselves and who could form their own rational opinions on any matter, from social trends to political activities taking place locally or in the nation.
The drama of Pentecostal emotionalism
The one irony that did cause some “drama” in my teen years, was the whole emotionalism that was found in the “spiritual crises” that seemed to affect teenagers coming into their own identity and personhood, and adults who were not adjusting well to life changes and issues of life that affected their daily life, where they seemed to be in crisis, sometimes for quite some time, or not so long, but the whole “drama” was lived out in the church family, as the church rallied around them, to meet their need, be they emotional, spiritual, practical, or financial. I noticed more of this as I got older. What I found to be the greatest challenge personally, was all the emotionalism attached to the need people had. They seemed to need to make it dramatic and urgent and so expressive. It bothered me as a kid, and it really bothered me as a teen, and even to this day, I really do not like the overt and extrovert drama that I see around altar calls.
Pentecostal liturgy and praxis
The nature of Pentecostalism, as a movement, from its humble beginnings in 1906 on Azusa Street in Los Angeles, was always an emotional experience and encounter. From the music, to the testimonies, to the demonstrations of power from the Holy Spirit, to the manifestations of the Spirit upon the bodies and minds of people in attendance, and all the Spirit encounters people experienced during services, to the fiery, passionate preaching, and responses of the people, who were so moved by conviction, they ran forward to the altar to give their lives to God, or to cry out to God to save them from their miserable situation.
This “free form” of “church liturgy and practice” was the form that permeated all the various Pentecostal churches and denominations that were formed as a result of that Pentecostal revival from 1906 to 1910. This Pentecostal movement went around the world as a missionary expression of the Christian faith, catapulted with a vision of the pre-tribulational rapture of the Church, and a great “end-time” harvest of souls. Pentecostal missions invigorated the Protestant missionary movement of the last century, and Christian evangelism and missions exploded around the world, with key Pentecostal missionaries leading the way.
Pentecostals have a “liturgy” whether they think they are being “led by the Spirit” or not. It may be “free form” and appear to be “spontaneous” but it is far from that. It is all rather predictable what happens when people’s emotions are played with. When there is high emotion, and the music itself can sway and cause people to respond in ways they would not otherwise, speakers emotionally engage and call out to the people, in this high emotional state, it all causes people to act out what is being suggested throughout the emotional appeal. Being told that God is moving, and the Spirit is moving upon you, and you have the opportunity to respond to God, it causes excitement. It causes anxiety and stress. It carries with it an emotional rush that is rare to find anywhere else. I have found these kinds of settings and situations to be a very manipulative arena, where people can be convinced of many things, things that may indeed be God. Things that may be in your own mind and thoughts, and things that may in fact be demonic. I have seen and experienced all of it. I know it full well. I have seen the same and worse and experienced it all too, within the Charismatic Movement, which is very different in key respects from “classical Pentecostalism.”
Believe me, there is a distinction between Pentecostals and Charismatics
From the outset of the Pentecostal Movement, Pentecostals were seen as weird and outsiders of the Christian mainstream. It was viewed as a movement filled with people who were poor, and were uneducated and unsophisticated, and were societal outsiders who did not fit in well, even within the “religious establishment.” This was true in the 1920’s, 1930’s all the way through the 1950’s.
Yes there were “Pentecostal Revivalists” like Canadian Aimee Semple McPherson who would become an ordained minister, and found an international Pentecostal denomination, that thrives to this day. Her legacy is found in the church she established, Angelus Temple in Los Angeles, and the Four Square Gospel denomination and its world wide missions. She came from tiny Salford, Ontario (not far from Waterloo, where I now live and have visited the place). She was known for being a passionate communicator of the full gospel which included healing in the atonement, miracles and signs and wonders, and the use of spiritual gifts being still valid for today. She became known throughout the US for doing good works, serving the poor and establishing soup kitchens during the Depression, raising war bonds during WW 2. She was a pioneer in radio ministry, and had she lived past 1944, she would have easily transitioned from radio to television, such was her dynamic personality on the stage and platform. McPherson was a model of what it is to be a classic Pentecostal.
Another early Pentecostal was Canadian John G. Lake, from St. Mary’s Ontario, a revivalist, a missionary to Africa, and a healing evangelist, that established the Spokane Healing Rooms in Spokane Washington. His legacy continues in the healing rooms movement that has gone all over the world, and continues to thrive to this day.
My wife Lori-Anne and I have visited the homestead of John G. Lake, and the family plot in the local cemetery as well as his home church, which is now a congregation in the United Church of Canada. The local library archive in St. Mary’s has information on Lake and his family in its possession. We were able to view and read the material with the librarian. We also visited Salford, Ontario, where the Province of Ontario put a provincial historical plaque to commemorate the life and legacy of Aimee Semple McPherson. Her homestead is now gone, but on the road that leads to the homestead, you can find the sign. Across the road there is a cheese shop that has a little museum dedicated to Aimee Semple McPherson.
These personalities were far from non-intellectual. They were people with a belief and passion for the truth of God found in the Scriptures, and a belief that God was still in the saving and restoring, as well as healing and miracle business. These have been Pentecostal core beliefs from the beginning. But the reputation of Pentecostalism was found to be one of criticism of that simple faith, and the belief in the supernatural. It seemed that people outside of Pentecostal circles would only pay attention when they themselves were desperate, and the established medical science of the day could not do anything further for them, that desperation led people to “seek after God” who could answer their prayers. Pentecostals were astute enough to know that while some mocked and cajoled about them, if people needed God, those people could turn to them, and they would pray in faith for their need of a miracle. This is the kind of environment I grew up in. It was like this in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Charismatics like to claim their lineage from Pentecostalism
In the 1950’s there arose the Latter Rain Movement, and again Canada played a key role in this. In North Battleford, Saskatchewan, for several years, Canadian Pentecostals were ministered to by revivalists (1948-52) and healing evangelists that brought with it many odd and strange phenomena and manifestations, such as seeing angels and the like. There were radical healings and salvations and revival meetings took place. Some of the teaching and preaching deviated into error and in a few years the Latter Rain movement itself petered out, but their teaching has permeated Pentecostalism to a lesser degree than it has permeated the larger and wider Charismatic Movement. The healing evangelists such as Jack Coe, William Branham, and Oral Roberts, all became key personalities of the Charismatic Movement after the Latter Rain disappeared as a movement in the 1960’s.
Classical Pentecostals have always believed and held on to what I call the “myth” of acceptance by wider Christianity, in that, those who experience the “Pentecostal blessing” will leave their form of Christianity and embrace theirs. This myth has persisted throughout the decades, and I experienced it myself, when people felt that the Vineyard movement of the late 1980’s would generate and exodus from the non-Pentecostal churches and a flood of people would come into the Pentecostal movement. They were wrong. The reverse happened. I know of many people who ended up leaving the Pentecostal churches and joining the Vineyard Movement as well as many other expressions of church life in the Charismatic Movement. I was one of them.
As I said, the distinctions between Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement are real. I have experienced them myself. In fact, I deliberately left Pentecostalism because I experienced what I would call “form religion” with no evidence of “power” and little evidence of “fruit” of the Spirit in the churches I was a part of. Traditional Pentecostal churches became, in less than 70 years, no longer a “movement” but rather an “established institution” and as such an institutional mentality had set in by the time I was in my late teen years and going into early adulthood. It appeared to me, to be “stale” and the excitement of the Charismatic Movement became more and more of an appeal to me.
Pentecostals went from cutting edge to left behind
Historically, Pentecostals had believed that when the Spirit broke out in the mainline denominations, such as the Anglicans, the Roman Catholics, the Lutherans, and the Presbyterians, who all ironically called the breaking out of the Spirit a “renewal movement” within their own church community. When the “renewal” hit these denominations in the early 1960’s, it all made the Holy Spirit mainstream within the readily accepted traditional denominations. People could experience the Holy Spirit in their own faith tradition without having to embrace the Pentecostal flavor and brand of “church life and ministry.”
The 1940’s, 1950’s and 60’s saw the rise of Evangelical and Charismatic campus ministries on college and university campuses, and this broke out in schools of all kinds and students became or already were members of every denomination imaginable. By the time of the Jesus People movement of the early 1970’s most North American were comfortable with the “charismatic Jesus” that was permeating the culture. Many people impacted by the Jesus People movement, ended up creating and founding ministries that continue to impact the wider Christian and secular culture to this day.
Independent churches, new denominational and post-denominational churches exploded on the scene in the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s, and this became known as the Third Wave Movement, which was a neo-Charismatic movement, that has become the largest phenomena of its kind. It has tripled the size of Pentecostal and Charismatic movements combined. It currently boasts a following of over 305 million adherents. While the 3rd Wave is essentially “Charismatic,” as a movement it has distinguished itself by certain beliefs and practices that Pentecostalism has not embraced.
The big kid on the block is the Third Wave Movement
Having been part of this movement, going all the way back to the early 1990’s and attending Vineyard conferences and meetings, and the Toronto Renewal which became known as TACF/Father’s Blessing, a worldwide phenomenon, and being involved with C. Peter Wagner, and the New Apostolic Reformation movement and other Apostolic Networks, I know full well the impact of the Third Wave Movement. It has really been a mixed bag for me, spiritually, emotionally, and belief and practice wise. I can no longer remain under its influence and teaching. I have outgrown my need of it and my desire for it.
A discernable contrast between the Vineyard and other 3rd Wave churches
I have to distinguish my time with the Vineyard Movement apart from my time in other Charismatic Churches. I see a big difference, where John Wimber’s emphasis on character remains a strong influence, even after almost 20 years since the passing of John Wimber in 1997. He certainly was an apostolic father and is still missed. So, for that reason, and for the emphasis on biblical truth and integrity, and a strong “Reformed” influence in Vineyard theology, I distinguish the Vineyard Movement as distinct from the Charismatic Movement.
The prophetic movement within the Charismatic Movement
Another trend that I saw develop and emerging during Wimber’s leadership of the Vineyard, was the rise of the prophetic movement, and the growing involvement of many Vineyard leaders within the emerging and growing prophetic movement. Wimber was reticent to embrace the diversity and growing dimensions of the prophetic, and largely due to the character of people who were walking in the prophetic and the difficulty in both the navigating and the confirming of the prophetic. Character and personal maturity in life and biblical understanding were important barometers for evaluating prophetic ministry. Some of the people that were part of this prophetic movement in and out of the Vineyard included Larry Randolph, John Paul Jackson, Doug Addison, and many others. Their influence is still felt throughout the Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement.
A recognition of the good I found in the Charismatic Movement
I have to give kudos to the Charismatic Movement on several counts.
- There is an openness to the Holy Spirit that is less restrictive than in Pentecostalism
- There is a larger degree of teaching about grace that is distinct from Pentecostal rule keeping
- There is a more casual approach to church life than the rigidity of the Pentecostal approach
- There is a discernable expectation for miraculous healing that is embedded in how Charismatics seek and expect God to move in their circumstances
- There is an expectation for the supernatural, signs and wonders, that is wider, larger, and beyond the grid of historical Pentecostal understanding
Some concerns with the Charismatic Movement that have caused me to disengage and withdraw from active engagement and participation.
- Theologically the Charismatic Movement has many theological streams, from very conservative Reformed views, to very Arminian views when it comes to the major doctrines of salvation and the Christian life. Depending on what you get involved with, you will get whatever is the main diet from that brand of Charismatic Christianity. You really need to discern.
- An understanding of the Bible and how it is interpreted and applied will vary, not only from stream to stream denominationally, but from church to church within that stream. There appears to be little convergence of truth that is from the same fountain, the same well.
- There are competing streams of ministries and theological understandings when it comes to the supernatural, spiritual gifts, healing and deliverance, and spiritual warfare. In 25 years of walking in the Charismatic Movement, I encountered, and participated in, and was taught:
- 7 different deliverance ministry techniques.
- 3 different views on spiritual warfare in the life of the believer.
- 5 different teachings on spiritual gifts and how they are use in the Body of Christ.
- Multiple different understandings of how the prophetic ministry works for individuals and for congregations.
- Participated in 4 distinct ministry schools, each with their own particular emphases.
- Participated in 5 healing ministry schools.
- Engaged in 5 different apostolic networks, that are international, national, regional and local, and some do not recognize the influence of the others.
- There is a theological obsession with the State of Israel and Zionism within the Charismatic Movement that is larger than any other movement in Christianity. Zionism is a racist ideology, no different than Nazism. It separates based on ideology. It castigates people that challenge it and demonizes them by slurring them with racism epithets and denouncing them so that the scrutiny can be distracted from the illegal oppression and occupation of Palestine. Charismatics are among the most zealous Zionists in the world. It is all based on a terribly flawed theological belief system rooted in Dispensationalism and its twisted eschatology.
- Undue influence of and crying out for supernatural manifestations of the Spirit, as in gold dust, oil, rain, stigmata, gold teeth, manna, jewels, loss of weight, floating feathers, balls of light, heavenly sounds, heavenly realm encounters, and on and on it goes. Whenever people gather, expectation is raised, and faith is stirred, and people are moved emotionally to expect things to happen. The duality of getting what you want and cry for, mixed in with those who do not experience anything, creates a duality that is unhealthy. People should be seeking God, not these manifestations. IF the manifestations happen, fine, but that is not the point. Seek God and be at peace. Don’t get distracted by all the “stuff.” Keep an expectant heart, but do not define what that expectation looks like.
- Pragmatically, the high emotionalism found in current Charismatic/3rd Wave churches as I mentioned earlier, follows an all too well played script. High energy music, light and sounds, digital video product, high end production techniques you find in rock concerts, large venues and platforms, all to give you a “terrific user experience.” That includes the very emotionally seductive music, hypnotic lyrics that tug at the heart strings and your point of vulnerability. It uses short and precise messaging, through testimonies, through engaging with the audience, and through the speaking of the message, giving you an opportunity to respond. The message is always geared to a response. It sets up the worship band to set the tone for the emotional response they want to elicit from you. You cannot leave without having responded. No matter what has taken place, in that moment of space and time, people are set up to have a supernatural encounter. The question for all of us, and for me, is whether or not that supernatural encounter is spiritual legitimate, or is it created in the moment through manipulation and coercion? Discernment and wisdom are so critical. And, it is so lacking, and the lacking is too frightening for me to contemplate. Just because something works, it doesn’t validate it, or justify it. There is so little good discernment today. So much ratchetted emotionalism. So much based on subjective feelings rather than objective truth. We have settled for so much less, all in the name of a pragmatic spiritual experience.
For me, and where I am at, it is quite frankly just too emotionally unstable and too theologically and spiritually dangerous
Ultimately it is up to individuals to make a decision about where they stand in spiritual matters and belief and practice of their faith. I have come to understand that not every personality type is wired for the hyper-Charismatic spiritual experience, in all its dizzying and dazzling expressions and manifestations. Not all spiritual encounters are worthy of being desired for or embraced. No all spiritual encounters are created equal. Not all spiritual and unexplained spiritual phenomena are biblical and good for Christians to encounter and engage with. There is so much that can deceive, seduce, and derail a person from the historic apostolic faith that we proclaim to love and cherish.
At the end of the day, I am still a “charismatic” believer. I believe in all the spiritual gifts and the power of the Holy Spirit. I am just not interested in the “Charismatic Hype” and what I understand to be some tragically flawed theological beliefs and practices.
I will seek the Lord and the beauty of his holiness. I will seek Jesus in every facet of my life. I will seek to love him, and honor him in all I say and in all I do, and in all that I am engaged with for the betterment society, and for the extension of the Kingdom of God in the earth. I will seek him only. I will not seek greater and bigger spiritual encounters. I will only seek the Savior who loves and cherishes me. All else gets in the way of what is important.
~ Samuel M. Buick
http://www.northviewchurch.ca/#/about-us/our-history (Dublin St congregation moved to another location and had a name change)