Charismatic Heresy

Charismatic Heresy

J. Lee Grady, over at Charisma magazine, has issued a call for clearheadedness among the charis-manics in his editorial, “It’s Getting Really Weird Out There.” The article cites strange goings-on at various Charismatic churches, and some classical Pentecostal churches.

This is where I cite my earlier post, “The Problem with Pentecostal Distinctives,” to reinforce his point. This is what happens when any group elevates experience and subjectivity above a commitment to sound biblical hermeneutics. This is why Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 12-14, addressing bad theology based on experience, grounding the Corinthians instead in the greatest commandment: love.

More than anything, we need to adhere to first principles: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul; and love your neighbor as yourself. While none of us, not one, can claim to keep these commandments perfectly, it’s the goal we aim for.

If I truly love God to any degree, I will be devoted to his Word and obedience to his commands. To the degree that I love God, I will desire to know him, to seek his mind on all matters, to obey the clear reading of Scripture. When I do that, I find myself returning to the Word over, and over; I’ll read devotionally, meditate on what he has to say, memorize it, study it. (Confession: writing this is convicting me.)

The most immediate means of knowing and loving God we have is bound between leather, and it’s usually gathering dust on the table by the door—where it’s easy to grab on our way to church. Too many of us, in the pew and in the pulpit, don’t bother to read it, much less study it the way it must be studied to truly apprehend it and live by it.

What happens when we fail to ground our practice (orthopraxy) on a clear understanding of scripture (orthodoxy)? We get this:

  • A pastor reveals a “new revelation,” that the Bible says church leaders can have more than one wife.
  • “At one charismatic megachurch, staff pastors successfully convinced all their wives and female staff members to get breast implants.”
  • A church in California (known for its revival meetings and prophetic ministry) recently imploded after members learned that several men in the church had been having homosexual affairs with the pastor, who was married.”
  • “A leader with an international following (who wears the label of “apostle”) recently informed his leaders that men of God who reach his level of anointing are allowed to have more than one sexual partner. Then his own son offered his wife to his father out of a sense of spiritual obligation.”
  • “In 2000 Charisma reported that charismatic preacher Clarence McClendon had divorced his wife of 16 years, Tammera McClendon, and married another woman after only seven days. The ceremony was performed by Bishop Earl Paulk, founder of the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Atlanta. Several prominent ministers attended the wedding, lending their endorsement to McClendon’s actions. Tammera McClendon later informed Charisma that Clarence had told her while they were married that God had already shown him the woman who would replace her as his wife.”
  • (From the Strang message board…) “[A]t Water of Life in Plano, TX. Doyle Davidson, says God ‘took Patty’ (his first wife) ‘out of my life in 1987’ even though they lived together until her death two or three years ago. In 1987, Davidson says ‘God gave him a new wife’ who was the wife of one of his staff members. Davidson fired the staff member a year or so ago when he went to their house and caused a major disturbance. Davidson was arrested and fined for public intoxication. Of course he says it was all a lie. [This] lady … has gone under cover with her husband and has said she committed adultery with Davidson and he tells her and his parishioners that ‘they did not committ adultery because “what God has joined together, man can not do away with.”’”

Is any of this truly new? No, junk like this has gone on throughout all of recorded religious history: any time the People of the Book abandon the Word to chase after subjectively inspired interpretations or extra-biblical revelations, things go massively off-track. (Just read about Aimee Semple McPherson.) I don’t lay the blame at the foot of either Charismatics or Pentecostals. I lay the blame at the foot of people who refuse to train their minds according to Scripture. I lay the blame at the foot of people who are not loving God with their mind, and letting their thinking be truly transformed.

Elsewhere on the pneumatic blogosphere, right now, there is a debate going on between cessationists and Charismatics/Pentecostals about whether or not the Baptism of the Spirit is for today, or whether it ceased with the creation of the canon. I haven’t gotten involved, because it’s not a pressing issue for me: I think the scriptures are clear, and I don’t have anything pressing to add. But what I’ve noticed about the discussion is that cessationists routinely cite examples like the above to illustrate why Pentecostal/Charismatic doctrine is essentially unbiblical.

So, we try to re-frame the debate based on what the Scriptures say, and these examples keep coming back to haunt our discussions. We try to move the dialog away from ad hominem attacks, and these all-too animated straw men who don’t represent me, my friends, or the best Pentecostal teachers keep getting thrown into the fray. It’s disgusting and disheartening. Meanwhile, too much of the discussion lacks the hallmark of love.

And the Assemblies of God is not immune. There’s plenty of charis-manic heresy and bad doctrine floating around within our ranks. Much of it is in the pews, but there’s still some coming out of pulpits.

May God save us from ourselves.

In the blogosphere:

  • Brad Boydston agrees: “Any movement which sees emotional intense experience as defining and normative is by nature subject to emotional manipulation.”
  • Stacy L. Harp (I think) at WritingRight calls for more judgment, and chimes in with her own judgment: “most Christians I get flak from are ignorant of Scripture, and are usually Pentecostal types…nothing personal against Pentecostals, but that has been my experience”
  • Fr. Daniel, at Misere Mei gives three cheers for Grady, and cautions pastors: “No amount of counseling and restoration processes can restore the trust of those who have been violated by reprobates in the pulpit.”
  • Colin McGahey at The Resurgence is still stuck on the remnants of the Word of Faith movement: “There is no correlation in the gospel preached in these prosperity churches to the gospel preached in the persecuted churches around the world.”
  • Bad exegesis is why Totem to Temple left the movement: “After seeing ‘most everything’ in the Pentecostal / Charismatic / Word of Faith / Third Wave camps and their value of the esoteric and experiences of personal revelation over the exegesis, evangelism, and the ecclesiastics of the Word and Spirit, I had to leave years ago.”

[tags]BlogRodent, Pentecostal, Assemblies-of-God, Assembly-of-God, Charsimatic, cessationist, Baptism-of-the-Holy-Spirit, tongues, debate, controversy, love, the-great-commandment, Charisma, Charisma-magazine, Strang-communications, theology, hermeneutics, Bible, Holy-Spirit, charismania, J.-Lee-Grady[/tags]

16 thoughts on “Charismatic Heresy

  1. Oengus Moonbones

    Wow, Rich! I’ve lived a really sheltered life. I keep hearing all this talk about how crazy we charismatics are, how afflicted with “charismania” and heresy, but as I was telling Dan Edelen, I’ve never managed to encounter any of it, even after all these years. Now, I am starting to feel left out. (Well, I’ve encountered bad stuff, sure enough, but it had totally nothing to do with the charismatic gifts. And the only example I’ve encountered personally of flaming heresy was in a Baptist church where the assistant pastor flat out denied the deity of XP.) Anyhow, I’m beginning to think there must be something really wrong with me. (As for Aimee Semple McPherson, I think if she were here now, she’d be the first to admit her failings. And I think that she has been to some degree unfairly maligned, but I guess that’s a whole different discussion for another day.)

  2. Rich Post author

    The only times I’ve encountered it are when I stepped off the beaten path of classical pentecostalism. For the most part, what I’ve seen and heard are minor compared to what Grady reported. Usually I hear scriptures woefully misapplied or used to justify an an odd-but-not-necessarily heretical view. Or there were the rash of behaviors that came out of Toronto and Brownsville a few years back. I’ve read some of Steve Hill’s sermons that were collected in book form, and I felt that there was a disturbing lack of biblical literacy there.

    Usually, while I get a whiff of something like that here and there, I’m not around long enough to see things devolve.


  3. Paul Schafer


    That is one of the reasons why I shy away from mainstream charismatics and third-wavers is because of the lack of making the bible the final authority for faith and practice and turning to revelations that lacks sound doctrine and cannot be proven by the Word of God.

  4. Rich Post author

    I agree, Paul. On the other hand, not all within Charismatic circles is bad. I think what’s happening within Charismatic Reformed circles is pretty interesting, and I’m not put off by the theology at all. (See and his Reformed Charismatic blogroll.)


  5. ColinM

    Thanks for the link. I am new around these parts.

    In class (at my Baptist seminary), we were told that Baptist pastors pray 20 minutes a day, while Pentecostals average 47 minutes a day. We were urged to seek God’s face. I would be reticent to malign young Baptist preachers because they are more allied with those seeking the face of God than you may think.

    Am I stuck on the Word of Faith movement? Not really, but I was asked to investigate a particularly popular church that espouses lazy theology. I have experienced it, seen it, and preached against it, not because it is something to “be stuck on,” but because it is a cultural issue we still face. Maybe the mainlines have dismissed it: but now it is time to dismantle it. Just this month I saw the outworkings of the faith destroy a twenty year marriage. Like I said, it is a different gospel, and it is bred by the “prophetic” movement plus one other thing…

    That other thing is exactly what you mentioned: lack of Scriptural knowledge, or lack of willingness to put that knowledge into practice. Cessationists may wrongly use those examples as arguments, but there is a valid point to be garnered from that “straw man” argument– what happens when you mix this “prophetic” atmosphere with disobedience or ignorance of the Word. Solution- those charismatics that hold to biblical truths need to step up and denounce the false ministries, something the charismatics on the national platform have been unwilling to do, save David Ravenhill.

    Great blog.

  6. Lynn

    I go to an A/G church, but have very Reformed views. It has been a struggle for years.

    Here’s one question I have: Why, if Charistmatic/Pentecostals have the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit,” do they tend to have MORE sin/problems in life than other more mainline denominations? It seems to be a doctrine that this second blessing is supposed to give power to live a godly life. I just don’t see it! My Presbyterian and Baptist friends seem to have a better handle on living the Christian life.

    What about “prayer language”? Is this phenomena really in the Bible? I see the gift of tongues, but not a prayer language solely for the idividual? If it is really supposed to build up the believer, why does it produce such flakiness?

  7. Pingback: Pentecostal Sin » BlogRodent

  8. Common Swift

    If you are asking me to respect the bullies over at “Charisma,” your barking up the wrong tree!

  9. Rich Post author

    Common Swift,

    I’m not aware of the Charisma Magazine necessarily being “bullies,” but regardless, Grady doesn’t seem to be acting like a bully in reporting these facts. Not according to the context I read.

    Besides, how does calling Grady and Charisma a “bully” address the issue at all? Either these things happened, or they didn’t. I’m not asking you to respect Grady, or Charisma. If you want to respond, please respond to the contents of my post (or other commenters) not your evaluation of the character of the people I quote.



  10. Common Swift

    Sorry Rich,

    I had a knee jerk reaction with “Charisma” and what I have consistently seen on its message board.

    My apology for singling out Grady.

  11. Rich Post author

    Thanks, Swift, for your apology–though I feel awkward accepting it since I really don’t feel offended. But, I accept it in the spirit in which you intended it!

    And, I understand. Message fora (mine included) get pretty heated at times and characters get assassinated all the time.



  12. cheesewhiz

    I’m years late adding a note to this post, but here’s my take:

    When I was young, I spent a year involved in several Pentecostal churches, one of which was evolving toward a Third Wave/New Apostolic Reformation paradigm and has since formally latched on to that movement. I’ve been slain in the Spirit; I’ve spoken in tongues. But today, I firmly disbelieve that genuine spiritual gifts are being exercised anywhere in North America, and despite staying with Pentecostals in India, I have no reason think that they’re occurring anywhere in the world. Unlike cessationists, I find no plain statements in Scripture that say the spiritual gifts will ever cease. But what I’ve seen, even what I’ve done, were not miracles. They came out of the human mind. The emotional manifestations had short-lived effects on me spiritually, and faded quickly. (More disturbingly, I needed to purposefully shake them off in order to simply dress myself, cook food, shower, and go to work.) Pentecostal spirituality made me less attentive, diffused my concentration, and gave me a lower functional IQ until I shook it off. In contrast, when I faced a difficult time in my life as a more mature person years later, I found God leading me toward a spiritual path that seemed to be more classically Christian, what some might call “contemplative,” such as silence and centering prayer. Not only did this kind of spirituality – “be still and know that I am God” – allow me to find peace during a very unpeaceful time, but it led to insights and awareness about myself and what God needed me to work on that I never would have realized through Pentecostal spirituality. It made me a better person, with permanent changes that made me more Christ-like in my character.

    When I look at the different types of spirituality that I’ve engaged in, I see that one (Pentecostal) has you give yourself over to your emotions, and is often linked to views about emotions that elevate them to the main source of truth. The more classical forms of Christian spirituality do not emphasize emotions – they emphasize dispassionate awareness and observation, where you allow yourself to be totally aware, letting the Holy Spirit shed a light on what is going on within you. These things can then be offered up to God. While it is acceptable to express oneself emotionally, I don’t think the goal of the Christian walk should be to become guided by our emotions. I think the goal is for our minds to be transformed by Truth. Things like speaking in tongues might help some people, especially the very extroverted, express something in themselves and thus become more aware, but from what I’ve seen, most of it seems to teach people to mistake their emotions for the Holy Spirit. It’s not surprising that this leads to things like Health-and-Wealth and lust-for-power theologies. I worry as I see these ideas taking root in other countries, where uneducated people who have long practiced folk magic and animism gobble it up- like in India, where people who own nothing but a bicycle and two chickens think Benny Hinn is a great prophet of God who will make them rich. In the US, we rejoice because we think the Gospel’s spreading…until we see people like Thomas Muthee of Kenya repeating the most horrible mistakes of our own past by hunting witches, having learned nothing from our history…until we hear that Christians in Uganda have stopped trying to rebuild their country because they think the Rapture is near…until we see immigrants dressed in flowing white robes walking our own streets and find that they belong to a cult headed by a man who claims to be Jesus, and that this cult was born from our own missionary efforts. The outcome of all these efforts may not turn out to be so wonderful 25 years from now if we can’t make sure that our converts aren’t fed on solid doctrine.

Leave a Reply

This site is protected by Comment SPAM Wiper.
%d bloggers like this: