Charismatic Movement

{kair - iz - mat' - ik}

General Information

The charismatic movement is an informal international and transdenominational fellowship of Christians who believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit described by St. Paul in I Cor. 12:4 - 11 and Gal. 5:22 - 23 are manifested in these times. The movement works in harmony with the established Christian churches and has been approved by the authorities of many denominations - Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox.

Although related to Pentecostalism, the charismatic movement differs in not being denominationally organized and in its refusal to insist upon speaking in tongues as an essential element of authentic Christian experience. Members refer to themselves as charismatic (a term derived from the Greek word for Grace) or as the new Pentecost. The origins of the movement cannot be precisely identified, but it has gained significant membership since the 1960s.

BELIEVE Religious Information Source - By Alphabet Our List of 2,300 Religious Subjects
Paul Merritt Bassett

R H Culpepper, Evaluating the Charismatic Movement (1987); J MacArthur, The Charismatics (1980); R Quebedeaux, The New Charismatics II (1983).

Charismatic Movement

Advanced Information

The Charismatic Movement is an expression used to refer to a movement within historic churches that began in the 1950s. In the earlier stages the movement was often termed "neo Pentecostal"; in more recent years it has frequently been referred to as the "charismatic renewal" or the "charismatic renewal movement." Therefore, participants are usually described as "charismatics."

On the American scene it is possible to date significant charismatic beginnings to the year 1960 with the national publicity given to certain events connected with the ministry of Dennis Bennett, at that time Episcopal rector in Van Nuys, California. Since then there has been a continuing growth of the movement within many of the mainline churches: first, such Protestant churches as Episcopal, Lutheran, and Presbyterian (early 1960s); second, the Roman Catholic (beginning in 1967); and third, the Greek Orthodox (about 1971). The charismatic movement has affected almost every historic church and has spread to many churches and countries beyond the United States. This continuing growth has resulted in a multiplicity of national, regional, and local conferences, the production of a wide range of literature, and increasing attention to doctrinal and theological questions both within and outside the movement. The challenge to the churches may be seen in the fact that since 1960 well over one hundred official denominational documents, regional, national, continental, and international, on the charismatic movement have been produced.

The immediate background of the charismatic movement is "classical Pentecostalism" dating from the early twentieth century, with its emphasis on baptism with (or in) the Holy Spirit as an endowment of power subsequent to conversion, speaking in tongues as the initial evidence of this baptism, and the continuing validity of the spiritual gifts (charismata) of 1 Cor. 12:8 - 10. Because of such distinctive emphases these early "Pentecostals", as they came to be called, found no place in the mainline churches (they either freely left or were forced out) and thus founded their own. As a result there gradually came into being such "classical" Pentecostal denominations as the Assemblies of God, the Pentecostal Holiness Church, the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), the Church of God in Christ, and the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.

The charismatic movement, while related historically and doctrinally to classical Pentecostalism, has largely stayed within the historic church bodies or has spilled over into interdenominational church fellowships. In neither case has there been any significant movement toward the classical Pentecostal churches. Hence today the charismatic movement, despite its "classical" parentage, exists almost totally outside official Pentecostal denominations.

Special Emphases.

Particular emphases are reflected variously in the charismatic movement.

Baptism with the Holy Spirit

There is common recognition of baptism with the Holy Spirit as a distinctive Christian experience. It is viewed as an event wherein the believer is "filled with" the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Baptism with the Holy Spirit is understood to result from "the gift of the Holy Spirit," wherein the Spirit is freely "poured out," "falls upon," "comes on," "anoints," "endues" the believer with "power from on high." This event / experience is the moment of initiation into the Spirit - filled life. Spirit baptism is said to occur either at the time of conversion (through repentance and forgiveness) or subsequent thereto. Baptism with the Holy Spirit, accordingly, is not identified with conversion. It is viewed as a being filled with the Holy Spirit that brings about powerful witness to Jesus Christ. Through this Spirit baptism the exalted Christ carries forward his ministry in the church and world.

The gift of the Holy Spirit wherein Spirit baptism occurs is understood as an act of God's sovereign grace. Accordingly, the gift may be received only through faith in Jesus Christ, who is the mediator of the gift and the baptism. Participants in the charismatic movement emphasize the centrality of Christ (not the Holy Spirit) and the unique instrumentality of faith in him. It is the same Christ who through his life, death, and resurrection saves and forgives the lost who also through his exaltation to "the right hand of the Father" sends forth the Holy Spirit upon the redeemed. So it is by the same faith that both turning from sin and empowering for ministry are to be received from him. Charismatics generally hold that conversion and the gift of the Spirit, though both received by faith, may or may not happen at the same time.

The book of Acts is viewed as exhibiting two patterns: a separation (however brief or long) between conversion and the gift of the Holy Spirit (the original 120, the Samaritans, Saul of Tarsus, and the Ephesian twelve), and a simultaneous reception of both (the centurion household in Caesarea). Hence, it is by way of faith, not necessarily at the initial moment, that the gift of the Spirit is received.

Participants in the charismatic movement also frequently point to the pattern of Jesus' own life, which includes both his conception by the Holy Spirit and the later descent of the Holy Spirit upon him. Jesus was therefore both born of the Spirit as Savior and anointed with the Spirit as he began his ministry. So it is said that correspondingly there is needed both a birth of the Spirit for salvation and an anointing of the Spirit for ministry in his name.

This leads to the emphasis of charismatics on such matters as prayer, commitment, and expectancy as the context for the gift of the Holy Spirit. So it was with Jesus' life leading up to the descent of the Spirit; also with the 120 disciples who waited in the upper room prior to Pentecost; likewise a number of others according to several additional accounts in the book of Acts. Prayer preceding the reception of the Holy Spirit particularly stands out in the accounts of the Samaritans, Saul of Tarsus, and the centurion household in Caesarea. Seeing a similar pattern in the life of Jesus, the original disciples, and the early church, many charismatics affirm that in a spirit of prayer, commitment, and expectancy they were visited by the Holy Spirit. Such an event, it is claimed, did not occur by dint of human effort, not through some work beyond faith; rather it happened to those who in faith were open to receive what God had promised to give.

Whereas the basic purpose of Spirit baptism is power for ministry and service, charismatics speak of a number of effects. Since it is the Holy Spirit who is given (not something he gives), many speak primarily of a strong sense of the reality of God, the Holy Spirit dynamically present, bearing witness to Jesus Christ and glorifying the Father. There is testimony to an enhanced sense of the Scriptures as the written Word of God, since the same Holy Spirit who inspired them fully is now said to be moving freely in the lives of the believers. Many charismatics also testify to an abounding joy, a deeper assurance of salvation, a new boldness for witness to Jesus Christ, and an enriched fellowship with other Christians. On this last point, one of the most noticeable features of the charismatic movement is the sense of koinonia that binds them together not only in a local fellowship but also across ancient denominational barriers. Accordingly, many claim that the charismatic movement is the true fulfillment of the Lord's prayer to the Father "that they may all be one" (John 17:21).


Speaking in Tongues

In the charismatic movement speaking in tongues, glossolalia, occupies a significant place. Speaking in tongues is generally understood to be communication with God in language that is other than one known to the speaker. A person does the speaking, that is, he freely uses his vocal apparatus, but it is claimed that the Holy Spirit gives the utterance. It is viewed as transcendent speech by the enabling of the Holy Spirit.

Speaking in tongues is considered by some charismatics to be the miraculous utterance of an unlearned foreign language (so in classical Pentecostalism). This is claimed, first, on the basis of the narrative in Acts 1, that since the Scripture says that the disciples "began to speak in other tongues" and "each one heard them speaking in his own language," the disciples must have been speaking the languages or tongues of the listeners. Second, there is the frequently given testimony that on many occasions people have heard their own language spoken by someone who was totally ignorant of what he was saying. However, many charismatics hold that the otherness of tongues is qualitative rather than quantitative, that "other tongues" are not natural (i.e., human languages) but spiritual. Accordingly, if someone says that he heard a person speaking in his own language, this is viewed as occurring because the Holy Spirit immediately interpreted what was said (hence it was not a hearing of but a hearing in one's own language).

From this perspective there is no difference between the tongues referred to in Acts 2 and 1 Cor. 12 - 14. The former were not foreign languages and the latter ecstatic speech; both are utterances of the Holy Spirit that can be understood only when interpreted by the Holy Spirit. Charismatics who have embraced this understanding of "other tongues" believe that it best harmonizes the biblical witness, that it retains the spirituality of tongues, and that it accords with the empirical fact that there are no concrete data (for example, from the study of recordings of tongues) of an unknown language being spoken.

The essential charismatic claim about glossolalia is that this is the vehicle of communication par excellence between man and God. It is the language of transcendent prayer and praise. In tongues there is speech to God which goes beyond the mental into the spiritual. Charismatics frequently state that in tongues there is a fulfillment of the intense desire to offer total praise to God not only with the mind but also with the heart and spirit. Therein one goes beyond the most elevated of earthly expressions, even "hosannas" and "hallelujahs", into spiritual utterance: the praise of God in language given by the Holy Spirit. In the regular life of prayer tongues are said to occupy a primary place.

Such prayer is identified with praying in the spirit or with the spirit, which, since it is not mental, can be done at all times. This spiritual prayer does not intend to eliminate mental prayer, i.e., prayer with the understanding, but to afford the continuous undergirding and background for all conceptual prayer. The ideal is prayer with the spirit and with the mind (in that order). Where prayer passes into praise it may likewise be singing with the spirit and singing with the mind. For the charismatic movement at large singing in the spirit, singing in tongues, occupies an important place, particularly in situations of community worship. Therein both words and melody are free expressions believed to be given spontaneously by the Holy Spirit. This, often combined with more usual singing, is seen as the apex of worship: it is the worship of God in psalms and human and (climatically) spiritual songs.

Speaking in tongues is understood to be not irrational but suprational utterance. It is not the forsaking of the rational for the nonsensical, hence gibberish, but the fulfillment and transcendence of the rational in the spiritual. Charismatics are not disturbed by linguists who claim that glossolalia has no observable language structure, for if such were the case, speaking in tongues would not be spiritual but rational speech. Further, speaking in tongues is not viewed as ecstatic utterance, in the sense of uncontrolled, highly emotional, perhaps frenzied activity. While containing a strong emotional (even a rational) element, glossolalia runs deeper than the emotions. Both reason (or mind) and emotions are aspects of the human psyche (psyche), whether on the conscious or subconscious level. Speaking in tongues is thus understood to be transpsychical; it belongs to the realm of the spirit (pneuma).

Most persons in the charismatic movement view speaking in tongues as directly connected with the event of Spirit baptism. The Scriptures in Acts which specifically record speaking in tongues (2:4; 10:46; 19:6) state that it occurred with persons who had just received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Glossolalia in Acts therefore is closely linked with Spirit baptism, as an immediately ensuing activity. Hence, most charismatics believe that there can be no speaking in tongues without prior Spirit baptism (this is the opposite of saying that there can be no Spirit baptism without speaking in tongues). The reason would seem to follow from the very nature of baptism in the Spirit: a fullness of the Spirit that overflows into transcendent prayer and praise. Granted this fullness, the outpouring of the Spirit, glossolalia may be expected. Further, according to Acts when speaking in tongues occurred, the Scriptures state or imply that everyone present did so. Thus charismatics generally conclude that speaking in tongues is not limited to some, but is the province of all. Also these very tongues may thereafter become an ongoing part of the life of prayer and worship.

Such tongues are sometimes called "devotional tongues," and are viewed as an important part of the prayer life of the Spirit - baptized believers.

In addition to viewing glossolalia as a concomitant of Spirit baptism and belonging to the Spirit filled life, most charismatics affirm that though one may speak in tongues as a consequence of Spirit baptism, he may not have "the gift of tongues" for ministry in the body of believers. This is based not on Acts but on 1 Cor. 12, where Paul depicts tongues as one of several manifestations of the Holy Spirit for the common good.

In this situation tongues are to be spoken as the Spirit apportions, by the few not the many, and only when there is one present to interpret. Though all may be able to speak in tongues (Paul's expressed desire), not all are so directed by the Holy Spirit. The phenomenon of tongues is the same, whether in Acts or 1 Cor., whether in the life of prayer or in the body of believers; it is addressed not to men but to God. However, the practice of tongues is said to be quite different in that what belongs to the life of the Spirit filled believer is not necessarily exercised by him in the Christian fellowship.

Finally, there are those in the charismatic movement who place little emphasis on speaking in tongues. They do not disregard glossolalia, or by any means rule it out, but, focusing almost entirely on 1 Cor. 12 - 14, view speaking in tongues as only one of several manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Hence if one does not speak in tongues, this does not signify any lack of Spirit baptism; it is only that the Holy Spirit has not apportioned to such a person that particular gift. Such a view, based more on the distribution of gifts in 1 Cor. than the association of glossolalia with Spirit baptism in Acts, is obviously quite different from what has previously been described. Accordingly, to many other charismatics this failure to relate glossolalia primarily to the gift of the Spirit as its concomitant and as an ensuing expression in the life of prayer and praise is to overlook the basic purpose of tongues.

Spiritual Gifts

By definition the charismatic movement is concerned with charismata, the Greek term for "gifts of grace." Everywhere throughout the charismatic movement there is the claim that all the charismata, or charisms, mentioned in Scripture are, or should be, operational in the Christian community. Whereas in large sectors of Christendom many of the gifts have been viewed as belonging only to first century Christianity, the charismatic movement stresses their continuing importance. Many charismatics prefer the name "charismatic renewal" to "charismatic movement" to lay emphasis on a renewal of the gifts in our time.

It is generally recognized that the biblical charismata include a wide range of gifts as described in Rom. 12:6 - 8; 1 Pet. 4:10 - 11; and 1 Cor. 12 - 14. (The word "charisma" is also used in Rom. 1:11; 5:15 - 16; 6:23; 1 Cor. 1:7; 7:7; II Cor. 1:11; 1 Tim. 4:14; II Tim. 1:6; "charismata" in Rom. 11:29.) All these gifts, charismatics hold, should be functional in the body of Christ. The focal point of charismatics, however, is 1 Cor. 12 - 14, especially 12:4 - 11. They suggest a number of reasons for this:

A profile on charismatic understanding of the spiritual gifts would include the following. All the gifts of the Spirit are viewed as extraordinary, supernatural, and permanent. The spiritual charismata as described in 1 Cor. 12:8 - 10 are not arranged in a hierarchy so that "word of wisdom" is the highest and "interpretation of tongues" the least. The greatest gift at a given time is that which edifies most. All the spiritual gifts, especially prophecy (the direct utterance of God to his people in their own language), are earnestly to be desired (1 Cor. 14:1); thus an attitude of "seek not" about any gifts is a violation of God's intention for his people. The gifts of the Spirit, because of their high potency and possible abuse, need to be carefully ordered. Abuse, however, does not call for disuse but proper use. The spiritual gifts will not cease until we see him "face to face"; then they will be no longer needed for the edification of the community. Love is the "way" of the gifts, without love they profit nothing, and love will endure forever.

A word should be added about the relation of baptism with the Holy Spirit to the gifts of the Spirit. Charismatics often state that baptism in the Spirit is initiation into the dynamic dimension; the gifts of the Spirit are dynamic manifestation. Hence baptism with the Spirit is for living in power and glory; the spiritual charismata are works of power and glory. Many charismatics affirm that whenever Spirit baptism occurs, the gifts, which are already resident in the Christian community, become all the more freely and fully exercised.

Finally, charismatics generally recognize that spiritual gifts cannot substitute for spiritual fruit. The fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, etc. (Gal. 5:22), represent the maturation of the believer in Christ. The most immature believer, if he is open to the Holy Spirit, may be Spirit filled and exercising extraordinary gifts, and yet have experienced little of the Spirit's sanctifying grace. Such a person needs all the more to grow up into Christ.


Outside evaluations of the charismatic movement vary today from outright rejection to mixed acceptance. The more than one hundred official denominational documents earlier mentioned demonstrate on the whole an increasing openness, but with reservations, to many of its features.

Critics of the theology of the charismatic movement have expressed disagreements variously.

J R Williams

(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

Charismatic: D J Bennett, The Holy Spirit and You; L Christenson, Speaking in Tongues and Its Significance for the Church; S Clark, Baptized in the Spirit and Spiritual Gifts; H M Ervin, These Are Not Drunken As Ye Suppose; M Harper, Power for the Body of Christ; K McDonnell, ed., The Holy Spirit and Power: The Catholic Charismatic Renewal; J Rea, The Layman's Commentary on the Holy Spirit; R P Spittler, ed., Perspectives on the New Pentecostalism; L J Cardinal Suenens, A New Pentecost? J R Williams, The Era of the Spirit, The Pentecostal Reality, and The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today; A A Hoekema, Holy Spirit Baptism; J F MacArthur, The Charismatics: A Doctrinal Perspective; J R W Stott, The Baptism and Fullness of the Holy Spirit.

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

This page - - - - is at
This subject presentation was last updated on - -

Copyright Information

Send an e-mail question or comment to us: E-mail

The main BELIEVE web-page (and the index to subjects) is at: BELIEVE Religious Information Source - By Alphabet