About Jesus Steve Sweetman
The Charismatic Movement
I grew up in an Evangelical church that stressed the idea that we all needed a personal relationship with Jesus. That is what Evangelicalism was all about. As I looked around I really wondered how true this idea was in the lives of the people in my church. How much of the Christian life was merely head knowledge, and how much was a real experience with Jesus? Did we really have a personal relationship with Jesus, or was that something we just said we had? Too often our Christian life was based on doing certain things and not doing certain other things rather living the life of the Spirit.
As a young person in the 1960's I got the impression that we as young people should not question these issues, but just accept them. Of course we were young. We had not yet lived enough of life to realize that things happen to dampen ones enthusiasm, or worst still, ones relationship with Jesus. We as young people were supposed to go on believing, go on mentally accepting all that we were taught.
Obviously for many young people and even some adults, there was a feeling that something was missing. We wanted more than what we had. We wanted to see more of what the Scripture taught. We wanted to see more of the power of God and the abundant life that Jesus seemed to have promised us.
One weekend in 1970 a few of us young people met together in a cottage for a weekend of fun. We were all from the same Free Methodist Church. For some reason, which I can't remember why, we decided to pray. Maybe it was because we got talking about the lack of the power of God in our lives and in the life of the church. Maybe that's why we decided to pray. Whatever, we did pray.
To make a long story short, the Holy Spirit fell on us all in such a way that the experience had life long consequences for many of us. We had previously had many emotional experiences at the front of the church sanctuary, but this was more than emotion, although it was very emotional. We had a real encounter with the Holy Spirit.
Later, within a year, in my own life I discovered the "Charismatic Movement". I began speaking in tongues and prophesying. I went from meeting to meeting, from house to house, from church to church, experiencing the Holy Spirit. We went all over the place and did all sorts of things. New life had been breathed into many of us in those days. The Charismatic Movement seemed here to stay.
The Positive Side Of The Movement
We Needed This Movement
Mainline churches already seemed dead to us. Some even had forsaken the simplicity of the gospel. Evangelical churches seemed to be heading in the same direction. The move of the Holy Spirit in the Charismatic Movement was good for the church because it brought new life into the believers.
It seemed that those involved in the Charismatic Movement had more desire to reach out to others, whether Christian or non Christian. Evangelism became a life style, not something we merely talked about in church.
Love Of God's Word
For many, at least in the early days, all Charismatics carried their Bibles everywhere. We couldn't get enough of it. One of my best friend was reading it one day while in the bath tub, until he dropped it in the water. We had spontaneous Bible studies anywhere and everywhere.
Maybe not in every case, but there did seem to be a desire to follow Jesus in the sense of living a holy life, not from legalism but from a true desire to be like Jesus.
The early Charismatic Movement did bring a measure of unity among Christians, but not necessarily among churches. Individual Christians within the movement did not really care about what denominational background you might have come from. They just wanted to know that you loved Jesus. How refreshing that was.
Restoring the Gifts
Both the nine gifts of the Spirit (2 Cor. 12) and the four fold gifts of Christ (Eph.4:11) were encouraged and practiced. Yes, there were abuses. There were abuses with the early Pentecostals as well. There are abuses to any thing that is good. Beyond the abuses the gift were present, something that we had always looked for but never saw.
Worship and Praise
One thing Charismatics have done is to bring spiritual worship in song to the church. One evening I visited a non Charismatic church and was surprised to note that four of the five songs they sang were from the Charismatic Movement. I mentioned that to the pastor, and he had little to say in response. Singing in tongues was one of the first things I saw in a Charismatic meeting. It was the worship and the presence of God that made me want to be a part of what was gong on. Watching these people sing in tongues was just amazing to me at the time.
Like any good thing there are always problems and abuses. The Charismatic Movement had its share of difficulties as well.
Charismatics in the 1960's and 1970's were going here there and everywhere to experience the Lord. We may have been in a Catholic church one night, a coffee house the next, and park the next night. Where we met did not matter. We were going everywhere without any specific direction in mind, so it seemed.
Leaders and teachers arose within the movement and began to teach the idea of bringing structure to what was happening. At first it was called "discipleship". We needed to be discipled, and we needed to disciple others. Discipling turned into "shepherding".
Shepherding was a result of the Charismatic "me and Jesus" attitude that seemed to be prevalent. The thinking was, if we had the Holy Spirit, why would we need structure. Many of us came out of structure. The unity we experienced was on a personal level as I have already said, yet certain leaders felt that we needed structured unity, under Godly leadership, thus different forms of shepherding rose up within the Charismatic world.
There leaders in the shepherding system that I was a part of were Bob Mumford, Don Basham, Derek Prince, Charles Simpson, and Ern Baxter.
There were some abuses within this structure. Some young leaders liked the power they had over their small group of 12 disciples. They went too far in their demands to "submit". Sometimes that demand to submit was overt, while many times the demand was less noticeable, yet still there.
The Shepherding Movement seemed to die in the mid 80's for the most part, but in some circles things never die, and there are still remnants alive today in one form or another. The problem with any form of overpowering leadership is that the individual looses his creativity. He looses it to the ideas of one leader. Legalism was another abuse. It's not a legalism to rules but to a person.
Any form of dictatorship destroys creativity. I am not saying that all forms of Shepherding was dictatorial, but in many places it was. In many of these places this problem has now been rectified. Still, this was a problem for the Charismatic Movement to deal with.
Shepherding separated the movement because not all Charismatics agreed with the concept.
The whole idea whether Christians could have a demon split the Charismatic Movement right down the middle. By the mid 1970's the unity began to erode away. Derek Prince was one leader who believed strongly in the deliverance ministry.
The place of Israel in the world and in prophecy also split the movement down the centre. Some believed Israel had special status, while others believed they meant nothing. Melcome Smith was one leader who believed in Replacement Theology. He believed that Israel lost its special place in the eyes of God. Israel has been replaced by the church. Derek Prince, however, believed just the opposite.
The idea that Christians can live a life of prosperity and maybe even luxury also split the movement. On one hand you had people saying you can speak prosperity into existence because your words of faith. Then others see prosperity as a North American invention due our excess style of living. They say prosperity is based more on our culture than Scripture. Kenneth Hagan was one prominent prosperity teacher.
Unity Falls Apart
The Charismatic Movement which was suppose to unite us, and did for a while, now was divided into many fragments. I heard many prophecies in the early 1970's stating the day of the "big named evangelist or preacher" was over, and the Holy Spirit was going to raise up hundreds of thousands of ordinary people to do His work The "one man road show" was coming to an end. Did it come to an end. I am not sure it did. It seems that many more big named men have been raised up, each with their own following. Some follow Peter, some Paul. We all say we are following Christ.
Now with the advent of the internet these prophecies might well be coming true now. We're all blogging and proclaiming the good news of Jesus on social media and elsewhere.
A New Wave
In the 1990's a new wave of spiritual activity has risen up. The Toronto Blessing is just one example. Is this a new Charismatic Movement? Is this a brand new movement of its own? Did the Charismatic Movement itself need awaking like the Mainline and Evangelical churches needed in the 1960's? Once again, many people have been touched by the Spirit, but not without controversy, but what knew movement doesn't have controversy.
Somewhere down the line, and it may have been in the mid 7190's people preferred to read testimony books over more doctrinally based books. The testimony book in the last half of the 1970's was the big seller. We all liked a good story. At the same time, it is my opinion, we started studying the Bible less, until we have become a fairly Biblically illiterate society of Christians. I think the ordinary Evangelical has been Biblically illiterate for a number of years now, but Charismatics are heading in that direction as well. Yes, this is a generalization, but from my experience, good sound Biblical thinking is not all that popular these days. We would rather not take the time to study. We'd rather have someone spoon feed us quickly on a Sunday morning. It's called a fast food diet of the Word of God, but such a diet will not cause us to grow as we should.
A lack of Biblical understanding led many in all sorts of directions. If our understanding doesn't get in line with the Word of God, then all the spiritual activity we find ourselves in can lead us astray, and it has done just that to many. It's amazing to me how many Evangelicals have become Catholic in recent years. It's also amazing how Christians are worshipping with Muslims. It's all based on the premise that the Bible is no longer important.
I Want An Experience
The world around us is looking for the latest experience. This mentality, so I think, has crept into the church, and especially the Charismatic Church. We are looking for the latest high, and we will go anywhere to get it.
Now there is nothing wrong with experience. It's a part of the Christian life, or it should be. It's a part of what a personal relationship with Jesus is all about., but experience needs to be balanced with a pursuit of knowing God's Word. We cannot be all heart and no brain. We also cannot be all brain and no heart. This balance needs to be found.
One thing is quite evident as you read the book of Acts and that is when people were filled with the Spirit, it was for a purpose. Being filled with the Spirit was to enable people to be a witness for Jesus. People in the book of Acts weren't filled with the Spirit for the fun of it.
So Where Do We Go From Here
Don't get me wrong. I am all for the Charismatic Movement. I am Charismatic by experience, but not necessarily by doctrine. My spiritual life began, and is found in this movement. I will never be able to forsake my roots that were formed in the early 1970's.
Yes, there has been disappointments along the way, but that is life. Disappointments haven't changed my thoughts and feeling on the situation. Besides there have been more good times than bad times. If Paul had have given up because of rough times, he would not have lasted long, and we would not have had much of the New Testament.
There are things I'd like to see happen within the movement, such things as, more emphasis on Bible teaching and study, a little bit more of a critical eye on experience, and having unity in the midst of diversity, to name a few.
It seems that man always wants to structuralize the move of God. In many cases once we structuralize and formalize God's outpourings of the Holy Spirit, we lose something. I know there is a need for structure. I know there is a need to formalize things, at least to a degree, yet lets not lose the freshness and creativity that comes with the moving of God's Spirit in the process.
Like the Pentecostal Movement which has been with us for more than 100 years, the Charismatic Movement will be with us a long time as well, yet with all movements in history, the steam seems to fizzle out in due time. As a result, the Lord will have to bring a new movement about to regenerate His people again.