The New Charismatics

I just finished reading The New Charismatics by Richard Quebedeaux. The book is a history of the charismatic movement up until about 1973. I learned a lot from the book and it’s a subject I wanted to know more about, since it involves my Mom and the trajectory she took quite a bit. Some random observations from the book:

§ Early, Azusa-street era Pentecostalism was generally a phenomenon that began amongst the poorer and less educated segments of society. It was an *outside* movement which established its own denominations, like the Assemblies of God. Although it sprung from the same ground as the Holiness and Fundamentalist movements, those movements rejected it as aberrant.

§ The Charismatic movement came into being in the very late 50’s and throughout the 60’s. It was an *inside* movement which told people to stay in their churches. People often became better students of the Bible and better Christians as a result of the baptism in the Spirit. It was a movement that occurred more amongst the middle and upper classes, and professionals, thus engendering more respectability than the Pentecostal movement had.

§ The Jesus People movement was another *outside* force. It rejected existing churches as hypocritical and dead. It largely died when the Hippie fad died around 72 or 73. Many of the Jesus People moved into the churches that they had condemned a few years before and for all intents became part of the broader charismatic renewal.

§ The charismatic movement was ecumenical. It spanned Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Believers often united in local prayer or Bible study groups based upon the common experience of Spirit baptism and according to Quebedeaux, doctrine was not as important as love for Jesus. This accords with my Mom’s experience of Women’s Aglow, a charismatic prayer meeting/Bible study for women that crossed denominational boundaries.

§ Speaking in tongues was largely a learned experience. The book says:

William Samarin, a prominent linguistics scholar, suggests that glossolalia consists of strings of generally simple syllables that are not matched systematically with a semantic system. Moreover, it is clearly “learned behavior” – a linguistic phenomenon that can occur independently of any participating psychological or emotional state.

This is something that has always bothered me about the modern tongues experience. If it is essentially nonsense syllables that I learn how to say by practicing, then how is it a sovereign move of the Holy Spirit upon me? I don’t think it is and yet I have heard charismatic teachers say this sort of thing is OK, that you learn how to do it, God doesn’t come upon you and make you do it. To me, that doesn’t seem like what the New Testament experience was.

§ One interesting fact that the book only refers to obliquely is the outpouring of Spirit baptism in Kara Kala, Armenia around 1880. Apparently, Russian Orthodox believers had experienced outpourings of the Spirit even earlier than this, and were carrying the message to Kara Kala. This website says:

In view of his great need, it has always seemed surprising to me that Grandfather did not accept right away the strange message that had been trickling over the mountains for nearly fifty years. The message was brought by the Russians. Grandfather liked the Russians all right, he was just too levelheaded to accept their tales of miracles. The Russians came in long caravans of covered wagons. They were dressed as our people were, in long, high-collared tunics tied at the waist with tasselled cords, the married men in full beards. The Armenians had no difficulty understanding them as most of our people spoke Russian too. They listened to the tales of what the Russian called ‘the outpouring of the Holy Spirit’ upon hundreds of thousands of Russian Orthodox Christians. The Russians came as people bringing gifts: the Gifts of the Spirit, which they wanted to share. I could just hear Grandfather and Grandmother talking late into the night after one of these visits. One had to admit, Grandfather would have said, that everything the Russians were talking about was Scriptural.

At some point, the family of Demos Shakarian was warned to flee Kara Kala, which they did shortly before the entire village was massacred. The Shakarian family ended up in…you guessed it, California, just when the Azusa Street outpouring began. Thus the mystical gifts poured out in Russia were transported to Armenia and then blended with the Azusa Street outpouring which kickstarted the entire Pentecostal wave across the globe.

§ One early Anglican leader of the movement said that the baptism of the Holy Spirit did not in any way necessitate changing music styles in the church to what we now see. He thought a church could continue in a totally high church fashion with hymns, etc. and that the gifts would be better practiced at home or in small groups. In other words, baptism did not equal worship style. I think this point is totally obscured today.

§ The book talked about the origin of the term “Center” for a church. Melodyland Christian Center in Anaheim was one of the first places to use the term – which I abhor. Apparently it was originally supposed to mean a place where Christians from many denominations could worship without leaving their home churches, a “center” for them to gather but not a home church. Now of course the name is a plague on many churches.

§ Although the book does not mention him, it led me to find out about Lonnie Frisbee, an oddly named hippie who converted while on acid and was instrumental in the explosion of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa and the first Vineyards. He was friends with Chuck Smith and John Wimber, he also converted Greg Laurie. Oh, and he was gay. Or perhaps we could say that he struggled with being gay. If you want to illustrate the confluence of the sexual revolution, the overthrow of tradition and the explosion of the charismatic movement, the life of Frisbee is one of the best places to look. Frisbee died of AIDS in the mid 90’s and Chuck Smith compared him to Sampson at his funeral.

§ The trajectory and orthodoxy of many of these folks was not good. The author seems enamored of the liberation theology of that day, Vatican II, and the societal upheaval taking place. The fact that this movement led to the prosperity gospel, women’s ordination, liturgical chaos, homosexual ordination, and so forth is not encouraging. At the same time, much good resulted from the movement, and chaff should be expected alongside the wheat.






One response to “The New Charismatics”

  1. […] I see it now, the fruit of the movement was very mixed. Lots of charlatans, people who fell away, people who ended up in the word of faith movement or […]

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