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The Dividing Line

Understanding and Applying Biblical Separation
Chapter 10

The Charismatic Movement

Before the 1960s, if you had said someone was "charismatic," you would have meant that he had great charm, magnetism, and popular appeal. In this sense, John F. Kennedy was the charismatic young candidate of the Democratic Party for the presidency in 1960. Since 1960, to call someone "charismatic" could just as well be taken to mean that he speaks in tongues.

The word charismatic comes from the Greek words charis, "grace," and charisma, "gift." The "Charismatic movement" describes an interdenominational Christian movement, worldwide in scope, that has grown enormously since the 1960s. Its major emphasis is on "spiritual gifts," supernatural gifts said to be bestowed by the Holy Spirit. The most notable of these gifts is an ability to speak in tongues as a sign of the Holy Spirit's blessing. Because of its influence and practices, the Charismatic movement poses serious questions to those who would practice the Bible's teaching concerning personal and especially ecclesiastical separation.

History of the Charismatic Movement

The Charismatic movement emerged from a movement born early in the twentieth century known as Pentecostalism. To understand the Charismatic movement, we must first understand the Pentecostal movement.1

The Development of Pentecostalism

Pentecostalism arose out of the nineteenth-century holiness movement, which we mentioned briefly in Chapters 1 and 6. Holiness Christians emphasize the need for a devout, upright life. Methodist holiness Christians teach that the Holy Spirit eliminates the sinful nature in the believer through a second work of grace after conversion. Keswick holiness advocates teach that the power of the Holy Spirit suppresses the sinful nature. Both agree that the Christian can live in victory over conscious sin. This idea of a "second blessing" after salvation led many to search for further spiritual gifts.

Among these searchers was Charles Parham, a holiness preacher who headed a small Bible college in Topeka, Kansas. Parham later reported how on December 31, 1900, a student named Agnes Ozman asked him to lay hands on her and pray that she might receive the Holy Spirit. Parham did so, and as he prayed she suddenly began to speak in another language, allegedly Chinese. This event has traditionally marked the birth of Pentecostalism.

There had been occasional outbreaks of tongues-speaking throughout church history before 1900. The Montanists were a group in the early church (active c. A.D. 150-350) characterized by the giving of prophecies and speaking in tongues. Likewise, during a time of intense persecution by the Catholic Church in the 1700s, a group of persecuted French Protestants practiced tongues-speaking. Other groups such as the Shakers and the Mormons (American sects) and the Irvingites (a British group) also practiced tongues- speaking at various times. These were all isolated incidents, however.2 The events associated with Parham sparked a movement that has grown and continued to spread to the present.

Others heard Parham teach on the gift of tongues and joined his cause. One of these, a black holiness preacher named William J. Seymour, held a series of meetings in Azusa Street in Los Angeles from 1906 to 1909. Word of the displays of tongues-speaking and faith healing soon spread, and crowds thronged to the "Azusa Street Revival." The fame of Azusa Street gave momentum to the young movement. It took the name Pentecostal in reference to the filling of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4). Pentecostals claim that, as at Pentecost, the sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is to speak in tongues.

From these beginnings the movement blossomed. Today there are many Pentecostal bodies. Among the largest are the Church of God in Christ, the Assemblies of God, the United Pentecostal Church, the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), and the Pentecostal Holiness Church. As the contribution of William Seymour suggests, there has been a large African-American contribution to Pentecostalism. An example is the Church of God in Christ, founded by C. H. Mason, who joined the Pentecostal movement after visiting Seymour's Azusa Street meeting. It has become the most important predominantly black Pentecostal group and one of the largest and fastest-growing Pentecostal denominations.

The Dividing Line: Understanding and Applying Biblical Separation. By Mark Sidwell. ©1998. BJU Press. Reproduction prohibited. This work is available for purchase at the Bob Jones University Campus Store (phone: 1-800-252-1927; web address:

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