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Gratitude

 

Greek philosopher Aristotle once mused, “Misfortune shows those who are not really friends.” However, the inverse is also true: “Misfortune shows (more…)

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“Charismatics” is a word popularized in the 1960s for Christians flowing in the gifts of the Holy Spirit as outlined in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. Charisma is derived from the basic Greek noun, charis, which means “grace,” or the free, unmerited favor of God. From it, we have the English adjective “charismatic,” which is used to describe a person possessing great powers of charm or influence. Within the Church, Charismatics are Christians who believe they have been “graced” with the presence and power of God.

Because the largest and more progressive churches in most cities tend to be Charismatic, they are often a point of fascination in the culture. Due to their inclination toward the supernatural and emotional, the media and their critics have unfairly portrayed them as a bizarre Christian subculture, a “sect” whose beliefs and behavior are an embarrassment to mainstream believers. What anti-Charismatics fail to realize is that Charismatics are very much a part of mainstream Christianity.

The Charismatic movement is the fastest growing segment of the body of Christ worldwide. With more than 600 million adherents globally, more than one in four believers today are either Pentecostal or Charismatic. A 2008 report by The Barna Group states that in America, a slight majority (51%) of all born again Christians is Charismatic. Nearly half of all adults (46%) who attend a Protestant church is Charismatic. One out of every four (23%) Protestant churches is a Charismatic congregation. One third (36%) of all Catholics is Charismatic.

Apart from size, Charismatics are also among the most fervent of the body of Christ. Consider the following data from the same report by The Barna Group:

  • God: Almost nine in 10 Charismatics believe that God is the all-knowing, all-powerful Creator of the universe who still rules the universe today. Yet, barely seven in 10 non-Charismatics view God that way.
  • Great Commandment: 90% of Charismatics believe that their purpose in life is to love God with all their heart, mind, strength and soul. Only 66% of non-Charismatics believe similarly.
  • Bible reading: 55% of Charismatics read the Bible in a typical week, whereas only 36% of non-Charismatics do the same.
  • Active Christianity: 42% of Charismatics read the Bible, attend a church service, and pray to God in a typical week. Only 25% of non-Charismatics do so.
  • Evangelism: Slightly more than half of Charismatics believe they have a personal responsibility to share their religious belief. Less than one in three non-Charismatics possesses a similar commitment.

Without a doubt, Charismatics on the whole are Bible-believing and Bible-obeying. Unfortunately, a casual browse through cyberspace reveals legions of bloggers hammering away at Charismatic leaders and churches. Why isn’t there a greater counter-response from the Charismatics? Personally, I half suspect that most Charismatic pastors and ministries are so busy in the work of evangelism, discipleship and missions, they have little time or passion to answer the criticisms leveled at them.

With 600 million Charismatics in the world today, to generalize or stereotype the Charismatic faith is like saying, “All Asians believe in this,” or “All Americans believe in that.” The spectrum is just too wide in terms of doctrinal and ministry views. The only commonality is their connection to Jesus Christ and the belief that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are still valid and active today.

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Are there Charismatics who are unbalanced or extreme in Bible doctrines? Of course there are, as with non-Charismatics. Are there Charismatics who live only for self instead of the Savior? Of course there are, as with non-Charismatics. Are there Charismatics who are shallow and superficial in their walk with Jesus? Of course there are, as with non-Charismatics. But taken as a whole, survey after survey has shown Charismatics to be fervent followers of Christ, serious in advancing the kingdom of God.

Let us consider some typical criticisms directed against Charismatics:

  • “Charismatics twist Scripture to justify an opulent lifestyle.” Not true. The vast majority of Charismatics are not fixated with wealth or materialism. Like most Christians, they believe that God provides for their need, not their greed. Having said that, Charismatics are not abhorrent to wealth that comes through diligent work or God’s blessing. Most believe that prosperity is God’s plan for the believer simply because of the abundance of Bible texts to support that. Take for example, 2 Corinthians 8:9 says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” The word, “rich” (Gr. plouteo) means to become financially wealthy and increased with goods. For most Charismatics, success and wealth are means to help the poor, better society, and fulfill the Great Commission.
  • “Charismatics despise the sick and those in suffering.” Not true. This statement ignores the fact that Charismatics are globally active in eradicating systemic poverty and addressing healthcare problems. As the most mission-minded segment of Christendom, Charismatic ministries donate significant portions of their annual budgets into medical and humanitarian aids. Scriptures like “He Himself took our infirmities and bore our sicknesses” (Matt. 8:17) give them cause to believe that healing is in the atonement, and thus is the general will of God for everyone. Whether through faith, medicine or therapy, most Charismatics value the need for a healthy body to live a fruitful life and serve the purpose of God.
  • “Charismatic meetings are shallow in doctrine and theology.” Not true. The fact is that Charismatics read the Bible and believe in its inerrancy more so than non-Charismatics. Most Charismatic churches have well-organized Bible classes and seminars to expound on the Holy Scriptures and Christian doctrines. But these are usually conducted outside of regular services. Most Charismatic meetings are designed to help attendees find wholeness in their soul and wisdom for daily living. Praise, worship and prayer are featured more prominently than non-Charismatic services. Sermons tend to deal with practical themes like marriage, family, work life and behavioral change. Most meetings end with a time for attendees to receive prayer for salvation, healing, and other practical needs. As such, to prejudge Charismatic meetings as shallow because of their focus on the mundane borders on religious arrogance and intellectual chauvinism.
  • “Charismatic churches are conning the gullible of their money.” I often wonder if the rage of anti-Charismatics here is targeted against the ability of Charismatic churches to exact money from their congregation, or the quantum of money that is collected? Is it the attendees’ willingness to give, or is it the amount collected that is more upsetting? A common rant of anti-Charismatics is that flamboyant Charismatic preachers are conning the gullible “to sow their seeds” and give big amounts as a form of religious lotteries in their quest to be rich.

What anti-Charismatics fail to realize is that Charismatic services are filled with the educated and sophisticated. They don’t arrive at relative affluence by being naive. Most Charismatics have the common sense to see through the shenanigans of tricksters behind the pulpit. But they do appreciate preachers who encourage them to go beyond their fears and stay faithful in their financial stewardship. Besides, didn’t Elijah challenge the poor widow of Zarepheth to sacrifice her last morsel of bread and trust God for a multiplication of provision (1 Kin. 17:11-14)? Is Elijah the prophet a heartless con artist then? Besides, isn’t “sowing and reaping” a principle of life and the Scriptures?

Instead of questioning the what and how of giving, one should ask the why. Why are Charismatics so willing to part with their money? For most, they give out of a passion to advance the cause of Christ, and the faith that God will bless them back so that they can keep financing the work of the kingdom.

Instead of Charismatic-bashing, non-Charismatics should look beyond the differences and focus on the goals every Christian has in common—becoming salt and light in society, and making disciples of every nation.

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