I consider myself a fairly experienced charismatic despite the fact that I have never been grounded in a single charismatic culture. I’ve had many brief dippings in different charismatic streams, but I have remained fairly nomadic and apprehensive of finding a home in any of these movements. I have tasted and seen a bit of the Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church/Mainline churches, the Vineyard, the ecumenical ‘Sword of the Spirit’ association, the ‘houses of prayer’, the ‘New Mystics’, and the ‘Apostolic-Prophetic’ movement. All these renewal movements were a blessing in my life in one way or another, some much more than others, but I also witnessed a ton of unhealthy things in this world, especially among the younger movements. I have had multiple people inform me that God wanted me to marry them, I have had too many friends make unhealthy and reckless decisions because of a personal revelation, I have seen the young and on-fire force their friends with a physical disability out of a wheelchair, and I have often come away from these sorts of places losing faith and growing bitter.
But still, I find myself believing that the Holy Spirit is still working like he did 2,000 years ago. Still, I find myself pursuing and seeking the powerful graces of the Holy Spirit, including the ‘wild’ ones. Still, I find myself both reminiscing about and encountering those holy moments of inebriation and ecstasy.
Despite the abuses and counterfeits I have encountered, I know I have also met God in a very real way through charismatic experiences and I know I need to pursue the charismatic gifts because of that. I think about the Corinthians and how their worship was marked by excess and the mishandling of the spiritual gifts. In 1 Corinthians, Paul corrects the Corinthian Church for various sins, including their borderline gnosticism and hypersexuality, and dedicates a good amount of this letter to correct their charismania… but still encourages them to continue to “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially prophecy.” (1 Cor. 14:1)
Why Charismatic-ism Matters To Me
I had my first pentecostal experience the day I put my faith in Christ and surrendered to an overwhelming urge to receive His grace. I didn’t exactly know what that meant, but I knew it had to happen; I fell on my knees in my bedroom and tried my best to pray. I began to feel this warmth in my heart that kept growing and growing until it eventually felt like a spring of love bursting out of my chest. I began shaking and trembling. I didn’t have words for what was happening, but I believed then and now that I encountered the Holy Spirit, the same Inward Teacher the disciples experienced on the day of Pentecost. I fall back on that moment frequently; It is why I am following Jesus and it is why I keep going.
Seven months after I decided to follow Christ, I had an experience that Pentecostals label the ‘Spirit-baptism’, where I began praying in tongues. Following this baptism, I sought out the Spirit by diving into every charismatic meeting I heard about. I began identifying as charismatic, though I was wary of some pop-charismatic ideas, such as blindly supporting the state of Israel. During my years of seeking out the Spirit in the Charismatic world, I saw God move powerfully in healing power, through the gift of prophecy, and through other encounters, namely individuals receiving baptisms in the Spirit, with tongues, laughter, weeping, trembling, etc. Though I do not doubt that some of this phenomena was fueled by things other than the Spirit, much of it was fruitful, authentic, and these are moments I fondly remember and thank God for.
I have gone through seasons of glory where I often saw people healed and received powerful prophetic words and was moved by God on an ecstatic level, and seasons that I considered dry because they lacked these things. Now, I realize that it’s all glory, because I recognize God’s closeness in all of these moments and how I am meant to seek him in all of this, even when things don’t look the way I want. Ultimately, I think I can see things this way because I am charismatic, for I believe that Spirit is always available and present and works in innumerable ways.
The Implications of Pentecost
Pentecost was truly a Trinitarian wonder given as a grace to the Church of God because the work of Christ. Although some make this event merely pneumacentric, Pentecost glorifies all Three in the Godhead, for it was the Father’s promise (Acts 1:4) that Christ would baptize with the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11). This event is meant to drive believers back to the very events the Gospel stands on: the death and resurrection of Christ. The gift of the Spirit for the believer, the grace of walking under the Spirit’s influence and sanctifying power, is only available because of the shed blood of Jesus and his victory over death.
That being said, Pentecost and the pentecostal experience of the Spirit-baptism described in Acts shapes my theology and my practice of the faith in two major ways:
- The egalitarian work of the Spirit: Pentecost and the outpouring of the Spirit did not take gender or race into account, but was to be poured out on to “all flesh.” Joel prophetically promised that the Spirit would cause both men and women to prophesy and to receive revelations (Acts 2:17-19). The Holy Spirit was, and is, a gift for all who called upon the name of the Lord and equality in the Church, as all were called by Paul to earnestly desire the spiritual gifts for the edification of the Church (1 Cor. 12:39, 14:1), including women, who were expected to pray and prophesy in the meeting (1 Cor. 11:3-16). Many women were ordained after the Azusa Street Revival, which birthed the Pentecostal movement, and were sent out as evangelists and missionaries, and some were even counted as ‘apostles’. A woman by the name of Aimee Semple McPherson even founded a Pentecostal denomination, the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.
- The Spirit of God being the Spirit of love: As William Seymour believed, as well as many (if not most) of the early Pentecostals believed, the experience of the Spirit-baptism primarily brings love. This experience was seen as more than empowerment for preaching the Gospel but as an experience where the love of God touches the believer so deeply that a love for mankind naturally overflows. After Pentecost, the Church came alive, not just in power, but in genuine love for each other. They experienced an unprecedented unity, as they shared all things in common and were constantly gathering to pray, worship, and celebrate at the Lord’s table (Acts 2:44-47). The Pentecostal writer, evangelist, and missionary Frank Bartleman who was present at Azusa noted that “the ‘color line’ was washed away in the blood.” The experience of the Spirit-baptism famously broke down the walls of racism among early Pentecostals, as the fire of the Azusa Street Revival brought black and white believers to worship together. This same fire also fueled their respect of the image of God in all men and their embrace of non-violent gospel. Most Pentecostal denominations that formed in the early 1900s had formally expressed a pacifistic view. Sadly, as ‘love’ was replaced by ‘tongues’ in doctrinal statements, racial division crept back in and Pentecostals eventually became less passionate about pacifism.
The distinctive doctrines of western Pentecostalism are not always things I can endorse in good conscience, such as pre-tribulational premillenialism, the rapture, and tongues as necessary evidence of the Spirit-baptism, but the distinctives of early Pentecostalism—pacifism, love as the primary sign of the Spirit-baptism, racial reconciliation, and egalitarian ministry—reveal, at least to me, the glorious finished-work of Christ on the cross. Though I may not culturally or theologically fit into much of the Pentecostalism around me, the history of the Pentecostal movement inspires me, and the event of Pentecost (both 2000 years ago, and my personal pentecostal experience) has powerfully shaped me and has drawn me closer to my Savior. This conviction and inspiration has led me to Quakerism, where I see that egalitarian ministry manifest week by week in meeting for worship and where I see that testimony of peace brought into action. I do long for more expectant fellowship where all the gifts of the Spirit (Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:4-11, 28.) are both appreciated and experienced, but I see such a desire as completely compatible with Quakerism, and even more fitting with Quakerism, with its discernment processes and the posture of ‘waiting’ in worship.