Thursday, June 07, 2007

Charismatic Dangers

My cyber friend Dr. Platypus, recently linked to this post from "Per Christum," and asked for comments from Pentecostal/Charismatics among others. I decided to cut and paste from Per Christum since my response might be too long for D.P.'s comment box. The post is from a Catholic charismatic perspective, so I did not paste each point completely.

First off, the original post says these dangers (listed below in italics) are "inherent in the charismatic movement." That made me uneasy, because Webster defines inherent as: "involved in the constitution or essential character of something." These errors are very real, and I've seen all of them, but I do not believe that they are part and parcel of our theology, nor that they are unavoidable, nor part of the essential character of Pentecostal church practice. Any branch of Christianity has potential pitfalls to avoid. And sometimes in the past education and sound scholarship was downplayed in the Pentecostal denominations. I rejoice that this is becomming less and less the case.

That said, Dr. P. asked if these are seen as dangers, and I answer with a resounding "yes." Perhaps I will open a can of worms I don't want to deal with when I say that IMO these problems are more pronounced in "independent charismatic" congregations where accountability is sometimes greatly lacking and the pastor has the final word on everything.
There are some wonderful independent congregations and pastors out there, so I don't want to paint them all with the same brush, but accountability and structure are things that should be discussed if one is considering attending one of these churches. I could tell some horror stories of what can happen when the pastor thinks he (not usually a "she") speaks for God and no one better say differently. And (sigh) I must be honest and say that I do not rush to a Benny Hinn crusade, do not watch TBN, and yes, I cringe at what I sometimes see in Charismatic Land.
For brevity, I'll use PC for "Pentecostal/Charismatic." On to the list of dangers.

I admit it--this guy scares me.

1. Illuminism - i.e. folks believe God is telling them something unique that nobody else knows. There is a need to feel "special" and if God isn't telling you something unique or even mildly provocative, your credibility as a leader/follower is called into question...

The antidote to this is to teach truth. In my opinion, if it is "unique" it is highly questionable. There is "nothing new under the sun" as Solomon tells us. Accountability is a key. And maturity. A wise pastor or leader will not allow this attitude of charismatic one-upmanship to grow. Sometimes an excited but immature Christian needs to be taught, so it might be time for a loving but serious talk. If it is the pastor....well, that is why independent pastors sometimes scare me. Who takes that guy aside? Who is honest with the pastor? I don't see this attitude much in my fellow AG pastors, at least in this area. As for "pew folks" well, yes. We've had some of these would be "special messengers." In one case we had to remove the person from membership. That was hard, but he refused to listen to any correction. Yep, accountability is a key. But that is true of any church member in any church, though the issues might not be quite the same.

2. . Paraclericalism - a downplaying of the role of clergy, or even suggesting there is no need for the Church hierarchy. I have seen this attitude even among charismatic clergy! There is such an emphasis on the experience of the individual, that any kind of formality or hierarchy is looked down upon.

Well, we aren't much on hierarchy, being a congregation-based fellowship (much like many others in the "free church" tradition such as Baptists or E. Free or Christian and Missionary Alliance, etc. ). Again, teaching is a key. We all have a function in the body. Pastors and leaders equip the saints, but "at the foot of the cross the ground is level." I'm not so sure that downplaying the role of clergy is all bad, but I do dislike the lack of respect for clergy that I see growing evidence for--but not just with Pentecostals.

3. Charismania - attributing excessive significance to the charisms while downplaying other spiritual acts. Speaking in tongues or prophecy become the litmus tests for true spirituality, while feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc, are downplayed or even ignored.

Have I mentioned teaching yet? ;-) This is immature belief, practice and behavior. I repeat often at my church that the more "vocal" gifts have NOTHING to do with spirituality. Can we say, MORE PEOPLE WITH THE GIFT OF "HELPS" PLEASE, LORD? And I rejoice to say that I see PC churches becoming more and more aware of the need for loving acts of charity. The Assemblies of God based Convoy of Hope is an excellent example, and one of my favorite organizations.

4. Neglect of Traditional Spirituality - i.e. past spiritual experiences are downplayed or not even studied because it is all about what "I" am experiencing "now."

Yes, this is a significant problem. However, I think it is likely a problem with many churches other than just being unique to PC ones. This lack of awareness of tradition and history seems pretty widespread in the evangelical tradition. There is an excellent video series about church history that I plan on showing....maybe once a month on Sunday night. They aren't dry, not "textbooky" but they do give a wonderful perspective. I'll try to find a link.

5. Tyranny of the Prophetic - This means that the prophetic, in this case referring to the illuminism mentioned above, can trump anything. In other words, if there is an objection to what the pastor is doing, the pastor just reminds the objectors that he talked to Jesus and "God told him..." and that settles it.

I won't be so bold as to say this could not happen, but I do not know of any AG pastor or church where this is the case. Remember, the church people can "vote out" the pastor, unlike some other denominations. You won't find many if any TBN devotees in our clergy ranks either. We are more likely to be chagrined by much of what passes for "Pentecostal." And we spend time correcting the misconceptions that sometimes happen because of high profile (but often self-absorbed or shallow) teachers and preachers. Note: I do not say everyone on TBN is wrong, absorbed nor shallow. But rest assured, TBN personalities do not speak for me nor the pastors I know.

6. Cult of Personality - A cult of personality can develop around the pastor or leader. Despite a general suspicion of traditional hierarchy and church order among some charismatics, the pastor, who has been given special prophetic knowledge, is often viewed idealistically. The result is that he can do whatever he wants without discipline or question, including taking huge sums of money from the congregation.
Wow! Taking money from the congregation? Well, yes, I know of this kind of thing. But (sorry to seem to be whacking on these folks) I see it in independent churches where the board is the family of the pastor, or there is no accountability to anyone, or the pastor owns the building and everything in it. This kind of out-of-control behavior is not as likely to be the case in a church that is part of a larger body. We, speaking of the Assemblies of God, are accountable to our district officials and to the national office. Assemblies of God (and I believe this is true for most other Pentecostal denominations as well) pastors may not own the church. It is the property of the district. If I acted like this example I'd lose my ordination credentials. Yikes! Sometimes I get frustrated with the larger church structure or attitudes, and I don't agree with everything that comes out of Springfield, MO (AG headquarters) by a long shot, but this is one reason I would never try to strike out on my own--though I might be tempted to do so!

The poster at Per Christum concludes, "And while renewal movements often spiritually enliven the Church at times when she needs renewal, all renewal must be subject to the Teachings of Christ in His Church. The Holy Spirit operating in the individual will not contradict the Holy Spirit operating in Christ's Church." I know he is speaking from a Roman Catholic perspective, and I am not, but to me the point is well taken.

In our tradition, the Bible, not the denomination, is the final authority. Look at scripture. Paul severely takes the Corinthian church to task for their self-centered, prideful, undisciplined, immature, charis-maniac behavior! But he still says (my paraphrase), "I think God I speak in tongues more than all of you, but pull it together and use your heads! Love each other and stop acting like arrogant whackos! You can talk in tongues and be the most gifted guy around, and you can even be a martyr and if you don't love each other it is just annoying." He did not tell them to stop being led by the Holy Spirit, or exercising spiritual gifts. He told them to let love and the good of all be their highest aim.
Pride is not only found in PC groups, though it might look a bit different than the same sin in another denomination. Pride and self-centered or immature behavior is the real problem, no matter what the name on the church sign.

16 comments:

D. P. said...

Thanks for such a thoughtful response! I hadn't thought about the independent vs. denominational dynamic in those terms, although I have long thought there were benefits to being involved in some kind of denominational or quasi-denominational network, even a very small one.

And I certainly agree with you that teaching is key. Pastor need to teach the people, and the pastors themselves need to be properly taught in seminaries and (ideally) some kind of apprenticeship arrangement. "Quality control" has to start with the leadership.

It's refreshing to here about your fellow AG pastors' opinions of TBN, etc. I think I already knew the average AG pastor was not taping those shows, but it's nice to have one's assumptions confirmed every now and then. :-)

Lorna (see through faith) said...

really interesting.

Diane said...

Yes, this is quite thorough and thoughtful! I've been pondering quite some time the integration of Pentecostal/traditional theology and experience...

Singing Owl said...

Lack of a required and facillitated apprenticeship has been a problem, D.P. Neither Ken nor I had much mentoring, though Ken did serve one summer of "internship." It would have likely saved us, and others, some missteps and heartaches if we had. This is changing, and high time. Not fast enough though, IMO.

Ruth said...

This is true about the A/G, finally thank God!, but I still see this kind of thing practiced in other groups that are not independent. The "personality cult" churches where the pastor has a large congregation and brings in a lot of money still practice some very yucky stuff but they aren't called on it because of their stature. As those groups become more mainstream, they'll lose some of the wackos, just like the A/G has done in the past 50 years. It's a growth thing, a maturing of the spirituality. Unfortunately it'll always be with us because people like their ears tickled.

Singing Owl said...

Hmmm, yes, I am thinking of one person in particular who is near Springfield who pastors a mega church...and...well, yes, you have a point. I wonder if that is true in other denominations as well?

CaptainQuick said...

Well said, Dorcas.

One of the things which struck me about what "Per Christum" wrote was that I felt that if he lived in ancient Israel, he'd have had no place for anything that came out of the mouths of Ezekiel, Isaiah or the other prophets. "What, so you reckon God told you, then? Hah - what a load of baloney! You're just going to throw out thousands of years of Judaism are you, on account of 'God said,' or so you suppose! What a lunatic!"

Yes, I believe the canon of Scripture to be well and truly closed, but I do believe that God can and does speak today. But, as has been pointed out, when we believe that God speaks to us, if it doesn't satisfy the test of being in line with the revelations of Scripture, then we know it must be a false voice. When a pastor claims to be leading the church in a particular direction on account of "God said," he or she should not meet with ridicule because of it, and nor should he or she expect to meet with unqualified acceptance of what they claim to have heard from God. We should be as the Bereans, and "test all things" to see if they line up with Scripture.

Singing Owl said...

Captain Quick?? Who are you? I know I should know...

Diane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Diane said...

thanks for visiting me. Now I have to inform you that you have been tagged

Questing Parson said...

Well said; well-thought out. This was a good education for me, also.

I've been so appreciative for the things I've learned from your recent posts (this and the Church vs Church series). I hope you do more; you have a nice way of cutting to the core of the issues.

Thanks.

P.S. an after-thought said...

The post of Dr. Platypus and your post were enlightening to me, since I'm from another tradition.

I've always wondered why some (all???) the famous preachers seem to be independent, even when they have some denominational ties. And also why some of them have "founded" a church.

This contrasts with the moving around of pastors that happens in some other denominations, either by their choice or they are moved by the denomination. That has healthy aspects and makes the personality of the pastor less important. But even in those groups, some pastors stay for 20 years and there are people in those churches who have a hard time separating church and God from that pastor's way.

In my tradtion, people don't speak much about hearing God tell them something, but when you speak privately to people, they may say that they felt called by God to do this or that. I've felt that way. When I mentioned this on a blog comment [to a blog I no longer read, but it is sort of in my tradition] I was told that was some (named) heresy, because the only trust worthy revelations from God come from the Bible and the communion. I was shocked to be told this, and hurt.

But I did trust what I thought God told me to do because it was a good thing and a service to others and also outside of my comfort zone.

Your discussion puts this into perspective. I can see the danger of people willy nilly feeling they are told things by God.

Singing Owl said...

P.S. I DO believe God speaks to us. It is absolutely not heresy to think this, since even Jesus said that his sheep would know his voice. How are we supposed to know his voice if he never speaks? Now HOW he speaks...in my life it has been a multitude of ways--some of them amusing.

I hope Captain Quick's comment helps. I can't say it any better than her second paragraph does! That is why I said "if it is unique it is hightly questionable." Everthing we "hear" should line up with what scripture tells us. I do not believe in new revelation, but I sure do believe in "illumination."

Pauls says, regarding prophecy (or "speaking for God") that we are not to accept everything, but we are to judge wisely. Sadly, some will receive anything without thinking whether it is wise, humble, loving, etc. And some,like the people at the messge board, will receive nothing. Both sides are missing out.

Mother Laura said...

Thank you for these insightful reflections....Very useful to me as I move into episcopal leadership of a new Independent Catholic jurisdiction, trying to balance appropriately the wisdom of tradition and the new thing the Spirit is doing in us and the movement overall.

I especially appreciate the emphasis on communal discernment and accountability, which confirms what I have been sensing about needing even deeper faithfulness to building relationships of mutually speaking the truth in love both within the jurisdiction and in others as well as constant attention to ever deeper conversion and spiritual disciplines as I move into a leadership role. Though we have freedom and autonomy in the IC movement within each jurisdiction--a rather congregational polity in that sense, even if analogous--I am so committed to building collaborative relationships and seeking mentoring and guidance from bishops and priests senior to me in experience even without formal authority over me (except when I am a guest in their space) and to consulting and listening to challenges from those I now serve and supervise without ducking the leadership and buck-stopping I am appropriately called to. It is challenging at times but such a joy to find God's transforming grace through each other and to know that we each know only a small part of the truth even as we are faithful to speaking it confidently and obediently as we are guided....

I am very grateful for your witness in the RevGals to the beauty of the Pentecostal tradition, which I am also learning more about as I experience prayer and healing sessions with a wonderful Pentecostal minister as part of moving into this new phase of ministry. I would very much appreciate your prayers as I learn to exercise this ministry and seek ever deeper surrender to our loving God and faithfulness to the awesome responsibility of shepherding God's people as you do so beautifully.

And know that you have my love and prayers as you struggle with the issues around your mother and sister and the other private things you are grappling with in prayer and fasting.

(((Dorcas)))

Singing Owl said...

M.L. I am so fascinated by this whole thing--how does one keep parts of your Catholic faith, and not all, and how do you decide, etc.? How I would love to come visit you and explore it a bit! Perhaps someday I will. :-) I was so struck with your story the first time I visited your blog and I started praying for you then, so it is good to know these new details. I certainly will be praying for you, dear sister.

Mother Laura said...

Thanks so much, and for your comment on my blog--I keep telling it to publish and it says it has but so far I can't see it. But maybe when I reboot.

I would love to have you come visit someday :-)-- or maybe I will make it to the Northland and visit your church and talk and talk.... Got an awful lot of travel booked up with Toronto coming though once the school year starts.