Is the Charismatic Movement Catholic or Protestant?
A Forum on Pentecostalism
Editorial Note: We believe that our readers will be interested in reading a transcript of a forum on Pentecostalism which was held recently in Brisbane, Australia. The hall of the Canberra Hotel was packed by clergymen and informed lay Christians to hear a panel of speakers from the U.S.A., New Zealand, and Australia discuss whether the charismatic movement belongs to the Catholic or Protestant stream of thought. For most of those present, it was a new approach to the challenge of neo-Pentecostalism.
The panel consisted of a teacher from New Zealand (Mr. John Slade), a doctor from the U.S.A. (Jack Zwemer), and the editor and his brother (Robert and John Brinsmead), who are Australians.
The Chairman — Mr. John Slade: The modern Pentecostal movement made its appearance early in this century in the United States. In 1900 a young Methodist minister, Charles Parham, joined with forty other persons in Kansas to seek for the Pentecostal baptism of the Spirit. After several days of persistence in seeking the blessing, one by one was visited with an overwhelming experience which became known as the "baptism of the Spirit." Speaking in tongues marked their experience. Parham's ministry was attended with power from that time forward. W. J. Seymour led out in California, and the characteristic manifestations of the early Pentecostal meetings broke out simultaneously in many different religious communities.
In the years that followed the Pentecostals were not accepted by the established churches. In spite of opposition, however, they continued to grow until they numbered about eight million members by 1960.
Since 1960 there has been a most remarkable growth in the Pentecostal movement. In the past decade the denominational barriers which have kept Pentecostalism separated from the churches have been tumbling down. What Pentecostalism calls "baptism in the Spirit" has become popular among thousands in the conservative Protestant churches and also in the Catholic Church. With great enthusiasm the leading sponsors of the experience say that the Holy Spirit is breaking down the denominational barriers.
Men of talent, money and influence are joining the ranks of those who have received the "baptism." Interdenominational groups, such as The Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship International, are very active in spreading what is being called today "the third force" or "the third arm" in Christendom. Religious commentators also are beginning to recognize the charismatic movement as the third great force in the Christian world.
The current deep interest in the Pentecostal movement should lead us to follow the Apostle John's counsel to Christians: "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they be of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world." 1 John 4:1. We are challenged, therefore, to examine the basis and nature of this movement and measure it by the Word of God.
There are two streams of Christian thought —Catholic and Protestant. In which stream does Pentecostalism belong? What were the great issues of the Protestant Reformation? Does Pentecostalism affirm or deny the principles of Protestantism?
Our first speaker this evening is Robert Brinsmead, who will discuss the role of grace in redemption.
Robert Brinsmead: The New Testament presents two aspects of God's redemptive activity:
Number 1: God's work for us in Christ, is the gospel. It is the proclamation of what God has done in His Son for the human family. As Paul declares, "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself." 2 Cor. 5:19. He has taken us into His favor in the Person of His beloved Son. For in Christ our release is secured and our sins are forgiven (Eph. 1:6, 7, The N.T. from 26 Translations).
God's work for us in Christ may also be called Christ's work. "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures." 1 Cor. 15:3. He "was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification." Rom. 4:25. It is important to notice that the gospel is the record of what God has done. It is not the record of what God has done in us; neither is it the record of what God will do in us. The gospel is the record of what God has done outside of us. He did it in the Lord Jesus Christ. While we were yet sinners, when we were His enemies, while we were going from Him more and more, God did something for us in Christ (see Rom. 5:6-10).
In Romans 5, Paul presents the contrast between Adam and Christ. Through the disobedience of Adam, the whole human race was constituted sinful in the sight of God. When the devil conquered Adam, he conquered the whole human family. God redeemed the human race by offering us another Head, a new Father to stand at the head of the human race (Isa. 9:6). And in Christ, God has made provision for the redemption of the entire human family. He bought us with the precious blood of Christ. In Christ, He put our sins away on the cross. In Christ, He gave us a perfect righteousness (Rom. 5:18-19). Thus the gospel is the record of what God has done in Christ, not in us but outside of us, even in His Son Jesus Christ while we were yet sinners.
Number 2: Now we turn our attention to the second aspect of God's activity — God's work in us by the Holy Spirit. The relation between Number 1 and Number 2 must be clearly understood. Number 1 is the gospel; Number 2 is the fruit of believing in the gospel. To confuse them is the very essence of Roman thought; to see no connection between them is the essence of antinomian thought. Faith in God's work for us (i.e., faith in Number 1) brings the Holy Spirit to us. The Scripture is clear that faith in what God has done for us in Jesus Christ brings the Holy Spirit to the believer in order that he may be filled and baptized in the Spirit (see Gal. 3:14; John 7:37, 38).
The relationship that exists between Number 1 and Number 2 is very important. True Christian experience finds its joy, its fulfillment and its satisfaction in Number 1. This is because Number 1 is an finished work. God's work for us in Christ is a complete work. Our personal acceptance with God as repentant believing sinners is grounded upon it. Our right standing with God is based upon what He has done for us in Jesus. It is Christ's experience that has merit rather than our own. Isaiah 53:11 declares, "By His knowledge shall My righteous Servant justify many." The word "knowledge" means experience. That is to say, "By His wounds, by His suffering, by His holy living, by His sacrificial dying and His triumphant resurrection, shall My righteous Servant justify many."
A repentant believing Christian finds his joy in something outside of himself — the experience of Jesus. God mercifully took our sinful history and imputed that to His Son; and He then takes the history of Jesus' infinitely sinless life and reckons that to us through faith.
The words of Jesus in Luke 10:17-20 are very significant. They record how the disciples returned to Christ with great satisfaction after a successful mission of healing, preaching and casting out devils. Jesus said to them, "Behold, I give you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Notwithstanding in this rejoice not. . . but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven."
What wonderful instruction we find here! Jesus was telling His disciples not to find their joy, fulfillment and satisfaction in what God was accomplishing in them, but He said, Rejoice rather in what has been done for you. Through My merit your names have been written in heaven. We must not seek to find our fulfillment, our satisfaction and our joy in Number 2 — the inward work. Love does not look inward, for love seeks not its own (1 Cor. 13:5). Nor does love rejoice in its own. To look inward for our fulfillment and our satisfaction leads to the greatest pride — the pride of grace. To make one's own experience the center of his concern is the very negation of the gospel. It is the worst form of spiritual perversion.
I want to use an illustration that may show the relationship between Christ's work for us and Christ's work in us. No doubt you have tried this simple balancing trick. (The speaker begins to balance a broom on his finger.) It is not hard to do if one simple principle is followed. What is the secret of balancing this broom on my finger? If my eye is focused on the top, I can balance it. My finger underneath is moving. It may be engaged in considerable movement, but I am scarcely conscious of it. Now, if I focus my attention on what my finger is doing, it is impossible to maintain the balance of the broom. So we must look to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. It is by finding our satisfaction in Him, it is by beholding what He has done for us and what He is to us, that we maintain a successful Christian experience. But if His work in us becomes the center of our concern, we shall sink as quickly as Peter sank when he turned his eyes off the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is what happened to the early church. The history of the "falling away" is a most fascinating one. The early church lost the great truth of justification by faith as it became more and more concerned with the subjective aspect of faith, sanctification. God's work in Christ became subordinated to God's work in man. Justification was subordinated to sanctification. Finally the medieval church taught that instead of a believer being acceptable in God's sight on the meritorious basis of what Christ had done, a man was acceptable to God by virtue of what the Holy Spirit had accomplished in his life. Thus, men looked to themselves and to their experience for their acceptance with God.
The great issue of the religious struggle in the sixteenth century was this: Is man justified in God's sight on the basis of what grace does in him, or on the basis of what grace did in Christ? On one side stood the medieval church; on the other side stood the Reformation. At least both lines of thought claimed something in common. The schoolmen taught that a man was justified, that is, accepted in the sight of God, by God's work of grace. The Reformers also taught that a man was justified, or accepted in God's sight, by God's work of grace.
Thus far both streams of thought seemed to be the same. But what was the essential difference between the medieval and Reformation thought? The medieval church laid down its premise that a repentant sinner is accepted in God's sight on the basis of God's work of sanctifying grace imparted or infused into him. In contrast, the Reformers laid down the great apostolic principle that a repentant sinner is accepted in God's sight on the basis of God's work of justifying grace imputed or reckoned to him, through faith alone in the sinless life and atoning death of Christ alone.
One stream of thought is man-centered; the other is Christ-centered. One is subjective; the other is objective. One looks inward; the other looks outward. When we analyze all the false religions of the world, we find they have one thing in common — man's experience is the center of concern.
The gospel proclaiming the sinless life and atoning death of Christ alone is different. It looks outward to the doing and dying of Christ on the cross and upward to Christ as ones High Priest in heaven where Christ pleads His merits before the Law of God as the basis of the repentant sinner's acceptance with God.
In the Reformation stream of teaching, the repentant sinner trusts only in the blood of Christ for his acceptance with God. He can rejoice that in Christ he can eagerly await the Last Day, because he has been and is being reckoned as righteous in God's sight through faith.
In the Medieval stream of teaching, the repentant sinner is never sure that he has enough infused or imparted righteousness through the indwelling Holy Spirit for his acceptance with God. This inner turmoil of uncertainty of not knowing if one has enough of the indwelling Holy Spirit can have devastating effects. This can lead on the one hand to tremendous feelings of guilt, neuroses, or even a death wish; or on the other hand delusions of false personal holiness and self-righteousness.
In this light we ask these questions: In which stream of thought is Pentecostalism? In which stream of thought is the prevailing current of the Jesus Revolution? And what is the center of concern in your religious thinking?
The Chairman: Thank you very much, Mr. Robert Brinsmead. Now, what is the true function of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer? John Brinsmead, can you answer this question for us?
John Brinsmead: In Romans 1:16, 17 the Apostle Paul declares: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith."
In the fourth chapter of this same book, the apostle tells us that this righteousness provided for us in Jesus is an imputed righteousness, a reckoned righteousness, an accounted righteousness. What is the relation of the Holy Spirit's work to this gift of righteousness? Jesus said, "When He, the Spirit of truth, is come. . . . He shall glorify Me." John 16:13, 14. The great object of the third Person of the Godhead is to magnify that incomprehensible, infinite righteousness of God Himself, revealed to the human family and for the human family in Jesus Christ.
The Spirit's work is to glorify Jesus' perfect obedience, His spotless merits, His sinless life. Christ was uplifted on the cross as a display of God's righteousness. The Spirit's work is to show that to men. For without the Spirit we are dead in sins; our eyes are blind, and we cannot see. By nature we cannot understand even the plain things of God's Word. So the Holy Spirit operates through the preaching of the gospel. It is the Spirit's work to create faith — saving faith in the merits of Christ. The Spirit points sinners to the great covering of Christ's righteousness and teaches them to run under this shelter of the Almighty. The creation of faith is not our work. Faith is not a mere mental assent or intellectual belief. It is the Spirit's conviction and persuasion that when Jesus hung upon the cross, He hung there in my place, He hung there in your place. Faith is to know with assurance that He "loved me, and gave Himself for me." Gal. 2:20. The Spirit will create faith in the hearts of all who will not harden their hearts through unbelief.
Oh, the atonement of Jesus is a magnificent thing! He has embraced the whole human family. The cords of divine love have included us all — rich, poor, high and low. No one has been left out. Christ has bound humanity to himself by a tie of love that can never be broken by any power save by the choice of man himself.
The Christian life begins in faith; it will end in faith. It is faith from start to finish. This faith is counted for righteousness (Rom. 4:5). This is what the Bible calls "righteousness by faith." God gave us His Son. The Son gave us His righteous life. The Spirit who has convicted us of sin also gives us the ability to trust in Christ. Thus, salvation is the saving action of the Trinity.
It is the work of the Holy Spirit to make us Christ-conscious, and not Spirit-conscious. He does not come to testify of Himself. Jesus said, "When He, the Spirit of truth, is come . . . He shall not speak of Himself." John 16:13. He never bears testimony to Himself. The life of Jesus of Nazareth was a revelation, not merely of Himself, but of the Father of glory. So the other Person of the Godhead only comes to reveal Jesus, to make us conscious of what He has done for us and what He is to us. In the guilty sinner convicted of his sin and conscious of his wretched condition, the Holy Spirit inspires faith in Christ, the divine remedy for sin. The Spirit, even unto the Last Day, makes us utterly dependent upon that righteousness which is outside of ourselves, even that righteousness which is in the Person of Christ, who stands at God's right hand for us.
Much less does the Spirit make us experience-conscious. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, his face was radiant with the glory of God. Yet the record says that he was unconscious of it.
The book of Acts records how the Spirit was poured out when Jesus Christ was uplifted (see chs. 2, 10, 19), when the death and the resurrection of Jesus were preached. The Spirit glorified Jesus. He did not come upon men after a sermon on the Holy Spirit. He was manifested in power when Jesus, the Savior of the world, was uplifted.
Another office of the Holy Spirit is to teach the believer the Word of God. The Word reveals Jesus —His infinite merits and righteousness. The Word alone is the supreme judge of all experience and all doctrine. In Protestantism the Word of God is the only infallible rule of conduct and religious doctrine. But in the other stream of thought we have the dependence on miracles, visions, sacraments — on something apart from, or outside, the Word. The modern charismatic movement also looks to audio-visual evidence of the Spirit's work.
Another great work of the Holy Spirit is to write God's law in the hearts and the minds of His people. Then His people bring forth fruit unto God (Heb. 8:10; Rom. 7:4), not in order that they might be accepted of God, but because they have accepted their acceptance in Jesus Christ.
Finally, we must always remember that our right to heaven is not based on what the Holy Spirit does within us, but upon what God has done outside of us in Christ. Our title to heaven is founded on what has been done for all of us in Jesus. John 3:34 says, "For He whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto Him." In Christ was manifested all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Col. 2:9). He was the complete revelation of God's righteousness. That is our only right and title to be with Him where He is and behold His glory. Every religion which is not of divine origin teaches men, either initially or eventually, to look within their experience for right standing with God – to look for some great miracle, some change, some fruit.
There are basically only two streams of religious thought — Protestant and Catholic. All humanity is divided here. It does not matter what creed we claim. Are we pointing to, glorying in and rejoicing in what God has done through His divine Spirit in the one Man, Jesus? Is that our vital testimony to the world? Or are we down in the realm of the subjective, glorying in and testifying to what we imagine the Holy Spirit is doing in us?
The Chairman: Thank you, John Brinsmead. Now, friends, let us bring things together. We have looked at two streams of thought this evening on three major areas of New Testament teaching. Dr. Zwemer, where does the modern charismatic movement lie in relation to them?
Dr. Jack Zwemer: This evening we have sought to establish three fundamental points as they relate to the only two systems of religious thought which exist. One system is the Protestant Reformation ethic; the other system is the ethic of the medieval church, which will yet be shown to embrace all other religious forms. The three points made this evening are these:
1. Reformation thought declares that man's acceptance with God depends on the absolute and infinite righteousness of man's Substitute, his Representative — the Man Christ Jesus, who stands in the presence of God for us. That is the Protestant ground of acceptance. For that Man only is pleasing to the Father.
The other system of religious thought declares that God is pleased and satisfied with an inherent, an acquired righteousness, a borrowed goodness in man.
Thus, the Reformers looked outside themselves for righteousness that inheres in their Substitute before God's throne, while the other system looks downward upon man and within man to find an exhibition of something that might be pleasing to God.
2. The second point tonight relates to the nature of the Christian man. The Protestant always regards himself as a sinner — "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." As the Apostle Paul came to the end of his life and said, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief," so the Christian man in Reformation thought regards himself as a sinner. He freely admits it. As he progresses in the Christian pathway, he becomes increasingly conscious of the fact that he is a sinner in himself. This, of course, impels him to look out of himself and upward to where his Righteousness is.
On the other hand, the medieval school man looks within himself and regards himself, not as a sinner, but as a saint. This he freely admits, and he becomes increasingly unconscious of any sinfulness inherent in him. And so we have the second great divide in Christendom.
3. The third point concerns the Spirit and His work. Reformation thought declares that the Holy Spirit is freely given that men might see their own utter moral and spiritual bankruptcy and then as convicted repentant sinners flee out of themselves to Jesus Christ, in whom inheres righteousness and infinite goodness. To these the fruits of the Spirit are abundantly given — faith, hope, charity and all good works. When they come up to the Final Summons, they ask, "When did we do this? When did we do that?" They are unconscious of what they have done. They are conscious only of their utter sinfulness and the infinite righteousness of their Substitute.
On the other hand, the medieval system of thought sees in the gift of the Spirit a benefit derived by super-human effort, which conveys an experiential and ecstatic thing and a confidence within oneself. It is Spirit-conscious and self-conscious as opposed to Christ-conscious.
These three points divide the religious world into two incompatible and disharmonious camps. So we speak to our dear friends and neighbors who are Pentecostals, who perhaps belong to the Jesus Revolution or to any system centered experientially in man. Many of you perhaps have recognized the deadness and spiritual lack in the established bodies and have sought fulfillment in some of these other movements. We must, however, say to you that these are not founded upon, nor do they embrace, the great fundamental doctrines of the Protestant Reformation and that gospel so fully given to the Apostle Paul.
Now we will read some comments in the literature regarding this. I quote from recognized leaders of thought. One of the leaders of the Pentecostal movement, Donald Gee, declares that the central attraction of the Pentecostal movement consists "purely of a powerful, individual, spiritual experience." — The Pentecostal Movement, p. 30. Another authentic leader of the charismatic movement, Edward O' Connor, declares:
We pass from the self-view of Pentecostal thought to the Protestant view, and I quote Frederick Bruner, who writes briefly as follows:
We could read further, but we pass on to a view of the charismatic movement made by Catholic observers. We read as follows:
"From the point of view of the Catholic Church, it cannot be assumed that the Pentecostal movement represents an incursion of Protestant influence." — Ibid., p.32.
"Catholics who have accepted Pentecostal spirituality have found it to be fully in harmony with their traditional faith and life. They experience it, not as a borrowing from an alien religion, but as a connatural development of their own." Ibid., p.28.
". . . the spiritual experience of those who have been touched by the grace of the Holy Spirit in the Pentecostal movement is in profound harmony with the classical spiritual theology of the Church." — Ibid., p.183.
". . . the experience of the Pentecostal movement tends to confirm the validity and relevance of our authentic spiritual traditions." — Ibid., p. 191.
"Moreover, the doctrine that is developing in the Pentecostal churches today seems to be going through stages very similar to those which occurred in the early Middle Ages when the classical doctrine was taking shape." — Ibid., p.193.
Finally, two other Catholic authors write most significantly as follows: