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The charismatic continuationist position is gaining traction in our churches today. This is true all over the world. And, there are many charismatics in mainline denominational churches. They do not attend a charismatic or Pentecostal church.  Some people argue that exercising the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit is dangerous. This tends to be an interesting way to object to supporting the scriptural position of the gifts of the Holy Spirit of miracles. So, is it really dangerous to support the use of miraculous gifts in the church?

To say that the use of miraculous gifts is “dangerous” is not by itself an adequate criticism because some things that are right are dangerous, at least in some sense. Missionary work is dangerous. Driving a car is dangerous. If we define dangerous to mean “something might go wrong,” then we can criticize anything that anybody might do as “dangerous,” and this just becomes an all-purpose criticism when there is no specific abuse to point to. A better approach with respect to spiritual gifts is to ask, “Are they being used in accordance with Scripture?” and “Are adequate steps being taken to guard against the dangers of abuse?

Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Second Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2020)

Churches and their leaders can become imbalanced. They fall prey to false prophets and false teachers. It is also true that not all will. It is true that most will not. So then, we should look at actual results of the gifts and the fruit of Holy Spirit.

  • Which churches in the world today have the most effective evangelism?
  • Which have the most sacrificial giving among their members?
  • Which in fact have the most emphasis on purity of life?
  • Which have the deepest love for the Master Jesus and for his Word?

It is not easy to judge these things. It is in fact difficult. It is not fair to say that charismatics and Pentecostals are weaker in these areas that traditional evangelical churches. If you are going to say that churches that rely on the spiritual gift of miracles, you should be prepared to show it to be true.

The most extreme critic of modern charismatic and Pentecostal Christians is probably John MacArthur. In the introduction to his book Strange Fire, MacArthur says,

The Charismatic Movement.… is the fastest-growing religious movement in the world. Charismatics now number more than half a billion worldwide. Yet the gospel that is driving those surging numbers is not the true gospel, and the spirit behind them is not the Holy Spirit. What we are seeing is in reality the explosive growth of a false church as dangerous as any cult or heresy that has ever assaulted Christianity. The Charismatic Movement was a farce and a scam from the outset; it has not changed into something good.

We should be thankful to MacArthur for pointing out the abuses and false teachings. No one should have a problem making it known when the gifts of the Holy Spirit are used in an unscriptural way.

Here is the rub though. I have been a charismatic for over 50 years now. I have been to lots of churches of various denominations and participated in thousands of services. I do not recognize what MacArthur describes as going on in any church that has charismatic members. It is easy to call out the fringes of anything. That does not mean it is normative. Yet on this basis he mistakenly characterizes the entire movement as “a false church” that preaches a gospel that is “not the true gospel.”

In a critical review of MacArthur’s book, Craig Keener, professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, writes as someone who has had the experience of “thirty-eight years as a charismatic,” and he says,

Reading MacArthur’s astonishingly broad brushed condemnation of all charismatic experience was so over-the-top that I would have been tempted to find it entertaining were it not for the tragic likelihood that some readers will accept it uncritically.… He practices guilt-by-association in such an indiscriminate way, and sometimes with such limited research, that some will be tempted to charge him with slandering fellow believers.”

The question must be asked, in fact it begs to be asked: why not evaluate a movement according to the best of its representatives and the best of its teachings? Focusing on the worst is misleading.

Charismatics showing the gifts of the Holy Spirit are doing so out faith in Jesus and the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit. They do it because scripture shows this is normal and to be expected.

Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”? [1]

~Apostle Paul | Source: Galatians 3:4-6

It was declared at first by the Master, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. [2]

Source: Hebrews 2:3-4

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[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ga 3:5–6.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Heb 2:3–4.