Sunday, February 17, 2008

R.C. Sproul: " involvement in the charismatic movement..."

Zeal Without Knowledge
By R. C. Sproul

Right Now Counts Forever
Reprinted from Tabletalk magazine, April 2002, with permission of Ligonier Ministries,
P.O. Box 547500, Orlando, Fla., 32792, phone 800-435-4343.
You can visit the web site of Ligonier Ministries at

This article may be found here,

MANY PEOPLE ARE SURPRISED, AND SOME ARE shocked, when they hear of my involvement in the charismatic movement years ago.

It began in 1965, shortly after I returned from graduate study in Holland to teach philosophy and theology at my alma mater. Some of my senior students who were preparing for ministry kept talking to me excitedly about their experiences with the Holy Spirit and about receiving the gift of tongues. My first response was profound skepticism, because my only previous experience had been with hardcore Pentecostals whose views of sanctification I deemed aberrant. Soon, however, the sheer number of my students involved in this phenomenon, coupled with their high level of competence as students, provoked me to give them the "philosophy of the second glance." I also saw reports that tongues-speaking was breaking out in mainline denominations such as the Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopalian, and Lutheran churches. Reports of outbreaks at Notre Dame and at Duquesne University also piqued my curiosity.

I began meeting with my students to discuss the matter at my home. These meetings became regular times of prayer that lasted several hours or, on at least one occasion, all night. Because of the marvelous ardor for prayer these students displayed, I began to wonder whether I was missing something in my own spiritual life.

My attention then turned to the New Testament, particularly to Paul's teaching on tongues in I Corinthians. In chapters 12-14, Paul deals with abuses of tongues in the Corinthian church and rebukes those who had elevated their gifts over those of others. It was clear that Paul did not put tongues, or glossolalia, at the apex of gifts and did not teach tongues as an indispensable sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul gives detailed instructions about the use of tongues. Though he warns sharply against many abuses of tongues, he does not outlaw their use. Indeed, he explicitly says, "do not forbid to speak with tongues" (v. 39b). Paul also writes: "He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied" (vv. 4-5a). Paul clearly is teaching the comparative superiority of prophecy over tongues. But he is comparing the good and the better, not the good and the bad.

Two things struck me in this passage. The first is that Paul says tongues are edifying for the individual. As a Christian, I certainly wanted everything the Holy Spirit had available to me. Second, the apostle says he wishes all the Corinthian Christians speak with tongues. Even though he also expresses his preference for prophecy, he still asserts his desire that all speak in tongues. Finally, in verse 18, Paul says, "I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all."

Since Paul was a tongues-speaker and expressed his desire for all to speak in tongues, I took this to mean that I should pursue this spiritual gift.

The major obstacle I still faced was the question of whether what was happening in the contemporary charismatic movement was indeed a revival of the New Testament gifts. That is, was the modern outbreak of glossolalia the same thing that was practiced in the apostolic church? I found this to be an extremely difficult question to answer given the paucity of references to the phenomenon throughout church history, save for its dawn among deeply heretical groups such as the Montanists.

In any case, I sought the gift and soon was able to join my friends in praying in tongues. But I found no great edification from it and still preferred to pray with understanding.

In the meantime, I continued to investigate the question of whether this was the New Testament phenomenon. As the movement expanded, reports began to come in of people in non-Christian religions practicing "tongues." There were also reports that tongues had been identified as known foreign languages, but none of these reports was verified.

As time passed, several things became clear. First, a neo-Pentecostal theology was becoming popular. Though not monolithic among charismatics, it stressed tongues-speaking as a necessary and indispensable sign of the Biblical concept of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It also was marked by fantastic claims of miracles and supernatural prophecies with new revelation. The more interpretations of tongues speaking and prophecies I heard, the more false doctrine and false prophecy I heard. Several people spoke "prophecies" to me about specific things that would occur within a specific time period. Every single prophecy of that sort failed to materialize. I heard manifestly false doctrine, doctrine in clear antithesis to Scripture, being urged upon people via tongues interpretations. Extravagant claims of miracles that I was able to investigate proved to be unfounded. Something obviously was deeply wrong with the picture. In short, the charismatic movement was not delivering the goods.

More and more people were seeking to live the Christian life on the basis of subjective feelings rather than on the Word. I saw a strong revival of "Deeper Life"-type views of sanctification that promised Christians a special second work of grace by which they could live the "victorious" Christian life through being "filled with the Spirit."

The church now had two classes of Christians — those who were baptized in the Spirit and those who were not; those who were "spirit-filled" and those who were not. This dichotomy, I became convinced, not only was not taught in the New Testament but was contrary to what is taught there. I came to realize that the charismatic view of the Day of Pentecost represented a distortion of its Biblical significance. The charismatic view of Pentecost was a low one, not a high one.

I began to see that anyone who is uninhibited enough can utter unintelligible sounds while in a posture of prayer. I don't doubt anyone's experience of praying in such a fashion, but I am concerned it is not a supernatural event and is not the same as what was experienced in the early church.

My final departure from the movement came when I realized that I must live by the Word, as the Spirit never works against the Word but always with it and through it.

I still enjoy fellowship with my charismatic friends and delight in their love for prayer. I am grateful for the real revival in interest in the person and work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church that this movement has spawned. However, I am very concerned about the false doctrine it has brought in its wake.

Dr. R. C. Sproul explores the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in his book "The Mystery of the Holy Spirit" and his audio/video series "The Holy Spirit".

Monday, February 11, 2008


"...have been intimidated into thinking it is unkind or unspiritual to criticize the Charismatic movement. Many non-Charismatics have simply given up dealing with the issue at all because Charismatics are growing less and less tolerant of criticism and more and more aggressive of their condemnation of the critics."

~ Phil Johnson, Combating Charismatic Theology: Arming you with the tools to unmask the dangerous deception of experience-driven theology, 2002

Saturday, February 9, 2008

In control or out of control?

In his post titled I Will Lift Up My Hands! Sam Storms describes his non-charismatic days and practices,
"I felt in control...and above all else, safe. These matter no more to me."
He goes on to say in reference to his now charismatic practices,
"I'm at that point in life where I honestly couldn't care less what the immovable evangelical is thinking or the crazy charismatic is feeling."
When I read this post back in July 2007 I was reminded of the similar attitude I had during my charismatic days and how very familiar it sounded--I didn't care what others thought and I gave no consideration to Biblical criticism because what I was practicing made me feel good and look spiritual.

This "if it feels good do it" philosophy continues to make inroads within historically sound teaching and practicing churches with little regard to the Biblical commands to be self-controlled, exercise sound judgement, and be sober-minded.

Recently, I found Peter Masters' words to be a much-needed warning,
"Charismatics claim that by maintaining rational control over our minds and actions we are opposing and quenching the work of the Holy Spirit. They say that believers must be prepared to surrender rational control in order that they may be open to direct divine activity in both worship and Christian service. John Wimber* observes with concern that "Fear of losing control is threatening to most Western Christians." He insists that we must overcome our fears, because rational control must be forfeited for tongues-speaking** to occur; for soaring ecstatic sensations to be felt in worship; for messages from God to be received directly into the mind, and for miraculous events to happen, such as healings."
* John Wimber was a mentor/colleague of Sam Storms'
** Sam Storms claims that he 'prays in tongues every day'