How to Be Charismatic Without Being Crazy

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A third-generation Pentecostal’s take on staying Spirit-filled without the hype

My roots in the charismatic-Pentecostal movement go very deep. My grandpa and grandma both became ordained ministers in the Assemblies of God (AG) following radical encounters with God. They dedicated themselves to preaching the gospel and planting churches across rural Oklahoma and Southern California.

My father, Hubert, became a traveling evangelist with the AG while still in high school. He and my mother pastored churches together in Colorado, Missouri and Texas. Dad served as a missionary in India after my mom’s death in 1991.

My family’s faith was naturally passed down to me. To say we were raised in church would be an understatement—often we actually lived in the church building for lack of a proper parsonage.

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As a child, I received Jesus as my Savior, was “baptized in the Holy Spirit” and received my “prayer language,” as it’s known among charismatics. It is something I still treasure and use to this day.

When I was 14, I was diagnosed with a kidney disease called glomerulonephritis. By the time I was 17, my kidneys were working at less than 50 percent capacity. I believed that I was healed in response to a simple prayer with my parents in their car, riding home from the specialist the day before a transplant decision was to be made. We asked for the tests to be rerun, and the results showed no indication of the disease. I’ve never had another problem. I know God as my healer.

I had another encounter with the Holy Spirit at age 23. By then I was married and the pastor of a small church in rural Illinois. We were discouraged and feeling way over our heads. I was invited to a small gathering of ministry friends in Atlanta, and during an individual prayer time I was overwhelmed by a sense of God’s presence. Somehow God assured me I was empowered and equipped to do the ministry He had called us to. Ministry for me has never been the same since.

Our formative years of ministry were influenced heavily by John Wimber and the Vineyard movement, and the writings of Jack Hayford, Peter Wagner and Paul Yonggi Cho. Each made deposits into my life and ministry that continue to bear good fruit.

I began to sense that God’s heart for me was to spend my ministry targeting unchurched people with the gospel, helping them become fully devoted followers of Christ. Many of my friends questioned how you could be “seeker-sensitive” and “Spirit-filled” at the same time. I never saw a dissonance between the two and still don’t. To be Spirit-filled is to be even more in tune with the lostness of those apart from God and to be sensitive to their issues. The word seeker should never be seen in a negative light regarding ministry in the church. “Spirit-led” and “seeker-sensitive” are not either-or but both-and. One without the other leads to imbalanced ministry. Being seeker-sensitive just means we’re thinking more about our neighbors than ourselves.

When Practice Makes Imperfect
While I am eternally grateful for the movement that shaped me, over time I have become more and more disillusioned with some practices within the charismatic-Pentecostal world. Three things have raised questions in my mind:

1) An inconsistency between claims and results. A few years ago several of us went to Chicago to see a healing evangelist conduct his crusade. One of our members (a wonderful woman) used a walker because of her battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease. She was anticipating that God might touch her that night.

In the course of events, the evangelist brought her onstage and pronounced her healed. He took her walker and used it to “chase” her around the stage, to the roars of the crowd. I knew she could walk reasonably well without it and found myself cringing at the use of my friend to work up “faith” among the faithful. He asked if he could keep her walker since she wouldn’t need it any longer.

On the ride home I did some serious soul searching. God does heal, but why did I feel so bad about what I’d just seen? Why had my friend been used in such a crude fashion? I didn’t have any good answers. A few days later I bought my friend a new walker.

2) An inability to justify extravagant lifestyles of faith stars. This is admittedly a slippery slope to navigate; one man’s excess is another man’s moderation. We are each responsible to God for our standard of living, and it’s easy to slip into a rule-keeping, pharisaical standard as a way to keep score on how others steward God’s blessings. That said, it would be easy to argue that the cause of Christ has been hurt by the extravagant flaunting of a prosperity gospel, for which the primary beneficiary is the one preaching.

3) An overemphasis on the bizarre or gimmicky shortcuts to faith. I have to be honest—when I’ve read about the latest angel sightings, gold dust sprinklings, teeth fillings and crazy revival antics, it’s felt more like National Enquirer material than New Testament experience. I desperately want to protect a childlike naiveté toward the moving of God among us, but sometimes I feel as if we are being sold spiritual snake oil because of our desperation to experience the power and presence of God.

Asking the Question
How then can we be charismatic without being crazy? Let’s look at Acts 15. The church then also faced a major question that needed to be addressed. The answer would determine the very impact and scope of the Holy Spirit’s ministry among them.

Here’s what was happening: Paul and Barnabas were experiencing revival among an unexpected group of people. To this point the Holy Spirit’s work had been limited mostly to the Jewish community, but now God was pouring out His Spirit on gentiles. Paul and Barnabas told the non-Jewish believers that the good news applied to them as well. Unfortunately, not everyone was excited by this: “And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved’” (Acts 15:1).

(You can be sure of one thing: Nothing will stop a revival faster than requiring adult-male circumcision!)

This teaching about circumcision brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute with these leaders. As a result, “They determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question” (v. 2).

Why was this question so important? Was it just about circumcision? No, it was about the future of the church. It was about whether the church would continue to be a fringe group of Judaism or break out of the box and become a movement that would change Jews and gentiles over the entire world.

The real question was, How Jewish do you have to be in order to be a Christ follower? This was huge. The future was riding on the answer.

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