Pentecost! Why the Charismatic Movement Freaks Out “Respectable” Evangelicals … (and What We Can All Learn)

Fired up by enthusiasm, the theology of “the baptism in the Holy Spirit,” is taking over the globe. But what is it exactly? (photo credit: Getty Images, Economist magazine)

Do you experience the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life? Would you say that you live a “Spirit-filled” life? Do you long for the power of the Holy Spirit to permeate your Christian walk and witness?

Or does a lot of talk about the Holy Spirit give you the “heebie-jeebies?” Have you ever been to a church meeting, where you heard “speaking in tongues,” saw people “slain in the spirit,” or claimed “faith healings,” and you felt a little bit… er…. uncomfortable?

What are we to learn then from the miracle at Pentecost?

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:1-4).

My evangelical church has a wide set of backgrounds. Some have a Pentecostal or charismatic movement background, with positive views towards those experiences, bearing testimonies of the Holy Spirit working in incredible ways, that push us beyond rational, naturalistic categories. Others have had some exposure to such movements, but eventually left with a bad taste in their mouth.

Everyone else I know are in a group I call the “respectable” evangelicals. They generally maintain a low profile in church, though some will lift up their hands while singing worship songs, but not too high, less they feel self-conscious.

“Respectable” evangelicals are freaked out by “charismania.” They have heard of the abuse, ranging from phony faith healers to money-addicted, promoters of the prosperity gospel. There is now even this “New Apostolic Reformation,” whereby people think that God is restoring today’s church with real, live apostles, just like in the days of Peter and Paul, bearing all sorts of spiritual authority, that only the real Peter and Paul ever possessed.

It can be a real mess.

Is God’s Spirit Moving in Our Churches, Or Are We “Quenching the Spirit?”

However, there are a couple of things that “respectable” evangelicals should know.

  • First, the charismatic movement is not monolithic. Sure, you have plenty of weird stuff going on. But you also have otherwise “normal” Christians, who simply believe that miraculous spiritual gifts are applicable for today. They hunger for revival in our churches, and they want to experience the movement of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Furthermore, they are not all completely unified doctrinally on what it means to be “charismatic.” In my church, these people exist all over the place, but they operate below the radar. Some “speak in tongues.” Others do not. I call them “closet charismatics,” but they do not want to get negatively branded by other Christians, who think that “speaking in tongues” is “not for today,” or even worse, a sign of demonic possession.


  • Secondly, the charismatic movement has matured over the years. Sure, it can get pretty whacky (think Benny Hinn, and much of that TBN crowd). But some of the most godly, well-respected and brilliantly-smart Bible scholars and teachers these days come out of the charismatic movement. Systematic theologian and Bible translator, Wayne Grudem, New Testament scholar and author of the world’s most comprehensive commentary on the Book of Acts (over 4000 pages!), Craig Keener, and venerable New Testament scholar and textual criticism expert, Gordon Fee, come readily to mind. It is not all out-of-control emotionalism, at least, not anymore.


  • Thirdly, the charismatic movement “gets the job done,” as a friend of mine recently told me. The fastest growing segment of the church globally has some affiliation with the charismatic movement. Christians with a charismatic background are out there fulfilling the Great Commission, and making an impact in the world, far exceeding any other type of Christian movement.

However, what “respectable” evangelicals miss out on the most is the reality of the supernatural. We say we believe in the Holy Spirit, but the Spirit’s presence remains undetectable. Like the secular culture around us, we have so thoroughly “demythologized” the world, that we miss the transformational power of the Holy Spirit. The church desperately needs revival, but often, our desire for “respectability” gets in the way of Spirit-filled transformation.

In an upcoming blog series, I want to examine one of the biggest controversies tied to the charismatic movement: What is “the baptism in the Holy Spirit?” While a lot of folks are consumed by the question, “Is the gift of tongues speaking valid for today?,” we often gloss over the more fundamental issue regarding the doctrine of “the baptism in the Holy Spirit.”

My church has been preaching a sermon series on the Book of Acts, and the theme of “the baptism in the Holy Spirit” comes up quite frequently, with a number of my fellow believers. Christians are divided as to what “Spirit baptism” means and when it happens, in the life of the believer. It is a significant doctrinal issue, and it often stands at the headwaters concerning the more controversial claims of miraculous “gifts of the Spirit,” operating in the church at large.

Here at Veracity, we are not afraid of addressing difficult topics. I want to explore what might be a sane solution to this debate in the church, while respecting the fact this is often an “agree to disagree” issue in our Christian communities.

I hope you might be encouraged to do your own Bible study, to draw your own conclusions, as we more closely examine God’s Word.  Look for the new blog series, coming soon. Enjoy!



About Clarke Morledge

Clarke Morledge -- Computer Network Engineer, College of William and Mary... I hiked the Mount of the Holy Cross, one of the famous Colorado Fourteeners, with some friends in July, 2012. My buddy, Mike Scott, snapped this photo of me on the summit. View all posts by Clarke Morledge

2 responses to “Pentecost! Why the Charismatic Movement Freaks Out “Respectable” Evangelicals … (and What We Can All Learn)

  • Jerry Dearmon

    You are a brave soul indeed to tackle this multifaceted question. I for one, even with my sophomoric opinion, often have failed to understand why others don’t think as do I. However, since I respect your educated view on most subjects related to the scriptures, am eager to see YOUR opinions.


    • Clarke Morledge

      Thanks, Jerry. It really is a difficult topic, one that I have wrestled with for years. I look forward to your input, too!


What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: