January 2000 Issue
Movement: Cause for Celebration or Concern?
A Review of SpiritWorks:
Charismatic Practices and the Bible by Jerry Vines
by R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
The rise of the Charismatic movement
is one of the most remarkable developments of the twentieth century.
From modest beginnings in the Azusa Street revival, the modern-day
Charismatic movement has been transformed into the fastest-growing
segment of Christianity in America and throughout much of the
world. Some experts estimate that the movement includes almost
a half-billion adherents worldwide.
The Charismatic movement now spans much of the globe, incorporating
traditional Pentecostals, the Assemblies of God, the Vineyard
movement, and new-wave phenomena including purported "prophets"
and "apostles." Central to the movement is the claim
that a new visitation of the Holy Spirit has brought back the
apostolic gifts and manifestations of the New Testament. With
an emphasis on a "second blessing" after conversion,
the movement is calling all Christians to "catch the wave."
Charismatic preachers and ministries dominate religious television
in many parts of the country. Amazingly enough, the Charismatic
influence has reached even into the most traditional denominations,
including the Episcopalians in the United States and Anglicans
throughout the world. A Roman Catholic Charismatic movement has
thrived since the 1970s. More recently, questions of Charismatic
influence within the Southern Baptist Convention have been raised.
Is the Charismatic movement a new wave of the Holy Spirit?
How should Christians evaluate the movement, its practices, and
its teachings? Help has come in the form of SpiritWorks, a new
book by well-known pastor Jerry Vines.
Vines, pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida,
is one of Southern Baptists' most respected pastors. A former
president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Vines is known for
biblical preaching and thoughtful engagement with contemporary
issues. SpiritWorks represents the product of his intensive study
of Charismatic phenomena.
Dividing the Charismatic movement into three stages or "waves,"
Vines traces its development through Pentecostalism (classical
beginnings in the early century), to ecumenism (interdenominational
Charismatic ministries), and eventually to evangelism (the attempt
to introduce "signs and wonders" into all churches).
He then turns to consider the teachings and practices of the movement
from a biblical perspective.
Vines writes as a pastor, and his pastoral concern is evident
in the approach he takes in the book. He credits the Charismatic
movement with evangelistic concern for common persons and those
of all races: "Their openness to all people shames many mainline
denominations." He acknowledges that the majority of Charismatics
affirm the inerrancy and authority of the Bible and hold to many
basic Christian doctrines.
Nevertheless, he rightly points to the emphasis on feelings
and experience as the Achilles heel of the Charismatic approach
to doctrine and discipleship. "It is vital for Christians
to approach the Bible as the final source of authority. There
is a tendency today to elevate one's personal experience above
truth as revealed in the Bible. Our culture tends to place trust
in man's feelings as the prominent feature in making decisions
about truth. Our feeling-oriented society wants to go by how it
feels about a matter in determining what the truth of a matter
Taking an informed biblical perspective, Vines points to the
fundamental truth that the Holy Spirit always exalts Jesus Christ,
and never draws center stage in the biblical revelation. Fully
divine, the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, and
many evangelicals err by a lack of recognition of the Holy Spirit's
ministry to the church. But the Charismatic movement is based
upon an unbiblical presentation of the Spirit's continuing empowerment
of the church.
Vines addressed the gifts of the Spirit in SpiritLife,
which should be seen as a companion volume to SpiritWorks.
"For too long the Christian community neglected these gifts
and failed to show their importance to the body of Christ."
Yet, these gifts should be understood in a biblical context, he
warns: "Don't place these gifts in the forefront of Christian
What about the teachings of contemporary Charismatic leaders?
Vines takes on the teachings of figures such as Kenneth Hagin,
Rodney Howard-Browne, Benny Hinn, Oral Roberts, and Kenneth Copeland,
among others. What about the Charismatic manifestations? Vines
evaluates Charismatic phenomena ranging from speaking in tongues
to territorial spirit warfare, and presents a biblical analysis.
In a succession of chapters, Vines reviews current Charismatic
practices and beliefs. His method is to describe the practice,
survey the Bible for its teachings on the subject, and then present
a biblical evaluation. His method is honest and straightforward,
and his careful study of the biblical evidence is evident.
Charismatic and non-Charismatic evangelicals are divided on
the issue of Spirit baptism. Vines insists that both groups believe
in the gift of the Holy Spirit to the believer. But the Charismatics
believe in a "baptism of the Spirit" as a second blessing
or experience subsequent to salvation. Vines counters that the
Bible teaches no such experience. "Spirit baptism happens
to all believers. It takes place at the moment of salvation, not
at some later time."
Vines is a cessationist. That is, he believes that the so-called
sign gifts of the New Testament were limited to the apostolic
age. In their context, these signs authenticated the message of
the Apostles and pointed to the supremacy of Christ. Such signs
as speaking in tongues were limited to that time and to the special
authority of the Apostles - designated by Christ Himself.
If such a position seems extreme today, it must nonetheless
be recognized as the consensus of evangelicals prior to the emergence
of the Charismatic movement in this century. As B. B. Warfield,
one of the great evangelical stalwarts of our century taught,
the sign gifts "were part of the credentials of the Apostles
as the authoritative agents of God in founding the church. Their
function thus confined them to distinctly the Apostolic church,
and they necessarily passed away with it."
On the matter of a special "anointing," Vines counters
the Charismatic claims of special empowerments and physical manifestations.
He exposes the practice of "slaying in the Spirit" as
profoundly unbiblical. The bizarre practices associated with the
Toronto Vineyard Church and the Brownsville Assembly of God in
Pensacola, Florida are addressed head-on, and revealed to have
no biblical basis. As Vines comments, "Nothing in the Old
Testament or New Testament even comes close to the mass falling
out, laughter, or 'glued to the floor' experiences reported today."
On the matter of "power evangelism," Vines notes
that the focus of these ministries is too often on the "signs
and wonders" rather than on the gospel of Christ. The real
power is the salvation of a sinner - not the manifestation of
signs or supposed miracles.
Vines dares to tread where few have gone before when he considers
the controversial belief in territorial spirits and spirit warfare.
He affirms the reality of demons and the importance of prayer
in the Christian life. But he demonstrates that the Charismatics
have gone far beyond the Bible's teachings in their understanding
of territorial spirits and their claims of demonic warfare. Whereas
some Charismatics claim to know the names of demons and to detect
demonic presence and activity within geographical areas, Vines
warns that it "is possible to get so focussed on the dark
side that one diminishes the person and power of the Lord Jesus
Many Christians have been confused by the word-faith movement,
with its practices of "positive confession" and its
focus on a prosperity gospel. The "name it and claim it"
teachings distort the gospel and imply that God is at the believer's
beck and call. Furthermore, the teachings force believers to doubt
their very salvation when their "claimed" healings or
riches do not materialize. In this to even further extremes, some
teachers call upon their followers to deny reality, and even to
decline medical treatment.
SpiritWorks will be welcomed by all those looking for
a careful and biblical analysis of contemporary Charismatic beliefs
and practices. Vines is not out to ridicule the beliefs of other
Christians, but to reveal the unbiblical nature of their practices.
The greatest strength of the book is its consistent affirmation
of the evangelical doctrine of Scripture. Vines underlines the
necessity of rejecting any claims to a post-biblical revelation
on par with the canon of Scripture, and he insists upon the priority
of biblical authority over personal experience. The Bible is the
authoritative corrective to Charismatic excesses and errors.
The Charismatic movement cannot be ignored. Its influence in
contemporary church life is remarkable and growing, and, because
of its need for promoting emotional energy, it is constantly producing
new manifestations. For those seeking to understand the movement
and its teachings, SpiritWorks is a fine place to start.
R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky.
SpiritWorks: Charismatic Practices and the
Bible by Jerry Vines is published by
Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Slain in the Spirit
The following is an excerpt from a sermon by Jerry Spencer.
Are those who have this experience more spiritually successful
and closer to God?
How does this help in daily Christian living?
If it is God's power, why do people have to catch you? If it's
His power, couldn't He suspend you in air and let you down easy?
When God says so much about our being alert, to wake up, to
stand in power with God's armor, why would He want us to pass
If it's of God, why doesn't every Christian have this experience
as a normal occurrence, especially if it helps those who experience
it so dramatically and instantaneously? How have the majority
of truly Spirit-filled Christian leaders throughout history managed
to function without this experience?
Given the omnipotence of Almighty God, the freedom, intelligence,
and limitless power of the Holy Spirit, and given the fact that
He lives in the Christian, why would He choose to come from the
outside through the touching, hitting, throwing, shouting, commanding,
or blowing of a third party for the purpose of slaying one of
His own in whom He is already at home?
The basic, fundamental, bottom-line question is this: Is it
biblical? Was it practiced and taught by the Lord Jesus Christ?
What does the Bible say about being "slain in the Spirit?"
The answer is ... Being "slain in the spirit"
in never mentioned in the Bible.
Jerry Spencer is pastor of Ridgecrest Baptist
Church in Dothan, Ala.
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