Charismatic Confusion in the 21st Century
Preface to the Updated Edition
Myron J. Houghton
. . . Rather than interrupting the flow of Dr. Pickering’s work with my thoughts, I have chosen to provide this introductory update to the current charismatic scene and then provide some current data for each of the areas of confusion in Dr. Pickering’s original work.
In this update I intend to . . . sharpen the distinction between classical Pentecostalism (known as the “first wave” of the twentieth century renewal of the gifts) and the charismatic movement (known as the “second wave”). . . . Second, I will describe the “third wave,” a movement that promotes and emphasizes “signs and wonders” but which did not exist at the time Dr. Pickering wrote his booklet. . . . Finally, I will supplement each of the four major sections of Dr. Pickering’s work with updated material.
The First Wave: Classical Pentecostalism
Myron J. Houghton
This movement began in the early 1900s among Wesleyan (or Holiness) people who believed God wanted to perform two works of grace in the life of a person: salvation in which one’s sins were pardoned and a later work called sanctification in which the root of sin was replaced by intense love for God. For Wesleyans who had embraced Pentecostalism, speaking in tongues became the inevitable evidence of a third work of grace: the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Generally when Holiness people began to speak in tongues, their denominations expelled them, and so they formed new organizations. . . .
Soon people from non-Wesleyan churches were speaking in tongues. They rejected the idea that believers could have the root of sin removed in an experience called sanctification. Instead they saw speaking in tongues as an evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit for power in growth and service. These people were known as “finished work” Pentecostals. The Assemblies of God denomination promotes this belief.
Another major theological division among early Pentecostals concerned the baptismal formula: Should one be baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or in the name of Jesus Christ? Among those who argued for the latter formula were some who denied the triune nature of the Godhead, teaching instead the idea that there is only one Person in the Godhead. They believe Jesus is the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Many of these people began to teach that water baptism in the name of Jesus, along with speaking in tongues, was necessary for the forgiveness of sins. The United Pentecostal Church advocates this view.
Classical Pentecostals taught that all of the gifts had been restored, and this included healing. They believed that Christ’s death not only purchased forgiveness of sins but also healing for the body, and that believers have a right to claim both benefits. . . .
Ernest D. Pickering
. . . Much of the confusion of the charismatic movement stems from a failure to understand properly certain key passages, phrases, and words of the Bible.
The Meaning of Glossa
Glossa is the word in the New Testament for “tongue.” The unfortunate insertion of an English word not found in the original Biblical text has contributed to the misunderstanding of the usage of the word “tongue.” A sample of this is found in 1 Corinthians 14:2 where the translation states, “for he that speaketh in an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God.” The fact that the word “unknown” is there (even though some charismatics understand it is not valid) nevertheless lends credence in the popular mind to the concept that what is described is some mysterious, heavenly, or unintelligible utterance.
Actually, the word glossa refers to a spoken language, not communication foreign to common human experience. (It, of course, sometimes refers also to that portion of the human anatomy with which we speak.) The first mention in the New Testament of a “gift of tongues” is found in Acts 2:1–13. The waiting believers “began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (v. 4). What were these tongues with which they spoke? It is plainly stated in the following passage that “every man heard them speak in his own language” (v. 6). They asked, “How hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?” (v. 8). It is clear from this passage that the gift bestowed on the Day of Pentecost was the supernatural and instantaneous ability to preach the gospel of Christ in a language naturally foreign to the user. . . .
The Significance of 1 Corinthians 14:39
Those who oppose the validity of the gift of tongues today are often made to seem in opposition to the statement of Paul, “Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues” (1 Cor. 14:39). Did not Paul admonish us to allow people to speak with tongues? Why should we then seek to prevent them? The answer to this question is evident upon an examination of all of the evidence. (1) This prohibition was addressed to the early Christians living in the apostolic age. (2) When the command was given, the gift of tongues was still being bestowed upon some believers for the fulfillment of God’s purposes at that time. (3) The words were penned prior to the time when certain miraculous gifts ceased. At that time it would have been wrong for anyone to interfere with the proper exercise of the divinely bestowed gift of tongues. Today the use of tongues should be forbidden because it is no longer a divinely bestowed gift.
The Significance of 1 Corinthians 13:8–10
In the great thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul asserted the fact that love is permanent, whereas special sign gifts such as prophecy, tongues, and knowledge are temporary. “Charity [love] never faileth” (1 Cor. 13:8). The others shall “fail” (that is, disappear). The word literally means “to fall.”
Paul specifically declared, “Whether there be tongues, they shall cease” (1 Cor. 13:8). What did he mean by this? When would tongues cease? Some good Bible expositors believe that the reference is to the end of the age, the coming of Christ, when we shall be glorified. Those who hold this view generally believe that the phrase “when that which is perfect is come” (1 Cor. 13:10) refers to that future state of glorification with Christ. They would thus feel that, from this passage at least, it would be impossible to prove the complete cessation of miraculous gifts such as tongues during this Church Age.
However, a close look at the entire passage seems to indicate that Paul’s argument flows in a somewhat different vein. First of all, he declared that there are some methods of revelation that were partial and temporary in nature. The three special gifts mentioned—prophecy, tongues, and knowledge—are all stated to be temporary and are predicted to discontinue (1 Cor. 13:8). These methods of revelation were partial in nature. They were given to the early churches during the interim period when the New Testament was not yet completed and available. This partial and incomplete revelation is in view in verse 9, “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.” The phrase “in part” means “imperfectly, incompletely, piece by piece, little by little.” Prophecy was a gift that involved receiving special and direct revelation from God in order to give it to His people. It was exercised here and there, at different times and places. Knowledge was the ability to receive direct spiritual truth. This truth would later be found in the New Testament, but as yet was not recorded because the books were still in the process of being written. . . . The phrase “that which is perfect” (1 Cor. 13:10) means “the final thing, the completed thing.” Neither the context nor the language would seem to support the concept that Paul referred to Heaven or the future glorified state. The phrase is the culmination of a logical argument, moving from temporary and partial revelation to permanent and complete revelation. Revelation is the key thought, not glorification. . . .
Exegetical Confusion in the 21st Century
Myron J. Houghton
Dr. Pickering said that charismatics misunderstand certain passages or words found in the Bible. First, tongues in Acts is different from tongues in 1 Corinthians. In “Appendix 5: Were New Testament Tongues Real Languages?” of Signs and Wonders, Norman Geisler argues in the affirmative, showing that the Greek word for tongues in Acts is the same word used in 1 Corinthians and that the word “unknown” found in some English versions before “tongues” is not found in any Greek text but was added by the translators (165–168).
Second, the use of 1 Corinthians 14:39, “Forbid not to speak with tongues.” Dr. Pickering pointed to 1 Corinthians 13:8–10 to show that Paul had previously said that tongues, prophecy, and knowledge were temporary. Pickering argued that Paul’s admonition in 1 Corinthians 14:39 was meant only during the interim. Dr. Pickering believed that prophecy, tongues, and knowledge gave partial revelation, but when revelation would be completed, these gifts communicating partial revelation would no longer be necessary and thus would come to an end. . . .
Ernest Pickering, Th.D., was widely known as a pastor, college and seminary president, and missions leader. He wrote numerous articles, pamphlets, and adult Sunday School materials. His books include Biblical Separation and For the Hurting Pastor—and Those Who Hurt Him. Dr. Pickering went to be with the Lord in 2000. See page 19 of this issue for a special reprinted article by Dr. Pickering. Myron Houghton, Ph.D., Th.D., is senior professor of systematic theology, systematic theology department chair, and director of the Master of Arts theological studies program at Faith Baptist Theological Seminary, Ankeny, Iowa.