I have been collecting material for the past few months to put together a course on church music for a nearby Bible college. If you know me, you will not be surprised that I am going overboard. The stacks of books on my desk and bookshelves (not to mention my growing Amazon wish list) will testify to this. However, I have been alarmed at the number of people who have recommended books on church music or worship that are written by openly charismatic authors.
Allow me to be careful of defining charismatic. Not every one of the authors or works openly claim that name. Merriam-Webster.com defines the noun as “a member of a religious group or movement that stresses the seeking of direct divine inspiration and charisms (such as glossolalia or healing)”. There are various Christian sects that promote the use of charismatic gifts such as healing, tongues, and prophecy. Historically, these generally stem from the Holiness or Restorationist movements in 1800’s America. The so-called Asuza Street Revival is the movement’s watershed moment.
Baptists have historically been cessationists, believing that the gifts of the Spirit were temporary and their use limited to the time of Apostolic leadership in first century Christianity. A key Baptist belief is the supremacy and sufficiency of Scripture, which goes against the “continued revelation” of charismatic theology. I cannot say that charismatic Baptists do not exist (looking at you, Baptistcostals), but these are a minority – a growing minority.
Those last three words scare me. I am certain that one hundred years ago the use of ecstatic tongues by a Baptist would have been scandalous. Yet today, the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention allows for its missionaries to practice the use of ecstatic tongues. Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, which promotes the use of tongues and other charismatic gifts, is sold by Lifeway and used in many Southern Baptist churches and institutions. This has not happened without notice or debate, but the trend is that groups like the SBC are becoming more accepting of and even promoting charismatic doctrine and practices.
Sadly, I am becoming more and more aware of the growing acceptance of charismatic doctrine and practice in Independent and Fundamental Baptist circles. While no one may be speaking in tongues in a church service yet, I am afraid the stage is set for that to soon become acceptable in those circles. The foundations have been laid for it to happen.
I want to share few thoughts on how charismatic doctrine and practices are infiltrating our churches and how we can guard against them.
1. Through Private Christian Liberty
I believe strongly in the liberty of the individual Christian believer. It is reiterated time and time again in Scripture and is a key concept of Baptist doctrine. We have liberty to serve God according to our consciousness of our personal relationship with Him.
But the danger of Christian liberty is its abuse. Liberty does not mean licentiousness. Paul wrote in Galatians 5:1 that we are to: “Stand fast… in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free…”, but shortly after that says in 5:13 that we should: “…use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. Liberty has bounds. It is bound by love for each other, as we see in Galatians 5. It is also bound by the clear commands of Scripture. We see such an example see the case of gross sin of I Corinthians 5:1-2.
How has this allowed for an incursion of charismatic doctrine and practice? Simply because it allows for institutions (church, college, etc.) to have a strong, Scriptural stand against something while also allowing individuals leeway to have a different stand.
Let me give you the best example I know of: the use of a prayer language. The first time I was exposed to this idea was when a fellow teenage staff member at a Baptist summer camp who talked about doing it. This lesser form of glossolalia is generally not practiced in public so it may go unnoticed or overlooked. It is this practice that opened the door for the afore mentioned International Mission Board to accept speaking tongues. Let me warn you that was is practiced in private will eventually be practiced in public.
2. Through Music
As I stated in the opening paragraph of this post, my research on church music is what prompted this article. I am shocked at how charismatic philosophy and practice have infiltrated our churches through music.
It is not secret that contemporary praise and worship music is rooted in charismatic practices. The book Sing with Understanding (p. 313-314) ties the Praise and Worship style with a “charismatic Renewal” of the late 1900’s. It beginnings were simple Scripture choruses (“As the Deer”, “Seek Ye First”, etc.) that originated among charismatics in New Zealand in the late 1960’s. The use of these repetitive choruses was described in some churches as “with the objective of increasing the emotional fervor of worship to a point of ecstasy, often climaxed by shouted hallelujahs or speaking in tongues”. Other songs listed as coming from this source include “Alleluia”, “He is Lord”, “Majesty” and “This is the Day”.
This goes back further into historic charismatic practices. In Pentecostal or Holiness churches of the early 1900’s it would be normal to use music to “work up” the congregation. This would be done with emotionally-driven songs with swaying rhythms, fast-paced songs with driving beats, and encouragement to physically express yourself by raising hands, shouting, speaking in tongues, or rolling in the aisle. While those services may not have the modern synthesizers or stage setups of today’s charismatic churches, the essential elements and purposes are all present. The music drove the people to an emotional state of frenzy they called “worship”.
No matter how people may try to gird modern praise-and-worship-style services with sound theology or good intentions, they are fundamentally corrupted in their origin and design. They are built on manipulating the emotions of a worshipper into feeling and experiencing what they call a state of worship. No such practice or idea is found in Scripture.
The difficult part of discerning the charismatic influence in praise and worship music is because it is not highlighted. For example, Bob Kaughlin, head of Sovereign Grace Music, openly identifies as a charismatic in his book Worship Matters (p.86) though he prefers the term “continuationist”. He claims that he exercises the charismatic gift of prophecy as he sings spontaneously composed lyrics on stage. (p. 140). Yet, his book was recommended to me as often as any other. Sadly, his was not the only book with charismatic ties that was recommended to me.
3. Through Megachurch Influence
Who doesn’t want to be part of the biggest congregation with the nicest facilities? Many naïve Christian leaders have drunken from tainted waters in search of church growth idea. Combining this point with the previous on music, the book Te Deum (p. 315-316) states that many of the first megachurches like Willow Creek Community Church incorporated charismatic praise choruses into their “seeker sensitive” services. Other churches began to model after them and their perceived success and growth.
The earliest identified megachurches were often theologically conservative or fundamentalist. However varied they may be, the services at Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle or J. Frank Norris’s First Baptist Church of Fort Worth have little in common with the practices of similarly-sized congregations today. The modern megachurch trend has instead largely been built on promoting an experience rather than doctrine.
With this lessened emphasis on doctrine, many megachurches have downplayed or forsaken denominational ties. I just checked Outreach100.com‘s list of the largest churches in America. Today (1-21-22) only 5 of the top 20 have a denomination in their church name (Baptist, Christian, etc.) though many seem to have some denominational ties when you dig deeper. I have found it funny that nondenominational is itself a denomination now.
What is often hidden in this nondenominational branding is whether or not the churches are charismatic. Case in point, Gateway Church of Southlake, Texas. It is not something they promote (or detail in their public statement of faith), but the church and its leadership are charismatic. Pastor Robert Morris will speak or write on it from time to time. They are also now the home of The King’s University, a school founded by Pentecostal leader Jack Hayford. I was also told by someone who attended there a few times that they encountered a woman there who was prophesying – as in saying such-and-such will occur at such-and-such time and place. Yet most of this takes a backseat to the music and motivational messages so I honestly believe some who attend there do not even realize what sort of church it is.