The Charismatic Movement: Is It Historically Christian?


As we explore the charismatic movement and consider if it is historically Christian, it should be noted I have a background in the movement. For approximately six years, I was a member of a non-denominational charismatic church. I have also been to many kinds of charismatic churches, from African American to Caucasian to a mixture of ethnicities. As such, I speak from the perspective of someone who was within the movement and not just an observer.

At the outset I also want to note something else that should be considered. That we must consider ask if the charismatic movement is historically Christian is indicative of a few things. For one, it says how pervasive charismaticism has become that this question would need to be considered. It also says there is a serious deficiency in knowledge of what is historically Christian. Let me illustrate what I mean. Imagine I said the only humans currently in existence are from Mars, but they have spent the last millennium in the United States metamorphosing from a cocoon to a bitcoin. Anyone who said something so outlandish would immediately demonstrate they don’t understand the concepts of humanity, the United States, metamorphosis and bitcoins because the above proposition is entirely absurd. Sadly, the above proposition is more likely to be true than the proposition the modern charismatic movement is historically Christian. Rather than simply asserting this, we will examine some of the key differences.

The Beginning of the Modern Charismatic Movement

Much can be said about the history of the charismatic movement and where it traces its modern origins. It is generally agreed that it began in 1906 at the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles, California. It was here a young descendent of an African slave by the name of William J. Seymour preached a sermon from the Bible and began the revolution. From there the charismatic movement branched out into nearly every crevasse of Protestantism and has even made its way into the segments of the Catholic Church.

Charismatic Distinctives

Along with the spread of Seymour’s movement came the belief that the Holy Spirit had given his church a new Pentecost. In fact, it was Acts 2:4 that Seymour preached on when the movement began. Along this with new alleged outpouring of the Holy Spirit came multiple charismatic distinctives. According to most involved in the charismatic movement, they include receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the speaking in tongues, miraculous healings, slaying in the spirit and other phenomenon. We will examine the baptism of the Holy Spirit first.

Receiving the Baptism of the Holy Spirit

Receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit is something charismatics claim comes through insistent prayer. What does this entail? Charismatic author J. Lee Grady explains the process in an article for Charisma magazine:

Here are the simple steps you can take to be filled with the Holy Spirit:

Prepare your heart. The Holy Spirit is holy. He is compared to a fire (see Matt. 3:11), which means He purifies sin and burns up that which is not Christlike in our lives. Make sure you have confessed all known sin and made your heart ready for His infilling.

Ask Jesus to baptize you in the Spirit. You do not need to jump through hoops to get God’s attention. He is eager to answer your request. Jesus is the one who baptizes us in the Spirit, so ask Him—and expect Him to answer.

Receive the infilling. Begin to thank Him for this miracle. The Holy Spirit’s power is filling your life. If you feel your mind is clouded with doubts, just praise the Lord. Focus your mind on Him and not on yourself.

Release your prayer language. The moment you are filled with the Spirit, you will receive the ability to speak in your heavenly prayer language. You may feel the words bubbling up inside of you. You may begin to hear the words in your mind. Open your mouth and began to speak, trusting the Lord to give you this new, supernatural language.[1] 

In other words, receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit is receiving the Holy Spirit himself and the evidence He has entered into someone’s life is through speaking in tongues. Notice Grady says the experience is one of “fire” and a “filling” of the Holy Spirit. Also, take note he believes this is an experience one can expect to occur after sincerely asking for it. Lastly, notice the reference to tongues and an expectation for a “heavenly prayer language” and a “supernatural language” as these will be examined later in the article.

Another charismatic source that speaks of the receiving of the Holy Spirit comes from the Constitution and Bylaws of an Assemblies of God District Council, which explains it by saying:

All believers are entitled to and should ardently expect and earnestly seek the promise of the Father, the baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire, according to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ. This was the normal experience of all in the early Christian church. With it comes the enduement of power for life and service, the bestowment of the gifts and their uses in the work of the ministry (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4,8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-31). This experience is distinct from

and subsequent to the experience of the new birth (Acts 8:12-17; 10:44-46; 11:14-16; 15:7-9). With the baptism in the Holy Spirit come such experiences as an overflowing fullness of the Spirit (John 7:37-39; Acts 4:8), a deepened reverence for God (Acts 2:43; Hebrews 12:28), an intensified consecration to God and dedication to His work (Acts 2:42), and a more active love for Christ, for His Word, and for the lost (Mark 16:20)….The baptism of believers in the Holy Spirit is witnessed by the initial physical sign of speaking with other tongues as the Spirit of God gives them utterance (Acts 2:4).[2]

Notice the District Council says all Christians are “entitled to and should ardently expect…the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire…[which] is witnessed by the initial physical sign of speaking with other tongues.” In other words, the baptism of the Holy Spirit with evidence of speaking in tongues is normative for all Christians, not just some. This is another important concept to take note of as it will also be addressed later.


As we have seen above another distinctive of the charismatic movement is its understanding and use of tongues. What exactly is speaking in tongues according to charismatics? Charismatic contributor to Charisma News Brian Alaird describes tongues as:

They are speaking directly to God. 1 Corinthians 14:2, “For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.” Tongues is an intimate and direct line of communication with God.

They are declaring God’s wonders. Acts 2:11, “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Far from being nonsense, when we pray in tongues we are actually declaring the wonders and mysteries and majesty of God. How could that possibly be a bad thing?

They are praising God. Acts 10:46, “For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.” Even if we don’t understand what we are saying when we speak in tongues, we are praising God in the Spirit (1 Cor. 14:16).

They are edifying themselves. 1 Cor. 14:4, “He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.” Praying in tongues is like a spiritual workout—it builds you up and makes you stronger spiritually.

The Holy Spirit is praying through them, declaring God’s will. Romans 8:26-27, “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express…because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” Praying in the Spirit will bring revelation and insight into God’s will for your life.[3]

From this we glean that charismatics believe tongues are:

  1. A way to communicate with God.
  2. Something that sounds like nonsense.
  3. Praise to God, even if we don’t understand it.
  4. Spiritual growth.
  5. A means of revelation and insight.

Other peculiarities about the gift of tongues in charismatic circles include people praying in tongues at the same time, praying in tongues without anyone interpreting them and praying in tongues in chaotic and disorderly ways.

Miraculous Healings

The charismatic movement has also spawned numerous claims to miraculous healings as evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit. Countless charismatic preachers and TV evangelists have claimed to heal people of nearly every physical infirmity. Some have even claimed to have raised people from the dead. A 2020 broadcast synopsis for popular charismatic evangelist Benny Hinn illustrates this charismatic distinctive as it states:

On today’s program from a Benny Hinn Miracle Service you’ll join powerful …Then you’ll experience the healing power of God, including testimonies of healing from leg problems, back pain, arthritis, breast cancer, and more. Your faith will be lifted to expect miracles in our life when Pastor Benny prays at the end of the program.

Far from this example being an anomaly in charismatic circles, charismatics evangelists peddling miracles at nearly every charismatic event is beyond dispute.

 Slaying in Spirit

A very peculiar phenomena in the charismatic movement is the concept of “slaying in the spirit.” This is a very recent phenomena in church history and consists of a person laying hands on another, with the latter falling out and losing control of their body. This is often accompanied by uncontrollable convulsing, barking or screaming. It is claimed this is evidence the Holy Spirit has taken possession of the person who has been “slain.” In the words of the charismatic contributor to Charisma News Kathy Degraw, being slain in the spirit is described as follows:

The best explanation I’ve heard of falling in the spirit is that when the supernatural (God) meets the natural (us) something has to give and it is us that gives. What should be our response? We should embrace it and discover what God has for us.[4]

Holy Laughter

Another concept seen in the charismatic movement is the notion of “holy laughter.” This is where a person is prayed over and begins to laugh uncontrollably. This too is attributed to the Holy Spirit, who is staid to cause the laughter. Charismatic talk-show host describes holy laughter as follows:

The Bible says that ‘God looks on His enemies and laughs and has them in derision.’ So if God laughs then He must be laughing because of victory. ( Ps 2:4) Sometimes I have been praying for someone and they are telling me really bad stuff. I start to pray and start laughing- why is that? That’s weird isn’t it? But you see I may not understand in my mind but my spirit begins to pick up on a victory that’s happening in the spirit realm for that person. When you pray then God answers and sometimes your spirit has received the answer before your mind. I believe that the laughter (God’s laughter) brings down that victory into our experience.[5]

Prosperity Gospel

One last concept that is peculiar to the charismatic movement is the prosperity gospel. This is usually accompanied by a “name it and claim it” mentality that says if you support a particular ministry then you will become financially prosperous. Appealing to some of the patriarchs in the Old Testament, who were financially wealthy, the charismatic movement emphasizes financial wealth, as evidence of God’s favor. According to prosperity preacher Kenneth Copeland:

Financial Prosperity is God’s will for you. ‘You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich’ (2 Corinthians 8:9). What that prosperity looks like will differ from family to family, but be assured that God’s will is prosperity. You are not outside the will of God when you ask for financial provision and blessings… And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred” (Mark 4:20, KJV). Your words matter. If you constantly speak negativity and lack over your finances, don’t be surprised if negativity and lack are what greet you as you sit down to pay your bills. Instead, speak words that line up with the Word and proclaim the faithfulness and blessing of the Lord.[6]

Countless of other charismatic preachers can be quoted to demonstrate this is not an oddity in the charismatic community. 

The Work of the Holy Spirit in History

 The Sacraments of Baptism

Having briefly examined some charismatic distinctives, it is now necessary to examine the historic Christian perspective on these concepts. We will start with baptism. The sacrament of baptism is the ordinary means by which a person receives the Holy Spirit, though God can always provide extraordinary means to those who were not able to reach the baptismal waters. St. Cyril, a bishop of Jerusalem in the fifth century speaks about this sacrament and notes it importance and purpose:

For since man is of twofold nature, soul and body, the purification also is twofold, the one incorporeal for the incorporeal part, and the other bodily for the body: the water cleanses the body, and the Spirit seals the soul; that we may draw near unto God, having our heart sprinkled by the Spirit, and our body washed with pure water. Hebrews 10:22 When going down, therefore, into the water, think not of the bare element, but look for salvation by the power of the Holy Ghost: for without both you can not possibly be made perfect. It is not I that say this, but the Lord Jesus Christ, who has the power in this matter: for He says, Unless a man be born anew (and He adds the words) of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. John 3:3 Neither does he that is baptized with water, but not found worthy of the Spirit, receive the grace in perfection; nor if a man be virtuous in his deeds, but receive not the seal by water, shall he enter into the kingdom of heaven. A bold saying, but not mine, for it is Jesus who has declared it: and here is the proof of the statement from Holy Scripture. Cornelius was a just man, who was honoured with a vision of Angels, and had set up his prayers and almsdeeds as a good memorial before God in heaven. Peter came, and the Spirit was poured out upon them that believed, and they spoke with other tongues, and prophesied: and after the grace of the Spirit the Scripture says that Peter commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ Acts 10:48; in order that, the soul having been born again by faith , the body also might by the water partake of the grace.”[7]

As we see, St. Cyril says water baptism cleanses the soul, conveys grace and is what Jesus meant when he spoke about being “born again.” He also notes:

“You have as the glory of Baptism the Son Himself, the Only-begotten of God. For why should I speak any more of man? John was great, but what is he to the Lord? His was a loud-sounding voice, but what in comparison with the Word? Very noble was the herald, but what in comparison with the King? Noble was he that baptized with water, but what to Him that baptizes with the Holy Ghost and with fire Matthew 3:11? The Saviour baptized the Apostles with the Holy Ghost and with fire, when suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of the rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire: and it sat upon each one of them, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost. If any man receive not Baptism, he has not salvation; except only Martyrs, who even without the water receive the kingdom.”[8]

Here we see St. Cyril says the baptism of Jesus includes the receiving of God’s kingdom and may entail the gift of tongues. He also says baptism is a receiving of the Holy Ghost and fire that one obtains through “water.” Yet, charismatics ordinarily reject the necessity of water baptism and deny its efficacy. This is problematic because the very things charismatics claim they obtain through the request for Jesus to fill them with the Spirit is actually what historical Christians believed was obtained through the sacrament of baptism. Many other early Christian figures could be cited to attest to what is said above, but as there are an embarrassingly copious amount of them, we will settle with these.

The Sacrament of Confirmation

The sacrament of confirmation is another ordinary means by which God communicates the Holy Spirit. This sacrament is best understood as the receiving of an increase in the Holy Spirit after baptism, though it is more than this. The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives a good summary of confirmation in the following paragraphs:

“From that time on the apostles, in fulfillment of Christ’s will, imparted to the newly baptized by the laying on of hands the gift of the Spirit that completes the grace of Baptism. For this reason in the Letter to the Hebrews [6:2] the doctrine concerning Baptism and the laying on of hands is listed among the first elements of Christian instruction. The imposition of hands is rightly recognized by the Catholic tradition as the origin of the sacrament of Confirmation, which in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church.”[9]

“By this anointing the confirmand receives the “mark,” the seal of the Holy Spirit. A seal is a symbol of a person, a sign of personal authority, or ownership of an object. Hence soldiers were marked with their leader’s seal and slaves with their master’s. A seal authenticates a juridical act or document and occasionally makes it secret.”[10]

“It is evident from its celebration that the effect of the sacrament of Confirmation is the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost.”[11]

“From this fact, Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace:

– it roots us more deeply in the divine filiation which makes us cry, “Abba! Father!”;

– it unites us more firmly to Christ;

– it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us;

– it renders our bond with the Church more perfect;

– it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross.”[12]

“Like Baptism which it completes, Confirmation is given only once, for it too imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual mark, the “character,” which is the sign that Jesus Christ has marked a Christian with the seal of his Spirit by clothing him with power from on high so that he may be his witness.”[13]

Take note that confirmation is the completion of baptism, a seal and anointing of the Holy Spirit, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and a deepening of baptismal grace. Historically, Christians have also attested to the sacrament of confirmation as distinct from baptism, and one which strengthens the Christian with further grace. Tertullian says:

“After this, when we have issued from the font, we are thoroughly anointed with a blessed unction, — (a practice derived) from the old discipline, wherein on entering the priesthood, men were wont to be anointed with oil from a horn, ever since Aaron was anointed by Moses. Whence Aaron is called Christ, from the chrism, which is the unction; which, when made spiritual, furnished an appropriate name to the Lord, because He was anointed with the Spirit by God the Father; as written in the Acts: For truly they were gathered together in this city against Your Holy Son whom You have anointed. Thus, too, in our case, the unction runs carnally, (i.e. on the body,) but profits spiritually; in the same way as the act of baptism itself too is carnal, in that we are plunged in water, but the effect spiritual, in that we are freed from sins.”[14]

Elsewhere, Tertullian also speaks about the sacrament and notes it is received through the imposition of hands:

“The flesh, indeed, is washed, in order that the soul may be cleansed; the flesh is anointed, that the soul may be consecrated; the flesh is signed (with the cross), that the soul too may be fortified; the flesh is shadowed with the imposition of hands, that the soul also maybe illuminated by the Spirit; the flesh feeds on the body and blood of Christ, that the soul likewise may fatten on its God. They cannot then be separated in their recompense, when they are united in their service.”[15]

The famous African theologian and bishop of Carthage St. Cyprian also says this sacrament was what the book of Acts described. He says:

“But in respect of the assertion of some concerning those who had been baptized in Samaria, that when the Apostles Peter and John came, only hands were imposed on them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost, yet that they were not re-baptized; we see that that place does not, dearest brother, touch the present case. For they who had believed in Samaria had believed with a true faith; and within, in the Church which is one, and to which alone it is granted to bestow the grace of baptism and to remit sins, had been baptized by Philip the deacon, whom the same apostles had sent. And therefore, because they had obtained a legitimate and ecclesiastical baptism, there was no need that they should be baptized any more, but only that which was needed was performed by Peter and John; viz., that prayer being made for them, and hands being imposed, the Holy Spirit should be invoked and poured out upon them, which now too is done among us, so that they who are baptized in the Church are brought to the prelates of the Church, and by our prayers and by the imposition of hands obtain the Holy Spirit, and are perfected with the Lord’s seal.”[16]

The ecumenical Council of Constantinople I, which was held in 381 and dogmatized the divinity of the Holy Spirit, says this sacrament whereby one receives an increase in the Holy Spirit is received with the use of anointing oil:

“We receive the Arians, and Macedonians . . . upon their giving in written statements and anathematizing every heresy . . . . Having first sealed them with the holy ointment upon the forehead, and eyes, and nostrils, and mouth, and ears, and sealing them we say, ‘The seal of the gift of the Holy Ghost.”[17]

Lastly, we will consider Pope Innocent I who notes this sacrament is normally administered by a bishop with the use of chrism (anointing oil):

“As regards the sealing of infants, it is clear that it is not lawful for it to be done by anyone but a bishop. For presbyters, though they be priests of the second rank (second priests), have not attained to the summit of the pontificate. That this pontificate is the right of bishops only–to wit: that they may seal or deliver the Spirit, the Paraclete is demonstrated not merely by ecclesiastical usage, but also by that portion of the Acts of the Apostles wherein it is declared that Peter and John were sent to give the Holy Ghost to those who had already been baptized. For when presbyters baptize, whether with or without the presence of the bishop, they may anoint the baptized with chrism, provided it be previously consecrated by a bishop, but not sign the forehead with that oil, which is a right reserved to bishops [episcopis] only, when they give the Spirit, the Paraclete. The words, however, I cannot name, for fear of seeming to betray rather than to reply to the point on which you have consulted me.”[18]

As we have seen, the historical Christian view is that the sacrament of confirmation conveys additional graces of the Holy Spirit and is ordinarily received by a bishop[19] through the imposition of hands. Yet charismatics do not believe in the sacrament of confirmation.[20] This is another example of how charismatics claim to receive the Holy Spirit through the use of prayer but apart from the sacraments of the church.

The Sacrament of the Eucharist

According to historical Christianity, the church has been experiencing Pentecost for 2,000 years in its liturgical life, as we have seen with the baptism and confirmation. Yet, the liturgy of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is also a continuation of Pentecost. Consider the following quotes from the Byzantine liturgy on the Feast of Pentecost:

Blessed are You, O Christ our God, Who have filled the fishermen with wisdom by sending down upon them the Holy Spirit, and through them caught the universe in Your net. O Lover of men, glory be to You.[21]

When the Most High descended, He confused the tongues and scattered the peoples; but when He distributed the tongues of fire, He called all of them to unity. Therefore, we praise the Most Holy Spirit with one voice.[22]

We have seen the true light, we have received the Heavenly Spirit, we have found the true faith, and we worship the indivisible Trinity; for the Trinity has saved us.[23]

We celebrate the feast of Pentecost and of the descent of the Spirit, the fulfillment of promise and the achievement of hope. O how great and how exalted is the mystery![24]

Even the ancient and venerable Latin-Rite liturgy testifies to Pentecost being an ongoing even in the life of the church. The liturgy says for Whit-Sunday:

May the inpouring of the Holy Spirit purify our hearts, O Lord, and render them fruitful by the sprinkling of his dew over our innermost being. Through our Lord … in unity with the same Holy Ghost.[25]

Come, O Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy faithful: and kindle in them the fire of thy love.[26]

O God, who on this day didst instruct the hearts of the faithful by the light of the holy Spirit: grant us by the same Spirit to relish what is right, and ever to rejoice in his consolation. Through our Lord … in unity with the same Holy Ghost.[27]

So far, we have examined the liturgical prayers of the historic church for the feast of Pentecost specifically, Yet, every mass is a continuation of Pentecost, not just the liturgical feast of Pentecost. During the epiclesis, the Byzantine liturgy says:

Again we offer to You this spiritual and unbloody sacrifice, and we implore and pray, and entreat You, send down Your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here present. (Blessing the bread) And make this bread   the precious body of Your Christ. (Blessing the chalice) And that which is in this chalice, the precious blood of your Christ. (Blessing both) Having changed them by Your Holy Spirit: So that to those who partake of them, they may be for the purification of the soul, for the remission of sins, for the communion in Your Holy Spirit, for the fullness of the heavenly kingdom, for confidence in You, not for judgment or condemnation.[28]

In other words, the work of Pentecost has not been missing from the church before the Azusa Street Revival, as charismatics generally claim. Rather, it has been active in the sacraments of the church for nearly 2,000 years. This shows us what the charismatics claim their movement does by the power of the Holy Spirit is what historical Christians have believed the Holy Spirit does through the sacraments of the church. In other words, the charismatic movement has effectively sought to replace the purpose of the church and the sacraments. If the charismatic movement is truly the work of the Holy Spirit, then the historical belief of Christians that says the Holy Spirit ordinarily operates though the church’s sacraments is undermined. Either the Holy Spirit has been at work for two millennia in the sacraments and the charismatic movement is credulous in its claims or the Holy Spirit has not been at work in the church’s sacraments and has chosen to move through the charismatic movement. Both cannot be truth since Christians have also historically taught the Holy Spirit will work through His sacraments in all ages, not just for 1900 years and then offer a new paradigm.

The Real Gift of Tongues

The concept of the gift of tongues that we have seen described by charismatics is not the same as the concept of tongues in Scripture as understood by historical Christianity. The old Catholic Encyclopedia offers the following summary of the Biblical concept of tongues:

It was speaking, opposed to being silent (1 Corinthians 14:28), yet not always in a foreign tongue. On the day of Pentecost the Apostles did indeed speak the various languages of their hearers, but the still unbaptized Gentiles in the house of Cornelius “speaking with tongues, and magnifying God” (Acts 10:46) and the twelve newly baptized Ephesians speaking with tongues and prophesying (Acts 19:6) had no reason for using any strange tongue. Again, instead of the expression “speaking with tongues” Paul uses the alternative phrases, “speaking in a tongue”, “by a tongue”, “with a tongue” (1 Corinthians 14:2, 4, 13, 14, 27). The object of the gift was not to convey ideas to listeners, but to speak to God in prayer (ibid., 2, 4), an object for which a foreign language is unnecessary. Lastly — and this argument seems conclusive — Paul compares glossolalia, as regards its effect, with talking in an unknown language; it is, therefore, not itself an unknown language (ibid., 11).

It was an articulate language, for the speaker prays, sings, gives thanks (ibid., 14-17).

The speaker was in a kind of trance — “If I pray in a tongue, my spirit [pneuma] prayeth, but my understanding [nous, mens] is without fruit” (ibid., 14).

On unbelievers glossolalia made the impression of the marvellous; perhaps it recalled to their mind the religious ravings of hierophants: “Wherefore (i.e. because unintelligible) tongues are for a sign, not to believers, but to unbelievers. If . . . all speak with tongues, and there come in unlearned persons or infidels, will they not say that you are mad?” (1 Corinthians 14:22, 23).

The gift of tongues is inferior to that of prophecy: “Greater is he that prophesieth, than he that speaketh with tongues: unless perhaps he interpret, that the church may receive edification” (ibid., 5).

The charisma of interpretation is, then, the necessary complement of glossolalia; when interpretation is not forthcoming, the speaker with tongues shall hold his peace (ibid., 13, 27, 28). Interpretation is the work either of the speaker himself or of another (ibid., 27). It takes the form of an intelligible address; the explanation was to follow the speech with tongues as regularly as the discerning of spirits succeeded prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:28, 29).[29]

As noted above, in the second chapter of the Book of Acts, the concept of tongues is clearly an historical human language. As the above also notes, the concept of tongues in the tenth chapter of Acts and the fourteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians is debatable. The debate arises because tongues in these chapters were used in the context of discourse with God and are described as a heavenly language. Some say these too were human languages while others have theorized they may have been non-human languages, but even if this latter view is adopted, it would not automatically vindicate the charismatic movement’s claim to tongues and the possession of the Holy Spirit. How so? Because the charismatics are operating outside God’s visible boundaries of authority. They are also operating apart from God’s sacraments. Moreover, they are often practiced in violation of Biblical principles for the gift of tongues, such as the necessity of an interpreter, the forbidding of multiple people speaking in tongues at once and the command to use the give decently and in order. More will be said on this in a moment.

For now, let’s examine some of the historical view on the gift of tongues. Historical figures such as St. Irenaeus, who was a second century bishop and was a disciple of Polycarp, himself a disciple of the Apostle John, says in his book Against Heresies, Book V, Chapter 6:1:

For this reason does the apostle declare, “We speak wisdom among them that are perfect,” [1 Corinthians 2:6] terming those persons “perfect” who have received the Spirit of God, and who through the Spirit of God do speak in all languages, as he used Himself also to speak. In like manner we do also hear many brethren in the Church, who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men, and declare the mysteries of God, whom also the apostle terms “spiritual,” they being spiritual because they partake of the Spirit, and not because their flesh has been stripped off and taken away, and because they have become purely spiritual.[30]

Here St. Irenaeus attests to the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work in the life of the church and continuation of the gift of tongues. This should be emphasized because elsewhere St. Irenaeus testifies to the work of the Holy Spirit operating within the church that has bishops with apostolic succession. In other words, St. Irenaeus is a witness to the work of the Holy Spirit within the Catholic Church.

An early Christian writer named Origen, who was famous for his great knowledge of Scripture and holiness of life, testified to the gift of the tongues as being the ability to preach in other languages. He says in his commentary on Romans:

It must be understood that as he who trades many pearls, comes upon a precious one, sold everything, and acquired that one, so that anyone who begins with many fruits, is destined to strive for the one perfect fruit. Now one must ask how the Apostle is under obligation to the Greeks and the non-Greeks, to the wise and the foolish ones — namely what did he learn from them that he was obligated to them? I certainly think that he had become indebted with the diverse nations because he was speaking in the languages of the nations which he received through the gift of the Holy Spirit, even as he himself said, “I speak in tongues more than you all.” Because then he did not acquire the knowledge of languages on his own account alone but for those he was about to preach, the debt is being accomplished to all these of whom he received the knowledge of many languages from God.[31]

The celebrated fourth century preacher and bishop of Constantinople, St. John Chrysostom, who was renowned for his holiness and ability to preach (Chrysostom means golden mouth) speaks about the gift of tongues in homily 29 on 1 Corinthians. He explains why people in his day did not have the gift of tongues. This should be noted, not because it proves the gift completed ceased (since it did not) but because it shows not all who have the Holy Spirit are given the gift and its prevalence was not always emphasized by the Holy Spirit in every age of the church.

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. You know that when you were Gentiles, you were led away unto those dumb idols, howsoever ye might be led. This whole place is very obscure: but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place. And why do they not happen now? Why look now, the cause too of the obscurity has produced us again another question: namely, why did they then happen, and now do so no more? This however let us defer to another time, but for the present let us state what things were occurring then. Well: what did happen then? Whoever was baptized he straightway spoke with tongues and not with tongues only, but many also prophesied, and some also performed many other wonderful works. For since on their coming over from idols, without any clear knowledge or training in the ancient Scriptures, they at once on their baptism received the Spirit, yet the Spirit they saw not, for It is invisible; therefore God’s grace bestowed some sensible proof of that energy. And one straightway spoke in the Persian, another in the Roman, another in the Indian, another in some other such tongue: and this made manifest to them that were without that it is the Spirit in the very person speaking. Wherefore also he so calls it, saying, But to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given to profit withal; 1 Corinthians 12:7 calling the gifts a manifestation of the Spirit. For as the Apostles themselves had received this sign first, so also the faithful went on receiving it, I mean, the gift of tongues; yet not this only but also many others: inasmuch as many used even to raise the dead and to cast out devils and to perform many other such wonders: and they had gifts too, some less, and some more. But more abundant than all was the gift of tongues among them: and this became to them a cause of division; not from its own nature but from the perverseness of them that had received it: in that on the one hand the possessors of the greater gifts were lifted up against them that had the lesser: and these again were grieved, and envied the owners of the greater. And Paul himself as he proceeds intimates this.[32]

St. Epiphanius, the bishop of Salamis in the fourth century, describes tongues as the ability to speak in another language in his Panarion Book I, Section III, Heresy 42:

Thus the languages too are by the gift of the Spirit. But what sort of languages does the apostle mean? < He says, “languages in the church,” > to show < those who > preened themselves on the sounds of Hebrew, which are well and wisely diversified in every expression, in various complex ways—on the pretentious kind of Greek, moreover, the speaking of Attic, Aeolic and Doric—< that God does not permit just one language in church, as some of the people < supposed > who had stirred up the alarms and factions among the Corinthians, to whom the Epistle was being sent. (b) And yet Paul agreed that both using the Hebrew expressions and teaching the Law is < a gift > of the Spirit. Moreover, to condemn the other, pretentious forms of Greek, he said he spoke with “tongues” rather (than those) because he was an Hebrew of Hebrews and had been brought up at the feet of Gamaliel; and he sets great store by the scriptures of these Hebrews , and < makes it clear > that they are gifts of the Spirit. Thus, in writing to Timothy about the same scriptures, he said, “For from thy youth thou hast learned the sacred scriptures.[33]

St. Augustine, arguably the greatest bishop and theologian in church history, said in Sermo 267, Chapter 3 that the gift of tongues was a sign that was already satisfied before his age. Once again, this does not mean the gift entirely ceased, but it does mean it was not nearly as prevalent and indicates it is not a gift given to all who receive the Holy Spirit. He says:

Brothers, has the holy Spirit not been given now? Whoever thinks this is not deserving to receive. He is given and now. Why then is no one speaking in the tongues of all the nations just as he spoke who at the time was being filled with the holy Spirit? Why? Because this was a sign that has been satisfied.[34]

He elsewhere notes not all receive the gift of tongues after receiving the Holy Spirit. In reference to infants receiving the Holy Spirit through infant baptism, he says: “when we laid hands on those infants, does anyone of you pay attention to whether they were speaking in languages. . .?”[35] St. Augustine also testifies to the gift as the ability to speak in other languages. He says:

Likewise, this statement of mine is indeed true: “These miracles were not allowed to last until our times lest the soul ever seek visible things and the human race grow cold because of familiarity with those things whose novelty enkindled it.” For not even now, when a hand is laid on the baptized, do they receive the Holy Spirit in such a way that they speak with the tongues of all nations; nor are the sick now healed by the passing shadow of the preachers of Christ. Even though such things happened at that time, manifestly these ceased later. But what I said is not to be so interpreted that no miracles are believed to be performed in the name of Christ at the present time. For, when I wrote that book, I myself had recently learned that a blind man had been restored to sight in Milan near the bodies of the martyrs in that very city, and I knew about some other, so numerous even in these times, that we cannot know about all of them nor enumerate those we know.[36]

Note once again, St. Augustine believed this gift ceased in his age, though this was not a permanent cessation. We know it did not entirely cease since the gift continued to occur in the Catholic Church after St. Augustine. For example, the old Catholic Encyclopedia speaks about the occasional observance of this gift among the saints in the second millennium, as it says:

St. Francis Xavier is said to have preached in tongues unknown to him and St. Vincent Ferrer while using his native tongue was understood in others. From this last phenomenon Biblical glossolaly differs in being what St. Gregory Nazianzen points out as a marvel of speaking and not of hearing.[37]

From the information above, we learn the gift of tongues was historically understood to be the ability to speak in other languages for the sake of evangelization and a gift that was not given to all recipients of the Holy Spirit in every age. This is a far cry from the charismatic claim that the gift was given to everyone who received the Holy Spirit by requesting it through prayer or the claim it was an ecstatic utterance that sounds like nonsense to the casual observer.[38]

A few additional points to consider about the gift of tongues can be observed in the following principles:

Tongues are not to be done by multiple people at the same time. 1 Corinthians 14:23 says “So if the: whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?”

Worship and especially the gift of tongues should be done in order. 1 Corinthians 14:40 says “But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.”

The gift of tongues must be used with an interpreter. 1 Corinthians 14:5 says “I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified.”

If these principles, among others, are not being followed in charismatic circles, then it is clear their claim to the gift of tongues is not from the Holy Spirit and is not in line with the historical understanding of tongues.

Real Miracles

The use of miracles are often cited as evidence the charismatic movement has supernatural backing. It is even suggested the church prior to the charismatic movement was dead and without the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. Yet, miracles never ceased to occur within historical Christianity. The old Catholic Encyclopedia describes many instances of them as follows:

Thus  Clement of Rome and St. Ignatius of Antioch speak of the miracles wrought in their time.

Origen says he has seen examples of demons expelled, many cures effected, and prophecies fulfilled (Against Celsus IIIIIIVII).

Irenaeus taunts the magic-workers of his day that “they cannot give sight to the blind nor hearing to the deaf, nor put to flight demons; and they are so far from raising the dead as Our Lord did, and the Apostles, by prayer, and as is most frequently done among the brethren, that they even think it impossible” (Against Heresies II).

Athanasius writes the life of St. Anthony from what he himself saw and heard from one who had long been in attendance on the saint.

Justin in his second apology to the Roman Senate appeals to miracles wrought in Rome and well attested.

Tertullian challenges the heathen magistrates to work the miracles which the Christians perform (Apol., xxiii);

Augustine gives a long list of extraordinary miracles wrought before his own eyes, mentions names and particulars, describes them as well known, and says they happened within two years before he published the written account (City of God XXI.8; Retract., I, xiii).

Jerome wrote a book to confute Vigilantius and prove that relics should be venerated, by citing miracles wrought through them.

Theodoret published the life of St. Simon Stylites while the saint was living, and thousands were alive who had been eyewitnesses of what had happened.

VictorBishop of Vita, wrote the history of the African confessors whose tongues had been cut out by command of Hunneric, and who yet retained the power of speech, and challenges the reader to go to Reparatus, one of them then living at the palace of the Emperor Zeno.

Gregory the Great writes to St. Augustine of Canterbury not to be elated by the many miracles God was pleased to work through his hands for the conversion of the people of Britain.

These are only a few examples of the attestation to miracles in the early church. Numerous others can be given for historical Christianity in the middle ages and after the Reformation. Far from the Catholic Church having lost the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, only to be restored by the charismatic movement, it is clear the historical church has always had them.

Orderly Worship

As we have seen already, everything that is done in corporate worship should be done decently and in order. Yet there is another principle that should be considered, especially when one examines the charistmatic movement’s claim to slay people in the spirit. 1 Corinthians 14:32 says “The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets.” This means the Holy Spirit will not take control of a person’s body, as we often see in those who are allegedly slain by the Spirit, but the Spirit will be subject to the person in whom He operates. This is a crucial way to by which we are to “test the spirits” as 1 John 4:1 says “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” In other words, those who are “slain in the spirit” are either subject to demonic activity or are exhibiting the result of a psychological phenomenon such as the power of suggestion.

The same can be said of the charismatic claim to “holy laughter” where charismatics begin to laugh hysterically and uncontrollably. This is clearly in violation of Scripture’s admonition to do everything decently and in order and Scriptures attestation to the Spirit being subject to a person’s will. Also, like being “slain in the spirit”, “holy laughter” has no Biblical or historically Christian support.


Charismatics often point to prosperity as a sign of God’s blessing. This prosperity can take shape in many forms but they especially focus on financial prosperity. They generally note some of the patriarchs of the Old Testament, such as Abraham or Job, who were very wealthy. There is a grain of truth to this concept in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament, there financial prosperity can be a hindrance to one’s spiritual life.

This is why Jesus said in Matthew 19:21 “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

It is also why he said in Matthew 19:24 “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” James 1:2 also notes that the life of the Christian may not be prosperous in a worldly sense, but may even involve various trials. It says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” Lastly, 1 Peter 4:12-16 speaks about the many trials Christians may have to endure:

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.

Clearly, the very Scriptures[39] that charismatics claim supports their doctrines are opposed to the concept that God wills financial prosperity for all of His people. This is yet another point of departure for charismatics with historical Christianity.

The Importance of the Hierarchy

Another problem in the charismatic movement is that it operates outside the authority God has established. Historical Christians believe God has given his church bishops, priests and deacons, with bishops having the authority to teach and rule in the name of Christ. Being subject to this authority is essential in order to have assurance that one is within the bounds of the Holy Spirit. St. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of the Apostle John who wrote in the beginning of the second century, says:

See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.[40]

Notice especially the part where he says, “Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop” and “whatsoever he [the bishop] shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God.” In other words, the way to know that an apparent work of the Spirit is truly from the Holy Spirit is that the work is done in communion with, and with the blessing of, the local bishop. Since charismatics lack apostolic succession and authentic bishops, one cannot have assurance the movement is from the Holy Spirit. In fact, one should stay away from it as the Holy Spirit ordinarily works within His church.

Historical Christians also offers the following to validate that a movement is the work of the Holy Spirit. The movement must:

Witness to a real communion with the whole Church. This requires a ‘filial relationship to the Pope, in total adherence to the belief that he is the perpetual and visible center of unity of the universal Church, and with the local bishop, ‘the visible principle and foundation of unity’ in the particular Church’. This implies a ‘loyal readiness to embrace the doctrinal teachings and pastoral initiatives’, as well as ‘a readiness to participate in programs and Church activities at the local, national and international levels; a commitment to catechesis and a capacity for teaching and forming Christians.’[41]

If these marks are not descriptive of one’s communion, then it is not part of historical Christianity.

Satan as the Author of Counterfeits

2 Thessalonians 2:9 states: “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie.” This is very important to recognize as it indicates Satan works through counterfeit signs and wonders. 2 Corinthians 11:14 also says “And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” In other words, Satan attempts to counterfeit the work of God by appearing to be good, as an angel of light. This too should be noted because the charismatic movement claims to offer signs and wonders as the work of the Holy Spirit.

Since the charismatic movement essentially attempts to replace the work of the sacrament and the authority of the bishops of the historical church, it would seem the charismatic movement does not originate from God. Rather, it would seem to be a counterfeit movement, since is not in accord with the historical way of viewing the work of the Holy Spirit. This too discredits it, as it offers no historical pedigree that goes back to the Apostles. Lastly, I offer the following quote from the famous church historian Eusebius, as it is very reminiscent of elements one observes in the charismatic movement and if the charismatic movement has any historical precedent, this would appear to be it. He says in his Ecclesiastical History, Book V, Chapter 16, 7-9:

There is said to be a certain village called Ardabau in that part of Mysia, which borders upon Phrygia. There first, they say, when Gratus was proconsul of Asia, a recent convert, Montanus by name, through his unquenchable desire for leadership, gave the adversary opportunity against him. And he became beside himself, and being suddenly in a sort of frenzy and ecstasy, he raved, and began to babble and utter strange things, prophesying in a manner contrary to the constant custom of the Church handed down by tradition from the beginning. Some of those who heard his spurious utterances at that time were indignant, and they rebuked him as one that was possessed, and that was under the control of a demon, and was led by a deceitful spirit, and was distracting the multitude; and they forbade him to talk, remembering the distinction drawn by the Lord and his warning to guard watchfully against the coming of false prophets. Matthew 7:15 But others imagining themselves possessed of the Holy Spirit and of a prophetic gift, were elated and not a little puffed up; and forgetting the distinction of the Lord, they challenged the mad and insidious and seducing spirit, and were cheated and deceived by him. In consequence of this, he could no longer be held in check, so as to keep silence. Thus by artifice, or rather by such a system of wicked craft, the devil, devising destruction for the disobedient, and being unworthily honored by them, secretly excited and inflamed their understandings which had already become estranged from the true faith. And he stirred up besides two women, and filled them with the false spirit, so that they talked wildly and unreasonably and strangely, like the person already mentioned. And the spirit pronounced them blessed as they rejoiced and gloried in him, and puffed them up by the magnitude of his promises. But sometimes he rebuked them openly in a wise and faithful manner, that he might seem to be a reprover. But those of the Phrygians that were deceived were few in number And the arrogant spirit taught them to revile the entire universal Church under heaven, because the spirit of false prophecy received neither honor from it nor entrance into it.[42]

[1] Available Online: Accessed 19 February 2020.

[2]   Assemblies of God Northern California and Nevada District Council, Inc, 64. Available Online: Accessed 19 February 2020.


[3]  Available Online: Accessed 19 February 2020.

[4] Kathy Degra, What’s Next After You Have Been Slain in the Spirit? Available Online: Accessed 19 February 2020.

[5] Sid Roth, Holy Laughter – What Is It All About? Available Online: Accessed 19 February 2020.


[6] 5 Truths About Biblical Prosperity. Available Online: Accessed 19 February 2020.

[7] Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 3 On Baptism, 4. Available Online: Accessed 19 February 2020.


[8] Ibid.

[9] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1288 (hereafter CCC).


[10] CCC, 1295.


[11] CCC, 1302.

[12] CCC, 1303.


[13] CCC, 1304.


[14] Tertullian, On Baptism, 7. Available Online: Accessed 19 February 2020.

[15] Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, 8. Available Online: Accessed 19 February 2020.


[16] Cyprian, Epistle 72, 9. Available Online: Accessed 19 February 2020.


[17] As quoted in Scannell, T. (1908). Confirmation. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved February 19, 2020 from New Advent:

[18] Letter of Pope Innocent I to Decentius as quoted in letter of Pope Innocent I to Decentius.


[19] Authentic bishops have their ordinations through the laying on of hands and can trace their ordinations back to the apostles. This is a key difference between the bishops of the Catholic and Orthodox churches and the alleged “bishops” in charismatic circles. Apart from a bishop with apostolic succession (or a priest belonging to a bishop with apostolic succession), one cannot impart the sacrament of confirmation to another.


[20] With exception of charismatic Catholics.


[21] Troparion, Tone 8.


[22] Kontakion, Tone 8.


[23] Pentecost Vespers, Tone 2.


[24] Pentecost Vespers, Tone 1.


[25] Whit-Sunday, Post-Communion.


[26] Whit-Sunday, Alleluia.


[27] Whit-Sunday, Collect.


[28] Available Online: Accessed 19 February 2020.

[29] Wilhelm, J. (1908). Charismata. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved February 20, 2020 from New Advent:


[30] Available Online: Accessed 19 February 2020.

[31] Translation available online: Accessed 19 February 2020.

[32] Available Online: Accessed 19 February 2020.


[33] Epiphanius, and Frank Williams. 2009. The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis (version 2nd ed., rev. and expanded.) 2Nd ed., rev. and expanded ed. Vol. Book I (sects 1-46), 349-350. Available Online: Accessed 19 February 2020.


[34] Migne, Patrologia Latina, Vol. 38. Augustine. Sermo CCLXVII (267) Col. 1230ff. Translation by Charles A. Sullivan available online: Accessed 19 February 2020.

[35] Migne, Patrologia Latina, Vol. 35. Augustine. In Epistolas Joannis et Parthos VI:10 (6:10) Col. 2025ff. Translation by Charles A. Sullivan available online: Accessed 19 February 2020.


[36] Augustine, Bishop of Hippo. The Retractions. Translated by Sister M. Inez Bogan, R.S.M. As found in The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation. Roy Joseph Deferrari, ed. Vol. 60. The Catholic University of America Press. 1999. Pg. 55


[37] Reilly, T. (1912). Gift of Tongues. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved February 19, 2020 from New Advent:


[38] Take note it is possible some forms of tongues were languages and others were ecstatic utterances that sound like nonsense, but the latter is less attested historically and would not automatically vindicate the charismatic claim to have this gift.

[39] It should be noted charismatics received the Bible from the historical church, so they rely on something that came from a group they often oppose.

[40]Ignatius of Antioch, The Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, 8. Available Online: Accessed 23 February 2020.

[41]    Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter “Iuvenescit Ecclesia” to the Bishops of the Catholic Church

Regarding the Relationship Between Hierarchical and Charismatic Gifts in the Life and the Mission of the Church, 18. Available Online: Accessed 19 February 2020.

[42] Available Online: Accessed 19 February 2020.


2 thoughts on “The Charismatic Movement: Is It Historically Christian?

  1. SethC

    Michael, thanks for diving into this topic! Are there any plans to make any posts or videos specifically about the Catholic Charismatic Renewal? I am unsure what to think about them to be honest. Obviously, some of the criticisms of charismatics that you make in this post are legitimate, but they wouldn’t apply for Catholic charismatics (such as charismatics denying the efficacy of water baptism, or denying the legitimacy of Confirmation, both of which Catholic charismatics do not deny). So would you say they are simply being superfluous by affirming the efficacy of both Sacraments AND baptism of the Holy Spirit?

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