Charismatic Movements in History

During the latter years of my sojourn through "charismania," we were taught that there had been three major "moves of the Spirit" in "these last days:" First was the birth of Pentecostalism in the Azusa Street "outpouring," second came the Charismatic movement (which crossed denominational lines and spread farther and faster than classic Pentecostalism), and then the "third wave," which in most respects was identical to it's predecessor and was simply made up to make those who claimed it appear to be On the Cutting Edge of What God is Doing in the Earth Today.

Isn't it wonderful how everything God does in the earth starts in America? Aren't we special! [/sarcasm]

In fact there have been many charismatic movements in almost every century, and the great church fathers dealt with them all. Those who think Azusa Street was the first simply have not read their church history. The 2nd century Montanists were among the first charismatics after the genuine gifts ceased. They believed in "new prophecy" which was the primary thing that caused the church to denounce them as heretics. Although a number of church fathers (e.g. Turtullian) were initially caught up in this movement, Augustine and Chrysostom soundly refuted them and the movement eventually died out. The medieval period saw a number of claims to the miraculous and prophetic, particularly by the Roman Catholic papacy. The great John Hus exposed these miracles as fraudulent and was burned at the stake by the Roman church. Martin Luther also faced the charismatics of his day in the "Zwickau prophets" and Thomas Muntzer, and faced the same threats of "opposing the Holy Spirit" that non-charismatics face today. But Luther was not persuaded by stories of great men who must be heeded because they have been so "mightily used and have performed such great miracles." In a debate with Erasmus, Luther challenged his opponent to prove for certain that those so-called miracle workers were possessed by the Holy Spirit and not by evil spirits. John Calvin also strongly maintained that apostles and prophets were extraordinary offices that passed away when scripture was completed. In expounding upon 1 Cor 14, both Calvin and Beza combated the view that the tongues-speaker did not understand what he spoke. And on verse 11 of 1 Cor 14, Beza writes, "they become barbarians to themselves, who use a language unknown to themselves." The reformers also dealt with some Anabaptists whose claims to visions, signs, miracles, prophecies, and tongues, were soundly refuted as fakes. Even a claim to a raising of the dead was exposed as fraudulent. These early charismatics included the so-called "Munsterites," with names like Melchior Hoffman, Ursula Joosten, and Jan Matthys among their leaders. Although Menno Simons was among the Anabaptists, he stood firmly with Chrysostom, Augustine, Basil, Theodoret, Luther, Calvin, and Beza, and renounced continuing prophecy and miraculous gifts.

Then there was those great Puritans, John Owen, John Bunyan, and John Flavel who dealt soundly with the charismatics of their day. John Owen writes of them,

And no otherwise hath it fallen out with some in our days, whom we have seen visibly acted by an extraordinary power. Unduly pretending unto supernatural agitations from God, they were really acted by the devil; a thing they neither desired nor looked after, but being surprised by it, were pleased with it for a while: as it was with sundry of the Quakers at their first appearance.

Various claims to the office of apostle and prophet, as certified by claims to the miraculous, were refuted by all the great Puritan preachers, often quoting 2 Pe 1:19 and saying, "The Scripture is sufficient. We need no more." When John Flavel himself had a vision of Christ after a day of fasting and prayer, he cried out, "Avoid Satan, I know no image of Christ but the Scriptures!"

Then there were the so-called "French prophets" rising up in the late 1600s and early 1700s, even making their way to New England. Among their leaders were John Lacy, Elias Marion, Francis Moult, and John Potter. They claimed to speak in tongues and prophesy. Specific predictions of fantastic future events always proved to be false, including a raising of the dead. But these "prophets" would make excuses such as, "the miracle had been postponed because of the danger of the large crowd molesting the risen prophet." John and Charles Wesley strongly refuted the charismatics of their day. Whitefield, often an opponent of Wesley on other matters, even joined with Wesley in refuting the charismatics. Jonathan Edwards wrote extensively on the false doctrine of charismatics in his volumes I and II of Works. Charles Spurgeon likewise preached against the false views of charismatics in his day. All of these maintained that 1 Cor 13:10 was properly interpreted as referring to completed scripture, not heaven. The earliest claims to tongues and prophecy in the 1800s were the Mormons. Early church history of the Mormon church looks almost identical to the Brownsville Assembly "revival" a few years ago. The Irvingites in Scotland, along with 15-year-old Margaret MacDonald in 1830, were the early charismatics in Great Britain. The Church of Scotland defrocked Edward Irving for preaching heresy and allowing tongues and prophecies to occur in his church.

Those of you who spent any time in the old ExCharisma yahoo group remember that name, Margaret McDonald well. It was her "vision" that eventually became the basis and model of Dispensationalism and the whole "left behind" scenario which has become the majority view of eschatology among Protestants - all starting with the "visions" of a 15-year-old charismatic girl.