Making Sense of Christianity’s Branches: Meet a Charismatic
I grew up in a church that talked about father God and Jesus but the Holy Spirit was only mentioned when we sang the “Doxology.” After college, I attended a Bible school that taught that gifts of the Holy Spirit like healing, visions, deliverance, prophecy, and tongues ceased after the book of Acts. I didn’t question this because I had never seen or experienced any of those gifts.
After joining InterVarsity staff in 1978, I went to Mexico City in 1985, and God radically expanded my experience with the Holy Spirit. While there, I had my first vision. In a prayer time, I told my friend I saw a picture of a short child and a small table, and she started weeping. As we prayed further, God poured out emotional healing for her in a powerful way. In a worship gathering, a man that I didn’t know spoke my first prophecy over me. He told me that I would have a ministry among sexually abused women. This seemed wild to me at the time because I was not familiar with sexual abuse at all, but since then, God has used me to bring healing for sexually abused women and men. When I returned home to San Francisco after that trip, I received the gift of tongues while praying with a Pentecostal student.
Before that summer, I knew that God was with me and I experienced him at work in many ways. I prayed, led Bible studies, preached, planned events, developed relationships, gave good advice, and discipled others in the faith. I knew that God’s love transformed my life as I received his forgiveness, his freedom, and a renewed purpose. I saw God bring new Christians into the kingdom and received wisdom that I knew was from him. Prayers in my life were answered and I saw countless lives transformed by God.
But that summer, I experienced the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in a new way like the Gospels and Acts describe.
Acts 1:8 says, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit was poured out in an awesome way, and 3,000 people became Christians after Peter preached the gospel.
Mark 16:17-18 says, “These miraculous signs will accompany those who believe: They will cast out demons in my name, and they will speak in new languages. . . . They will be able to place their hands on the sick, and they will be healed.”
Throughout the book of Acts, Jesus’ disciples obeyed him and did the kinds of miracles Mark described. After that summer, I wanted to see Jesus work in a more powerful way.
How Is Charismatic Christianity Described?
A cluster of events, including the Azusa Street Revival, around the turn of the 20th century birthed the Pentecostal movement, which also started new denominations. The Charismatic movement began in the 1970s with more denominations and movements within existing churches.
The gift of tongues is important in the Charismatic movement but not essential for the Holy Spirit’s ministry, and all of the gifts seen in the Gospels and Acts are both expected and recognized. The word “charismata” is from the Greek word charis, which means “grace.” Charismatic Christians or “Spirit-filled” Christians place emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit, spiritual gifts, and modern-day miracles. There is also emphasis on the infilling or baptism of the Holy Spirit with or without the laying on of hands.
Experiencing More of the Holy Spirit’s Power
When I moved to Hawaii in 1992 to help replant InterVarsity’s ministry here, I continued to have great passion to see God’s Spirit and power poured out. I wanted InterVarsity Hawaii to be a ministry that was strong both in God’s Word and God’s power.
I also knew that I wanted to choose a church that was strong in the Holy Spirit’s power and presence. Over the last 26 years in Hawaii, I have attended three Charismatic churches: an established denominational church, a non-traditional Native Hawaiian church, and currently an independent non-denominational church.
At my church, Bluewater Mission, our Sunday services begin with worship led by a band. Before that, there are intercessors who gather to pray for the service. After announcements and the dismissal of the children, my pastor, Jordan Seng (who is also the author of the IVP book Miracle Work: A Down-to-Earth Guide to Supernatural Ministries), preaches a sermon and then the prophetic team is invited to share words for specific people in the church, usually someone they don’t know. A team member might say something like, “I have a word for the lady in the third row wearing a white dress.” He or she then shares something specific that they received from the Lord to encourage that person and offers to pray more specifically for them after the service. As the service proceeds, we also have prophetic artists painting in front of the church as the Holy Spirit leads and directs them. They share God’s message through their pictures and then their artwork is given to someone who resonates with that message. At the end of the service, anyone who wants to can receive prayer for healing or any other kind of need with the prayer team that is gathered at the side of the church.
Strengths and Gifts for the Rest of the Church
In 1 Corinthians 12–14, Ephesians 4, and Romans 12, we learn that the Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts for the body of Christ to be built up. We are blessed and Jesus is seen when we welcome all of God’s good spiritual gifts.
As Charismatic Christianity affirms all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we believe God’s people can hear from him in multiple ways. He can speak through dreams, visions, prophetic words, or listening prayer. We see many examples of this in Scripture. I’ve benefited from not only speaking to God in prayer but also listening to him. Hearing from God through dreams is a powerful way for him to speak even as we are sleeping. I’ve seen God encourage and direct countless people through dreams. Our leader of justice ministry had dreams almost every night about human trafficking that confirmed God’s call for her to be involved in this ministry. As people hear from God and share prophetic words, others are built up and inspired in their faith journey. In a prayer time, someone may get a Scripture, picture, or encouraging word for another person; they speak and pray it out and the person being prayed for receives it if it resonates with them. Often when I am investing spiritually in other Christians, we have listening prayer to see how God wants to speak into their lives and situation. We are very encouraged because it surpasses what we would normally think and God gives that person exactly what they need.
Because there is so much brokenness in our lives and the world, we need God’s supernatural power for physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. It has been my great privilege and joy to see countless people experience physical or emotional healing from sicknesses, hurts, and trauma. When people receive any type of healing from God, our faith grows and God is glorified. Ministry is more than what we know we can do, but we are free to expect God to move through the power of his Spirit. When people receive healing, they experience greater freedom to step out in faith. A young woman I know, formerly a foster child, needed healing from abuse, her parent’s abandonment, anxiety, and depression. She was not healed instantaneously but over time she is experiencing much more freedom, wholeness, and joy. Deliverance from demons can also bring greater freedom and remove obstacles to faith.
The Holy Spirit’s gifts empower us for evangelism and ministry as well. We see this throughout the book of Acts, and I have experienced it in my own life and ministry. When a staff partner and I were seeking to start a new ministry on a campus, we needed one more student to meet the school’s minimum requirement for campus groups. The staff minister planting the ministry and I prayed and asked God who it might be. In my mind I saw a picture of a male in a red shirt. When we finished praying, we saw a male in a red shirt, so my staff partner went over and met him. He was a Christian looking for fellowship on the campus and was the last student we needed to be an official club. Asking the Holy Spirit to reveal to us those who are open to Jesus and what we can say makes us more effective in evangelism and ministry. Also, the person can hear directly from God if we leave room for this. A young man I know who was a seeker heard God tell him to get baptized. The next week he got baptized in the church that he was visiting and fully gave his life to Jesus. Since then he has shared boldly about the ways that God has been changing his life.
I am thankful for the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit to help develop greater intimacy with God, gain encouragement and direction in life, and grow in greater effectiveness in both building up the body of Christ and sharing Jesus with unbelievers.
Weaknesses of the Charismatic Movement
God is generous with his power to all Christians who desire to experience more. One weakness of the Charismatic movement, however, is that a young Christian may confuse moving in God’s power with Christian maturity. We see this in Acts 8:18, where Simon was just seeking God’s power with wrong motivations. Growth in Christ involves knowing him, obeying him, seeking to live a godly lifestyle, and moving in God’s power.
Another weakness is that some people may focus too much on supernatural power without valuing the Word of God and sound teaching. The power and experience of the Holy Spirit needs to also be grounded in God’s Word.
Why I Love Being a Charismatic Christian
In 2014, God gave me four specific dreams that led me out of my Hawaiian church to my present church. We have seen God deliver over 100 women and girls out of human trafficking in Hawaii. Community houses take in victims of human trafficking and drug abuse. We expect God’s Spirit to show up and pray weekly for physical and emotional healings. We share prophecies, including prophetic art. People have been healed of cancer and other diseases. A young girl’s leg grew longer (and it was confirmed by doctors). Countless inner healings have set people free. Annually we have Holy Spirit Retreats for people to learn and experience more of the Holy Spirit. Each retreat is unique because God works in creative, personal, and powerful ways.
In the Charismatic stream, I see more of God’s power and presence at work in my life and in others as people are healed and transformed both inside and outside the church. My relationship with God is richer because of my relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
“All glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).
Thanks for joining us at the blog for our series on some of the different streams and traditions that make up the broad body of Christ. If you missed the series intro, you can read it here. InterVarsity is an interdenominational ministry that welcomes students and faculty from all denominations and backgrounds. If you’re curious about what we believe theologically, you can check out our Statement of Faith, which our staff and student leaders sign each year. And feel free to comment below telling us what you love about your church/denomination!
Image by twentyonehundred productions team member Jono Gay.
Aren’t you a little curious what similarities and passions you might share with your neighbors in the faith? Crack open the door of your tradition and peek behind some of the others by reading first-person reflections from a selection of denominations and traditions.