Statistics prove that millions of Christians worldwide are leaving mainline denominations and adopting more charismatic/Pentecostal elements. How can a pastor help to guide these believers into a faith that’s both Spirit-filled and biblically grounded?
Most churches don’t take attendance and ask people where they come from when they first walk through their doors. If they did, they might be shocked and surprised to find that the rank-and-file charismatic church in America is no longer filled only with those who grew up in these kinds of churches. More and more our sanctuaries are being populated with Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, and the most recent newcomers—Catholics.
They are coming in large numbers in search of a God who’s real and a place where He’ll show up in a way they have never experienced before. They’ve found something genuine in our churches, something beyond just another great Bible-based sermon, and are sensing His presence as never before—and they can’t get enough.
But problems sometimes arise when these precious newcomers want to move from the pew to the service ranks, or from attendee to member or leader. Many of them get tripped up, cast off or disillusioned as they encounter the doctrine behind the movement—a doctrine that flies in the face of everything they’ve ever been taught or thought to be true about who God is and what He has to say about all the charismatic “stuff.”
It is critical that churches and church leaders be spiritually sensitive regarding these transplants because for some, there is more at stake than the loss of a great religious experience. Some have been baptized as babies or confirmed as children and believe their place in eternity is secure, yet they’ve never had a true salvation experience or asked the King of kings to come in and be their Savior and Lord.
So how do we help them? As I have studied this situation during the last several years I have found that there are two key issues that surface again and again. The first is salvation, and the second is anything related to the Spirit-filled life: baptism in the Holy Spirit, tongues, healing and even the lifting of hands in worship.
The first issue, salvation, is the most important and pressing. It is possible for a person to love God, worship Him and in some sense look like a Christian, while never acknowledging God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Such a person is just as lost as the one who has never darkened the door of a church. You must interact with newcomers to find out where they are on their spiritual journeys: Ask the hard questions, explain and teach.
Listen to see if they use the name of Jesus or if they want to talk only about their love of God. Never forget that there is just one name given under heaven by which a man or woman can be saved, and that is “Jesus.”
There are two catch-points built into most churches: your membership process and your volunteer orientation or assimilation process. I realize that not all churches encourage membership, but hopefully all of us are doing some kind of screening and training of our volunteers and lay leaders.
These processes provide great opportunities to ask the harder questions about salvation and determine whether the most important decision they will ever need to make has been made. If it has not, then you will be able to ensure that they make it right then and there.
At our church we have a training session prior to our baptism services to be certain that the people understand what is about to happen and that they have actually experienced salvation. We have led so many people to Christ in the class that was to prepare them for baptism! And these were folks who had previously responded to altar calls.
Regarding altar calls, remember this: The power of the Holy Spirit can be strong over the life of a person, but so can emotion and anointed worship. They come to our altars desperately needing change. We must give them Jesus.
The Spirit-Filled Life
Now for the second issue: anything related to the Spirit-filled life. This issue often trips up the folks who come from churches or denominations where they have been taught the Word of God, or at least parts of it, and who love what they experience at your church but lose their way a bit when it comes to your doctrine.
Here are the topics with which some will struggle: a second baptism, tongues, healing and being slain in the Spirit. But if you take a minute and break down each one of these topics from the Scriptures, you can dispel many fears, questions and concerns people have about them.
And here is what I have found to be true more often than not: Those who we believe are so staunchly against these cornerstones of the charismatic or Pentecostal movement are not as opposed to them as you might think. They just need to see evidence for them in the Scriptures. When you show seeking believers many of the passages I am about to give you, they will often be seeing these for the first time in their Christian experience, and they will be blown away—or better yet, set free.
A second baptism. Most refer to this as the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Others call it a second filling or second experience subsequent and in addition to salvation. The basic premise is that while the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us at salvation (we are the temple of the Holy Spirit), there is a second filling and anointing when the Holy Spirit comes upon us and fills us with power from on high.
Take the disciples, for example: They had walked with Christ and had all the knowledge and belief they would ever need for salvation. Yet Jesus told them to go and wait for the baptism of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 1). On the day of Pentecost, they received this promised gift (see Acts 2), and afterward they went out and did many incredible things, as recorded in the remainder of the book of Acts.
Many other Scriptures make it clear that the Holy Spirit was given apart from salvation, and sometimes several days after salvation (see Acts 2:4; 8:14-25; 10:44; 15:8; 19:1-7). The most convincing passage for me is Acts 9, which details the conversion of Paul. Most Christians will agree that Paul’s conversion took place on the road to Damascus, yet Scripture makes it abundantly clear that Paul received the Holy Spirit days later at the laying on of hands by Ananias.
Tongues. There is perhaps no topic more controversial in the body of Christ than the subject of speaking in tongues. Why? There is probably no simple answer to that question, but the good news is that you do not need to provide a long-winded expository defense of tongues in the church. Simply take people to the description of what happened in the upper room in Acts 2, then show them Acts 10:44 and 19:1-7. Additionally, you can show them 1 Corinthians 14:2—or the clearest mandate I know for the gift of tongues: 1 Corinthians 12-13. You can end by showing them the verse that says, “Do not forbid to speak with tongues” (1 Cor. 14:39).
Healing. Most churchgoers believe that God has the ability to heal someone—after all, He is God. And most can testify of a time when someone they know was healed. They just have a hard time when they think a man or a woman is taking credit for being the healer. This issue is simple to resolve: Never take the credit, and never exalt a man or a woman. Talk about the gift and even the process, but always give the credit to God and you’ll see this objection fade away.
Slain in the Spirit. This manifestation definitely raises the skeptical eyebrow of the newcomer—not so much because people fall over backward, but because they can easily come to one conclusion: The person falling over is faking it. I have actually had a person from a non-charismatic denomination tell me that people are either faking it or a spirit other than God is causing it. Often their judgment is the result of having had hands laid on them and seeing nothing happen.
This is also an easy issue to resolve, but not without instruction, explanation and mentoring. Show the skeptic all the places in the Bible that are accounts of a person encountering an angel or the angel of the Lord, and they’ll see the result is nearly always the same, whether in the Old Testament or the New Testament: The biblical character falls straight to the ground. So why would the result not be the same today when a person encounters the living God in the form of the Holy Spirit?
The Point of No Return
All the arguments mentioned above can be proved in one passage of Scripture. But first the setup: You will not find an evangelical from any denomination who does not believe and teach the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20:
“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’”
But I have found many non-charismatic Christians who are shocked to find that there is a second version—a different telling by a different eyewitness to the same command—found in Mark 16:15:
“And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover’” (emphasis added).
The bottom line is that we have to teach, being ever conscious that there are those in our midst who are seeing and experiencing things they have never seen or experienced themselves and have been led to believe are fake—nothing more than emotionalism. And we also have to remember that many of these precious folks have crossed over a line of no return. They have been disowned by family and friends just for associating with charismatics and Pentecostals, let alone for attending your church.
Just ask any former Catholic or Baptist believer. A president of a well-known mission agency once disclosed in a magazine interview that while he was on the mission field, he prayed in another tongue. A week later, the organization asked for his resignation.
Unless we simply do not care about bringing newcomers into our midst, and unless we have become so selfish that we actually enjoy considering ourselves better than the rest—more enlightened, or as possessing something that only a chosen few can have—then we must always teach, explain, mentor and show the scriptural reasons and mandates for who we are, what we are and why we do what we do. To do less borders on either naiveté or spiritual arrogance.
They will know we are Christians by our love, and they will know we are charismatics by our exercising of the gifts—but they will judge our character by our fruit. And remember: Gifts without the fruit and without the love—well, you know the rest of that passage.
We’ve had enough gongs and clanging symbols for one generation. Let’s be salt and light and tour guides into the world of the supernatural, knowing all the while that the supernatural God we serve loves all His children and desires for all of them to receive His gifts.
Rich Rogers is the campus pastor of Free Chapel Worship Center in Irvine, Calif.