Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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The Precursors of Modern Charismatic Christianity

Rev. Angus Stewart



Having looked last time at the “three waves” of modern charismatic Christianity in the twentieth century to the present, namely Pentecostalism, Charismaticism and Neo-Charismaticism, we need now to ask such questions as, Did other groups before them hold similar views? What were the tendencies and developments of their movements? What was the theological stature of those who opposed them?


John Wesley

A key figure in Charismatic Christianity or renewalism prior to the outbreak of Pentecostalism, and one in whom many of its chief tenets are found, at least in seed form, is none other than that old rogue, John Wesley (1703-1791).

In Wesley, just as in modern Charismatic Christianity, we have full-blown Arminian free-willism. Over 99% of renewalism openly advocates salvation by man's free will, as though the Bible did not say that it is not of him who wills nor of him who runs, but it is exclusively of God who shows mercy (Rom. 9:16). Whereas Wesley detested and denied election and reprobation (contra, e.g., Matt. 11:25-27; Rom. 9:10-24), using the heretical Arminian view of “foreknowledge,” a common view of predestination in renewal circles goes something like this: God has a wonderful destiny for every individual human being, but it is up to you, with your choices and your decisions and your actions, whether or not you will fulfil it or how much of it will be fulfilled in you.

The absolute sovereignty of the true God of heaven and earth is rejected (Ps. 135:4-12) by Pentecostals, Charismatics and Neo-Charismatics.1 It is very strange that people who are supposedly filled with the Spirit contradict the inspired teaching of the Holy Spirit in the Bible! Renewalists often use the metaphor of the fresh breezes of the Spirit, yet they deny the sovereignty of the regenerating Spirit who blows where He wills (John 3:8). Instead, they are blown about with all the ill winds of Arminianism (Eph. 4:14).

Charismatic phenomena occurred at Wesley’s revival meetings amongst his followers: dreams, visions, revelations, healings, outcries, people falling down, etc. Wesley also taught a post-conversion second work of grace. For him, this second divine work was entire sanctification. Thus he prepared the way for the baptism with the Holy Spirit as a second work of grace. There are other parallels between Wesley's views and those of modern Charismatic Christianity: lay preaching, women preaching, women ministers, false ecumenism, the promotion of propaganda through the writing and singing of uninspired hymns, etc.

Here is a simplified genealogy of Charismatic Christianity for the last three hundred years, including a summary of what we have seen so far: Wesley to the Methodist and Holiness churches to revivalism and second-blessing teaching. These movements birthed, and then were largely caught up in, Pentecostalism which led to Charismaticism (when Pentecostal ideas entered the main-line denominations). This, in turn, spawned Neo-Charismaticism, which believes in the Charismatic gifts but which dropped the idea of the baptism with the Holy Spirit and is less confrontational.


Other Precursors

If we go further back into church history, there are other precursors of twentieth- and twenty-first-century renewalism. Here are some of the better known ones. First, in the early, post-apostolic age, there was Montanism, with its ecstatic utterances, female leaders, new revelation, dreams of an imminent millennium and falsified predictions. Montanism was widely condemned and castigated by the church fathers as a work of the devil.2 Yet John Wesley called the Montanists “real scriptural Christians”!3

Second, the charismatic spirit also worked through the “French prophets,” especially in the two decades before and after 1700. These “prophets” were poorly taught French Protestants who arose especially after the church's trained leaders and others were massacred under the French Roman Catholic, King Louis XIV. Some of them and their views spread outside France to England, for example, where they also caused trouble and grief.

A third party who served as a precursor to Pentecostalism was Edward Irving (1792-1834), an apostate Scottish Presbyterian who laboured in London. He taught that Christ was possessed of “sinful flesh” which was only kept from sin by the Lord's great struggle through the Holy Spirit. Irving believed in on-going prophecy and the gifts of tongues and miracles, although he died relatively young in the certainty that he would be healed of his last illness. Though dismissed from his church and deposed from the ministry, his old London congregation became the Catholic Apostolic Church complete with twelve new apostles and people today in the “fourfold ministry” (Eph. 4:11), which spread renewalist ideas to many countries around the world.

Charismania is also seen in various people and movements in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, especially in the more mystical traditions of both and particularly among the monks. The “Pentecostal and Charismatic Timeline” in The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements has two entries for those movements in the sixteenth century.4 One of them is the Anabaptist Thomas Müntzer, a rebel leader in the German Peasants' War (1524-1525). Müntzer claimed to receive direct revelation from God in visions and dreams, and taught an imminent millennium. The other is the Roman Catholic Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits and a leading figure in the Counter-Reformation, which sought to wipe out the church of Jesus Christ in Europe. Loyola boasted of frequent visions and the gift of tears. Maybe the Pentecostals will go in for the gift of tears in the years to come? Some even reckon that Loyola sang in tongues!

Pentecostals, Charismatics and Neo-Charismatics are welcome to such precursors as the Anabaptist rebel, Thomas Müntzer, and the Roman Catholic Jesuit, Ignatius Loyola. But modern renewalists could not, and did not even attempt, thankfully, to lay claim to anything in the sixteenth-century Reformation. In short, Pentecostalism, Charismaticism and Neo-Charismaticism are firmly in the line of the development of the false church and not the true church (Belgic Confession 29), whereas we, by God's grace, stand with Martin Luther against the Anabaptist Zwickau prophets and John Calvin against Roman Catholic miracles.5

1 Though there are some who claim to be Charismatic Calvinists, such as Mark Driscoll and John Piper, they believe that God loves and wants to save everybody, and that there is a sense in which Christ died for all men head for head, contrary to the Canons of Dordt (1618-1619).
2 Angus Stewart, “Was the Church Right to Condemn Montanism?
3 Stanley M. Burgess (ed.) and Eduard M. van der Maas (assoc. ed.), The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, rev. 2002), p. 1230.
4 Burgess (ed.), The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, p. 1229.
5 See Calvin's “Prefatory Address to King Francis I of France” at the start of his Institutes of the Christian Religion.