The History of the Charismatics

(March 1999 – Volume 5, Issue 3) 

What began in a corner at the turn of the twentieth century is now barreling down main street, with flying colors, at the close of that same century. What was once known as the Pentecostal movement has now splintered into numerous diverse, yet overlapping movements: Pentecostal, Charismatics, Vineyard, Word of Faith, Holy Laughter.

The goal of our papers on this subject will be to inform, clarify, document and warn concerning some of the teachings and practices of those claiming to be charismatic (the term we will use, rightly or wrongly, as a generic handle for all the above-mentioned splinter groups). The salvation of the charismatics is not at issue here. We believe many to be born again. Indeed over half of all “evangelicals” plant their spiritual feet in some wing of this movement. On the other hand, we do not assume their salvation either. Our study will concentrate on their views and practices surrounding the doctrines of the Holy Spirit and Scripture. We will begin with a short history of the movement as a whole, in future papers we will examine the various branches as they exist today.

While the charismatic movement has taken on wings during the twentieth century, similar views and manifestations can be found on occasion throughout history.

In ancient times the practice of speaking in unintelligible languages during religious ecstasy was not unknown. From eleventh-century B.C. Egypt come reports of ecstatic speech, and later in the Greek world the prophetess of Delphi and the Sibylline priestess spoke in unknown tongues. Amongst the Roman mystery religions, the Dionysian Cult was known for this practice.

Several of the early church fathers mention glossolalia in the church. Irenaeus (d. c. 200) and Tertullian (d. 200) speak favorably of it, Chrysostom (d. 407) disapproved, and Augustine (d. 430) declared that the gift was only for New Testament times. The Montanist movement of the late second century included prophetesses, claims of new revelation, speaking in tongues, and an ascetical and legalistic outlook; the movement was declared heretical by the official church and speaking in tongues seems to have been rare in the church after this time.

During the middle ages speaking in tongues was reported in monasteries of the Orthodox church. In the seventeenth century it seems to have been practiced in France amongst the Huguenots (Protestants) and the Jansenists (pietistic Catholics). In the nineteenth century glossolalia was practiced in America amongst the Shakers and Mormons, and in Scotland and London amongst the followers of Edward Irving, who saw this as the latter-rain outpouring of the Holy Spirit prior to the pre- millennial return of the Lord (quote taken form Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology and Walter Elwell’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, s.v. “Montanists,” “Pentecostalism,” and “Tongues, Speaking in.”

The rest of this paper is an adaptation of an article entitled “The New Charismatics,” by Michael G. Moriarty, Biblical Perspectives, Vol. IV, No. 3, May-June 1991.

What comes to your mind when you hear the word “charismatic?” Do you think of a group of people hungry for the Lord, walking in the power of the Spirit, spiritual in worship, aggressive in evangelism and abounding in love, or, do you see individuals who are experience oriented, imperialistic in outlook (only they have the full gospel), elitist in stance, uncontrolled in worship, and devoid of any real grasp of the Bible that goes beyond mere proof-texting. Maybe you are in the neutral camp, having become so confused over the issue, hearing good and bad, that you have chosen not to take sides. Besides, charismatics have grown rapidly and have become more diversified; therefore, it would be misleading to place all under an identical banner.

Nevertheless, the majority of believers who are viewed as “charismatic,” i.e., Oral Roberts, Larry Lea, Earl Paulk, Dick Iverson, Ken Copeland, Bob Tilton, etc. . ., are proclaiming today that the “charismatic movement” is over and God’s “new move” is underway. Bill Hammon, a revered “modern prophet” in the charismatic community, says: “The ‘Joshua Generation’ is leading forth, and the priestly pastors are carrying the ark of God’s restorational presence across Jordan. The journey of the charismatic movement has fulfilled its purpose of bringing the church to its Jordan River. Now the cloud by day and the fire by night have been taken away, and the prophets and prophetic ministers have arisen to provide protection, direction and timing for the church’s moving. . . . The prophets, however, are seeing on the horizon of God’s purpose for His church, a restorational wave of such incomprehensibly gigantic proportions — like a thousand-foot tidal wave — that it staggers the imagination and faith of both those who have prophetically seen it and those who have heard of it. It will be greater than all previous restoration movements combined.”This new restorational movement advocated by most current charismatics has generated a groundswell of charismatic leaders to open themselves up to new spiritual revelations and deeper doctrinal truths. The theological menu served in most charismatic churches today is filled with novel ideas, new doctrinal teachings, and unusual practices.

While there are some basic differences existing between new movements arising among charismatics, their overall theological outlook (e.g., the restoration of modern apostles and prophets) and eschatological direction is the same. The New Charismatics are proclaiming that a new supernatural move of God’s Spirit is sweeping the entire globe. This new move will be so revolutionary that the entire course of human history will soon be changed. But in order for this glorious dream to work, the majority of the Christian churches must unite in philosophy and purpose. Therefore, one of the goals of the New Charismatics is to make charismatics and noncharismatics (and nonChristians as well), “New Charismatics.” In other words, charismatics subscribing to new restoration ideas deeply desire that all believers will taste this “new move” of the Holy Spirit and unite with them in their efforts to supernaturally transform the world.

Most refer to this thriving new development expanding throughout the world as “restorationism” or “Latter-Rain restorationism.” They believe that history is moving toward a spiritual climax where God’s power will be poured out on the church like never before. Restoration promoters believe that this new move could be the Lord’s final move where the church will be endued with new power to Christianize the world before Jesus returns. In order for this dominion pursuit to be realized, the five-fold ministry expounded in Eph. 4:11 (apostle, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers) needs to be recognized by the Church at large and given room to exercise their supernatural gifts and God-ordained authority.

Some contemporary restoration movements that fall under the umbrella term “The New Charismatics” are: Kingdom Theology, popularized by the nebulous Bishop/prophet, Earl Paulk; the Word of Faith/Positive Confession Movement led by faith teachers like Ken Hagin and Copeland; and the Third Wave or Signs and Wonders movement, popularized by controversial Vineyard pastor, John Wimber. These groups have a common bond that promotes God’s moving in a new supernatural way through signs and wonders, that the church must be restored to first century apostolic Christianity before Jesus returns, and that modern apostles and prophets will play a key role in this process. To understand new developments and teachings spreading through the charismatic world we need to go back in history to briefly examine some of the influential “higher life” movements of the twentieth century, beginning with Pentecostalism. Tracing the origins of these movements will give us a better insight into how certain teachings originated and developed over the years and why certain charismatics doctrines are emphasized so strongly today.


The Azuza Street revival of 1906-13 was the launching pad that launched a world-wide Pentecostal renewal. The main feature of this Pentecostal outpouring was the “baptism with the Holy Spirit,” an experience subsequent to salvation, which is evidenced by speaking in other tongues. This was the crown jewel restored by what many called the “second Pentecost.” There were, however, spiritual flashes that preceded Azuza which prepared the way for its inauguration. On January 1, 1901, in Topeka, Kansas, Agnes Ozman, a student at Charles Parham’s Bethel Bible School, spoke in tongues. Sometime later Parham himself had the same experience and from then on preached that all believers who sought the tongues experience diligently, would be recipients of the blessing. Most recognize Parham as the founder of the Pentecostal movement.

Parham, an avid holiness preacher, was nurtured in the culture of religious experience. In his search for something more, tongues became the celebrated encounter filling that void. In 1905 a zealous black holiness preacher by the name of William J. Seymour came under the tutelage of Parham in Alvin, Texas, a few miles south of Houston. It wasn’t long before Seymour received the tongues experience and took the Pentecostal message to Azuza Street in Los Angeles. While there were spiritual ignitings before the flame reached Azuza, it was there that the flame turned white hot and began to spread all over the world. After Parham and Seymour received tongues experiences, they began an ambitious effort to spread what they believed to be the restoration of a glorious apostolic doctrine: the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. Parham taught that Christ’s return would occur on the heels of a world-wide Latter-Rain revival in which the Holy Spirit would restore miraculous gifts generating a great end time harvest. This Latter-Rain expectation died out in the early 20’s as Pentecostalism adopted certain tenets of dispensationalism.

Nevertheless, Pentecostalism stands as a classic restoration movement spawning several new sister movements that view the church as returning to her New Testament glory. The classic restoration motif of Pentecostalism that allegedly brought a greater hunger for spiritual reality was the “baptism with the Holy Spirit” evidenced by speaking in tongues.


One of the notably significant, yet controversial, phenomena to powerfully emerge with Pentecostalism is the doctrine and ministry of divine healing. Since the latter half of the nineteenth century the practice of healing existed in America. But energizing Pentecostalism nourished independent evangelists who brought a “new” emphasis to the healing arena that attracted a popular following. The significance of the deliverance (healing) revival, reaching its zenith between 1947 to 1958, lies in its uniqueness to popularize a concept of salvation that includes health and healing as an essential part of deliverance for the believer.

Pentecostal religion continued to span the globe through the 30’s, but by the mid 40’s, as the careers of many independent evangelists peaked, here was a “new” emphasis; the miraculous! “Spirit Baptism” was still preached, but it was no longer the focus of the revival meeting. The shared heartbeat of “every service was the miracle – the hypnotic moment when the Spirit moved to heal the sick and raise the dead.”

Pentecostal denominations, such as the Assemblies of God, did not favor the revival and viewed the deliverance evangelists as “independent extremists.” Pentecostal leaders were disgusted by the lack of integrity among the revivalists who often made claims marked by absurd exaggeration. The display of alleged miracles had become so outlandish that revival meetings had turned into “personality cults.” Historian David Harrell quotes one Pentecostal leader who reported: “The healing evangelists live in constant dialogue with angels and demons, the Holy Spirit and the spirits of diseases from the abyss; some experience electric currents through their hands when they pray with the sick, others have a halo around their heads when they are photographed, and others again have oil appearing on their hands when they pray.” Many of today’s “televangelists” have adopted the melodramatic preaching styles of the deliverance revivalists of the mid-twentieth-century.


Three pioneers at the forefront of the Deliverance Revival were William Branham, Oral Roberts, and Gordon Lindsey. These men bore remarkably different personalities, but were unquestionably the fuel that kept the revival running. Branham ignited the revival stirring crowds with apparent miracles and prophetic abilities. Roberts was the popularizer with his heart tugging message that God is good and wills that His people prosper and be healed. He was the first to bring healing crusades inside the homes of millions who had never been exposed to the healing message by initiating a national weekly television program. Lindsey was the organizer, bringing cohesion with superb administrative skills.

Branham’s teachings profoundly influenced a new sect springing from the neopentecostal deliverance revival known as the “New Order of the Latter-Rain.” Branham also shaped the thoughts and practices of many key Pentecostal figures.

The Latter-Rain movement was a loosely directed, and enthusiastic union of cobelligerents united by their fierce opposition to mainline denominations. This meteoric movement created quite a stir among Pentecostal denominations, like the Assemblies of God, and boasted of being a fresh revival displacing the “apostasized” Pentecostals. While its impact was on a small scale, its effects were nevertheless felt world-wide, and it became one of the several catalysts for the Charismatic Movement of the ’60’s, the Independent Charismatic Movement (Word of Faith/ Positive Confession charismatics) of the ’70’s and the New Charismatics surfacing in the ’80’s and ’90’s. In reaction to the spiritual dryness existing in Pentecostal circles, the “New Order of the Latter-Rain” viewed itself as a refreshing oasis returning to the “full gospel” of the first-century church.

The doctrinal system of the Latter-Rain included Pentecostalism’s baptism of the Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues and the New Pentecostal deliverance revivals miraculous healing thrust. But the fiery movement had its own distinctives as well. Let’s briefly look at seven of the new teachings that shaped the Latter-Rain.

Restorationism — This further development of restoration theology viewed God as progressively restoring truths to the church since the Reformation.

Fivefold Ministry – The teaching that God is restoring apostles and prophets to the church to function with the three other gifted offices: evangelists, pastors, and teachers (Eph. 4:11). Apostles and prophets provided direction with new revelations that would play a major role in paving the way for Christ’s second coming.


Laying on of the Hands – A ritual performed by modern apostles and prophets to impart the Holy Spirit and other spiritual blessings and gifts.

Prophecy – Views the practice of “personal prophecy”, as being restored to the church. Prophecy would no longer be restricted to general words of exhortation, but would include personal detailed revelations for guidance and instruction.

Recovery of True Worship – The belief that God’s manifested presence is dependent upon a certain order of worship involving singing in tongues, clapping, shouting, singing prophecies, and a new order of praise dancing.

Immortalization of the Saints – The belief that those believers moving in the truth of Latter-Rain restoration, not necessarily all in the church, will attain an immortal state before Jesus returns.

Unity of the Faith – The doctrine that the church, usually perceived to be a band of overcomers in neopentecostal ranks, will attain unity in the faith before Christ returns.


Most historians date the beginning of the charismatic movement on April 3, 1960. On this day, Father Dennis Bennett of St. Mark’s Episcopal parish in Van Nuys, California, announced to his congregation that he had received the fullness and power of the Holy Spirit, and how this accompanied “speaking in unknown tongues.” After receiving much opposition, Bennett resigned from his position at St. Mark’s and accepted an invitation to become vicar of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Seattle, Washington, which grew to be one of the strongest charismatic churches in the Northwest. For a decade it was one of the major centers from which speaking in tongues would spread world-wide, especially in the mainline denominations.

The significance of the Charismatic Movement resides in the penetration of the Pentecostal tongues practice into mainline denominations. This created a new openness to the full range of spiritual gifts listed in I Corinthians 12:8-10 (wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, tongues, and interpretation of tongues) that had never been there before. Certainly not all mainline churches supported this new movement, but thousands of people inside mainline churches were experiencing “speaking in tongues” and other spiritual manifestations. This bred a strong conviction that all of the supernatural “sign gifts” (e.g. tongues, healing, miracles and, in some cases prophecy) were for today.

Although charismatic outpourings continued to spread through mainline churches, many denominational leaders left traditional churches to start independent churches. Before long, these mushrooming churches came under the influence of Word of Faith/Positive Confession teaching propagated by independent charismatics, such as Hagin, Copeland, Charles Capps, and others. Their main emphasis was faith teaching, divine healing, and financial prosperity. Believers who consistently made a positive confession about their physical and spiritual situation and demonstrated great faith would receive abundant blessings from God.

The most militant movement to rise up alongside of the charismatic movement was the “Manifested Sons of God.” This aberration gleaned many of its doctrinal distinctives from the Latter-Rain Movement and thrived during the 60’s and 70’s. Following the teachings of William Branham, the Manifested Sons claimed that denominations were pagan organizations with a Babylonian foundation. Many who broke their denominational ties and joined the Manifest Sons of God believed they were entering the only arena where salvation was possible. The more militant Manifested Sons spiritualized the second coming by teaching that Jesus and His church would become one in nature and in essence. Being one with Christ would corporately result in a Body of “little Christ’s in the flesh” manifesting Jesus Christ on earth as His ongoing incarnation.

Another movement to rise up during the Charismatic Movement became known as the “Shepherding” or “discipleship” movement. This movement grew out of the Latter-Rain/ Charismatic tradition and attained its greatest impetus during the mid 70’s. Shepherding arose out of a concern for effective discipleship and put great emphasis on the need for submission to spiritual leaders. The movement originated from the ministry of five teachers out of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida – Bob Mumford, Charles Simpson, Dered Prince, Don Basham, and Ern Baxter (a Branham disciple).

By the late 70’s the Shepherding movement caused a deep split within charismatic circles because of the strict control many shepherds exercised over their members. By the mid 80’s the term “shepherding” was dropped since the movement gained a bad reputation for its cultic authoritarian abuses. Nevertheless, the “shepherding” concept still thrives in various circles today under labels, such as “covering,” or “covenant relationships.”

The growth of the Charismatic Movement and other fringe movements springing up in the ’60’s and ’70’s that placed more emphasis on subjective experience than on biblical truth opened up a “Pandora’s box” in the Christian world. The Charismatic movement has been harmful to the Church by opening many doors to the ever-present influence of experiential and unbiblical ideas. This will become evident upon examining some of the dangerous new trends sweeping through the charismatic community today.


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