Understanding and Applying Biblical Separation

 International Testimony to an Infallible Bible

The Dividing Line
Understanding and Applying Biblical Separation
Chapter 10
Fundamentalism and Pentecostalism

Some writers, such as Robert Mapes Anderson and Virginia Brereton, profess to see early Pentecostalism as another form of Fundamentalism.9 They stress characteristics such as Pentecostalism’s emphasis on biblical literalism, opposition to Modernism, belief in premillennialism, and willingness to practice both personal and ecclesiastical separation.

Early Fundamentalists generally opposed the movement, however. Bible commentator G. Campbell Morgan is reputed to have called Pentecostalism "the last vomit of Satan." W. B. Riley likewise opposed Pentecostal teaching and refused to allow Pentecostals to hold membership in the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association.10 Perhaps part of the Fundamentalist resistance was the lower social status of Pentecostalism and its extremist reputation. Fundamentalists did not want to be identified with these "holy rollers." But the heart of the disagreement was—and remains—Fundamentalist rejection of Pentecostal distinctives.11

Fundamentalists protest first against the most prominent Pentecostal teaching, that speaking in tongues is a sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Fundamentalists are usually "cessationists," Christians who believe that some spiritual gifts, such as speaking in tongues and special acts of healing, ceased at the close of the New Testament era.12 They therefore reject one of the most basic Pentecostal teachings, saying that all believers are baptized by the Spirit (without speaking in tongues) when they are converted.

Even allowing that speaking in tongues is possible, Fundamentalists say that the Pentecostal practice of tongues is not scriptural. For example, in I Corinthians 14:26-32, Paul sets down rules for speaking in tongues in church. There should be no more than two or three people speaking in tongues in a service, and no one should do so if an interpreter is not present. Those who speak should do so in order and not simultaneously. Fundamentalists maintain that these instructions are usually not followed in Pentecostal circles.

A major concern to Fundamentalists is the tendency of some who speak in tongues to consider their utterances a special revelation from God. Fundamentalists (and many other Evangelicals) reject the idea of special revelation apart from the Bible. Paul teaches in II Timothy 3:15-17 that the Scriptures provide everything needed for salvation and Christian living. No extra revelation can be binding on the conscience of a believer. Long before the Pentecostal movement ever arose, John Wesley (whom Pentecostals see as one of their forerunners) warned:

Give no place to a heated imagination. Do not hastily ascribe things to God. Do not easily suppose dreams, voices, impressions, visions, or revelations to be from God. They may be from him; they may be from nature; they may be from the devil. Therefore "believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they be of God." Try all things by the written word, and let all bow down before it. You are in danger of enthusiasm every hour if you depart ever so little from Scripture; yea, or from the plain literal meaning of any text taken in connection with the context. And so you are if you despise or lightly esteem reason, knowledge, or human learning; every one of which is an excellent gift of God, and may serve the noblest purposes.13

Finally, Fundamentalists have generally been concerned about an attitude of spiritual superiority that characterizes Pentecostal teaching. There is almost an arrogance to the claim that Pentecostalism has the "full gospel." The implication is that non-Pentecostals have only a partial gospel. Such an idea is unscriptural. Paul told the Colossian believers, "And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power" (Col. 2:10). The salvation of Christ through the gospel is perfect and complete. Christians should grow in grace (II Pet. 3:18), but this growth is the realizing of what Christ has already granted to the believer. As Paul wrote, "I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:12).

Yet, despite these differences, at least a few Fundamentalists are willing to regard some issues as matters of interpretation and to suggest a basis for fellowship with conservative Pentecostals. Bob Jones Jr. cites an independent Pentecostal who withdrew from his denomination in protest over its participation in the Charismatic movement and says that he "is as much of a Fundamentalist as I am." Jones goes on to refer to other independent, old-line Pentecostal churches that have withdrawn from the major Pentecostal denominations in protest against the Charismatic movement. He argues that there is a place for fellowship with such believers. Still, he draws the line at accepting teachings such as receiving new revelation, tongues, and the gift of healing. Such teachings go beyond what he sees as the bounds of mere differences of interpretation.14

There are many extremes in the Charismatic movement that Fundamentalists reject. Fundamentalists (along with many other Christians) cringed in 1987 when Oral Roberts claimed that God had threatened to take him home if Roberts did not get $8 million by a certain date. The secular media jokingly compared this to a hostage situation with God issuing the ransom demand. Charismatic Jim Bakker and Pentecostal Jimmy Swaggart, both leading televangelists, became enmeshed in sex scandals that made headlines. But defenders of a movement can always claim that extremes are not typical. A key and indisputable difference between Fundamentalism and the Charismatic movement, and those Pentecostals who go along with the Charismatics, is the question of separation. In some cases the point of dispute is personal separation. The worst examples are entertainers and athletes who claim to have had Charismatic experiences of some kind but whose worldly lifestyles hardly "shew forth the praises of him who hath called [them] out of darkness into his marvelous light" (I Pet. 2:9). To be fair, we should note that many Charismatics and Pentecostals uphold biblical standards of personal behavior.

Far more often the problem is ecclesiastical separation. The basis of Christian unity for Charismatics is not so much an agreement on the essential truths of Christianity but rather a shared spiritual "experience." James Richard Monk, for example, cites leading Catholic Charismatic Edward O’Connor: "When the charismatic renewal, after having been confined for decades to the Pentecostal denominations, began to penetrate into the established churches, it naturally tended to create bonds among all those who embraced it. These were not, however, bonds of doctrinal agreement; for it is not the spread of ideas about the Holy Spirit that constitutes the Pentecostal movement, but the experience of the Spirit’s power action."15

By no means are all Charismatics and Pentecostals so flexible with doctrine. Ray Hughes, a traditional Pentecostal, says that a common experience cannot build unity where there is no agreement on doctrine. He points out that non-Christians, even Satanists, have spoken in tongues and that therefore the experience of tongues by itself cannot provide a basis for unity.16 Jack Hayford likewise argues that Christians must agree on the person and work of Christ as Creator, Redeemer, God’s Son, and Savior, in addition to spiritual gifts, before they can know true unity. Yet Hayford says that "biblical unity is discovered not as a resolution of doctrinal differences, but as a revelation of the Living Word—Jesus."17 W. Dennis Pederson argues that God "will unify His body through those who are open to His Spirit," and he urges Charismatics to remain in their churches in the compromised major denominations.18

An example of the dangerous doctrinal breadth of the Charismatic movement is its acceptance of Krister Stendahl. The dean of Harvard Divinity School in the 1970s and later a bishop in the Church of Sweden (Lutheran), Stendahl completely accepted rationalist historical criticism of the Bible. He wrote a work arguing that the Gospel of Matthew was not written by that apostle but by a much later "school of Matthew."19 Stendahl also contended that only I Thessalonians, Galatians, I and II Corinthians, Philippians, Philemon, and Romans were actually written by Paul.20 Yet Stendahl claimed to be a Charismatic baptized by the Holy Spirit, and he was a featured speaker in Charismatic conferences.21

We could cite other examples, such as the doctrinal errors of Catholic Charismatics who try to reconcile Catholic and Pentecostal teaching.22 Truly, there can be no spiritual unity where there is no salvation through the work of the Holy Spirit. But likewise, there can be no unity of the Spirit where truth is sacrificed. Jesus said of the Holy Spirit, "When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13). When a movement moves to embrace error, it is not being guided by the Holy Spirit, despite what its adherents may say.

As we have said, there are many extremes in the Charismatic movement that give the Fundamentalist pause. Furthermore, we have seen important doctrinal disagreements between Fundamentalists and Charismatics. These matters alone may give the Fundamentalist sufficient reason to distance himself from the movement.

But the greatest danger of the Charismatic movement lies in its ecumenicity—its willingness to embrace all sorts of doctrinal deviations in the name of Christian unity and under the supposed leading of the Holy Spirit. The Charismatic movement blurs the division between truth and error and therefore promotes a false unity.

Probably some unregenerate people are being deceived into thinking they are Christians because they have had some kind of Charismatic experience. Many other Charismatics and Pentecostals are genuine Christians, sincere in their desire to serve God. Jesus told the woman of Samaria that "true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him" (John 4:23). To worship and serve in the power of the Holy Spirit is essential to Christian living, but such worship and service will also always be in truth.
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