One day in the early sixties my mother was making a big chicken dinner in the kitchen. After working for hours she was nearing completion when the Lord began to speak to her. He said “Take the dinner down to sister so-and-so.” My mother began to protest telling the Lord that she had been working on it all day and was about to set the table. The Lord’s answer to her was to “take the dinner and also give her ONE DOLLAR.”
She had a little money and expressed this to the Lord, letting him know that she could give her some money instead of the dinner and a dollar but the Lord again told her to take down that dinner and only one dollar.
Finally she quit arguing and put everything into a large pan and walked it down the street to where this sister lived. This woman was a single mother with three small children and had no visible means of support. When she knocked on the door she handed the woman the meal and explained to her that God had told her to bring it down. The woman began to cry and explained that they had come home from church and there was nothing to eat in the whole house so they all had began to pray for God to send in some food from somewhere.
After she had explained, my mother handed her the dollar bill and told her that God had said to give her just one dollar, though she didn’t know why. The sister, in tears, told her that someone had just given her ten dollars for the rent and she had gone to God and asked, “But God, what about the tithe?”
This was the normal Pentecostal experience during those days. People did not just live nice little Christian lives, attend a church where the smooth talking Pastor delivered clever little sermonettes and everyone gave to missions once a year. They all to one degree or another had a faith walk; they heard from God for others in the church or community, believed for miracles in their everyday life and experienced God first-hand for themselves.
The gifts of the Holy Spirit were in operation in the meetings. There would be tongues and interpretation, prophecy, words of wisdom and knowledge at normal services given by normal people. Today most of the church doesn’t dare do that, there are too many crazy people who may say something wrong. There are too many variables to just allow the Holy Ghost to move freely. And so for the most part there are no gifts in operation in the church anymore. You can’t even tell whether some churches are spirit-filled or not by their normal services, that part of their religion is saved for those times when the general public is not around- we would hate to offend them, you know.
There were certain preachers that God used in Sign-Gift ministry across the country. Men like Jack Coe, A.A. Allen, Oral Roberts and William Branham shocked regions with outrageous displays of God’s power. God was moving all over the nation and faith was evident from the biggest tents and arenas to the smallest church out in the Johnson grass area of town. Miracles happened regularly in these meetings, unlike today. The deaf heard, the blind received their sight and the crippled arose and walked.
And then something happened, something quite subtle and yet the effects of it would change everything in under a decade.
For years, the Pentecostal faith was the domain of the poor and ignorant. In fact, to be a Pentecostal carried with it a stigma that you just could not shake. If you were Pentecostal, you were a religious fanatic, a hillbilly with religion. And they were indeed a peculiar people, from their hair cuts to their dress and their obstinate refusal to conform to the world around them. I can remember being ashamed of them when I was in school, not wanting anyone to know that my family attended “that” church.
I can remember driving to church on Sunday nights and having to take coloring books, some cars and a blanket and pillow “just in case”. And ‘just in case’ ended up being the case more times than not. At some point during the course of the meeting, the Holy Ghost would come in and you knew that you were not getting home before midnight at least. Now let me clarify that these people were not engaging in “soaking” services, this was a full-on Holy Ghost encounter that swept the entire congregation into it.
Things like this soon attracted the attention of those who wanted a little more of God but didn’t want to leave their respectable churches. So, at some point it was decided that the Baptism of the Holy Spirit was not just the domain of the poor and ignorant. The charismatic movement opened the doors for anyone to get it, regardless of how they lived. Soon, old dead denominations were experiencing the outpouring for themselves.
I will risk offending some here with my observations and opinions; after all, you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs. I would lay the blame for today’s apathy and complacency in the church squarely on the shoulders of this middle-class Charismatic movement.
Now, lay the stones down for a moment and hear me out.
The Pentecostal church had been historically made up of low-income families and those who were generally uneducated. When the Charismatic movement hit, the spirit and power of Pentecost was introduced to that segment of society that would never have attended those sorry churches out in the Johnson grass area of town. Now, they would of course, call the pastors of those poor Pentecostal churches when they needed to get a prayer through to God. But they would not attend themselves; they would not risk their reputation by attending a church that was full of the poor, the uneducated and the second or third generation welfare families.
With the introduction of the Pat Boone Christians in LA, sitting by their pools and having Bible studies—everything changed. Now Pentecost was available to everyone—regardless of their income. Certainly that is not a bad thing. The Holy Ghost should obviously be in whatever church wants Him. However, that was not the only thing that occurred. These middle class believers now had their nice homes; their two-car garage and they were speaking in tongues. But something had disappeared: the cost of following hard after God.
Suddenly the baptism of the Holy Spirit became convenient. It cost you nothing to get it; in fact, they soon began conducting classes on how to do it quickly and painlessly. The great fault of the Charismatic movement is in its foundations. Mix believers who have given up nothing for God and have no fear for Him with the silence of God towards their brashness and irreverence and you have a recipe for the church today. You see, suddenly, you could speak in tongues and have money too. You could attend a stylish church with beautiful decorations and cute names like Family Fun Church. In the end, the great difference between Pentecostals and Charismatics became an income bracket. The Charismatics were simply too well bred to call themselves Pentecostals.
They packaged the baptism and then proceeded to streamline its power into a soft, tasteless paste that you could spoon feed your weak neighbors and friends with. The scandal of being a spirit-filled believer was lifted. Now, here it was, just like Burger King—your way, right away.
I remember the old Pentecost though. I remember those families that everyone laughed at for attending the Pentecostal church. These were dirt-poor believers coming to God because truthfully, they had nothing else and no other hope in the world. And friend, there is a difference in the prayers of one who has God as an addition to their lives and the ones that have nothing but God in their lives. I have seen both sides, lived among them and tasted of their lives. And I can say with utmost sincerity that what has been produced with the manifestations of the Holy Ghost in Charismatic circles is the direct result of treating God as a hobby.
Don’t get me wrong here; I am not saying that you need to be poor to be a believer. What I am saying is that the difference is that those who are poor have nothing to distract them from God. They are not concerned with social standings or what their neighbors will think. As someone once said, “The most dangerous man in the world is the man who has nothing left to lose.”
It was those early seekers who caused the greatest surge in new believers in the history of the world, those poor people who had nothing in their pathetic (or so it seemed) lives but Jesus. From the time the fire fell in Azusa at the turn of the century until the late sixties, early seventies, the spirit filled church rose from a handful to hundreds of millions worldwide.
That makes it the second biggest religious group in the world, second only to the Roman Catholic Church, who you may note, had 1700 years to bring their numbers to where they are today. Standing in stark contrast to this is the numbers on church growth for the last 30 years. According to George Barna, almost all of the new church growth in that period of time has been due to transfers from other churches rather than new conversions.
As I look across the panorama of the American Spirit-filled churches, I generally do not see those who are centered on Jesus in every aspect of their lives. Sadly, I see more oftentimes those who live a nice Christian life within the confines of what society dictates as being acceptable. There is not a casting off of the kingdoms of the world and the glory thereof; instead we preach that there is nothing wrong with having both.
Where the disciples were commanded to forsake all and follow, we are told to come to Him and gain it all a hundred fold with you tax-deductible gift. Does God want us in the church to prosper? I believe that He does. Does God want that to be the sole thing that we seek Him for? Does God want this to be the very center of our relationship with Him? I think not. Does God want us to be preaching sermon after sermon on feeling good, getting rich by faith and singing “Money cometh”? Get serious. But that is the type of believers that we have become, not only in the eyes of the Father but in the eyes of the world as well.
We have become in many regards, shiny shoed snake oil salesman who are seminary trained—not to forsake all and suffer redemptively for the sake of the kingdom—but rather as church builders and public relations marketing specialists with a degree in politically correct fakeness.
It’s so sad to me to enter into a church and instead of feeling love and the power of God present to deliver and heal the sick, I am confronted with building funds, sermons on how to prosper in ten steps or less, mid-week believers meetings held in the basement when you can be taught to speak in tongues and a slew of propaganda that firmly places the pastor in the enviable position of being “the next big thing”.
If that is something that appeals to you, more power to you, I guess. Give me something different. Give me a building with one light bulb hanging from the ceiling and no air conditioning on hot summer nights that is filled with people desperate for God. You can keep your programs and workshops; give me those who know how to pray and who stay at the altar until the glory falls.
Give me those who would rather tell their neighbors about Jesus than get their approval. Give me a praise band that may not be professional musicians but mean every single note they play. Give me a tent filled with mosquitoes and people under the power who couldn’t care less about them. Give me those who can’t sleep at night because they are so burdened with those lost in their city. Give me those and keep the rest.
You do not need to be poor to be a Christian. But I know from experience how much all of the things that money can buy serve to distract us from God. It is not a question of whether or not money is wrong or harmful. It is a question of priorities—what do you love more? Do you love God enough to praise Him when the car is being towed away by the bank? When there is no food to put on the table and the children are hungry?
Or is your love for God conditional? Is it based on how easy your life is at the moment? Because when you strip away all the things that you possess and all that is left are you and Jesus, that’s where the rubber meets the road. I believe that God wants to bless us abundantly. But I also believe that He wants us to be the kind of people that money has no chance at all of becoming an idol in our lives.
There is really no sense in pursuing a discussion on real revival until we deal with some of these issues. Because the simple fact is that the greatest move of God the world has ever seen will not come at a cheap price. You will not be able to run down to the latest hotbed of religious fervor, rub elbows with the attendees and take it back home.
It will come with the tearful prayers of those who are committed to the idea that they simply must have a real move of God lest they die. Those who would rather not live at all then to live a fake life filled with superficial religion and lukewarm mediocrity.
Now you must ask which camp it is that you belong in.
In the end it is not a question of whether you are strictly Charismatic or Pentecostal, it is a question of the level at which you surrendered your life to God. Was it a conditional surrender, based on the promises that you would be treated well? Or were you one of the lucky few who surrendered unconditionally, who had the audacity to tell God “I am yours, no matter what it costs me, no matter what life hands me, I am yours.”
That was the key to the early Pentecostal movement and that was the Achilles’ heel of the modern Charismatic movement- desperation, consecration and the full surrender of your life.
All to Jesus I surrender;
all to him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust him,
in his presence daily live.
All to Jesus I surrender;
humbly at his feet I bow,
worldly pleasures all forsaken;
take me, Jesus, take me now.
All to Jesus I surrender;
make me, Savior, wholly thine;
fill me with thy love and power;
truly know that thou art mine.
All to Jesus I surrender;
Lord, I give myself to thee;
fill me with thy love and power;
let thy blessing fall on me.
All to Jesus I surrender;
now I feel the sacred flame.
O the joy of full salvation!
Glory, glory, to his name!
I surrender all, I surrender all,
all to thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.