The following is a series of my strongly held opinions concerning the Classical Pentecostals and the Charismatic New Churches in the United Kingdom. People who disagree with me will shout “Generalisation!” And, of course, they will be absolutely correct. Some on the inside will say, “I’m a New Church Charismatic and it isn’t true of me or my church!” They might even say, “I’ve been a member of a Classical Pentecostal Church and I have never heard of some of this stuff that Lannon is talking about!” OK! OK! OK! All I can say is that in my travels and mixing with both Classical Pentecostals and Charismatics (That is both the New Church Charismatics and the Traditional denominational Charismatics), and then after reading, study and contemplation, this is how I see it. And I believe I see the reasons why things are how they are. All generalisations have lots of exceptions contained within them. Please give this writer grace on that issue.
Just as human traits, foibles and habits can often be seen by experiences or occurrences from birth, or through easy or difficult childhood, the birth and the early years of both the Classical Pentecostals and the New Church Charismatics is crucial I believe to the understanding of them both and their stances on issues and practices.
I declare myself to be an out and out Pentecostal. I was saved and nurtured as a Classical Pentecostal and I was trained and ordained as a Classical Pentecostal. That is who and what I am. I have worshipped and been a member in one of the New Church Charismatic groups, and I am now greatly enjoying life in a traditional denominational Charismatic church that is by name, title and property deeds a Baptist Church. But I am acutely aware of the difference between my personal outlook and the church I am in. I do not think that where I am is better or worse – just different.
So getting straight to the chase, and this is by no means an exhaustive summary, here is my understanding of how and why the New Church Charismatics (pioneer, Icthus, Covenant Life, New Frontiers and the like) are different beyond a cursory similarity.
- Pentecostalism was birthed out of one main truth. The Charismatics were birthed from a whole raft of truths.
This is a fact that is plainly seen from the archives of their mutual histories. Pentecostalism was birthed out of the teaching and experience of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Pentecostalism was and is normal, orthodox Christianity integrated with the Acts 2 enduement of power. Period! Nothing more and nothing else! It is true that the emphasis on the gifts of the Spirit as listed in 1 Corinthians 12 came out of the baptism in the Holy Spirit, because it includes tongues and prophecy, and it thus gave impetus also to Healing (another item in the list of Spiritual Gifts). So healing was quite naturally seen as a “Pentecostal” truth. It is also true that the inner revolution that the Baptism in the Spirit created in the hearts of many, caused an upsurge in belief that Pentecostalism was initiated by God Himself to usher in Christ’s Second Advent. So Christ’s Return and a whole Eschatology in general was also added to the Pentecostal agenda. But these were packaged in the teaching of the Holy Spirit Baptism, and the accompanying qualifications. I myself remember hearing some of my own elderly and senior “heroes of the faith” in Pentecostal circles preach about the imminent return of Christ – an imminency, they said, that was precipitated by the rise of the Pentecostal movement worldwide. However, Eschatology in itself did not differentiate them from what was mainstream Christianity in the early 1900’s. It was the all round emphasis on the supernatural and the miraculous that caused them to be rejected.
The Elim Pentecostal Churches in particular were birthed on four major planks of truth; Jesus the Saviour, Jesus the Healer, Jesus the baptiser in the Holy Spirit, and Jesus the Coming King – the so called: Four Square Gospel. But it was the baptism in the Holy Spirit as a standalone truth that saw the first generation of Pentecostals literally, physically thrown out of mainstream churches. It was a cost charged to their account by mainstream denominational Christianity of the day, a price they gladly paid that a century later we are so very thankful for.
Today both Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movements are accepted generally as part and parcel of mainline Christianity and true orthodoxy. That fact is probably true simply because there are many (probably thousands) of mainline churches that are enjoying the Pentecostal blessing nowadays without anybody as much as raising an eyebrow.
- Doctrine to do with the fivefold ministry of Ephesians 4 was a take off point. Why do we not have apostles and Prophets, seeing Pastors, Teachers and Evangelists were so commonly ordained, utilised and recognised?
- Human relationships and how they were to be conducted was another major plank upon which the charismatics strutted their stuff. When I asked one of their leaders (who was, in the eighties, at the cutting edge of their “revolution”) to define in one word what the Charismatic burden was, he answered in a split second reflex response; “Relationships!” The complexity of life that spiralled with the IT generation was reflected in the complexity of truths that brought the original charismatic house churches into being.
- Covenantal relationship was one of their platforms.
- Issues of teams in leadership were emphasized. Team ministry and covenant relationships were major themes in those early days of the charismatics. It may or may not be so now, but these were the issues that caused them to stand apart from mainstream Christianity – including the Pentecostals.
- Issues of a biblical modus operandi for pastoring the flock were also part of the grounds for the restoration movement. “Shepherding” was an “in phrase” at the birth of the Charismatic movement. So called “Heavy Shepherding” brought a few Charismatic independent churches into serious disrepute.
- There was an emphasis on prophecy, and …
- … an almost cultic drive on the plain issue of ”Leadership.”
- There was also a strong “anti-denominational” emphasis in their preaching and teaching. The Charismatic movement originally decided to break out of the traditional denominations to express this broad raft of new “Restorationist” convictions, and rebuild the broken walls of denominational Christianity. There were others, but what I have listed will suffice.
- A few corners of the New Churches (New Frontiers in particular) had a stance against women in leadership and even women preachers. (I am given to understand there is a change in their stance on this issue made only recently in 2014).
The truth is that I don’t hear much of the 9 emphases listed above these days at all. Things have changed. Many of the new churches, though they would say their stance is the same, simply don’t “soapbox” or “Grandstand” these issues as they did at their birth.
The truth is that at the first their leaders were authoritative and direct enough to cause envy amongst the Classical Pentecostals. I remember a senior leader in the Classic Pentecostal denomination I was part of travelling around the southern counties of the UK warning us that one certain “New Church” organisation was openly and publicly seeking to “steal” Pentecostal members from their churches. To this day I have no evidence whether his charges were true or false but we listened intently to what our denominational leaders told us. Months later some of the leaders he referred to were in our church by invite, and no such attitude of “stealing” was seen or heard amongst us.
I have absolutely no idea at all of the statistics, but to my own knowledge and experience very few, if any of the charismatic house church personne, especially their leadersl were out of Classical Pentecostal churches. I would like to hear if there were any. Of those that I spoke to independently, and that was quite a few, nearly all claimed to have come out of the “Brethren.”
What difference does this make between the Classical Pentecostals and the charismatics?
It means that the fire of evangelism under the auspices of going further than winning souls for Christ, but also leading converts into the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the experience of healing was all part of the very DNA of the Pentecostal movement. It was generally a full frontal targeting of the individual person. Huge campaigns lasting many weeks of meetings in so called “virgin territory” were the very life blood of the birth and growth of the Pentecostals. Pentecostal denominations were birthed out of raw evangelism holding missions where nothing previously existed. Normal Pentecostal church programmes mainly consisted of Sunday morning communion, Sunday evening evangelistic meeting, and then during the week there were youth meetings, Prayer meetings and Bible studies that were programmed to increase depth of knowledge about the things of God.
When the early Pentecostals (and some of the contemporary one’s too) talked of church planting, they were thinking in terms of sending out evangelists to plough the field and win new converts. When charismatics talk of church planting, they are generally referring to a large group of strong mature Christians all agreeing to move house into an appointed area and commencing meetings together. I wouldn’t dare accuse the charismatic streams of not being evangelistic, that just would not be true, but the charismatic mentality is less intrusive and direct than the Pentecostal manner, and has very much in mind the structure and general form of church management and the general modus operandi of church, rather than the pressure of Christ’s great commission. These differences are all to do with the birthing process of both groups. I do not mean by these remarks that Pentecostals are thoughtless of the way they do church, nor do I mean that the Charismatics are thoughtless of evangelistic zeal. It is, however, a deep and subtle difference that separates the two movements fifty years into having lived in the same playing field. Charismatic New Churches rarely have “Evangelistic Campaigns” as the Pentecostals once did in abundance. Since the Charismatic renewal of the mid twentieth century, within their ranks I have only ever heard of one single campaign of nightly gospel meetings.
- Pentecostals generally were expelled from churches. Charismatics generally chose to leave.
Pentecostals did not want to start new movements or denominations, but were forced to. Most Pentecostals were asked to refrain from using their spiritual gifts in the contexts of where they were worshipping before they were baptised in the Holy Spirit. Pentecostals did not experiment with their teaching. No question was being researched apart from the questions concerning the enduement of power from on high, and a personal experience of life in the Holy Spirit. Teaching on “The Anointing” commenced with the early Pentecostals. They came out of orderly churches, and so, once they were exorcised from the body of traditional denominations, they thought nothing of regrouping and simply becoming another denomination that was different solely because of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. In their zeal they believed that the Acts 2 experience was all that was required to effectively prepare the church for rapture and the second coming. The revelation of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit was perceived as the ultimate church fixing gift of grace. Pentecostal truth changed the world so much at the beginning of the century that is seemed to be the answer to all ills within Christianity. A century or so of classical Pentecost may seem to suggest to some, that the outpouring was misunderstood.
On the other hand, 60 years later, Charismatics left traditional denominations because of dissatisfaction with the human set up of church. I am sure there must have been exceptions, but to my knowledge starting and joining the House Church movement was a free choice made by many Christians who decided that they hungered for the restoration of New Testament Christianity more than the fellowship they were committed to. And thus the charismatic streams were conceived and gestating towards what they were later to become. It was, according to the reports, what seemed like many thousands of people across the nation meeting in small – mostly not so small – meetings in homes, and building church families. For this reason, as growth was extreme and sudden, large homes were required. It did not take long, of course, before the home meetings were so large that church centres and large auditoriums were required. And so the thing had gone full circle. Restoration Christianity was back in a building called a “church centre.” I do not make this remark as a demeaning one to the Charismatic streams. They were victims of their own radical success in those early days.
Recalling quite clearly where I personally was at in the early seventies, I remember that as a Pentecostal, I felt that the new Charismatics had not only assumed the Pentecostal characteristic emphasis, but they had demeaned the teaching of the Baptism in the Holy Ghost by equating its importance as being on par with issues of apostles, prophets, relationships and shepherding. On top of that, and I say with clear memory, many of the New Church leaders slated the Pentecostals for having become part of the mainstream and having lost their impetus. I clearly recollect being affronted by those kind of remarks at the time.
The main outcome of these differences is that the Pentecostals are today still standing firmly on those issues that their forefathers in the faith fought for. As far as this writer perceives things, Charismatics having chosen to assertively walk out on Christianity that was too settled, do not seem to have run with the issues and the fire that brought themselves into being. Some of the new Charismatic streams today have hardly any outward difference between themselves and the “mainstream” including Pentecostal churches that surround them. It’s all one organism nowadays with surface similarities, but inwardly great differences.
On the grounds that criticism and persecution puts iron into personal convictions and vision for the future, it was the birth of the Pentecostal movement that placed the iron vertebrae in the Pentecostal stance. That iron has never left them. The free choice and the wilful choice to move out and start something radically new – something so radical in intellectual rationale that it could not be maintained – is what, in the end, I believe has caused the Charismatic streams to blend into the background of traditional denominations in the UK. Such is the opinion of this writer.
Pentecostals were expelled because of a hunger for a new brand of New Testament Christianity that was so practically and experientially so far reaching that their traditional contemporary Christian generation could not cope with them. Charismatics left for a radical form of Christianity that seemed to the traditionalists to be so much “too good to be true pie in the sky,” that they didn’t care and were glad to see them go. Pentecostals made white water where they were because of a God given experience. Charismatics could not make white water in their churches in the 60’s, and so went where they believed they could make a new pond and stir the waters there.
Although the Pentecostal experience has radically changed the face of Christianity worldwide, it clearly did not take Christianity in general, nor in their churches, to the expected heights that burned as a vision in the hearts of the early Pentecostal fathers. The Charismatic renewal and the New Churches believed they also had made an incredible breakthrough, and for a while they were indeed the cutting edge of all things spiritual in the UK, but they too plainly plateaued and blended into the mainstream wallpaper that is Christianity in Britain.
The ultimate remark, which may disenfranchise me with many, is that the Pentecostal movement was birthed in a glorious heavenly reality that birthed dreams, while the Charismatic movement was birthed in theologically created dreams that, in the end did not bring the expected reality. Apostles, Prophets, Restorationism, Definitions of Church life, Parameters of ministry and its modus operandi are still seemingly on the back burners of the church world-wide. These issues must be noted to be unresolved cases that have been filed and simply archived and left – possibly for another generation to open and stand up for. It is true that we now see more prophets around the world and more men that are referred to as apostles, but generally speaking the dream of restorationism is nowhere but in the quiet meditations and the secret notebooks of a few.
To be real, the New Churches have altered their stance on some of the characteristics they were born with. The Pentecostals have valiantly trekked on with the plumbline of holiness together with the anointing that comes with the baptism in the Holy Spirit. The changes in Pentecostal circles are the individual church structures that vary greatly from one to another. One senior Classical Pentecostal church leader shared with me recently how that today, three Elim churches, each in the same London district each have a totally different feel to them, though all in unison with a legitimate Pentecostal focus and style. That same senior personality assured me that although what I am saying here in brush strokes may have been absolutely true 30 years ago concerning the New Church Charismatics, they have like us all moved on greatly.
- Pentecostalism was at first a Movement within the working class. The Charismatic movement was at first a Movement within the Middle Classes.
No! I am not a “Leftie” trying to make a political point. This is just a fact. The working class, such as it was in the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century was a major part of the British population who had to fight to get out of their misfortune. To be “working class” in those days was misfortune. They fought for equality and rights and without doubt, if it wasn’t for the early Labour Party philosophy they might have forever remained in their dreadful circumstance. The situation of poverty and lack was the very reason that the political left came into being.
When the Pentecostal blessing was first preached, taught and exposed to the masses in the early 1900’s it was the “common folk” that heard it gladly. Pentecostalism in the UK was received and enjoyed by vast numbers of working class people.
The House Church movement in the 1960’s had a more affluent and professional clientele, as it were, in its birth process. Professionals and academics were more numerous in the Charismatic roots than ever the Pentecostals had at their entrance into the world. The fact that the Restorationists were followed by people who were used to making executive decisions rather than allowing the world to knock them down and dictate the terms of their existence is probably the reason they chose to move out and “start again!” It was a choice thing with the Charismatics. It was an expedient thing with the Pentecostals, forced on them by the hostility of their Christian brothers. Hence the New Churches found themselves writing, videoing and publishing material that clarified to the world what they were about. Whether one agreed with the Charismatic cause or not, loved them or hated them, if a person really wanted to know what the Charismatic New Churches were all about, one could buy materials that would elucidate and educate about the substance of what they were about. And those materials were out on the street almost from the word go.
The Pentecostals were slow to be so academic, although they are putting that right in this present generation. The early Pentecostals put their PR material where their demonstration was. George Jeffreys books, “Healing Rays,” and “Pentecostal Rays,” though earth shakingly radical when they were first published (Healing Rays was first published in 1932) now seem quaint, yet they are hailed as classics only because of their enormous historical significance in this generation. Jeffreys’ differentiation between the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of Christ would greatly disenfranchise him from the vast majority of Christians today (Pentecostals and Charismatics included). The teaching was warmly received amongst the vast working classes of the time firstly because of the gargantuan character that was George Jeffreys, but also quite definitely because of the lack of theological as well as the intellectual academics amongst the Pentecostal population.
The miracles, the healings, the church founding was what kept the Pentecostal movement high in the public forum of any religious debate. And to be sincere, what else was required. The proper Pentecostal authors and writers were few and far between at first, but the writing about the manifestations of the Holy Spirit when following the likes of George Jeffreys, Stephen Jeffreys, Smith Wigglesworth and others, when authored by unsaved secular reporters made for gripping reading.
All this meant, of course, that right from the start the financial resources to set up properties and facilities were much more readily available for New Church Charismatics simply because their people had more resources to contribute. New Church charismatic leaders seemed to operate more like the accepted norms of a Christian businessman than the perceived norms of Christian ministers. They were sharp and astute at raising money and organisation of their respective causes. In one sense, the New Church Charismatics seemed “modern.” Everything else, including the Pentecostals, for a brief period during the birth of the new Churches seemed “old hat” and “traditional.” But it is different today. The high spike in the graph of the New Church Charismatics has in the twenty-first century levelled down along with everybody else. The continued growth amongst the Classical Pentecostal denominations is a consistent graph showing a slow and steady rise.
- The Pentecostals were fed on expectancy of Christ’s return, while the Charismatics were fed on whatever the opposite was to the Pentecostal expectancy.
The Pentecostals taught and seriously emphasized the Second Coming of Christ. They linked the Pentecostal outpouring at the turn of the twentieth century with Joel’s prophecy of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on “all flesh” just prior to the Day of the Lord. It seemed clear to them, and who could argue with their conclusion, that the Pentecostal revival (and revival is what it was) with thousands upon thousands receiving the Baptism in the Holy Spirit was a sign that the end was near. Because of the incredible thrust of power and zeal that was experienced by many, it seemed to Pentecostal high profile leaders in those first years, that the persecution that was thrown at them by the traditional denominational leaders, and the contrasting zeal that motivated the Pentecostal membership, that God had raised up the Pentecostal movement to usher in the second coming of the Saviour. Many preachers believed that Christ would return before their generation had passed away. It was heady stuff! I have interacted with some New Church Charismatic leaders who laugh at the early Pentecostal outlook on the second coming, and even that they have an Eschatology at all.
For leaders that launched into existence a New Church revolution with so many seemingly “radical biblical” rediscovered truths, the fact that the New Church Charismatics ignore such a huge section of scripture that refers to end times, Christ’s advent, Israel’s return and the millennial reign of Christ, I find the omission an absolute phenomena. It seems to this writer as if it was neglecting well worn truths for the sake of so called “new truths.” With myself, at least, it leaves a huge credibility problem. This difference is not just a little bit of theology, or a different interpretation of scripture. It is an entirely different approach to the Christian life and church.
It seems almost humourous to us, seeing that we are still here a century later and the Lord has not returned, but it was earnestly and quite rationally believed in those early days in the midst of the revival fires of early Pentecostalism. Some may snigger, but there are often circumstances in life that lead Christian ministers to conclusions that generations later seem childishly premature. There were thousands of bible believing ministers in the 1930’s and early 40’s that were absolutely convinced Adolf Hitler was the antichrist as predicted in scripture. We can smile at that, yet the intensity of the moment made the concept a possible stark and horrible reality for many. It is probably because of this conviction concerning the end times and the coming of Christ that was deep and certain in the tenets of their faith, that very few of those early giants of the Pentecostal faith had any “Elisha” to pass the baton on to when they died. It is a historical fact that most of the Pentecostal pioneers died without a successor to their anointing, message or churches. Just as a “By the way,” none of the early Pentecostal pioneers ever predicted a date. It is Pentecostal staple diet that “nobody knows!”
In response to this, the New Church Charismatics strongly criticised the early Pentecostals for stressing the second coming in the manner they did, and I personally heard it from the mouth of several leaders in the late seventies and through the eighties that they would “not be so unwise and foolish” to make the same mistake. The result was that the Charismatic New Churches in all my relationships and discussions with some of their people through the years do not have any Eschatology at all. To be more pointed, one New Church leader in answer to a remark I made about John 14:3, told me that he thought the world would just end with a “big bang.” When I began to quote other verses concerning Christ’s return, he flatly told me I was “heretical and in error.” The Second Advent was a foreign language to him altogether. As doctrines go it was an untouchable idea to him.
The biblical teaching of Christ’s return was therefore omitted from the raft of truths that caused the New Church Charismatics to leave the denominations on the grounds that it was considered part and parcel of “the reprobate denominational church.”
We could prolong these notes and continue into more and more detail which might not be so edifying. My point is to say that the ambience, inner culture and general character of the Classical Pentecostals was, at the time of the birth of the Charismatic New Churches a long way away from the nature and attitude of each other. They are both changing animals as would be expected, yet huge differences do still remain.
30 -35 years ago in the UK several of the Charismatic New Church top leaders utterly castigated and derided the Classical Pentecostals as having to rigid a structure and omitted the better truths of relationship amongst leaders and members. At time the New Churches were enjoying a period of aggressive growth and increasing influence. I stand to be corrected, but to my knowledge no Pentecostal leader responded publicly. However here we are, almost a generation later and not only have some of the New Churches split and fractured, but in house fighting has shown itself to be a continual source of contention.
My point in this is not to deride the New Churches, or point the finger at the Classical Pentecostals, but to make the statement that just as a lack of the manifestation of the supernatural in the Classical Pentecostal churches has diluted the secular unsaved perception of what Pentecostalism is all about, so the practice of 50 years in the Charismatic New Churches has diluted the very “doctrines” and emphases that were the very reasons for which they separated from the traditional denominations. It has, sadly, merely left us, a generation later with a few more “denominations” that refuse to call themselves “denominations” but “Streams”. And the New Churches as a whole now are clearly as alike to the live traditional denominations as they claimed to be radically unlike them at their birth. From the media, and the general Christian press, the Pentecostals still have a clear and pronounced distinctive, yet I query whether the blade of their doctrinal distinctive is as sharp as it was a century ago.
Are we expecting a new wave of revivalism in the UK? What form will it take when it comes?