Warning: Controversy Ahead. Buckle up.
Rick Warren’s Presence at Azusa Street Questioned
tipped me off to the ongoing “Azusa Street Centennial” currently being held in Los Angeles. It is a celebration, of course, of the 100th anniversary of the Azusa Street phenomenon, which is widely seen as the impetus for the modern charismatic movement. Now, I do not consider myself, of course, to be “charismatic”; at the same time, I certainly appreciate many of my charismatic brethren and sistern. I do not believe that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a subsequent experience to the salvation event in one’s life, nor do I believe that that event is marked by the ability to speak in tongues. I don’t want to limit God and suggest that in no circumstance could tongues possibly be a gift given by God in this age; He’ll do what He chooses. That said, I understand Holy Spirit baptism to take place at the time of salvation; I understand that the Spirit sovereignly bestows gifts upon the church today; I believe that each believer has at least one gift; I believe that no gift is normative for all believers, nor evidence determining the reality of one’s salvation. All of that said, I don’t have a problem accepting as fellow believers those who differ with me on that point.
But here is the problem I have with the contemporary charismatic movement, and this Azusa shindig (and yes, I consider it disappointing that Rick Warren chose to participate) illustrates it well: concomitant with Pentecostal theology there tends to be an unfortunate unwillingness to exercise discernment on the part of a huge segment of the Pentecostal/charismatic crowd. Evidence of this is the roster of speakers for this event. They include the charlatan Benny Hinn, Faith/Prosperity quacks Kenneth & Gloria Copeland, Jerry Savelle, Creflo Dollar, and Fred Price, and questionable-at-the-least-on-the-Trinity T.D. Jakes. Rod Parsley is there…icck. I’m sorry, but I have a massive problem with this (not that anybody asked me!). Where is the discernment? And the answer is that it isn’t there, that unfortunately one of the stepchildren of this movement appears to be such an ungrounded experientialism that the Word of God becomes secondary, and doctrinal issues are relegated to the back burner.
Frankly, it’s a lot easier for me to swallow an honest difference in theological understanding regarding the working of the Holy Spirit than it is for me to accept this gross lack of discernment, this unwillingness to draw lines between truth and heresy. Much as I don’t mind—and even in some ways welcome—the idea of joining hands together across denominational lines to proclaim Christ, it is precisely this issue, illustrated by events such as this, that make me shrink back, at least from jumping in gung-ho with some charismatic brethren. I’m not sure that “lack of discernment” is the most problematic shortcoming of the contemporary evangelical church, but it’s certainly right up there.