Why Baptists Cannot Be Charismatic
A friend asked me to comment on my statement that one of the historical differences between Southern Baptists and Assemblies of God has to do with Calvinism and Arminianism. I am not picking on Assemblies of God in particular but the charismatic movement in general. Baptist origins are rooted in Particularism or Calvinism. Our confessions of faith, including the most recent ones, are Calvinistic. A lot of Baptists disagree with some elements of Calvinism but one must understand that even Calvinists come in a number of varieties that range from hypercalvinism to Baxterism. It is not my purpose here to discuss the five points of Calvinism. However, the over arching doctrine that guides all forms of Calvinism is the high regard for the sovereignty of God. To this point in history, most Southern Baptists believe in the absolute sovereignty of God. God is in control, he accomplishes his purposes, he cannot fail and he will not be thwarted. Our precious doctrine of the perseverance of the believer comes from such thinking.
The charismatic movement is a later development of the Wesleyan movement. While John Wesley had a high regard for the Sovereignty of God, many of his spiritual children do not. Charismatics, for the most part, are extreme Arminians who believe that man is in control instead of God. So, a person can decide when and where and if he will become a Christian. And he can decide by his own volition to lose his salvation. Thus, salvation is very much an accomplishment of man.
While the charismatic makes many claims about the Holy Spirit and the need to speak in tongues, they do not trust the Holy Spirit to convict people of sin. So, they rely on power gifts like healing, tongues, word of knowledge and miracles. By their very will, they can change history, remove disease, and save the lost. I realize that not every charismatic believes this, but the majority seem to and certainly the TV preachers present themselves in this way. In fact, they will go so far as to warn you not to criticize God’s anointed. In other words, they get to practice a bogus theology and you can’t criticize them for it.
So, worship services become grand productions in order to make converts. It is entertainment evangelism in a service that does not offend the sensibilities of the lost. Supposed displays of power, including speaking in tongues and healing the masses, “prove” to the lost that they should be saved. And to speak in tongues and the use of prayer language brings attention to the individual and proves that he is godly and deeply spiritual. It is as if they have magical abilities that set them apart from others.
For most Baptists, the afore mentioned description of worship makes us nervous. We believe in the sovereignty of God and the power of the Word preached and the power of the Holy Spirit to call sinners out of their darkness. We know that we cannot do a thing to redeem an individual other than to tell them about Jesus. But, the urge to “make” converts has been around Baptists for some time. We have been highly influenced by the revivalist movement of the 19th century. Revivalism brought an infusion of Arminianism into Baptist life and we Baptists have been a bit conflicted in our theology ever since. But, we have never given up on the ultimate principle that God is absolutely sovereign.
I am afraid that we may be changing. Baptists have become theologically and biblically ignorant over the last 40 years. We have forgotten who we are. In recent years we have lost our appreciation for the sovereignty of God. We may give lip serve to it but our practices are straying from basic principles. My speculation is we see growth in charismatic churches and being pragmatic, we think we should copy them. The argument is that we are declining, baptismal numbers are down. But it seems the more we try these new techniques, the more we decline. Pragmatism cannot take precedent over sound doctrine.
The defenders of private prayer language will quickly make the claim that some Baptists in the past had a private prayer language. One of the persons cited is Bertha Smith. Others are now trying to claim that Separate Baptists spoke in tongues. It is true that during the Second Great Awakening that Baptists were a part of a movement that was marked by certain physical manifestations of the Spirit. These manifestations included passing out as if dead and barking like a dog, not something I care to emulate. But, there is no evidence that the warm and fervent worship of the Separate Baptists included tongues. And one or two persons, who practice prayer language, does not make it a normal practice among Baptists.
When Baptists follow the charismatic practices of speaking in tongues or the use of prayer language, we have strayed far from that which makes us Baptist. Prayer language does not make us powerful nor demonstrate a deep spirituality. If we continue in this direction, we will lose our identity. Baptist identity is more complex than just the doctrine of Baptism. After all, many charismatic churches practice believer’s baptism by immersion.
Many of the new practices in Baptist churches come perilously close to saying we can make converts by our methods. We don’t need the Holy Spirit who calls sinners out of their sin. What will the church be like in 20 years when the membership is made up of people who are moved by stories, or drama or music to make an emotional response to the call to believe in Jesus? (Under these conditions, what does believing in Jesus mean?) What happens when people are no longer warned of the wrath to come or no longer called on to repent of their sin, but to just believe? I fear for the future of the church and I fear the judgment of God that comes with our compromise.
When we give up on the doctrine of the sovereignty of God, we cease to be Baptist. When we adopt practices from groups that do not believe in the sovereignty of God, we cease to be Baptists. When we stop believing that God speaks to us through his Word and now speaks to through subjective expressions of spiritual gifts, we have ceased being Baptists.
In my humble opinion, if we Baptists do not regain biblical and doctrinal literacy, we are doomed. Unless we stop this nonsense, soon we will have to remove the word Baptist from Southern Baptist Convention. Then, what will we do?