It’s very difficult for most of us to understand the church context we exist in because we live in a time where boundaries have been blurred. However, our past tells us a lot about who we are and should be, so it’s important that we understand it. This is made more difficult by the fact that, if they do understand it, few Charismatics want to talk about the history that made them who they are because of some excesses that have cropped up. So you have to go on a treasure hunt. After nearly a decade of fellowshipping between various branches of evangelicalism and reviewing our history, I feel like I understand the various pieces which weave into the fabric of the Charismatic movement.
There are many ways to tell the Charismatic story, which could include the Full Gospel Businessmen, the Jesus Movement, The Vineyard, and others, but at the 10,000 foot level what were the seminal moments and movements that make us who we are and distinct from others? Below I’ve drawn a picture.
The first thing to see here is that Pentecostalism and Fundamentalism were once part of the same large evangelical holiness movement, which around the turn of the century was fairly united under the leadership of D.L Moody and his disciple R.A. Torrey. When Azusa Street hit, all of that changed, however. The movement was broken into two parts: those who embraced the tongues and those who didn’t. Those who did not were the original “Fundamentalists.” They fought hard against the liberals for the inerrancy of Scripture and other cardinal doctrines of the faith. They were mostly dispensationalists.
By the 1940’s many within the Fundamentalist movement were dissatisfied with with the spirit of Fundamentalism. It had some very separatist, anti-intellectual, and edgy components. When Billy Graham came along after WWII, a new moment began, and under the leadership of men like H.J. Ockenga, a new brand was born: Evangelicalism. This was to become just the opposite — inclusive, intellectual, and softer. The Evangelicals became the mainstream and launched a host of ministries, seminaries, and ultimately a new moment in America.
At the same time, on the other side of the railroad tracks, the tongue speakers were launching a worldwide movement, so that 100 years later, there are hundreds of millions all over the world. Azusa street was a deep and powerful revival that shook the Earth — some say literally — the great San Francisco earthquake began just days later. Pentecostalism did not keep the fire indefinitely, however, and by the 30’s people were beginning to wonder where the original power had gone.
God answered this question in dramatic fashion through the ministry of William Branham. A man with an incredible Bible-style prophetic gift, he stirred up what ultimately became the Healing Revival of the 50’s and the Latter Rain. It was the Latter Rain which was to distinguish Charismatics from Pentecostals, however. It brought new emphases: a victorious eschatology, laying on of hands for impartation, five-fold ecclesiology, and most of all personal prophecy. The Pentecostals, especially the Assemblies of God, rejected this new move and to this day these idea separate Pentecostals and Charismatics.
Some extreme doctrines began to dominate the Latter Rain, however, and this gave the impetus for a number of cultish movements, which gave the movement such a bad name, that few dare associate with it by name. One stream of the Latter Rain went on to form a second movement known as the “Shepherding Movement.” Responding to the needs presented by the vast numbers of hippies getting saved in the Jesus Movement, 5 leading ministers began teaching on principles of authority. This eventually led to some major abuses, and more cultish groups. Although there was great error and destruction mixed into the movement, I believe God did have an original purpose in it, and it was not just a demonic scheme. What strained out formed the basis of most modern “apostolic” groups.