When we visit churches many times people will ask about things such as crime or raising our children in a different culture. These are always legitimate questions and concerns, and I have given thought to them. One thing that I am concerned about when it comes to ministry in Argentina is the growing number of charismatics there and throughout South America. Charismatics are popping up all over the world, and are growing at exponential rates. Their growth is fueled mainly by two things: sensationalism and prosperity. The sensationalism is no doubt a welcome change compared to the dry formal worship of the Catholic church in which most South Americans grew up. The charismatics typically have very exciting worship services followed by passionate preaching, which brings me to my next point. It is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ that is being preached in the majority of charismatic churches, but it is the “Gospel of Me.” It is the good news of how if I have Jesus in my life I will be healthy and wealthy. My life will prosper with no sickness, no debt, and no trouble. The message of “take up your cross and follow me” is replaced with “pull out some money and drop a seed.” I once worked with a man who went to a very prominent charismatic church in Greenville, SC. He told me one day at work that he and his wife and placed a large offering in the offering plate that Sunday at church. His motives? It wasn’t out of love for Jesus or to help take the Gospel to some unreached place. It wasn’t even to help the poor and widows. In his words, he and his wife were wanting to buy a house, and he was “sowing the seed.” It is this prosperity gospel being preached all over South America, Africa, and Asia that has plundered the poor and left many people disillusioned with Christianity.
So why is this a concern for me?
- Infiltration-They will come to our church and try to be a part of it. Don’t get me wrong–everyone will be welcomed to come and visit, but not everyone will be welcomed to join. People that join together in a church should be likeminded people. Yes, there are many similarities in belief between Baptists and most charismatics, but there are some very striking differences. Most charismatics would affirm the fundamental doctrines like the virgin birth, sinlessness of Christ, the doctrine of the Trinity etc…, but they hold to the belief that the spiritual gifts are still in existence, and their worship services are characterized many times with weird and bizarre displays of emotionalism. If charismatics come in and try and join any church that we start, they will not leave off their charismatic doctrines but will bring them in. This will create confusion. If the pastor is a cessationist (one who believes that the sign gifts like speaking in tongues, miraculous healing through people, and the gift of prophecy have ceased with the Apostles), but the Sunday school teacher is teaching that everyone who is filled with the Spirit will be talking in a “heavenly language,” you will have a very confused congregation. Unless people that are charismatic are willing to be taught the truth, admit that they were wrong, and subscribe to correct doctrine then they should go and find a church that believes as they do.
- Hostile takeover-The stories I have heard of churches being taking over by charismatics are almost to numerous to tell. Since the Southern Baptist Convention ended their big missions and church-planting drive in South America back in the eighties, the charismatics have all but taken over the baptist churches. I have met many missionaries who have told me stories of how the charismatics came in to a church and within a few years they were having healing services and speaking in tongues. How does this happen? It happens because we are so eager to grow our ministries that we take in everyone and make them a part regardless of their beliefs, and this is dangerous. It often results in people acquiring positions of power in the church and applying pressure to the missionary or pastor. Either the church splits or a complete takeover is the result.
The charismatic movement can be a real threat to missions-motivated, Christ-centered, gospel-driven churches. It is a battle that many missionaries face. The next time you have a visiting veteran missionary, ask him his opinion of the charismatics, and ask him if they have caused him any problems. More than likely he will be able to tell you a few stories.
This post is part 10 in the series “Answering Vision” and is taken from the panel discussion questions from the missions conference at Vision Baptist Church in Alpharetta GA. You can read the last post in this series here.