Project Wittenberg

The Charismatic Movement and Lutheran Theology

Preface and Part I

A Report of the
Commission on Theology and Church Relations
of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod

January 1972

To: This File/ Plain Text - LCMS Documents - Project Wittenberg


One of the significant developments in American church life during the past decade has been the rapid spread of the neo-Pentecostal or charismatic movement within the mainline churches. In the early sixties, experiences and practices usually associated only with Pentecostal denominations began to appear with increasing frequency also in such churches as the Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, and Lutheran. By the mid-nineteen-sixties, it was apparent that this movement had also spread to some pastors and congregations of The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. In certain areas of the Synod, tensions and even divisions had arisen over such neo-Pentecostal practices as speaking in tongues, miraculous healings, prophecy, and the claimed possession of a special "baptism in the Holy Spirit." At the request of the president of the Synod, the Commission on Theology and Church Relations in 1968 began a study of the charismatic movement with special reference to the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

The 1969 synodical convention specifically directed the commission to "make a comprehensive study of the charismatic movement with special emphasis on its exegetical aspects and theological implications." It was further suggested that "the Commission on Theology and Church Relations be encouraged to involve in its study brethren who claim to have received the baptism of the Spirit and related gifts." (Resolution 2-23, 1969 Proceedings, p. 90) Since that time, the commission has sought in every practical way to acquaint itself with the theology of the charismatic movement. The commission has proceeded on the supposition that Lutherans involved in the charismatic movement do not share all the views of neo- Pentecostalism in general. Accordingly, the commission has particularly endeavored to learn the views of representative Lutheran charismatics and to address primarily those aspects of the charismatic movement that are a matter of interest or concern within our Synod. Members of the commission have on a number of occasions consulted privately with Lutheran pastors who are involved in this movement; they have studied documents, position papers, and booklets produced by Lutheran brethren who claim to have been baptized in the Spirit; they have examined carefully official reports and study documents prepared by Lutheran and non-Lutheran church bodies on this subject. [1] Representatives of the commission have attended portions of two conferences conducted by Lutheran charismatics. Furthermore, preliminary drafts of this document were examined and criticized by a number of Lutheran charismatic pastors. The commission herewith expresses its deep appreciation to those pastors for their cooperation and assistance. In this document, we are presenting materials that deal primarily with baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, and, to a lesser degree, miraculous healing, as these phenomena are occurring in The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. The first part presents general background information on the history of the movement, its sociological and psychological dimensions, and characteristic theological views of Lutheran charismatics. The second part of this document presents an analysis of relevant Biblical data, with particular reference to baptism in the Holy Spirit and the nature and purpose of spiritual gifts. In the final part, the commission offers its evaluation and recommendations from the perspective of Lutheran theology. The commission hopes this document will be helpful in encouraging further study and a proper evaluation of this increasingly significant movement.



A. A Brief History

About a decade ago the Christian world became aware of a religious movement that suddenly sprang up within many of the major American denominations. Perhaps the most characteristic mark of this new movement was its emphasis on an experience called the "baptism of the Holy Spirit." Because some of its basic beliefs resembled those of the Pentecostal churches, it became known among the traditional Christian denominations as neo-Pentecostalism. However, the movement gradually and increasingly came to assume the name "charismatic." In this word the neo-Pentecostal Christians found a term that is both Biblical and popular without bearing the stigma that has often in the past attached itself to the emotionalism and excesses of some Pentecostals. At first the new movement appeared to have arisen somewhat spontaneously, but on closer investigation it became quite evident that traditional Pentecostalism was having a strong influence on the charismatic movement. The origin of neo-Pentecostalism is difficult to trace. It first attracted public attention in 1960 when Rev. Dennis Bennett, rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Van Nuys, Calif., resigned his office rather than see his congregation divided over the practice of speaking in tongues by himself and some members of his congregation. But this action, instead of easing tension, seems rather to have signaled the public debut of a movement that had been going on in private since the middle fifties. Reports of similar experiences in other non- Pentecostal churches suddenly were made known, reports that previously had been suppressed perhaps for reasons of uncertainty about the legitimacy of the experience or for fear of denominational censure.

Since 1960 this modern "charismatic renewal," as its leaders like to call it, has spread far beyond the Pentecostal churches. It is found within such denominations as the Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, and more recently, also the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. With the support of the Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship International (FGBMFI), the Blessed Trinity Society, and individuals who are anxious to share their experiences with others, it has touched nearly every Protestant denomination in our own country as well as in many foreign countries. In spite of warnings by denominational leaders and even the removal of pastors from their charges, the movement seems to increase in influence. Periodicals published by the FGBMFI and other charismatic groups carry regular reports of pastors and laymen who claim to have experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Leaders of the charismatic renewal are greatly encouraged by the fact that the movement has also made inroads into certain intellectual centers in America. Neo-Pentecostals frequently publicize the fact that Yale University experienced a Pentecostal revival in October 1961 when nineteen students and one faculty member received the baptism in the Holy Spirit. From Yale the movement then spread to Dartmouth, Princeton, and other university campuses across the nation. Although the charismatic movement began to enter The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod some twenty years ago, the main thrust began in the middle sixties. By April 1968, when the first gathering of Missouri Synod charismatic pastors was held at Crystal City, Missouri, there were 44 pastors across the Synod claiming to have received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. When a conference of Lutheran pastors in the charismatic movement was held at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, in May 1971, it was estimated that there were over 200 pastors in the Synod claiming to have received the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Lutheran charismatics, like their counterparts in other denominations, explain that their goal is not to separate from the organized church but to assist in revitalizing the church by bearing testimony to the remarkable work the Lord is doing in their own lives through the power of the Spirit. It is their hope that the mainline churches will regard the movement with an open mind and incorporate it into the mainstream of the church's life. Various attempts have been made to account for the apparent success of the charismatic movement. Dennis Bennet explains its phenomenal growth in these words:

Frederick Dale Bruner expresses the view that Protestant as well as Roman Catholic churches since the Second Vatican Council have exercised vigorous criticism of their own churches, especially with respect to their irrelevancy, institutionalism, and spiritual deadness. Appealing to harried Protestant pastors and to spiritually malnourished Protestant and Catholic laity, neo-Pentecostal Christians claim that the power for spiritual life in the individual and in the church is to be found in the long-neglected but now discovered and experienced baptism in the Holy Spirit with its charismatic manifestations. [3]

A Lutheran pastor, recently won over to the movement, states:

B. Sociological and Psychological Dimensions

Psychologists too have sought an explanation for the spectacular growth experienced by the charismatic movement. Luther P. Gerlach and Virginia H. Hine, members of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, have produced a study in which they discount the popular view that economic deprivation, social disorganization, and psychological maladjustment have been primary causes in the development of this movement. It is their opinion that the success of the charismatic revival is to be sought rather in the dynamics of the movement itself. They point to five factors that in particular have been instrumental in the rapid growth of neo-Pentecostalism:

In recent years psychologists have also conducted controlled and comprehensive studies to ascertain whether participants in the charismatic revival are maladjusted individuals, emotionally unstable, or intellectually deprived. While older psychological opinion tended to relate glossolalia to schizophrenia, hysteria, group hypnosis, unadaptive anxiety reactions, or a higher degree of susceptibility to suggestion, more recent studies have claimed that such conclusions are no longer acceptable in the light of recent sociocultural and psychological data. Gerlach and Hine have reported that in seven studies conducted by psychologists or psychiatrists, Pentecostal glossolalia could not be related to mental illness. Speaking in tongues was not considered an indicator of neurosis or psychosis. Data indicate that although disturbed individuals may be attracted to the movement, there is no evidence that they exist in greater proportion within this movement than within the organized church. It is quite possible that the disturbed may be attracted because of their great need of help, and they may even do or say bizarre things as a manifestation of their illness, but it is not the result of the dynamics of the movement. [6]

Somewhat different conclusions were reached in a psychological and linguistic examination of glossolalia conducted recently by the Lutheran Medical Center in Brooklyn under the direction of John P. Kildahl, Ph. D., and Paul A. Qualben, M. D., and financed by the National Institute of Mental Health. According to their report, they compared the personalities of certain individuals who spoke in tongues with those who did not. Their purpose was "to determine the relationship between certain personality variables and the practice of speaking in tongues" (p. 5). In their study they employed a sampling of 39 individuals, 26 of whom were glossolalists and 13 nonglossolalists. All the participants were volunteers and were equated for age, sex, marital status, and education. All were considered "very religious." An important part of the study was a structured interview and four psychological tests. Among the significant findings in their "Final Progress Report" were the following:

Lutheran charismatics feel that the Kildahl report is unsatisfactory. They point out, in the first place, that the Kildahl-Qualben conclusions are based on too small a sample to be truly scientific and conclusive. Lutheran charismatics also deny that the Holy Spirit takes control of the person's mouth and tongue while speaking in tongues. They explain that those who speak in tongues have control over when and where they exercise the gift (just as St. Paul indicates in 1 Cor. 14:27-28). While speaking in tongues may be accompanied by a feeling of joy or closeness to God, it does not occur in a semihypnotic state, nor does it involve the speaker in a loss of consciousness or awareness of all that is going on about him. Lutheran charismatics admit that many people are taught the mechanics of speaking in tongues, but they emphasize that others have received the gift simply in response to prayer and without receiving any instruction or hearing anyone speak in tongues. Finally, Lutheran charismatics deny that speaking in tongues means that they are specially chosen by God; they emphasize that speaking in tongues is purely a gift of God's grace. [8] While the congregations and pastors of The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod may find various psychological studies of neo-Pentecostalism to be interesting and helpful, such studies appear to be largely inconclusive at the present time. Furthermore, our concern as Christians should center especially on the theological aspects of this movement.

C. Theological Views of Lutheran Charismatics

In spite of the fact that many books, pamphlets, and articles relating personal experiences and views have been produced by Lutheran charismatics in the past decade, it must be understood that no single voice speaks for the entire movement. Moreover, no single authoritative theological interpretation has emerged that is commonly accepted by all charismatics (or even by all Lutheran charismatics). There are, however, several basic theological viewpoints that appear with some frequency in the writings of Lutheran charismatics. [9] Among them are the following:



Lutheran charismatics claim that their theological views supplement rather than contradict traditional Lutheran doctrine. That claim can be properly evaluated only on the basis of what the Scriptures teach. We shall first examine the Biblical teaching on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We will them summarize what the Scriptures teach concerning the Holy Spirit and His spiritual gifts in general before giving particular attention to St. Paul's treatment of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14. Finally, we will discuss whether the Scriptures promise extraordinary charismatic gifts to the church of every age.

A. Baptism of the Holy Spirit

The distinctive doctrine and major emphasis of the neo-Pentecostal or charismatic movement is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It is therefore crucial to understand what the Scriptures say about this teaching.

B. The Holy Spirit and His Gifts

The baptism of the Holy Spirit must be studied in the larger Biblical context of the Holy Spirit and His spiritual gifts. One of the themes that appears prominently in both Testaments represents the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Power who gives special gifts to the people of God in order to enable them to serve Him according to His will. In Old Testament times it was the Spirit who gave the rulers and military leaders the ability to govern in times of emergency. (1 Sam. 10:1-7; 16:13)

He gave the judges of Israel physical strength, courage, and wisdom to wage war against the enemies of God's people (Judg. 3:7-10; 6:33 ff). He endowed the artisans with craftsmanship in building the tabernacle (Ex. 31: 2-4). In a very special sense of the word, He equipped His "prophets" to serve as mouthpieces of God in order to reveal His will to the people. (2 Sam. 23:2; Neh. 9:20,30; Ezek. 11:5; Hos. 9:7; Zech. 7:12)

Throughout the New Testament, the Spirit is presented as the mark of the new age that began with the resurrection of Jesus and Pentecost. The Holy Spirit in whose name we are baptized is the Spirit who was promised in the Old Testament (cf. Ezek. 36:25-38; Jer. 31:31-34; Ps. 51:10-12). But He is associated with God's new covenant and the passing away of the old covenant (cf. 2 Cor. 3). To confess Jesus as Lord by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3) is to confess that we stand in the new testament in distinction from the old, for the Spirit is the "down payment" or "firstfruits" of the new age (cf. Rom. 8:23, 2 Cor. 5:5; 1:22). The church, created by the Holy Spirit through Baptism and the Word, is the new Israel of God.

In the New Testament the Spirit's work was intensified. This became evident even before the events of Pentecost. Early in his ministry John the Baptist proclaimed the good news that Jesus would "baptize" His people with the Holy Spirit. This indicated that with the coming of the Kingdom Jesus would pour out His Spirit on them in a very special measure.

Prior to His suffering and death on the cross, Jesus gave His disciples the promise of the Spirit. The Spirit would be their parakleetos, their Comforter and Counselor (John 14:26). He would guide them into all truth; He would teach them all things and again remind them of all that Jesus had told them while He was with them. (John 14:17, 26; 16:13)

Shortly before His ascension into heaven, the Savior told the disciples to remain in Jerusalem until they had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5); then they should employ this power to bear witness to Christ in all the world. (Acts 1:8)

In the Book of Acts it is evident that these promises concerning the Holy Spirit were fulfilled. The coming of Pentecost brought with it the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Jesus equipped His followers with such spiritual gifts as were needed to carry out the task of evangelizing the world. Some of these gifts were miraculous. The disciples on Pentecost were heard speaking of the wonderful works of God in languages they had not learned (Acts 2:6-12). Some time later in the history of the early church, this experience was repeated with other believers in Christ. (Acts 10:46; 19:6)

Filled with the Holy Spirit, the disciples of Jesus performed many signs and wonders (Acts 5:12; 6:8); they healed the lame (Acts 3:6), the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits (Acts 5:16; 8:6-8), and those who were paralyzed (Acts 9:34); on occasions they even raised the dead. (Acts 9:40; see also Acts 13:9-11; 14:8-11; 16:18; 19:11-12; 20:7-12.)

Of special importance, however, were the less spectacular spiritual gifts that were directly related to the proclamation of the Gospel. After Pentecost the disciples possessed an intense desire to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They employed every opportunity to witness to the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of their Lord. They proclaimed Christ with new courage and boldness, and it is very evident they understood better than before Pentecost the purpose and significance of Christ's death and resurrection. (Acts 2:14-40; 3:12- 26; 4:1-22; 5:29-32; 7:1-60; 8:32-35)

After Pentecost the Holy Spirit took a very active part in directing the early church into an intensive program of carrying the Gospel into all the world. It was the Spirit who led Philip to the chariot of the Ethiopian and gave him the opportunity to speak to him of the Savior (Acts 8:29). It was the Spirit who directed Simon Peter to the house of the Gentile Cornelius to proclaim to him the Gospel (Acts 10). Again it was the Spirit who chose Paul and Barnabas to be missionaries to the Gentile world (Acts 13:1-3) and then directed them through Asia Minor into Macedonia. (Acts 16:6-10)

The Bible also provides a number of lists that enumerate specific spiritual gifts with which God has endowed His church. One of the more familiar listings is recorded in 1 Corinthians 12 where the spiritual gifts mentioned are wisdom, knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, the ability to distinguish between spirits, various kinds of tongues, and the interpretation of tongues. It should be carefully noted that while the apostle clearly indicates that miraculous gifts of the Spirit were possessed by some individuals in the Corinthian congregation, he does not deal with the subject extensively in his letters to other churches. When Paul in other epistles presents to his readers lists of spiritual gifts, or when he discusses the duties and functions of the church, or even when he catalogs the qualifications of pastors and other church leaders, he mentions only the less spectacular gifts, and his emphasis is on communicating the Gospel (Eph. 4:4-11; Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Tim. 3:1-13; Titus 1:7-9). Some have interpreted this silence to mean that the miraculous gifts that were originally given to the followers of Christ soon disappeared from the early church after they had served their special purpose. Others, however, feel that such an argument from silence is inconclusive because there may have been no problem in these churches with regard to the proper use of these gifts.

In the fifth chapter of Galatians the apostle discusses the fruits of the Spirit which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (vv. 22-23). Here it should be noted that St. Paul lists the less spectacular gifts of the Spirit, namely, the more common attitudes and spiritual qualities of the Christian that result from his regeneration.

To be considered also is that Holy Scripture indicates with remarkable consistency that the Spirit imparts His gifts in response to the needs of His kingdom (Gen. 41:38; Num. 11:16-17, 24-26, 29; 27:18-23; 1 Sam. 16:13; Judg. 6:1-6, 33-34; 13:l-3, 24-25; Acts 2:1-43; 4:1-22; 6:l-11; 8:26-40). He bestows His special gifts on God's people in a historical context. In the New Testament the primary emphasis is that the Spirit equips the church to meet the world's need for the Gospel (Acts 8:5-8; 8:14-17; 11:1-18; 13:1-3; 16:6-10). For this reason the apostle strongly emphasized the importance of proclaiming Christ in a clear, intelligible manner. (1 Cor. 14:1-12)

In short, the Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus Christ our Lord and no other. Jesus promises not only that the Spirit "will convince the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment" but that He will glorify Jesus Christ, "for He will take what is Mine and declare it to you" (John 16:8, 14). He is quite willing to be anonymous as long as Christ is proclaimed and exalted (John 16:13-14). The Spirit does not provide a second foundation for faith but bears witness to Jesus Christ as the church's one Foundation. Through Him we confess Jesus as Lord (1 Cor. 12:3) and call God our Father (Gal. 4:6). It is through the Spirit that we serve God and one another and overcome the temptations that arise in our lives. The Spirit transforms and empowers the whole life and outlook of those who receive Him, gives birth to the community of the church, and enables that church to proclaim the Word with boldness.

C. The Nature and Purpose of Spiritual Gifts
in 1 Corinthians 12-14

One of the most instructive sections in Holy Scriptures on the nature and purpose of spiritual gifts is 1 Corinthians 12-14. We shall not attempt to reconstruct the total problem that troubled the church at Corinth with respect to charismatic gifts, nor shall we seek to review the questions that may have been asked by the congregation. Instead we shall note some of the basic instructions that Paul gives in these chapters regarding spiritual gifts. Among the points made by St. Paul that are particularly relevant to our discussion are the following:

D. The Gifts of the Spirit Today

Of primary importance in the current discussion is the question whether the Lord has promised to give His Spirit to the Christian church today in the same manner that He gave the Spirit to the church of the first century, enabling believers to perform miracles, heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead, prophesy, or speak in tongues. Are the events recorded in Acts 2, 8, 10, and 19 to be interpreted solely as historical happenings that occurred in apostolic times, or should these passages be considered promises indicating what the Lord will do in behalf of His people also in future generations?

These narratives are presented by Luke as historical accounts and without any indication that they are to be considered promises also to future generations. Accordingly, Lutheran theologians in the past have usually interpreted them as experiences that occurred only in the apostolic church. Lutheran dogmaticians in earlier centuries carefully distinguished between baptism with the Holy Spirit and baptism in the name of Jesus. Only the latter was considered a sacrament to be performed in the church until the return of Christ. For these dogmaticians, baptism with the Holy Spirit, together with charismatic gifts, was limited to the apostolic age.

In more recent years, other Lutheran theologians identified the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the conversion of the sinner, which takes place through the Word and sacraments. Dr. Theodore Engelder, for example, writes:

While Lutheran theologians have at times differed in their understanding of the term "baptism with the Holy Spirit," they have rather consistently held that the extraordinary charismatic gifts mentioned in Acts and 1 Corinthians were no longer given after the close of the apostolic age.

Even passages such as Mark 16:17-18 and 1 Cor. 13:8-10 do not clearly promise that God will endow His church throughout the centuries with the charismatic gifts that were given to the early Christians. Mark 16:17-18 does indeed state that "these signs will accompany those who believe: in My name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover." There is today almost unanimous agreement among scholars that verses 9 to 20 are not a part of the authentic text of the 16th chapter of the Gospel of Mark. [14] But even if these verses are authentic, they do not support the view of those who claim that in all ages of Christendom believers will be accompanied by a display of miracles. Understanding these verses in such an absolute sense would force one to conclude that these words of Jesus are unfulfilled, since such miracles have not always accompanied believers.

First Corinthians 13:8-10 has at times been quoted to prove that extraordinary charismatic gifts will remain in the church until the return of Christ, at which time that which is imperfect will pass away. However, if this passage is employed in this manner, one must conclude that not only tongues, prophecy, and knowledge will continue to exist in the church but also apostles and prophets, since they too are included among the spiritual or charismatic gifts listed in 1 Cor. 12:28. On the other hand, 1 Cor. 13:8-10 should not be used to prove the opposite. The apostle's statements that prophecies will pass away and tongues will cease are spoken in an eschatological context and do not prove that such gifts will end with the apostolic age. Moreover, his chief point in these verses is to stress the abiding character of love rather than the exact duration of extraordinary charismatic gifts.

It is noteworthy that the Scripture nowhere promises or encourages us to hope that extraordinary charismatic gifts will become the possession of the Christian church throughout the centuries. The pattern set in Scripture may actually indicate the opposite. While gifts of the Spirit are spoken of throughout the Bible, different gifts were given at different times in history depending on the needs of the Kingdom. The church can be sure that the Spirit will grant it those blessings that it will need to build the church, but it will remember that the Lord may have other gifts in mind for His people than those He granted the Christians in apostolic times. The church today must not reason in a manner that would lead us to conclude that because the Holy Spirit gave Samson the ability to fight lions or David the talent to govern, we can therefore expect Him to endow us similarly. The church must not conclude that because the Christian community in apostolic times had members who could speak in tongues, therefore the church today must possess similar gifts or it is somehow incomplete. It must not contend that because the church of the apostles had in its midst those with the ability to perform miracles of healing, therefore the church of the twentieth century must have members with similar gifts or it lacks an essential characteristic of the body of Christ. To be sure, the Lord may choose to give such gifts; but He gives to His church according to His good and gracious will and in keeping with His promises.

The Christian church today will accept with joy and gratitude any gift that the Spirit in His grace may choose to bestow on us for the purpose of edifying the body of Christ. It will recognize that the Lord does not forsake His church but promises the abiding presence of His Spirit. The church, therefore, will not reject out of hand the possibility that God may in His grace and wisdom endow some in Christendom with the same abilities and powers He gave His church in past centuries. It will take care lest it quench the Spirit by neither praying for nor expecting God's presence and power in building His church. But it will also take seriously the admonition of the apostle to "test the spirits to see whether they are of God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world." (1 John 4:1; 1 Cor. 12:10) [15]

The church should seek the Holy Spirit and His gifts where God has promised them, in the Word and sacraments. The Scriptures make this point abundantly clear. In the house of Cornelius, for example, the preached word of Peter about Jesus Christ was the occasion for the gift of the Holy Spirit "on all who heard the word" (Acts 10:44). In Ephesus it was Paul's proclamation of Jesus that led to baptism in the name of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples of John (Acts 19:4-6). The Galatians, writes the apostle Paul, received the Spirit "by hearing with faith" (Gal. 3:3, 5). Word and sacraments are the instruments of the Spirit of God through which God continues to give His gifts to the church in this and every age. [16]


This text was converted to ASCII text for Project Wittenberg by Rev. Steve Felton and is in the public domain. You may freely distribute, copy or print this text. Please direct any comments or suggestions to:

Rev. Robert E. Smith
Walther Library
Concordia Theological Seminary.

Surface Mail: 6600 N. Clinton St., Ft. Wayne, IN 46825 USA
Phone: (260) 452-3149 - Fax: (260) 452-2126

To: Next Section - LCMS Documents - Project Wittenberg