Pentecostal/Charismatic: What’s the difference? part 2

In my last post I discussed the technical difference between Pentecostals and Charismatics in terms of history with the dividing line being 1960.

Now I want to attempt to address the theological difference. I need to clarify here that things can get kind of messy at this point and there can be a lot of detail – but for the sake of keeping things simple, I am going to stick to the basic difference – if you want to discuss things in a little more detail perhaps we can go into all that in the comments. Also, I want to say as well that there may be different understandings of the difference I am going to discuss – so how I lay it out, is as I understand it. I do not claim to be an expert in pentecostal or charismatic theology (even though I went to a pentecostal seminary) so I am willing to learn from others and am willing to make adjustments to my understanding of this topic.

What is the basic theological difference?

The basic theological difference lies in the interpretation and understanding of what is meant by the term “Baptism with the Holy Spirit” and the supposed “evidences” that such has happened in the life of a believer.

For both the Pentecostal and Charismatic believer – The Baptism with the Holy Spirit refers to the receiving of power Jesus mentioned to the disciples in Acts 1:8 which reads in the ESV: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

It is the belief of the Charismatic and Pentecostal believer that this power is something all believers can and should receive. We see this happen in Acts 2:4 and following. Also, Pentecostal and Charismatic believers understand Peter’s statement in Acts 2:39, which reads, “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” With the promise referring back to the promise of the Father Jesus told the disciples to wait for back in Acts 1:4. C & P folk believe this promise is for every believer irrespective of race, class, or gender, or theological background. It is a promise for all who are disciples of Jesus.

Now where Pentecostal and Charismatic theology part ways is with regard to the “evidence” one has received the Baptism with the Holy Spirit.

For the Pentecostal, it is asserted that evidence of Spirit Baptism is speaking in tongues. Acts 2:4; 8:14-17 (tongues here assumed); 10:44-48; 19:4-7 being versed used to support the argument. What is important to mention here is theological method. Pentecostals believe the book of Acts is not just history but also theological discourse (Luke being the most prolific author of the NT with more verses in Luke-Acts than all of Paul combined, desrves the label “theologian” as much as “historian,” and that folks would easily argue Luke is not just a history of Jesus but theology is at play – Pentecostals argue the same for Acts). So it is argued by Pentecostals that a major theme for the book of Acts is the Work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church and the individual believer.

It is the position of Pentecostal believers that (in the words of the Assemblies of God) “the initial physical evidence” of the Baptism with the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues – such that to an extent many would say “no tongues – no baptism.” There are some, who may differ on the definition of “initial.” Most take it to mean “immediately.” Yet, others prefer to see it as meaning “primary” worrying that “immediately” is too pushy and hurtful to many. Many Pentecostals would say Spirit Baptism is not tongues speaking – Spirit Baptism is charismatic empowerment to be effective witness to Jesus both in word and deed.

EDIT: Pentecostals see Luke and Paul in tandem and not at odds – whereas Paul emphasizes the salvific aspect of Spirit Baptism as initiation in to the Body of Christ sealing the believer for salvation, Luke argues for the charismatic empowerment aspect of Spirit Baptism that empowers the believer for effective witness to Jesus both in word and deed.

It is extremely important to know that for Pentecostals and Charismatics the issue of Spirit Baptism as charismatic empowerment is not an issue of salvation or evidence for salvation. Salvation comes by faith alone in Christ alone. There is a brand of Pentecostalism that does believe this but they are a cult! This group is the UPC or United Pentecostal Church, aka: Oneness Pentecostals or Jesus only – they also deny the Trinity and insist on water baptism (in Jesus’ name only) and speaking in tongues for savlation. Thus, they are appropriately identified as a cult.

In Charismatic theology – they will not go that far. Instead Charismatic theology argues tongues is “an” evidence but not necessarily “the” evidence. they allow more flexibility on the matter. In this case Charismatic look to Paul and his comments in 1 Corinthians 12:29-31, which reads in the ESV, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.” With the logical answer being “no” Charismatics here refrain from insisting that believers speak in tongues as evidence of having received the Baptism with the Holy Spirit. Charismatic theology would suggest that there are other evidences of Spirit baptism such as prophetic speech, effective witnessing, faith, healings, service, helps and the like.

This is the basic difference. Let me remind you I could get a lot more specific and detailed but I wanted to keep it simple and not take all day to type this out explaining the differences. Please know that within the Assemblies of God there is much debate about this issue and not all are in agreement – however the heart of Pentecostal theology is not tongues but rather empowerment by the Holy Spirit for witness to Jesus, both in word and deed. This is the heart of Pentecostal theology. While Pentecostals may argue that “physical evidence” is tongues speaking, true evidence of Spirit Baptism is one’s ability to witness to the reality and power of Jesus in the life of the believer, both in word and deed (e.g. righteous living).

For further reading on these issues consider the following:
Gordon Fee’s massive tome God’s Empowering Presence, Hendrickson Publishers, 1994
Roger Stronstad, The Charismatic Theology of St. Luke, Hendrickson Publishers, 1984.
William W. and Robert P. Menzies, Spirit and Power: Foundations of Pentecostal Experience, Zondervan, 2000.
Frank Macchia, Baptized in the Holy Spirit: A Global Pentecostal Theology, Zondervan, 2006.
Craig Keener, 3 Crucial Questions about the Holy Spirit, Baker Books, 1996. (I would probably advise that folks start with Keener.

I hope this helps some. I recognize this post may need editing in terms of content.

17 responses to “Pentecostal/Charismatic: What’s the difference? part 2

  1. Brian,

    Thank you for writing this post. It helps clear things up for me as to the difference between the two groups.

    As to the evidence for being saved, I sure hope the Pentecostals are not correct. I believe I am saved, but have never spoken in tongues (I wonder what they do with Romans 10:9-10). I would, however, agree with the Charismatic belief that speaking in tongues can be an evidence of salvation.

    I imagine that you and I would differ somewhat as to when Spirit Baptism takes place. I believe I was baptized by the Spirit at the moment of salvation, not at a later time.

    As to the spiritual gifts, I am not a Cessationist. I still believe the “miraculous gifts” exist. I am also troubled that tongues are generally thought of as some sort of bizarre thing in Southern Baptist life.

    I still struggle, however, with what speaking in tongues actually is. I can certainly see tongues referring to specific languages, as we see in Acts 2. As to tongues that are only understandable to a person who does the interpreting, I have never seen this.

    I still have never seen tongues used in a scriptural manner in the gathering of a church. What I have seen on TV is not scriptural; but I also don’t think it is scriptural to basically outlaw speaking in tongues as seems to have occurred in SBC life.

    Sorry for the rambling. I look forward to further posts.


  2. Eric, Spirit Baptism and speaking in tongues are not evidences for salvation – that comes through faith in Christ alone. I apologize if I miscommunicated that.

    Again there is the salvific aspect of Spirit Baptism in which all believers receive the Spirit at salvation, then there is the aspect of charismatic empowerment to effective witness to Jesus.

    Like I said, it can get messy but to be sure, you are saved and I did not mean to imply you weren’t.

    I will have to expound on this further. I appreciate your posts and thoughts.

  3. Brian,

    Thanks for answering. You didn’t make me worry about my salvation.

    I think we agree on FAR more than we disagree on. I look forward to learning about different aspects of Charismatic theology and practices by reading your blog.

    Most of what I have been exposed to regarding Charismatics has been through some sort of negative filter. However, the fact is that God is using Charismatics around the world to draw people to himself. All we have to do is look at the amazing numerical growth to see that.

    I look forward to reading more.


  4. yes we do agree on a whole lot – i wrote a paper on this once because i wanted to see if there was a difference, and what put are the two primary differences.

  5. Hey Eric,

    My definition of “charismatic” is broad enough that pretty much any person can consider themselves a charismatic if they believe the “miraculous gifts” and or other spiritual gifts are operational today – those are “charisms” or gifts of the Holy Spirit to bless and edify the body.

    So I suppose you could, in a sense, consider yourself a charismatic believer though not in the sense of what one might see on the T.V. or in the more fringe sectors of the charismania movement.

    What might you think about that?

  6. Brian,

    Your posts here are interesting. First, for propriety let me say that I am a Pentecostal, and more specifically a UPC Pentecostal. That said, I hope to be a valuable contributer to your conversation.

    The lines you draw between Charismatics and Pentecostals are fairly blurry. In the broadest sense, Pentecostals identify themselves with Acts 2 and the experience that happened during the Feast/Festival of Pentecost. I think the same may be said of Charismatics. Thus, many Pentecostals would call themselves Charismatic and vice-versa.

    In the more narrow sense, you seem to be attempting to apply denominational characteristics to these two communities. That is, one might believe in x, the other believes in y. The problem here is that “Pentecostal” and “Charismatic” are movements, not denominations. There are Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, and on and on who claim to have had the Acts 2 experience and who call themselves by one of these two titles. So, as far as trying to locate doctrinal differences between the two, you’ll have to look at specific denominations. So, a Bapticostal believes…but a AoG believes…

    Lastly, two points. (1) You might want to look up the definition of ‘cult’ and do some thinking about how the term might or might not be applicable to the UPC denomination. Remember one thing, just because a group believes differently than you do doesn’t automatically make it a cult. And, just so you know, UPC’ers do believe in the titles ‘Father, Son, and Holy Ghost’; but they do not believe in the classical understanding of the doctrine of the trinity. That is, they do not believe in three, co-equal, co-eternal persons, but rather in One God. Now, this is a big topic on its own, but suffice it to say that most people do not even know what UPC’ers believe and yet take the liberty to vilify them. Ironically, many (a majority?) of persons who claim to be trinitarian have a very difficult time explaining the doctrine. I’ve found that usually they actually don’t know what the doctrine is at all, and the more they speak about it the more they sound like they don’t agree with it. (2) Speaking in tongues is an experience that crosses all denominational boundaries, doctrines, dogmas, and so on. It is for any and all, regardless of all these various labels. I have seen countless people speak in tongues for the first time in their lives and there is nothing quite like it. My biggest blessing is when I see young kids receive this incredible gift.

    I hope you might revisit this topic. Maybe you should go visit a UPC church sometime.

    God bless,

    David Garrett

  7. Thanks David for commenting. I did note that I was trying to keep things very simple and things could get messy – While both Charismatics and Pentecostals look to Acts 2 as a common experience, the movements are rooted in two separate historical situations – the Pentecostals in the 1906 Azusa Street Revival and the Charismatics in the Charismatic movement of the 1960-70’s though they are more or less desendents of the Asuza Street Revival – via the Pentecostal movement.

    As to the theological differences, again I tried to keep it simple and to what I stated I believed the core difference was – whether tongues is the sole primary physical evidence of Spirit Baptism. Pentecostals say yes, Charismatics in general say not necessarily. I think these are differences in the movements not specific denominations.

    As to the Trinity – this issue was settled at Nicaea in 325 and beyond. I admit I am not willing to get into the issue as I support the decisions of the historical church councils.

    I hope you have a blessed season of advent.

  8. Hi Brian,

    Yes, you did certainly qualify your thoughts, and I meant no offense by continuing the conversation. As for the Trinity and Nicea, my comments were an answer to your unsubstantiated labeling of the UPC as a ‘cult.’ Perhaps you are just parroting something you’ve heard before, but perhaps you could do some research on this before you write about it.

    God bless you in your spiritual seeking.

  9. Dear Brian

    Recently I was confronted by a Calvanist who wanted to discuss Calvanism and Arminianism.This topic was completelt foreign to me as I have knowlegde of the doctrines of either parties however as I continued with this conversation I realised that He was saying Calvanist preach what is the word of God in particular Dr.John Piper and every other movement of God or denomination preaches what is contrary to the word of God.I was rather annoyed with his comments.I would like for you to advise me on this matter.My belief is that God created one church that can work together not against each other in order to achieve the objectives of the body of Christ.I do not oppose what other denominations may preach however I know what is the truth as it has set me free.I would appreciate your response and from anyone that it may concern.

  10. I meant to say “this was completely foreign to me as I had no knowledge of the Arminians nor the Calvanists” but don’t you find it strange that Calvanist are not mentioned in the bible?

  11. I am an editor for which is a social network dedicated to the christian community. As I look through your web site I feel a collaboration is at hand. I would be inclined to acknowledge your website offering it to our users as I’m sure our Pentecostal audience would benefit from what your site has to offer. I look forward to your thoughts or questions regarding the matter.

    Vicky Silvers

  12. This is my first visit to ur site.I like the exposition.I am a member of Cedar Mountain AG in Ghana.Can you send me the full article(part 1 and 2) through my e-mail?Bless u.

  13. This assessment is very helpful to me. I am from Ghana, originally a Pentecostal and still consider myself so; however, due to the convenience of location, I have, since 2006 been drawn to a charismatic movement (International Central Gospel Church). Each Sunday at church, I hear a concise affirmation of the church’s basic tenet as “charismatic”, which I tended to feel uncomfortable with, because: 1) I believed the church was “Pentecostal” in its beliefs and teachings; and
    2) While I could see the word “Pentecost” in the new testament, I thought there was nothing like “charisma” in the bible.

    With the explanation of “charism” or “gift” as opposed to charisma (charm, attractiveness), I am able to stay comfortably with my current status. To me, the similarities in Pentecostalism compared to charismatics, far outweigh any differences between the two movements.

    God bless.

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