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Why the Charismatic Movement Burned Me

Spirit (passion/zeal) at the neglect of truth to anchor it results in cults, unorthodox sects, and damage to outsiders (like me). 


“For years now, my sinuses have been really messed up,” I told this friendly stranger after the service at a church in New Hampshire. “I can barely taste, I have constant pressure headaches, and frequently get sinus infections.”

With a confident smile, he laid his hands on my shoulders, though over the course of the prayer, they would migrate across my cheeks and nose. He began, “God, you have given us authority over the sicknesses that infest our bodies. In Jesus’ name, I COMMAND this illness to get out of this man’s body!”

He pressed on my nose.


He declared some more healing at me and then told me that by the time I left the church doors, it would have started healing and all my nasal issues would be better. “The healing is beginning now,” he said as we departed. “It may take a few minutes but it’s healed now.”

It wasn’t.

That was in the spring of 2012, and my sinus issues wouldn’t be resolved until January 2017 when I had surgery to correct my deviated septum.

The sad thing is, that was not one isolated incident. I was with a hyper charismatic missions organization for two years from 2010-12, and over those two years, I cannot count how many times my sinuses were prayed over and “declared” to be healed, every time leaving me disappointed and questioning God’s healing power…or my own faith.

If I just had more faith, my sinuses would have been healed months ago!

It’s worth noting here that I’d consider myself a charismatic believer. I believe God still works and heals and does crazy stuff. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I had a professor in college who once told me that any miracle I’d ever seen was just my imagination playing tricks on me and I was misremembering everything, because God doesn’t do that anymore.

That is not me.

I’m more akin to Tim Keller, who once said that he considers himself an 80% cessationist: That 80% of the time, people are being dramatic or being deceived by their own minds, but there is still that 20% of times that are truly unexplainable and supernatural. (I may be more like 60/40, but you get the point…)

I saw a herd of demons cast out of a man in Thailand and nothing can convince me that that’s not what I saw. I saw a man’s hand healed in Brazil while I held it. I helped run an organization in Nigeria which reported people born deaf or blind receiving their senses for the first time ever. These were evidences of God moving and transforming peoples’ lives in explicit, undeniable ways, unlike things I experiences stateside at the hands of overzealous pentecostals.

I remember one instance at a church in Boston (where I also received prayer for my sinuses after the service…maybe THIS time it’ll do the trick) when the pastor stood before his congregation and told them, “I’ve been in so many churches across America, and you know what the problem is? God isn’t there.” The audience cheered.

What he meant was, people didn’t dance around the aisles and go crazy and passionately declare healing over hopeful visitors. If that pastor were to attend the church where I currently work, he would probably have the same critique: God is not in the building.

It’s as if the zeal and passion of the worshippers indicate where the presence of God is and where it is not. Like, if you weren’t dancing crazy enough, you weren’t really worshiping. Nevermind stillness and waiting upon the Lord in contemplation and silence, like Christians have done for millennia.

There were a number of times I was in charismatic worship services and felt the pressure to dance around and smile a lot because that’s what everyone else was doing. And if I wasn’t [awkwardly] dancing, I was doing it wrong.

The pentecostal/charismatic subculture has a lot of great things to offer the church today. In a recent seminary class, we discussed the different emphases of various congregations, and Pentecostal churches focus on the Power and Presence of God. They are aware of these things in proportions the rest of the church can benefit from.

That pastor was right to a degree, in that many churches and pastors have neglected the power and active presence of God in our midst, and that is something we should work to recover. However, somewhere between doubting the active work of God and telling someone they’re healed when they’re not is a healthy balance which needs to be realized.

The majority of Christianity is finding the healthy balance between two extremes.

In this case, I like to pull from John 4:24, where Jesus tells the woman at the well that true worshipers worship in spirit and truth. Many charismatics are heavy on the spirit, but light on truth (Yes, of course many tribes are heavy on truth while neglecting the Spirit, but that’s for another time). Both spirit and truth are necessary for a thriving faith and active growth.

Truth at the neglect of the Spirit dries up faith, creating an evaporated and crumbling Christianity.

But spirit (passion/zeal) at the neglect of truth to anchor it results in cults, unorthodox sects, and a lot of damage to outsiders (like me).

It took years for me to recover from thinking that my faith was lacking because no matter how many people prayed for me, my nasal passages were still screwed up. There were other times I was practically forced to speak in ‘tongues’ by babbling incoherently, but nothing ever emerged from it.

The F is wrong with me? Why is my faith so weak? I used to wonder.

Rather than seeking out what the Bible really says about these things, and developing a healthy, realistic and holistic theology of miracles and healing, I believed the culture I was submerged in at the time. (Paul explicitly says that not everyone can speak in tongues…so why is it forced in so many pentecostal gatherings?)

I was in one charismatic service where a guy went up to the microphone and announced that he had a dream about the Ninja Turtles, and somehow that was some indicator about the spiritual climate of the base. In other words, his fantastical amphibian dream held more weight than the words of Scripture.

The point I’m trying to make in all of this is, find balance. Know the truth of scripture as it is illuminated by the Holy Spirit. Pray often. Pray for one another often. But beware of the language you use and the beliefs you hold, as they may be damaging to others.

Watch out that you don’t make things like healings and miracles the ultimate things, rather than subservient to the one most important thing: Knowing Christ. Without a doubt, we are to pray for the sick and injured. But there is a huge difference between asking for healing and demanding/declaring it. The words we use matter.

Watch out that we do not pressure one another to worship in one specific way. We are free to dance and go wild, but we are also free to sit and be still.

I hate the idea of someone in my shoes wandering into one of those pentecostal churches with some ailment, being declared healed, only to leave the church the same as they entered. I hate the idea of this earnest seeker rejecting Christianity as a whole and never coming to know Christ because of the misleading and destructive language used. Fortunately, that was not the case for me, though as you can see, damage was still done. It has also caused countless others to end up leaving the church for good.

May we continue this conversation as people who seek to know truth and commune with the Spirit, neglecting neither and always growing in both. No church is perfect, but there is a time and place to call out unhealthy and toxic behaviors.


25 comments on “Why the Charismatic Movement Burned Me

  1. Well … this leaves me very sad. Not sure why but it does.

    A couple of things by way of transparency. I encountered the power of the Holy Spirit 40+ years ago. I’ve seen people healed and I’ve seen people die who desperately wanted to be healed. I’ve been healed and I have several chronic diseases now that I haven’t been healed from. Go figure.

    There are a few things I have discovered.

    — God is God and in control. I am not.
    — God is Great and nothing is impossible with God.
    — God is Good and in a good mood.
    — God has a goal for me. It is my job to focus on it.

    There is more but that is what my blog is for. 🙂

    P. S. – I am not looking for a theology of miracles.

    Be blessed. God is with you.

  2. I love this, Ethan. This may be one of your best blogs!

  3. Sally Bane

    Really well thought out article Ethan. Your point about being heavy on one and light on the other struck me. Balance is so important. Thanks for your thoughts. I’m so sorry for all you went through with your sinuses!!!!

  4. Thanks for sharing your story, Ethan. I think this is really important! I too believe in miracles and appreciate (and attend) churches that embrace the power and presence of God. And I too have seen some occational imbalances (as most churches & denominations have).

    The balance of worshiping in spirit and in truth is crucial. People feel left out & confused when certain groups over-emphasize the knowledge of gifts, often by forsaking foundational knowledge of the Giver. Newcomers are sometimes pressured to embrace the supernatural power & healing of God, before they ever really know WHO He is. They feel stupid for not understanding all the super-natural lingo that was never taught to them, & they feel like failures when their prayers do not lead to perfected circumstances in an imperfect world.

    My prayer is that we all would embrace & share God’s power & presence in a way that isn’t pushy or distracting, but rather empathetic, grace-filled, & life-giving. Thanks again!

  5. I’ve had very similar experiences when I was with an extremely charismatic mission’s organization for a year. In the midst of heretical teaching, unhealthy focus on “authority”, cultural faux paux’s regularly practiced in the name of Jesus, and ultimately a view of spiritual maturity based on the supernatural spiritual gifts, I was left recognizing that while the charismatic movement had sight on areas that the evangelical movement had lost, they swung the pendulum too far and had created spiritual idols.

    • Will Smidts

      Shacking recognition but regrettably true.

      No church is perfect, but there is a time and place to call out unhealthy and toxic behaviour”

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  7. Ethan knocks it out of the park again… and again… and again

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  9. Bruce Medlyn

    Ethan, thank you very much for sharing this! 🙂 I wanted to comment on *true* cessationism. I’m not sure what real Christian, in their right mind, would ever deny that miracles no longer occur. I have been miraculously healed myself. So I have seen it first hand. But *true* cessationism is not a belief that miracles no longer occur. That is a paper tiger that has been presented over and over again and it pains me. *True* Cessationism is the belief that the ‘sign gifts’ as a *spiritual gift* have ceased. Let me give you an example: If a person has the spiritual gift of preaching, that person can preach all day long every day, empowered by the Holy Spirit, with the only limiting factor being eating, sleeping, resting, etc. Teaching is the same way. The gift of service/*helps* is the same way. And… the sign gifts were that way, when they were in operation, in the New Testament. When the sign gifts were in operation, whether it was Jesus or one of the Apostles, you could have set up a drive through window and they could heal-on-demand, all day long. We do not see that these days. But if healing, etc, as a *spiritual gift* is still in operation then it is a reasonable expectation for someone to be healed immediately. Everytime. But they are not. We even see Paul starting to lose this gift as the New Testament goes on.

  10. This article has helped me. I have been heavy on Truth, because we are to rightly divide the Word of Truth, but we are to also have the Spirit of Christ, or we are none of his. Truth and Spirit must come forth by love, because without love, we are nothing.

  11. Mark blann

    I appreciate your sincerity, I understand how your experience would damage an immature believer.
    On another point, when Paul said that all don’t speak in tongues, the context was in church meetings.
    So you’re miss leading people.
    On still another point, if a Christian walks in the truth of the word he will as a result walk in the spirit. I agree one be mystical (spiritual) and neglect truth.

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  13. Jaeson

    The most destructive movement in the “church” (if you can still call it that) in America today is the New Apostolic Reformation. My relatives are part of it. It is hyper charismatic at best, and entirely cult-like (well I would say it is a cult).. I have come to the conclusion they aren’t following Christ – but a “christ” of their own making. They tell the under 40 crowd that God is going to use them in a special way to re-create the miracles of Scripture, but in order to do this they have to be “activated” a their expensive power centers, or by getting hands laid on by their supposed ( self-proclaimed ) apostles and prophets. They think you can teach people to prophesy, that it is ok to be inaccurate. They don’t preach the gospel about Jesus’ death and resurrection, they teach that Jesus died to give you power. The idea of sin is not really taught (rarely if ever). It is all about “power.” The idea that the world see “power” in Christians is more important than the Gospel….even though the Bible warns us that a wicked generation seeks after a sign. That is all this movement cares about- signs. If you question their leadership you are labeled as hindering the spirit. They teach young people that they have to physically take over the world for Jesus to return (7 mountain mandate). They use weird phraseology non-stop. Problem is, their music is horrifically popular- Bethel, Jesus Culture, Cory Ashbury, Lauren Daigle, are all pumping money into this awful machine. Lately Hillsong has been partnering with them. It is so sad to see.

    • I completely agree with you! I recently walked away from the NAR teachers and teachings, as I was immersed in their teachings for several years. It did nothing but exhaust me. I am trying to find my way now and it’s been and felt like a difficult road. I even see a Christian counselor to help me walk this out, who, he as well has witnessed the misteachings and abuse of this nonsense. I’m exhausted just at thinking about it all. It’s been a painful journey.

  14. Lisa Winston

    God’s timing is not our timing, also there is a healing if it’s God’s will. Even some of the apostles prayed to be healed and God said his Grace was sufficient. I’ve been healed twice . Once when I was a girl and once when I was grown. When I was little and healed is when I first realized how much God loves us all . You had enough faith. God loves you . It is sad that some Churches don’t do it right. And am sorry for your suffering. God is not confusion, but love❤️

  15. Thank you for your honesty and transparency. I, too, have been burned out by teachings that I no longer want to follow. I, too, have been burned out by believing I “lack faith” because I don’t see results from my prayers, affirmations, fasting, etc… I, too, and trying to find my way into truth (HE is the way, the truth, and the life). Thanks again.

  16. Bill Mauldin

    God can always heal, but doesn’t always. I was paralyzed and 3 surgeons gave me max 10% chance of not being paralyzed from chest down. After 7 months of lying paralyzed, i cried out, He raised me up to return to being normal and even becoming wealthy, so I know He is real. An old sinner that is truly thankful.

    • Karen Mazingo

      Praise God for your healing and thank you for sharing your story. May God continue to bless you!

  17. erin82holmes

    Once again…….Very well said, well done Ethan.

  18. Raised Southern Baptist, but later involved in charismania. Been healed, not been healed. Husband died in surgery, impressed to pray. He lived 8 more years. I could go on. Yes, been saved, but the Lord offers more. I could write a book about experiences, but am more concerned about salvation. Church on every corner, but cannot “find ” one. He said, last days pour out Spirit on all flesh……. Yes, been in last days, but things (negative) are coming to pass. Just need simple Christian fellowship. Thanks, Linda P.S. Informative article. Thanks, Linda

  19. Great input! Thanks for your thoughts.

  20. Thank you for your article. I think this statement is key: “Watch out that you don’t make things like healings and miracles the ultimate things, rather than subservient to the one most important thing: Knowing Christ.”

    I was saved into a Charismatic Church. I had never read the Bible, so at first I thought my Charismatic pastors must know better than I what Christianity was all about. But the crazy things happening really concerned me. I finally left the church (reluctantly, I loved the people.) But I delved into prayerful research, and I came to the realization that the fundamental problem with Charismatic spiritual practices is that they are occult. As such they are forbidden to Christians, and they open up the human spirit to the demonic realm. That is why Charismatics suffer so badly from spiritual attacks.

    I wrote a book, called “True to His Ways: Purity & Safety in Christian Spiritual Practice,” and defined the meaning of “occult,” so people can recognize what is occult and what is not. My book was also the first to make the link between kundalini yoga and Charismatic practices. For example, being slain in the spirit is the same as “shaktipat” in kundalini yoga, and soaking in the spirit is the same as “samadhi.” The manifestations (trembling, laughing, weeping, etc.,) are called “kriyas” in yoga. Seeking miracles is part of the pattern. There is more, but if anyone is interested, there is information about my book at . I tried to be very understanding, because I understand the deception.

  21. B D Stanford

    This is a very well thought out and well written article. Thank you for this. I am a pastor in a Charismatic church of which i am finding more and more errors. The music is a real problem. It sounds like rock music, in fact it is rock music, electric guitars, drums, keyboards, etc. Radio music is sung instead of God honoring and Christ lifting hymns, Psalms and spiritual songs. I grew up listening to rock music but when i went to church we sang hymns. Now i go to church to sing praises unto God but i hear rock music. What a shame! This is a catastrophe of the worst kind. The church of Jesus Christ should be free from the world but the church has made its bed in the world and has become more and more ungodly than any of us ever expected. I have been a Christian for more than 50 years and a pastor/evangelist for over 42 years. I have seen a great deal but now, sorry to say, I confess there is a press for miracles and the supernatural and very little search and hunger for truth! The church must return to the Lord and truth and separate from the world. There is a move in many hearts to return to the Reformers and the Puritans to find truth. I have been immersed in reading and study of the Reformation, the Puritans and the Great Awakening in America and the men God used. We need a revival in the church and an awakening in America! Come back to your first love, church! Thank you brother for your boldness! God bless you and your family.

  22. David Tabora

    This is exactly what I observed too. No accountability when predictions are wrong. Making their own decisions and blaming God on the consequences when things go bad. I’ve seen miracles but some of the beliefs are about all out prosperity on this Earth which isn’t Biblical. I am so disgusted with aspects of the charismatic church.

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