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Q: A woman walked into our church one Sunday morning when she mistook it for another. She said she was looking for a charismatic church. Could you explain what she was looking for?”
A: Visitors to a Sunday morning service in one of my previous parishes had a similar mix-up. Apparently some people mistake our church names (where the word “Evangelical” is prominent in both the name of the local church as well as the name of our synod) for a charismatic type of Evangelicalism. Evangelicalism, not to be confused with true Lutheranism, historically came out of a combination of European Pietism and American Revivalism, where “the road to certainty was to be found in the experienced emotions of the sanctified heart” (Sanctification, by H. Senkbeil, p.30). As a result, what many today regard as “Evangelical” includes “the intensely physical manifestations of the Spirit sought in the charismatic movement,” (Senkbeil, p. 32).
As Lutherans we emphasize promoting the good news of Christ as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world through, and only through, the Means of Grace—the Word and the Sacraments. This is truly being EVANGELICAL. Among the charismatics there exists the notion that God primarily deals with sinners through their inner spiritual experiences and emotions, with the objective Word playing a reduced role. Churches in this category not only include the Pentecostals and those of the Assembly of God, but also congregations of traditionally non-charismatic backgrounds that subscribe to tongues-speaking and faith healing.
The prophet Jeremiah recorded for us God’s extreme displeasure with those who promote other ways of obtaining spiritual insight than his often despised but powerful Means of Grace: “‘Let the prophet who has a dream tell his dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?’ declares the Lord.” This was why Dr. Martin Luther wrote in his Smalcald Articles: “We should and must maintain that God will not deal with us except through his external Word and sacrament. Whatever is attributed to the Spirit apart from such Word and sacrament is of the devil” (Part ill, Art. 8, par. 10).
If it happens again where our “Evangelical” brand is confused with a charismatic sort, it might be wise to explain why we use that name. Our church is “Good News bringer” by directing lost souls only to the Gospel, and nothing else, for eternal hope.