The charismatic movement has had profound impact on Christianity in the twentieth century. It began its Pentecostal stage on January 1, 1901 at a newly-founded Bible college in Topeka, Kansas, and at the famous Azusa Street meeting in Los Angeles in April, 1906, with the African-American pastor William J. Seymour. The most prominent characteristic of the charismatic movement in its Pentecostal stage is "speaking in tongues" (glossolalia), which its adherents identify with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. 1

Today, it is claimed that between 100 and 372 million Christians belong to the various forms of the charismatic movement around the world. 2 These are impressive figures.

Three waves of the charismatic movement

As early as 1983, C. Peter Wagner, professor of Church Growth at the School of World Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary in California, spoke of the "third wave" of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. His identification of three waves of the Holy Spirit's manifestation in the twentieth century has attracted much attention.

First wave. The "first wave" refers to the Pentecostal movement to which the typical "tongue-speaking" denominations belong and which began in 1901. Wagner says, "The first wave of this utpouring was the initiation and development of the Pentecostal movement [with glossolalia] in the very beginning of this century. The second wave was: the charismatic movement, which started around 1960. Both of these waves have seen, and I believe will continue to see, explosive church growth. The hand of God is upon them in an extraordinary way."3 

Second wave. The "second wave," then, is the "charismatic renewal movement," also called neoPentecostalism, by which tongue-speaking entered into many of the non-Pentecostal churches and became the key charismatic phenomenon in these denominations. This wave began in the 1960s when Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Anglican/Episcopal, Mennonite, Church of Christ, United Church of Christ, and other traditional churches, were penetrated by tongue-speaking, or glossolalia.

In 1967 tongue-speaking charismatic appeared in the Catholic church and found subsequent support from many priests, nuns, bishops, and even the Pope.4

Around 1970 some Adventists, particularly young people witnessing for their faith on the California beaches, began meeting these Pentecostal charismatic. A fair number of the Adventists had hands laid on them, and they began to "speak in tongues." Concerned, the General Conference created a commission which met in Georgia and rendered a report that called for caution regarding the phenomenon of glossolalia. As a result, the second wave with its glossolalia did not become a part of Adventism as such. The charismatic renewal movement of this stage left no significant mark on the Adventist church.

We have noted that the major doctrinal distinctive of the second wave and its unique distinguishing mark is the experience of the "baptism with the Holy Spirit," 5 that is, glossolalia. But something new developed.

New development

Wagner notes the new development of the second wave, observing that "in the 1970s a new and extremely important phenomenon began to develop [as part of the second wave], namely the appearance of free-standing, independent charismatic congregations and clusters of fellowships of congregations, which function as mini denominations. 6 This is a tacit admission that the charismatic renewal movement, the "second wave", sometimes threatened denominational unity, developing mini denominations which took on a shape of their own. Adventists were not affected at that time. 

Third wave. Now we live in the period of the "third wave" of the charismatic movement as Wagner sees it. This wave began in the early 1980s. David Barrett, the charismatic Anglican editor of the World Christian Encyclopedia, believes that in 1987 there were 27 million "third-wavers" worldwide. 7

The third wave has certain characteristics of doctrine, church practice and experience. As for doctrine, Wagner points out that "the two principal sources of data [for theology and doctrine] are the Bible and Christian experience. 8

Significant "And"

Here is a significant "and"! It says much about the theological methods at work in the third wave. This "and" demonstrates that the Bible is not the only source for doctrine and church life. The third wave does not differ in this regard from the first and second wave of the charismatic movement. Similarly, Catholics have "the Bible and tradition." Karl Barth called this "and" in Catholicism "the damned Catholic 'and',"9 because tradition was the dominant shaper of theology. Likewise, we may know what the dominant shaper of the charismatic movement is.

Can Adventists buy into this charismatic "and"? Christian experience is a source of pragmatism, which tends to outdo the Scriptures as the primary source in both the Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal movements. Should Adventists follow the charismatic lead? From the point of view of methodology, theology, doctrine, and practice, Adventists have remained true to their heritage of the Bible and nothing but the Bible. For everything we believe, everywhere and on every subject, we have to remain grounded on our one authority: "God will have a people upon the earth to maintain the Bible, and the Bible only, as the standard of all doctrines and the basis of all reforms." 10

Doctrinally the third wave differs from the first two waves in not claiming that every person touched by the Holy Spirit has to be a tonguespeaker engaging in glossolalia, to prove that the Holy Spirit is at work. He may or may not speak in tongues. More important is the "filling" with the Holy Spirit. 11 Speaking in tongues, the unique identifying mark of Pentecostals and charismatic of the first and second waves, is still recognized as a spiritual gift, but in the third wave "you will not find tongues highlighted above any other gift." 12

Third wave emphasis

So then, we need to know: Is there a special spiritual gift that is highlighted in the "third wave" of charismatic renewal? Is there a unique emphasis? Wagner, a major spokesperson for the "third wave," affirms that "one can be filled with the Holy Spirit and minister through spiritual gifts in power and be a channel for healing the sick and casting out demons, all without speaking in tongues." 13 The new emphasis is power prayer.

Wagner's reference to ministering "in power" needs further attention, because of its links to the "power evangelism" approach pioneered and championed by John Wimber. 14 Wimber joined Professor Wagner in co-teaching the famous course "MC510: Signs, Wonders and Church Growth" at Fuller's School of World Mission in early 1982. 15 At the time, Wagner had suffered for years from high blood pressure, for which he was receiving medical treatment. In that course, John Wimber laid hands on Professor Wagner for healing.

Wagner was healed and became a participant. He reports, "I started laying hands on the sick, and learning how to minister to them in the name of Jesus. . . . Soon praying for the sick was a permanent part of my Christian life, even though at the time I did not yet have the gift of healing." 16 He explains that in 1984, "two years after my paradigm shift [from a spectator to a participant] 17 had taken place, God gave me the gift of healing." 18 Wagner now teaches that "all Christians have the role of laying hands on the sick and being open to see God use them as channels for healing." 19

Wagner lays hands on his students for them to receive the Holy Spirit. Some Seventh-day Adventist pastors are said to have been thus prayed for with laying on of hands by Professor Wagner. Wagner believes that "every Christian person should be active in a ministry of laying hands on the sick and praying for their recovery." "I do not think," he writes, "that this should be restricted to clergy, elders or other church leaders or even to those with the gift of healing."20 Wagner agrees with John Wimber on the so-called five steps for praying for the sick21 used by third wave charismatic in their churches. Praying for the sick as practiced by third-wavers can be accompanied by the use of salt, oil, holy water, the emblems of Holy Communion, or by nothing at all. Wagner recommends that the eyes be kept open so that one can see what is happening during the prayer. 22

The third wave and the Adventist renewal

Perhaps enough has been said to provide a background for understanding some new customs in certain churches, where praying with laying on of hands is used today. In James 5:13-16, the New Testament outlines a clear ministry of prayer for the sick. The New Testament counsel for this kind of prayer differs from third-wave practice. The New Testament says that:

1) The sick one is to call for the "elders" to pray, not just any church member, deacon, or other person.
2) Oil is to be used for anointing not salt, holy water, or something else.
3) Confession is to take place and the person receives forgiveness of sins.
4) Prayer is to be offered in terms of a petition not as a "command,"23 as in power evangelism. The New Testament's prayer for the sick and the third-wavers' power prayer are not the same. In general, John Wimber is very much in line with Wagner. However, he differs in seeing the third wave as "not so much another wave as the next stage of development in the charismatic renewal."24 It is an extension of or another stage of the second wave.

Three areas of change

Wimber describes this "next stage" (Wagner's third wave) as one in which the "charismatic movement has taken root, burrowing into congregational structures, liturgy, and theology."25 In these three areas, congregational structure, liturgy, and theology, the charismatic renewal movement seems to have had an impact on some Seventh-day Adventist churches.

Congregational structure. As the charismatic renewal movement has witnessed the emergence of free-standing charismatic congregations independent of their denominational roots, so some Adventist congregations downplay their connection to the Seventh-day Adventist church.

At least some have chosen a name that shows little or no identity with Seventh-day Adventism. Other indications of a more congregational, independent stance may be seen in some (not all) of these churches in such things as minimal use of the denominational hymnal, tolerating or even encouraging lifestyle practices of their members which are out of harmony with the Adventist body at large, and a neglect of preaching the distinctive message of the Seventh-day Adventist church. Have some churches developed into or function as mini denominations within the Adventist church? 

Liturgy. Wimber notes how the "next stage" has affected church life in liturgy. "First, the charismatic renewal [of the 'next stage'] has introduced new forms of worship by using dance, theater, innovative hymnody, and (in some instances) singing in tongues. Alive, joyful music is one of the most significant contributions the charismatic movement has made in the church."26 Have these things made inroads among the Adventist churches? We might look at the kind of instruments used and the type of music played and sung. Whether the "swinging" in certain services that accompanies singing is what Wimber means by "dance" is not entirely clear. Is "theater" the use of various forms of skits and the like? The historic Sabbath school has been transformed and the church service adjusted. 

Theology. Theologically, the emphasis is placed on love, forgiveness, and acceptance. This triad of theological themes has biblical foundation, but the Bible has more foundations than these for genuine faith. These churches typically take a soft stance on lifestyle to woo yuppies and fringe Adventists. Strong theology demands strong ethics; soft theology nurtures soft ethics.

Bright outlook based on Scripture

The central point is that there is a larger contemporary religious movement to which some Adventist churches seem to belong. If we are not mistaken, in the "third wave" (Wagner) or the "next stage" (Wimber) the charismatic movement has scored a major impact for the first time on the Seventh-day Adventist church. Are the kinds of celebration congregations the right solution for much of the malaise in first world Adventism? What sources are contemporary style churches drinking from? What "fire" are they playing with? What spirit is at work? Where else does the movement lead? These are serious, gnawing questions. 

What we believe. We believe in the work of the Holy Spirit. We believe in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the latter days, the time of the end. We believe in renewal of the believer's life. We believe in warm and friendly churches. We believe in worldwide evangelism, the proclamation of the "eternal gospel" of the Three Angels' Messages of Revelation 14. We believe that God has called the Advent movement to be a special movement. But if we are not mistaken, and I think we are not, it is not a charismatic movement. It is a movement in which the Holy Spirit will enable us to proclaim the truth of the Second Coming and the necessary preparation for it in power and with conviction. Such proclamation in the Spirit's power will change the lives of converts and members. We believe in Biblical proclamation evangelism. We believe that many spiritual people feel a hunger for an experience with the Lord which they are not receiving in the church today. We believe that the church is in need of revival and reformation. We believe that we are a lukewarm Laodicea in need of letting the One who stands at the door come into our church and into our hearts individually, to transform our goals, motivations and all else. We believe that, unfortunately, there are thousands of Adventists no longer going to church; we need to love them back into the fold of our Shepherd. But what is the way to do this?

Best approach? Is the "third wave/next stage" of the charismatic movement the way to go? What else will the "third wave" of the charismatic bring us? Will it be prayer for the sick as practiced, preached and taught by Wagner in disharmony with the plain teaching of Scripture? Will it be glossolalia, the so-called "baptism of the Holy Spirit," of which there are sporadic Adventist manifestations already?27 What else will it bring, charismatic ecumenism and a loss of our distinctiveness?

A better and wiser approach would be to study anew the Word of God sincerely with prayer, and again the writings of the Messenger to the Remnant, as the lesser light assisting us to appreciate so much more the greater light of Scripture. Long ago a prophet asked the leader of God's people (who also were deeply in need of revival), "Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron?" "Is it because there is no God in Israel to inquire of His word?" (2 Kings 1:3, 1 6). The question is no less valid for us. In our spiritual hunger, in our longing for revival and power from on high, let us seek our direction from God's Word. In Scripture we will find renewed strength and divine power to discover and rediscover the will of God for His people in the end-time. Adventists are a people of the Book; and the Spirit who speaks through that Book will renew us.


1. See Watson E. Mills, ed, Speaking in Tongues. A Guide to Research on Glossolalia (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1986).
2. Christianity Today, September 16, 1991 p. 52, reports that of the 1.8 billion Christians in the world "about 372 million identify themselves as charismatic/Pentecostal." Other estimates are much more modest.
3. C. Peter Wagner, How to Have a Healing Ministry Without Making Your Church Sick (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1988), p. 16.
4. See E. D. O'Connor, C.S.C., "The Literature of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal 1967-1974," Perspectives on Charismatic Renewal, ed. E. D. O'Connor (Notre Dame/London: University of Notre Dame Press, 1975), pp. 145-184.
5. Larry Christenson, "Baptism with the Holy Spirit," Focus Newsletter, Fellowship of Charismatic Christians in the United Church of Christ (June 1985), pp. 1-3.
6. Wagner, How to Have a Healing Ministry, p. 21.
7. David Barrett as cited by Wagner, How to Have a Healing Ministry, p. 17.
8. Wagner, How to Have a Healing Ministry, p. 24.
9. Cited by H. Kung, Theologle im Aujbruch (Munich/Zurich: Piper, 1987), p. 68.
10. Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 595
11. John Wimber with Kevin Springer, Power Evangelism (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986), pp. 148-151.
12. Wagner, How to Have a Healing Ministry, p. 26.
13. Ibid
14. John Wimber with Kevin Springer, Power Evangelism.
15. See Signs & Wonders Today, compiled by the editors of Christian Life Magazine (Wheaton, III.: Christian Life Missions, 1983).
16. Wagner, How to Have a Healing Ministry, p. 50.
17. Ibid
18. Ibid., p. 53.
19. Ibid., p. 55.
20. Ibid., p. 212.
21. John Wimber, Power Healing (San Francisco; Harper & Row, 1987).
22. Wagner, How to Have a Healing Ministry, p. 228.
23. Ibid, p. 227, where commanding is a definite form of prayer that is recommended.
24. Wimber, Power Evangelism, p. 122.
25. Ibid., p. 129.
26. Ibid., p. 129.
27. It is reported that in an Adventist celebration church in Sydney, Australia, glossolalia has manifested itself. Recently the major church in what was East Berlin, though not a celebration church, has been split over the issue of glossolalia with the glossolalists finally leaving the Adventist church. In some Adventist churches in Italy and France, glossolalia is also a problem. 

Gerhard F. Hasel wrote this article when he was Professor of Old Testament at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University.