Charismatic or Pentecostal?

One of the most common errors among Evangelical Christians is the confusion surrounding the words Charismatic and Pentecostal. While members within these groups themselves may not be completely aware of the distinction, it is clear that many outside these camps are also unaware. What follows is a simple way to keep these two groups distinct in your mind. (Key passages to read include 1 Corinthians 12-14; Acts 2; and parallels as noted in a good reference Bible).

Charismatics believe that all the gifts of the Spirit are still active today. These gifts include tongues and prophecy. By the way, prophecy is not to be confused with preaching contra many cessationist Christians. (Cessationism is the belief that tongues, prophecy, ended with the Apostolic age). Charismatics believe that although tongues is still present in the church, not everyone will be given this gift. Who receives the gift of tongues is completely up to the Holy Spirit. Charismatics also reject the notion that the tongues of Acts 2 differs in kind from the tongues of 1 Corinthians 12-14.

Pentecostals agree that all the gifts are still present today. However, they distinguish tongues as a gift (1 Cor 12-14) and tongues as an outworking of Baptism of the Spirit (Acts). In essence, they believe that Acts 2 describes an event that every Christian can experience (minus the tongues of fire). In contrast, the tongues mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12-14 is a gift that only certain Christians will have as given by the Holy Spirit. The tongues of 1 Corinthians would be used in a public forum such as a church service, whereas the tongues of Acts 2 would be a private prayer language. The former is only given to a few while the latter is available to all Christians open to the work of the Spirit.

Another way to see the distinction is to say that all Pentecostals are Charismatic (broadly defined). But all Charismatics are not Pentecostal. I hope this helps clarify a key difference between these two very similar camps. For failure to properly distinguish the groups can result in inappropriate attacks on people who claim to follow Christ.

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