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Test the Spirits:
The Charismatic Phenomenon

By C.S. Butler

Book Review

C.S. Butler was in the charismatic movement for fourteen years before leaving. Test the Spirits describes the experiences and research that led him to leave the charismatic movement.

This book is divided into two main parts. Part One is an historical account of charismatic phenomena from before the time of Christ to the present. Part Two is a critique of the teachings of the modern-day charismatic movement.

At the end of Part Two is a collection of testimonies, including the author's, of men who were involved in the charismatic movement and why they left it.

These testimonies parallel my own. I attended a charismatic church for four years. My reasons for leaving were similar to Butler's. Thus, in reviewing this book, I will be drawing on personal experiences that verify Butler's statements.

Part One: The History

The historical section demonstrates rather well that tongue speaking and other charismatic occurrences are not unique to Christianity.

New Testament Times:
The charismata were occurring in pagan religions long before the time of Christ. In fact, the Corinthians probably spoke in tongues before Paul ever preached there. This practice would have been in association with the god Apollo. This background probably accounts for the confusion over the matter in Corinth.

Butler then demonstrates that the purpose of the sign gifts in the New Testament were to confirm the ministries of Jesus and the apostles (see Acts 2:22, John 6:14; Heb 2:4). Paul states that his miracle working was a sign of his apostleship (2Cor 12.12). How could it have been a sign if all believers performed miracles?

This was one of my own questions. The main passage used by charismatics to justify the idea that all Christians should be able to perform miracles is Mark 16:17,18. But the debate over the textual veracity of mark 16:9-20 makes these verses somewhat precarious proof-texts. But accepting them as genuine, few charismatics would be willing to drink a glass of formaldehyde or play with rattlesnakes. Some have tried the latter, and have died in the process.

Post-Apostolic Church:
Next, Butler appeals to the early Church Fathers to show that the gifts passed out of the church after the apostolic age. He quotes from Justin Martyr, Ireneaus, Origin, Eusebius, Chrysostom and Augustine.

However, "passed out" might be a little over-sweeping way of putting it. It would probably be better phrased, "declined in practice and importance."

The only exception to this decline was Montanism. Tongues and prophecies occurred in this movement. Montanus was proved to be a false prophet when his prediction of the second coming and the descent 6f the New Jerusalem failed. Butler says that Montanism was rightly declared heretical by the established church.

However, Butler is over-stating the case here. Christians in the mainline, historic Church probably considered the Montanists to be a little "weird" and "off" in their theology; but not truly heretical. Tertullian even became a Montanist near the end of his life.

The Middle Ages and the Reformation:
Butler now covers the Middle Age's "miracles." These generally occurred at the sites of tombs of saints and martyrs. Also, isolated individuals claimed to be able to speak in tongues or to posses the stigmata --the appearance of the wounds of Christ on their bodies. However, these supposed miracles were not readily verifiable. Also, most of the groups that grew out of these movements were heretical to one degree or another.

Next is the Reformation. Claims have been made by charismatics that Luther spoke in tongues. But there is nothing in his writings to indicate this. A group of Anabaptists claimed to be receiving direct divine inspiration. They were known as the Zwickau prophets. The group quickly fell into heresy. Another Anabaptist group also claimed direct communion with God. They called themselves the Family of Love. (Love" probably meant sex as immorality was common among them.

The next group experiencing the charismata were the Quakers. Butler says that they put experience above the Bible. However, George Fox, the founder of the movement, demanded that the "inner-light" never contradict Scripture. So Butler may, again, be over-stating the case.

Butler also puts the Janenists in the same category as Quakers. This was a Roman Catholic group.

The First Great Awakening:
Next comes the First Great Awakening. Butler states that John Wesley reports that spiritual gifts were not operating in his day. However, Wesley did report that many charismatic experiences occurred in his meetings. But they made Wesley uncomfortable.

Wesley felt the decline of the gifts in the early Church was due to a lack of love. However, when some of his followers claimed the gift of prophecy, he dismissed them as "ethusiasts."

About this time, a Jewish group was claiming miraculous manifestations in eastern Europe. Some of them migrated to America.

Jonathan Edwards also had to contend with "fanatics." There main error was thinking outward appearances (visions, revelations etc.) were an indication of spiritual maturity.

The next movement to arise is the Shakers. Their leader was "Mother Lee." She taught that Jesus was not God incarnate and that she was the fulfillment of Christ's second coming.

Next comes the Irvingites. Edward Irving founded this group after he healed his sister. This group developed into a sort of pope-less Romanism with transubstantiation, extreme unction, and the like being practiced. Butler records some of their prophecies. He states they were blasphemous nonsense.

Example: "Ah! Sanballat! Sanballat! Sanballat! The Horonite! the Moabite! The Ammonite! Ah! confederate! confederate! with the Horonite...."

This group quickly died out as did most of the other previously mentioned movements. One notable exception is the Mormons. Joseph Smith spoke in tongues. Article Seven of the Mormon confession of faith and Moroni 10:9-20 in the Book of Mormon confirms the Mormon's continuing belief that the charismata are operative today.

The Second Great Awakening:
Butler next chronicles the rise of the modern charismatic movement. During the Second Great Awakening, tongues and other phenomenon were reported. The writings of Andrew Murray helped start the movement by strongly advocating that the baptism with the Spirit was a second experience distinct from conversion.

The movement's main roots can be traced to the Azuza Street Mission in 1904. Visions of God and Jesus were reported and numerous healings claimed. Butler notes that these healings always seemed to occur in special healing meetings inside a building, not out in the open like most of Jesus' miracles.

Smith Wigglesworth, Oral Roberts, David Wilkerson, Kathyrn Kuhlman, Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones, and others are mentioned as contributing to the rise of the movement.

Butler also mentions the Children of God (now known as the Family of Love) as starting as a charismatic group. This history brings us down to today where the charismatic movement has won respectability. There are charismatics in most Protestant denominations and in the Catholic church.

Non-Christian Religions:
Butler refers to in describing tongues speaking among non-Christian groups. Primitive animistic tribes, Indians, Eskimos, Muslims, Tibetan monks, spiritualist and other groups too numerous to name have been heard to speak in tongues.

How can tongues speaking be a sign of Christian Spirituality when all these other groups do the same? I have a charismatic friend who told me she knew she was saved because she spoke in tongues. When I told her that Mormons spoke in tongues, her only reply was, "Well, they must be saved too." Also Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and many others I might add.

Problem is, the Bible does not states that tongues speaking is a sign of spirituality. We are told to look for "fruit" not "gifts" (Matt 7:20; John 15:8,16; Gal 5:22,23).

As can be seen from this short history, most of the groups reporting the operation of the charismata throughout church history were heretical or, at least, a little "off" in their theology and practices. Moreover, tongues speaking has even been seen in non-Christian religions. Butler believes this pattern demonstrates that the Holy Spirit was not involved, although other spirits may have been.

Although Butler does have a pattern of over-stating the case somewhat, the type of information presented in this section I discovered myself by independent study. And it was learning this questionable history of the use of the charismata that first led me to question my involvement in the charismatic movement of today.

Now the above might be called a "guilt by association" argument. But another point that Butler only touches on was even more important to me. As one studies Church history, it is very apparent that the vast majority of Christians through the centuries did not speak in tongues.

If speaking in tongues is so important and the evidence of the baptism in the Spirit as charismatics claim, then what was the Holy Spirit doing for 18 centuries? Sleeping? I simply found it hard to believe that the only people the Spirit baptized from the post-apostolic age down to modern times were ones involved in groups on the "fringe" of Christianity, or even outside of the Christian faith.

Part Two: The Teachings

The second major section of Test the Spirits is a critique of the teaching of the modern-day charismatic movement.

The first chapter deals with the charismatic attitude towards the Bible. The first question Butler asks is, is God still giving primary revelation today?

Charismatics say they believe their prophecies have less authority than the Bible - but why? Butler ask, what do the words, "Thus says the Lord" mean? This phrase is often heard in charismatic prophecy.

Butler states that the Bible knows nothing of a sort-of inspiration. Either a prophet is speaking for God or he is not. If he is not then he should not say, "Thus says the Lord." If he is speaking for God, then his words should be added to the Bible.

Butler believes the problem is, there is nothing among the modern "prophets" to indicate they are speaking with the same authority as say Isaiah. The prophets of the Old Testament attested the authenticity of their ministries with fulfilled prophecies and coherence with previous revelation. But, as Butler states, "If you were to write down and collect together all the utterances of today's prophets and put it into one book, it would be a hotch-potch of scriptural exhortations, non-scriptural notions, circumstantial directives and unfulfilled prophecies."

Now Butler might be again over-stating the matter here. Charismatic prophets generally do not claim that they are speaking with the same authority as Scripture. Paul does not seem to infer that the prophets in Corinth were speaking with Scriptural authority. There prophecies were to "edification and exhortation and comfort" (1Cor 14:3).

However, where I do agree with Butler is that I was very uncomfortable with the phrase "Thus says the Lord." This phrase does make it sound like the speaker is claiming to be speaking directly for God. If this phrase was left out of their pronouncements, then much confusion could be avoided.

Miracles and Healings:
Butler then notes that the apostles writings were attested to by miracles. This leads to Butler’s next topic and probably the major concern I had with the charismatic movement.

Charismatics are constantly claiming to perform healing and other miracles. I heard people claim to have seen everything from the blind seeing to the dead being raised. But I never saw anything of this sort occur in any of the healing sessions I attended. And I attended probably hundreds of healing sessions at the charismatic church I attended, along with two "Healing Explosions" at the Civic Arena (where the Pittsburgh Penguins play).

Butler records how a physician followed up 23 cases of "healing" at a Kathryn Kuhlman crusade. He found that none of them was genuine. Most of the healings are the result of whipped-up emotions. Butler challenges today’s so-called faith healers, if they are real, why don't they go and empty the hospitals? Jesus would have.

So why are there all the claims of miracles if no true healings are occurring? One example from my own experience will suffice.

An evangelist from Jews for Jesus was visiting my former church. When he called people forward for healing, a man with a walker slowly shuffled forward. Hands were laid on him and people started shouting, "You're healed! You're healed! Praise the Lord!" The man shuffled away still using his walker.

A woman with a limp came forward. The scene was repeated with more shouts of praise for her healing. She limped back to her seat. I'm serious! I felt like I was the only one who could see that the emperor had no clothes! It was the events of this night that were the last straw in causing me to finally leave the church.

The gift of tongues is probably the most controversial part of the movement. Butler correctly points out that the New Testament tongues were known languages. Today's tongues do not stand up to linguistic tests. Butler states that linguists have repeatedly shown that it is nothing but babble.

Charismatics try to circumvent this problem by saying its the "tongues of angels" (1Cor 13:1). But even angels must have some kind of grammar and sentence structure. Today's tongues do not.

I’m no linguist, but I can use a watch. I've been in meetings where the tongue spoken out lasted 30 seconds while the interpretation took two minutes. This difference indicates to me that the latter was not a translation of the former.

Why then do bilingual persons occasionally claim to hear a tongue spoken in their second language? Butler believes that sometimes people simply hear what they want to. Someone who knows say Polish, upon hearing anything that remotely resembles it will think they know what is being said. Since the speaker has no way of knowing what he said, there's no way to verify if the interpretation is correct or not.

However, there have been times when someone who knows a foreign language will speak out in a "tongue" at a meeting. When someone interprets it, the speaker knows the interpreter is in error.

Butler records how he saw people being taught to speak in tongues. This is done by having the person repeat sounds the leader makes. Others were pressured into speaking out. I've personally witnessed this type of practice. But it has no relation to what happened in the book of Acts.

The author's conclusion is that tongues are a mental, psychological, manifestation with no supernatural element. I would tend agree. Though I would not discount the possibility that genuine tongues is being spoken. My main concern, then and now, is with the over-emphasis charismatics place on speaking in tongues. As I read the Bible, I simply do not see such an emphasis being placed on this gift.

The Baptism with the Spirit:
The next point is probably the most important in this whole discussion. When is someone baptized with the Spirit? Charismatics generally try to make a distinction between receiving, having, being filled and being baptized with the Spirit. The Bible knows no such distinction. The words are used interchangeably throughout the Scriptures (see Acts 2;4; 10:47; 11:16).

More importantly, the Bible is clear on the fact that unless someone is baptized with the Spirit, he is not a Christian. Romans 8:9 was the main verse that convinced me that the baptism is not an experience subsequent to salvation (see also Eph 1:13f and John 3:6).

In rejecting this teaching, charismatics have devised numerous methods on how to receive the Spirit. None of them have any basis in Scripture. Butler records several testimonies of people who "received" after tarrying. None of them have any parallel in Acts and some sound demonic.

Sin and the Majesty of God:
Butler ends this section by talking about the lack of a sense of sin and the majesty of God in charismatic circles. The emphasis was on being born-again and baptized in the Spirit, not repentance.

In other words, evangelism in charismatic circles generally involves telling the unbeliever about the wonderful experience he can have by believing. The need for forgiveness from sin and a personal need for a Savior is given lip service at best.

I tend to agree with Butler’s observation here. In the charismatic churches that I have been in, there has been, in my opinion, an over-emphasis on the "good" that would come about as result of becoming a Christian, rather than emphasizing the unbeliever’s sinful state before a holy God.

As Butler says, "We need a fresh revelation of the character of the God we worship, a revelation of his majesty and his grace." The charismatics church I attended seemed to miss this point. Before the "healing" session I mentioned earlier, the evangelist prayed, "Lord, I demand that you heal these people."

A person would not prayer in this manner if he had a full concept of the holiness of God. Moreover, at the time, this prayer sounded like blasphemy to me. The acceptance of this type of prayer was another reason that evening was the end of my involvement with the charismatic movement.

Before concluding the book, Butler records several testimonies of men who left the charismatic movement. These include: James Davenport, Henry Ironside, Won Ming-Dao, George Gardiner, Alec Taylor and the author.

What's interesting to me about this chapter is, while I was in the movement, I heard numerous testimonies of people who left "dead" denominational churches and joined a charismatic church. But I never heard about the reverse. Since I left, I have found out just as many are leaving the movement as are entering it.

Butler ends the book with a strong statement, "The movement is either right or wrong. If it is right, then all of us should be seeking after gifts and ministering them in the church. If it is wrong, then all of us should take some kind of stand against it."


Butler records much that is good and useful in his book. For someone struggling with involvement in the charismatic movement, as I was, it is helpful to read the stories of others who have had similar struggles.

As stated above, when I was in the movement I did not know that there were many who were deciding it was faulty and leaving it. I felt I was alone in questioning what was being taught and practiced. Butler seems to have gone through the same struggles and research that I did. And we both concluded that leaving the movement was the appropriate thing to do. Also, Butler states that he eventually came to accept a "Reformed" perspective of the Christian faith, which I have also. So when I first read this book shortly after I had left the movement, it was nice to feel I had found a kindred spirit.

But now, ten years later, in retrospect, I can see that Butler does go overboard at times. First off, as indicated in the overview of church history, sometimes he gets his facts wrong or exaggerates the degree of "heresy" in a group. But overall, his historical overview is accurate.

Secondly, as I revise this review, Butler seems to be to be "too anti-charismatic." His concluding statement demonstrates the degree of opposite he now has to the movement that he once embraced for 14 years.

Now I can understand his animosity. When I first left the charismatic movement in 1987 I was very much anti-charismatic. This review was originally written in 1988. At that time, I basically agreed with Butler’s strong anti-charismatic sentiments. But now (1998), I have mellowed out somewhat. So in revising this review I have toned down some of my own remarks and been more critical of Butler's comments. So I would not agree with Butler’s closing remark about "taking a stand against" the charismatic movement.

However, I do still have many disagreements with what is taught and practiced in the movement, as my comments in the above review indicates. So there are articles on this site critiquing various charismatic teachings and practices. But I try to present my opinions in as un-offensive manner as possible.

Lastly, the above review was originally written as a class assignment at Denver Seminary. The class was on church history and the professor was Timothy Weber. In the above revised version, I have incorporated some of Dr. Weber’s comments that he wrote in the margins when I was given the paper back.

Basically, his comments consisted of pointing out a few of the historical errors in Butler’s book that I had missed. Also, he felt that Butler’s comments were a little too general and condemning. He pointed out, correctly, that not all charismatics could be characterized the way Butler indicates. And, as already indicated, I would now tend to agree that Butler’s anti-charismatic tone is a bit too strong.

Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light

Butler, C. S. Test the Spirits: The Charismatic Phenomenon. Great Britain: Evangelical Press, 1985.

Test the Spirits: The Charismatic Phenomenon: Book Review. Copyright 1999 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.zeolla.org/christian).

The above review was originally written as a class assignment at Denver Seminary in May 1988.
It was revised and posted on this Web site in February 1998.

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