Charismatic Protestant fundamentalists have a particular way of practicing the Christian faith. As Fundamentalists they strongly believe in Sola Scriptura. But as Charismatics they welcome the intrusion of extra-Biblical messages from the Holy Spirit.

I examine this view and point out some of the foundational assumptions which are not usually considered by Charismatics. Finally I contrast the devotional life of Catholics.

A few definitions of terms are in order:

Charismatic Mindset

Charismatics typically place a strong emphasis on the involvement of the Holy Spirit in their life of faith. They look to the guidance of the Holy Spirit from moment to moment in assisting them in their day to day decisions and activities. Before doing anything they pray that the Holy Spirit would guide and direct them and provide them with wisdom about what to do.

Typically they desire to submit their wills to the will of God through the working and promptings of the Holy Spirit. Many Charismatics pray to the Holy Spirit and worship the Holy Spirit through song.

Many Charismatics speak in tongues either privately or even in their group worship and prayer meetings. Some groups have modern day prophets who operate in the Holy Spirit-inspired gift of prophecy.

Charismatics typically have a very strong emphasis on singing songs of worship and praise of God, often in a very animated manner with the lifting of hands, swaying, dancing, and sometimes singing in tongues.

Charismatics often look to their fellow Charismatics (including their pastors and teachers) to provide Spirit-inspired utterances which speak to them about their current life issues. They also look to their Bible reading and daily prayer as a way in which the Holy Spirit speaks into their lives.

Charismatic Assumptions

Charismatic Protestant fundamentalist belief and practice is based on several foundational assumptions:

  1. That the Holy Spirit speaks to us about every issue in our lives.
  2. That we can clearly discern the inner prompting of the Holy Spirit.
  3. That Christians are to base their life of faith on these inner promptings of the Holy Spirit.
  4. That each Christian can correctly interpret the Bible through prayer to the Holy Spirit. See Sola Scriptura.
  5. That the Holy Spirit speaks through others (including their pastors and teachers) via prophetic utterances and that we are to receive these messages as from God.
  6. That the "feeling" of the presence of the Holy Spirit means that the Holy Spirit is truly present.

Many Charismatics have not considered the origin or ramifications of these assumptions.

Because of the emphasis of relying on the continuous guidance of the Holy Spirit, Charismatics must strongly believe that they can correctly discern His promptings and His messages. Charismatics readily admit that it is rare that they actually hear articulate spoken words from the Holy Spirit, and so they must interpret various feelings; coincidences; signs; utterances from others; and other subtle perceptions in their "hearing" the word of the Holy Spirit.

As humans we each have our own minds continually speaking to us and we have subconscious messages which are continually reaching our perception. How can Charismatics be so sure that they have truly heard the "voice of the Holy Spirit" amid such chaos? Yet Charismatics must have confidence that they have accurately discerned the promptings of the Holy Spirit and must suppress doubts about the accuracy of this received message (the word) since that is what having a strong faith requires.

Without realizing they are doing so, Charismatics hold these extra-Biblical sources of Divine guidance as more authoritative than scripture since they are obeying these promptings of the Holy Spirit rather than scripture. But in so doing, they have unwittingly violated their foundational doctrine of Sola Scripture (scripture only).

In addition, Charismatics must believe the Holy Spirit-inspired utterances of their fellow Charismatics (including their pastors and teachers). No matter how wacky or off the point these utterances might sound, they must be accepted as from the Holy Spirit as long as they don't contradict scripture. For Charismatics to deny that these utterances are from the Holy Spirit is to declare that the very foundation of the Charismatic life of faith is flawed. Charismatics are compelled to consider all of these utterances as from God because once they start to reject these Holy Spirit-inspired utterances, they have placed their own discernment as the authority rather than the Holy Spirit. As a consequence, they are compelled to believe whatever is spoken.

How many times when hearing Holy Spirit-inspired utterances from their fellow Charismatics do they sense that the Holy Spirit is speaking, while at the same time sensing that the person speaking is adding something of their own? Would the Holy Spirit really speak through this vehicle of His communication in a manner which caused His message to become distorted? And can we really trust ourselves to discern which pieces of the message are from God and which are from man? If the message is garbled when spoken by someone else, perhaps our interpretation of the message is also untrustworthy. Perhaps when we think we are accurately discerning the message (just like the person speaking a "wacky" message from God thinks it is from God), perhaps we are unknowingly distorting the message in our understanding of it. How are we to know?

Charismatics claim to be able to recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit based on a "feeling" they have during worship sessions or when attending a Bible study. This implies that sometimes the Holy Spirit is present and sometimes he isn't. Sometimes the Holy Spirit "falls" and Charismatics develop a strong desire to experience this feeling again and again. It provides the focal point for many Charismatics.

The danger in all this is that it is so subjective. In essence it is based on the notion that I can determine the truth about any situation by calling upon the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth to me. Whatever I determine that the Holy Spirit has spoken to me, I hold to be the truth.

Catholic Devotion

Catholics consider that the Holy Spirit is active in the life of the church in such areas as:

Catholics do not deny that the Holy Spirit guides and directs Christians in every aspect of their lives. But Catholics emphasize that the main way that the Holy Spirit interacts with believers is through His visible Church.

The process of spiritual development for a Catholic goes something like this:

  1. Hearing God's Divine Revelation — The source of this is the Holy Spirit-inspired and Holy Spirit-guided teaching magisteriumof the Catholic Church. The Bible is a key aspect but it can only be properly interpreted by the Catholic Church.
  2. Development of moral conscience — The Catholic Church provides moral instruction and infallible moral proclamations regarding all moral issues. The Christian has the responsibility to study and learn this topic well.
  3. Participation in the life of the Church — Catholics must have a specified minimal involvement by attending weekly mass, yearly confession, and special times of penance such as Lent and abstaining from meat on Fridays (or some other penance). More involvement is strongly encouraged. The Holy Spirit administers His graces through these activities and sacraments.
  4. Continual spiritual growth — Catholics are encouraged to grow spiritually by a regular devotional and prayer life; through works of charity; and through study and meditation on the Bible and other sources of Divine Revelation.

Catholics do not need to be too concerned with obtaining God's will for every detail of their lives. Their training in moral theology will allow them to correctly discern the right thing to do in every situation.Through their communion with the Catholic Church they receive the grace of God which is necessary to guide and direct them. The spiritual walk and spiritual growth just sort of happens on its own without the need of an inwardly focused struggle to keep close to God. By keeping close to His Church (particularly via the sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation, also called Confession), the believer automatically keeps close to God.

Devout Catholics spend a great deal of their time and energy focused on prayer, devotion, penance, and charity (love). They regularly examine their conscience so they can know in what ways they have been less than pleasing to God and in what ways they have offended others; this with the goal of improving themselves over time. They seek to achieve the same level of personal holiness as exemplified by the example of the Saints. They desire to have a direct experience of the presence of Jesus through participation in the mass, the Eucharist, and the sacrament of Reconciliation (confession); through prayer in the form of the Rosary, the Liturgy of the Hours, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, the Stations of the Cross, and others; and, of course, through regular scripture reading. And, of course, there are works of charity.

Catholics do seek the will of God through the Holy Spirit at times. One example is in choosing a vocation, whether it be marriage, a religious life, or as a missionary. It can take years to discern a vocation.

For Catholics the goal is to draw close to Jesus Christ. They do this by coming into His presence in the mass; the Eucharist (communion); and through reading and hearing the Bible, which is His very word.

Unfortunately, many Catholics have not been taught very well about their faith, nor do they have a zeal for the Lord. But there are many devout and faithful Catholics who love Jesus, our Lord, and who have a strong relationship with Him.