The Nestorianism of the Charismatic Movement, by Pr. Klemet Preus

(This is the fourth in a seven part series on Christology in practice in the LCMS.)

The theology of the old St. Louis Seminary was repudiated by the church. But heresy is like a bulge in a balloon. If you squeeze it down here than it pushes up there. So, even while the St. Louis fiasco was winding down the charismatic movement began to exert some influence within our church and with it came a variation of the Nestorian heresy.

One of the spokesmen for the claims of the charismatic movement among Lutherans in the early seventies was a Valparaiso professor named Theodore Jungkuntz. He wrote an article which was published in the 1971 issue of the Concordia Theological Monthly, the journal of the St. Louis Seminary.

Before we cite Jungkuntz’s article let’s review the particular false doctrine of the charismatic movement. Drawn from Pentecostalism, the charismatic movement holds that subsequent to baptism and regeneration there is an experience called the “Baptism of the Spirit” which every Christian should ardently seek. You will know you have had this expression when you speak in tongues. The experience of the Baptism of the Spirit is said either to complete baptism or to bring one into a more complete awareness of the potential of baptism.

OK. So that is the distinctive theology of the charismatic movement. This theology was promoted by a group called RIM (Renewal in Missouri) for about 25 years from the mid seventies through the early part of the 21st century. They wanted to bring the claims of the movement into the Missouri Synod. Shortly after the election of President Kieschnick RIM ceased to exist claiming that their goals had been largely attained.

But I digress, sort of. At any rate Jungkuntz tried to show that Jesus had a type of baptism in the Spirit in his article which was called “Secularization Theology, Charismatic Renewal and Luther’s Theology of the Cross.” (CTM 1971, p. 5-24) This is what he said:

He (Jesus) did not perform miracles by the occasional use of his rightful power, as the question in Schwan’s edition of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism maintains…, but rather by virtue of the fact that He had received the power of the Holy Spirit when He was baptized. This model suggest further that believers today receive the same Spirit and are supposed to be able to do the works that Jesus did and thus continue His ministry on earth in its fullness. (p. 7)

Jungkuntz then goes on to discuss the importance of experiencing the Baptism of the Spirit with its charismatic gifts. He figures that if Jesus could do miracles by the power of the Spirit then we can too. He does concede that this view “seems to conflict with the Lutheran confessional writings,” but is quick to add the confessional “writings do not rule out the possibility that the Baptism by the Spirit was a major source of His power.” ( p. 8 )

Lest the reader misunderstand let me explain this a bit further. It’s one thing to say that Jesus was lead by the Spirit or that the Spirit gave him strength. He was a man like us in every way. We are lead by the Spirit and the Spirit gives us strength by God’s word. It is something altogether different to say that Jesus’ power and authority – demonstrated occasionally while even while he was in his humbled state – was not because he is God. To say that his miracles or his ability to shine like the sun was because he was anointed by the Spirit is implicitly a denial of his deity.

Not coincidently the Jesus of the Charismatic movement is a Jesus who models the distinctive false doctrine of that movement. So yet another Jesus has been created in the image of false movements within the church.

Now all of this may seem very unimportant for us in the church today. Isn’t that just ancient history? Aren’t you engaging in some incessant doctrinal purification? The synod seems to have survived the threat of the charismatic movement and all the false doctrine of the seventies. Or did we?

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


The Nestorianism of the Charismatic Movement, by Pr. Klemet Preus — 12 Comments

  1. Ummm… so are you saying that God does NOT do miracles through people today. And that the ONLY reason that Jesus was able to do miracles is because of his divine nature? I’m curious to hear some further clarification.

  2. I’ve recently heard discussion within the LC-MS of a distinction between a “Logos Christology” and a “Spirit Christology” which sounds similar to what you’re referring to. The “Spirit Christology” talk makes me rather nervous for some of the reasons you mention.

  3. The influence of charismatic theology is not limited to the Baptism in the Spirit, charismata realm. Emotionally driven music, Methodist-like views of sanctification or perfection, Finney’s evangelism methods are all part of the baggage brought in with the charismatic, experience oriented theology.

  4. [quote from article]”The synod seems to have survived the threat of the charismatic movement and all the false doctrine of the seventies. Or did we?”

    The threat never ends, in fact, there are LCMS pastors endorsing the “alpha course” ( which is a highly charismatic course of teaching claims to impart the knowledge of getting oneself filled with the spirit.

    Whether these “alpha” pastors come from the RIM era, I am not sure, but what is for sure is the threat is very much alive and well.

  5. As a former charismatic (before I was Lutheran or LCMS member), I would say that this theology is exactly what our leaders taught us. Kenneth Copeland promotes this idea most clearly.

  6. JD said: “Ummm… so are you saying that God does NOT do miracles through people today. And that the ONLY reason that Jesus was able to do miracles is because of his divine nature?”

    I see miracles all the time.

    Thousands of people walk out of hospitals every day, healed of their ailments through the miracles God performs through the vocations of physicians, surgeons, neurologists, psychiatrists, nurses, and pharmacists. I work with a young man with Type II diabetes who was weaned from insulin dependence through the tireless efforts of an endocrinologist. One of my deaf classmates was able to hear through the miracle of a cochlear implant. We have food on our tables and want for nothing as God works behind the masks of the rancher and the farmer to provide for our needs. It is quite apparent that God does miracles through people today.

    Too mundane to be considered miracles? Okay, then, how about this: I have witnessed God working faith in the hearts of infants who were only a few days old as He claimed them and placed His Name upon them in Holy Baptism. Or this: Jesus Christ, although risen and ascended, is nevertheless present in His Supper, in which we receive His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.

    The church no longer has need of signs, wonders, and mighty deeds. “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2). We have God’s Word, and that is sufficient. Jesus confirms this in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, in which He warns, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (Luke 16:31). Does this mean God can’t perform miraculous acts today? Of course not. However, He has promised nothing of the sort to the church of the post-apostolic age. We seek Him only where He has promised to be found, nowhere else. Seeking after signs and wonders is tantamount to a quest for secret knowledge that is not available to the church at large – in other words, gnosticism.

    I highly recommend Douglas Judisch’s book “An Evaluation of Claims to the Charismatic Gifts.” Prof. Judisch lays out a Scriptural case for taking Paul’s words to the Corinthians (“prophecies… shall fail; tongues… shall cease; knowledge… shall vanish away” – 1 Cor. 13:8) at face value.

    DCO Tom W.

  7. Jungkuntz teaches the following about this issue:

    “…it follows that through personal union the entire fullness of the Spirit (as the ancient Fathers say) is communicated to Christ according to the flesh that is personally united with the Son of God. This fullness demonstrates and manifests itself spontaneously and with all power in, with, and through the human nature.”

    “On this basis (personal union and communion of the natures) Christ performed all his miracles and manifested his divine majesty according to his good pleasure, when and how he wanted to.”

    Enough said.

  8. This article is too simplistic. To simply say all charismatics are Nestorian is stupid. Of course, in popular practice many are. But what about the ones like me who are very anti Nestorian? The good thing about the charismatic movement in established churches like Lutherans is seeing the work of the Spirit in a way not divorced from history, with an attitude I have also seen, in which the past is seen as bad and an irrational enthusiasm takes over. Just because many Christians especially in lands like Canada where we think we are so smart we feel we no longer need to rely on the Spirit of God does not mean we should just write off an entire movement like this since many within it have put human emotion in place of an idolatry of human logic.

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