How My Mind Has Changed

Donald G. Matzat
Thursday, June 7th 2007
Jan/Feb 2002

Almost thirty years ago, I got involved in the charismatic movement. And that involvement has continued to influence my thinking over the last decade. In 1971, I visited the prayer and praise gathering of a charismatic community in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I was impressed, to say the least. Why, I asked, would a mixture of 500 Bible-toting Catholics and Protestants gather on a very hot night in July in a non-air-conditioned gymnasium to pray, study the Bible, and praise God? They obviously had or knew something that was foreign to me and to those who attended the Lutheran parish I was serving 35 miles to the north.

After that night I began to study the New Testament, especially the Gospels, the book of Acts, and the Epistles. My study was joined to a fervent prayer for the Holy Spirit. I wanted to know if everything I witnessed in that hot gymnasium was scriptural.

Later that same week I returned to Grand Rapids and visited with the priest who headed up the Catholic community. I asked him to pray for me and ask Jesus to baptize me in the Holy Spirit. He laid hands on me as I knelt at his desk, but nothing immediately happened.

When I got up in the pulpit the next Sunday, the words just poured out of me with exuberance and excitement. Some of the people commented, "What happened to Pastor?" I continued to attend the Wednesday night prayer meeting in Grand Rapids, and within a couple of weeks began to speak in tongues, uttering a variety of what seemed to be nonsense syllables as a "prayer language."

Space would not allow me to describe for you everything that was to happen in the years that followed, but I taught the experience in my congregation with phenomenal results. The following year I attended the First International Lutheran Conference on the Holy Spirit in Minneapolis and discovered 15,000 Lutherans who claimed to have had the same experience. By 1974, I joined the leadership group of the Lutheran Charismatic Renewal. I traveled throughout the country speaking at conferences, putting on seminars, and being a guest speaker at Full Gospel Businessmen's gatherings. I developed a television teaching program called "Bread of Life." Out of that came a little magazine by the same name. It was "For and about Lutherans in renewal." At one point we had a mailing list in excess of 7,000. Of course, my charismatic involvement did not sit well with the powers-that-be within my Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Yet, I was dedicated to seeing renewal take place within my church.

Throughout the years of my involvement in the charismatic movement I did a great deal of reading and studying. I was very sensitive to the possibility of deception since I was in a movement where experience was foremost. I did not wish to be "fitted for a millstone." I had vowed never to teach anything that I could not base upon the Word of God. As far as I was concerned, the baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, and the other gifts of the Spirit were biblical.

Still, several questions haunted me. How do we know what we claim to know? What is the relationship between the objective knowledge gained from the study of Scripture and the inner experience of the Holy Spirit? I concluded, after much study of Luther, the Lutheran Confessions, the later reformers, and even Calvin's Institutes, that the Holy Spirit's work was to give believers knowledge of that which is already contained in the Word of God. In other words, the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to the gospel, reveals Jesus to us in all his fullness, and works faith in the heart. I coined the phrase, "the Holy Spirit is our teacher, but the Bible is his only textbook." Little did I know that this position would be at odds with many within the members of the Lutheran Charismatic Renewal.

I happened to discuss the issue of religious certainty with one of the Lutheran leaders of the charismatic movement. He directed me to the writings of Episcopal priest Morton Kelsey, a man who was one of the first interpreters of the charismatic experience. As clearly set forth in Dave Hunt's 1985 bombshell book, The Seduction of Christianity, Kelsey interpreted theology through the eyes of Dr. Carl Jung and made no distinction between occult experiences and the so-called gifts of the Holy Spirit. This was major deception.

About this same time I learned that one of my fellow Missouri Synod charismatic pastors, a man who is still a leader of the "renewal" within Missouri, had introduced "inner healing," or the "healing of memories" into his congregation. This was the Christo-therapy of the late Agnes Sanford and is a derivative of Jungian psychology. I took a trip to Chicago and met with this pastor, a dear friend, and pleaded with him and his elders not to teach so-called spiritual experiences that have absolutely no basis in the Word of God. They did not listen.

My eighteenth-month study of the inner healing experience produced my first book, Inner Healing: Deliverance or Deception. As a part of my research, I corresponded with a charismatic husband and wife team from Idaho who were prominent in the movement. In one of his letters, the man told me that he was a prophet and warned me that if I continued to speak against the experience of inner healing God would bring judgment upon me and my family.

By this point I no longer wanted to be a part of a movement that seemingly had no regard for truth or the source of truth. In 1986, I was a workshop presenter at a Lutheran charismatic conference in Albany, New York. I attended the plenary sessions. I was amazed by what I was hearing and seeing. Speakers did not teach Scripture but offered their opinions as if they were God's truth. People were being "slain in the Spirit." One speaker spoke of visualizing new waves of the Spirit and thereby bringing them into being. As I left the conference, the chairman greeted me at the door, thanked me for coming, and promised to have me back the next year. "Forget it," I said. "I'm no longer a charismatic!" As I left the conference center and went outside, I literally jumped for joy: I was free.

The next morning, something strange happened. At the time I was the pastor of a parish in Queens, New York. None of the members of the congregation knew what had happened the night before. After the service, one of the women who had been somewhat disturbed by the "I've-got-something-you-don't-have" attitude of the charismatic members, looked at me strangely as she greeted me at the door. "Pastor, something happened to you," she said. "That was the first sermon I have heard you preach in which I felt included."

Over the next four or five years I was reprogrammed by the Word of God. My experience was not unlike the experience of those who come out of cults. By no longer hanging around with the charismatic believers, I was able to evaluate the teachings more clearly. For example:

  • It became obvious that when the Lord Jesus used the phrase "baptize in the Holy Spirit" he was merely comparing his ministry with the ministry of John the Baptist. Although the book of Acts describes those who were filled with the Spirit, no one is ever "baptized in the Spirit."
  • It was obvious from the text that the tongues at Corinth were known foreign languages. How else would a person know whether or not there was someone present to translate (1 Cor. 14:28)? I also believe that there were cultural issues present at Corinth that are unknown to us.
  • I questioned the definition of the so-called gifts of the Spirit taught by charismatics and pentecostals. Where did these definitions come from? The Bible does not specifically define prophecy, knowledge, wisdom, and so forth. If you read 1 Corinthians 12 in the context of the entire epistle, it is obvious that these so-called "revelatory gifts" were spoken insights into the gospel and centered in Christ Jesus, not a form of "spiritual" extra-sensory perception.


Thirty years ago I discovered the dynamic combination of Word and Spirit. Fervently studying the Word of God and praying for and depending upon the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to the richness of God's truth. The Bible became a new and living book. This is not strange. In defining his "tower experience," Martin Luther wrote: "All at once I felt that I had been born again and entered into paradise itself through open gates. Immediately I saw the whole of Scripture in a different light." What Luther describes is the only way any sinner can grasp the life-changing reality of a righteous God imputing to him the very perfection of Jesus Christ. Without this enlightening reality of the Holy Spirit, the dynamic truth of God's Word degenerates into dead dogmatism. By rejecting the clear definitions of the Reformation and embracing pentecostal terminology, I lived in theological rags for nearly 20 years. What a great joy it was for me to leap out of the rags and put on the riches of the gospel in all of its beauty, truth, and purity.

Thursday, June 7th 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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