I don’t want to leave our discussion of charismatic theology and practice without offering some words of appreciation for what I have gained and ways I think the church has benefited from its influence.
Again, keep in mind that my experience is primarily with the “second wave” of charismatic renewal that blossomed in the 1960’s and 70’s, primarily in Roman Catholic, mainline, and evangelical churches.
1. Charismatic Christians have been a sign of eschatological faith in the church.
I have criticized revivalistic evangelicalism in general and charismatic faith in particular as being too other-worldly. However, there is a sense in which the church is always in need of individuals and groups that challenge the church not to settle down in the spirit of this age but to radically embrace and testify to the newness of the age to come. The charismatic renewal that swelled in the 60’s and 70’s shook up the churches — and to be honest, many of them needed shaking up. The Spirit’s ministry and manifestations always function as they did on the Day of Pentecost — they force us all to say, “What is happening here?” and give opportunity for gifted proclaimers to stand up and say, “These are signs of the Messianic Age we’ve been waiting for!” This has been a regular occurence throughout church history, and many of the saints, reformers, revivalists, and missionaries we honor today challenged the church of their day with outside the box thinking and practice that implicitly or explicitly criticized the status quo and called people to wake up, for a new day was coming. Such renewed visions of Jesus and new creation have always been accompanied by a lot of silliness, overblown enthusiasm, and wild fire. What the wind and fire do is not always tame and pretty. But it bespeaks a power of exciting new possibilities.
Before the new music and freedom in worship that the charismatics brought got captured and domesticated by the CCM industry and Christian media empires, it was a fresh testimony to the newness Jesus brings. I’m sure many of the older and more traditional folks were suspicious and anxious but, at least in my experience, we weren’t at the “worship wars” point yet, because there weren’t the wholesale changes in church architecture, worship leadership (it was still the pastor’s responsibility), and service orders that took place later. Instead, the influence of those who were more open to the Spirit brought a sense of anticipation, joy, personal testimony, and heartfelt sincerity to worship that was a breath of fresh air. In the Catholic churches and in mainline congregations, liturgical renewal was the order of the day. Jesus movement artists like John Michael Talbot, who became a Franciscan monk, began contributing new worship songs and entire services for the benefit of the church. I took one of the first “worship” classes my evangelical seminary ever offered in the early 1980’s. The very fact that fundamentalists and evangelicals were talking in new ways about worship was a breakthrough. It was a sign that this activity, which is at the heart of what the church does, was being recognized as more central. I give a lot of credit to the charismatic renewal for contributing a good share of energy to this renewed emphasis.
3. Charismatic Christians have given testimony to the joy of the Lord.
Long ago, Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections recognized the place of renewed emotions as evidence of revival in the Christian’s life. The 60’s are infamous for promoting the spirit of “letting it all hang out.” The buttoned-down “uptight” Eisenhower era was over, music and new media, the arts culture, and marketing were encouraging self-expression at levels never seen before. In that context, churches could sometimes seem as cold and dead as mausoleums. The charismatics thought that was wrong. If anyone should be able to express joy and celebration with freedom and abandon, it should be God’s children. A new creation was dawning! It was time to sing, to play loud music, and dance! It was time to “let the redeemed of the Lord say so!” It was time to take Psalm 150 seriously. Of course, this can lead to many of the problems we introverts and depressives complain about here at Internet Monk. But I still say they have a point. A good one.
In the comments to last week’s posts, several mentioned that those who stress openness to the Spirit are often on the forefront of ministry to the poor and disenfranchised. Their congregations tend to be more inclusive racially and ethnically, and socio-economically as well. They attract and minister to many of the people who feel uncomfortable in the cushy environs of the suburban megachurch or traditional congregation. They are working in the inner city neighborhoods. They are loving the street people, the druggies, and the radically dysfunctional. In the suburbs and small towns of the Midwest where I live, it’s churches like the Vineyard and Assemblies of God that are welcoming the poor and serving them and giving them an extended family of faith. Long ago, it was people in the historic Holiness and Pentecostal movements that first allowed women to minister in significant public ways and took the lead in lobbying for the rights of women in society.
Donald E. Miller has written a book called, Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement in which he argues that one of the reasons Pentecostalism is growing so rapidly around the world these days is because they are leading the way in holistic mission in their communities. He calls them “Progressive Pentecostals” and observes that they are living out a theology that differs from the Social Gospel and Liberation Theology. Instead, he says that they are “attempting to build from the ground up an alternative social reality” through treating people as those who bear God’s image, and serving them in love.
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As with any large, diverse movement, there is much to be criticized and a lot to be concerned about with regard to charismatic theology and practice. There is a lot we can learn and appreciate too.