The charismatic movement began within the historic churches in the 1950s. On the American scene it started to attract broad attention in 1960, with the national publicity given to the ministry of the Reverend Dennis Bennett, an Episcopalian in Van Nuys, California. Since then there has been a continuing growth of the movement within many of the mainline churches: first, such Protestant churches as Episcopal, Lutheran, and Presbyterian; second, the Roman Catholic (beginning in 1967); and third, the Greek Orthodox (beginning about 1971). By now the charismatic movement has become worldwide and has participants in many countries.
As one involved in the movement for the past decade, I should like to set forth a brief profile of it. A profile of the charismatic movement within the historic churches would include at least the following elements: (1) the recovery of a vital and dynamic sense of the reality of the Christian faith; (2) a striking renewal of the community of believers as a fellowship (koinonia) of the Holy Spirit; (3) the manifestation of a wide range of “spiritual gifts,” with parallels drawn from First Corinthians 12–14; (4) the experience of “baptism in the Holy Spirit,” often accompanied by “tongues,” as a radical spiritual renewal; (5) the re-emergence of a spiritual unity that essentially transcends denominational barriers; (6) the rediscovery of a dynamic for bearing comprehensive witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ; and (7) the revitalization of the eschatological perspective.
Persons in the charismatic movement ordinarily stress first the recovery of a liveliness and freshness in their Christian faith. This may be expressed in a number of ways. For example, the reality of God has broken in with fresh meaning and power. God, who may have seemed little more than a token figure before, has now become vividly real and personal to them. Jesus Christ, largely a figure of the past before, has now become the living Lord. The Holy Spirit, who previously had meant almost nothing to them, has become an immanent, pervasive presence.
The Bible, which may have been thought of before as mostly an external norm of Christian faith, or largely as a historical witness to God’s mighty deeds, has become also a testimony to God’s contemporary activity. It is as if a door had been opened, and walking through the door they found spread out before them the extraordinary biblical world, with dimensions of angelic heights and demonic depths, of Holy Spirit and unclean spirits, of miracles and wonders—a world in which now they sense their own participation. The supposed merely historical (perhaps legendary for some) has suddenly taken on striking reality. Prayer, formerly little more than a matter of ritual, and often practiced hardly at all, becomes a joyful activity often carried on for many hours. The head of a theological seminary now involved in the charismatic movement speaks of how his administrative routine has been revolutionized: the first two hours in the office, formerly devoted to business matters, have been replaced by prayer; only thereafter comes the business of the day.
The Eucharist has taken on fresh meaning under the deepened sense of the Lord’s presence—the doctrine of Real Presence has become experiential fact. The Table has become an occasion of joy and thanksgiving far richer than they had known before. All of Christian faith has been enhanced by the sense of inward conviction. Formerly there was a kind of hoping against hope; this has been transformed into a buoyant “full assurance of hope” (Heb. 6:11).
There has occurred, secondly, in the charismatic movement, a striking emergence of the gathered community as a koinonia of the Holy Spirit. People in the charismatic movement are seldom loners; they come together frequently for fellowship in the Spirit. Formerly for many the gathered church had become a matter of dull routine, but now they are eager to be together in fellowship as often and as long as possible.
The fellowship of faith has become greatly deepened and heightened as a fellowship in the Spirit. Here there is first of all a new note of praise to God. The mood of praise—through many a song and prayer and testimony—is paramount in the charismatic fellowship. Indeed, the expression “Praise the Lord” has become the hallmark of the movement. An Episcopal bishop in commenting on what had happened to him recently said, “After centuries of whispering liturgically, ‘Praise ye the Lord,’ it suddenly comes out more naturally—and it’s beautiful.” The “joy of the Lord” is another common expression, and in charismatic fellowships everywhere there are frequent expressions of enthusiasm, delight, rejoicing in the presence of the Lord. As one chorus that is sung puts it, “It is joy unspeakable and full of glory; and the half was never yet been told!” Often there are evidences of exuberance such as hand clapping and laughter. Many expressions of love in the Lord are common, such as the unaffected embracing of one another in the name of Christ, the quick readiness to minister to others within the fellowship (often through the laying on of hands with prayer), and the sharing of earthly goods and possessions through varying expressions of communal life. Much else could be added, but suffice it to say that the gathered fellowship has become for many an exciting, eventful koinonia of the Holy Spirit.
Third, of striking significance is the manifestation of a wide range of spiritual gifts, or charismata. The gifts of First Corinthians 12 have become very meaningful for people in the renewed fellowship of the Spirit. There is the fresh occurrence of all the Corinthian spiritual manifestations: the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues (1 Cor. 12:8–10).
A number of things may be said about these gifts: (1) They are all understood as extraordinary, just as much the word of wisdom as gifts of healing, the word of knowledge as working of miracles, faith as discernment of spirits, prophecy as tongues. They are not essentially expressions of natural prowess but are spiritual manifestations; that is, they occur through the activity of the Holy Spirit. (2) These gifts are not viewed as private possessions but operate within the context of the koinonia for the edification of the gathered group. (3) These gifts are earnestly sought after, prayed for, not for the sake of display or novelty, but because it is believed that the Lord wants to express himself through these various means; hence, all the gifts are essential for the harmonious functioning of the body. (4) Among the gifts prophecy is especially valued, for in the charismatic fellowship this is heard as a direct dominical utterance (a “thus says the Lord”) that has great power to edify the believers and to bring under judgment (“God is in this place!”—see First Corinthians 14:25) any unbelievers who might be present. (5) These gifts of First Corinthians 10–12 are not viewed in isolation from other charismata such as are found in Romans 12:6–8 and 1 Peter 4:10, 11, all of which are gladly recognized and desired; however, the Corinthian charismata are understood to represent a kind of profound opening up of the full range of spiritual manifestations.
It is important to add that in the charismatic fellowship the focus is not on the gifts but on the Giver, Jesus Christ. The meeting of the fellowship is for the purpose of proclaiming “Jesus is Lord” by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3), and whether the pneumatic manifestations do or do not occur is altogether incidental to the praise that is continually offered to His name.
Fourth, the charismatic movement lays strong emphasis on the experience described as “baptism in the Holy Spirit” and its frequent concomitant of “speaking in tongues.” Indeed, it may be said that the experience of this “baptism” represents the spiritual breakthrough out of which people move into the varied charismatic expressions and into their fresh and lively faith.
Persons in the charismatic movement come into this experience of “spiritual baptism” out of various backgrounds: non-Christian, nominally Christian, even longtime Christian. The word “baptism” signifies for them an immersion in spiritual reality, so that, whatever may have been the situation before, this is a spiritual experience of far greater intensity. Or to put it a bit differently, this is an experience of “fullness”—“filling with the Spirit”—that cannot be measured in quantitative terms alone, for there is the sense of entrance upon a fresh dimension of fullness of the Spirit. Wherever they were before spiritually, such persons now experience the exhilaration of a breakthrough of the Holy Spirit into their total existence.
This “baptism with the Spirit” is wholly related in the charismatic movement to faith in Jesus Christ. It is ordinarily thought of not as a “second work of grace” but as a deepening of the faith that is grounded in Christ and the new life in his name. The immediate background may have been that of an increased hunger and thirst after God, a desire to be “filled with the Spirit” for more effective witness, or simply a kind of total yielding to Christ wherein he now becomes in a new way the Lord of all of life. Prayer, often persistent and expectant, is frequently the spiritual context, and the laying on of hands for the “fullness” of the Spirit is often the occasion when this “baptism” occurs. In every case, the experience of spiritual baptism flows out of the life in Christ, and is understood to be the effusion of his Spirit with power for praise, witness, and service.
The occurrence of “speaking with tongues” which so often accompanies this spiritual baptism is ordinarily experienced as one of transcendent praise. Many persons coming into this dimension of fullness find their ordinary speech transcended by a kind of spiritual utterance in which the Holy Spirit provides a new language of jubilation and praise. Here there is a moving past the highest forms of conceptual expression into the spiritual, wherein there is indeed meaning and content but on the level of transcendent communication. This communication is directed not to man but to God, whose glory and deeds are extraordinarily magnified.
This language of praise not only occurs frequently at the initial moment of “baptism with the Spirit” but also continues as a prayer language in the life of faith. To “pray in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:18, Jude 20) now becomes filled with new significance as a deep spiritual utterance possible at all times. Most persons in the charismatic movement will speak of their time of prayer as praying with both the mind and the spirit (1 Cor. 14:15), is of alternation between conceptual and spiritual utterance. This may be not only for praise but also as prayer for others—as the Spirit makes deep intercession according to the will of God (Rom. 8:26, 27).
Fifth, one of the most striking features of the charismatic movement is the resurgence of a deep unity of spirit across traditional and denominational barriers. For though the movement is occurring within many historic churches—and often bringing about unity among formerly discordant groups—the genius of the movement is its transdenominational or ecumenical quality.
This may be noted, for one thing, from the composition of the charismatic group that meets for prayer and ministry. It is not at all unusual to find people fellowshiping and worshiping together from traditions as diverse as classical Pentecostal, mainline Protestant, and Roman Catholic. What unite them are matters already mentioned: a renewed sense of the liveliness of Christian faith, a common expectancy of the manifestation of spiritual gifts for the edification of the community, and, most of all, a spiritual breakthrough that has brought all into a deepened sense of the presence and power of God. The overarching and undergirding unity brought about by the Holy Spirit has now become much more important than the particular denomination.
Herein is ecumenicity of a profound kind in which there is a rediscovery of the original wellsprings of the life of the Church. Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox charismatics alike are going back far behind the theological, liturgical, and cultural barriers that have long separated them into a recovery of the primitive dynamism of the early ecclesia. It is this common rediscovery of the New Testament vitality of the Spirit that unites people of diverse traditions and remolds them into a richer and fuller koinonia of the Holy Spirit.
The charismatic movement has, I believe, been well described by Dr. John Mackay as “the chief hope of the ecumenical tomorrow.” For this is “spiritual ecumenism,” not organizational or ecclesiastical. With all due appreciation for the ecumenical movement, which has helped to bring churches together in common concern and has now and again brought about visible unity, this cannot be as lasting or far-reaching as the ecumenism emerging from a profound inward and outward renewal of the Holy Spirit. For this ecumenism is not an achievement derived from a common theological statement, an agreed upon polity, or an acceptance of differing liturgical expressions. It is rather that which is given through Jesus Christ in the renewed unity of the Holy Spirit.
Sixth, the charismatic movement represents the rediscovery of a fresh thrust for witness to the Gospel. This may be illustrated by a reflection upon the previous points in the context of the continuing command of Christ to the Church: “You shall be my witnesses.” What primarily has been recovered through “baptism in the Spirit” is the plenitude of power for witness. Many before had found their witness to the Good News weak and ineffectual; now it has become much more dynamic and joyful. It is not so much a matter of strategies and techniques of witness as of transparent and vibrant testimony to the new life in Jesus Christ. What it means to be Christ’s witness—and not simply to “talk” it—is a new experience for many in the charismatic renewal. That “the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power” (1 Cor. 4:20) is a fresh and exciting discovery!
Among the common tensions within the Church are the competing claims of personal and social witness: the Gospel as a call to personal conversion and a call to minister to a wide range of human needs. Frequently it is said that the question is one not of either/or but of both/and, for the Good News concerns the whole of man in his personal and corporate existence. Therefore the question is often put as one of relating the two dimensions, and giving proper attention to each. But, however true the importance of a comprehensive witness, the need actually runs much deeper, namely, that of a fresh dynamic or power for pursuing and accomplishing both personal and social aims. Indeed, today one finds a “tired” personal evangelism as much as a “tired” social concern—each, perhaps unknowingly, desperate for a new anointing of power and vision.
In the charismatic movement there are clear evidences that the contemporary endowment of the Spirit is making for more effective witness, both personal and social. It is apparent on many charismatic fronts that there are both a fresh kind of “reality evangelism”—a joyous, often indirect but highly potent, form of witness about the new life in Christ—and many vigorous and creative expressions of concern for the manifold disorders in personal and corporate life.
Seventh, the charismatic movement signalizes a revitalization of the eschatological orientation of the Christian faith. For many persons now active in the movement the whole area of eschatology had meant very little. Whatever the Christian faith had to say, there was a consciousness that it dealt with the present: some kind of amelioration or renovation of the prevailing human situation. Scarcely more than passing thought was given to “last things.” Others in the movement had viewed Christian faith as focusing almost exclusively on the future: the resurrection, parousia, kingdom, and so on.
Salvation itself was largely a matter to be experienced at the “end.” The present world was scarcely a place of God’s joyful presence—but one could hope for something better in the future.
What is patiently happening among people in the charismatic movement is the recovery of a lively sense of present and future under the impact of the Holy Spirit. For those preoccupied with the future, the present has now taken on rich significance through the activity of the Holy Spirit. All of life is now pulsating with the vitality and dynamism of the divine presence and action. For those who previously could see little beyond the contemporary world, the future has taken on an exciting meaning because of the new sense of Christ. He is so personally real now that there is a fresh yearning for his future coming in glory, the establishment of the kingdom, and the fulfillment of all things. Because of what has so abundantly happened in the now, the future prospect is viewed with keen anticipation. The result is a vital eschatology in which present and future are united through the dynamism of the Holy Spirit.
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