What happened earlier this summer in New Orleans would have been inconceivable just two decades ago. Thousands of Christians—Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, messianic Jewish, and Pentecostal—gathered to worship God and to exhort one another to evangelize the world.

The event was the North American Congress on the Holy Spirit and World Evangelization, a successor to the 1977 Kansas City Conference on Charismatic Renewal in the Christian Churches. Both conferences were staged by an ecumenical steering committee made up of charismatic and Pentecostal leaders.

The 27-year-old charismatic renewal movement is a product of modern Pentecostalism, which arose at the turn of the century. The charismatic movement is primarily made up of evangelical Christians who believe in the baptism in the Holy Spirit as an empowering experience subsequent to conversion.

Whereas the 1977 conference emphasized unity among those baptized in the Holy Spirit, the New Orleans meeting stressed evangelizing the world by making use of spiritual gifts, including healing and speaking in tongues. Conference participants undertook one local evangelistic effort—a 17-block-long parade through downtown New Orleans. The parade featured monks dancing in the street; children carrying balloons; adults singing “Lift Jesus Higher”; and marchers clapping and shouting the name of Christ.

Denominational Diversity

The New Orleans congress attracted about 30,000 registrants, with 5,000 more attending part-time. Those figures fell 15,000 short of the attendance at the 1977 Kansas City conference and well below earlier New Orleans attendance projections of 70,000 to 80,000.

However, other aspects of the conference surpassed its 1977 predecessor. Instead ...

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