Sunday, August 21, 2005

Whatever Happened to Charismatic Renewal?

The other day a friend shared something he had written about what the future might look like for Anglicans in North America. It was, as is always the case with his work, clear and insightful. I had heard the talk on which the piece had been based, and had liked it very much, now he was asking for input before finalizing what he had written.

I slid his text into a file and took it to a meeting with me on Saturday, so that in the dull moments I might chew it over (I call that redeeming the time rather than letting my mind wander!). Just as the gathering started to get interesting and I needed to concentrate something occurred to me, and that was that there was no mention of the Charismatic Renewal in what he wrote -- although he had played a key role in that renewal himself a while back. I replied and pointed this out, sharing my response with another friend who had been part of this discussion. His immediate words were, "But why has the Charismatic Renewal disappeared in the Episcopal Church?"

Having written this far, I am certain that there will be an outpouring of responses that will say that the Charismatic Renewal has not died, that it is alive and well, and that they resent the implication that it is no longer part of the picture. Yet the truth is that while there are many, like good folks in my own congregation, for whom charismatic renewal was their springboard into a committed Christian faith, the movement as such seems to have run its course. I don't want to necessarily write its obituary but to ask where it has gone to.

I have been conscious of the Charismatic Renewal since 1965, the year I entered seminary. At that time Dennis Bennett visited the seminary and so began a heady time in that student and faculity community. Some rather crazy things happened, but there was much good that came from it. While for several years the charismatics "stood apart" from those of us who were more comfortable with the label "evangelical," by the time I was ordained and starting out on my active ministry, there was something of a merger that was starting to take place, and gathered apace.

In the years that followed many of the insights of the renewal movement found their way into the mainstream of Anglican evangelicalism, while at the same time the rather ragged theological base of the renewal movement was clarified and refined by the intellectual discipline brought to it by "renewed evangelicals." Add to that the rapprochment that took place with Anglo-Catholics who were drawn into renewal, together with a handful of broad church types, and something interesting seemed to be going on.

Yet this pattern did not seem to shape the ECUSA experience at all. When I arrived here one of the things that struck me was how weak evangelicals were in the Episcopal Church, and the other was that the renewal movement was a great deal more about experience, and lacked the firm theological undergirding that I had seen in Britain. Whereas in Britian the renewal had, by and large, shed its rather ungainly pentecostal theological and cultural trappings, that was not necessarily what had happened here.

Now in the years since then it has seemed to me that there has been something of a coming together of evangelicals and renewal people, particularly as a result of the influence of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry; but there has also been a contraction of that distinctly charismatic base, and I suspect it would be unusual to find an Anglican parish of any Anglican jurisdiction these days that is as overtly charismatic as many used to be.

Part of that may be that God does a work for a particular time in a particular place, and then as balance is corrected, the church moves on. We needed to be reminded of the power and grace of the Holy Spirit in the 60s and 70s and early 80s, but a lot of those lessons have been learned by faithful people, even if a lot of seed fell on thin soil. These days I expect the Spirit to do things that thirty or forty years ago I would have been extremely dubious about in my evangelical uptightness.

Part of this decline in overt charismatic witness may be that God has, in fact, withdrawn his Spirit from parts of the church. As the Spirit is the Spirit of truth, when a church toys with overt error, then the Lord has, as Revelation puts it, no alternative but to remove the lampstand. I suspect that we are seeing some of this.

Another component may be that because the Renewal Movement in the USA was not as theologically rooted as it should have been, there has been a trickling away of many of its blessings into the sands. When Christians rev up experience and become hungry for experience, miracles, healings, or whatever, while ignoring the rooting, grounding, and discipline of God's Word that is necessary, then a diminution is going to take place. Experience that is genuinely from God, in these circumstances, gives way to the manufacturing of experience, which ultimately is going to shrivel and die.

One of the tragedies of these last 20 years has been watching folks who were once leaders in renewal moving away from biblical values because they have made experience one of the defining components of their theology, rather than a historic grounding in Scripture. This is certainly the case with at least one individual who comes immediately to mind, and the values he now affirms are in stark contrast to what is taught in the Old and New Testaments.

I am inclined to think that all of these above thoughts have some merit, but I would go further and suggest that the Charismatic Movement broke upon us at a certain time, and enabling a particular generation or two to meet God in an intimate way -- which might not have otherwise been possible for them. It might have borne more lasting fruit if the blessing of the Spirit had not been squandered in some many instances, being reduced to a rather self-centered revelling rather than seeing that experience as the starting point for equipping for ministry and selfless mission.

Not too long ago one of the venerable leaders of the Renewal Movement in the Episcopal Church at its prime was talking to me about the various Holy Spirit and Evangelism congresses that took place in the 70s and 80s. He shook his head and said that he felt they were of far less value than they could have been because they were 90% about experiencing the Spirit and only 10% (if that) about mission and evangelism. I have to endorse his insights. I would add that this is probably true of the Cursillo movement, too.

My observation of the rising generation is that the whole charismatic thing cuts very little ice with them. The best insights of it have already been mainstreamed into the life of the church, but it is too frothy for many of them. They are looking for rooting and grounding, being the children of a culture (and often families) that is rootless. The generational cycle has moved on, and as this has happened we find a searching back for the ancient treasures of our faith within the context of a throwaway culture, rather than redressing other balances that were necessary 30-40 years ago.

I don't know what others think. I admit that I have always viewed the Renewal Movement more as an interested outsider, rather than one who identified with it. This means that I might suffer some innate myopia which the insights of others can correct.


LumenChristie said...

You are cordially invited to attend the Diocesan Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany, June 9 -- 11, 2006 at Camp-of-the-Woods, Speculator, NY.

For the past 5 years our Diocesan Convention has been a three day combination retreat-revival-youth rally-& parish renewal blow out.

In 2003 over a thousand people from our parishes came forward at the Holy Eucharist on Saturday to receive the infilling (or release, if you will) of the Holy Spirit by laying on of hands by our two bihops and Archbishop Josiah Fearon of Nigeria.

At every convention there is a major healing service which is packed to the doors. This healing ministry of prayer is continued constantly at the Healing Center at Christ the King Spiritual Life Center, which is the focal point of our diocese.

The "Baptism of the Holy Spirit" is routinely offered at many events. Youth programs are not afraid to lead young people to make a committment to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and will include prayer in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In 2004 our clergy retreat was led by a notable renewal figure. The retreat ended with the Holy Eucharist in which dozens of clergy gave thanks after Communion by "Singing in Tongues" --praising God freely in the power of the Holy Spirit.

A few weeks ago, Francis MacNutt gave a week long conference on healing at the Spiritual Life Center. A centerpiece of that conference was an evening time of prayer and praise in which several dozen people were prayed for to receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.

I could go on and on. Lives have been and are being touched and changed -- physical, emotional and spiritual healings and deliverance are happening.

If you want to see a real honest to goodness Charismatic Renewal going on (and I know what it looks like, because I participated in a covenanted prayer group in the 1970s) just come to the Diocese of Albany!!!

Kyle said...

I think your points about lacking a theological grounding are helpful. I call myself "renewed," but I never mean it in terms of describing a particular quality of experience, but rather a theology and practice that understands the charismatic gifts of 1 Cor. to be on offer to some degree to all Christians for building up the Body. And that's not as sexy as "experiences" in themselves, but the problem seems to be that without discipline reflection and theological roots, there's no basis for the maintenence of such experiences.