I write this post from my own experiences of The Charismatic Movement as a pew-filler over nearly fifty years. Most of my Christian life has been spent in the Anglican Church. I knowingly had my first Charismatic experience when I was 17 years old.
What the Charismatic Movement is as I know it.
The Charismatic Movement is the name given to the revival, including during divine service, of the overt practice of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit as exercised in the Early Church and about which St Paul answers questions in 1 Corinthians chapters 12 to 14.
The Charismatic Movement in the Church of England uses the ordinary Anglican liturgy. There may be times during the prayers when someone speaks a message from the Holy Spirit, just as someone may add to an intercession. The speaker might be the vicar or a member of the congregation. It can be in English or in a tongue which is then interpreted by someone else. After a hymn, usually the last one, there may be members of the congregation singing for a minute or so in tongues or even wordlessly while the rest of those present are moved to go quiet or to join in. Sometimes a musician may be inspired to play in the Spirit. A person with a gift of dancing before the Lord might dance. Occasionally there may be a time of healing with the laying-on of hands and perhaps anointing with oil when a leader is told by the Spirit that someone in the congregation is sick. More often, there will be a special service dedicated to healing which will be advertised around the Deanery or more widely. All things, as the New Testament says, done in decency and order. This sort of Holy Spirit public activity I’ve seen happen when two or three local churches combine for an event, not just in the Anglican church.
If a newcomer has never before seen or heard The Holy Spirit so obviously move through a congregation then he or she might be taken by surprise. The King James Version of the bible says it is a sign for unbelievers otherwise visitors ‘will think you are all mad’:
Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men. In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord. Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe. If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth. (1 Corinthians 14 . 20 -25)
But the J B Phillips translation says it is a sign ‘not for unbelievers but for those who already believe, otherwise they’ll think you are all mad’. Phillips comments that the original makes more sense that way and that somebody probably copied it wrongly at some time in the past.
My brothers, don’t be like excitable children but use your intelligence! By all means be innocent as babes as far as evil is concerned, but where your minds are concerned be full-grown men! In the Law it is written: ‘With men of other tongues and other lips I will speak to this people; and yet, for all that, they will not hear me’. That means that tongues are a sign of God’s power, not for those who are unbelievers, but to those who already believe. Preaching the word of God, on the other hand, is a sign of God’s power to those who do not believe rather than to believers. So that, if at a full church meeting you are all speaking with tongues and men come in who are both uninstructed and without faith, will they not say that you are insane? But if you are preaching God’s word and such a man should come in to your meeting, he is convicted and challenged by your united speaking of the truth. His secrets are exposed and he will fall on his knees acknowledging God and saying that God is truly among you (14.20-25)
Why then, why now?
There have been revivals and renewals throughout Church history. They happen when the time is right for them,when the Holy Spirit leads people to lead them. Until the latter half of the last century, the Church of England did not appear to be led to want to revive the customs of the Early Church. The Lord must have a reason. Tom Wright told a gathering at a Charismatic church I used to belong to that we are living through a hinge time. Of course The Holy Spirit has never left us so perhaps we have a need as human beings in this generation more so than in the past to perceive God with our senses.
Over the centuries there have been references in fiction and in lives of the saints to tongues, ecstatic utterances,visions, healings, prophecy,’transports’ and so on. Mostly they read as if it was an individual thing. I haven’t come across much mention of collective experience later than Paul’s advice to the young churches. There was perhaps the odd sect here and there in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. I’ve never been to a Quaker or Shaker meeting. I’m told from those who have that there are Waitings on The Lord in silence unless or until somebody is moved by the Holy Spirit to say something. That description reminds me very much of a charismatic Anglican prayer meeting or the time of prayer during a service. When deciding what to include in the New Testament, to my mind the Fathers must have thought Paul’s advice worth including, believing that it was ongoing or would come back. I must emphasise that I am not a scholar of Church history,it’s just what seems reasonable to me as an ordinary churchgoer.
In my mid to late teens when I was working in local government, news of the resurgence of Gifts of the Holy Spirit in whole congregations or to individual vicars was being discussed by colleagues. It was reported in newspapers and on the TV in tones of surprise by journalists who didn’t seem to know whether to be respectful or not.I wasn’t to hear the term ‘Charismatic Movement ‘ for another ten years.
Scripture was a compulsory subject in every UK school so there would hardly be anybody in the country who hadn’t heard of what happened in Acts 2 and in the conduct of the Early Church but most of us thought it was something that had been experienced only in the past and had no expectation that it would be repeated in our lifetime. Until it happened to us or we witnessed it, that is. My father said he was told by a lay reader relative not to worry, I’d only got what the disciples had and it was harmless. Some young people of a nervous disposition got it now and again. It sounded rather as though I’d picked up some weak virus.
The generation just above me had been through a war, travelled the world and seen many things. Some were sceptical,others said nothing would surprise them. Attitudes varied. On reflection, remembering that when we ‘young people’ used to tour geriatric wards and old folks’ homes singing old hymns and reading the Bible to the generation that survived the trenches, how often we were called over afterwards to be told a story that began ‘I had an experience’, I realise if those old people been listened to when they were young, the Church might have noticed much earlier that the return of the Spiritual Gifts was on its way.
What of the future?
I’m not really in a position to comment on such criticisms as I’ve read. All the links I can find lead to comments on the practices of foreign churches or of other denominations. However, I have heard first-hand accounts from Christians who have left certain denominations and come to the Church of England because of what sounds like bias, undue emphasis on certain styles of worship and being belittled. They say they have been told they ‘have not The Spirit’ (as Paul puts it) if they have not been through a specific recordable experience of Baptism in The Holy Spirit as described in Acts 2, or if they don’t speak in tongues. I have never encountered this teaching in the Church of England. Surely we’ve all encountered lay and clergy alike from whom The Holy Spirit radiates but who’ve never even met anybody who speaks in prophecy or tongues.
The biggest change in worship I have seen is in the growth of the internet. In online chat and services the Holy Spirit has certainly been present. God does not restrict Himself to where two or three are physically present in person.
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The illustration is by Andy Lindley, downloaded from Twelve Baskets under licence. Called ‘When Pentecost Came’, the text is from Acts 2 with the flames of Pentecost superimposed.
Joyce Hackney has been a regular contributor to the Lay Anglicana forum, and also to the comments on the blog posts. She was an active participant in Lay Anglicana’s ‘house group’ which joined the Big Read’s discussion of Tom Wright on Mark’s gospel. Thank-you Joyce! Ed.