The Pilgrim’s Pensieve #2

Me and the Charismatic Movement

Last week I more or less delivered my personal manifesto. It is an agenda to do something I know many people would find ridiculous: to make sense of the Charismatic Movement (CM.)

First of all, I think it is rightly called a movement. In many ways it does not bear the marks of denominations before it. For one it does not hold concrete doctrinal statements of its own. It is hard to pin down because there are so many forms of it. Often critics of the CM forget that it is really a loose set of movements. Its lack of doctrinal identity is generally made up for in experience.

From the days of Charles Fox Parham it has been rooted in the experience of the Holy Spirit. It isn’t that theology doesn’t matter to them. Most of them hold all the traditional dogmas of the Church. As far as they are concerned it must be rooted in experiential relevance, the most relevant experience being an encounter with the Spirit of God. However, if it is the experience of the Spirit that sets them apart then modern members of the movement are certainly not the first.

From the very beginning of the Church the Spirit has been tangibly at work. They therefore generally argue that somewhere along the line the Church forgot this but now God is restoring this experience. In essence they believe themselves to be a restorationist movement, much like the Reformers before them but in a sense more so. For me it also resembles the Judaisms of the Second Temple era including early Christianity. They believed God was restoring Israel. The question then was, who are the real covenant people? Each claimed to be the authentic people of God and sometimes used strong polemic against those who did not belong to it.

The CM can also be very critical of those who criticise it but can also have great compassion on them as people who are simply acting out of ignorance or misinformation. In terms of how sects behave, they are not too different. However, as I said in the beginning they do not have a uniform identity. Because of that it is hard to describe them as fully crystallised sect or denomination. Defining them is hard but as far as I see it, a charismatic is anyone who believes in the tangible work of the Spirit in the Church today and is ready to actively participate in it. Of course they might not accept the label “charismatic”, “Pentecostal”, “continuationist” or whatever. Yet in the larger Christian family they are group of siblings who get along better with each other than with the others.

I have been embedded in this movement since I was a child and I truly love it. I thoroughly appreciate the charismatic reference frame in the Christian worldview. As I grew up I began to have questions of my own. At first the CM was seen to be the answer and now there are many who are not so sure. I am one of such people.

I have learnt to subvert any worldview you have to change the narrative. Like the apostles of old when they preached began with the history of Israel but brought it to a different climax than their audience was expecting. Like Paul my own personal story is part of the larger narrative and like him, it too has reached a shocking climax. How do I plan to make sense of the CM? By retelling it’s story.

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