Charismatic Renewal—What Is It?
THE assembled worshipers have their heads bowed as in prayer. All is calm. Then a faint sound of voices is heard—a murmuring of prayers. Suddenly, loud voices fill the air. Arms, hands and faces are uplifted. Excitement charges the atmosphere!
At this point people cry out religious slogans such as “Praise the Lord!” and “Hallelujah!” Next, someone starts to speak in a “language” nobody understands. Tears flow. The participants seem to be ecstatic.
Was this a Pentecostal meeting? One would have thought so until a few years ago. But the scene described above could just as easily have been a meeting held in an Episcopal church, a Roman Catholic university stadium, or one held by a mixed group of Catholics and Protestants meeting anywhere.
Other generations have seen those claiming to have ‘gifts of divine favor’ (Greek, charismata). Thus, the older Pentecostal movement, with its “gifts” of “tongue-speaking” and “healing” is said to be charismatic. These gifts are thought to originate from God’s holy spirit.
The ‘New Charismatics’
In the 1960’s churches in general seemed to be in a state of spiritual paralysis. Membership sagged. Seminaries experienced disturbing shortages. But then, suddenly, came the ‘new charismatics.’ How did it happen?
In 1959, in an Episcopal church in California, several members started to speak in tongues. Later, an Episcopal priest in another church also did the same. When the priest was transferred to Washington State, tongue-speaking took place there. The idea spread to Protestant seminaries, colleges and churches across the United States. Then, in the latter half of the 1960’s, a group of Roman Catholics at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh began to speak in tongues. News of this spread, with the scene repeated at other Roman Catholic colleges and church parishes. Soon some of these groups from different religions began meeting together, speaking in tongues and healing.
The movement spread to other lands. The press reported on tens of thousands attending conventions of charismatics in large cities of the world. In 1980 one poll showed that about 29 million adult Americans thought of themselves as charismatic Christians.
What Does It Mean?
Many sincere persons view these events as proving that God’s holy spirit is at work in a charismatic renewal, helping religion to make a comeback. There can be no denying that something has happened to these people of many religious backgrounds. And they evidently wish to please God.
That being so, there ought to be a willingness to make a careful analysis of the movement to see what it really has accomplished. Is it producing evidences of God’s approval? Is this the way God is working in our time?