Where Is It Headed?
“WE SEE the renewal slowing down and/or fragmenting,” observed a leader of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in the United States in a report to that group. The report added: “In that fragmentation has come a dilution of God’s Word.”
The above report was quoted in the Australian renewal and evangelical magazine Vision (May-June 1980) in an article titled “What in the World’s Happening to the Renewal?” The author of that article, a charismatic himself, tells of giving a talk at a charismatic rally where he spoke about “the death of charismatic renewal.”
The chairman of the International Lutheran Charismatic Conference has analyzed the fragmentation and has listed “seven streams” that have developed in the United States alone. These include: groups centered around prominent leaders; Protestant and Catholic groups that are trying to contain renewal within their parishes; and so-called “health and wealth” groups that stress healing and financial success as evidence of God’s approval.
Thus, leaders and observers are concerned about a diminishing thrust, that “it won’t last forever,” as one charismatic said. (U.S. Catholic, Feb. 1980) Things seem to be headed for either a loss of enthusiasm or the establishing of new sects of charismatic Pentecostals rallying around different leaders.
The above sequence is not without foundation. The Encyclopædia Britannica says of the Pentecostals who appeared on the religious scene generations earlier: “They initially had no intention of withdrawing from their own churches to form another denomination. They merely wanted to be agents of reform and revival, helping to rid their churches of formalism in worship, modernism in belief, worldliness in practice and striving to transform them into vibrant, spirit-filled communities similar to those described in the New Testament book of Acts.” Yet, in time, a separate Pentecostal denomination was founded. Later numerous splits occurred. Today there are more than 30 kinds of Pentecostals.
The recent history of the ‘new charismatics’ bears a striking resemblance to that. But it is not really surprising when you analyze what sparked the modern movement.
What Really Happened
The stories often told would lead you to conclude that, all of a sudden, speaking in tongues and renewal broke out on their own—a spontaneous work of the holy spirit. But in the original development among Protestants in California it is noteworthy that two Episcopalians in 1959 “received the baptism of the Holy Spirit through the witness of Pentecostal friends.” From them the “experience” was transmitted to about a dozen other members. Their own pastor contacted still others, spreading the “experience” among many Protestant churches.
Similarly, the Catholic development was not really spontaneous either. Even before the ‘Duquesne experience’ “there were individual Catholics who had received the Pentecostal experience—often through the influence of Pentecostal friends,” says The New Charismatics.
What about the people involved at Duquesne, since this seemed to trigger the rapid spread of the experience among Catholics? In August of 1966 members of the faculty at the university had been introduced by friends to various publications that promoted Pentecostal thinking. “Eventually, the group decided to become personally acquainted with local Christians who had the Pentecostal experience,” says one writer. This meeting led to the “Duquesne weekend.”
What happened, then, is that earlier Pentecostal ideas and experiences penetrated some mainstream churches. Most recipients either were seeking a more “dynamic,” exciting, joyful way of worship or were influenced by those having had the experience.
However, since these efforts, the results now seen do not argue for a genuine, spontaneous renewal by holy spirit. What we have seen, instead, has been the introduction of beliefs and practices of one group to a number of others, with no one to guide the results or focus them on worthwhile goals.
“What About Our Experience?”
Despite the mounting evidence to the contrary, there are those who feel that they cannot conscientiously deny what they have experienced. Did they not feel the power within them? Did they not see or feel healing? Did they not burst forth with words in tongues unknown to them?
While that may be so, it is important to keep in mind that the Bible warns of deceptive, demonic spirits. (1 John 4:1) They are described as “working miracles,” even misleading mighty rulers. (Revelation 16:14, Authorized Version) They may use humans to produce powerful works, but the visible effects do not prove that they come from God. ‘Even if it was done in the name of the Lord Jesus?’ someone may ask. Jesus himself said: “Many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord! In your name we spoke God’s message, by your name we drove out many demons and performed many miracles!’ Then I will say to them, ‘I never knew you.’”—Matthew 7:22, 23, Today’s English Version.
Even the previous Pentecostals worried about demonic influence. W. J. Seymour, prominent Pentecostal in the early 20th century, once urged his teacher to come to Los Angeles to help him because “hypnotic forces and fleshly contortions” had broken out at his meetings. He felt he needed help to “discern between that which was real and that which was false, and to weed out that which was not of God.”
On this matter of Satan masquerading as an angel of light in deceiving (2 Corinthians 11:14), a modern tongue-speaking Jesuit priest says: “Tongues could be a hysterical experience, or, according to some, a diabolical one.” And an Episcopal rector who speaks in tongues said: “The devil has many ways of working at us. When we come into the baptism of the Holy Spirit he really attacks.”
Also, consider this: If these special gifts such as tongues, healing and prophecy are so vital today, why did the apostle Paul write: “Are there prophets? their work will be over. Are there tongues of ecstasy? they will cease.” (1 Corinthians 13:8, The New English Bible) The evidence shows that with the passing away of the apostles and those whom they ‘laid their hands on,’ the holy spirit’s miraculous gifts passed away.—Acts 8:17; 14:3.
Today, there is something far more important for Christians to display as an indication that God is working through them. It is something all of God’s servants must have. The Bible says: “There are three things that last for ever: faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of them all is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13, NE) Since this is the case, one must look beyond things like tongue-speaking for sound evidences of the work of the holy spirit in our day.
Now, then, just what are the ways of identifying true Christians who are really displaying this all-important love? Can one see in them the fruits of God’s spirit at work, indicating that they are like the first-century Christians? Let us examine the evidence for that.
[Blurb on page 8]
The results now seen do not argue for a genuine, spontaneous renewal by holy spirit