Are We Radical Enough in our Experience of Renewal?
True, the experience of other Christians was a precipitating factor. Experience, like tradition, plays more important part in our theology than some more conservative Christians admit. It can, and does, illuminate our understanding. That isno bad thing if we seek, as objectively as possible, to judge our experience by Scripture. Tradition can also help us to assess our experience but must, again, be judged by Scripture.
I judged the Charismatic Movement by Scripture and found the New Testament taught that the Christian life and Church life should be on a much more supernatural level than I had been experiencing. Although I had just completed five years of full-time theological training, I began to ‘notice’ teaching in Scripture I had never taken seriously before.
Then my prayer life deepened, particularly in the area adoration which had been sadly lacking previously, I began, as never before, to expect God to intervene supernaturally in answer to prayer. This was not demanding or manipulative prayer, but rather the expectant prayer of child-like faith.
I could never deny that this was a genuine work of the Holy Spirit. It fitted biblical criteria. 17 years earlier I had experienced a definite conversion, but I do not subscribe to ‘second blessing’ theology. A person cannot become a Christian without, receiving the Holy Spirit and there is no such creature as a believer who doesn't have the Holy Spirit.
Jesus’ ministry of baptising people with the Spirit is part of conversion. But the Christian life is becoming what we are in Christ — working out in experience our theological position in Christ. In the end, the healthy scriptural attitude is to desire to experience everything Scripture teaches oneshould. I am also convinced, from Scripture, that all the gifts of the Holy Spirit listed in the New Testament are available today.
So my reading of Scripture leads me to encourage all who accept biblical authority to embrace renewal, In fact, it is such an established part of the world-wide Church (across the denominations) that I believe we should drop the word ‘movement’ and call it a tradition. The Church is evangelical, charismatic and (in the creedal sense) catholic.
However, I certainly don't accept all that happens in the Charismatic Movement. Like many movements it has its lunatic fringe. Although I could never deny what God did in my life in 1967. I did shortly afterwards have big questions about the Renewal Movement.
In particular, ‘prophetic gifts’ worried me. If they weren't genuine they could mislead the Church. Also, seeing some ham-fisted and hurtful approaches to those who were not healed through the laying on of hands upset me deeply.
Renewal is, by and large, more mature these days There is good teaching on such matters as weighing prophecy or approaching healing. But for five years I wanted nothing to do with the movement. Eventually, though, I had to repent over rejecting the work of God. I had thrown the baby out with the bath water. Thank God, the repentance renewed the renewal.
Since those days renewal has transformed worship both in solemn adoration and joyful praise — just like the Psalms. Songwriters such as Graham Kendrick have produced material comparable to some of the best hymns. True, there are mindless ditties with the theological content of a soap powder commercial, but there are also simple, meditative songs which are quite profound.
I normally prefer ‘free worship’ within the rich framework of the liturgy. Singing endless songs three times can, at times, he mind-numbingly boring. When invited to speak at a charismatic celebration I sometimes groan inwardly when I see the number of transparencies next to the overhead projector, and calculate the congregation will be exhausted by the time I get to speak. Nevertheless, the work of the Spirit is associated with singing as Scripture teaches. And some Anglicans would be profoundly uncomfortable with the style of worship advocated in the Psalms they love to chant, for it was at times exuberant.
How can those who accept biblical authority condemn raising hands, shouting, clapping, using tambourines and even dancing in worship (so long as no-one is forced to join in)? Or is our particular brand of British culture divinely inspired?
Renewal has brought immense spiritual benefits to many Christians and churches, It has created new depths of fellowship, including across denominational boundaries.
Christians have realised their authority to set people free from demonic influence and other problems. Many testify to healing and, whereas I think we need to be properly critical in approaching ‘miracles,’ I don't think we should apply criteria which, in my view, would cast doubts on the healings performed by Jesus, if applied to them.
Contrary to widespread but unfair criticisms, many leaders in renewal emphasise Bible teaching. They are as concerned us anyone that some charismatics adopt an uncritical view of, or even embrace, clearly unbiblical theology.
But some do neglect Bible teaching in favour of froth. And there is always the latest fad: finding demons where there aren’t any; getting excited about phenomena that aren't in the New Testament; adulation for the latest charismatic guru with accompanying roadshow and so on.
But my main problem with Charismatic Renewal in the historic denominations is that it is not radical enough. I do not believe the Holy Spirit is interested only in individuals or prayer groups. Nor do Ibelieve he wishes merely to liven up the Church of England, polish its image and safely contain those involved in Renewal.
God forbid that we should seek to tame the work of the Holy Spirit (a danger facing charismatics in historic denominations). He intended to do a radical job, particularly on our ecclesiology.
If renewal isn't radical it will, as some churches have found, decline. Rather than dying of respectability it should challenge anything less than biblical in Anglicanism.
Whereas I am not a congregationalist, I do believe that both Scripture and Anglican formularies teach the priority of the local (and universal) Church (Articles 19-21 ). We need therefore to reverse the damaging trend towards diocesan centralisation.
The episcopate also needs radical reform. We need bishops with apostolic gifts. While there are no apostles on a level with the 12 and Paul, there were, in the New Testament and early Church, other apostles gifted as pioneer church builders. And there are today.
Too often we get good committee men, some of whom have little experience of leading — let alone pioneering or radically building up — a church. The concept of a remote prince-bishop is certainly inconsistent with Scripture.
It is good to have a trained church leadership, recognised by the wider Church and exercising Christ-like authority. But the clerical caste-system, bolstered by unbiblical views of ordination, does great damage by discouraging every member ministry.
The one-man ministry and the one-woman ministry are equally unbiblical. Scripture, e.g. Ephesians 4, calls for a truly charismatic leadership: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, and so on. Paul says they are all necessary for the unity, growth and maturity of the Church. Do we know better?
These gifts are discernible in clergy and others today. But we put men — and women—in omnicompetent roles and wonder why it doesn't work, Little wonder there is often little delegation, let alone every-member-ministry (both biblical principles).
Someone wrote to The Church of England Newspaper asking if anyone did a foundation course on church membership which led on, through an interview, to practically discerning and facilitating each member's gift. It is possible to develop a truly charismatic model of leadership (as per Ephesians 4) facilitating this sort of system within the Church of England. We did it — albeit imperfectly — in one of our parishes for years.
We laid a foundation of unity (for which the Spirit yearns) which can be the foundation for every-member-ministry, intercession and evangelism. We ran the church as a theocracy (hearing God together) rather than a democracy.
It worked, given the courage to overcome our fears and be radical in the power of the Spirit, as we discovered through encouraging many other churches in this way,
Sadly, many (not all) charismatics are inward looking. Some charismatic fellowships are constantly gazing into each other's eyes, blessing one another, healing one another, counselling one another whilst millions outside are without God and without hope.
Yet the Spirit's power was given for Christians and churches to witness locally, nationally and internationally (Acts 1:8). And I know from experience that it is possible to facilitate a continuous programme of every-member-evangelism, incorporating the insights of charismatic renewal, within an ordinary Anglican congregation.
Clergy who want to be radically biblical and truly charismatic in the power of the Spirit within the local church, and, on that basis, radically to address the serious problem facing the Church of England, need to network together nationally
We need nationwide intercession as well as mutual encouragement and support. Only then do I believe the real and radical intention of charismatic renewal will be fulfilled through imperfect people like us. (First published in the Church of England Newspaper May 1983).
© Tony Higton: see conditions for copying on the Home Page