Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Charismatic reality of the Church

Having greatly enjoyed Fr. Kirby's recent post, Anglican Catholicism and the Charismata, especially in light of the fact that Easter takes us directly into Pentecost, I want to add some lessons learned from experience in light of Scripture. I will number these observations and do so with relevant passages of Scripture

1. Luke 24:45-49:

Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.

Acts 1:4-8:

And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at his time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.

Inasmuch as the Lord Jesus Christ never commissioned his Church to act apart from the Holy Spirit, we need to consider two ways in which we depend on the direct action of God the Holy Spirit. This means two things: 1) We must depend on Him, and 2) we can depend on Him. The Holy Spirit is necessary for us, and he is reliable.

The risen Lord Jesus Christ told his Apostles to wait for the Holy Spirit to come on them with his power. The mission of the Church in this world is never meant to be carried out merely by human wisdom and strength, and in reality it cannot be. The danger, in our own way of doing things, is that we may come to rely too much on how well planned the services are, and how well organized our churches are in operation, as if merely carrying out a human program could ever establish the Kingdom of God. If we are not praying for the power of the Holy Spirit to be with us all the time, we cannot do the work that Jesus Christ commissioned.

2. I Corinthians 14:29

Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.

I Thes. 5:19-21

Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.

Heb. 13:17,24

Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you...Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints.

It may be argued, and argued well, that some of the things Fr. Kirby mentioned in his article have dangers in them; and this is especially so of such gifts as prophecy that warrant appreciation for lay members of the Church to present God's word, whether teaching, writing or declaring a message they believe to come directly from the Holy Spirit, and that needs to be spoken and heard. The first danger is egalitarianism of a kind that diminishes the authority of a bishop (ἐπισκοπή) and of a priest (πρεσβύτερος) in the mind of the people. The same New Testament that teaches us the Church is the Body of Christ, and that every member has gifts of ministry, also has the words quoted above that require obedience and respect for authority within the household of God.

Furthermore, that every alleged word from God was subject to judgment, from the beginning, led to the principle of Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est. When teaching or prophecy, in whatever form or format, is presented, no new thing unheard of heretofore can be accepted, inasmuch as Scripture itself contains "all things necessary to salvation," a fact well established by the judgment of the whole Church. "All things" in Scripture have been proved already; every good thing in doctrine is held fast in what we may now call the Tradition.

Nonetheless, the Holy Spirit is never a silent partner in the Scriptures, and his communication takes many forms that we neglect to our peril. He is the One who actually speaks the word of God to each heart, when the Scripture is read, or when we teach and preach. If we may add a sola into the discussion of theology, it is this: Sola Spiritu Sancti. The Holy Spirit alone makes the scales fall from our eyes, and he alone makes a heart into good ground. The best preaching, and the reading of Scripture itself, bring forth no fruit without his own former and latter rain on the good ground of the heart.

Also, it is a mistake to imagine that prophecy is about doctrine. It may well be that we need to hear simple direction and guidance, and it obvious that we benefit from "edification, exhortation and comfort" (I Cor. 14:3). These are not matters that involve claims to new revelation, but matters that are practical and beneficial, and which fall inside the safe enclosure of the Tradition.

3. I Cor. 14:32,33

And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.

"There it is said that a recent convert named Montanus, while Gratus was proconsul of Syria, in his unbridled passion to reach the top laid himself open to the adversary, was filled with spiritual excitement and suddenly fell into a trance and unnatural ecstasy. He raved and began to chatter and talk nonsense, prophesying in a way that conflicted with the practice of the Church handed down generation by generation.”
Apolinarius as quoted by Eusebius in The History of the Church.

It is assumed, especially by those who have never experienced such gifts as tongues, prophecy or interpretation of tongues, that these particular gifts involve a loss of self-control that appears to be a form of possession. However, it is partly because the "prophets" of Montanism exhibited such behavior that their claim to be speaking by the Holy Spirit was rejected in the judgment of the Church. Their wild enthusiasm led to a practice that "conflicted with the practice of the Church handed down generation by generation." This shows us two things: Loss of self-control was not a part of the charismatic experience judged by the Church to be authentic, and that a practice of how to prophesy was handed down in the Tradition, not a loss of the gift.

Due to a lack of order and balance that comes from the Biblical Catholic Tradition of the Church, the practice of Pentecostalism has, too often, been in many ways too Montanist, a wild kind of Enthusiasm that creates false doctrines, with public overlapping of Holy with demonic and carnal activity that is never sifted by "proving all things." This may create Satanic expressions of pride on the part of some who have become obsessed with themselves, which in turn creates competition, bitterness and resentment. This kind of undisciplined religion appeals all too often to paranoid personalities, individuals already disposed to consider their delusions to be not only true, but self-evidently true to all. These are the works of the flesh, not the fruit of the Spirit, as contrasted by St. Paul in the fifth chapter of his Epistle to the Galatians (in fairness, many of their own pastors know all this only too well, and guide their people in ways that avoid these specific traps).

However, as much as we do not want to be like the Montanists, we do claim to be the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church (that is, as Anglicans, to be part of that same Church established by Christ). Just as it behooves us to avoid the unnatural raving, chatter and nonsense of Montanus, it behooves us also to consider "prophesying in a way" that is consistent with "the practice of the Church handed down generation by generation.” We do well to think hard upon the words, "Let all things be done decently and in order" (I Cor.14:40), without losing the meaning of the first five words of that sentence.

4. Acts 5:15

Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them.

I have seen miracles of healing that make it impossible for me to disregard the reality of the charismata in the Church; these have included an obvious and visible miracle of healing directly associated with the gift of tongues, and with faith that the Holy Spirit at times directs a member of the Body of Christ in what to do, and even in how to do it. Why was Peter's shadow an instrument for healing, or as we read in another place, his handkerchiefs? Why did Jesus spit on the ground and heal one man by placing this mud on his eyes, but healed another blind man simply by speaking? There is in this a mystery: Mysterious as this is, we can be certain that it is wise to be guided by the Holy Spirit in ways that are directly related to the gifts of faith and healing with the working of miracles (I Cor.12:9,10), for with His direction comes a certainty as to what will follow. This is why, apart from faith as a virtue, there is a specific charism of faith.

Of course, the shadow and handkerchiefs of Peter, the mud Jesus used made from his own spittle, and the hem of our Lord's garment, should all lead us to think sacramentally. We use oil and/or the laying on of hands, and we say about every sacrament that it is charismatic.

But, if we fear to let all things be done, they can never be done decently and in order.


poetreader said...

Excellent, Father. I was getting cranked up to weigh in on this one, but you've said almost exactly what I would have said. Having come through Pentecostalism back to the Tradition, I can vouch for the fact that all those things, both positive and negative are precisely what one finds there. I do believe we suffer badly when we do not actively seek the direct ministration of the Holy Spirit, but also that, in doing so, geat care is to be taken that we not slip our moorings.

In speaking of the Montanist ecstasy, or apparent possession, you could well have wi\uoted a passage I had to use often when I was a pastor, when people would claim they had to do such-and-so because the Spirit mmde them do it (rather like a mirror image of Flip Wilson, that):

1 Corinthians 14:32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.


Anonymous said...

What a breath of fresh air are these posts from Frs Kirby & Hart!

Having been influenced by Fr John Hope (mentioned by Fr Kirby) and having been a participant in the Charismatic renewal of the late '60s & early 70's, I have longed for a church in the context of whose catholic life is experienced the evangelical proclamation of the Gospel ("why shouldn't ordinary Anglo-Catholics be able to lead people to Christ?") and the pentecostal ministry of the Spirit and his gifts.

Many of our ecclesiological arguments (including the important ones) are like the necessary debates plumbers have when designing the pipework for a highrise apartment block. If we never actually get the water flowing through the pipes . . . . !!!

I am greatly encouraged by the fact that Father Cantalamessa, a leader in the Roman Catholic Charismatic renewal, who in 1980 was appointed by JPII as Preacher to the Papal Household, had his remit renewed by BXVI in 2005.

(All of which doesn't mean that the cultural trappings of American revivalism are always necessary or helpful!)



Anonymous said...

I would weigh in on this from a more cautionary side (and a former Pentecostal), that we have to remember the Spirit's leading and interaction with the Church is specifically Christocentric, and much of popular charismatic theology really undermines this, though unwittingly.

With that said, I'm no cessationist proper, but I do find great wisdom in recognizing that where there is a healthy familiarity of the Scriptures among the congregation usually do not require what often becomes a detached theology of the Spirit. Indeed, the heretical Hydra of Montanism and Pelagianism ever vex the Church, and we need to be vigilant against these.

I for one believe in the gifts of the Spirit, and find no warrant say signs and wonders and the extraordinary gifts have completely ceased, but the general wisdom among the Fathers and implied sense of Scripture is that these signs were not meant to be normative for every age and scenario -- so whatever "Renewal" movement that comes to light I believe needs to be taken with a big fat grain of salt, in spite of how welcoming any venerable bishop of Rome might be to said movements. I do like the particular emphasis on the life of the Spirit in the ministry of Word and Sacrament -- it's theologically safe and sane.

That's just my .02.

St. Worm

poetreader said...

Good comments, both of you! I'm very distrustful both of rigid rules that get in the Spirit's way, AND of enthusiastic movements of any sort. At all times Christians need to be seeking balance, to find the truth that lies on the middle of the "highway of holiness" -- what I take to be meant by the Anglican phrase of via media. Here's my take: Spiritual gifts have not ceased, but they are extraordinary workings of God's grace, NOT the norm, and must always be exercised in entire obedience to the Church, and subject to the judgment of those bearing due authority.


Anonymous said...

Brother Ed,

Excellent and concise conclusion. I concur whole-heartedly.


St. Worm

David said...

My wife was part of a Word Faith Charismatic church, she is no longer a believer. Listening to Hank Hanegraafs show "The Bible Answer Man" I have heard countless stories of people like my wife who were used and tossed away by the charismatic fads only to lose her faith. The only church I have been able to get her to even be a tiny bit interested in is Anglicanism. The last time we attended St. Marks in Portland she cried during the Liturgy and remarked how heavenly the church seemed.

I have even considered that should she one day decide she wanted to attend an Anglican parish again I would go with her. Meanwhile my daughter still cries because mommy won't go to church with us.

poetreader said...

Don't get me started on the "Word Faith", "Prosperity" or "Name-ot-and-Claim-it" crowd. I examined them deeply in my Pentecostal days, and came to the conclusion that they were very dangerous and probably not Christian at all. What I seem to see in much of that movement is something effectively occult (quite recognizable from my previous dabbling with that aberration) clothed rather deceptively in Scriptural and Pentecostal language -- and the fruit of the movement is shown in thousands who have similar experience to your wife. I have a lot of sympathy for real Pentecostals, but none at all for those preachers, and their influence has been becoming stronger and stronger.


Sandra McColl said...

Any advance on 'solo a Spiritu Sancto'?

Anonymous said...

I'm probably one of the few who stand categorically against Word-Faith/Dominion theology as the Great American Christian Heresy.

It is absolutely forbidden in my household to watch these serpents. I don't care how much "outreach", "anointing", appearance of "Spirit-filled" worship exists among these so-called Churches. The theology is fundamentally bankrupt and blasphemes the true Gospel.

Authentic Pentecostalism, as much as I disagree with its theology, doesn't truck with this vomitous counterfeit Christianity.

And yes, I've seen and felt the destructive effects of Word-Faith theology. Satan has no worries here.

With that said, my heart breaks for the many true believers entangled in this dung-heap. I for a couple of years as a teen was caught up with it, until God kindly delivered me from its deception.

Some later post I will tell you all what I really think about Word-Faith theology. ;)

St. Worm