Monday, April 13, 2009

Anglican Catholicism and the Charismata

What is the Anglican Catholic position on the gifts of the Spirit, that is, those given for ministry in the Church, including healing, prophecy and tongues, for example? It is well known that gifts such as those aforementioned, with their more palpably “extraordinary” nature, are those which are emphasised and encouraged in the Pentecostal churches and Charismatic Movement. A common corollary claim is that these gifts were lost or repressed due to false Church teaching after the Apostolic Age and a progressive ritual and ceremonial Pharisaism in worship.

However, evidence from the post-Apostolic primitive Catholic Church indicates that gifts such as prophecy and healing did not cease with the Apostles and that liturgies were not considered so rigidly defined and prescribed that spontaneous words and worship were excluded. For example, the Didache allows prophets to offer the Eucharistic prayers by inspiration and St Justin Martyr notes that the celebrant “offers prayers and thanksgivings according to his ability”; St Irenaeus refers to recognised prophets and healers of the Church; and the practice of “Jubilation” (singing praise joyfully and freely “without words”) was commended by Ss Augustine, Chrysostom and Jerome, and Cassiodorus attests to its continuation in congregational worship in his time, the late sixth century. And, since that time, there has never been an official decree of the Church Universal condemning this earlier flexibility, nor could there be.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that fixed liturgical forms grew in size and detail of ceremonial instruction over time, such that there was no room left, it appeared, for either clergy or laity to offer spontaneous worship (out loud) or use gifts such as healing or prophecy within the liturgy. Outside the liturgy scope for use of these gifts remained, and it should be remembered that this is where the gifts had often been used from the beginning (e.g., Ac. 3.1f, 8.4f, etc., Jam. 5.14f).

In fact, many gifts are not naturally or mainly used within the liturgy. We see this when we look at a list of the gifts. There is no one complete list of them in the Bible. There are, instead, a number of partial lists, none of them identical to any of the others (e.g., Ro. 12.6-8; 1 Co. 12.8-10, 28; 1 Peter 4.11). Here are some of the gifts: practically serving the Church, giving practical aid to those in need, contributing generously financially, administration, encouraging people, communicating special knowledge and wisdom, creating beautiful art, architecture, music and literature for the Church (Ex. 31.3f, 1 Chr. 25.1, 28.12, 1 Ki. 4.29-34, the whole book of Psalms, Da. 1.17 cf. v.4), celibacy (1 Co. 7.7), teaching, pastoring, evangelising, prophesying and healings. Some gifts are obviously miraculous, some look less amazing, but all are necessary for the healthy running of the Church. How we categorise gifts does not seem particularly important, since, as St Paul said, the Spirit distributes the gifts to each as he wills (1 Co. 12). Jesus also taught that the Holy Spirit does what he likes, as it were (Jn 3.8). A number of the gifts overlap.

The charismata most relevant to the liturgy are those word-based ones implied in 1 Co. 14.26, where the congregational context is particularly in view. In other words, hymnody, teaching, prophecy, and tongues with interpretation (which is effectively equivalent to prophecy: 1 Co. 14.5).

It might be plausibly argued that there is a gradual concentration of the Ministry of the Word (and even ministries such as healing) even during the time of the New Testament into the presbyteral domain, the work of the ordained clergy. For example, one might suggest that the early liturgical, magisterial and preaching work (done in conjunction with the Apostles and Apostolic Men such as Timothy) of the prophets and teachers of the Church (Ac. 13.1f, 1 Co. 12, 14) becomes less and less associated with them as a distinct, named group and more and more associated with the presbyters/bishops in the later period and later letters of St Paul (Ac. 14.23, 15.2,23, 20.17, Ph. 1.1, 1 Ti. 5.17, Tit. 1.5, Jam. 5.14f). There is no mention of the former being appointed by means of human, even Apostolic, choice, but instead they appear to be inspired by direct Divine appointment and empowerment (1 Co. 12.11). The clergy, on the other hand, are appointed via human mediation, though also with Divine inspiration (1 Ti. 4.14).

Yet neither the New Testament authors nor the Fathers (in their consensual teaching) say that the miraculous or prophetic gifts had ceased or become exclusively clerical. Some Evangelical Protestants claim that 1 Co. 13.8f implies that prophecy and tongues ceased when the “perfection” of the completion of the New Testament came to be. But the context itself -- “then face to face” -- and the normal Patristic exegesis shows that the “perfection” which will replace these gifts is that on the other side of Death and Judgement, the Beatific Vision. While St John Chrysostom taught some gifts had been impermanent and had ceased, his was not the generally agreed position. St Augustine assumed cessation originally, but changed his mind in the light of further experience and observation. St Symeon the New Theologian insists on the continuing reality of the Charismata and our need for them and defends the practice of spiritually gifted, unordained monks giving absolution to penitents! Many Fathers attested to miracles or treated the Pauline lists of gifts as having contemporaneous authority, e.g., St Gregory of Nazianzus. So, there is a constant stream of witnesses to the miraculous and “renewal” in the life of the Catholic Church.

It was this very persistence of witness that Catholics used to verify their legitimacy against the Protestants in earlier polemics, and it is partly for this reason that the Calvinist/Reformed tradition came to the view that the gifts had in fact ceased and that evidence to the contrary was uniformly fraudulent or the result of superstitious credulity. In other words, widespread denial of the continuation of the charismata was an innovation of a large part of the Protestant Reformation.

The abovementioned persistence of the miraculous in the Catholic Church did not exclude the Anglican portion of it. Three English examples can be given easily even from the seventeenth century. King Charles I exercised at least once a healing ministry. Bishop Montague testified to miraculous effects of the use of the Sign of the Cross. Bishop Hall approvingly recounted the story, which he had verified himself, of a cripple miraculously healed in consequence of a dream instructing him to bathe in St Madern's well, which he did. Healing ministry became more widespread and officially sanctioned in the Anglican Communion from the early Twentieth Century. For example, the famous Fr Hope of Christ Church St Laurence in Sydney was involved in the healing ministry, and in an ecumenical context. My understanding is that three of the former Metropolitans of the Anglican Catholic Church (Original Province) have had a positive experience of and appreciation for the Charismatic Movement: Archbishops Dean Stephens, John Cahoon, and Brother John Charles.

However, as much as Anglican Catholics can operate and have operated in all the gifts, they have usually been practically prevented from doing this within the liturgical context (except in sermons), unlike the situation in the early Church (see above) and in Charismatic and Pentecostal churches. There is, I believe, a relatively simple solution to this deficiency, provided implicitly by the Prayer Book itself, and in just the right place.

In the Canadian 1962 Book of Common Prayer, on pages 62 and 72, we have two rubrics with the potential to grant us the liberty required for the intra-liturgical use of extemporaneous prayer and prophetic ministry:

[Of the Bidding Prayer] “To be used before Sermons ... The Minister, in his discretion, may omit any of the clauses, or may add others, as occasion may require.”

[Before the Sermon] “the Minister shall ... publish such other communications as are enjoined by lawful authority.”

The broad permission to omit any clauses and add other clauses must be a permission for personally composed prayer (or “bidding” to prayer, more precisely, though bidding originally did include prayer itself) at ministerial “discretion”, since no alternative clauses are provided. If said immediately preceding a period set aside for (extra-homiletic) charismatic ministry of the word, “before sermons”, the Bidding Prayer could prepare for that period by praying for revelation.

Since it is undeniable that the Bible authorises prophetic “communications” in the liturgy and that the Bible is the “lawful authority” par excellence, such exercise of the gifts may be considered suitably “enjoined”. And, since the Bible teaches that all Christians are “ministers” relative to their particular gift (1 Co. 12.5), this exercise of the gifts (and the saying of the Bidding Prayer in preparation) is not necessarily limited to the Celebrant or other clergy. Even the use of the word “Minister” capitalised does not prove exclusive application to the clergy, as this is the term used throughout the orders for Morning and Evening Prayer, and has long been understood to include lay readers for this purpose.

The fact that the Sermon would follow all of this means that the Pastor of the congregation is able to supplement, confirm or correct what has been previously said, insofar as this may be necessary, and so maintain doctrinal and moral soundness.

But, some might ask, if the Gifts can operate outside the liturgy, why should we make space for them within it? Because such explicit provisions can create expectation, from which it is a short step to faith, from which is a short step to action. It is essential and Biblically mandated that we avoid quenching the Spirit or despising prophesying (1 Th. 5.19-20). If we take no steps at all to encourage Christian people to seek the gifts (1 Co. 12.31), including by providing opportunity for their regular and corporate use, do we not risk “quenching” by neglect or indifference? This may not be the only way, but is it not a biblical, patristic and reasonable way?

Appendix 1

Here is an excerpt from a sermon of mine from 2003 on how each Christian can discover the Gifts with which God wants him or her to minister to the Body.

The answer to the ... question, about how I know which are my gifts, is not so easy to come by. That’s because it is so personal. It’s about you as an individual. One way we find our gift is simply to be available to God and see what role in the Church he leads us into. Another way we find our gift is listening to others. They can often see things in us we can’t see. But we must also pay attention to our own heart.

But all of this can only happen if we believe it can happen and if we want it to happen. In other words we have come to the answer to the third question: How do I make my gifts actually work? By faith and desire is the short answer. We must believe in Jesus, and that he has given us gifts. And we must desire God; seek him, love him and worship him; and desire to use the gifts. (St Paul said in 1 Co. 14.1,12, “desire spiritual gifts, seek that you may excel in building up the Church”.) St Paul also told Timothy, his protégé, to “stir up” his gifts. We cannot do this without faith and desire. It takes spiritual effort.

And thus it takes prayer, ... Jesus said “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

So, to play our part in the Church, we need to be filled with the Holy Spirit and his gifts to us. And that means we need to pray for this, with faith and desire. And we also need to be ready to listen to God and serve him, as he speaks to us through circumstances, fellow-Christians, and our own hearts.

Appendix 2

Here is another sermon-excerpt, this time from 2006, on the gift of tongues.

The gift of tongues (languages) has a special role in Acts. At Pentecost we have the only occasion in Scripture where those who spoke in these miraculously given languages were understood “naturally” by those standing about. Why? At least part of the reason was that this event was a great sign of the fact that the Gospel was for “every nation, tribe and tongue”, that is, all humanity. “[E]very man heard them speak in his own language … the wonderful works of God”, as it says.

In other parts of Acts this gift is specifically mentioned every time a previously unreached group first receives the Gospel or the prayer and laying on of hands of the Apostles. The Samaritans (ch. 8), the heathens (ch. 10), and finally those followers of John the Baptist who had only heard a portion of the Gospel (ch. 19). So, the Gift of Tongues symbolises the universality of the Gospel.

But what are its other purposes? How does it help Christians or the Church? Are all Christians supposed to have this gift because so many did in the earliest days? St Paul supplies us with some of the answers in his First letter to the Corinthians.

There he teaches that Christians have different roles and gifts to use in the Church. He asks rhetorically, “Do all have the gift of healing? Of miracles? Of tongues? Of the interpretation of tongues?” (12.29-30).

The last named gift is one where the listener could interpret any public utterence in an unknown, supernaturally-supplied language. And that brings us to another of the Apostle’s teachings: in the Church there must be no public praying in tongues unless someone with the gift of interpretation is present, otherwise the Church is not taught or encouraged because it does not understand what is said (ch. 14).

Finally, it should be noted that St Paul says that this gift has another role which is, apparently unlike other gifts, unrelated to edifying others and solely benefiting the spirit of the one using the gift. He says that it allows the spirit to pray independently of the mind and sees nothing wrong with this as long as this is how it is used privately, between the pray-er and God. Indeed, he thanks God that he speaks in tongues more than his readers (14.18) and says he would like all to have this gift, so we can be sure the Apostle gained benefit from it in his own life. So, while he does not say that we cannot be filled with the Spirit without this gift or that all Christians must have it, he commends it, while noting that prophecy is better for the Church (unless there is an interpreter). There can be no problem, then, with Christians seeking this gift or any other in prayer. Paul explicitly says “earnestly desire spiritual gifts, especially prophecy” (14.1). Let us not be afraid of any of his gifts.


Fr. Robert Hart said...

When my mother was Confirmed in the Episcopal Church, in the 1940s, she found herself praying in tongues the next day. It was much later that she came to understand it in light of the Bible. That it came so quickly after Confirmation makes perfect sense.

poetreader said...

My charismatic experience back in 1977 made a qualitative difference in my life. For 25 years I was a pastor in Pentecostal and Charismatic circles and observed both what a great blessing these phenomena can be and what great danger resides in making them the centerpiece of faith.

Thanks, Fr. Kirby, for posting this. I still pray in tongues in private, and sing wordlessly often. Though a layman, I pray for the sick and expect to see God move as a result. Sometimes I find myself rather wishing that somehow there could be a bit more opportunity for the careful expression of these gifts in liturgical context, while fully aware that "careful" is the operative word.

The Catholic faith includes all aspects of what God has chosen to do amongst His people, and we can't afford to deny any. I could post at length on this, but will refrain for the moment. Perhaps later.


Canon Tallis said...

I am very pleased to see this posted by Father Kirby as I have had to deal with various gifts of the spirit from my teen years. Our parish had a woman with the gift of tears, something which seemed to embarrass the clergy more than the congregation, but as it was known that I was reading ascetical and mystical theology, I was recruited to "deal" with her. It was for me a very blessed experience and made me aware that the Holy Spirit still moves among us.

I have been fortunate enough to have seen miracles of healing so that I am much aware that God is still in charge. I am also aware that many among us are very much afraid of the work of the spirit. They like things very neat and in control. This attitude has probably kept us much smaller than we should be because it is mainly in surrender to the Spirit that he gives us the grace to add to the Church.

poetreader said...


The fact that we do have it right in so many important ways does not mean that we don't need the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit.

There is no reason on earth that those with only a partial Gospel should see more of his gifts than those who hold the Catholic and Apostolic Faith.


Canon Tallis said...


Amen and amen!

Fr. Steve said...

I have run into people who are completely afraid of the gift of prophecy. As if God has stopped talking to his people.

I, too, like Ed, came from a Charismatic background. In fact, I am fully ordained through that background, and if I wanted to leave the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and go back to an imperfect church, I could start my own church and be fully credentialed. But that's tooting my own horn too much.

I believe in the gifts of the spirit, and that they enhance the worship of the church. Tongues is a gift that is often misunderstood even by those who use it. The one form (often called Prayer Language) is the personal type, which is edifying only to the soul of the one using it. The other form (Public) is (as was stated in the well written article) just another form of prophecy.
I have retained all of the gifts that I have always had, even though I am on the path to becoming a Priest in the Anglican tradition.
I am constantly looking for ways to mesh the two without causing too much alarm. I feel the gifts are important for the edification of the church.

poetreader said...

Dcn Steve,

I do relate to your quest. It's also mine. I'm going to make a few rather tentative observations, related to how these gifts seem to manifest in and around me in a Catholic environment.

St. Paul says that he spoke much in tongues, but nonetheless seems rather unfavorable toward the use of this gift in the public service. He seems more to allow its continued use in a restricted manner than to encourage it. He seems however to have prayed much in tongues. I pray quietly in tongues basically off and on all day long. I have used tongues and/or interpretation in smaller and less formal environments, always encouraging those present to discuss what was said scripturally.

Prophecy and the words of wisdom and knowledge are an essential part of truly anointed preaching, teaching, or counseling, and need never be identified as a specific supernatural gift. The written Word and the ongoing teaching (Tradition) of the Church always serve as a check on such gifts.

Lay persons teaching or advising can also often count on the Spirit to minister through them in these gifts. I am not ordained, but I seek to be so used and think I sometimes have been.

Healing is a specific charism of ordination, but also a gift exercised by devout lay persons, as witness the lives of so many unordained saints.

In short, the Gifts of the Spirit are seldom flashy, amazing, or out of the ordinary, but rather are those faculties that the Spirit gives to those who are doing God's will, in the course of their doing it.

The end of Mark's Gospel (which I do believe to be authentic) is worth considering. Some cultish groups have taken these verses to justify deliberately handling rattlesnakes in church, and deliberately drinking poison, as some sort of test of faith. Nonsense! St. Paul was going about his business of spreading the Gospel when he was bitten by a snake and did not die. He did not seek out snakes to handle. Legend presents St. John as being given a poisoned cup to drink, again, as he was going about his business, and did not die. He did not deliberately seek it out. I'm convinced that all the gifts likewise manifest as they are needed in the ordinary course of ministry.


Myrna Swyers said...

I am a born Anglo Catholic and in 1977 at age 37, I received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit with no knowledge whatsoever of it. The Lord THEN sent me to others to learn what it was all about and to teach me the reason I was chosen. When the tongues came - it scared me - I thought I was going insane until I heard a RC priest praying in the very same tongue as I was praying at the same time. The Lord then put into my hand John Sherrill's book ' They Speak in Other Tongues" and also the book "Nine O Clock in the Morning". From then on - I was ready to do the work God had given me to do !