Slain in the Spirit
I have a confession to make that may set me somewhat apart from my Anglican orthodox bretheren. I do not have a “charismatic” bone in my body. I am not a cessationist although many Calvinists are cessationists and I would certainly do my best to become one if I thought the position had greater biblical merit. At the same time I know and love many charismatics, all rock-solid theologically orthodox believers. And, objectively speaking, I appreciate the spiritual strength and vigor of those who call themselves charismatic. My aversion comes partly from a particularly bad memory from my youth in an Episcopal Church during the heyday of the charismatic movement.
My dad was just beginning to dabble in Christianity. He is an attorney, skilled, honest, honorable, and, personality wise, a very serious and dignified man. His approach to the faith was intellectual: Does this system have any philosophical merit, is it reasonable to be a Christian? My dad would probably not have described himself as a Christian at the time but, even so, he believed that it was important for my sister and me to go to church so he made sure to be there with us every Sunday and even served for a short stint on the vestry.
At around the time that my dad’s interest was growing, one of the various Episcopalian charismatic revivalist movements seems to have passed through town (my memory is somewhat vague at this point since I was young). A “bible study/prayer-group” was formed at my church in the aftermath and they invited my dad to attend. Probably hoping for more of a bible study than prayer group, he did.
It turned out not to be a bible study at all but a “care and share” group. I don’t know the full story but apparently when he walked through the door one of the other men present wrapped my dignified and, at this point, horrified father in a great big bear hug. My dad does not do hugs with other men very well…I don’t either just in case we happen to meet sometime. The meeting went from bad to worse. Speaking in tongues, crying, more hugging etc…and no bible study.
Things at the church got a little weird at that point too. Strange music, tambourines, more hugs. One Sunday morning after church services I’m told that one of the “spirit-filled” parishioners tried to “slay” the genteel, matronly, parish matriarch in the Spirit. Too gracious to offend, the matriarch, embarrassed, played along, fell backwards into her chair and pretended to be slain.
My dad stopped caring about Christianity.
He was still there every Sunday but his heart was not. Worse, he’d decided that Christianity was not worth his intellectual muscle. That is where he remains. He is pleased that I am doing what I am doing and, naturally conservative, he is appalled at the Episcopal Church, but he seems to have dismissed the faith to which I have devoted my life.
And, interestingly, All Saints, the parish of my youth, the place where the charismatic renewal took place has now become one of the most liberal churches in West Texas. Last time I visited, they’d constructed a labyrinth, invited Buddhist drummers to facilitate labyrinth walk meditations, built a small round baptistry-chapel right off the main parish hall with a somewhat “revised” icon of the “Christos Pantokrater” prominently displayed—with symbols of the other major religions surrounding the representation of Jesus, and the rector had idols of Hindu gods and goddesses decorating his office.
The lasting effect of the charismatic movement, at least at All Saints, seems to have been a definitive wresting from traditional moorings and an obsessive focus on and search for mystical experience. The effect on my dad was to turn him away from Christianity altogether.
This is not to say that my dad’s experience with the Charismatic movement or the outcome of that movement at All Saints Corpus Christi is normative or in any way representative of the charismatic movement as a whole. As I noted above, the charismatic Anglicans I know are orthodox to the core.
But there does seem, and this is from the outside looking in, to be something of a discernment problem within charismatic/pentecostal circles. Two recent examples come to mind.
The first is Todd Bentley. If you’ve not heard of Tod Bentley, then you are fortunate. Here is his website. I first heard of Pastor Bentley from an Anglican charismatic who was very excited about the new “movement the Spirit” in Florida; the next great “revival.” One look at this man’s website and a short google search told me that Pastor Bentley was pretty whacked out. But my solid orthodox Anglican friend, a man of some learning, was completely taken with the man.
In early August, Pastor Bentley’s board of directors announced (see the August 12th entry on Bentley’s website linked above) that he and his wife were separating because of some “friction” in their marriage.
It is with considerable sadness then, that we must temper the jubilation we know you all feel with the sobering news that Todd and Shonnah Bentley are presently experiencing significant friction in their relationship and are currently separated.
On August 15th, the ministry released this statement:
We wish to acknowledge, however, that since our last statement from the Fresh Fire Board of Directors, we have discovered new information revealing that Todd Bentley has entered into an unhealthy relationship on an emotional level with a female member of his staff. In light of this new information and in consultation with his leaders and advisors, Todd Bentley has agreed to step down from his position on the Board of Directors and to refrain from all public ministry for a season to receive counsel in his personal life.
You might be tempted to think that Pastor Bentley’s days of revival are over. Don’t worry. I’m sure he will be back. I’m willing to bet that before Christmas, “the Spirit” will tell him that it is time for him to return to public ministry.
Perhaps even more disastrous than the fall of Pastor Bentley, is the sad tale of the two lives of pentecostal pastor, Michael Guglielmucci, the now disgraced leader of the Australian “Planetshakers” ministry. Michael Guglielmucci composed and performed the hit Christian song, “healer” about his battle with terminal cancer.
Christians around the world prayed for his healing, sent money to his ministry, listened to his sermons, spent money on his CD.
The problem? He made it all up. There was no cancer. It was all a lie. He apparently devised his cancer diagnosis in order to cover up a growing addiction to pornography.
The people who sent Guglielmucci money and the people who made “pilgrimages” to Florida for Bentley’s new “revival” sincerely believed in the legitimacy of these ministries. Why?
And how can Anglicans, of all people, buy into people like Todd Bentley?
These episodes are not unique. Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart, Robert Tilton, Jim Baker, make me wonder whether in fact there may be some deeper lesson for Anglicans in the fall of All Saints Corpus Christi. Those who were around during the charismatic revival in the Episcopal Church (from 1961 to around the late 80’s) tell me that the “care and share” groups that formed in many parishes sought solely to “experience God” with only a tangential reference to scripture, to hear God’s voice and feel his presence in a context marked by biblical illiteracy. Perhaps the renewal that swept through the Episcopal Church, to the extent that it took place apart from a renewed interest in or zeal for the scriptures, moved the Episcopal Church toward her present state of theological vapidity?
Of course there where places where Charismatic renewal was wedded to solid biblical instruction. At Truro, for example, the scriptures obviously retained their central place in the life of the parish.
But the focus of many charismatic/pentecostal revivals and ministries, and I am speaking generally here, seems to be the various “manifestations of the Spirit”—healings, people being “slain in the Spirit”, tongues, “prophesies”, the interpretation of dreams, “gold dust,” barking, “holy laughter” and…well, it gets worse. And all of it comes with a sort of anti-intellectualism that eschews doctrine, biblical exposition, and tradition.
The Episcopalian version of revival was no doubt far more subdued, but it was widespread and so I wonder whether it might have had a similar focus and, perhaps, a similar anti-intellectual/anti-expositional/anti-doctrinal result? This rather sympathetic article written in 2000 by D. William Faupel for Pneuma Magazine seems to confirm that possibility:
The Charismatic Movement in the Episcopal Church is indeed a force that must be recognized. However, it is not sufficient simply to celebrate or to lament this reality. The thoughtful person, whether adherent or critic, must ask such questions as: What does this mean? Is it of God? How can it be used as a constructive force for the advancement of God’s kingdom and the enrichment of Christ’s Church?
From the beginning, the movement has seen itself as having a two-fold focus: first, bringing renewal to individuals, local churches and entire denominations; and second, bringing about the unity of a divided Christendom. The leadership has tended to disclaim any specifically theological purpose. Rather, it claims to be a renewal of experience, not of doctrine, often observing “theology divides, experience unites.”
Faupel goes on to point out that as the movement progressed the leadership became increasingly conscious of the need to ground charismatic experience in traditional Anglican categories. But by that time many parishes across the country had already experienced “renewal”.
It could be that the charismatic movement hit the Episcopal Church at just the wrong time. Perhaps, had it not come during the heyday of Tillich, demythologization, and cultural decadence, a time when “relevance” meant shallow 10 minute story-time sermons about lilies and politics, the charismatic renewal might have forestalled the present ecclesial dissolution. But it started in the sixties and lasted well into the eighties and for that reason, I fear, many parishes that were not already well grounded in scripture might chart their doctrinal decline to the first parish-wide charismatic retreat weekend.
Please don’t get me wrong. There are charismatics in my congregation who speak in tongues (quietly) and exercise, with my blessing, the ministry of healing prayer. I love them. And, of course, this is not to say that the charismatic movement is unique in its partial dysfunction. The so called “three streams” of orthodox Anglicanism: Evangelical, Catholic, and Charismatic are said to compliment one another. Evangelicals can be rigid and judgmental. Catholics can be frozen ritualists. Charismatics can be experience obsessed. Put them together and you have a bunch of rigidly obsessed ritualists.
We need each other I suppose.
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