Sunday, October 14, 2007

Charismatic report card -- 2007 pt 1

How is the charismatic movement doing in regards to some of its most basic aims or signs of the Spirit's work? Not too good, from where I'm watching.

Let's take one of the aims : "Spontaneity, openness, freedom and joy in
praise and worship."

When I first wrote on this one in 1996, I was taking note that many mainline-church charismatic congregations were stiffening. Since then, that process has definitely continued. In many cases, the stiffening has taken them away from charismatic freedom to a rather frozen form of liturgical orderliness that feels like what they were originally objecting to. (This can't be blamed on the mainline liturgical renewal, a separate thing which is also beginning to show signs of stiffening and has never really been friendly to any charismatic input -- to its serious detriment, as I see it. They both in some way attempt to address the same situation in worship -- a palpable lack of spirit.) In any event, worship in many formerly charismatic mainline congregations has become, well, lifeless. It took on liturgical forms, which can be good, but then left the Spirit at the door, which is deadly. When returning to liturgy in freedom, the most important thing is that they use each traditional form based on what it means and what it does, and then feel free to modify the traditional form so it can better carry out that form's core purpose(s).

To be blunt, with the exception of some Anglican circles, mainline-Protestant Charismatics have not only failed to bring freedom and joy into their denominations' worship, they have for the most part lined up with leaders whose actions have been killing the Spirit in worship for decades -- the very ones who created the dead atmosphere that mainline Charismatics used to rail against. Instead of real spontaneity and empowerment of local worship leaders, they're straitjacketed into watching the 'experts' for the next 'acceptable' new thing. Those who didn't line up that way have for the most part headed out the door to independency.

Add to that a sense among Christian leaders that the mainline Charismatic movement's time has passed, and thus they are free to totally ignore them. The former part is true, unfortunately. The latter part is a continued serious breach of the near-absolute responsibility and duty to listen to, understand, bring to bear, and fully and fairly account for, all the parts of their church, whether in vogue or out of vogue. (But that's for a different rant....)

The independent churches and church networks have a different problem. They are not aware of their own set patterns of worship - they don't think they have any. Thus they don't know when they're just vamping for time, or when they are not maturing from an earlier set of experiences. Many of the newer worship leaders are keenly aware of charismatic worship's obsession with "me" and "I", and are working hard on ways to keep that sense of "my" intimacy with God and yet also be into "You" and "us" and "together". They're a promising development. Yet when the newest hit worship song makes the rounds, it's still usually an "I me mine" song, or is prone to misstate God's promises as if done by push-button. HELLO -- God is not focused on just you!! Worship leaders also have to be careful that certain false teachings about prosperity or about the end-times do not start worming their way into the worship service. Also, they must be more cautious about talk of receiving divine power -- power-talk can breed power-addiction.

So there are still signs of worship life in the independent circles. There may yet be some new positives coming from there. But for the most part, the non-Anglican mainline-Protestant charismatics have lost their first love. It's sad, but it's true. And if you're one of the exceptions, as a mainline-Protestant charismatic and/or a worship leader, you need to think hard and pray harder, in hopes that maybe you can be a part of a new and different thrust within the mainline churches, less stuck on worship rules and more firmly connected to the Holy Spirit as found in Scripture. A thrust that is self-consciously not an extension of the previous movements.


Anonymous said...

Bob, I appreciate very much your writngs which are very balanced and sane when it comes to some very real, but touchy and easily misunderstood issues like spiritual warfare [in which we need discernment, wisdom, and courage]. I am a Lutheran pastor; I am in LCMC- a group of congregations that have left the elca [though my churches are still connected to it] I am also involved in Lutheran Renewal- the Lutheran version of the charismatic movement- I have not experienced the spiritual deadness of which you speak in that setting. In fact I find a lot of life and hope there. I have expereinced an infinte amount of spiritual deadness in elca gatherings; for decades pastors have been taught at seminary that Scripture cannot be trusted, and prayer does not really work in any discernible way. I kid you not. In seminary, we were actualy discouraged from praying by the seminary president. I think the mainline is a rotten structure through and through,and that new wineskins are needed. The mainline is lessa nd less tolerant of evangelical pastors and churches, while catereing to every whim of the apostate and revisionist elements [which seem to hold all the cards]. In the 70's mainline charismatics were told to bloom where they were planted- in their own congregations and denominations. Actually, they should have been told whither and die where you are planted. A plant cannot bloom in spiritual aridity. Likewise, charismatics need to be in settings where there is apossibility of growth and vitality- whcih largely does not exist in the mainline [out side of a few congregations]. In my view the denominations are history- they served their purpose in their generation- but now they are working hard against the purpose for which they were created.The Holy Spirit is moving on to others who will receive and follow Him, charismatic or not.

In Christ, Dan

Bob Longman said...

Dan, thanks for writing. (Indeed, thanks for reading -- I didn't really expect that.)

On prayer at seminaries and colleges : In the recent past I was in good contact with prayer groups at Luther and Philly, groups that are still praying today, and several profs involved with them. They're not small, not at all. I got the same explanation from the professors and students in both places.

They said they weren't generally being taught not to pray. (There are teachers that do.) What they were mostly being taught (especially at Philly) was that the only real effect prayer has is on the one praying, drawing that person closer to God's purposes. Anything else is superstition. Granted, prayer really does have that effect. But as I see it, and as those students see it, it is not the main effect. The main effect is the development of a personal relationship with a God who cares enough to listen, and yes, sometimes heed. When Jesus and the psalmists spoke of prayer, it was very different than what is being taught. Jesus tells us that God responds, that our prayers matter to God. HELLO : Jesus trumps theology!!

My main struggle is with how so many Lutheran leaders and seminary profs speak of evangelism in one setting, then undercut evangelism in another. They have this idea that people are generally better off not becoming Christian, and that the idea of deliberately leading someone to change their faith is actually an act of hate and power over them. There's a kernel of truth to that -- I know of quite a few who fit their description, and I'm definitely not just speaking of evangelicals. But it's a partial, minor truth which when treated as the main truth helps us avoid the real main truth. The main truth is Jesus. Knowing Jesus -- not a generalistic small-g god, but specifically Jesus of Nazareth, the Anointed One -- is what matters. And that is why evangelism matters.

I haven't had the most comfortable relationship over the years with Lutheran Renewal and Lutheran charismatics, at least the ones in my NY Metro area. At precisely the moment that their involvement in synod-level matters would have been the most help to the rest of Lutherans in the ELCA and LCMS, they dis-involved. Every time. Without fail. Almost always due to some agenda item that was not related to the activity they dis-involved from. There is always a reason. And when there is always a reason, then it's caused by some other reason that's not being said. At the congregation level, many of them have found it hard to be involved without at some point trying to be in charge. That's not only divisive, it's decidedly un-Christlike -- Jesus served, and told us those who would lead must serve. They're not serving when they insist on having their way over everyone else. This doesn't excuse the synod leadership for not actively seeking them out and inviting them -- it's wrong to tar everyone with the divisive brush, and besides, involving all parts of the church is a Christian duty, which is more important than the risks. But it does explain much of their hesitance to do that duty. Lutheran Renewal has never -- and I repeat, never -- taken this problem truly seriously. They repeatedly point at others, not at themselves. It should have been item #1 on their list when speaking amongst themselves, almost from day 1, since the track record started developing very early on. Repeatedly hammering home a set of behavioral principles of engagement with the larger church should have been a repeated theme, and should still be, even now that most of them have left, because now they have to use such principles to keep from dividing from each other.

Anonymous said...

These are good points that you raise. I was not involved with Lutheran Renewal at the beginning; in fact, only since 2002. My earliest exposure to the charismatic was before I went to seminary, and was with Catholic Charismatics which was big in Massachusetts then. I found it very powerful.

I do think that most folks involved in the Holy Spirit conferences are on the congregationalist side in their ecclesiology. That is where I am most comfortable as well. There is also alot of hurt in many pastors and leaders at perceived rejection and insult by the denominational powers. Of course some have had more positive experiences with bishops etc...Obviously, you have much more experience with the earlier stages of this movement so you know much more of their interactions with the synods, districts etc...

I do find the Conferences a breath of fresh air. I have not been involved in synod conference meetings in years since the the ELCA rejection of basic Biblical teaching. So I go where that still exists. I went to seminary at LSTC in the mid to late 80's. There were several profs. who emphasized the importantance of prayer; but many saw it as unnecessary. Much more emphasis on gender/race issues. The gay deal was not talked about in class- I'm sure it is now. The mindset of the president of the seminary was formed in the late 50's and 60's and his views reflected that time witha very managerial/adminstrative/institutional approach to ministry; no understanding [or belief?] that the Holy Spirit leads us- Its all our own ability and natural competencies that get anything done.He also reflected the civil rights era political activism;
it was a hostile environment for white males. The common thinking was men bad, women good.

Again I appreciate your insights on this and other issues-- very Biblically grounded and wise. At the LCMC conference last week, Paul Maier, an ancient history prof. at Western Michigan. and the 3rd Vice president of the Missouri Synod said he regretted that LCMS had broken the relationship with the old ALC-in 1938- he said that then there may have been a strong, centrist Lutheran body today, and that the right wing types in Missouri could go to WELS, and the liberal elements could have gone ELCA. I thought it was an interesting statement. Maybe more about that later.

Peace, Dan

Bob Longman said...

Dr. Maier was very helpful to me back in the early on-line days, in the GEnie system discussions. Good to hear that he still has his fire.

It seems it's been the way of seminaries to eventually get caught up in 'new topics' rather than the old, old story. Not that there isn't much to learn from new topics -- it has exposed many blindnesses over the years, very much including the church's handling of its female members -- but in today's world it's easier than ever to lose the core : the teachings and practices and attitudes which build true followers of Christ. That is where the main effort and first loyalty must be. Otherwise, we quench the Spirit, and bring tears to the One who saved us.