So far, in trying to understand aspects of orthodox Anglicanism, I’ve looked at Anglo-Catholicism and Evangelicalism. Now it’s time to look at the Charismatic spirituality.
The modern Pentecostal movement, which is the precursor to the Charismatic spirituality, is often dated from the Azusa Street Revival of 1906, although others acknowledge antecedents in other movements such as the Welsh Revival, the Irvingite movement, and Wesleyism. Dennis Bennett, an American Episcopalian who came under the influence of international Pentecostal leader David Du Plessis, is usually seen as the first (in 1960) to bring the Charismatic renewal experience, or the Charismatic spirituality, into Anglicanism.
In common with Pentecostalism, the Charismatic spirituality within Anglicanism has had an emphasis on baptism in the Spirit, attended by miraculous outpourings of the Spirit such as speaking in tongues and prophesying, as well as a “restorationist” view that the church is experiencing what the church in the book of Acts was experiencing. Others would see the Charismatic spirituality as emphasizing a lively or “renewed” style of worship, fellowship, healing, every member ministry, spiritual warfare, the end times, and evangelism. More generally, Charismatics have expressed a renewed and much appreciated emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of God’s people. In some ways, you could see the Charismatic spirituality as a corrective to certain deficiencies in the contemporary Church.
While based on a biblically orthodox theology, the Charismatic spirituality sometimes has a tendency to tear at the fabric of Anglican identity. One of the most important ways in which some Charismatic Anglicans are challenging orthodox Anglican identity is in their belief that “experience unites but theology divides.” This “experiential theology” is often expressed not only in terms of theology proper but sometimes more noticeably in terms decision-making processes. For example, AMiA Bishop Chuck Murphy’s recent description of the Holy Spirit “now doing” a “new thing” seems to represent this Charismatic aspect and its potentially negative consequences.
It’s possible to see the Charismatic use of praise choruses in place of traditional hymnody as part of the temptation to exalt experience over theology. A study of the theologies of praise choruses compared to the hymns, for example, of the 1940 Hymnal, would reveal very different theologies in terms of the focus and comprehension of each. The placement of a large number of praise choruses at the beginning of the worship service, as opposed to being responses to a particular word or act of God rehearsed in worship, seems to be another indicator of this “experiential theology.” In some cases, the desire for a different experience and freer worship has led Charismatic Anglicans to replace Prayer Book worship with alternative forms of worship.
The Charismatic Anglican tendency to elevate experience over theology is also visible in the very influential Alpha course, as one high profile of a Charismatic Anglican theology. While God has undoubtedly used Alpha to spread His kingdom, much of the focus of the Charismatic theology inherent in Alpha is in contrast to Anglican spirituality and theology. When, for example, the topics of Alpha talks are counted, there are two talks about Jesus Christ, three about the Holy Spirit, and none about the Father. Furthermore, the doctrine of the Trinity doesn’t have a talk devoted to it and is rarely mentioned throughout the series, while the Father is mentioned only incidentally. Of the topics of the fifteen talks, four are more clearly theological in nature, but the overall emphasis tends to be on experience, with titles such as “How Can I be Sure of My Faith?” “How Does God Guide Us?” “How Can I Be Filled with the Spirit?” “How Can I Resist Evil?” and “Does God Heal Today?”
Another notable distortion of orthodox Anglican theology and practice is the devaluation in Alpha of the role of the sacraments. Questions of Life, the Alpha course in book form, devotes one paragraph to baptism in a chapter titled “What About the Church?” The importance of Holy Communion in the life of the convert is never discussed. And yet Alpha devotes an entire talk to healing and assumes a restorationist view that the healings which Christ and the apostles performed in the first century are also normative for today, claiming that “Jesus expected all of his disciples to do the same.” The talk “How Can I be Filled with the Spirit?” spends most of its time arguing for the fact that speaking in tongues is to be expected when one converts to Christ and discussing hindrances to people speaking in tongues as a sign of the power of the Holy Spirit. In discussing healing, it is a person’s feelings that govern the experience and are, therefore, in some ways normative. Nicky Gumbel writes, “After we have prayed we usually ask the person what he or she is experiencing. Sometimes the person feels nothing, in which case we continue to pray. . . . We continue praying until we feel it is right to stop.”
The experiential nature of Alpha is most evident in the “weekend away” or “Holy Spirit weekend,” which often seems to be carefully orchestrated to produce the intended effect of a supernatural outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
The influence of the Charismatic spirituality lies not only as an independent spirituality. The Evangelical Anglicanism re-emergent in the U.S. and England was from its inception in some ways connected with the new Charismatic spirituality of the 1960s and 1970s, and much of contemporary Evangelical Anglicanism is Charismatic. J.I. Packer once wrote that “the charismatic reinforcement has effectively demoted and indeed elbowed away the zealous concern for ‘sound doctrine’” and “for continuity with the evangelical past.” Packer also believes that by treating God’s exceptional modes as the norm, the Charismatic spirituality has altered the temper of evangelical piety.
The Charismatic spirituality is also closely related to what I’ve termed the “Global spirituality” of much of the Global South. With its emphasis on healing and deliverance, demons, dreams, ecstatic and prophetic utterances, and other supernatural phenomena, the Charismatic spirituality is in some ways a natural ally of the worldview that many Global Anglicans already share. The convergence of the Charismatic and Global spiritualities is therefore a powerful force that needs more careful consideration.
When we speak, therefore, of being Anglo-Catholic, Evangelical, or Charismatic, we need to appreciate not only how each of these spiritualities might bring life to Anglicanism but also how each sometimes tends to lead away from any clear and coherent Anglican identity.
Enough of Anglican spiritualities! Next time, I’ll look at some historical definitions of Anglicanism.
The Holy Spirit – CC Image courtesy of Librarian by John Kroll on Flickr.jpg
Category: Reformed Catholicism Blog
Sites That Link to this Post
- Ministry Partnership | Anglican Rose | June 16, 2012