I recently attended Global Awakening’s Voice of the Prophets conference in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It was a gathering of about 1,300 people who believe in and want to learn more about modern day prophecy. Prophecy certainly wasn’t the only gift of the Spirit on display, though prophetic words were abundant. While I have worshipped with many different Christian groups throughout the world and have been involved with charismatic Christians for some time, I didn’t really know what to expect before going. What I received was a powerful, persuasive witness to the work of God in the world today.
It’s really good for all of us to get outside our own traditions sometimes. Each of our traditions has insights and blind spots, strengths and weaknesses. As I journeyed with these brothers and sisters in Christ for three days, I was also looking for things that we in the Mainline traditions might learn from the charismatic movement (and I do realize that these are not always two separate groups). Here are some of my thoughts about some of the lessons the charismatic movement can offer to the rest of the Body of Christ:
1. God is imminent. God is not a construct or idea, but a living deity who is actively involved in our lives and who wants to become ever-more involved. God is not an absentee landlord, but a powerful presence who speaks to the Church today. The presence of God is manifest powerfully through a variety of spiritual gifts, and we should expect God to show up in remarkable, supernatural ways.
2. The modern world has shown great advances in such fields as science, medicine, and communication, but with these has come a diminishment in our ability to think theologically and know God. This is in part because we have come to believe that modernity has every answer to ever question, and if it doesn’t have an answer now, it someday will. We need to embrace our knowledge of the natural world while acknowledging that God is the source of ultimate truth.
3. Social transformation results from personal transformation, which happens through an ongoing encounter with God. As emphasis on social transformation without personal transformation will never have the power, breadth, or effectiveness of social transformation that begins with new life in Christ for the individual believer.
4. Evil has a spiritual dimension. Its causes cannot be reduced to human agency.
5. It’s ok to be joyful. Yes, evil happens, and yes, we have to reckon with it, but evil is not the last word. Ultimately, God’s desires for all creation will prevail. In fact, manifestations of God’s kingdom are erupting into this world even as we speak. I think that my charismatic friends would say, “Heaven is breaking out on earth.”
Can these traditions learn anything from Mainline Protestants? Yes, I think so, especially in the area of sacramental theology. We can build one another up mutually, but in order for this to happen we have to start talking to one another more consistently and in more meaningful ways.
Let’s face it: we often caricature Christian groups who don’t think, worship, or experience God like we do. This is a huge mistake. It’s time to stop caricaturing and start listening and learning. Should we turn off our critical faculties? Of course not. Should we listen for God’s working in new and powerful ways that will challenge and stretch us? Absolutely. Our churches that truly have “open hearts, open minds, and open doors” have been doing this for a long time.