Where have the Charismatics Gone?

charismaBy Joe LaGuardia

In the spirit of Paula Cole, I’ve been asking, “Where have all the charismatics gone?”  Its been some twenty years since I found myself at a revival service, praying over a friend who had been “slain in the spirit.”

These days, I’m not so sure I have any close ties in that religious world where speaking in tongues, shouting, healings, and exhilarating praise was ubiquitous.

For those who are not up on their charismatic (or, sometimes called, “Renewal Movement”) parlance, being “slain in the spirit” is a physical act of surrendering to God–literally, falling on the ground–in a state of worship.  Like other manifestations of the spirit, it is an outward reaction to an emotional response.  Its something for which Pentecostals are known.

Unbeknownst to many of my friends, my home church in South Florida is a charismatic congregation.  We praised God with abandon, made for a multicultural community that valued “prophecy” and tongues, and danced in the aisles.

I was more subdued–always was a quiet guy (“Sorry, Mr. President, I don’t dance.”)–but I knew of the methods and means of revival, well-versed in the gifts of the Spirit as outlined in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, and attended my share of retreats.

Charles Finney: A Face only a Mother can Love...

Charles Finney: A Face only a Mother can Love…

I even read several works by Charles Finney for the fun of it.

That was a long time ago.  I can only guess how the charismatic movement is fairing these days.  The only evidence of its presence that I have seen in Georgia of late has been in  the prosperity gospel movement and in some megachurches.

Some denominations, like the Four-Square church and Vineyard Churches, are still carrying on the work of revival and renewal–but they are few and far between.

Furthermore, many charismatic leaders, aspiring to find a sustainable relationship with the academy, became scholars and seminary professors.  Whether it evolved into the megachurch or the ivory tower, this kind of organization is often a spirit-stifling institutionalization that makes the gifts of the Spirit mere products to consume rather than experiences to cherish.

Also, the charismatic movement has not been without controversy and its critics. Pastor David Yonggi Cho of one of the largest charismatic churches in the world, South Korea’s Yoida Full Gospel Church, was sentenced last year for embezzling millions of dollars.

In Southern Baptist life, all things charismatic  is approached with contempt.   At one time, missionaries were not allowed to speak in tongues or “private prayer languages.”  Only recently did the Convention reverse the policy in light of a broadening constituency that struggles to balance diversity and dogma.

In 2013, author and pastor John MacArthur led a “Strange Fire” conference in which he openly attacked  Pentecostals and Catholics, calling the charismatic movement heretical and misleading.

Aside from these issues, churches in the charismatic tradition are actually the fastest growing churches in the world.  To answer my own question, the movement has not diminished, but has been outsourced.

In the global South, Pentecostalism is growing at an exponential rate, claiming the allegiance of over 25% of Christians worldwide.  I may not know any charismatics these days, but its influence across denominational and theological spectrums is undeniable.

Why have I been out of charismatic circles for so long?  Well, just as the charismatic movement has evolved, I have evolved too.

This is not to discredit my charismatic upbringing; quite the opposite: I am grateful for it because I am able to traverse Baptist life as an ordained minister with an intuitive eye on where the Spirit might be leading Christ’s Church.

For the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a break-off denomination from the more conservative Southern Baptist Convention (and the network I call home), this charismatic leaning may possibly afford a greater inclusive spirit to diversity, globalization, and pluralism that now defines many churches and neighborhoods.

I am not the only one with a charismatic background in the CBF, and my upbringing has benefited Trinity in continuing a strong foundation for missions, worship, and ministry that fits the eclectic and often-times multicultural milieu in which many churches now find themselves.

Although we have given up much ground to the prosperity gospel movement or an institutionalized consumerist Christian subculture, we who still cherish the Renewal Movement are better for it.

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Report from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly

CBF Commissioning Service/Dallas 2015-Courtesy CBF

CBF Commissioning Service/Dallas 2015-Courtesy CBF

By Matt Sapp

Julie and I along with several other members of our congregation spent three days last week in Dallas for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) General Assembly. If you’re not sure what CBF is, Heritage was founded as a CBF church, meaning that we — and many other churches across the nation — pool our resources through CBF to support missions and ministry around the world.

The meeting, as always, was uplifting and hopeful, so I came away from the Assembly as I usually do, encouraged by the progress and energy of the Fellowship.  So let me share some of those good feelings with you.

Here are three observations from this year’s assembly that give me hope for our future together:

The Fellowship is moving forward.  We’ve upped our game in the last several years, and there’s no reason to think that trend won’t continue.  A most noticeable difference is in our public image. For a few years our branding was clearly dated, and we fell behind the curve in our graphic design and live production capabilities.

This year at the General Assembly our live production work was flawless. The lighting and sound worked perfectly. Our video production (both live and recorded pieces) was top notch. In short, we looked like we knew what we were doing.

More importantly, the new color scheme and logo were showcased in fantastic ways, giving new energy and attractiveness to our printed materials, video segments, and online presence.

This might sound superficial, but image matters.  It matters a lot.  We live in a world that won’t look beyond our dated facade to hear our message.  If we believe we have a message worth sharing, what we look like and how we share that message matters.  A 2015 image is a REQUIREMENT to reach a 2015 audience, and the CBF nailed it this year.

Second, we’ve almost completely transitioned from our founding generation to a new generation of leadership. That in and of itself isn’t a good thing.  It’s just true.  Next year we’ll celebrate 25 years of CBF, and the Fellowship is going to miss the active, every day leadership of people who could say, “I was there from day one.”

We’ll miss their leadership for a number of reasons.  We’ll miss them for their courage, their conviction, and their moral clarity.  We’ll miss their personal history with theological controversy.  They understand the stakes of denominational leadership in ways that those who weren’t there never will.  And we’ll miss their integrity—integrity proved by the willingness to stand on principle even when the costs were high.

Our founding generation understands what’s required organizationally and spiritually to create something new on a national scale.  Think about it: They created seminaries, missions infrastructures, publishing houses and Sunday School literature, youth and children’s programs, state agencies and organizational partnerships.  And they did it all from scratch—or nearly scratch.

Even more, they led churches — big churches and small churches, urban churches and rural churches, progressive churches and conservative churches — to let go of past affiliations in favor of a new dream. Did I mention their courage?

But the good news is that there’s another generation behind them. Not an “up and coming” generation anymore, but a generation that is leading right now.  And there’s a third generation of leaders behind them!

The test of any dream is whether it can survive beyond the lives of those who birthed it.  The good news — the GREAT news — is that CBF will.  That’s not new news, but it is good news, and it was re-affirmed for me at this year’s meeting.

Finally, there are A LOT of creative people doing creative things to grow the Kingdom of God who are proud to be a part of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.   That makes me proud to be a part of CBF, too.  As part of the Fellowship, we partner with creative and talented missionaries and church planters and chaplains; with leading theologians and ethicists and creative thinkers; with gifted artists and musicians; with inspiring preachers and teachers; and with dedicated deacons and choir directors and Sunday School teachers.

We partner with leaders who start new churches and renew old ones, with some who find new ways to proclaim the gospel in well-tilled soil, and others who blaze new trails to share Jesus with people who have never heard that name before.

Through CBF we support people who are dreaming new dreams, trying new things for Christ, and finding new ways to put their faith into action.  The collective newness of what they’re doing, the creativity they bring to their tasks, and the risk-taking involved in stepping into the unknown bring much needed energy to our fellowship.

As the world around us changes and as churches change, CBF Christians are finding more ways to use their talents for their churches and God’s kingdom — as writers, photographers, graphic designers, video producers and technology gurus — and as pastors, worship leaders, scholars and missionaries who are willing to re-imagine the church for the 21st century.

We are excited about much and proud to be a Fellowship church. We should never overlook the enormity of our accomplishments or the hope of our futures together.  There’s never been a better time to be a CBF church than now.

This article first appeared on the Heritage Baptist Fellowship blog.  Used with permission.

Triennial Convention reminds us of God’s work in the world

revivalThis May marks the bicentennial anniversary of the first Baptist Triennial Convention, a meeting of like-minded Baptists passionate about missions.

It was the summer of 1814 in Philadelphia. More than 30 delegates pooled resources to support missionaries.  It came after a century of revolution and war, but also of explosive missionary activity inspired by the Second Great Awakening.

It was the age of missionary giants such as Adoniram Judson and William Carey, who ventured to India to spread the gospel.  It was the time of Luther Rice, who traveled hundreds of miles by horseback to raise funds for missionaries and the Convention alike.

Other missionaries went West, East, and South to spread the good news.  One of the first women missionaries to participate in outreach, Charlotte White, traveled to Asia.

If anything, the Triennial Convention and the societies born out of that movement reveal the distinctive qualities of America’s missionary culture.  Since the nation’s beginning, the Founders believed in a “manifest destiny” to spread out to other parts of the continent out of cultural and Christian duty.

We were (and continue to be, according to the late President Ronald Reagan), in the words of Puritan John Winthrop, a “city upon a hill.”

Yet, this zeal was steeped in a colonial worldview in which Christians believed that they also had the calling to help others become “civilized.”

Despite the spiritual motivation, it was seductively patronizing in many of its forms.  Some mission activities indirectly perpetuated institutions of slavery and imperialism that gave way to Jim Crow, apartheid, and economic disparity later that century.

Nevertheless, I am thankful for the missionary legacy that birthed the Triennial Convention.  We Christians stand upon the shoulders of courageous men and women who had an amazing vision for spreading God’s Word.

But I am also thankful for a shift in worldview between then and now.  Now, we do not do missions in order to convert “the heathen” and take advantage of natural resources and third-world economies.  We do not free men and women in Christ only to enslave them upon the manors of men.

Rather, we see others as God-image-bearers who have things to teach us as well. Most contemporary missionaries seek to do “contextual” ministry through which they work within the very cultures of those whom they are reaching.

In the American Founding, Christians believed that they had a mission to bring God to the rest of the world.  Now, we realize that God is already at work in the world.

We only have to hear God’s invitation and bear witness to God’s good news with people on God’s–and their–own terms.

This strategy is biblical.  In Acts 17, the Apostle Paul took a tour of Athens.  When he preached to the philosophers there, he said that God was among them because they already built a statue to “an unknown god” (v. 23).

Paul stressed that this nameless god was the God of Israel who became human in the person of Jesus the Christ.  Paul used this cultural symbol and pagan poetry in order to connect his experiences of God with their experiences of God.

Whereas a colonial and imperial worldview tried to get people to church and assimilate cultures, a worldview taken out of Paul’s own missionary playbook behooves Christians to learn how to be guests in a world thirsty for the spiritual nourishment that only God’s well could provide.

Let us hear the invitation and go forth, and let us regain that missionary zeal that once captivated those courageous forebears who formed the Triennial Convention.