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.

God’s many gifts of grace

christmas-presents

By Joe LaGuardia

My father was what you might call an armchair theologian.  An armchair theologian is someone who knows a lot about life and just enough about the Bible to give some decent advice.  Most of the time.

For instance, when I was a child and I used to watch Star Trek with him, I’d ask, “Dad, are aliens real?”

He would often respond one of two ways.  One way was to say, “Stop asking questions, and watch the TV.”  The second way was, “Well, if they do and they visit us, they better know the Bible and Jesus.”

I asked him that same question years later when I was in high school.  I got the same answer:  The Bible and Jesus.  Two staples of my father’s life.

One of the greatest lessons he taught me, however, revolved around grace.

When my wife and I were first married, we were still in college and needed to borrow money now and then.   My parents were generous with their loans, and we’d always pay them back in a timely fashion, although paying them back was somewhat of an adventure.

“Dad, how much do I owe you?”, I’d ask; and he would respond (every time), “A million dollars.”

I’d chide him, and he’d explain: “You owe a million dollars because that’s how much you’ve borrowed since you were born.”

Dad would think about it for a minute as I grew restless with his answer, and then it was his turn to ask a question, “Wait a minute.  How old are you?”

I was in my twenties when these conversations happened, so I’d answer in kind to which he’d respond more forcefully, “In that case you owe me two million dollars.  A million dollars every ten years.”

A few minutes went by and then that great lesson of grace would follow as he’d say something like, “Just give me $300.00 and we’ll call it even.”

It didn’t matter how much I owed him.  It could have been $300.00 for plane tickets to New York or $500.00 to help with a rent payment.  It would always be a ballpark figure of $300.00.  That was grace.

And that was my father.  Now, just imagine how much grace our Father in heaven has when he cancelled all our debts when he sent His son to die for our sins.

Here we are, growing in our indebtedness by the sins we commit, and Jesus died so that we can be free from the penalties of that which would otherwise put us in over our heads.

The Christmas story is, if nothing else, a story of God’s many gifts of grace to us.  Sure, Jesus died for our sins, but the grace did not begin there.

God’s grace began so long ago when God did not give up on humankind, but instead made a covenant with humankind to ultimately save humans from themselves.

That covenant reached its apex when God visited a humble, peasant family in Nazareth some 2000 years ago.  This family was not made of money.  They didn’t live in a big city.

Yet, God chose this family–Joseph and Mary–to bear the very gift who embodied the very reign of God on earth:  Jesus, whose kingdom and mercy has no end (Luke 1:33).

Joseph and Mary recognized this gift for what it was, and they knew that this gift of grace would turn the whole world upside down.  That gift would empower the powerless with God’s favor, scatter the proud, transcend the rising and falling of empires and nations, and “fill the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:46-55).

This Christmas, when we give and receive so many gifts with loved ones, let us not forget the many gifts of grace that God has given us.  They are gifts that span the biblical record, a gift that came in the person of Jesus Christ, and the many gifts that are still available today to those who call Jesus Lord and Savior.

Hawkweed reveals God’s unforeseen gifts

YELLOW HAWKWEED Hieracium gronovii

YELLOW HAWKWEED
Hieracium gronovii

By Orrin Morris

To me, one of the most moving accounts of Jesus is found in Luke 8. A woman who had hemorrhaged for many years was following Him amid a large crowd. She reached out and touched the hem of His garment in hope of being cured. At that moment, her flow stopped.

Several things stir my heart about this scene. First, this was a woman whose condition meant whomever she touched would be “unclean.” Furthermore, she would be prohibited from worship at the Temple until her hemorrhaging ended and a stated period of time passed.

Second, note her desperation and determination. To have gotten close enough to touch Jesus’ cloak, she had to push through an enthusiastic crowd of healthy and strong people, mostly men. After she touched Jesus’ hem, He asked, “Who touched me?” The disciple replied noting the crowd had always been pressing about Him.

Then the woman, knowing she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at His feet. In the presence of the crowd, she told what she had done and why. Obviously the crowd was shocked, but Jesus lovingly said “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace” (Matthew 9:48).

This statement communicated three things: full acceptance when He called her “daughter;” spiritual insight when He said “your faith” has made possible your healing, not His garment; and the benediction of “Go in peace.”

This was a scene where a culturally insignificant person, with an ailment that was a barrier to worship, had caused the “defiling” of many, including Jesus. His response ignored all the cultural baggage of His day, to set her free.

One of my students enjoys reminding me that the wildflowers I draw are “still just weeds.” She’s joking, but there is a truth in how we look at certain situations. To many that day 2,000 years ago, the woman was a “defiling weed” but Jesus saw her as a daughter.

This week’s wildflower, the Yellow Hawkweed, was a puzzle to me for several years. It blooms amid the cat’s ear (Hypochaeris radicata) but its color is a lemon yellow rather than the yellow-orange of its more abundant neighbor.

This wildflower is in the aster family, but unlike asters which bloom in the fall, it begins blooming in the summer. It seems to be light sensitive as daylight gets longer and temperatures rise. All summer the flowers are seen in the mornings but disappear, or close, by noon. As fall draws near, the blooms stay open later.

As with the cat’s ear, one common name is tall dandelion; however, some botanists prefer queendevil as a more common name for this wildflower.

Yellow hawkweed differs from cat’s ear in several important ways besides the shade of yellow. The hawkweed flower petals are less numerous and the ends are boxy and indented, as pictured.

Another distinction for identification is the leaves. Cat’s ear basal leaves are shaped like those of dandelions. The hawkweed leaves are thin and alternate up the stem. Finally, when the seed are borne off by the wind, the sepals turn downward as pictured.

For some gardeners, these plants are cursed weeds and to others they are another example of the gifts of beauty from God. The incident between the woman and Jesus reminds me to keep looking, especially in the mirror, and to ask myself, “Those people whom I regard as bothersome, are they weeds or are they God’s test of my sonship as a child of God?”

Do I share the godly passion as a member of Christ’s work on Earth?