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.

Giving the Invitation

george-whitefield-preaching

Joe LaGuardia’s new book, Awe and Trembling: Reflections for the Christian Journey, is scheduled to be released in late May.  As an anthology of articles and homilies from the Baptist Spirituality archives, the book encourages, inspires, and deepens a life of faith and our pilgrimage with God.  This article, originally released in 2013, is included in the book.  

By Joe LaGuardia

Like so many churches in the South, the church I pastor, Trinity Baptist Church in Conyers, Georgia, still has a time of invitation after the sermon every Sunday.  It consists of an altar call or a request for worshipers to reflect on the message, along with a moving hymn to stir the heart.

Although this might seem a bit antiquated—a hold-over from a simpler, revivalist tradition of yesteryear—it still holds a meaningful place in the midst of our worship to God.  It is, at its basic level, a time to respond to God and reflect on a personal challenge for the week ahead.

I realized long ago that our church is too small to give an altar call every week.  I’m not one of those preachers who make the pianist play the hymn repeatedly until someone comes forward, so over the years I’ve had to expand my invitation to include other calls of response.  I now urge my parishioners to take the initiative to respond to God on their own terms.

The shift in emphasis from invitation to initiative is a reminder that there are many ways to respond to God aside from an altar call, decision for baptism, and prayer with the preacher.  In fact, all of us—no matter where we are in our faith—should realize that an invitation is a time to follow God’s leading.  God is in the business of calling us to action, obedience, surrender, and mission.  We are obligated to respond if we claim to believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

One way we can respond is by committing to a life of praise and song.  I don’t envy the Christian who only hears or sings praises to God for a few hours a week.  Ours is to be a life of song, and we can sing and recite hymns or choruses wherever we are, no matter the day or the hour.  The Bible is full of praises that intend to respond to God: “How good it is to invite us to respond to God,” Psalm 147 states, “for God is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.”

Another response is to do something for the Lord each and every week.  This action can be as simple as writing a card to a friend in need or a church member who is struggling.  It can be something more demanding, such as “paying it forward” by purchasing a stranger’s groceries at the store.

You may also choose to do something based on the sermon.  I’m sure your preacher’s messages include at least one challenge for the week ahead.  When your pastor gives a challenge or sermon application that is fitting, write it down so you don’t forget.  Consider posting or tweeting your commitment on social media so that people can hold you accountable.

A final way to respond to God is to live a “life worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1).  I realize that people are called to do different things in life: one is called to be a teacher while another is called to be a missionary.  All of us, however, are included within the calling we are all obligated to fulfill—namely, to practice the Great Commission and “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).  This requires holy integrity and obedience to God’s empowering Spirit, to walk in righteousness, and to advocate for justice and grace.

Some churches have done away with the traditional invitation, and more than one church has put hymns such as “I Surrender All” aside.  But all of us, whether in a church with revivalist leanings, contemporary praise songs or formal liturgies, bear the weight of responding to a God who calls, seeks, knocks, and commissions with relentless passion.

God speaks; we must respond

revivalLike so many churches in the South, our church still has a time of invitation after the sermon every Sunday.  It usually consists of an altar call or some call to reflect on the service along with a moving song, “Trust and Obey” and the like.

Although the time of invitation seems a bit antiquated–a hold-over from a simpler, revivalist tradition of yesteryear–it still holds a meaningful place in the midst of our worship to God.  It is, at its basic level, a time to respond to God and reflect on the challenge that God may have for the new week ahead.

I realized long ago that Trinity is too small a church to give an altar call every week.  I’m not one of those preachers who makes the pianist play the hymn over and over again until someone comes forward, so over the years I’ve had to expand my invitation to include other call of responses as well.  I now include the challenge to come forward if prayer is needed; I also encourage churchgoers to pray for one another even if it means moving over a few rows.

It is a reminder that there are many ways to respond to God aside from an altar call, decision for baptism, and prayer with the preacher.  In fact, all of us–no matter where we are in our faith–should realize that an invitation is a time to follow God’s leading at all costs.

God is in the business of calling us to action, obedience, surrender, and missions.  We are certainly obligated to respond if we claim to believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

One way we can respond to God’s leading is by committing to a life of praise and song.  I don’t envy the Christian who only hears or sings praises to God for only one or two hours a week.  Ours is a life of song, and we can sing and recite hymns or choruses wherever we are, no matter the day or the hour.

The Bible is full of praises that serve as responses to God.  “How good it is to sing praises to our God,” Psalm 147 states, “for God is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting” (NRSV).

Another way to respond to God’s call is to do something for the Lord each and every week.  This action can be as simple as writing a card to a friend in need or a church member who is struggling, or it can be more demanding such as “paying it forward” for a stranger’s groceries at the store.

You may also choose to do something based on the sermon from week to week.  I’m sure your preacher’s sermons are like mine in that they include at least one challenge for the week ahead.  When your pastor gives a challenge or sermon application that is fitting, write it down so you don’t forget.  Then publish your commitment on some social media website to have people hold you accountable.

A last way to respond to God is to live a “life worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1).  I realize that people are called to do different things in life: one is called to be a teacher, while another is called to be a missionary.

All of us, however, fit under the umbrella of the one calling all Christians are obligated to fulfill, which is to practice the Great Commission and “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).  It is also a calling to “live a life worthy”; that is, live life with holy integrity and obedience to God’s empowering Spirit, to walk in righteousness and advocate for justice and grace.

Sure, some churches have done away with the traditional invitation.  Not every church will sing “I Surrender All” every now and then; but all of us, whether in a church with revivalist leanings or contemporary praise, bear the weight of responding to a God who calls, seeks, knocks, and commissions with relentless passion.