[Note: I use ‘Episcopalian’ and ‘Anglican’ interchangeably because they are in fact interchangeable. Also, I acknowledge that the Charismatic church is not a unified communion in the same way that the Anglican communion is, but both resemble some form of ‘movement’ or ‘tradition’ and my encounter with their particular congregations makes them comparable. I am also avoiding the conversation regarding ecclesial polity- there is only so much time in a day…]
It’s still a bit weird every time I mention to an old friend where it is that I now attend church. Having been born and raised in independent non-denominational Charismatic-Pentecostal type churches, it’s at least a little strange that my wife and I are now devoted members of a very ‘religious’, liturgical community (and that we love it!). Having done ministry within the free-flowing Charismatic-type movement for the majority of my life, and having led ministries in that context for several years, I can confidently say that God has called me to become a sacramental Christian. Following are the initial reasons why a Charismatic like me fit right in at an Episcopal church.
In the Charismatic church, I was formed to be unsatisfied with ‘sitting on the sidelines’ when it came to worship. Any version of ‘spectator Christianity’ was never ok. We were constantly being challenged by the moving of the Spirit to step out of our comfort zones and follow Christ. For a devout Charismatic, all of Jesus’ radical commands are fair game. I’ve met several people who have quit their high-profile corporate jobs and sold their excess belongings as the response to what they genuinely believed was a calling from God. How could anyone deny such genuine faith? For Charismatics, it’s not worship if there isn’t some sort of participation.
In the Anglican communion, participation is everything. The ‘worship leader’ is not the person singing songs, but is correctly referred to as the ‘Celebrant’ (the priest who celebrates the service), because worship is the whole lot: song, fellowship, food, preaching, prayer, etc. The Anglican liturgy (form of worship) never, for a moment, allows for congregants to apathetically ‘observe’, but always entices all into participation. Our participation is our worship. Even beyond particular liturgical services, Anglicans (along with the majority of the Christian Tradition) view all of creation as participation in God. This requires that all of life become an act of worship. Sunday morning services (and all other ‘liturgies’) become sort of a ‘point-of-focus’ for that larger all-encompassing truth.
The experience of God is the central focus of all Charismatic services, revivals, gatherings etc. There is no greater encounter than that of God and no greater work than the pursuit of God. There are even times dedicated wholly to ‘soaking’ in the presence of God. There is a heavy focus on becoming ‘aware’ of God’s presence at any given moment, knowing that He is always already with us, wanting to reveal Himself to us. What is effective evangelism for the radical Charismatic? Not as much to engage in rigorous apologetics, but to somehow (by prayer, laying on of hands, healing, etc) enable the person to literally and noticeably encounter God for themselves. The Charismatic mantra: “Taste and see that the Lord is good!”
For Anglicans, church is not about a sermon, the dissemination of ideas, or putting on weird looking clothes and acting out a dry, ‘religious’ version of what church used to be like. For sacramental Christians, we gather on Sunday morning to approach the very throne of the living God, in/through/as Christ, remembering His sacrifice, proclaiming His resurrection, and awaiting His coming in glory. In the Holy presence of God, we sing with the angels “Holy holy holy Lord…”, and at the climax of the liturgy, having repented and received absolution, made peace with our brothers and sisters, offered up all of ourselves and our lives, and approached the throne of God in heaven, we humbly receive the Gifts of God for the People of God; we receive, physically and spiritually, the very Body and Blood of the Son of God. We experience Christ; we see, taste, hear, feel, and even smell Christ. Our whole being is caught up in the encounter of God-with-us. The Anglican communion believes with the charismatics, that Christianity is caught, not taught.
Perhaps the most defining feature, and the (assumed) strongest point of distinction of the Charismatic movement, is the belief that the supernatural/spiritual gifts that were on display for the initial building of the Kingdom of God in the book of Acts, are still given to and for the Body of Christ today.
This would take far more attention and detail than I’m able to provide here, but Anglicans (and many other ‘liturgical’ communions) are entirely open to the movement of the Spirit and the exercise of the spiritual gifts by the members of the Church in modern times. Just as the practicality of such exercises varies from charismatic church to church, the same is true in many instances for Episcopal churches. However, the fundamental fact remains that, the Anglican communion does not believe that the spiritual gifts have ceased at the closing of the canon of Scripture. (What a silly thing to believe anyway.)
The Charismatic Faux-Pas:
What separates the Anglican church from the independent Charismatic churches is not so much their spiritual beliefs and experiential piety, but rather the ‘form’ of their participation; here we have the greatest obstacle to unity between the independent ‘Charismatic’ and the Anglican. The Charismatic church places a high priority on the ‘freedom’ and ‘spontaneity’ during worship above almost anything. Many are decidedly opposed to worshipping in a way that could appear to ‘restrict’ the spontaneous movement of the Spirit at any point, or in any degree, or rather, to restrict an individual’s spontaneous response to said movement. 12-minute structureless worship songs are a common occurrence in such churches, and preachers who haven’t spent more than a few minutes giving intentional thought toward a coherent sermon aren’t unusual(not all the time, and not in every church, but certainly in the context of my experience).
My issue is that I see ’Freedom’ and ‘Spontaneity’, as understood in our modern culture, as idols of the of the post-Enlightenment Western world. ‘Authenticity’ is determined by whatever is ‘genuine’ to the ‘individual’, meaning that, what is valuable is only what is born from within ‘free’ individuals. For instance, God *in* us makes far more sense than us *in* God, even though the latter formulation is the necessary foundation for the former. We read Scripture as if God is some emancipatory agent for our individuality. For the Charismatic church, if people were denied their individual ability to ‘express’ themselves ‘authentically’ in the context of corporate worship, it would be considered the stifling of the movement of the Spirit. And, of course, this carries over into how one’s life is lived; as we know, worship is a lifestyle. On this understanding of freedom, spontaneity, expression, individuality, etc. there is no trace of Biblical or ancient reasoning, but only the result of Modern philosophy. [This point has been argued extensively and convincingly elsewhere. All I intend to do is bring it to light in the context of the charismatic ‘form’ of worship. see Charles Taylor_A Secular Age_]
We have all been effected by this Modern secularism. We have been coerced into believing that we are autonomous. We have become bound up in chains– slaves to freedom. We have devoted ourselves to the wooden religion of spontaneity. We have been divided, imagining that the Body of Christ could only mean the homogenous and happenstance gathering of like-minded individuals. As if the Church is a generalization rather than a concrete reality.
The Christian Tradition, however, has largely understood, with the ancient philosophers, that to be ‘free’ is to act congruous with one’s ‘nature’. In other words, up until the Late-Medieval/Early-Modern period, freedom was not simply the ability to deliberate between options(as it is now), but rather, freedom was the right-choosing and action in accordance with one’s telos(purpose/end). Given this understanding, we can now interpret, for instance, “For the sake of freedom, Christ set us free” or “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” In Christ, we all become who and what we were made to be, and we act in accordance with that reality (in a manner worthy of Christ). It is only then that we are free, i.e. when we are slaves of Christ. This is why Augustine says that only God is free– only God suffers no privation of His nature; He is fully God, perfectly so. To be like Christ, to die and rise with/in Him, to become Christ, is to be/become free- to become fully human. [Again, this is argued constantly and far better elsewhere]
If then our modern understanding of freedom has been read into Christianity and into the Scriptures, we need to uproot it. If this is the very foundation of Charismatic praxis, then we have to acknowledge it, and change, because anything we place before Christ is an idol.
I have only really spoken about specifically two ‘movements/traditions’- Anglican and Charismatic- because this is mostly anecdotal for me, but the conversation transcends these two categories. ‘Charismatic’ is not a communion like Anglican is, and my goal is not to drive a wedge in-between the two. In fact, my goal is just the opposite; I am a Charismatic Anglican. I am a Spirit-filled, Spirit-baptized sacramental Christian. My challenge to my Charismatic brothers and sisters is to abandon Modernity(with its faulty notion of freedom) and seek Christ alongside the Church- ancient, present, and future, under the authority of what Christ began, and on the Stone that He began it. My hope is that “Charismatic” would not be the name of a denomination, but rather a quality of the Church, unified around the Eucharist. In other words, my hope is that God-fearing, holy, radical ‘Charismatics’ will accept my invitation to the Great Banquet- the Eucharist. Come, let us “taste and see.” Or, as we like to say it, “Therefore let us keep the feast!”