Charismatic Movement and Baptists (2)
According to McBain, charismatic renewal in and of itself is “a corrective for the whole body of Christ rather than a fresh revelation about its essential nature.” Thus the charismatic movement itself is not the whole Gospel, but rather it re-emphasised some aspects of the Gospel long neglected. Charismatic renewal did not replace or displace anything or everything else in the Gospel, but was added into the experience of the Gospel and caused the Gospel to be a little more complete, a little fuller. Therefore, charismatic renewal must be seen in the context of the whole body of which it is a part, and, though it was perhaps timely, it was not of any greater significance than any other part of the Gospel.
Charismatic renewal was never, is not, and never will be the one missing piece in the jigsaw of church life. It was never, is not, and it never will be the missing link of Christian experience. Such an imbalanced view of charismatic experience leads to Christians who today may rightly be called ‘The Weakest Link’ because they focus entirely on charismatic renewal in experience while ignoring the truth that we are to love God with all of our heart, all of our mind, and all of our soul. McBain says that “Supporters of charismatic renewal must never forget the lesson that in the life of the Spirit there are never any short cuts to success.”
Yet, it is certainly true that the charismatic movement was often seen to be an instant solution and a complete answer, rather than simply being the latest corrective from God to the body of Christ that should be received into the whole of what was already known and experienced of God. McBain again: “The real proof of spiritual blessing is in the realm of our characters, our morality and our approachability, not our occasional posture in prayer.”
One essential weakness in the way that charismatic movement was marketed, and it was marketed, was that it was all about doing and not about being. The long-term development of the fruit of the Spirit was ditched in favour of the short-term experience of the gifts of the Spirit; but where was the experienced and mature leadership that could rightly handle these gifts and deal with the Christians who showed the gifts off as if they were the latest decorative fashions?
For Wright, renewal should flow into reformation – for the church should always be being reformed, since “reformation does not happen once but is a continual process.” Reformation is a necessary continual process because “the power of tradition is that cultural factors are slowly added to the church until the point comes where they cause a serious distortion of the basic message we proclaim.”
However, the charismatic renewal did not generally flow into reformation; it did not generally lead to a fruitful development of Christian character; it did not generally bring a greater depth of unity to the body of Christ. Nevertheless, I believe that this is not the fault of the charismatic movement in and of itself, but was an all-too-evident weakness of the unprepared leaders who promoted the movement.
I believe that the charismatic movement has had a major impact on Scottish Baptist churches, and I believe that we can learn from it if we are but open to do so and be discerning in our learning. The key to learning from the charismatic movement of the last few decades lies with the church leaders, but the abuses within the charismatic movement have done serious damage to the place and perception of leadership in some Scottish Baptist churches.
Balfour proclaimed that “Renewal has in some instances tended to diminish the place given to the church meeting, and the apparently authoritarian style of leadership sometimes associated with the movement has caused concern to those who believe that all church members should participate in decision-making.” Balfour’s concern strikes a chord with McBain, who said: “The problems of renewal have been accentuated by the way in which we have foolishly yielded territory to a vast number of itinerant experts, mainly from North America but also from Africa and Asia, whose claims for expertise have depended on the greater numerical success attending their ministries in utterly different cultures to our own.” Therefore, as John Greenshields has said plainly: “We need to hear what God is saying – not what the latest evangelical guru is spouting out.” This, surely, is one of the biggest issues to come out of the charismatic movement.
Let us, therefore, look for the mature leaders that God will raise up in our midst, and not just unthinkingly and undiscerningly adopt leaders from other lands. It will take quite a long time for some Baptist churches to lose their fear of the word ‘leadership’, but good leadership is precisely what the Scottish Baptist churches need in these days.
Furthermore, charismatic renewal and its abuses have produced a generation of thrill-seeking Christians who go from church to church to get the latest and greatest thrill, and consumer Christianity has become a major part of church life – almost without being noticed. “Charismatic renewal has produced far too many instances of avoidable moral error and frequent demonstrations of church-hopping by the religiously dissatisfied” said McBain. But whatever God does in our midst is meant to build character into his people, and they are to be led by Christians of maturity and integrity; for the quality and stature of today’s leaders will determine the quality and stature of church tomorrow, and the impact of the charismatic movement can teach us important lessons here.
While I do believe that character is more important than deeds, it is also true that, used and reacted to properly, deeds can help to shape character. Thus, we need to hold in balance the character that God is forming in us day by day alongside the deeds that he wants to do in us and through us that we might be used in building his character into young and immature Christians, as well as nurturing that character among the mature.
Make no mistake about it, the young and immature need role models who are open to the whole counsel of God. The early church was mightily used in reaching people through acts of power, and we dismiss such acts in our day at our severe peril. Once again, the key is wise and mature leaders who are sensitive to the Spirit of God, so that, when God next moves in our midst, the impact that it makes can be handled in such a way as to give room to the Spirit of God and bring refreshing and growth to the church. Will it be without controversy? I doubt it!
Bebbington, D, (Editor), The Baptists in Scotland, (Glasgow, Baptist Union of Scotland, 1988)
Greenshields, J, Presidential Address to Baptist Union of Scotland Assembly 2001, The Scottish Baptist Year Book, (Glasgow, Baptist Union of Scotland, 2001)page 81
Hollenweger, W J, ‘The House Church Movement In Great Britain’, The Expository Times, Vol 92 No 2, November 1980, pages 45-47
McBain, D, Fire Over The Waters, (London, Darton, Longman + Todd, 1997)
Wright, N, Challenge To Change, (Eastbourne, Kingsway Publications, 1991)