Thursday, 3 April 2014

Where does charismatic stop and evangelical start?

I'm not sure, these days, and it worries me.

See, I'm a charismatic - in that I experience God moving in my life through tangible things that He does and a part of that is gifts, like speaking in tongues, that He has given us - and yet I'm part of a church which has a moderately non-charismatic, and pretty much evangelical, culture.

There was a time when, with the understanding I have now of evangelicalism (I might have once thought it vaguely related to outreach, even though I knew that wasn't what it meant) I'd have run a mile from it, decided it was too busy following its own traditions and quickly gone somewhere else. The idea that I could compromise my values and expectations enough to actually be part of the leadership, let alone carry some of the responsibility for shaping its character would have horrified me. And as for making some of the promises and commitments  that becoming a church warden has required me to take.... beyond the pale!   ;-)

And yet this is where I find myself.

Earlier in the week I was looking for a recording of something I'd said in church last year, then ended up listening to the whole recording. If you really want to hear it for yourself then it's up on soundcloud as a tale of 2 halves.

It was meant to be an encouragement to the church, something to raise expectations of what God was going to do with us. Listening again it both encourages me now, and yet also makes me ask "why haven't we started moving into those things?".  And also "what has happened to me since then - why am I so discouraged?"

And this is where the cross-over into the evangelical side is happening.

At the end of the sermon we prayed for a number of people, trusting that God would be at work in them, and since that time one of them has expressed a sense of vocation and begun preaching. I don't know how/if the lives of any others were affected. But this isn't what I was expecting or looking for - God moving in the subtle, intangible, hard to pinpoint ways. The evangelical ways, The ways where, you know God is quietly working, lives are gradually shifting and changing, difficult situations survived, everyone mostly getting along, aging quietly.

In one sense it's great, fantastic, but in another, this isn't what I signed up for - incremental Christianity, where it's often hard to tell the difference between the Christians and the rest.

Do I want fireworks in church then?


Well, a bit.

I love that people's lives ARE changing, but I miss the sense of the reality of God breaking in. I can walk around the church building praying happily in both English and tongues, but come time for a church meeting, it's all quiet, respectable and evangelical. If we are so inoffensive in our meeting times, it makes me wonder how much the real Jesus is actually present and how much we're just following another tradition, but an evangelical one instead of CoE, where He gets to occasionally look in if He's lucky?

No stones thrown at anyone BTW - I'm just trying to think through things, and ask why they are as they are. If it offends you then consider this to be me showing my inadequacy.


  1. It's interesting that you separate "charismatic" from "evangelical." I would consider "evangelical" a broad tent under which "charismatic" and others exist.

  2. I'm not at all sure it's a distinction that I've invented - pretty sure there are plenty around who described the evangelical church as those founded on solid theology and sound doctrine, while the charismatics follow the froth and bubble of their emotions with little regard to scripture (in the UK at least, from experience I'd say the exact opposite is true on a personal level, but that's by the by). There have been magazine articles about evangelical leaders sharing platforms with charismatics (notably Terry Virgo) and how that's caused a stir. Some charismatic churches have also become large and 'respectable', founding bible colleges and schools, making themselves desirable to be associated with.

    Admittedly with younger generations coming into church and the demand for more meaningful worship, the lines between charismatic and evangelical practice have become blurred. Go back to my grandfathers generation and there was a real fear of 'the Holy Spirit' being at work in meetings, and even when I was a new Christian, there was strong opposition to anything that might be considered charismatic or involving the Holy Spirit. Evangelicals didn't do that sort of thing. I am still very much aware that, underneath, the evangelical inclination has a built-in tendency to squash things of the Spirit, and a desire to do things in a polished and professional manner, while declaring spontaneity and movement outside the plan as being dishonouring to God and off-putting to people.

    TBH I am inclined to believe God is working to restore many of the things charismatics discovered, back to the mainstream church. I've talked about this before, but I see the mainstream moving, albeit reluctantly, toward the charismatic position, rather than the reverse, and post-modern thinking is both making the drift easier while at the same time making a whole-hearted transformation much more difficult.

  3. Marc there are at least 160 million Catholic charismatics.. We are not all Evangelical!

  4. In fairness to Marc, I would not have considered those Catholic charismatics to be visible in the way a 'charismatic' church would be. Also they may well be Catholics who are charismatic in some aspects of their belief, rather than deliberately non-denominational who just happen to go to a Catholic church.


  5. Being Charismatic for me has nothing to do with being non-denominational. It specifically refers to the practice of the gifts (which catholic teaching has always affirmed), and in general suggests a theology of encounter with God. I would consider non-denominational charismatics to be under the umbrella 'Restorationism'. Both Catholics and Restorationists of course believe in Ephesians 4 ministry and doing 'Eary Church' - we just interpret the scripture/history differently!

  6. I guess the word we're missing is 'Roman'. ;-)

    But I largely agree with you, Eddie, but in a sense your post also confirms my view, that 'Charismatics' (those who identify themselves primarily as such) are not Roman Catholics, while Roman Catholics (even those in the church of England) would probably identify themselves more that way. I guess it's handy to have a label/pigeonhole for everyone, and Restorationist isn't a bad one, though a little out of date now. I also tend to see the restorationists as the real emergent church, rather than the later liberal version that seemed to be all about throwing off restraint, hence terming this blog post-emergent.

    Re: early church, in a way we do and in a way we don't. I see my church heritage going back directly to that first century - just as you do. But eary church - that's SCARY! ;-)


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