The Charismatic Movement -- Threat or Challenge to Friends

Quaker Religious Thought, Sep 2018

By Wilmer A. Cooper, Published on 01/01/75

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The Charismatic Movement -- Threat or Challenge to Friends

The C harismatic Movement -- Thr eat or Challenge to Friends Wilmer A. Cooper 0 0 Thi s Article is brought to you for free and open access by Digital Commons @ George Fox University. It has been accepted for inclusion in Quaker Religious Thou ght by an authorized administrator of Digital Commons @ George Fox University - Article 6 history, but for many years maintained interracial ties during a crucial period in the history of American race relations. .. . Black liberation affirms with clogmatic insistence that liberation is always the consequence of the presence of the Spirit. Authentic liberation can never occur apart from genuine pentecostal encounter, and likewise, authentic pentecostal encounter cannot occur unless liberation becomes the consequence. - I t is another way of saying no man can experience the fullness of the Spirit ancl be a bona fide racist.' I t is apparent that this is why Pentecostalism spread like a fire from the United States to Europe and, most important, to the poor in the world, to the oral cultures of Latin America, Africa, and Indonesia. Not only did its living liturgy, its spontaneity, its charismatic structures, its unprogrammed ineetings attract otherwise uneducated people. Not only, insteacl of just talking about poverty, did these movements work with the 1300' and develop patlerns of communal life, responsibility, and leadership. But first and foremost, "black" stood here for all the oppressed, for the "community of the hurtwB;and "pentecostal" stood for the authentic faith of those who were genuinely liberated by the Spirit of God. Thus far its universal impact has not reaclied its peak. T h e controversial question, of course, arises because in recent research it has become undeniably obvious that America11 Pentecostalism and charismatic upheaval is partly rooted in its Negro culture, in its rediscovery of African and Afro-American elements. T h e "authentic black experience," the genuinely black tl~eology(and pneumatology), for which black theologians of liberation search so urgently, already exist - in the mode of life of the underground of American literary theology. White American Peiltecostalisin and Neo-Pentecostalism, at least since 1915, have deceived the "Spirit's ingenuity" by their segregating policies and racist attitudes, which corresponded to the racial pattern of North American society. They consciouslyunconsciously suppressed their origin and early sources. Black pentecostal churches developed freely and without recognition The Cha?-z'smatic Movement - Threat or C h a l h g e to Friends? WILMER A. COOPER Among the many contrasts which can be drawn between the turbulence of the 1960's and the relative calm of the 1970's is the fact that ten years ago the "God is dead" movement was in the ascendancy whereas now the charismatic movement, together with a variety of bizarre religious cults, are in the ascendancy. However one assesses these movements, they woulcl seem to be in reaction to the secularization tendencies of the modern era. Oddly enough the churches have been most challenged, and sometimes threatened, by the charismatic movement (which is a movement of the Spirit) and the Jesus revolution (with its emphasis on "Jesus is coming back"). T h e purpose of this article is to examine the challenge and threat of the charismatic movement to the Society of Friends. "Charismatic" is a broad term used today which has its primary roots in the Pauline letters of the New Testament. There it is related to spirit (pnezima) and grace (charis) ancl often takes on characteristics of the ecstatic and miraculo~~s. I t is to be identified with post-Easter Christianity manifesting the pentecostal power and enthusiasm of the early church. Today "charismatic" is a general term applied to many moirements of the Spirit, including denominational Pentecostalism, neo-Pentecostalism in the mainline churches, and almost ally movement concerned with the gifts of the Spirit. Unfortunately the "gifts" have too often been restricted to prophecy, healing, and speaking in tongues (glossolalia) and have not taken into account Paul's broader concern for other gifts of the Spirit, not to speak of his concern for the fruits of the Spirit, especially that of love. NOWTYIIY should all this be such a bothersome issue for Friends? After all, Friends have claimed to be a movement of the Spirit (and of the Light) from the beginning. For Friends both the Spirit and the Light were centered in and identified ~ v i t h Christ; this placed them clearly within the Christian tradition. Moreover, Friends claimed to be concerned with "primitive Christianity revived." They claimed to experience in early Quakerism the same power of the Holy Spirit that moved the early Christian community. So why would Friends be fearful or doubtful about manifestations of the Spirit which have such close associations with the beginnings of the Quaker movement, especially when Friends often speak hopefully of recovering today something of the power and zeal of their founding fathers? Part of the answer to this question is that even though the "Spirit motif" has clearly been present in the Society of Friends from the start, the parallel "Light motif" has often tended toward a rationalistic and humanistic strain within Quakerism. I t has claimed to be rooted in firsthand religious experience and clrew its religious source from the Johannine writings of the New Testament. I n more recent times, however, it has relied less on its biblical origins and has tended to be cautious and skeptical about religious enthusiasm and eccentric manifestations of the Spirit, such as some of the various forms of "ranterism" whicl~have plagued Quakerism from the beginning. Another part of the answer to this question is that Friends have more and more wanted to "play it safe" and "be respectable" in the eyes of the world. If one becomes responsive to the power and leading of the Holy Spirit there is no telling what strange things may happen, even as they did happen in carly Quakerism. T h e power of the Spirit is bound to break loose the structures of traditionalism and liberate those who have been subject to various kinds of bondage. Perhaps these are reasons enough why liberal Quakerism has been cautious about the religious enthusiasm of the members. Seekers from all over the world flocked to I,os Ailgeles and there they found "the wellspring of spiritual life" and received a decisive impulse toward their ministry. I t was justly said by the English Anglican minister, the Reverend Alexander A. Boddy, that "it was unheard of for white preachers from the southern states to be so eager to visit Negroes in Los Angeles, to share fellowship with them and by their prayers and intercessions to receive the same blessings as they had received." And Frank Bartleman, an eyewitness at that first revival, proudly affirmed that in Los Angeles "the color line was washed away in the blood."3 This is highly significant. T h e early pentecostal revival was an ecumenical, interracial, inter-class movement, cutting across the barriers of denomination, color, social prestige across all sorts of "propositional" rationalizations. As was rightly said by Bishop Morris Golder, one of the black American pentecostal leaders: "The Pentecostals - if they would have presented a solid front, taking a firm stand and risking their lives, as Martin Luther King did - they would have been tremendously effective spiritually, socially, and p~litically."~ "Spiritual history" means a history in which the dynamic activity of the Spirit is to be observed, shared, and interpreted. If one dares to speak in such terms, then one may draw the conclusion that Pentecostalism did not just accidentally arise at the threshold of a century so full of racism, oppression of man's dignity, and destruction of the human mind. Leonard Lovett of the Charles Harrison Mason Theological Seminary in Atlanta - a member of the Church of God in Clu-ist emphasizes this: Seymour, the one-eyed unattractive apostle of Pentecost from Houston, Texas, defied the racist mentality of his time and opened the revival to everyone, a factor of supreme importance in explaining the success of the revival.. .. Not only did blacks initiate the Azusa Street meeting which is now recognized as a "watershed" in Pentecostal Above all, a life-commanding, life-transhrm ing, seven-day-a-week devotion, however limited in outlook, to a living Lord of all life? T h e history of twentieth-century Pentecostalism is a most exciting and embarrassing story, full both of hopes and promises and of failures and conflicts. I t is the story of people, mainly among the underprivileged, who felt the power of a liberating spirit that called them out from social and emotional oppression into freedom of body, mind, and soul - a freedom such as the children of Israel. experienced when they were called from Egyptian slavery into the open wilderness. But many of them, especially the whites, could not stand this situation, were not satisfied with "manna from heaven" (continuing new discoveries), but soon adjusted to the social pattern of respectable society. As so often in history, the dynamic spirit had to enter the notional abstractions of a rational doctrine and the institutional structures of a stabilized organization. -The "first love" died away or at least became locked up behind the boundaries of class, race, or denomination. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that in the rise of Pentecostalism there was something which carried with itself the message of the spirit's :-?a1 fascination and which is still present today in large movements in the secalled third world. Walter Hollenweger writes: T h e Pentecostal movement originated in the year 1906 in a simple black church in Los Angeles. W. J. Seymour, the minister of the congregation, was a dcscenclant of the African slaves who had been shipped to America. T h e first Pentecostal meeting place was a disused Methodist chapel with sawdust strewn on the floor; the pews were planks resting on wooden boxes. T h e leader of tliis revival was n o great orator. It was his custom to pray from behind his pulpit which consisted of two packing cases nailed together, his head bowed and liis face covered with his hands, his elbows resting on the pulpit top. Yet that congregation in Azusa Street, Los Angeles, was the starting point for a Pentecostal movement which today embraces between fifteen and thirty-five million cl~arismaticmovement, but d o they explain why evangelical Quakerism has been equally skeptical and sometimes threatened by it? One could even say that in some cases the religious manifestations of fundamentalist and revivalistic Friends are even more extreme than many Pentecostal meetings which one may observe in this country and abroad. T h e Spirit has been reported to d o some strange things in Friends revival meetings1 And yet there runs through evangelical Quakerism (as through. evangelical Christianity in general) a strong rationalistic strain which wants to keep religious experience within the bounds of reason and which expounds a logic of its own. This is the reason for concern over sound doctrine and for the belief that the essence of Christianity can be articulated in statements of faith and belief. Evangelical Quakerism (perhaps like liberal Quakerism) has developed a religious culture of its own which also wants to "play it safe" by keeping its religiow practices within tlie bounds of proper control, which sometimes means under the control of persons in key leadership positions.. Perhaps there is also in both kinds of Quakerism (and all those who place themselves somewhere in between) a historic Quaker preoccupation with religious dignity, order, and decorum. Anything which brings this into doubt and exceecls the bounds of propriety and the status quo usually meets with resistance. Here again Friends are inclined toward caution and playing it safe with respect to new movements of the Spirit all about us. When all is said and done, however, perhaps the greatest fear and lack of acceptance by Friends, both liberal and evangelical, is expressed over the phenomena of glossolalia (speaking in tongues) and to a lesser degree the spiritual healing movement. T h e latter has gained considerable acceptance ancl credibility in certain quarters, for example, in the otherwise staid atmosphere of L,ondon Yearly Meeting. But speaking in tongues seems too far out and frightening to the majority of Friends. It has sometimes become the source of misunderstancling and division where it has been exhibited in Friends meetings. Although there is very little, if any, trace of it in Quaker history (which cannot be said of spiritual healing), there are coiltelnporary manifestations of speaking in tongues appearing in certain places. How much of this is authentic to Friends' ways ot worship and religious expression and how much of it is influenced by pentecostal and charismatic stirrings in the environs of Friends is still not clear. Although I have never experienced speaking in tongues and am not an advocate of it as essential to the Christian life, I am somewhat surprised and astonished a t the fear which overcomes many Friends when the matter comes up. Part of this is due to unfamiliarity with it and fear of any strange or outof-the-ordinary religious expression. If one could study com~xratively this aspect of the charismatic movement with the Quaker phenomenon and experience of "quaking in the power of the Lord or of the Spirit," I believe that we might discover surprising similarities and parallels between the two. Glossolalia is not necessarily as bizarre and unusual as some believe it to be. Like quaking in the power of the Spirit it may occur as an i~ldividualor group phenomenon. Contrary to popular opinion, speaking in tongues is not fundamentally a "foreign language" but constitutes syllables which are either spoken or sung.l Singing or chanting in tongues is basically a form of prayer and praise to God or it may be a form of intercession for others. It is not so much an extraordinary or miraculous gift as it is a way of worship and prayer. It usually takes the form of joyful celebration, which may offend the sobriety of some Quaker worshipers, but that is not to say that it is phoily or does not have validity for others. Glossolalia can be and often is a form of prayer which lifts o~leselfor the group 1113 to God in a desire to be made one with him and to receive his blessing in return. T h e factor of divisiveness seems to enter when those who claim this special gift of the Spirit become over-zealous in their claims for it or insist that those who do not exhibit it have not truly experienced the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. We can deal here with only one striking aspect of recent church history, which in its first instance struck traditional theology as "sectarian," so that its phenomena were largely ignored. This development later forced church leaders and academic theologians into controversial interpretations. We speak of the pentecostal and charismatic movements which arose in the beginning of this century but remained either unrecognized or "excommunicated" for approximately sixty years. Henry P. Van Dusen, the America,n theologian, pointed as early as 1955 (after a journey to the Caribbean and an encounter with native pentecostal churches) to Pentecostalism as "the third mighty arm of Christian outreach" besides Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, and to its phenomenal growth. Although his definition of Pentecostalism was still rather imprecise, he challenged traditional Western theology by his definition of the term "fringe sects": "Fringe?" On the fringes of what? Of our sects, to be sure, of ecumenical Protestantism. But on the "fringe" of authentic Christianity, of the true church of Christ? That is by n o means so certain, especially if the measuring-rod is kinship of thought and life with original Christianity, to which we all go back proudly as progenitor and in some sense norm. Many of its marks are strikingly, unmistakably, undeniably reproduced in this "new Christianity," as they were in historic "sectarian Protestantism" in its beginnings: Spiritual ardor, sometimes but by n o means always with excessive emotionalism. Immediate experience of the living Christ, sometimes with aberrations. Intimate and sustaining fellowship, sometimes with excess. Leading of the Holy Spirit, sometimes but by no means always with exaggerated claims. Intense apocalypticism, just like the early church, but hardly more extreme than what is the current vogue in some segments of respectable contemporary ecumenical Protestantism. pneumatology which is freed from notional language to reflect of spontaneity. But certainly these movements can help us to understand the hunger of modern man for experiencing something which is real in his heart and mind and not a mere rational argument. In exercising "pneumatological reality," they can make us aware of the immense freedom of God's Spirit to work in ways and means hitherto unknown to traditional Western theology. Biblical historical-critical research, valid and enlightening as i t is, cannot replace existential experience. But certainly it .can provide us with a deeper understanding of early Christian reality and through scientific investigation show models of different expressions of different experiences in different historical contexts. We need a pneumatological theory which gives fresh articulation to a living and diverse spirituality - an open theology that does not lament the contradictions or the absence of spiritual experience, but with open ears and humble minds searches for the kingdom of God. T H E PENTECOSTAL MOVEMENT Practice and activity of the Spirit can (and should) be traced in manifold aspects of human life and thought - in the growing awareness of a much deeper pneumatological dimension in Eastern Orthodox theology; in the openness to the Spirit's operations outside the established churches, where freedom and dignity of human beings is at stake; in the struggles for liberation from oppressive and dominating structures; in the experimcntal attempts to turn Christian churches into open communities for others; in the discovery of the work of the Spirit in other religions and faiths; in the experience of its dynamic power in indigenous cultures and human artistic creativity. These aspects, as different as they are, have three things in common: first, the freedom and souereignty of the Holy Spirit that "blows where it wills"; second, the presence and energy of the Holy Spirit as something to be experienced - heard, seen, or felt, bodily and existentially; third, the concept of the Holy Spirit as d y n a m i c power that enters into man and men's history and seizes and transforms earthly 1ife.l Or, as some would put it, they have not been truly baptized with the Holy Spirit. Division may also arise when speaking in tongues is regarded as a miraculous language which requires translation and for which only certain persons are qualified to d o the interpreting. Charismatics are just as prone to arrogance as other Christians, and sometimes this arrogance becomes oppressive to those who either have not experienced the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the same way or have genuine doubts about it. T h e intent of this article is not to argue for the charismatic movement in all its varied aspects or to argue that one must experience and exhibit certain manifestations of it to be an authentic Christian. Rather, the intent is to gain a greater tolerance and broader understanding of the movement of the Spirit in our time which, I believe, has something in commoil with the deepest movements of the Spirit in the Society of Friends. T h e plea is to see this in its broadest context and to see it as related to the historic quaking and prophetic elements of Quakerism. If we as Friends could see it in that light, then i t might not seem so strange, alien, and offensive. The point might also be made that it is rather odd thac Friends, as a movement of the Spirit, have paid so little attention in their history to those portions of Scripture which deal with the gifts of the Spirit, especially 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, Romans 12 and Ephesians 4. Friends are often so enamored on and moved by 1 Corinthians 13 that they overlook the larger context in which this great chapter on love is set, namely, Paul's fullest treatment of the gifts of the Spirit, including speaking in tongues. Although Paul expresses some cauriolls and preference about this particular gift, nevertheless he does not denounce it but asserts that it is one of the ways in which the Spirit manifests itself in the Christian community (1 Cor. 14:5, 18). Quaker renewal today calls for a recovery of the power and -leading of the Holy Spirit. This also calls for less defensiveness about how and in what way the Spirit of the Lord ma! ~vorkin and through us. At the same time Friends need to recover the life and power of prayer, personally and corporately, and re-learn how to live in the virtue and strength of that life and power to which George Fox and the early ~ r i e n d s testified in their experience with Christ and the inward life of the Spirit. Althougl~this is not the place to undertake it, Friends need to spell out a "theology of the Holy Spirit" which will provide a conceptual framework for this inward life of the Spirit we claim. 1 have tried to d o this in a very minimal way in the "ESR Report" which appeared in Quaker Life for May, 1974. There reference was made to a number of issues which need to be explored and amplified. One more I would add now, namely, a full examination of Friends' doctrine of Christian perfection, which provides an ethical framework and imperative for Quakerism as a movement of the Spirit. Whether or not Friends are charismatic in the contemporary sense is of course a debatable question on which not all will agree. But Friends cannot very well deny the Spiritcentered and Spirit-led nature of Quakerism without abandoning that which is central and fundamental to their religious heritage and faith. Neither can they ignore the presence and reality of the movement of the Spirit in our time without doing violence to the very religious emphasis which gave rise to the Society of Friends in the first place. For these reasons we need to see the charismatic movement as a challenge and opportunity for Quaker renewal rather than a threat to our existence and way of life. In the article referred to above, I have suggested that as Friends "we interpret the Holy Spirit as the real presence and transforming power of God and of the living Christ, working in our midst." Likewise Lewis Benson has written, "For Fox, a gospel that does not bring men to the experience of the power of God is no gospel. 'The gospel of truth,' Fox says, 'is but one, which is the power of God, and there is no ~ t h e r l " ~It is for this reason that God is not dead but alive for authentic Quaker of the Bible has doubtless been the discovery that we have Christ not first and foremost through written statements and the conceptual language of well-defined propositions, but through the stories and testimonies "written" in the human lives of his disciples, through their pneumatological language based on oral tradition, through their living liturgy and spiritual witness, through their practical and corporate commitment. But there can also be n o doubt that Greek, Latin, and consequently all Western theology became almost dominated by the thought-pattern of a literary culture. This culture stressed first and foremost the necessity of rational arguments and notional abstractions and dismissed, as inadequate for spiritual truth, other categories of oral culture such as unsystematic biblical articulations or the language of non-European cultures. Today we need a pneumatological theory which does not simply draw its concepts from traditional patristic, scholastic, or Protestant orthodox arguments, but is rooted in the ground of contemporary experience. In other words, we need a the-. ology that tries to discover signs of the Spirit marked in human history, that gives evidence of the spontaneity of its undeniable presence here and now, instead of starting from logical conceptualization of the doctrine of the Creator or of the necessity of Christ's suffering. People today all over the world ask urgent questions: Is God alive? Is he the Father of Jesus Christ? Is he to be experienced truly in the joys and sufferings of people, or is he an abstract thought? Does he create meaning in an otherwise useless life? Does he help us to build up the human world-community? Does he give power to change man's mind and to liberate people from oppressive structures and man-made barriers? Is he himself the dynamic force which drives mankind toward the kingdom of God? Neither the twentieth-century pentecostal and charismatic movements nor the biblical-exegetical discoveries of the past forty years can plainly answer these questions. Pentecostalism and the pentecostalization of established churches - especially of the Roman Catholic church - have not yet provided a Theory and Practice of the Holy Spirit ROSWITH GERLOFF Theological theory is the theological articulation of practice. Hence theological theories must have their roots in real experience. They are related' to the art of observing, sharing, interpreting, and communicating existential reality. Pneumatology (theory of the Holy Spirit) and spirituality are (even in linguistic terms) identical expressions of the same human experience or, preferably, complementary views of the same corporate and personal reality. Spirituality is pneumatology in action. Pneuinatology is spirituality in reflection. Or one can say: pneumatology is the reflection of spiritual spontaneity. For the Spirit "blows where it wills; you hear the sound of it, but you d o not know where it comes from, or where it is going. So will1 everyone who is born from spirit" (Jn. 3:8 NEB). And "the Spirit explores everything, even the depths of God's own nature. . . . This is the Spirit that we have received from God, and not the spirit of the world, so that we may know all that God of his own grace has given us" (1 Cor. 2:10, 12 NEB). It has been the catastrophe of traditional church life and theology, at least in Europe and the Western hemisphere, that these fundamental and existential roots - the discoveries of the real God in real life - have been widely neglected or even discarded as dangerous both for the church as an institutional community and for doctrinal formulation. With the exception of some streams in Eastern Orthodoxy and of the so-called heretical or sectarian movements througl~out church history (which consequently were suppressed), it has been largely forgotten that only through the Spirit, the Paraclete, the comforter and advocate, is Christ made known to his community. Only tllrough the Spirit are people reminded of him, guided into all truth, and thus liberated and liberating. One of the great insights opened u p by modern historical-critical exegesis ism, a Quakerism which is illumined by the light of Christ and moved by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is this same power of the Spirit which can rekindle the Quaker movement today and can enable the Society of Friends to relive its purpose and mission in the world. Let us )not, therefore, quench the working of the Holy Spirit wherever it manifests itself in new and fresh ways. 1. William Samarin in Tongues o f M e n and Angrls (New York, 1970 ) writes: "There is no mystery about glossolalia. Tape-recorded samples are easy to obtain nncl analyse. They always turn out to be the same thing: strings of syllables, made up of souncls taken from among all those that the speaker knows, put together more or less haphazardly but which nevertheless emerge as word-like and sentence-like units becausc of realistic, language-like rhythm and melody .. .. Yet in spitc of superficial similarities, glossolalia is fundamentally not language. All specimens of glossolalia that have ever been studied have produced no features that would even suggest that they reflect some kind of communicative system." Quoted by Christian Duquoc and Casinano Floristan , Spi~itwalRevivals (New York: Herder and Herder, 1973 ), p. 104 . 2. Quoted in T h e Friends' Quarterly, Vol. 18 (Oct. 1974 ), p. 337 .

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Wilmer A. Cooper. The Charismatic Movement -- Threat or Challenge to Friends, Quaker Religious Thought, 2018,