1 Corinthians 4:20 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.
Last night my wife and I watched a few videos from some respected Reformed church leaders. One of the videos we just stopped because we couldn’t listen to it anymore, and during another, when there was a question over whether or not the Great Awakening was a good thing, my wife said “did he just say that?” I respect these guys, I wasn’t listening to disagree with them, but it reminded me that the Reformed world is very different than the Charismatic world that I’m from. In this post, it will be difficult for me to actually say anything without qualifying everything. Please read this in a spirit of charity, realizing that if I criticize an aspect of part of Christendom I love that part and don’t think I’m better than those in it. However I do believe that there are certain things that Christians should believe and so encourage them.
Some people believe being Charismatic means that one simply believes things like prophecy and healing continue today. That is part of it, but it is much bigger than that. Believing in the continuance of certain gifts doesn’t really change how we live or how we view God. To get at part of what it means to be Charismatic, imagine that there are two church plants, one church trying to grow to 1,000 people and one church that is trying to convert the entire city of St. Louis (not alone, but with the goal that the entire city would be converted). How would the programs in each church differ? If you were the pastor of the second church how would you program the conversion of the entire city? Obviously you wouldn’t, there would be a blip in your head and you would realize that can’t be accomplished without radical empowerment from God. There are many people out there who can, through natural gifting, program a meeting that 1,000 or more people will come to, but 2 million people is a very different matter. One could respond that that isn’t a realistic goal. Of course it isn’t, but it happened in the New Testament and there are places outside of the West today where nearly everyone is Christian (I mean really Christian). Let me repeat: you do things differently if you are trying to convert a million people than if you are trying to convert 100.
A big part of being Charismatic is dreaming big while realizing your own inability to accomplish those dreams. People talk about the ‘already’/’not yet’ tension in redemptive history; the kingdom of God is here, but not yet fully manifest. Where on this spectrum are we at the moment? Is the kingdom of God only technically here, since Christ has come, but not in a way that tangibly changes anything? Or can the kingdom of God fully take over, even restoring physical creation? From the Bible we know that until Christ comes back there will always be a ‘not yet’ aspect to life. But does that mean we have to live 20% ‘already’ and 80% ‘not yet?’ Why not 99% ‘already’ and 1% ‘not yet?’ I don’t know the answer to that question, but I think it is clear that we could have more than we do. Believing that God has more for us, and probably much more, is essential because if we don’t believe for more than we won’t ask God for more, and might even reject it when it happens.
Clearly you and I, in our own strength, cannot shift the cosmic kingdom spectrum from 20% to 99% ‘already.’ That requires a radical dependence on God, which manifests itself in regular prayer. The early church held twice daily prayer meetings, following the pattern of the morning and evening sacrifices. Monasticism greatly multiplied the time spent in prayer. The Reformers dialed this back to twice a day with an emphasis on family prayer; the father leading a morning family prayer meeting and an evening family prayer meeting. My point is that dependence on God, manifest in both private and corporate prayer, has been the norm for most of church history. A Charismatic church is a praying church, and a healthy church is a praying church. If there aren’t regular prayer meetings something is wrong.
Another difference is the content of the Christian hope. Some make it seem like the Christian hope is simply a world without sin and its effects. I appreciate that this is better than what we have, but that isn’t what I signed up for. I signed up for ecstatic relationship with God in a world without sin and its effects. I’ll get at my point with a question – would heroin be better than God if it didn’t have side effects? Our answer has to be” no,” but many Christians seem to think God is really boring. Charismatics believe that God is really awesome in a non-boring way, and that means our hope is therefore awesome. This makes holiness and prayer much easier.
Lastly, being Charismatic means being an embodied soul. What I mean is that our bodies and what we do with them matter, and Charismatics embrace that. That means worship and prayer are physical as well as mental activities. Charismatic worship includes the lifting of hands, clapping, and dancing; not by force of course, but having the freedom to do so. I told a couple of friends at school last week that some of the things I miss most are aggressive prayer meetings and laying on the ground in church (it’s the little things in life). Almost everyone likes to move to secular music, but for some reason, when the music is Christian and the setting is church, moving doesn’t feel right anymore. We have to realize and teach that that impulse is wrong – just read the Psalms. Plus not moving is boring. People don’t want to feel constricted for long periods of time.
There are several more important things to discuss like relationship with Christ and the goal of the Church. But this post has hopefully given you some things to think about, as it has me. One of the great things about writing is it confronts the author with the disparity between what he or she is writing and their own practice.