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Charismatic Renewal Is Not Going Away [01]

by Rowland Croucher
Note: These are the notes of a seminar I used to conduct around the churches of Australia when charismatic renewal was young and controversial (in the 1970s and 1980s). hanks to my friend Vani from our church (Glen Eira Christian Community Church in Melbourne) for scanning this article.


Charismatic renewal is not going away.

Pentecostal and charismatic churches – worldwide – are growing faster than any other family of denominatioins. The Australian Assemblies Of God plant two churches a week. The three largest churches in the world are Pentecostal ( Full Gospel Central Church, Korea, with over 500,000 members; Jotabeche Church, Santiago, Chile; Congregacao Crista, Sao Paulo, Brazil). A Gallup Poll in 1980 found 19% of adult Americans (over 29 million) called themselves ‘pentecostal’ or ‘charismatic’ Christians (one sixth of the ‘charismatics’ had spoken in tongues). Among Catholics, 18% called themselves charismatic: 2% spoke in tongues. According to David Barrett, editor of World Christian Encyclopedia Pentecostals and charismatics numbered an estimated 100 million worldwide in 1980. He says that number jumped to about 150 million by 1985. (l) And there are many ‘closet charismatics’ in all the mainline Western churches.

The word ‘charismatic’ (Greek charisma – a gift of grace) is useful as an adjective but sometimes offensive as a noun. Implicit, for some, is the idea that there are two grades of Christians, a common or garden variety, and a special class. Should we use ‘big C’ and ‘small c’ – or drop the word altogether? Here we will reluctantly use ‘charismatic’ as a noun, and as an adjective, but with the understanding that every true Christian is charismatic; every true church is a charismatic church.

We are now hearing about ‘post-charismatics’. They had assumed the experiences in Acts 2,8,10,19 and 1 Cor. 12 and 14 were normative for all Christians for all times. Having sought an emotional high, they found that their version of the charismatic renewal promised more than it delivered. Or else they succumbed to opposition within the church or from church hierarchy. Through many personal battles their sense of power and well-being left them. They were disillusioned when charismatic renewal spilled over into histrionics or electronics. (2)

Let us work through the myths or misconceptions in order.




Those unfamiliar with the mistakes of the past, as Santayana said, are likely to repeat them. Movements of religious renewal are not new. They happen when something lost is found: the book of the law (Josiah), prayer and asceticism (Desert Fathers), simple
lifestyle (Franciscans), justification by faith (Luther), sanctification (Wesley), spiritual gifts (Pentecostals).

Christian renewal emphasizes the church’s organic, communal nature and tends to idealize the primitive apostolic church. Static institutions are challenged to change and become dynamic. Adherents of the institution resist with suspicion or hostility. Tension is inevitable, with the renewal either becoming radicalized, separating from the institution; or losing its impetus and no longer threatening the institution; or accommodating to the institution by accepting a limited role within it.

Traditionalists are usually blind to the disparity between the institution’s claims and its ineffectiveness. They have a vested interest in changing nothing (‘God is the same yesterday, today and forever’). They aim for ‘homeostasis’ – seeking security in keeping the institution’s status at approximately quo. Theoretically, the institution guards ‘life’, but when confronted with renewal, the institution tends to fight the very thing it is supposed to be guarding.

Renewalists often have little – or an idealised – sense of history; God is on their side and against the institution; they don’t realize that they too will set up new institutions which will eventually settle down, preserve a status quo and be challenged again. Renewalists are concerned with present realities rather than history, and can become naively apocalyptic, with extreme hopes, claims and behaviour.
Institutions and renewal, priests and prophets, have validity. The institutional church carries into the present what God has done in the past. Renewal is the experience of God’s grace in the present, putting wine into the institution’s wineskins. The institution emphasizes dogma; renewal experience.

Howard Snyder and others have helped us formulate a ‘mediating model’ of the church, which affirms history and expects renewal – both; sees renewal experienced in subecclesial (‘church within the church’) small group settings but having structural links with the institutional church; works for unity, vitality and wholeness of the larger church; is a mission-oriented, covenantal community; provides training and opportunities for the exercize of new forms of leadership and ministry, maintaining an emphasis on the Spirit and the Word as the basis of authority. So there is assigned a normative role both to the institutional church and to the movement and structure of renewal. (3)


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  1. […] of the newsletter Grid. This chapter is adapted from the Summer 1986 issue. Also reproduced in John Mark Ministries Charismatic renewal is not going way. According to David Barrett, editor of World Christian […]

    Posted by Charismatic Renewal: Myths & Realities, by Rowland Croucher | Renewal Journal | December 21, 2014, 10:23 am