Friday, July 12, 2013
Is Charismatic Renewal for real? part 6
(Letter to Kerry Zmatick continued)
From its very beginning the Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement/Renewal suffered from the coming together of two incompatible things: Catholic spirituality and Protestant theology. The experience of Pentecostals is very Catholic. Classical Protestant theology taught that the age of miracles was over. Pentecostalism is all about miracles.
I remember hearing a Pentecostal pastor who came over into Catholicism with his whole congregation. He said that Pentecostals and Catholics have a lot in common. Pentecostals love miracles and it seemed to him that Catholics actually had some real ones. Pentecostalism was rejected by mainline Protestantism precisely because it was, in their eyes, too Catholic. Miracles were for Bible times and not for the present day.
As I have already explained, when I returned home to my parents to tell them about this wonderful new thing God was doing, they pointed out that it wasn’t new to them. They sure took the wind out of my adolescent sails. The supernatural intimacy that traditional Catholics take for granted is not part of mainline Protestantism. Classical Protestantism was a very dry thing until the Pietist movement rocked Germany in the 1700's. It always seems that Reformation theologians assumed that the Almighty had been on sabbatical from the death of St. John until the birth of Martin Luther, at least until Wycliffe and Huss. Luther and Calvin laid down the law, trimmed down the rituals and that should have been enough.
It was until another German named Johann Arndt, (1555-1621) decided to stir things up. He was a general superintendent (sort of a Lutheran Archbishop) who read the writings of St Bernard, Johannes Tauler, Blessed Angela of Foligno and Thomas à Kempis, all pre-Lutheran Catholic mystical authors. That got him into all sorts of trouble for being too Catholic. He was criticized for religious art on church walls and exorcisms at Baptism and all that sort of Catholic mumbo jumbo. He wrote about his rediscovery of pre-reformation Catholic mysticism in his magnum, and I do mean magnum, opus “Four Books of True Christianity” 300 plus exciting pages. It was by no means a best seller. It was all about the mystical union between Christ and the believer. Arndt was more interested in Christ's life IN the believer than classical Protestantism which is all about Christ’s death FOR the believer. Calvin and Luther, both former law students, were interested in the legal, forensic work of Christ. For them it was as cut and dry as a law court. They weren’t big on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Catholicism for all it’s complexity has always believed that Communion, the deep, intimate union between Christ and believers is at the heart of the faith.
Arndt’s book wasn’t that popular. We Germans can be a bit tedious even for those who like things tedious. Another German fellow name of Jakob Spener (1635-1705) really loved “Four Books of True Christianity.” He wrote Pia Desideria, as a preface to Arndt’s book. His preface was a mere 75 pages. It sold like hot cakes. In it, Spener emphasized personal transformation through spiritual rebirth. These were fighting words for orthodox Protestantism. If one was among the elect, what did personal piety matter? In 1695 the theological faculty of Wittenberg charged Spener with heresy, citing 264 errors. Interesting how the worm turns, Protestants charging someone with heresy? Fortunately Speer died before he could be condemned. How lucky for him.
Pia Desideria went through the German Empire like Imelda Marcos though a shoe store. Wherever it was read people would gather for spontaneous prayer in, heaven forfend, PRAYER MEETINGS! These were forbidden innovations. In the German Empire, there were three permitted religions. Catholicism, Evangelisch (Luther’s brand of Protestantism) and Reformed Protestantism (Calvin’s brand). Prayer meetings were absolutely non-Protestant, and absolutely forbidden. In fact Protestant theologians called them “Catholic Monasteries on Protestant Soil. Impossible! People were jailed for public, spontaneous, shared prayer. Thus was born Pietism and the prayer meeting. (Interesting to think there were no such things as prayer meetings before 1700. The prayer meeting was invented, not revealed.)
In 1738, John Wesley, an Anglican priest, encountered Pietism at the Aldersgate Pietist prayer meeting in London among emigrants from Bohemia, then part of the German Empire. Wesley eventually wrote,
“In the evening I went unwillingly to a society (prayer meeting) in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter to nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
This may not seem like a big deal to you, but it was a world changing event. Thus was born Methodism, founded by Wesley. Catholic piety was fused to Protestant theology by means of Methodism and the prayer meeting. It was Methodism that ended; slavery in the British Empire and ultimately in America.
Methodism was an amazing movement before it ran out of steam. Good English Protestants did not have warmings of the heart, nor for that matter, did German Lutherans and Calvinists. Italian and Spanish Catholics had warmings of the heart and all that emotional rubbish. What we today think of as Evangelical Protestantism is, in fact, a strange hybrid of Catholicism, Lutheranism and Calvinism. About a century and half later, Pentecostalism exploded among disappointed Methodists as I have already pointed out, and the hybrid got even stranger.
When the first Catholic Pentecostals met in 1967 to ask “Well, what do we do now?” There was no one there like my wise and wonderful parents to tell them that this was really nothing new. I remember hearing about local Assembly of God Ministers from the South Bend area who invited to help guide those first prayer meetings. They meant well, but they came with the inadequate Biblical theology that has kept Protestant Pentecostalism divided for its entire history. They brought inaccurate uses of Biblical terms such as “gifts of the Holy Spirit” and “Baptism in the Holy Spirit.”
The exact phrase “baptism with the Holy Spirit” is not found in the New Testament, the verb from baptize in the Holy spirit occurs twice, both in reference to the same words of John the Baptist (Mt 3:11 and Lk 3:16). It occurs twice in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:4-5, and Acts 11:16). There are a lot of other references to an encounter with the Holy Spirit such “poured out upon”, “falling upon”, “coming upon” , “pour out” , “clothed with power from on high”.
Protestant Pentecostal theology makes the assumption that these are all the same thing and that they constitute a quasi-sacramental, initiation that demands evidence for veracity. It confers status as a full believer. It makes one a member of the true church, whichever true church that happens to be. There is a whole theological wing of Christianity that assumes an experience that the Bible calls the Baptism with or in the Holy Spirit. There is no such thing.
"Wait a minute? I thought you were baptized in the Holy Spirit!"
If by this you mean that night in 1964 that altered my life’s course irrevocably why are you using a non-biblical phrase to describe it? Why not call it an encounter with the Holy Spirit? Or a pouring out? Or a clothing with power? The best I can make of it was that it was an encounter with the Third Person of the Trinity in which I found myself in the Holy Spirit who had been in me most of my life. It was the difference between taking a life giving drink of water and falling into a swimming pool. I felt quite literally in the Holy Spirit, the way one might be in a room. It was external, more than internal. It was not a gift made to me, it was something that made me a gift to the church, at least to the degree that a sinner like me would respond to it.
A noun is not a verb and a verb is not a noun and there is no such thing in the Bible as the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Catholic Charismatic theologians have danced around for years trying to explain how the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit relate to the sacraments. We would split hairs about receiving the Holy Spirit in Baptism and then accepting the grace of Baptism in the Baptism of (or in) the Holy Spirit. Was it an experience? Was it what one should have felt at confirmation? Was it necessary to feel something? Was it necessary to speak in tongues as evidence of the Holy Spirit? What if you spoke in tongues at Sunday Mass and the pastor threw you out? Should there be Charismatic parishes? The questions and the arguments went on and on all because there was no one there at the beginning who was as reasonable as my parents. In the earliest days, we just accepted the protestant definitions.
Our Protestant teachers told us that speaking in tongues, prophecy healing, the gift of knowledge, and all the rest are the gifts of Holy Spirit. St. Paul says so in his letter to the Corinthians, no? WRONG! In the text St. Paul talks about “charismata” and “phanerosis”. He doesn’t mention gifts. The word St. Paul doesn’t use is “dorea”. It means “gift”.
St. Paul does mention “charisma”. It means attractiveness or charm, kindness, a favor or service bestowed. Grace is “charis” and charisma is the result of grace. Gift and charisma are two different things. The phrase “charismatic gifts” doesn’t appear in the text. The word gift isn’t in the text at all. The Catholic Church teaches that the charismata are spiritual graces and qualifications granted to every Christian to perform his task in the Church. That’s pretty much what St. Paul says, but the so called gifts of the Holy Spirit, as the Pentecostals call them, are a very specific kind of charisma, called “phanerosis”, or “manifestation”, a word related to the English word phenomenon. St Paul is talking about the external manifestations of the Holy Spirit, whose gifts are internal. Our misuse of the term “gifts of the Holy Spirit” ran right up against Catholic doctrine. There are seven gifts (doreai) of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude (or courage), knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.
Not many Assembly of God ministers nor prayer group leaders were nuancing Greek texts and Catholic theology back then. Rather than look carefully at the text of Scripture, we accepted inaccurate descriptions for what was happening among us. We failed to understand these things in their relationship to the wider Church and we were unable to integrate ourselves into the Church as a whole.
We became a strange group of fringe Catholics who had prayer meetings on a Thursday or a Monday, where we jabbered in tongues and sang rather maudlin songs. All along these prophetic manifestations should have been a blessing to the wider Church. We were unable to describe these things in terms comprehensible to the Church. We kept our light under a charismatic bushel, we had our own little groups often separated from the life of our parishes. They looked down on us and quite frankly we looked down on them. We were weird, they were lukewarm. Both sides were mistaken. Now the imprecise definitions are entrenched and the Renewal has failed to live up to its promise.
Next week: Gift schmift, charism schmarism. Big deal.