Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Can charismatics and non-charismatics live together?

Can charismatics and non-charismatics live together? Yes. Of course. And they do. But how? So here's some theory, it's a stereotyped and simplified and it's not my idea.  They are scribbles from a morning with Mark Bonnington. Among evangelicals we find charismatics and non-charismatics. The charismatics may perceive non-charismatics as being "word" people while the charismatic is perceived to emphasis "word" and "spirit". It's a broad-brushstroke but observable enough.

Charismatic Christianity is a fact of Christianity today (probably globally the majority?), as is non-charismatic Christianity.

The distinctives of charismatic Christianity are an emphasis on experience and exercising the full range of spiritual gifts today. These aren't necessarily exclusive to charismatics, for example many non-charismatics sharing the puritan emphasis on affections, but you won't find charismatics who lack these two emphases. That's not to say those things define them - just look at the endorsements on Pierced for our Transgressions to see that it's the cross that we hold in common. Cross-centredness is an evangelical distinctive, not a distinctive when we contrast the charismatic and the non-charismatic believer.

Bonnington argues that to some extent the shape of our Christianity depends on our integrating points. I've heard people suggest that personality plays a big part (y'know introverted non-charismatics, extroverted charismatics - if so I'm something of an exception as an introverted charismatic, along with a lot of others I can think of!) but it's the Bible that drives all good-hearted believers. We all want to be 66-book Christians but we inevitably have favourite points which end up carrying more weight for us.

So take cover and view some stereotypes! 

The non-charismatic might turn most to Romans to draw their Christianity together - this is to stereotype a propositional and doctrinal focus. Doctrine and propositions are things to die for.

But, three types of charismatics might take a different emphasis. Some turn to 1 Cor 12-14 and major on the importance of gifts in the body of the local church. Some turn to Luke-Acts expecting signs and wonders and power for mission with a high value on baptism in the Spirit. Some turn to Matthew-Mark-Luke and look for Jesus-style kingdom ministry with much healing, intimacy and the like.

I'd argue all four belong in evangelicalism but when they try to live together things can be a bit tense, because discipleship, ministry, evangelism might begin to look really different depending where you're coming from. Somehow we need to work it out. We can't just say, do it on my terms (and leave your distinctives at the door) so we need a way to live together, celebrating one another's approaches and learning from them. Taking the best from each other, recognising that we have differences, not sweeping them away or saying they don't matter - developing robust enough fellowship that we can actually disagree and still love one another and work with one another. Understanding those who emphasise some things differently and realising that we can learn from them and work with them is a beginning.


  1. Although not all charismatics are evangelical either. I know plenty of liberal and catholic charismatics.

    And there is quite a difference between different streams, especially between the pentecostal and the charismatic.

  2. True - I guess for the purposes of the unity question I was limiting to just the evangelical ones! The range within charismatic/pentecostal theology is big - and certainly spans liberal/catholic divides.

    It's funny really cos my first church was somewhere on the vineyardy end of the spectrum with pentecostal elements - influenced heavily by Toronto - so a big focus on intimacy with God.... and then I grew to see the more traditional pentecostal "power for mission" side of things, mostly through my early days with UCCF, and then in the last couple of years I've landed within newfrontiers which has some of the above and then very strong "Gifts to grow the church" focus too. I suspect I've really been on the same page as newfrontiers for about the last eight years or so.

    Bonnington makes positive observations about the affinity charismatics feel for one another despite their other differences.

  3. To make it even more complicated, not all evangelicals are evangelical either! ;)

  4. Pete you are quite right. Some of them are Calvinists! ;-)

    Dave, the influence of renewal is remarkably wide with very different understandings of body ministry and how the spirit works. Much like understandings of how Christ is present in the sacraments. Personally (as an Anglican / Reformed Catholic) I tend towards movements which are strongly sacramental and charismatic.

    Which is why I always had a soft spot for Wesley, some Pentecostals and never quite fitted with New Frontiers!

    I do remember a joint adult baptism with two churches, one where the pastor stood up and said 'this is just a symbol', then at the next baptism the other pastor stood up and said 'this is more than just a symbol'.

    With NFI seemingly embracing threefold order (ordination?) of Apostles, Presbyters, Deacons, I wonder where they stand these days on wider sacramental span from baptism to the Lord's Supper.

  5. I'd think it's one of those issues on which you'd find a range of views, as with any movement. Recently heard someone describe something as "That was very Anglican" which could mean just about anything positively or negatively.