Charismatics, Catholics, Protestants and the End of “Empire”
In this second post, I briefly reflect on the influence of the Charismatic movement in bridging the Protestant-Catholic ecumenical gap.
As a young, Scripture Union-trained, Evangelical, Protestant preacher and medical student, I occasionally popped in at the local Catholic Church at Mamprobi, Accra which was walking distance from the Medical Students' accomodations. (please do not repeat this confession from the roof tops!) I also sometimes visited the premier Charismatic Churches of our youth, Action Faith Ministry and Central Gospel Church, as well as the older and established Pentecostal Churches in Ghana.
I think many of us who have Scripture Union roots tend to be "catholic", in the sense that “catholic” means "universal", One Church. It is sometimes uplifting to join other churches in fellowship and enjoy the diversity within the faith. The smell of incense, hearing bells and seeing the statue of the crucified Christ at a Good Friday service can feel rather authentic, at least to some believers.
As a young Christian, one Bible passage which was "used" to explain these things and helped me in appreciating the differences and diversity among the different denominations was Joshua 22:10-32. When a section of the tribes of Israel decided to build an altar of witness, an icon, the rest of the people assumed it to be idol worship and decided to go to war against them. This lack of understanding and appreciation of the way other believers understand the faith is therefore not new.
Having said that, I do think it is the Roman Catholic Church which is changing and going back to true Christianity. It has a knack for re-inventing and re-interpreting itself which I am afraid is sometimes lacking or slow in many of the Protestant Churches. So for example the doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope has now been so re-interpreted to mean that what the "body of church teachers - the "Magesterium" teaches as the doctrinal interpretation of God's Word is infallible. That attitude toward the Bible is clearly better than depending on one powerful Charismatic or Evangelical lone ranger preacher, or couple of like-minded rangers, as the authority in interpreting the Word of God. It is certainly far safer, if I may say so, than depending only on your personal understanding of the Scripture. We may rely on the Holy Spirit or claim to have received revelation from Him, but we all know how we can get it wrong sometimes.
I therefore think the Roman Catholic Church or sections of it are re-learning what was learnt by the early Church which is to stick to the Bible. It is also fortunate to have had two evangelical leaning Popes over the last several decades. It makes a big difference to be led by people of true faith. The Church suffers when it’s most gifted people hide their lights under a bushel and allow the quacks to lead it.
I recently read this theological paper titled From Wheaton to Rome: Why Evangelicals become Roman Catholic by one Dr.Scott McKnight which is a very interesting analysis of what is going on. In my personal opinion, one factor in the mix, which this very well researched paper does not mention, is the role of the Charismatic phenomenon in the bridging of the gap between the Churches. One key to Charismatic teaching, I think, is the emphasis on Mystery or Power. Paul at one point referred to the "Mystery of godliness"(1 Tim 3:16). What he meant was that though the set of doctrines he taught may be reduced to a number of propositions and statements; they are powerful or mysterious in themselves.
That sense of mystery must always accompany Christian worship because it creates and holds the community of faith together. It displaces human beings from the podium, it feeds faith and strengthens people. It throws away self confidence but replaces it with an inner certainty and confidence in God called FAITH. Charismatism, by its nature, stresses this sense of the "mystery”. I should mention as a matter of course that, in some of its dubious circles, this mystery is manufactured by fleshly means.
This is what is accounting for the phenomenal growth of Charismatics in Africa, India , Asia etc. That sense of mystery in worship is very much lacking in some old style protestant churches such Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists. Postmodernism and New Age beliefs are popular for the same reason. It is therefore no surprise to see see some American Tele-evangelists setting up icons etc at their studios. The increased interest in allegorical interpretation and things to do with the tabernacle and OT worship are also symptoms of this trend.
It always comes in full circle to the real thing, which is the Gospel; Jesus Christ, crucified for our sins, rose from the dead and who will come again to judge the living and the dead. That the world may know that we are one Body, in Christ alone.
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