Fifty years (and more) of the charismatic movement
By way of summary, he offers the following mirrored commendations and critiques:
- Boon: More focus, both theological and practical, on the person and work of the Holy Spirit; Bust: A lot of bad theology of the Holy Spirit.
- Boon: An outburst in compassion ministry; Bust: Personality cults.
- Boon: An increase in “lay ministry”; Bust: The “Prophetic Movement”, where certain people are always prophesying/projecting “the next big thing”.
- Boon: Worship music; Bust: Worship music.
In South Africa the heyday of the charismatic renewal movement was the 1970s and 1980s. There has been a considerable decline since then. In trying to get information for the history, some of the people I’ve asked have said “it was before my time”, but they think they may be able to put me in touch with someone who remembers it.
Americans tend to put the beginning of the movement in Van Nuys, California in 1960, where an Episcopalian priest, Dennis Bennett, was ‘baptised in the Holy Spirit’. In South Africa we can put the beginning 16 years earlier, in 1944, in Zululand, where an Anglican priest, Philip Mbatha, had a similar experience. Four years later Philip Mbatha and another priest, Alpheus Zulu (who later became Bishop of Zululand) founded the Iviyo loFakazi bakaKristu — the Legion of Christ’s Witnesses. Its aim wasn’t to promote charismatic gifts, but rather Christian proficiency — living a disciplined Christian life of prayer, fasting, sacraments, Bible reading, confession and evangelism. And as people did these things the spiritual gifts (charismata, from which the movement gets its name) appeared among them.
Outside Zululand the movement appeared later, in various denominations, and in many places it was influenced by Dennis Bennett, whose tapes were duplicated and circulated. Though in one Anglican parish, the predominently coloured parish of St Gabriel’s, Wentworth, near Durban, when things started happening they cut themselves off. They wanted to be sure that was was happening was coming from God, and not from America via tapes and books.
One of the factors in its rise and fall was a now-obsolete technological invention, the cassette tape recorder. It’s interesting the part that technology plays in church history. Church historians note that Christianity spread and took root because of when and where it started — Roman roads, the Greek lingua franca, and Hebrew religion met at the right place and time for the spread. And when the expansion of Islam blocked the further expansion of Christianity to the east and the south, the magnetic compass and improved ship-building techniques made it possible for missionaries to by-pass the Islamic lands by sea.
And so cassette tape recorders, which were becoming popular in the late 1960s, played a huge role in the spread of the charismatic movement. The problem, however, and one of the “Busts” listed above, is that the “prophetic movement” and the “personality cuilts” spread in exactly the same way, and after about 1980 this became a disintegrating force. There were hundreds of “ministries” usually bearing the name of the founder (and it wasn’t Jesus, it was names like “Joe Bloggs Ministries”). And they propounded their new teachings, and kept having to come up with new things and new “moves of God”. And people listened to these tapes too, and their contradictory teachings.
One of the ones I’ve discovered fairly recently is that some people in the Catholic charismatic renewal seem to be very interested in Vassula Ryden, who recently visited South Africa and spoke at the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Johannesburg. She claims to have been brought up as an Orthodox Christian, but the Orthodox Church has considerably more reservations about her teachings than the Roman Catholic Church does. Her teachings appear to be more along the lines of the New Age movement than Christian, and she claims that they come from the “Angel Daniel”. As far as I know, the only “Angel Daniel” known to Christian tradition was a fallen angel, mentioned in the Ethiopic Book of Enoch. And that’s just one example of the way in which prophetism and personality cults have led to the decline of the charismatic movement. Perhaps the people of St Gabriel’s, Wentworth, had the right idea.