The Rev Alan Small wrote as the senior minister at Rangeville Uniting Church in Toowoomba, Queensland
Distinctives between the charismatic movement
and the current ‘Blessing’
For those of us involved in what became to be known as the Charismatic Movement, it’s particular emphasis seemed to be a move of the Holy Spirit to bring renewal to mainline churches. The infilling of the Holy Spirit, and the gifts which resulted were nothing new to those in Pentecostal churches, but they were a bit askance to see God pour this same blessing out upon people they had always considered spiritually dead. We in those mainline churches were then amazed to see the same outpouring on the Holy Spirit taking place among people some of us did not even consider saved, the Roman Catholics.
Radical change of thinking
It was a radical change of thinking, and left many of us incredulous, floundering to rethink our theology, in the light of what we could see happening. The gifts of the Holy Spirit, a renewed love for God, and a desire to serve Him with a passion and total commitment were just some of the fruit which began to emerge.
But, in my memory, perhaps the most outstanding distinctive of the Charismatic Movement, which began in the 1970s was the love they had for each other. Denominational barriers melted away, and people who had experienced the touch of the Holy Spirit in their lives, began to enjoy coming together to praise and worship God.
There was a great emphasis on praise, and a change in the way that praise was expressed. It became more vocal, loud, earthy, and joyous. The traditional hymns, accompanied by the organ were replaced with simple songs of love, sung to guitar music. The words of Scripture became a prime source for these songs, many of them sung TO God, rather than simply about Him. There was also the freedom given to use the gift of tongues, and to sing in the Spirit, during the times of worship.
Naturally, not all within the mainline churches felt comfortable with this. So charismatic groups often met together outside of their regular church times. For some this was enough, and they happily returned to their own denomination on a Sunday while still meeting in interdenominational groups through the week. For others this was not possible, and it was a time of church splits, and new denominations being formed.
During this time there seemed to be an influx of teaching tapes available. The cassette recorder had just appeared on the scene, and this made it possible for those of us in outlying areas to hear the words of some of the great preachers then coming on the scene. David Pawson, David Watson, Bob Mumford, Ern Baxter and Derek Prince were just some of those who fed the hunger we all felt for learning about God.
Also, the availability of paperback books, opened up a new area of learning, and biographical books began to flood the market. Christian book shops opened up in many places, or for those already in existence, the ‘heretic section’ began to be filled with books on the stories of what God was doing all over the world in peoples’ lives. These books were very inspirational and some have since become Christian classics. “The Cross and the Switchblade”, “The Hiding Place”, and “Prison to Praise” were among these.
With the passage of time, some of the groups which had met for charismatic worship grew large enough to become self supporting. The need then to worship with others from different denominations was no longer there. They had reached a point where they did not need to come aside to meet with Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Uniting or whatever. They were now strong enough to set up their own renewal services within their own denomination, alongside the traditional service. My personal opinion is that something wonderful – the emphasis on reconciliation and unity despite our different viewpoints, was lost.
The renewal movement however, kept going under such influences as the Wimber decade. Renewal spread rapidly through the evangelical church. This present blessing, unfortunately labelled ‘Toronto Blessing’, erupted just as suddenly as the charismatic movement, and has caused the same consternation, and Bible searching for a theological base.
From my perception, its distinctive emphasis seems to be more on receiving from God, in the form of an awareness of His love – rather than on doing for God. More of a ‘Mary’ response to God, rather than the ‘Martha’ one in which so many of us have been caught.
Within this blessing there is a desire to just spend time, soaking in the presence of God, and within that soaking, allowing Him to do any repair work on us that is necessary. In other words, ‘His agenda, not mine’.
For me this is quite new, as in the past we have always come to God with our list of requests. Now, we are more aware of allowing Him to show us exactly what is in need of His touch. This has produced some amazing examples of inner healing and restoration. Testimonies abound of people being set free from lifetime struggles, as they “soak in His anointing”. The bottom line seems to be an awareness for each individual of just how precious they are to God.
There is also an evangelical element to this blessing. We have seen unsaved people come to a service where this blessing is flowing. They have been touched by the anointing. They have experienced God’s love and grace as they ‘soaked’ in His presence. Then they have been open to receive teaching on repentance and the need to make a personal commitment to Jesus.
The physical manifestations of this present blessing at first appear very odd, to say the least. Personally, this caused consternation and alarm, and caused me to again search the Scriptures, and to reread of the revival times in church history to see if there were any similarities. There were.
But, just as the beginning of the charismatic movement had shaken our comfortableness and preconceived ideas and set patterns of acceptable Christian behaviour, so this move has caused many of us to seek God. We were caught between not wanting to get carried away with deception and yet not wanting to miss out on anything God was doing.
For me a very strong proof of the pudding has been the change I have witnessed in my own life, and in the lives of those involved. Renewed love for God, commitment to him and an effectiveness in Christian living have manifested.
I have spent many years in Christian counselling and God has blessed that ministry, but it has been time consuming and slow. Now I am seeing similar results, but at a much faster rate, and to many people at the same time, as they simply ‘soak in his anointing’ (with varying degrees of outward physical manifestation).
Even though we are seeing some being saved I believe this is not revival. It is a time of refreshing. It is preparation for something more which is to come. In some ways this is a gentle rebuke to the Christians in the western world who have become so analytical in their Christianity. Our whole world view is so wrapped up in thoughts, concepts and ideas. It is as if God is now saying: ‘It is time for you to experience my love’. To many, this is threatening – concepts seem safer.
This could be a dangerous and foolhardy thing God is doing as there is great potential for misuse and abuse. But I seem to remember thinking the same thing 25 years ago when God began to pour out His Spirit on Roman Catholics.
However I am disturbed by the critical articles which link this move to the ministry of Rodney Howard-Browne, Benny Hinn and others and call the lot the Toronto Blessing. (The Airport Christian Fellowship at Toronto do not like the name and are not seeking the notoriety it brings). What is coming out of Toronto is distinctly different from the ‘super star’ oriented ministry we are seeing from other parts of the world.
The blessing which began in, and has flowed from the Vineyard Airport Church in Toronto, is a church based movement, involving teams of people drawn from many churches in the city of Toronto. The hundreds of people who make up these prayer teams are all involved in personal one-to-one prayer for those who are seeking. There is no emphasis on one particular person as the one who has all the answers, power, or anointing.
One obvious difference between this present move of God and the Charismatic move is the physical manifestations. They can appear very odd! It is often difficult to assess the manifestation by just watching what is going on. Our assumptions of what is decent and in order are often proved to be premature. Later discussion with the one involved in the manifestation will often reveal that they were experiencing a unique and specific touch from God.
In others the manifestation was of demonic origin, or from their own desire to be a part of what was going on. Wisdom is called for. Also we need to not jump in and judge too quickly. It is important to watch for the fruit.
I have also noticed there seems to be a progression in the physical manifestations. Some people seem to go through stages of pain, weeping, shaking, roaring, to joy, peace, laughter. It seems that healing is taking place at a deep level and it is of benefit not to give up too soon by rejecting what is taking place.
In answering this request to write my thoughts I am not seeking for a debate. While many people may disagree with my perceptions, as is their right, we must be careful we do not become like the philosophers on Mars Hill, endlessly discussing concepts and ideas rather than experiencing what God is doing. Let us encourage one another to remain open to whatever He has for us, both to receive and to do.
(c) Living Water, November 1995, the Journal of the Queensland Uniting Church Synod Committee for Renewal ministries. Used with permission.
© Renewal Journal 7: Blessing, 1996, 2nd edition 2011
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