The Charismatic Movement is a Christian movement focused on individuals and communities experiencing through the Holy Spirit the presence, power, and love of God. The movement celebrates the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in and among believers, and its affirmation of spiritual gifts appeals to participants in many Christian communions. The Charismatic Movement finds expression in denominationally sponsored institutions in white and African-American groups as well as in independent congregations and voluntary associations.
Although it has affinities with Pentecostalism, the Charismatic Movement emerged at midcentury among people whose affiliations and education stood in marked contrast to those of most Pentecostals. Early Pentecostals had spoken often of Protestant unity, insisting that their teaching represented nothing more than New Testament experience in the twentieth century. As purveyors of "old-time religion," they hoped to forge unity on a basis of restoration. Instead, mainline denominations dismissed Pentecostalism, challenging both theology and practice. Early Pentecostals regarded Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians as objects of evangelization. Speaking in tongues and other spiritual gifts, they insisted, belonged only to those who had first been "born again." Despite their rhetoric of unity, Pentecostals had little contact with non-Pentecostal churches. (They called the latter "dead denominational churches.") Sixty years later, those who had once spurned tongues speakers found their denominations wrestling with forms of piety that resembled Pentecostal practices.
The Charismatic Movement had diffuse sources. With hindsight, it becomes evident that the groundwork was laid by specific events of the 1950s. In 1951, the Full Gospel Businessmen's Fellowship International (FGBMFI) organized in Los Angeles as an association of Pentecostal businessmen. Chapters opened across the country, and a monthly magazine, the Full Gospel Business Men's Voice, began publication in 1953. FGBMFI chapters hosted meetings for business professionals, featuring testimonies of members who had been baptized in the Holy Spirit. During the same years, David du Plessis, a South African immigrant who held Assemblies of God ministerial credentials, gained the friendship of leaders in the newly formed National Council of the Churches of Christ and the World Council of Churches. He discovered widespread curiosity about Pentecostals and attended ecumenical gatherings as an observer, making the acquaintance of many who would participate in the next decade in the Charismatic Movement. In Southern California in 1959, speaking in tongues occurred among a handful of Episcopalians. The most influential person to be drawn into this circle was Dennis Bennett, the successful rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Van Nuys. Services at St. Mark's remained traditional, but religious enthusiasm ran high at charismatic prayer meetings. Amid rumors and dissension, Bennett resigned in the spring of 1960 and accepted a call to St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Seattle, a small mission church. A decade later, the church was thriving and Bennett had become the symbol of a large charismatic presence in his denomination. He noticed that charismatic experience tended to strengthen participants' commitment to their church and its endeavors. Whereas many early Pentecostals had been "come outers," midcentury tongues speakers were encouraged by mentors like David du Plessis on the outside and others within their denominations to remain in their churches.
Time and Newsweek stories about Bennett helped surface others in non-Pentecostal denominations who shared his experience. Within three years, the quarterly Trinity (the organ of the first charismatic renewal fellowship, the Blessed Trinity Society) reported that about 200 Episcopalians in greater Los Angeles spoke in tongues; several nearby American Lutheran Church congregations as well as the Bel Air Presbyterian and Hollywood First Presbyterian Church had tongues-speaking members. Through the 1960s, the Charismatic Movement grew in most mainline Protestant denominations. Participants believed they had rediscovered the Holy Spirit, and their manifestations of this rediscovery forced some denominations to issue statements about belief and practice with regard to the Holy Spirit. Denominations established renewal service agencies, and many charismatics stayed in their denominations. An important book that gave the movement visibility and impetus appeared in 1965: John and Elizabeth Sherill's They Speak With Other Tongues.
In 1967, the Charismatic Movement (or "Renewal," as participants preferred to call it) broke out in Roman Catholicism. A result of the interest of several Catholic laymen faculty members at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, this renewal had ties to Pentecostalism through a book by David Wilkerson, a Pentecostal pastor who established a ministry to drug addicts and gang members in Brooklyn. Wilkerson's book, The Cross and the Switchblade, recounted his adventures but also explained the Pentecostal experience of Spirit baptism that Wilkerson believed stood at the core of his work. The group also read the Sherills' book, and in January 1967, several members spoke in tongues. News spread quickly to the University of Notre Dame. In the summer of 1967, renewal came into focus during the regular Notre Dame summer school, and participants carried word to their campuses. Within a few months, charismatic prayer groups were scattered on Catholic university campuses as well as within Catholic groups at secular schools. A vigorous community at the University of Michigan issued a monthly known as The New Covenant, and soon a publishing house, Servant Publications, emerged in South Bend, Indiana. For the next decade, Notre Dame hosted ever-larger renewal conferences each summer. From fewer than 150 participants in 1968, the conferences grew to include some 45,000 by 1977. By then, fully half of the attendees came from other communions.
Charismatics (sometimes called Neo-Pentecostals) shared the conviction that Pentecostal experience belonged to all of them and that institutional unity was not a prerequisite for the exercising of spiritual gifts. By the 1970s, Pentecostal denominations were being forced to evaluate the renewal. International in scope, it differed from Pentecostalism in important ways. For Pentecostals, perhaps the two most important were theological and cultural. While some Charismatics emphasized speaking in tongues as the evidence of a baptism in the Holy Spirit, others did not. Charismatics expected to speak in tongues but celebrated other spiritual gifts as well and seemed less concerned about evidence than about experience. They also often neglected the rest of the Pentecostal theological package. They remained in churches Pentecostals considered coldly formal and theologically unorthodox. Yet they exercised spiritual gifts more readily than did second- and third-generation Pentecostals. Their theology was only part of the problem. Pentecostals looked on in dismay when Charismatics smoked, drank, danced, attended theaters, and engaged in other "worldly" pursuits. Pentecostal denominations reacted with caution, although some of their members and prominent pastors readily embraced the renewal.
The Charismatic Movement spawned countless new ministries, associations, and teachings. Some were short-lived. Others have endured. Those who became restless when denominational renewal agencies did not meet their expectations sometimes left historic denominations. They often found Pentecostals, whose impatience with their denominations' conservatism had prompted them to establish independent congregations and missions agencies. The growth of independent charismatic efforts is a phenomenon that is only beginning to be studied. The monthly magazine Charisma chronicles the events and teachings that sustain this movement.
In the 1990s, the focus shifted from baptism (or filling) with the Holy Spirit to other exercises that are understood to manifest the Holy Spirit's presence. Contemporary gatherings, stimulated by highly visible revivals in Toronto and Pensacola, may feature being "slain in the Spirit," dance, raucous laughter, prophecy and, as in 1999, mysterious appearances of gold dust. Charismatic Christians have embraced America's therapeutic culture. Their language and practice of spiritual warfare have influence far beyond their immediate circles. Their simple worship choruses have fueled fundamental changes in Christian church music.
Pentecostals have been deeply influenced by the Charismatic Movement. Distinctions among the constituencies have blurred considerably. Newer groups like the Vineyard Christian Fellowship and Calvary Chapel as well as networks of independent congregations focus some of the energies of this constituency. Television evangelists and teachers help sustain it, as do thriving nonaccredited Bible institutes scattered across the country. Boundaries seem less important than ever, as constituencies use one another's curricula and music, buy study tapes, or attend conventions featuring the year's most popular speakers. Charismatics sponsor prayer walks and Jesus Marches, but they blend easily with evangelicals at Promise Keepers rallies. The Charismatic Movement has made its mark on the forms and message of American Christianity.
See alsoBaptism in the Holy Spirit; Born Again Christians; Brownsville Revival; Calvary Chapel; Catholic Charismatic Renewal; Glossolalia; Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity; Promise Keepers; Televangelism; Toronto Blessing; Vineyard Christian Fellowship.
Blumhofer, Edith, Russell Spittler, and Grant Wacker, eds. PentecostalCurrentsinAmericanProtestantism. 1999.
Quebedeaux, Richard. TheNewCharismaticsII. 1983.
Sherill, John, and Elizabeth Sherill. TheySpeakWithOther Tongues. 1965.
Edith L. Blumhofer
An interdenominational Christian renewal movement that began in the 1960s and has developed an international following, especially among members of the Roman Catholic church. It takes its name from the Greek word charisma, meaning "gifts," and emphasizes manifestations of the gifts of the Holy Spirit as described in First Corinthians, chapter 12, as a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit. The movement began among members of the Full Gospel Businessman's Fellowship, an independent Pentecostal brotherhood, but quickly spread to Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant churches throughout the United States. There was controversy over whether its elements were based on genuine expressions of worship or impassioned outbursts of emotion. For a time, charismatic preachers were labeled as charlatans, and worshippers displaying charismatic expressions were ridiculed and dismissed as ignorant or unbalanced. By the early 1970s it had spread to Europe and gained important support from Belgian Cardinal Suenans.
The movement has been characterized by its acceptance of the importance of speaking in tongues (also known as glossolalia ), divine healing and prophecies as part of the grace of the power of the Holy Spirit; most meetings are for prayer and spirited singing and shouting; anointing the sick with oil is also often part of worship service. It has become a meeting ground between followers of the older Pentecostalism and people who manifest the gifts but are members of older denominations. As the movement matured through the 1980s, a number of new denominations evolved from it.
In time most evangelicals came to accept the charismatic movement and many of its practices. It is no longer unusual to see charismatics of many faiths—Baptists, Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans—as well as non-denominationalists, raising their hands and arms in prayer, and singing, dancing, and shouting in the Spirit.
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Quebedeaux, Richard. The New Charismatics: The Origins, Development and Significance of Neo-Pentecostalism. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1976.
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char·is·mat·ic move·ment • n. a movement within some Christian churches that emphasizes gifts believed to be conferred by the Holy Spirit, such as speaking in tongues and healing of the sick.