How is the charismatic movement doing in regards to some of its most basic aims or signs of the Spirit’s work? Not too good, from where I’m watching.
Let’s take one of the aims : “Spontaneity, openness, freedom and joy in
praise and worship.”
When I first wrote on this one in 1996, I was taking note that many mainline-church charismatic congregations were stiffening. Since then, that process has definitely continued. In many cases, the stiffening has taken them away from charismatic freedom to a rather frozen form of liturgical orderliness that feels like what they were originally objecting to. (This can’t be blamed on the mainline liturgical renewal, a separate thing which is also beginning to show signs of stiffening and has never really been friendly to any charismatic input — to its serious detriment, as I see it. They both in some way attempt to address the same situation in worship — a palpable lack of spirit.) In any event, worship in many formerly charismatic mainline congregations has become, well, lifeless. It took on liturgical forms, which can be good, but then left the Spirit at the door, which is deadly. When returning to liturgy in freedom, the most important thing is that they use each traditional form based on what it means and what it does, and then feel free to modify the traditional form so it can better carry out that form’s core purpose(s).
To be blunt, with the exception of some Anglican circles, mainline-Protestant Charismatics have not only failed to bring freedom and joy into their denominations’ worship, they have for the most part lined up with leaders whose actions have been killing the Spirit in worship for decades — the very ones who created the dead atmosphere that mainline Charismatics used to rail against. Instead of real spontaneity and empowerment of local worship leaders, they’re straitjacketed into watching the ‘experts’ for the next ‘acceptable’ new thing. Those who didn’t line up that way have for the most part headed out the door to independency.
Add to that a sense among Christian leaders that the mainline Charismatic movement’s time has passed, and thus they are free to totally ignore them. The former part is true, unfortunately. The latter part is a continued serious breach of the near-absolute responsibility and duty to listen to, understand, bring to bear, and fully and fairly account for, all the parts of their church, whether in vogue or out of vogue. (But that’s for a different rant….)
The independent churches and church networks have a different problem. They are not aware of their own set patterns of worship – they don’t think they have any. Thus they don’t know when they’re just vamping for time, or when they are not maturing from an earlier set of experiences. Many of the newer worship leaders are keenly aware of charismatic worship’s obsession with “me” and “I”, and are working hard on ways to keep that sense of “my” intimacy with God and yet also be into “You” and “us” and “together”. They’re a promising development. Yet when the newest hit worship song makes the rounds, it’s still usually an “I me mine” song, or is prone to misstate God’s promises as if done by push-button. HELLO — God is not focused on just you!! Worship leaders also have to be careful that certain false teachings about prosperity or about the end-times do not start worming their way into the worship service. Also, they must be more cautious about talk of receiving divine power — power-talk can breed power-addiction.
So there are still signs of worship life in the independent circles. There may yet be some new positives coming from there. But for the most part, the non-Anglican mainline-Protestant charismatics have lost their first love. It’s sad, but it’s true. And if you’re one of the exceptions, as a mainline-Protestant charismatic and/or a worship leader, you need to think hard and pray harder, in hopes that maybe you can be a part of a new and different thrust within the mainline churches, less stuck on worship rules and more firmly connected to the Holy Spirit as found in Scripture. A thrust that is self-consciously not an extension of the previous movements.