A number of interpretations of charismatic movements centre around the idea of the enlivening effect of charisms on the institutional elements of the Church. Such perspectives view both the established structures of the Church and the continued emergence of new reforming movements as normal and part of the Spirit’s work in the Church.
Along these lines, Howard Snyder attempts to provide what he calls a “mediating perspective” of church renewal, incorporating both the institutional and charismatic aspects of the Church. Noting that institutional and charismatic views of the Church individually have their limitations, Snyder argues for a “a theory of church life and renewal which combines insights from both the institutional and charismatic views,” not seeking a middle ground but attempting to “incorporate the truth of both.” In his view both stable institutional structures and dynamic renewal movements are legitimate and in some sense normal aspects of the Church’s life in history, although the merits and faithfulness of individual movements and institutions could be debated” (Signs of the Spirit, 274-275).
The reform movements spring up within the institutional church, bringing new life and growth, analogous to a new sprout growing out of a stump which appears dead. Snyder then offers what he considers to be the “marks” of this mediating model, which is based upon the idea of authentic reform coming through ecclesiolae in ecclesia – radical and more intimate expressions of the church which exist in the Church, for the good of the whole Church, maintaining some form of institutional ties with the larger body (Signs of the Spirit, 276-280).
Francis Sullivan, a Roman Catholic reflecting on the charismatic renewal movement in Catholicism, offers a similar view of the Church and the place of renewal movements in the Church’s life. Sullivan speaks of the official sacramental ministries and charismatic movements as two “equally important” ways in which the Spirit gives life to the Church.
There are two distinct, but equally important, ways that the Holy Spirit breathes life into the body of Christ: on the one hand, by his covenant relationship with the church, guaranteeing the effectiveness of its sacraments and official ministries, and on the other, by his unpredictable and often surprising charismatic interventions (Charisms and Charismatic Renewal, 47).
The official ministries of the Church exist to safeguard and pass on the tradition, but charismatic movements are given “for the purpose of shaking the church out of the complacency and mediocrity that inevitably creep into any institution” (47). Sullivan is comfortable speaking of the official structures of the Church as institutional, and of ascribing an inevitable stultifying character to those institutions, which puts him closer to someone like Snyder than to Rahner or Ratzinger.
In addition to Catholic religious orders, Sullivan also suggests that many movements that ended up becoming sects or separate church bodies began as charismatic movements within the Church. Their separation indicates a failure to renew the Church, but it need not indicate that the separated movements were not in fact the work of the Spirit, because blame for separation often lies on both sides, and at times has been due to a resistance to reform on the part of the Church.
I certainly do not think that the fact of separation by itself is proof that the movement in question could never have been an authentic work of the Holy Spirit, because there is also the possibility that it was rather the refusal of the Church at that time to admit its need of reform and accept renewal that led to the alienation and eventual separation (49).
Without going into detail, Sullivan suggests that “the history of Western Christianity in the last four hundred years has been profoundly marked by alienations of this kind, whether from the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century, or from various Protestant bodies in the following centuries” (49).
Sullivan also notes that, while for much of this period, Catholics simply denied that the Holy Spirit was at work protestant bodies, Vatican II affirmed that the Spirit works not only in individuals but also through churches and ecclesial bodies outside of Catholicism. On this see Unitatis Redintegratio §§3 and 4.
Moreover, some and even very many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, and visible elements too. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Christ, belong by right to the one Church of Christ (§3).
…Catholics must gladly acknowledge and esteem the truly Christian endowments from our common heritage which are to be found among our separated brethren. It is right and salutary to recognize the riches of Christ and virtuous works in the lives of others who are bearing witness to Christ, sometimes even to the shedding of their blood…Nor should we forget that anything wrought by the grace of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our separated brethren can be a help to our own edification. Whatever is truly Christian is never contrary to what genuinely belongs to the faith; indeed, it can always bring a deeper realization of the mystery of Christ and the Church (§4).
I’ll continue the discussion of this perspective with another post on Catholic literature about charisms and the religious life (religious orders, etc.).