To recap, I’ve been presenting a series of posts on charismatic movements, outlining a typology of views, as follows:
- Charismatic more fundamental than institutional (Leonardo Boff).
- Charismatic complementary to institutional (Leonhard Goppelt, Vatican II, Joseph Ratzinger).
- Charismatic enlivens institutional (Howard Snyder, Francis A. Sullivan, and Catholic theologies of “the religious life”).
- Institutional over charismatic (modern Catholicism pre-Vatican II, protestant clericalism).
- Charismatic gifts as justification for separation (Oscar Cullmann).
While this survey shows that there is a significant body of literature on the theology of charisms and charismatic movements (and a wide divergence of viewpoints), I would argue that numerous questions remain which need to be addressed.
Significantly, for the most part, the literature on charisms has not been significantly incorporated into discussions of unity and diversity. Of course, Cullman’s argument attempts to do this, but I would argue that he has disassociated the biblical idea of charisms from its original vocational context and applied it too liberally to all confessions, thereby inappropriately justifying continued separation across the board. Also, it is apparent throughout his argument that his major concerns are with the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and magisterial protestant traditions, but he offers no criteria by which we should distinguish these separations as “legitimate” as compared with more recent protestant schisms. Would he support, for example, the continual splintering of pentecostal and independent charismatic churches on the grounds of protecting their particular charism?
Further, his model suggests that there is a charismatic gift at the root of all church divisions. While I believe there are many confessions or denominations in the Church today that began with such a misapprehension of charisms, this is certainly not the case in every situation. It seems nonsensical to speak of the English reformation, for example, being rooted an unrecognized charism. We might speak of Anglican charisms that developed in the subsequent history of Anglicanism, but if the separation of the Church of England from Rome was not rooted in a charism, we must question the validity of using such post-division gifts as a reason for continued structural separation.
Other uses of the idea of “gifts” as a way of discussing diversity in ecumenical documents have not delved into the biblical theology of charisms, nor asked questions about the appropriateness of applying the term to traditions / denominations / confessions. Though the idea of “complementary gifts” has been a helpful way to build ecumenical bridges, it should not be used to construct a positive vision for ecclesial unity which justifies continued “separation.”
Where the idea of charisms has been incorporated in a more sustained way into a vision of the unity of the Church is in Catholic literature on the religious life, but little work has been done in attempting to apply the insights of this perspective to protestant reform movements. The comparison has sometimes been made, but not explored in much theological depth (See, for example, Outler’s remarks on Methodism as an “order,” in That the World may Believe, 54).
The weakness of some Catholic approaches, especially those which stress the complementarity of charism and institution, is that they are not helpful in interpreting the divisive history of renewal and reform movements in the life of the Church. The question is of paramount importance, particularly for the many evangelical protestant denominations which began as reform, renewal, or missionary movements, with no intention of starting new “churches.” In evangelical circles, partly because of the prevalence of free church ecclesiology, the tendency has been to emphasize the significance of the movements and downplay the importance of historical continuity.
All this is to say that I think significant work needs to be done on the topic of “group” charisms, and how this concept fits into the larger discussion about the limits of legitimate diversity in the Church.