Typology of Views on Charismatic Movements: Conclusion

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).

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.

Typology of Views on Charismatic Movements, Part 7: Charisms as Justification for Separation

One final perspective on charisms which needs to be discussed here is found in Oscar Cullmann’s 1986 book Unity Through Diversity.  Cullmann’s fundamental thesis in this work is that “every Christian confession has a permanent spiritual gift, a charisma, which is should preserve, nurture, purify, and deepen, and which should not be given up for the sake of homogenization” (Unity Through Diversity, 9).  Cullmann is concerned that the frustration of some with an apparent lack of progress towards unity is based on a “false goal” and a false hope of homogenization, which has no basis in the New Testament (14). The goal of unity should rather be a “union of all Christian churches within which each would preserve its valuable elements, including its structure” (15).

In making this argument, Cullmann claims to be drawing upon Paul’s understanding of the Church, which is “entirely based upon this fundamental truth of the variety of charisms” (18).  Basing his argument on the Pauline texts that deal with the charismatic gifts, he argues that unity can exist through diversity, rather than in spite of diversity.  The function of the Spirit in Pauline community is to create diversity, and yet “this does not cause fragmentation, since every member is oriented to the goal of the unity of the whole body” (17).  While he acknowledges that the Pauline image of the body and its parts was not originally intended to apply to churches, he argues that it is consistent with the meaning of Paul’s charismatic theology, and that Paul does, in other places, ascribe various “gifts” to different churches.

I expected to hear more from Cullmann on this point, but his sole support is a reference Romans 1:11 as an example of Paul ascribing a “particular mission to each of the different churches.” He goes on to argue that Paul views the one church to be present in each local church, a point which he believes underscores the idea of a “union of churches” where all are given equal ecclesial status (17).

Cullmann insists that he is not suggesting that things should simple remain as they are between the churches.  He suggests that relations between the churches should proceed on the basis of attempting to speak frankly to one another about the charism or charisms that we see in each other’s traditions (19).  He also notes that there are often “peculiarities” or “distortions” of the charismatic gifts that need to be weeded out by careful self-examination (16).  For example, Cullmann identifies essential charisms of the Lutheran and Reformed traditions as “concentration on the Bible” and “freedom,” but notes that these are often found in their corresponding distorted form biblicism and anarchy (20).

What clearly sets Cullmann apart in his proposals is that he speaks of a charism as being at the root of “every confession,” and that he argues that separation and autonomy might be necessary in order for these charisms to be safeguarded. The sinful element in these historic divisions is not the fact that churches are separate, but the fact that the separations have been hostile, rather than peaceful.

But in order to preserve certain charisms in their pure form, it was perhaps also necessary hat completely autonomous churches came into being (the Orthodox and the churches that derived from the Reformation). This would not necessarily and as such have led to a hostile separation which would have excluded every kind of fellowship (koinonia), the “right hand of fellowship” could have been extended here too, despite the aspect of continuing separation, as at the apostolic council (cf. Gal. 2:9; Acts 15:1-31) (31).

What Cullmann is arguing for, then, is a unity in continued separation, in which churches would remain autonomous but share in fellowship through a council or other structure of some kind.

The main thing is the achievement of a koinonia that is a true unity through diversity.  However it is developed as a conciliar organization, it should, without itself being the church as the body of Christ, guarantee unity through the fact that it brings to expression and awareness that in each of the individual churches that belong to it, and with its particular charisms, confessional structure, faith and life, the ONE universal church is present (64).

I’ll finish off this series (finally!) with some concluding thoughts on the typology in my next post.

Charismatic Movements in the Church

I’m introducing a new series of blog posts on the topic of “charismatic movements” in the Church.  When I speak of ” charismatic” movements,  I don’t necessarily mean pentecostal movements, but those movements of renewal and reform which rise up spontaneously in the Church, and centre around particularly gifted individuals, who operate outside existing authority structures.  Such movements have existed throughout the history of the Church, and have always had a rocky relationship with the established Church authorities.

I developed this rough timeline as a teaching tool for a course I was TAing earlier this year.  We could debate whether some of these movements are “charismatic,” but I would argue that they were all charismatic in origin, meaning that they sprung up around individuals who were perceived to be specially gifted (the basic meaning of “charism” being “gift”).   The timeline gets really selective when it comes to the modern era, because at that point I had to be selective.  I’m not claiming the timeline is exhaustive at that point, but I hope it is representative.  My main purpose in creating the timeline this way was to contrast “catholic” movements (meaning those who were eventually accepted by Church authorities as legitimate) with “non-catholic.”

I should add also that I’m not addressing the issue of “heresy” here, as some of the movements in question were definitely preaching a message which was outside the boundaries of historic Christian orthodoxy. I think most people would agree that the Bogomils and Cathars were heretical, but assessing the orthodoxy of other individual movements on the list would require more of a discussion than I want to get into.

One of the questions I’m studying for my dissertation concerns how we account for these movements theologically.  How do we know if a charismatic movement is truly of God?  What do these movements represent? A return to the primitive purity of the Church?  A form of fanaticism?  A revitalizing force?

I’ve developed a typology of positions on the question of the place of charismatic movements in the Church, and this typology will form the basis for my series of posts, each of which will discuss one or two representative theologians:

  • Charismatic opposed to institutional. Here the work of Rudolph Söhm and early 20th century scholars such as Adolf von Harnack is important.  The theory of these writers is that the church was originally charismatic, but this was stifled by emerging catholicism (institutionalism in his mind) in the 2nd century.  The emergence of stable authority structures was therefore a failure on the part of early Christianity.
  • Charismatic more fundamental than institutional. I’d summarize Leonardo Boff’s work in Church, Charism, and Power along these lines.  Charism is more fundamental than institution, because it gives rise to the institution and keeps it alive. Therefore the charismatic gifts of the Spirit should be the structuring principle of the church.
  • Charismatic in tension with institutional. Karl Rahner tries to hold the two structures in tension by arguing that there are both institutional and non-institutional charismata. A Legitimate opposition of forces in the life of the Church is inevitable and should be accepted.  Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s “christological constellation” also fits under this category.
  • Charismatic complementary to institutional. More recent ecumenical work has attempted to overcome the duality of charismatic movements and institutional structures by stressing the complementarity of the two.  Joseph Ratzinger also wrote along these lines in his discussion of lay movements in the Church, even going so far as to reject the dichotomy of charism/institution as inappropriate for ecclesiology.
  • Charismatic enlivens institutional. Others stress the role of charismatic movements as enlivening forces for the institutional church.  So Howard Snyder argues that both institutional structures and charismatic movements can be seen as normal and valid in the Church’s history.  I’ll also discuss Catholic theologies of “the religious life” (religious orders, etc.) under this category.
  • Institutional over charismatic. It’s hard to find anyone who actually argues for this theologically, but it is common on a practical level, so I’ll still attempt a post on this perspective.
  • Charismatic gifts as justification for separation. Oscar Cullmann’s book Unity Through Diversity makes the argument that different the “confessions” in the Church have their own unique charisms, which need to be preserved.  Therefore he argues that continued structural separation of the churches is justified, so that these diverse gifts can be preserved.  Many denominationalist theologies proceed on similar assumptions.

While the work I’ll be discussing is scholarly, the issue of finding a place for charismatic movements in the Church has immense practical implications, and I’ll attempt to draw these out.  This has been a perennial issue for the Church, and it remains an important problem today.  Think of the controversy surrounding “emergent” and whether it is a legitimate movement of reform or a heretical offshoot of genuine Christianity.  How are these “new expressions” of church related to the established Churches?

It is also an important question for people of evangelical heritage, because move evangelical denominations began as charismatic reform movements (not as denominations or “churches”).  Does that have implications for our understanding of the Church and the place of “denominations” as they now exist?  I think it does, and I’m hopeful that reflection on the history of charismatic movements, as well as theological reflection on the nature of the Church and where they fit, can provide some direction for our life together as we seek to give faithful witness in the post-Christendom context.