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 of Charismatic Movements, Part 5 continued: Charismatic Enlivens Institutional

Within this perspective we can also include some of the literature on charisms and the religious life in the Roman Catholic tradition (a word of clarification for those who aren’t familiar with Catholic terminology: Catholics refer to the “orders” within Catholicism (Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits) as the “religious life”). Since Vatican II it has become increasingly common for religious to speak about their movements as having a particular charism which is to be preserved and cultivated for the good of the whole Church.  Vatican II didn’t specifically apply the term “charism” to religious life in this way, but Perfectae Caritatis §1 speaks of the various gifts (variis donis) that are evident in the variety of forms of religious life, and also exhorts the religious to preserve the “spirit of founders.” Subsequently, however, both Paul VI and John Paul II used the term specifically in relation to the religious life.  See Evangelica testificatio §11, 12; Mutuae relationes §11, 13; Redemptionis donum §15.

Surprisingly, there has been little in-depth critical theological reflection done on the implications of applying the biblical idea of charisms to religious life. The most extensive treatment can be found in a short book by John Lozano, a Claretian Father and theologian, entitled Foundresses, Founders, and their Religious Orders (1983). Lozano’s discussion of the role of religious life as charismatic reforming movement comports well with the more general framework provided by Snyder and Sullivan, that is, viewing charisms as an enlivening force which renews the institutional life of the Church, like “lava” pushing against the “hard crust” of established institutions.

But when these charisms erupt at the surface, from the interior where the Spirit of Pentecost is burning like lava, they must necessarily push against the hard crust which has been hardening for centuries.  The People of God are not just a charismatic reality (although they are a charismatic reality essentially), but also an institutional entity.  The Church has its firm structures and its ministers, people whom God certainly helps in their care for his people, but people who are likewise conditioned by a certain mentality (61).

However, Lozano specifically gives attention to how such charismatic activity becomes itself institutionalized in religious families, and specifically to the question of how a charism can be said to be “transmitted” via such an institution – a question which has not received sufficient attention. It should be noted, however, that Rahner does deal with this question in The Dynamic Element in the Church (58-62), as discussed in a previous post. Lozano argues that, strictly speaking, a charism cannot be transmitted, but must come directly from God.

The charism, as we have said, always comes directly from the Lord.  It is not given by the Church, by any member of the Church (including founders and foundresses), or by the religious community  The Lord, by means of his Spirit, gives it to each individual… (76)

In a broader sense, however, the charism is transmitted by the particular religious institute in that the community becomes a context where that particular charism is cultivated, deepened, and actualized by the stable structures (i.e., the rule, constitutions, spiritual theology and practices) of the institute.

The gift received by the father or mother, and directly from God by their followers, is collectively cultivated, proposed in spiritual doctrine to new generations, deepened and actualized.  Its principle elements, the aim of the Institute or the “primordial concern” of the community, are described in the Constitutions, the form of life and spiritual environment are also described in them, as a point of consideration and source of light and nourishment for successive generations.  In this less proper sense, the charism is transmitted (76).

Religious join a particular institute, then, “because we realize that our vocation essentially coincides with that of its members and with the aims which this institution pursues” (75).

The picture that emerges from this perspective, then, is that of a vocational diversity in the church, evidenced in the various movements of reform and renewal which have at their root a particular charism.  The fruitfulness, functionality, and vitality of the movements depends on their continual interpretation and actualization of that charism in their own institutional structures.

This in fact became the basis for a program of renewal of the religious life after Vatican II. Perfectae Caritatis §2b speaks of this in terms of “loyal recognition” and “safekeeping” of “the spirit of the founders,” which give the various communities “their own special character and purpose.” Elizabeth McDonough summarizes the relevant papal documents relating to this renewal, and drawing upon them, identifies a set of presuppositions which underlie this perspective. If religious communities are in fact based upon a particular charism given to the Church, then existing communities must ask themselves a) if they indeed have a charism; b) if they know what their charism is; and c) if they are prepared to strive to live accordingly.  If their answer to any of those questions is in the negative, the religious community will not survive. (McDonough, “Charisms and Religious Life,” in The Church and the Consecrated Life, 135).

How much of this thinking could be transferred to protestant reform movements?  Can we speak, for example, of  a Methodist charism, or a Salvation Army charism, or a Christian and Missionary Alliance charism?  I think, historically speaking, we can easily make the case that these movements all started out in a way similar to a Catholic order: they were not trying to be “churches,” but instead trying to live out a very specific vocation within the Church.   They brought their particular charism to the Church, and the reaction was, as Lozano describes it, somewhat volcanic.  But do these groups remain focused on their founding charism today?  Is this still a helpful way to understand their place in the universal Church?  To what extent can an independent protestant movement sustain a focus on a particular charism, once it starts to take on “churchly” functions (one or two generations down the road)?

Typology of Views on Charismatic Movements, Part 3: Charismatic in Legitimate Tension with Institutional

Karl Rahner provides a perspective on the place of charismatic movements which recognizes the tension that exists between the charismatic and institutional aspects of the church, without prioritizing the charismatic as more fundamental. In The Dynamic Element in the Church Rahner attempts to overcome the opposition between “charism” and “office” by reframing the question in terms of “the charisma of office” and “non-institutional charismata” (42-58).  The charisma of office must be affirmed, Rahner argues, if the Church is to be conceived as the one abiding historical entity which was has its foundation in the apostles, and continues to be “always the locus and visible manifestation of grace” by virtue of God’s promise (43). The church must be conceived of as charismatic, otherwise the Catholic affirmation of the Church’s visible continuity would be based on the juridical power of the institutions themselves.

“…because the grace of God is not only offered to mankind as a possibility, but is promised to the Church as a victorious grace more powerful than sin, it is certain from the outset from God’s side and from him alone, that ecclesiastical office in what most properly belongs to it, in its essence, will not, though it could, be used as a weapon against God.  To that extent, therefore, ecclesiastical office and ministry is charismatic in character, if we understand by charismatic, what is in contradistinction to what is purely institutional, administered by men, subject to calculation, expressible in laws and rules” (43-44).

For example, Papal infallibility must imply that, “in order to be what it is,” the papacy “passes into the charismatic sphere” (45).

However, in order to distinguish itself from totalitarianism, the Catholic church must affirm that the hierarchy is not the only vehicle through which the Spirit works, but that “there are charismata, that is, the impulsion and guidance of God’s Spirit for the Church, in addition to and outside her official ministry” (49).  Rahner posits that “a legitimate opposition of forces” arises as an unavoidable result of the “multiplicity of impulsions in the Church” (73). That is, these forces are felt and experienced by human beings on earth as disparate and opposed to one another, “precisely because they are unified by God alone.” (74)  This means that there will be conflict and tension in the Church, with both sides needing to be “protected” from the other:

“Now it is no doubt a rule, a normative principle and a law for the spiritual gifts themselves, that they should operate in an “orderly” way, that they are not permitted to depart from the order prescribed by authority…Yet this formal rule alone would not of itself guarantee the actual existence of harmony.  For although official authority might be sufficiently protected by the rule from merely apparent spiritual gifts, the charismata also need to be protected from the authorities” (52)

What is required for visible unity in the present Church is “the love which allows another to be different, even when it does not understand him” (74).

Rahner connects his perspective to the question of reform movements by speaking of “the possibility of institutional regulation of a gift of the Spirit” (58). Movements such as the Franciscans are examples of the “institutionally organized transmission and canalization” of the gift of their founder.

“Not only Francis but the Franciscans too are charismatics if they really live in a spirit of joyous poverty.  What would Francis mean to the Church if he not found disciples throughout the centuries?  He would not be the man of charismatic gifts in the sense we have in mind here, but a religious individual, an unfortunate crank, and the world, the Church and history would have dropped him and proceeded with their business” (59).

In this way the charismatic element in the church is passed on through institutional means, which are courageously received and approved by the Church, as the charismatic movement in question submits to her authority and law. This aspect of “regulation” of the Spirit is, for Rahner, an essential part of the reform movement’s vocation, in which the charismatic element of the Church shows that it truly belongs to the Church and its ministry. Speaking of submission to the Church’s regulation, Rahner writes, “It is precisely here that it is clear that the charismatic element belongs to the Church and to her very ministry as such” (59).

Rahner’s subtle argument has much to commend it from the perspective of the Church’s history, providing a way of affirming the essential place of both established structures and unpredictable movements of the Spirit that arise from outside the usual official ministries.   In particular, it is interesting to see how a Catholic thinker reflects on the role of a founder, and how the charismatic gift given to a founder can be institutionally preserved by the Church.  It is precisely this idea that I think needs to be looked at ecumenically, with particular reference to protestant charismatic movements.   How should such institutional regulation take place?  Could some protestant divisions have been avoided, if the establised church(es) had found a way to incorporate the movements in question (i.e., Methodism, The Salvation Army, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, Classical Pentecostalism), affirming their place and giving them a measure of autonomy while also maintaining structural ties?

I’ll come back to this in discussing the fifth perspective in my typology, “Charismatic enlivens institutional” – a view which is very similar to Rahner’s perspective, but goes further in specifically discussing the role of charismatic movements in bringing life and renewal to the Church as a whole.

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.