Healing Line

Healing Line

Why Did the Charismatic Renewal Peak?

by Francis MacNutt
Mar/Apr 2005

How well I remember the glorious evening, back in 1967, when I received the Baptism in the Holy Spirit! At that time I was the only Roman Catholic I knew who had experienced this, I was so excited. For me it was the Treasure Hidden in the Field for which you would sell everything. Then I found many others who had the same experience, and the Charismatic Renewal grew and grew. Like many of you, I have vivid memories of the glorious Kansas City conference (1977) when 45,000 charismatic Christians sang and shouted, celebrating the unity we felt as the divisions that had kept us apart seemed to be melting away in the flames of the Spirit.

In those days we were filled with a hope that Christians everywhere would be transformed by the Spirit in some glorious future — the New Pentecost that good Pope John XXIII had prayed for. Almost all the mainline denominations were touched. Not only Roman Catholics but Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians and Lutherans soon were holding their own annual charismatic conventions, drawing thousands. Although David Wilkerson predicted that church leaders would oppose the Charismatic Renewal and shut us down, that never happened. Not only were we not shut down but, for the most part, we were approved. For example, 10,000 pilgrims journeyed to Rome (1975) and Pope Paul VI gave his approval right there in St. Peter's Basilica. The overjoyed pilgrims were so enthusiastic they even drowned out the choir of the Sistine Chapel with the volume of their singing the eight-fold Alleluia.

Perhaps we were naive, but we optimistically believed that this outpouring of the Spirit was such a manifest blessing that the majority of Christians soon would seek for themselves the same joyful outpouring of the Spirit.

So, how can it be that observers now are saying that the Charismatic Renewal1 has peaked and that we have had our day? They point out that attendance at conferences (at least in the U.S.) has gone way down. In 1974, the annual Notre Dame conference drew about 35,000, but now the Catholic conferences do well to attract 3,000. Furthermore, the same drop in attendance has touched most other denominations.

Some rightly point out that, even though the days of large conferences may be finished, it may be that the people simply have grown deeper and are less attracted by show. All those loyal Christians who experienced the Baptism in the Spirit are now the hardest working and most prayerful workers in their congregations. (One of my best friends is now the official Catholic lay minister to death row in Florida's state prison.) We still find the same fervor as before among the students at Steubenville University. The distinctive worship music, born in charismatic communities and still heard every Sunday in our churches, has had a profound and lasting influence.

Attitudes, too, have radically changed. I remember when, back in the 1960's, praying for healing was greeted with skepticism if not derision. Now healing prayer has become, as it were, respectable. Even the medical profession has opened up in an extraordinary way to healing prayer, and physicians like Dale Mathews, Harold Koenig, Dana King and Larry Dossey have written entire books on the relation between faith and health. Pope John Paul II openly praises the Charismatic Renewal and even asks their leadership to lay hands on him and pray for him in person.

What more could you want? So, what's the problem?

The problem is simply this: we believe that the Baptism in the Spirit, and the charismatic gifts such as healing and prophesy, are necessary for the full life of the individual Christian as well as the community of believers as a whole. The churches seem to have accepted the Baptism of the Spirit and the Gifts as an option.2 The leaders seem to see the empowering of the Spirit as a blessing that some members can seek if they like that kind of spirituality, but they don't propose it as something that all members, especially the leaders, should seek.

We know that Peter and the early members of the Church were not ready to function until the Spirit descended upon them on Pentecost. Before then they were convinced Christians — they knew Jesus personally, they believed in the Resurrection — but they still weren't ready until they had received their personal Pentecost. Only then was the Church fully born. Are we so spiritually superior to Peter and the Apostles that we don't need to prepare ourselves and receive the fullness of God's Holy Spirit?

What is still needed is for the Church to take possibility of Renewal in the Spirit seriously. The sign that we don't really take the need for our empowering by the Spirit seriously is that, by and large, it has not been made a subject for serious study in our seminaries; and not just a subject for study, but a subject for some kind of action. Do our seminaries train the future Church leaders in how to pray for healing and for deliverance?

How can ministers and priests not consider essential the Baptism in the Spirit and the gifts mentioned by Paul in I Corinthians 12? Paul says the gifts are needed in the Christian community to build up the Mystical Body of the Church.

Somehow Baptism in the Spirit is connected with water baptism. If there is no space, no time, no prayer for Baptism in the Spirit in our official services, in our liturgy, we imply that it's not important — at least that it's an option not on the level of the Roman Ritual or the Book of Common Prayer. Neither is it required, or even just suggested, that all ordained priests and ministers also should have prayed to receive the Baptism in the Spirit or have an appreciation of the gift of tongues — or, like St. Paul, boast that they themselves pray in tongues more than any others in the community (I Cor. 15).

Putting it this way sounds unrealistic, like dreaming the impossible dream; but until it happens, the Charismatic Renewal will continue to be regarded as an extra. If it is true that the Renewal has peaked, I believe that is tragic. The main gift God came to give us in this Renewal was not just a belief in the Third Person of the Trinity. That we already had. What we were missing was a personal experience of the power of the Spirit to transform us into a new kind of creation, a renewed humanity (II Cor. 5).

Unless we bring that to the Church, and unless the Church opens up to sense the people's profound need for healing and a real empowering by the Spirit, we have failed.

Somehow we must require a new skin for the new wine, or it all may spill upon the ground.

1Charismatic Renewal, so called, came after the Pentecostal Movement (Azusa Street) when members of the mainline churches (such as the Episcopalian pastor, Dennis Bennett) were baptized in the Spirit.

2In a way they are an option because Christians, like the Apostles before Pentecost, can be true Christian Believers, but they are missing out on a dimension of God's empowering that helps them be transformed and be able to minister more effectively to others.


Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. Mar/Apr 2005 Issue