The Way We Were

by Francis MacNutt
Nov/Dec 2006

Some of you will joyfully remember the 1970s when the charismatic renewal first burst upon the scene. In St. Louis, where I then lived, we started a prayer meeting that drew about 300 people; and they came on Saturday night, of all unlikely times.  Every week, with great rejoicing, several people were baptized in the Spirit, and then they came back to give their fresh testimonies the next Saturday. Those were exciting times!

Great hope grew within us that the entire church would come to join in and accept what was happening. Of course we received criticism but, by and large, people were open or at least curious. One criticism was that what happened was all emotion, but we saw deep transformations as God had worked in our friends’ lives.  One friend shared with me how three major problem areas in his life were changed overnight after he was baptized in the Spirit. For years he had been trying to change, but he repeatedly failed until he was baptized in the Spirit. We saw such deep transformations happen over and over.

But now, after nearly forty years, what has happened?

Some of the lasting fruits are still there and many of the lay leaders in our churches got their start in the renewal. The greatest positive change is that, for the most part, the church has given its approval to charismatic renewal. The leaders no longer harbor the suspicion that we encountered forty years ago and in many churches we find small teams praying for healing after communion. Today we find much more acceptance.

Nevertheless, the renewal in some ways has stalled. That prayer group of 300 that I mentioned earlier has dwindled. In 1980, there were reportedly 110 prayer groups in St. Louis; now there are only a struggling few. What has happened?

A Call to the Future

First, I think we should celebrate the fact that charismatic renewal now meets with acceptance instead of skepticism. But what hasn’t yet happened is for the church to see that

the Baptism in the Spirit, and
the Charisms (such as healing)

are not meant merely to be accepted (“for those who like that kind of spirituality”), but should be seen as essential for the vitality and growth of the church.

If only the church would recognize that these two crucial elements (baptism in the Spirit and the charisms) are absolutely essential to living a full Christian life, then we could move from the “church basement,” as it were, to the sanctuary upstairs.

Even more than that, these key activities need to become part of the Sunday services. Otherwise, the baptism in the Spirit and the charisms will always be seen as an extra, as optional, and removed from the sight of the ordinary churchgoers. The only glimpse they will have of the spiritual gifts will be the sight of Benny Hinn as they scan programs on TV.

How can we provide for all this to actually happen? How can we arrange for all Christians to have the opportunity to be baptized in the Spirit and to have access to healing prayer? I’m not sure exactly how this can be done, yet, I think it has to happen, or many good churches will dwindle and perhaps die.

If this doesn’t happen, many good Christians who are seeking for more life will find what seems to be more life in the New Age movement. Or, far better, they will search among the multitude of evangelical–charismatic churches that are springing up everywhere.

This also means that seminaries need to teach future leaders about the power of the Spirit and how it applies to their own lives: in their sermon preparation and in ministering to the sick. (As a sign of hope, I just heard this past week about a course on healing being given in a Roman Catholic seminary.)

This seeking outside the traditional denominations is already happening on a large scale. The old denominational attachments are loosening rapidly and some of their more dedicated members are joining the growing number of charismatic churches that are springing up everywhere. In fact, a sociologist — Philip Jenkins — has written a fascinating book, The Next Christendom, which describes how Christians in the Third World (Africa, Asia and Latin America) are growing at an extraordinary rate. Ironically, the faith in Europe — which used to be the heart of Christianity — is now growing dim. If you have been to Europe recently, you have seen it yourself. For the most part, only a few of the elderly faithful still go to church on Sunday. They say that the fastest growing religion in Europe, aside from Islam, is now Satanism.

Meanwhile, Christianity is exploding in Africa, Asia and Latin American, and most of those growing churches are evangelical churches that experience the power of the Holy Spirit. In Mozambique, for example, we hear credible reports that there have been 60 resurrections and we have friends who have traveled to that island to check it out for themselves.

At the very least, God seems to be trying to wake us up to what Christianity needs in order to make us into fully alive Christians. No longer can we have the luxury of a drowsy, routine, religious life as usual.

For those of us who believe in baptizing infants (and I do), what do we offer in regular church life for adults to be truly empowered by the baptism in the Spirit? How do adults aspire to receive the charisms listed by St. Paul (1 Cor. 11 and 12)? How do the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation relate to what we have experienced that transformed our lives when we first became involved in charismatic renewal?

Now is the time, not only to study the life of

Jesus but to imitate his life by being anointed with the Holy Spirit and with the power to heal the sick and free the oppressed.

With love, Francis

Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. Nov/Dec 2006 Issue