Recently, I wrote about how some churches and denominations are finding a basis for cooperation due to a shared affinity for what I call a “soft charismatic” ethos. For some Baptists in the builder and boomer generations, there is an instinctive aversion to anything charismatic. Many, I suspect, have painful memories of charismatic-tinged Baptist church splits which swept across the United States in the 1970s after the Jesus People movement. In these wars, Baptists were characterized as “closed off to the Spirit” and rigid; charismatics were accused of being “extrabiblical” and flaky. In such a set-up, never the twain shall meet.
But now, we have generations of churchgoers with no frame of reference for the old feud, and many hunger for a more united witness of the church to the wider culture. In this climate, there are emerging networks of cooperation based not primarily on doctrine (though an Apostles-Creed-level of congruence is assumed), but on the shared ethos of openness to the work of the Holy Spirit as the basis for sharing in ministry. It seems that many charismatic folk have toned down some of the stranger stuff, that many Baptists have loosened up a little, and that they are finding ways to work together as a result. As churches become more marginalized in the culture, I believe we will see more of these alliances.
I have a friend who calls this, “charismatic with a seatbelt.” If Baptist folk were to look for prospective new charismatic partners, how would they discern compatibility? What would be the marks of unhealthy or healthy charismatic practice and ethos? I’ll suggest a few:
- Free expression. One of the great gifts of the charismatic stream of Christianity is its whole-body engagement with worship and prayer. One or two of the Baptists I know could do with a dose of that. Quiet reverence is not the only posture for worship; so is joyful and exuberant celebration. And one of the great byproducts of this is that more expressive worship is generally more amenable to cross-cultural inclusion and diversity.
- Emphasis on healing and prophecy. Of course, it can be weird. And staged. But you’d be hard-pressed to argue on biblical grounds that an emphasis on healing and prophecy is not aligned to the ministry of Jesus. Anointing with oil and laying on of hands is definitely an upgrade to the Wednesday night “prayer meeting” recitation of Aunt Jane’s medical ailments.
- Extrabiblical stuff. If your charismatic friends start talking about gold dust appearing on peoples’ arms or folk having laughing or barking fits, I’m guessing I’ll say “thanks but no thanks.” Just because it’s bizarre doesn’t make it divine.
- Insider knowledge. Any two-level stuff whereby only people “baptized in the Spirit” (sometimes this is code for “speaks in tongues”) know certain things — no. This sort of Gnosticism or insider-knowledge can be erratic or even dangerous.
Generally, I’m encouraged and hopeful. The luxury of writing off large swaths of Christian churches or denominations based on minor doctrinal disagreements disappeared once we entered post-Christendom full on. Now, as a minority voice in culture, we are looking for friends wherever we can find them. The “Cooperative Program” of the future will mean more than different types of Baptists working together!