Charismatic Movement

Movements  usually  referred  to  as  ‘‘charismatic’’ developed within Protestant and Catholic Christianity from the  mid twentieth  century, and  especially the  1960s. Protestant  versions are sometimes called ‘‘neo-Pentecostalism’’  and the  Catholic  movement  was  initially  styled ‘‘Catholic Pentecostal,’’ highlighting  connections with the broader Pentecostal movement.

Charismatic Christianity is usually considered to include: (1) renewal movements within established denominations; (2) independent charismatic churches and  new denominations; and (3) charismatic parachurch organizations. The number of charismatics has steadily risen worldwide, and in 2000 probably represented some 10 percent of the world’s Christian population. While there is diversity among charismatics, all stress the importance and current availability  of various ‘‘charismata’’  or  ‘‘gifts of the Holy Spirit’’ mentioned in the New Testament, especially glossolalia (‘‘speaking in tongues’’), prophecy,  healing, and  other  ‘‘supernatural’’ gifts. Often this is framed in terms of a definite experience known  as  ‘‘baptism in  the  Holy Spirit,’’ as well as a desire to renew ecclesiastical institutions by recapturing the vibrancy of the early church.

The  charismatic movement is related phenomenologically to the Pentecostal movement of early twentieth century Protestantism. There are, however, important differences. While classical Pentecostalism was typically of the poor and dispossessed, charismatic Christianity began and largely continues within middle class and professional circles. Related to this are its more restrained tone and concern with therapy and self fulfillment; charismatics tend  to be more world affirming and distant from Pentecostal ism’s world denying  ‘‘holiness’’ roots.  Other differences are  theological (charismatics put less stress on  glossolalia as a sign of Spirit baptism) and  ecclesiastical (they  do  not  join classical Pentecostal denominations but remain in  mainline  churches  or  form  independent groups). As the phenomenon has spread worldwide, the  extreme social inequality in  many countries has created a yawning cultural gap between Pentecostals and charismatics. Nevertheless, within Protestant circles the latter have often influenced the former in recent decades.

The origins of the charismatic renewal, traditionally   dated   to   the   1960s,  are   often explained in terms of the developed West: as a reaction to the  bureaucratization of church life and the numerical decline of the churches; as an experiential affirmation of Christian spirituality in the face of secularization and rationalization;  as  a  search  for  community  in  the impersonality of urban late modernity marked by social and geographical mobility. It has thus been characterized as simultaneously anti modern (in its ‘‘fundamentalistic’’ biblical literalism and moral traditionalism), modern (in its grass roots ecumenism in the face of religion’s marginalization), and postmodern (in its hedonistic individualism, buttressing  of  economic goals by ‘‘spiritual’’ reinforcements, and use of metonymy).

But other authors have stressed that charismatic Christianity is a global culture characterized not by unilateral diffusion from the West but  by  parallel  developments  and  complex flows. It is global because experiential and iconic, predominantly urban and heavily involved in high tech media use; its informal networks transcend national and cultural boundaries. It is everywhere recognizable by its expressive worship and its cultivation of the immanence of God and the contemporaneity of the miraculous.  Many  (but  not  all)  of  the   ‘‘waves’’ through which it has gone (driven by the desire for fresh experiences) have also been diffused widely. But  these  waves (together  with  the tendency to  controversial authoritarian forms of church government) have only accentuated the divisiveness of the movement, aided by the inherent instability of its experiential theology. Large swathes of the charismatic world have adopted a dualistic form of ‘‘spiritual warfare’’ doctrine, in which the reality and ubiquity of evil spiritual forces are confronted by prayer.

The public behavior of many charismatics has been influenced by belief in ‘‘territorial spirits,’’ which hold demonic control of geographical  regions  or  sectors  of  social  life.  Also controversial is the ‘‘health and wealth’’ gospel especially popular  in  North  America, much of Africa, and  parts  of Asia (but  less so in Europe).  Teaching  that   Christ’s  atonement includes the removal not just of sin but also of sickness and  poverty,  the  power  of  God  is viewed as a force that can be tapped by ‘‘faith.’’ Of North American provenance, its global diffusion is, however, complex and ‘‘glocalized.’’

The myth of origins of the Protestant charismatic movement locates the beginnings in the US Episcopalian Church in 1960; an Episcopal priest’s experience of ‘‘baptism in the Spirit’’ reached major news magazines. But this version is parochial and  says more about the  ability to  publicize developments than  about  global reality.  Charismatic  movements  had  existed before (e.g., among black Anglicans in South Africa  from   the   1940s;  in   the   Reformed Church in France; among Brazilian Baptists in the  1950s).  While  American  influence  was undoubtedly great (especially through popular books), the global charismatic movement is not an American ‘‘product.’’

In the developed anglophone world, the pat tern of development was, firstly, of attempts to influence the  mainline Protestant  denominations  and  form  ecumenical charismatic net works. By the late 1970s, this was eclipsed by new independent ministries, often influenced by ‘‘Restorationist’’ teaching that the ‘‘new wine’’ of  charismatic experience required  the  ‘‘new wineskins’’ of New Testament patterns of church organization, centered around ‘‘apostolic’’ leader ship and authoritarian ‘‘shepherding’’  relationships. This would herald a final revival before the return of Christ. What were effectively new denominations emerged (such as New Frontiers and Ichthus in the United Kingdom). But as Restorationism aged, it moderated its tone and began to have an enduring cultural impact on other sectors of the church.

Perhaps the greatest impact in the 1980s was from John Wimber’s Vineyard movement. Starting  in  California, it  emphasized ‘‘power evangelism,’’ linking proclamation of the gospel to manifestation of spiritual gifts. This involved ‘‘mapping’’ the  spiritual  terrain  and  ‘‘power encounters’’ with the supernatural. This  self styled ‘‘third wave’’ (after the original Pentecostal  and  charismatic  ‘‘waves’’) had  great impact also on classical Pentecostal and conservative evangelical circles. One result was the ‘‘Marches for Jesus,’’ popular in many countries from the late 1980s, inspired by the idea of  ‘‘territorial spirits’’ as  a  theory  both  of evangelism and of charismatics’ role in society. The  ‘‘discerning’’ of  territorial  spirits  often follows a politically conservative line, but  in some  Brazilian and  African  cases has  been adapted to ‘‘third worldist’’ concerns.

It was also in the 1980s that the ‘‘Word of Faith’’ or  prosperity gospel became popular, especially in the United States, Africa, and parts of Latin America and Asia. Leading global exponents included the American Kenneth Hagin, the Korean Yonggi Cho, the Nigerian Benson Idahosa, and the Argentinian Hector Gimenez.

With   the   growth   of   charismatic  mega churches, an emphasis on small groups known as ‘‘cells’’  developed, as a way both of maintaining cohesion and community and of gaining the supposed advantages of small and socially homogeneous  groups  in  attracting  converts. This trend is often interpreted as a recognition that religion is increasingly deinstitutionalized, and as an absorption of consumerist strategies of predictability and control.

Another major influence of the 1990s was the ‘‘Toronto     Blessing.’’   This     phenomenon involved outbursts  of uncontrollable laughter or  convulsive body  movements  and  animal utterances. Interpreted  as being ‘‘slain in the Spirit,’’ the phenomenon dominated the life of many  charismatic churches  for  several years and was understood as preparation for revival. It  provoked mass pilgrimages to the Toronto church which publicized it globally, but other charismatics rejected it.  In  fact, similar phenomena  had  occurred  elsewhere beforehand (especially in Argentina) but without the capacity to globalize them.

The late 1990s saw the growing popularity of Alpha, an introductory course in Christianity aimed at bridging the ever widening gulf with secular culture. Based on a premise of hidden religiosity in  individualistic forms which the church needs to tap into, it quickly spread to some 75 countries and transcended the charismatic milieu.

By 2000, charismatic Protestantism in  the developed West was often regarded as one of the few sectors of church growth. But much of this  comes from  recycling Christians  rather than conversion of the unchurched. The charismatic movement represents largely a redirection of western Christianity in terms of style, emphases, and organizational forms. In  some parts  of the  world, however, the movement flourishes in  a context of general church growth. A major focus has been West Africa;  since  the  1980s,  large  churches  in Ghana and Nigeria have become a focus for younger, educated urbanites, and their leaders are significant players on the global charismatic stage. In South Africa, white charismatic leaders started influential multiracial (but mainly white led)  churches  in  the  1980s,  matched since the  end  of  apartheid  by  similar black churches influenced by West African models.

In  Brazil, which  has  the  world’s second largest community  of  practicing  Protestants, all the historical Protestant denominations suffered charismatic splits by the 1970s, but recent Protestant  expansion in  the  middle class has been mainly due to new charismatic ‘‘communities.’’ Considerable female leadership is characteristic, as is the integration of pastoral and entrepreneurial   activities.  Rather   than   the ‘‘Toronto Blessing,’’ Brazil has  had  its  own equivalents (such as gold teeth fillings in believers’ mouths).

Some  Latin   American  charismatics  have been  very  influential  worldwide,  especially Argentinian evangelists as well as the Colombian church leader Cesar Castellanos, responsible for the  ‘‘G 12’’ adaptation of the  ‘‘cell’’ method,  a  major charismatic influence since the late 1990s. In Guatemala, two (controversial)   charismatic   Protestants   have   become president.

Charismaticism represents  a  new  stage in the  inculturation  of  Protestantism  in  Latin America. The penetration of the youth culture, the assimilation of musical rhythms, the adoption of secular communication styles, the reinterpretation  of  spiritual  warfare in  terms  of local religious rivalries, the acceptance of social categories and symbols of prestige once placed under taboo – all point to charismatic Christianity in the third world as both a global culture,  with multiple foreign influences, and a creative local adaptation.

The  charismatic movement  has  also been extremely  important  within  Catholicism. Its ‘‘myth of origins’’ talks of an American university location in 1967 (and of a basically university  ambience  for  its  first  years),  and  of Protestant charismatic influence on the originators. It also claims to be a child of the Second Vatican Council. Certainly, without Vatican II the absorption of such a ‘‘Protestant’’ phenomenon would have been unlikely, and the Council  also  prepared  the  way  by  its  liturgical changes and  greater  emphasis  on  the  Bible and lay initiative.

Known  initially  as  ‘‘Catholic Pentecostalism,’’   the    Catholic   Charismatic   Renewal (CCR) had become international by the mid 1970s, with the patronage of Cardinal Suenens of Belgium and the blessing of Pope Paul VI. By 1990 it had become effectively global with the encouragement of Pope John Paul II, who appreciated its politics, its activism for traditional  sexual mores,  and  its  contribution  to parish renewal.

By the year 2000 the CCR had declined in the US but had expanded worldwide, involving (to some degree) about 10 percent of all Catholics. Latin America was the hub, and secondarily the third world in general. The CCR now has a bureaucratic organization. Having started as a  lay movement, it  still  has  considerable lay leadership, but clerical influence has strengthened.  Since  1993, the  central  organ, the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services, has had papal recognition. Below it, the CCR is organized at the continental, country, diocesan, and parochial levels.

Unlike the Protestant movement, the CCR adapts  the  ‘‘baptism in  the  Holy  Spirit’’ to Catholic sacramental theology and emphasizes the  eucharist  and  (increasingly) the  Virgin Mary.  But  there  is  some variety within  the CCR globally (in clerical roles, in the relative emphasis on particular gifts, etc.). In part, this is because the CCR spread not only through missionary priests  but  also through  separate local initiatives which later  became incorporated into the CCR. An example of the latter is  the  controversial  Archbishop  Milingo  of Zambia, whose version was strongly oriented to an African understanding of healing.

One  of the  largest movements within  the CCR is El Shaddai in the Philippines, led by a layman and said to have 7 million members. Another large CCR is Brazil’s. Started in 1969 by American Jesuits and initially very middle class, the movement achieved (somewhat reluctant)  episcopal recognition in  the  1990s as a way  to  combat  Pentecostalism. Since  then, it  has become very visible in the  media and politics (largely in a fairly conservative direction). The hierarchy has warned against exorcism and a ‘‘magical’’ mindset in general, and has demanded  loyalty to  papal teaching and Marian  devotion  (the  clearest distinguishing mark from Protestant charismatics). In the late 1990s, the CCR gained extra visibility through the   ‘‘singing priest’’  Marcelo  Rossi,  whose ‘‘aerobics of the Lord’’ attracted multitudes to his masses.

In the context of growing religious pluralism in Brazil, the CCR extended its reach amongst the lower classes and by 2000 involved some 8 million people, although it remained disproportionately    strong    amongst    middle class women, many of whom found  an  outlet  for leadership. The  CCR  has embraced bureaucratic organization and  advanced technology. It  consolidates a  ‘‘Catholicism of choice’’ in the new competitive religious field, rather than a ‘‘Catholicism of birth.’’ In addition, it is often interpreted in Brazil as a strategy to limit the influence  of  liberation  theology.  However, other studies point to the internal diversity of the  movement and  the  anti institutional and oppositional potential in its direct contact with the  sacred  and  its  legitimation of  lay  (and female) leadership.

With  regard  to  the  future  of  charismatic Christianity  (Protestant  and  Catholic),  some authors see it as condemned to incessant splintering and on the verge of becoming a spent force. Neither in its size nor in its nature does it contain anything that might significantly challenge trends to secularization. Notwithstanding its  supernaturalism,  it  fits  in  well with  the secular world  of  late  capitalism and  merely rearranges the percentages within a declining Christian world. Other authors see it as one of the forms of religion likely to do best in the twenty first century,  with its combination of subjectivism  and   community  discipline.  In between, while avoiding the (oft repeated) predictions  of  decline  (especially when  viewed from a global perspective), one can also recognize its sociological limitations (e.g., to reverse secularization  in   the   West,  or   to   prevent the  erosion  of  Catholic  allegiance in  Latin America).


  1. Anderson, (2002) An Introduction to Pentecostal ism. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, ch.8.
  2. Burgess, & van der Maas, E. (Eds.) (2002) The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. Zondervan, Grand Rapids.
  3. Coleman, (2000) The Globalization of Charismatic Christianity. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  4. Csordas, (2002) Language, Charisma and Creativity: Ritual Life in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. Palgrave Macmillan, New York.
  5. Hunt, , Hamilton, M., & Walter, T. (Eds.) (1997) Charismatic Christianity: Sociological Perspectives. Macmillan, Basingstoke.
  6. Poewe, (Ed.) (1994) Charismatic Christianity as a Global Culture. University of South Carolina Press, Columbia.

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