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