A Brief History of the Sword of the Spirit:
Part 4 – Relations Among Communities and Call to Build a Bulwark

In Part 3 we focused on the development of community life, and largely on the development of the community in Ann Arbor. Now we will focus on the area of relationships among the communities. It was an important, if often halting, development that brought us to the worldwide community of communities that we are part of – the Sword of the Spirit

To treat this properly we need to go back again to the start of the Catholic charismatic renewal. As previously explained, the renewal had begun and spread within a geographically wide network of members of the Cursillo movement in various parts of the United States. In the months following the Duquesne weekend, prayer groups began wherever the network touched. In many of these places, the movement toward community began as well.

In Catholic Pentecostals, published in 1969, Kevin and Dorothy Ranaghan consider the emergence of a community with recognized leaders as a natural result of the development of a charismatic prayer group:

One spontaneous development, wherever prayer groups form, is the reception of the gift of leadership. Communities usually have their senior members, and prayer meetings usually have a leader or chairman…. As a prayer group develops more and more into a stable (though never closed) community, these Christians, united in the baptism in the Holy Spirit, will experience both the joys and the difficulties of community life.[1]

Thus the charismatic renewal exhibited the growth of Christian community envisioned by the Notre Dame Cursillo leaders. By the time the Ann Arbor community became The Word of God in the early 1970s, nascent communities existed in South Bend, East Lansing, and in other parts of the United States. Development in these communities paralleled that of The Word of God in Ann Arbor: the establishment of a stable leadership group, the adoption of a name, and the explicit commitment to a covenant. 

Two communities arose in South Bend, the True House community centered on the Notre Dame campus, and the People of Praise, consisting of people living in the city of South Bend, although many of those also had some connection with the University. The community in East Lansing became the Work of Christ community. The Michigan Days of Renewal, in Williamston, near East Lansing, provided a natural bond between the growing communities in Ann Arbor and East Lansing. Leaders from East Lansing and Ann Arbor cooperated with leaders of the renewal in other parts of Michigan in the formation of communities in Grand Rapids, Saginaw, and Detroit. 

As The Word of God and the People of Praise developed, their example influenced other groups, some of whom worked on forming communities. In many cases, they were unsuccessful, leading some to move to Ann Arbor or South Bend in order to join the communities there. 

1975 Rome conference and international work of building communities

Community building became international in 1975, on the occasion of the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal conference held in Rome. Immediately after the conference Cardinal Suenens, Archbishop of Malines-Brussels, leader of the Catholic Church in Belgium and a man of significant influence at the Second Vatican Council and afterwards, invited Ralph Martin and Steve Clark to move to Brussels and bring the International Communications Office (which had been established in Ann Arbor in 1973) there as well. From that point on at least, the Cardinal acted as a patron of the charismatic renewal in the Catholic Church until his death in 1996. 

A tri-lingual community in Belgium

Ralph Martin and his family (along with several single men and women in his household), Steve Clark with a household of the Servants of the Word, and another family, moved to Brussels in August, 1976. In addition to working with Cardinal Suenens in developing the international charismatic renewal, they began forming a community. Members of People of Praise, as well as members of the People of Hope in northern New Jersey and Alleluia community in Augusta, Georgia, joined those from The Word of God in this work. Members of the new community, a Belgium-wide, tri-lingual community now known as Jerusalem, included both Belgians and members of the extensive expatriate community living in Belgium, mainly international company executives and their families.

The People of God in Lebanon

Shortly before the work in Belgium began, in late 1975, seventeen members of a growing community in Beirut, Lebanon, moved to The Word of God. The group in Beirut had begun when a University of Michigan graduate student from Lebanon, in 1969, encountered the charismatic renewal in Ann Arbor through his friend Paul Melton, a member of The Word of God. Although civil war had erupted in Lebanon, their goal in coming to Ann Arbor was not to escape the war but to learn about community. They remained for seven months and returned home after Easter 1976 with war still raging, convinced that the Lord had called them to form a community in Beirut in spite of the difficulties. They became the People of God community, still flourishing in Lebanon with outreaches throughout the Middle East. 

An ecumenical community in London, UK

In 1978, Cardinal Hume, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster (London, England), sent one of his priests to a conference in Belgium held under the auspices of Cardinal Suenens. There he was baptized in the Holy Spirit and returned to London convinced that there should be a covenant community in London. Through his initiative, an invitation was extended by the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster and the Anglican Bishop of Kensington, to build an ecumenical charismatic community in London. In September of 1979, several members of The Word of God, the People of Praise, and the People of Hope, some of whom had previously served in Belgium, moved to London. This group included members of the Servants of the Word, who set up the household that still exists there. Several long-time leaders in the charismatic renewal in the London area – Tim and Mimi Turner prominent among them – joined them and formed what is now the Antioch Community.

A prophetic call to build a bulwark 

With their shared outreach expanding, The Word of God and the People of Praise drew closer together as communities. In July 1975, the two communities held a joint retreat at Adrian College in Adrian, Michigan. During this conference they heard what has become a very important prophetic word for the Sword of the Spirit.

Listen to me now, listen to me today, while I reveal to you a part of my mind, while I speak to you of things to come. I have brought you together here to be the beginning of something very important in my church. I have brought you together here to join you together and to give you a vision of what is to come. I am raising up other communities all around this world, and I will want them to join together with you and to be together with you in unity. And I will raise up individuals around this world and I will rally them to you and bind them fast to you and make you one. Yes, I will to do that as a source of strength for my church.

I will make you a bulwark to defend against the onslaught of the enemy those who are not prepared, those who are not ready. I will not have them swept away because they are not ready, but I will protect them behind the bulwark that I form out of you. I want you to be ready to join yourselves with others and to stand together with them in battle against the onslaught that is coming and to defend the weak, and to defend those who are confused, and to protect those who are not prepared, until I am able to fulfill my entire plan.

I tell you, you are a part and you are not the whole. You are a part and you are not the whole. There are many other things that I am doing in this world today, there are many other ways that I am at work to raise up my people in strength and in glory. You are a part and not the whole. I want you to take your part seriously and to lay your lives down for it, but I want you to understand that only I see the entire plan, only I see every front of this battle. I will raise you up together with others and bind you together to make you a bulwark, but that is not all there is to be, because when you have stemmed the onslaught of the enemy then I will reveal to you greater things. In the unity you have with one another there is a foreshadowing and a pre-figurement of something much greater, much more vast, much more glorious I will unveil at that time. You are a foreshadowing and a pre-figurement; you are a bulwark that I have set up to stem the onslaught of the enemy; you are a part and not the whole; you are my servants and my people. Lay down your lives now for the things that I have revealed to you. Commit yourselves to them so that in the day of battle you can stand fast and prove victorious with me.

They felt called to develop closer ties, and the leaders of the two communities began to pray and consider how to establish those ties. The Word of God also developed relations with the Work of Christ in East Lansing, the Lamb of God community in Baltimore, Maryland, and with communities developing in Steubenville, Ohio, and in Aguas Buenas, Puerto Rico. 

Association of Communities

The Word of God and the People of Praise sought a way to formalize their relationship. In September 1977, the two communities, after a consultation among all the members, agreed to an “underway” covenant relationship. Thus was formed the Association of Communities, with the Work of Christ; the People of Hope in New Jersey; the Lamb of God in Baltimore; the Alleluia Community in Augusta, Georgia; the Servants of the Lord in Minneapolis; and several other communities joining them, eventually including the communities in Beirut, Brussels, and London as well as the People of God in Managua, Nicaragua; Ligaya ng Panginoon in Manila, Philippines; and the Emmanuel Community in Brisbane, Australia. The communities began to consult together on community life. The People of Praise and The Word of God made formal visitations of one another, and they hosted training institutes and meetings to help form their leaders.

Those responsible for these communities, and especially those from The Word of God and the People of Praise, continued to consult on what the nature of the Association should be. They explored many difficult questions: To what extent should there be a common government over the member communities? How should the communities be related to one another? How much should the communities be like one another? All the leaders shared a vision for Christian community and for the unity of communities in common mission, but they differed widely on how this should be implemented. 

Differing approaches and a parting of ways

After several years of work, it was clear that the leaders of the People of Praise and those of The Word of God had very different approaches. The Association was unable to proceed, and in late 1980, the People of Praise, along with several other communities, including Alleluia Community and the Servants of the Lord, withdrew from the Association. The division proved difficult, especially since it involved dividing their outreach corporation, Charismatic Renewal Services. The portion of the corporation in Ann Arbor, including New Covenant magazine and the book and music publishing operations, became Servant Ministries and was under the leadership of The Word of God. The portion in South Bend continued under the leadership of the People of Praise and focused particularly on fostering national and international conferences.

The rest of the Association, including The Word of God, the Lamb of God, the Work of Christ, and Emmanuel, along with many other communities, including those in Europe, Latin America, and Asia, renamed their group the Federation of Communities and continued to seek closer ties and shared outreach. 

The Formation of the Sword of the Spirit

Federation of Communities

In 1981, the formed communities in the Federation of Communities were The Word of God, in Ann Arbor, Michigan; the Lamb of God, Baltimore, Maryland; the Work of Christ, Lansing, Michigan; and Emmanuel Community, Brisbane, Australia, with many other communities in the process of formation. Most of the communities in the process of becoming part of the Federation were most closely related to The Word of God. In many cases their leaders had received some training and formation in Ann Arbor, or coordinators from Ann Arbor had visited them. The leaders of the four formed communities met together periodically to discuss how to promote greater cooperation with the goal of strengthening the connection between them. They also explored relationships with other communities and Christian groups in various parts of the world. The Word of God took the lead working in Europe and Latin America, while Emmanuel was most active in Australia, India, and Southeast Asia. The coordinators of The Word of God continued to pursue a vision of greater unity among the leaders of these communities, a process that required many difficult discussions.

Formation of the Sword of the Spirit

By the following year, it was becoming clear that the discussions among the Federation communities were proceeding slowly, with agreement elusive. In June 1982, the head coordinators of The Word of God decided to proceed to establish a new grouping of communities called the Sword of the Spirit. 

This was to take the form of an international, ecumenical community of locally governed communities, but united under a single, international government. To begin the process, The Word of God would reconstitute itself as the Sword of the Spirit, without discarding its existing identity, and would invite other communities to join. The provisional governing council of the Sword of the Spirit would be the head coordinators of The Word of God. The leaders of other communities that joined could also be invited to join the international council. 

All the communities in the Federation would be invited to join the Sword of the Spirit, and other communities who had some relationship with The Word of God would be informed about the formation of the Sword of the Spirit, but without being required to make a decision immediately about whether they would join. These other communities were: Ligaya ng Panginoon in Manila; Servants of Christ the King in Steubenville, Ohio; People of Hope in New Jersey; People of God in Beirut; the City of God in Managua; Ágape in Costa Rica; Jerusalem Community in Belgium; and the new community forming in London. 

The plan was approved by a consultation of the members of The Word of God, who all then made new commitments to the covenant of the Sword of the Spirit, which was identical to that of The Word of God. 

Of the full member communities in the Federation, only the Lamb of God Community in Baltimore accepted the invitation. The other communities related to The Word of God also joined, and the communities now forming the Sword of the Spirit began to hold meetings and make plans for common training of leaders. With two of the four full member communities of the Federation now joining the Sword of the Spirit, it became clear that the Federation of Communities itself could not continue. The leaders of the communities decided in 1983 to dissolve the Federation with expressions of brotherly support on all sides. 

Emmanuel Community and the Community of God’s Delight in Dallas, Texas, which was close to becoming a full member of the Federation, eventually became two of the first communities in the International Brotherhood of Communities (IBOC). IBOC was dissolved and the Catholic communities involved in IBOC became Catholic Fraternity of Covenant Communities, which grew into a world-wide network with official approval from the Catholic Church. It is now part of Charis, an organization serving the Catholic charismatic renewal.

By 1983, the communities that had been in a relationship with The Word of God had all agreed to join the Sword of the Spirit. In 1984, they were joined by the Work of Christ. The Sword of the Spirit Council now included leaders from communities other than The Word of God such as Dave Nodar of Lamb of God, Fr. Herb Schneider, S.J., from Ligaya ng Panginoon, Carlos Mántica from the City of God, Carlos Alonso Vargas from Ágape (now named Árbol de Vida), Bob Gallic from the People of Hope, and Fr. Michael Scanlan from Servants of Christ the King. 

For many years, the leaders of The Word of God and other communities had believed that there was a role for covenant community in the world and the larger church. The prophecy of the “bulwark,” quoted earlier, which they had received in 1975 spoke of God using the relationship among the communities for the church. During the years after that prophecy, other similar prophecies were heard in other communities, calling on the communities to be part of a bulwark for the church. In one case, Hector Bravo in Nicaragua delivered a similar prophecy, including a Spanish word for “bulwark” the meaning of which he himself did not know.[2]

To desire a common life and vision is one thing; to achieve it is another. The ensuing years of meetings aimed to create a body of teaching and an institutional structure that would enable the Sword of the Spirit to function as a single community. The process met with many difficulties. The communities represented diverse cultures. Some were wholly Catholic, while others, like The Word of God, were ecumenical. As the community was developing common teachings and practices, they were adding relationships with communities in new countries as well as with Protestant churches whose way of life was very different. 

Patterns of Christian Community: A Statement of Community Order, edited by Steve Clark and published in 1984, was meant to serve as a basis for community life in the Sword of the Spirit, but it “envisions many types of local groupings, including those who regard themselves as local churches and those who do not claim the fullness of church life or authority, those who are parishes or congregations or cells of a larger grouping and those who are independent of such ties.”[3] It was hard to manage and direct a community with such a diversity of membership.

On the level of shared mission, the Sword of the Spirit was succeeding in many areas, especially in Latin America and Asia. Ligaya ng Panginoon started movements among students and families, leading in some cases to the founding of new communities. University outreaches, often modeled on University Christian Outreach which had begun in The Word of God, brought the Gospel to many students, some of whom joined covenant communities on completion of their studies. In this effort, they were aided by the Servants of the Word, who established houses of brothers in London, Belfast, Manila, and San Jose, as well as in Ann Arbor, East Lansing, and Minneapolis. Since it was now a worldwide brotherhood, serving many communities and receiving brothers from them, the Servants of the Word became a fellow community in its own right in the Sword of the Spirit. 

The 1980s: A Difficult Decade

The 1980s were very difficult years for the Sword of the Spirit, primarily due to issues which arose with some communities in the United States. The 1970s had been a decade of remarkable growth and fruitfulness. The original communities had been growing, some quite rapidly, and new communities were joining the Association of Communities. Outreach through publishing, conferences and building new communities had been impressive. The impact of our ecumenical work reached a real high point in the 1977 Kansas City Conference and was bearing further fruit through the “Allies for Faith and Renewal” conferences.

Against this background, the breakup of the Association of Communities in 1980 came as a shock to many members, and confidence in pursuing the call to “build the bulwark” and to foster stronger relationships among communities was affected. Consequently, when the new Federation of Communities was established as a successor to the Association, the commitment among the member communities was lessened, and morale suffered as a result.

Suspicion and negativity towards close-knit religious communities

Outside suspicion and negativity towards close-knit religious communities In the late 1970s several events led to an atmosphere of negativity toward close-knit religious communities. 

In 1978 a commune formally known as “The People’s Temple Agricultural Project” but more popularly called “Jonestown” in Guyana, South America, came to worldwide attention for the shocking murder-suicide of 918 members. That event, together with the national prominence of an increasingly unpopular network called “The Children of God,” spawned a widespread fear in the United States of “cult” groups, and consequently communities such as those in the Association or Federation of Communities came under suspicion. It is difficult today to imagine the atmosphere of that time, and while it did not seriously affect the existing communities themselves, it did affect their ability to attract new members, and it eventually affected the relationships of some communities with local church authorities.

The concern about “cult groups” spilled over into a controversy over what came to be called the “Shepherding Movement.” Some prominent Evangelical leaders, including Charles Simpson and Bob Mumford, were promoting personal pastoral care as an element of life in their churches. They were attacked for this by other prominent Evangelical leaders who viewed such pastoral care as not scriptural and therefore illegitimate. Since the leaders of the Association of Communities and the Federation of Communities were closely associated with and defended Simpson and Mumford, the controversy affected perceptions of our communities as well.

At the same time, the surrounding secular society was moving ever more rapidly away from a Christian approach to sexual morality and family life. The communities’ understanding of sexual morality, the roles of men and women and the order in family life and community was increasingly at odds with the people and institutions of the countries where many of the communities were located. This too created some tension and questioning. By the late 1980s some of these developments were affecting North American communities. 

Although The Word of God community in Ann Arbor had been experiencing a reasonably successful period when it started the international community movement—the Sword of the Spirit – and many communities joined, the impact of The Word of God declined as the movement became controversial. Its membership had not declined, but neither had it grown much (except by the birth of children). Its influence, however, was clearly declining. Previously Ann Arbor had been a key location for visitors interested in the charismatic renewal and community. Now only a small number came. To some degree this could be attributed to the decline of the charismatic renewal itself, which in the United States had been clearly decreasing in numbers since the late seventies.

Despite this decline, most communities continued to grow, and by now were growing in a new way, as young members of the communities married and brought children into community life. In the late 1980s The Word of God itself numbered 1500 adult members. Membership was nearly 3000 if children are counted.

Internal challenges and tensions

The Word of God was also experiencing internal tensions. Some were due to the difficult transition involved in moving from being an autonomous local grouping to being part of an international body. Some were due to difficulties involved in its numerical growth and the complexity which that introduced in maintaining community life. Some of the tensions were due to the changes in society since the beginnings of the community, changes that were especially stressful on a group originally formed largely out of young single people who for the most part were now upwardly mobile professionals with families that had children reaching the teen years.

Caring for family life and raising children in community required a new sort of wisdom, wisdom which is normally gained only through experience. The communities began to experience the truth of the old adage: “How do you avoid mistakes? By gaining experience. How do you gain experience? By making mistakes.” And mistakes were made.

In the communities which had begun in student environments such as The Word of God in Ann Arbor, pastoral leaders had grown accustomed to giving a great deal of advice and direction. After all, the people they were caring for were young and in need of direction. As these people married and began their own families, their pastoral leaders at times continued giving the same sort of advice and direction they had given before, and with the same force of personal authority, not realizing it was no longer as appropriate. As one Sword of the Spirit leader said later, “[In] our community, our average age when we started [1970] was…around nineteen or twenty…. And as young people we tended to go overboard.”[4] 

As a result, tensions developed on several fronts: between some pastoral leaders and those they cared for, between some husbands and wives, and between some community members as they took differing approaches to family life. In more than a few cases, imprudent advice or direction given by pastoral leaders caused real suffering for members under their care. Passivity was also a problem. Some members would simply accept direction from pastoral leaders rather than taking responsibility for their own lives and families. And sometimes pastoral leaders assumed that the members’ willingness to follow advice was zeal, not passivity. 

People were also allowed, or sometimes encouraged, to take on responsibilities for which they were unprepared. One of these areas was leadership of married households. In The Word of God, the original models for family households were the households in Church of the Redeemer, an Episcopal church in Houston, Texas. Their households centered around established families, but the early family households in The Word of God were usually led by couples who were newly married. This arrangement at times led to difficulties in the marriage, or in the raising of children ‒ in some cases with negative consequences. 

Preparation for marriage was sometimes not handled as well as it could have been. The vision for Christian community led some leadership groups to teach broad principles in a way that ignored people’s individual differences. Even where the leaders tried to teach with moderation and nuance, the social pressure to conform in some cases alienated members from participation in covenant community.

In the area of child-rearing and care of youth in particular – an area of special concern for a community composed mainly of young families – the results were disappointing. Some of the young people in the community were turning their backs on Christian standards of behavior and a few were even alienated from Christianity – in part as a reaction to strict rules being enforced within their families, which the young people perceived as alien and unnatural.

Establishing communities with an intense life together based on serious mutual commitment is no easy project, and there was a steep learning curve. 

There were also governmental factors internal to the Word of God. The decision to send Steve Clark and Ralph Martin, and two years later Bruce Yocum, to Belgium complicated the government of the community in Ann Arbor. Martin, Clark, and Yocum remained the head coordinators of the community – now composed of two branches, Ann Arbor and Belgium – but they were not locally present in Ann Arbor, and almost inevitably tensions and miscommunications resulted from this awkward arrangement. In the early 1980s this arrangement ended, and Ralph Martin returned from Belgium and became the local senior coordinator in Ann Arbor.

As an attempt to respond to the widening gap between the community’s way of life and modern Western culture, The Word of God, in the late 1970s, initiated a “Training Program.” The program involved in-depth teaching on the moral and social issues facing the members, beginning with a presentation of the situation of Christianity in the modern world, and of the various forces opposing Christianity and Christian life. It went on to present the vision of a new society embodied in Christian community. In many cases, the teaching was a development of ideas presented in the earlier Foundations courses, such as the idea that the husband is head of the family, and that a clear choice of state in life should precede moves toward courtship. The training course also involved a restructuring of community life to make it more capable of surviving in the increasingly less supportive cultural environment around them. 

The training program had mixed results in The Word of God, although it had better results in other communities which presented the program. In The Word of God the teaching was applied unevenly in the various districts of the community, and in some cases was too exacting or sought to regulate the lives of members of the community too strictly and too intrusively, especially the lives of families. The general principles had been transformed by some pastoral leaders into rules that led community members into attitudes of mutual judgment rather than charity. Pastoral leaders were not always sensitive to the individual needs and situations of those under their care.

With disagreements among the leaders about how to respond to these various difficulties, an uneasiness began to develop among the leadership. The old assurance of being in the center of God’s will had dwindled.

Similar problems were being faced by some other communities, especially in the United States. (Most communities, especially those in Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, did not experience the difficulties encountered in North America.) 

While all of this was going on, a few communities were encountering severe difficulties with church leaders. In 1985 a group of people in northern New Jersey, claiming that the local covenant community, the People of Hope, was a “cult” group, garnered national attention with their aggressive opposition to the community. For a time, community members could not even leave their homes without fear of television cameras being focused on them. The local Catholic bishop, Peter Leo Gerety, then intervened to attempt to change the community and begin a new community under his direction. His successor, Theodore McCarrick continued the opposition to the People of Hope. For a community of loyal Catholics, this direct and forceful opposition from their bishop was a grave challenge. The community leaders, however, were convinced that the call to covenant community was a genuine and legitimate call from the Lord, and they were assured that Catholic Church law permitted them to live community in this way even if their bishop objected. They stood fast in their commitment to community life. Years later their steadfastness was vindicated as a new bishop formally approved their community statutes. 

At about the same time, the Catholic bishops responsible for Catholics in the Ohio cities of Steubenville and Akron had been persuaded that covenant community was “cult-like” and attempted to disband or change the two Catholic communities in those cities. The leaders in Steubenville could not agree how to respond, and the result was the formation of three distinct groups where there had been one. In Akron, the leaders decided that it was not viable for them to continue in Akron and accepted the invitation from another Catholic bishop to relocate to his diocese.

In spite of these difficulties, most of the Catholic communities in the Sword of the Spirit have enjoyed good relationships with their bishops, and most of the full members have since been approved as associations of the faithful. Throughout this history we have maintained good and close contacts with the Vatican. Msgr. Robert Oliver, a member of the Sword of the Spirit, was appointed by Pope Benedict to an important position in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Jean Barbara, as President of the Sword of the Spirit, was named by Pope Francis to be one of the twenty members of the new Service for Charismatic Renewal, CHARIS.

In the late 1980s, the head coordinators in Ann Arbor sought to remedy the growing difficulties within the community. Some of the attempts created controversy within the community and with other leaders in the Sword of the Spirit. The changes which had come about in the organization and government of the Sword of the Spirit earlier in the decade meant that the full government communities had greater freedom to order their life while still maintaining an approach reasonably in common with other communities. But the head coordinators of The Word of God now felt that even these policies of the Sword of the Spirit were too restrictive, preventing them from making changes they thought were needed. Most of the other leaders in the Sword of the Spirit disagreed, maintaining that the leaders in Ann Arbor did have the freedom to make changes and in fact had been implementing such changes.

One important instance of such a change was the introduction of approaches that were characteristic of what was then called a new “Third Wave” of charismatic experience, led by John Wimber. Leaders and members of The Word of God, who were being described as the older “Second Wave,” showed interest in this new “Third Wave.” John Wimber was therefore invited to lead a “signs and wonders” conference in Ann Arbor to “renew a group (The Word of God) that had once renewed others,” as some put it. The conference affected The Word of God and other Sword of the Spirit leaders.

John Wimber had founded a network of churches called the Vineyard. Vineyard influence caused some further disagreement and tension among Word of God leadership. Some opted for Vineyard approaches, hoping to change Word of God approaches in the Vineyard direction. Some resisted, opting for previous approaches, especially desiring to uphold faithfulness to community life. Community was something Wimber’s Vineyard clearly lacked. Some leaders of The Word of God and of the Sword of the Spirit held that The Word of God could have both. Other leaders were basically positive towards the Vineyard and believed that some things could be learned from its approach, but held that Vineyard influences were being received indiscriminately and that these were undermining what was essential for community life. They also believed Vineyard influence was introducing hyper-spiritualist attitudes into the community that had caused trouble in charismatic circles in the past. 

After a while, the influence of the Vineyard on The Word of God and the Sword of the Spirit declined. 

Then the so-called “prophetic movement” began from a group in Kansas City, Missouri, in the United States. This movement affected some leaders in The Word of God, and a few leaders in other communities. Many leaders of the Sword of the Spirit, on the other hand, found the influence of the prophetic movement to be alarming. The so-called prophets who were most influential in that movement were found to be seriously problematic in their moral conduct and in the exercise of the charismatic gifts. The Vineyard eventually dissociated themselves from the prophets, but not before real harm had been done.

A consultation process that resulted in division and damaged relationships

These disagreements came to a head at the Council of the Sword of the Spirit in 1990. The subsequent statement of the Sword of the Spirit Assembly described the matter as follows. 

Our community of communities has come into existence as the result of decisions made at the Assembly of the Sword of the Spirit in 1990. In the course of our endeavors to agree upon a constitution for the Sword of the Spirit, the Assemblymen from The Word of God [who were the community’s head coordinators] made clear that they would not accept an approach to our relationship that involved any commitment to one another beyond the commitment we have as Christians. They asked to be allowed to leave the covenant of the Sword of the Spirit, and to be allowed to present this option to The Word of God and to the communities whose formation they were overseeing. They also asked to be allowed to remain in the Sword of the Spirit in a new status, the “Allied” status that involved no commitment to the other communities in the Sword of the Spirit. The Assembly agreed to approve the request out of a desire to preserve good relationships with the Word of God leaders present.

The coordinators of The Word of God had not all been in agreement with the request to take an “allied” status rather than remain as full members of the Sword of the Spirit. When the community proceeded to undertake a consultation with members regarding the decision, it proved to be a painful process, with some members saying they wanted to hear more from the Sword of the Spirit leaders. In the end, many community members agreed to the allied status, but many were opposed, and the whole process left the community divided, and relationships with others in the Sword of the Spirit were damaged. Some of the coordinators and members of The Word of God who wanted to remain in the Sword of the Spirit asked for authorization from the Sword of the Spirit Council to form a local Sword of the Spirit community in the Ann Arbor area. Consequently, a new community was formed, which is now called Word of Life.

In addition to the structural and governmental issues, there were damaged personal relationships. It has taken much time and effort to bring a measure of reconciliation. 

To summarize, the 1980s were thus difficult years for the Sword of the Spirit, and most particularly for communities in the United States. Many left The Word of God, some of them hurt and bitter. Those who persevered emerged wiser, having learned important lessons by painful experience. In the process, the pattern of life that characterizes covenant community in the Sword of the Spirit was forged. Many factors made for a painful journey to greater unity and stability – the inevitable growing pains of a new, rapidly growing form of community life, the immaturity of leaders, some overzealous and unwise pastoral care. In addition, there was an untested model for relationships among communities, hostility from “anti-cult” groups, and opposition from some church leaders. 

In order to respond constructively to these various challenges, the Council of the Sword of the Spirit began in the mid-1980s a thorough examination of all the elements of their common life – an examination that continued for several years and included an examination of the teachings given in the communities and an evaluation of the methods of pastoral care. In the end, the content of the teaching was reaffirmed, but the communities and the individuals within communities were encouraged to take more responsibility for their own lives. They were also urged to take on a greater commitment to the common mission of the whole Sword of the Spirit.

In 1990 the Council of the Sword of the Spirit (the governing body, now called the “Assembly”) approved a revised constitution. It had become clear early in the 1980s that the attempt to govern the entire network of communities from a single council of coordinators was not working, because the network was too widespread and diverse, and the leadership resources were too few. Instead, the Assembly adopted a “community of communities” model. Each community would be self-governing, with the central government overseeing common outreach and the development of new communities. All communities would adopt a common community order but adapted by each to its own situation. 

The revised constitution also provided for regular visitation of each community by a team from other communities to assess its health and to make recommendations to the coordinators based on interviews with the members. Each community, moreover, was to adopt a constitution of its own, laying out the pattern of leadership and decision-making. The office of president of the Sword of the Spirit, filled by a vote of the Council, would be held for a fixed term, but could then be re-elected. The first president elected was Carlos Mántica of Nicaragua.

Towards Reconciliation

Beginning in 1998 the leaders of the Word of Life and leaders of The Word of God began a long and difficult – but ultimately fruitful – effort at repairing relationships. Since that time there have been a number of meetings and celebrations involving members and leaders from the Sword of the Spirit and many former members. 

On 10 December 2000, The Word of God and the Word of Life signed an agreement to be at peace with one another and to find ways to cooperate in furthering the gospel in their local area. This was the first of several joint gatherings of the two communities. In 2007, when The Word of God celebrated the fortieth anniversary of the first prayer meeting in Ann Arbor, Word of Life participated with them. The two communities also held a joint celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Catholic charismatic renewal in 2017, also welcoming back for the celebrations a number of former members, many of whom had left the area. These occasions have been joyful moments of thanking God together for the things he has done with us and in us. 

After more than a decade of difficulties, the Sword of the Spirit had been re-forged as an instrument more fit for purpose. The year 1990 marked the beginning of a new period of growth.

[1] Kevin Ranaghan and Dorothy Ranaghan, Catholic Pentecostals (Paulist Press, 1969), p. 233-34.

[2] Personal interview of Bruce Yocum with Hector Bravo.

[3] Stephen B. Clark, ed., Patterns of Christian Community: A Statement of Community Order (Ann Arbor: Servant, 1984), p. ix

[4] Paul Dinolfo, “History of the Work of Christ, part 2,” talk delivered 2 March 2014.

This article © 2021 The Sword of the Spirit is adapted from A Brief History of the Sword of the Spirit, by Bruce Yocum, Bob Bell and Henry Dieterich, commissioned by the International Executive Council of the Sword of the Spirit to mark the 50th anniversary of covenant community.

Photo credits: © Sword of the Spirit, Word of God, and Living Bulwark archives 1967-2001

This is part of the series: A Brief History of the Sword of the Spirit

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