A Brief History of the Sword of the Spirit

By Bruce Yocum, Henry Dieterich, and Bob Bell

This edition of A Brief History of the Sword of the Spirit is adapted as a series of articles for Living Bulwark. It is excerpted from a working document that was commissioned by the International Executive Council of the Sword of the Spirit to mark the 50th anniversary of covenant community. Copyright © 2020 The Sword of the Spirit.

Clink on the links below to access each section of the series.


Part 1: 20th Century of the Holy Spirit and Growth of Pentecostal Movement

Part 2: Catholic Charismatic Renewal and Ecumenism, and From Prayer Group to Covenant Community

Part 3: Community Life

Part 4: Relations Among Communities and Call to Build a Bulwark

Part 5: Ecumenism and Church Relations

Part 6: Outreach and Mission

Part 7: Strengthening, Growth, and the Future 

Introduction to the series:

The purpose of this history is to reveal the works of God in calling together Christians from many churches to form an ecumenical, charismatic community of covenant communities, the Sword of the Spirit. It is not an exhaustive history, nor can it discuss in depth the many struggles and challenges that needed to be overcome in the building of these communities. 

The Sword of the Spirit is part of a larger movement of covenant communities throughout the world, some of them joined together in networks, some standing on their own. This movement of communities is a sign of the times, when Christians are beginning to bridge the differences that have long divided the Church of Jesus Christ and beginning to realize that what they have in common is much more important than what separates them. In the face of a society grown more and more hostile to historic Christianity, the support of newly found brothers and sisters in Christ is very welcome.

The immediate occasion for this history is the fiftieth anniversary of the first commitments made, in September 1970, to a covenant that binds together brothers and sisters in what has come to be known as covenant community. It follows close upon the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the charismatic renewal in the Catholic Church. The Sword of the Spirit, and the larger covenant community movement of which it is a part, has its origin in this charismatic movement. 

The jubilee celebrations of the Catholic charismatic renewal, especially the gathering in Rome on Pentecost 2017, included a celebration of covenant community. It was a time for looking back at what God has done in the past and for considering what he is calling us to in the future. Therefor we begin the story of the Sword of the Spirit with a consideration of the origin of the Catholic charismatic renewal, and of the larger Pentecostal movement that preceded it.Most of the founders of covenant community were also founders of the Catholic charismatic renewal, and most of the earliest participants in that renewal have been, for at least a period of time, participants in covenant communities – many still are. Whether organized in communities of the kind bound by covenant or not, the charismatic renewal has always had a powerful communitarian element, bringing people to a new understanding of one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Moreover, just as the Sword of the Spirit and many other covenant communities are ecumenical in nature, the Catholic charismatic renewal owes its existence in part to the ecumenical openness encouraged by the Second Vatican Council. That Council’s ecumenical concern was itself a fruit of the ecumenical movement which arose early in the twentieth century.

  • Bruce Yocum, leader of the writing team, and author in his own right, has been part of the communities movement since 1968 and has held various leadership roles over the past 50 years. He was instrumental in the formation and growth of numerous communities in the Sword of the Spirit. He currently resides in London, England, and is part of Antioch, a member community of the Sword of the Spirit.
  • Henry Dieterich has been present in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA, for most of the time since the beginnings of the communities movement. He holds a doctorate degree in history from the University of Michigan and did most of the actual writing of the history, fostering a rigorous standard of historical research and accuracy. Henry lives in Ann Arbor with his wife Roz and is a member of Word of Life there, a community of the Sword of the Spirit.
  • Bob Bell was also present in Ann Arbor for decades, starting in the autumn of 1967 and an eyewitness to much of the early history of the Sword of the Spirit and the communities movement. He was also part of the start-up team for Jerusalem, the Sword of the Spirit community in Belgium. He works for the Sword of the Spirit administrative and editorial staff and has made his home in London, England, and is also part of Antioch, a member community of the Sword of the Spirit.