God’s Purpose for Charismatic Spirituality 

In our times the work of the Holy Spirit has become a notable center of attention. This has partly occurred because of the Pentecostal Movement and the Charismatic Renewal, but the concern has extended into most sectors of the Christian people.

Many explanations for this have been given. Perhaps the most compelling is connected to the weakening of the institutional and societal or cultural supports for Christian life due to the changes in modern society. As a result of this change in the societal status of Christianity many Christians are looking to the Lord in a new way to re-establish his people and give them a renewed, spiritually stronger foundation through the work of the Holy Spirit.

“The work of the Holy Spirit” is a phrase that simply means “what the Holy Spirit does”. It is commonly used to refer to what he does in the redemption of the human race by making it possible for people to live the life God intends for them, rather than what he did to create the world (Gen. 1:2) and to sustain it (Ps. 104:27-30). It primarily refers, then, to what he does in human beings who have faith in Christ – what he does both corporately and individually. The Holy Spirit is God himself, entering into human life and enabling human beings who believe the gospel to live in a way that they could not live by their own power. Those who have the Holy Spirit at work in them, then, can have true spiritual life.

“Spiritual life” can be understood in a New Age way as well as in a primarily psychological way (e.g., “Jungian spirituality”). In both these meanings, it refers to a life that human beings can attain by realizing certain powers latent in themselves. However, by “spiritual life” or “life of the Spirit” we mean the life that the Holy Spirit gives. True spiritual life, then, is the life that is produced by the Holy Spirit working in us. In order, however, to realize the full benefits of that life, we need to have a charismatic spirituality.

We now are heirs to a certain use of the word “charismatic”. It refers to whatever people think of as connected to the Charismatic Movement or Charismatic Renewal – good, bad and indifferent. Those of us who were involved in the beginnings of the Charismatic Renewal, however, did not think of ourselves as beginning a movement. Rather, we simply believed that we were re-discovering the work of the Holy Spirit in a new way, one that allowed us to experience results we had not experienced previously. That re-discovery was centered around what was called “expectant faith”, the faith that the Lord will do what he said he would do – and what he did for the first Christians – if we take him at his word.

Probably everyone familiar with the Charismatic Renewal movement would agree that it has been concerned with “baptism in the Spirit” and “spiritual gifts”. In the early days of the movement, these were the two most common topics of discussion and seemed to define the renewal itself. But there is a more helpful way of defining “charismatic renewal”. “Charismatic renewal” is best understood as a renewal in the work of the Holy Spirit, the whole work of the Holy Spirit. That work includes baptism in the Spirit and spiritual gifts, but they can only be understood well in the context of the complete work of the Holy Spirit. They are not supposed to stand out by themselves.

The word “renewal” is a very important part of the phrase “charismatic renewal”. A renewal is intended to renew (bring to new life) an aspect of Christianity, not to add something to Christianity. A charismatic renewal, then, if it is a true renewal, should not be intended to promote Christianity plus something else (like charismatic experience). Nor is a renewal intended to create a special group of Christians (the charismatics, the spiritual ones). Rather it should renew something all Christians should have. In this case, it is the work of the Holy Spirit that is to be renewed in all.

Charismatic Spirituality is not a book on the Charismatic Movement or its history. Nor is this a book on baptism of the Spirit and spiritual gifts. I have written books that treat those topics, but they are not the primary focus here. This is a book on charismatic spirituality – how to approach daily life, how to live as a Christian, if we wish to benefit from the work of the Holy Spirit in us.

“Spirituality” can be understood as referring just to prayer life or piety. It is, however, here used in a somewhat different way. People often talk about Evangelical spirituality or Benedictine spirituality and mean something more than the prayer life or piety of Evangelicals or Benedictines. They are referring to their approach to all of Christian life. “Spirituality” is being used in this book in such a broader sense. Charismatic spirituality, then, is the approach to Christian life of someone who has experienced a renewal in the work of the Holy Spirit and has responded to that renewal in a way that has made it a source of more effective Christian living.

If the work of the Holy Spirit is something for all Christians – and who can deny that it is – charismatic spirituality is something for all Christians. This book is written in that conviction. However, there are also special emphases that those who are now called charismatics have, as well as special practices and a style of doing things associated with the movement. The last chapter of this book will try to sort out some of the questions that arise from such special practices. Most of the book, however, simply considers truths and practices that should be the same for all Christians.

Charismatic spirituality can be summarized in terms of five main features. Each of these will be the subject of one of the chapters of the book and will be explained in that chapter. They are as follows:

  1. Charismatic spirituality is based on the understanding that the gift of the Holy Spirit is the specific newness of the new covenant (the gift or grace Christ came to bring) and should be experienced as the basis of a new relationship with God.
  2. Charismatic spirituality should help us be spiritual(ized) people, people who love God and love their neighbor and are enabled to do so because they have an experiential relationship with God.
  3. Charismatic spirituality is based upon confidence that the Holy Spirit in us transforms, enlightens, and strengthens us so that we can be spiritual(ized) people.
  4. Charismatic spirituality is based on the conviction that God acts in our world to make Christians effective in their service of him, without implying that (spiritualized) natural means are worthless or unimportant.
  5. Charismatic spirituality involves approaching a particular area of the Christian life, like prayer and worship or evangelism, by expecting the Holy Spirit to make direct, experiential contact for us with God so that we might receive personal spiritual strengthening and added light and power, including gifts and graces, to act effectively in that area. Such a result should not be confused with the style or approach of the charismatic movement, which commonly is helpful, but is simply a means.

There are many more scripture passages that could be added to the ones cited in this book. At the end there is a survey of the passages that speak about the work of the Holy Spirit in scripture. They can be used for further study or just to see where the points made here are further substantiated in scripture.

This book is intended to be ecumenically accessible. All orthodox Christians – Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant alike – understand the work of the Holy Spirit the same way. The only ecumenical differences relevant to this topic come from the controversies over the Pentecostal movement early in the Twentieth Century with some Conservative Evangelicals denying the possibility of spiritual gifts after the close of the New Testament and with some Pentecostal churches making tongues as the initial evidence a matter of church doctrine. The question of tongues as the initial evidence does not come up in this book. Those who do not agree with the possibility of spiritual gifts now will not be able to accept parts of this book, but apart from that this book should be acceptable to all orthodox Christians. Since what is said in this book should be acceptable to a broad range of Christians, it is written in a vocabulary and style that hopefully will be accessible to all.

This article is excerpted from the Introduction to the book Charismatic Spirituality: The Work of the Holy Spirit in Scripture and Practice, copyright © 2004 by Stephen B. Clark. A free PDF copy of the book is available for download from the Sword of the Spirit website. Check out other Sword of the Spirit books from the Sword of the Spirit Online Library.

Top image credit: Illustration of Holy Spirit, cross, and fire – symbol of Pentecost and outpouring of the Holy Spirit, from Bigstock.com, © by Koltukov, stock photo ID: 361392901. Used with permission.

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