It has been almost 125 years since the Azusa Street revival led to multiple Pentecostal denominations and eventually to the modern-day charismatic renewal which has ushered in a new season of grace.
Many of us along the way have tried to understand what we were a part of, and yet the fullness of God’s plan continues to unfold. Hopefully, my perspective here will make a little contribution to our understanding.
It is worth noting that there are those who take issue with using the word “Pentecostal”, wanting to reserve it for that special day when the disciples were gathered in the upper room and the Holy Spirit fell on them. Others maintain that the gifts of the Spirit were just for the establishment of the early church. Others argue that the Christian church wasn’t born at Pentecost, but with the birth of Jesus. Still others even object to the word Pentecostal to describe a movement or an experience.
We cannot hope to solve all of these dilemmas in a single article, but there are tens of millions of ordinary folks who have claimed to have received the Holy Spirit in a new way with the release of spiritual gifts. Lives have been changed, vocations have been saved, and the Gospel has been preached around the world. It has been estimated that, across the globe, 600 million people have been baptized in the Spirit since 1901.In honor of their testimonies, I want to focus on one fruit or result of this outpouring: the charismatic renewal.
A Snapshot of Events
First, let’s take an overall or quick look at some of the key events of this season of grace:
- On Jan 1, 1901, a group of students that had been praying to receive the Holy Spirit as in Acts 2, were baptized in the Spirit at Bethel Bible College in Topeka Kansas.
- That same day, the Roman Catholic Pope Leo XIII consecrated the 20th century to the Holy Spirit. He sang “Come Holy Spirit” by the Holy Spirit window in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
- On April 9, 1906, seven men, led by William J. Seymour, were baptized in the Spirit leading to the Azusa Street revival which lasted until around 1915.This revival led to the establishment of multiple Pentecostal denominations.
- The more recent wave called the charismatic renewal has swept through mainline Protestant and later the Roman Catholic church and has led to hundreds of millions of conversions and baptisms in the Spirit.
- In the 1970s, networks of charismatic communities emerged. Some of these were ecumenical, some denominational, and some were “free church”. They quickly spread all over the world.
- The “Jesus Revolution” began in the late 1960s and continued to the early 1970s.
- In 1977 the Kansas City Congress of conferences hosted about 55,000 Catholic, Protestant, and “free church” folks, as well as the Jews for Jesus.
- And most recently, a prayer meeting which lasted around the clock for seven days at Asbury University in Kentucky, USA.
From Light to Leaven
The charismatic renewal was a parabolic explosion in the West. I describe it as parabolic since it all initiated very quickly, rose to astounding numbers, and then declined through the 1980s and 90s. (Note: the trajectory was different in places such as Africa or India.) It was not unusual for mid-to-large-sized cities to have large ecumenical prayer meetings in various parts of the city. They numbered in the hundreds and were usually led by lay people.
In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, there were 65 prayer group meetings at the peak of the renewal. Four of them were large regional meetings involving hundreds of people. The larger, regional meetings were almost always ecumenical, a specific charism of the charismatic renewal. Across the U.S. there were thousands of prayer group meetings. Very few lasted longer than ten or twenty years.
Some of those involved in prayer meetings eventually formed communities while others molded into parishes or congregations. Music changed. Ministry was changed. Liturgies and services were affected. There was a slow but noticeable improvement to wider mainline church life.
Yet, it if charisms were a primary function of this renewal, where do lay people go to prophesy, to minister healing, to pray in tongues, to cast out evil spirits. Very few churches and groups can welcome and foster a Pentecostal spirituality.
When I notice that there is an unusual frequency of a topic being raised in Scripture, my curiosity is piqued…I want to understand more about what the Lord wants us to know and understand about that area. When Jesus reduces all the law and all of the prophets to two great commandments, I am forced to conclude that the horizontal is very, very, important to the Lord.
It is common in prayer group meetings for someone to say, “Worship is the most important thing we do.” I tend to agree, but I am also concerned about the following Scripture:
So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.Matthew 5:22-24
It seems to me that a major portion of the New Testament is about human relationships, principles, and issues. Almost all of the beatitudes are about people; the fruits of the Spirit are mostly about inter-human relationships, and seven of the ten commandments are about human dynamics. Jesus’ last prayer was about unity, not about miracles or charisms, and 1Corinthians 13 shows us a higher way. The New Testament pastoral letters are filled with instruction about how to interact and the relationships in the Christian body are described as familial. Life together was about “loving one another as I have loved you,” and that was even the basis for evangelism. John 13:35
What about Pentecost? Acts 2:42-47 goes to some length to describe the horizontal effects of a vertical event.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.Acts 2:42-47
How do Catholics and mainline Protestants experience the “New Pentecost”? Because our denominations have such great vertical and divine worship orientations it’s easy for us to miss the horizontal intentions of Pentecost. I can speak of the Catholic church, which is very, very vertical. I think that may be the reason why so many religious orders have formed in the Catholic church over the years: the deep, natural, human longing for connection is not being met for many individuals in a parish setting, and religious communities meet that deeper need.
In these days, where Christianity is under increasing attack, ecumenism and strong, committed relationships are no longer interesting topics, they are becoming life and death necessities.
So, What Did the Lord Intend?
Did the Lord mainly intend a renewal of the charisms? Fairly early on I became less satisfied with the name “charismatic renewal”. I think it was initiated by one of the Roman Catholic leaders as a distinction between the Pentecostal denominations and the new wave of Christians who were baptized in the Spirit. But Pentecost was about much more than charisms: It was about conversion; it was about being sealed with the Spirit; it was about establishing the church. The charisms were signs, but the results were much more, and much more important results are shown in the Scriptures: Acts 2:42-47.
I believe that a question such as this can often be approached through the framework of the two great commandments:
And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.’Matthew 22:37-40
We notice that they are “summational” commandments. That is: all or at least most Christian teaching can be summed up as: 1) loving God (vertical); and 2) loving our neighbor (horizontal).
Spiritual outbreaks tend to “move the needle” in both the vertical and horizontal directions. Worship and love of God improves, and love of neighbor improves. Both commandments are relational, and both can be observed and measured by our actions.
As a father, I can say it is a spiritual ache when my children are divided or resentful toward each other. On Fathers’ Day, I would rather have them leave their gift on their porch and first go and be reconciled with their brother or sister. And I do not wish to take sides to imply that one is better than the other. For me, Matthew 5:22-24 is literal, understandable, and a lived-out truth.
Could We Have Missed a Major Purpose of This New Pentecost?
I believe that the first Pentecost reached its full vertical and horizontal purposes.
I believe that this New Pentecost has yet to reach its full potential as a horizontal grace and blessing.
Ecumenism still has tremendous needs for growth and development. Unity and “love one another” relationships are often very shallow and are very unlikely to stand in the face of the trials and persecutions yet to come.
Evangelism, conversions, miracles and gifts have accompanied this outpouring of the Holy Spirit… yet love of the brethren seems in its infancy.
Pentecost should lead to significant time spent TOGETHER seeking the Lord.
Pentecost should lead to significant time spent TOGETHER serving the Lord.
Pentecost should lead to significant time spent TOGETHER in the Lord.
“For when two or more are gathered together in my name. I am there in the midst of them.”Matthew 18:20
Top image credit: photo of sunset over lake, from Bigstock.com, ©by pavel klimenko, stock photo ID: 27210545. Used with permission.
Bob Tedesco is the founder of the People of God, a Sword of the Spirit community in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA where he served as Senior Coordinator for 26 years. He has been involved in lay ministry for over forty-five years, and has served as Regional President of the North American region in the Sword of the Spirit.