February /March 2017 - Vol. 90
50th Anniversary of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal

Pope Paul VI meets with Catholic
                              charismatic renewal leaders in 1973
Pope Paul VI meets with Charismatic Renewal Leaders 1973 (Steve Clark on right)
Perspective: Ecumenism and Charismatic Renewal
by Steve Clark
Note: This article was part of a regular Perspective column series for New Covenant Magazine, a monthly publication which served the Catholic charismatic renewal for many years. While the article is addressed to Catholic charismatics in 1979, its message is still very relevant and timely for Christians today.
Ecumenism has become a matter of renewed interest in the Catholic charismatic renewal. Cardinal Leo Joseph Suenens last year made ecumenism the subject of a second Malines Document, Ecumenism and Charismatic Renewal: Theological and Pastoral Orientations. [An excerpt from this document appears on pages 4-8.] This document provides valuable direction for the Catholic charismatic renewal in its ecumenical activities. At the same time Fr. Kilian McDonnell, an ecumenist and theologian long associated with the movement, published The Charismatic Renewal and Ecumenism, an important theological study of the subject.

Also, last Pentecost Sunday 55,000 Catholic and Protestant charismatics participated in an East Rutherford, New Jersey, rally which was sponsored by Catholic and Protestant leaders of the renewal. Among the church leaders attending were Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York and Archbishop Peter Leo Gerety of Newark. The rally not only demonstrated the great desire of many Christians for unity, but showed that this desire is closely linked with a strong concern to reach out to others with the gospel message.

These events illustrate the value placed on ecumenism in the charismatic renewal. As Cardinal Suenens in his new book, and Archbishop Gerety in his talk at the Pentecost rally, make clear, Catholic leaders are encouraging the church to respond to the Holy Spirit’s call to work for unity among Christians. Both men indicated that the charismatic renewal has something special
to contribute as we respond to this call to be one.

This concern for ecumenism is an integral part of our commitment to the renewal of the church. As we have long recognized, the Lord is at work through the charismatic renewal not simply in individual lives but in the corporate life of the church. The Second Vatican Council states clearly that genuine renewal of the Catholic Church in the 20th century must address itself to the question of Christian unity.

Some Catholics today are confused on this point. For example, a charismatic publication recently suggested that many leaders of the renewal are interested in ecumenism rather than church renewal. It is a mistake to place these concerns in opposition. Ecumenism is part of church renewal. In fact, those working for the full range of church renewal sooner or later must become concerned with ecumenism if they are to be authentically Catholic.

Some have thought it incompatible for many groups in the charismatic movement to be active in parish renewal and ecumenism at the same time. This would be true if being active in both were such a strain on a group’s resources that it could do neither well. Yet, as Cardinal Suenens points out in his document: “Homogeneous Catholic prayer groups should operate on the principle that to be Catholic is to be ecumenical, in accordance with the intention of Vatican Council II: all Catholics should exhibit an ecumenical concern and openness.”

In recent discussion on ecumenism, an important distinction has been emphasized between groups and activities that have a nondenominational orientation and those that are explicitly ecumenical. The nondenominational approach is to concentrate only on what unites us, as if there were no important differences between some of our Christian beliefs. According to this view we should not emphasize our Catholicism or Lutheranism or evangelicalism, but simply recognize one another as Christians. While Catholics can, as Cardinal Suenens indicates, participate in nondenominational events as long as those events do not promote religious indifferentism, it is not ideal for the nondenominational ap¬proach to predominate.

By contrast, the ecumenical approach recognizes and deals directly with the fact that we do belong to distinct churches and that there are some important beliefs and practices we do not hold in common. Catholics who are authentically Catholic do not have to hide their de-nominational identity; rather, they share with other Christians as Catholics.

In other words, ecumenism is based both on the things that unite and the things that divide. To be sure, what unites us—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is more important than our divisions. Yet, if we are to be faithful to Christ, each of us has to be faithful to his convictions where they diverge from those of our fellow Christians. We need to be loyal to our churches and the relationships we have there.

It is sometimes not seen clearly enough, however, that the ecumenical approach works out differently depending on the reason why a denominationally-mixed group is together. Cardinal Suenens makes some helpful distinctions in this regard. He points out that interdenominational groups of Christians can engage in ecumenical action of two major kinds: “activities with a ‘church unity’ focus” and “activities with a stress on ‘common mission and service.’ “ Those who are involved in the first kind of ecumenical action “focus on their divisions and differences in order to overcome them.”

The second form of action is directed to a common goal of service or renewal, such as evangelism, social action, spiritual renewal, or catechesis. “Here the participants come together primarily as brothers and sisters in the Lord. . . but with freedom to be genuinely what they are in an ecumenically sensitive way.” They need to understand their denominational differences and support each person in his church relationship. The various activities they undertake should also be integrated with the life of their respective churches. Their focus, however, is not upon their differences, but upon their common goal of service and what allows them to work together for that goal.

Questions of identity are important. Part of having an ecumenical approach is being true to our identities and maintaining them. While we always knew this from the early days of the charismatic renewal, we had difficulty in learning how to safeguard our church identities effectively.

Some of us wanted to have the renewal be primarily an ecumenical movement for church renewal, with some aids for Catholics and members of other denominations. Others insisted that we had to start with a specifically Catholic movement out of which ecumenical activities and groupings could grow. They said that in order for Catholics to become charismatic, the movement needed to support their Catholic identity. The new elements coming from their participation in the charismatic renewal could then be integrated into Catholic tradition and church life. I have come to see that this latter group was in large part right. Catholics need to have a place where they can take in the new dimension as Catholics.

To apply this more broadly, what good would it do in terms of promoting church unity for Christians seeking unity to lose their denominational identities and thus lose meaningful contact with their churches? They would no longer be able to form unifying bridges among the churches. Many movements for unity which have not taken a genuinely ecumenical approach have simply resulted in new religious groupings, hence complicating the problem of disunity. It is only when faithful Catholics, Presbyterians, Baptists, and others can come together as what they are, and be united on that basis, that they can foster real unity among Christians. The ecumenical developments in the Catholic charismatic renewal this past year likewise focused attention on the significance of the charismatic renewal for what could be called grass-roots ecumenism.

A document on local ecumenism released by the Vatican in July 1975 describes grass-roots ecumenical action in the following way: “A growing number of Christians in certain parts of the world seem to prefer to engage in local action which is ecumenical by means of informal groups of a spontaneous kind. These people are often motivated by renewed appreciation of the word of Christ: ‘... may they be one in us,... so that the world may believe it was you who sent me’ (John 17:2 1)...

“It is the kind of activity which springs up in a com¬mon environment or in a common social condition. Or it may arise in response to a common task or need. The result is a large number of highly diverse groups: action groups, prayer groups, community-building groups, reflection and dialogue groups, and evangelizing groups.

“A number of groups are made up of Christians who are rediscovering central Christian truths out of their confrontation with a surrounding world which appears de-Christianized and depersonalized.”

It once could be almost taken for granted that most Catholics in the United States spent the bulk of their time—in school, in the neighborhood or social group, often even at work—with other Catholics. But today virtually the opposite is true: Catholics are spending increasingly less time in all-Catholic groups or situations. Indeed, many of their most frequent everyday contacts are with non-Christians. So when many Catholics experience the need to join together with committed Christians in their daily lives, they reach out to those who share a similar need for fellowship and support in the midst of a de-Christianized and depersonalized society. And these Christians are just as likely to be Reformed, Lutheran, or Methodist as they are to be Catholic. As the Vatican text on local ecumenism goes on to point out, this grass-roots thrust should be both encouraged and linked properly to the churches.

We should gratefully recognize the significance of the ecumenical action taking place among charismatics in some sections of the world, most notably in the United States, the British Commonwealth countries, and a num¬ber of other countries. Events like the Pentecost rally and the 1977 Kansas City conference show the vitality of grass-roots ecumenism in the renewal. At a time when many have felt the ecumenical movement has been losing strength, we see that a hunger for greater unity still exists among thousands of Christians.

Even though the charismatic renewal as a whole is not :entered primarily on matters of church unity, it does seem to be in a position to make a significant contribution to the spirituality and vitality of the ecumenical impulse in the churches.

Great effort has been expended by the churches in dialogues and official discussions aimed at overcoming differences and reaching greater unity and communion. Suppose those dialogues succeeded completely on the official level in the next five years. Suppose agreements satisfactory to all the competent church authorities were reached. Would we then be close to real unity among the Christian people? Not without a concrete growth in brotherliness and committed relationships among Christians at all levels of the church. The whole church has to cooperate with the efforts of its leaders in order for the movement toward church unity to process.

At the moment few groups seem able to make the kind of contribution in this area that is being made by the charismatic renewal. While ecumenism can rarely be the first priority for us, we do seem to be experiencing a movement of the Spirit, a call of the Lord, to make .e contribution that we, as a renewal, can make to the unity of God’s people.

[This article was first published in New Covenant Magazine, July 1979. Used with permission.]

Sources on early history and development of Catholic Charismatic Renewal:
  1. Before Duquesne: Sources of the Renewal, by Jim Manney: This is a fuller description of the antecedents of the charismatic renewal, written soon after the movement began (1973) and written by someone who knew the chief events and leaders. From New Covenant Magazine, February 1973.
  2. It Was the Time and Place, by Steve Clark: This is a “testimony” requested by Patti Gallagher Mansfield for the second edition of her book As By a New Pentecost. It is perhaps the best place to begin, because it gives an overview in somewhat short form, both of the antecedents and the continuation afterwards.
  3. The Beginnings of the Life in the Spirit Seminars, by Steve Clark: From the fiftieth anniversary issue of Pentecost Today, a short description of the beginnings of the Life in the Spirit Seminars, one of the more important instruments for developing the charismatic renewal from the beginnings.
  4. A Collection of Important Source Documents for the Beginnings of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, including: Early Structure of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, and Comments on the Early History of CCR, by Steve Clark
  5. A Vision for Christian Community, by Michael Shaughnessy, and A Pioneer of Ecumenical Covenant Communities, by Paul Dinolfo, Living Bulwark, May 2009
  6. As By A New Pentecost, by Patti Gallagher Mansfield, Amor Deus Publishing, 1992, 2016.
  7. Trends: Catholic Charismatic Renewal Nears 20-Year Mark, by Fr. Pat Egan, Pastoral Renewal, September 1986, Ann Arbor.

Steve Clark has been a founding leader, author, and teacher for the charismatic renewal since its inception in 1976. He has authored a number of books, including Baptized in the Spirit and Spiritual Gifts, Finding New Life in the Spirit, Growing in Faith, and Knowing God’s Will, Building Christian Communities, Man and Woman in Christ. Steve is past president of the Sword of the Spirit, an international ecumenical association of charismatic covenant communities worldwide. He is the founder of the Servants of the Word, an ecumenical international missionary brotherhood of men living single for the Lord.

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