I really am OK with being a charismatic Christian. My last post around this theme seemed to provoke a bit of thought and reflection and discussion, by which I was a little humbled and for which I’m grateful. So I thought it would be helpful to say a little more about why I really am happy to wear that label.
So lets start with be of the oldest pieces of liturgy in the English language. Bear with me. I know that’s not a statement you might expect if I’m going to speak well of things charismatic. One leader of a charismatic movement whom I know, a man whom I respect deeply from the relatively small extent to which I personally know him, told me once that the reason he stayed within the Anglican Church as a charismatic is because he understood that God was calling him to ‘rebuild the ancient foundations’ (referring to Isaiah 58:12). I resonate with that. God may be in the business of doing something new (Isaiah 43:19), but that doesn’t mean He casts off what’s gone before as worthless.
So the piece of liturgy I start with is 3 words squirrelled away in the Anglican church’s 1662 Book of Common Prayer. It’s part of a longish prayer prayed by the priest leading the Communion service after everyone has received Communion. It goes like this: “… we and all thy whole church may obtain remission of our sins and ALL OTHER BENEFITS of his passion” (emphasis mine).
All other benefits. That’s an awesome thing to pray. All other benefits.
Liturgy has often been referred to as a wonderful servant but a terrible master. If we allow them, these three words can have never-ending implications. For me, these three words encapsulate a truth which I see soaked into the pages of scripture – that being a follower of Jesus is about a whole lot more than being saved from my sins.
It’s about that first, of course. We enter into resurrection life accepting that we need resurrection and that there’s only one person who can lead us into that. Part of that process is owning my sin and then being freed from it. But there’s more, so much more – the all other benefits. I take these benefits to include working for justice, physical healing, emotional healing, being in a relationship with God who has spoken and continues to speak, that the sort of miracles I read about in the pages of the Bible can and do still occur today, that everyone who’s in Christ gets to be involved in the work of God, that worship of this God who gives us these benefits is the ultimate expression of any encounter with someone we love – deep, personal, intimate, encounter. All of these things and more, experienced in the tantalising tension of incompleteness as we wait for Jesus’ return. All this, and so much more. We are, after all, talking about the one through whom all things were made and by whom all things are held together, so it’s going to take immeasurable time to list ALL the other benefits.
Now I know that many parts of the church – not just those who call themselves charismatic – would sign up to this. But for me, and I can only speak for me, the link between charismatic theology and practice at its best actually begins to do some sort of justice to the first of those three explosive words. The reason liturgy has been described as a terrible master is that if we allow it to control is too closely, to become the goal as opposed to the means, then you’re just moving on from one thing to the next without actually allowing the words and truths to soak into mind and soul. See the heart, though – that these words are trying to say that this bread and wine you’ve tasted of, they are but a sign, a hint, a suggestion of all that lies available to you.
These three words are like a distant relative standing at the door of her huge house with you, and handing you the keys saying ‘This isn’t just mine now. It’s ours. Your name is on the deed with me now. Go explore.’ What sort of gratitude would it be to walk solemnly back to her every few minutes and say ‘I’m going in the kitchen now, is that ok?’? No. Run, explore, sit down and mediate, play. Do what works for you within the house. The ancient liturgy lets us in the door – what we do when we’re through it is up to us.
There are times charismatics break things when we run through the house. Expensive vases can teeter on their stands; cups get dropped; glass splinters. Too often we don’t take advantage of the freedom and time we have and just sit down and think, exploring the details as well as the expanse. There are times when charismatics don’t seem to realise that we have all eternity to explore, so there’s no need to hurry. There are times when they forget that a house like this is built for a big family of varying ages, types and backgrounds and that we could do with letting others lead in a different way for a while. All of that’s true. It’s also true, though, that there are few sweeter sounds in a house than that of children freely exploring, daring, learning and making mistakes along the way, discovering that Dad’s OK with them getting a few things wrong.
Liturgy like this shouldn’t keep us in the doorway; the 1662 prayer book is a masterpiece but it was for a time. It still has immense value and a place in the history of our family home. It leads us in, and tells us to go and explore. So I’m a charismatic because when all is said and done, being so lets me explore and learn and make mistakes and be OK with that.
I’ll see you in the kitchen. Or maybe the living room.