How do you strike the balance between being a wild charismatic church and a dead one? I think there are a number of underlying tensions that must be explored.
1. Hunger. I firmly believe that we are supposed to “earnestly seek the Spiritual gifts, especially prophecy” The orientation of pursuit of a deeper supernatural encounter with God is critical. Yet, the difficulty is that this is a defining feature of the Charismatic thing we don’t want to be. We need to be able to distinguish the healthy hunger from the unhealthy. There is a reason that we keep ending up in unusual churches when we’re seeking people who are doing the things of the Spirit — that’s because these are the only people who keep seeking it.
2. Authority. Authority is a major issue which underlies the two camps. In particular the authority of man. One rejects it, one emphasizes it. Those that reject the authority of man do so on the basis of accepting the authority of the Spirit to do whatever he wants, yet this is often cover for everyone doing whatever they want. Those who recognize the need for it slowly develop to the place where they don’t yield to the authority of the Spirit in His desire to touch individuals at many points. How we deal with authority will have a lot to do with how the Spirit moves in our church.
3. Ostentation. I have to say that I secretly enjoy watching banner ladies and even doing an occasional wave myself. There is something liberating in it. Yet at the same time, I would not regularly attend a church where there were banner ladies unless other aspects were rockin’. So that’s a bit of a paradox. Jumping up on the stage today and being a “ballerina” were two classic examples of behavior that disrupts the seriousness and reverence that should be accorded a worship service.
4. Focus on outward activity. If we were to touch just one belief that would eliminate the Charismatic silliness, I would say it is the belief that doing a specific outward action is accomplishing inner spiritual work. This is a core Charismatic belief. I think what we actually believe is that when inner work is accomplished, you will outwardly express it. So if you believe that waving your banner is declaring peace in the “atmosphere” then of course you are going to do it! In fact, you should be encouraged to do it!
5. Decorum versus Loosening Up. Most people are oriented to be concious of how they appear to others. In this situation I tend to think that if you’ve never had a good shout or jump or run because you were excited about the Lord, then I think it would serve you well to have one. I’m glad I got into some of these crazy environments early on because it helped me relax about my identity and not worry about others, be self-concious in worship, etc. Maybe part of the root cause of where we are is that Charismatics were trying to get people to loosen up. Get them to “raise their hands” etc. And since a person who is able to raise their hands is showing openness to God, this becomes “more spiritual” the looser you are.
I personally admit to having been an “encounter seeker” for a while. In my case it was because I believed that was how I was going to get helped. If I got an encounter, then I would get freedom from besetting sin, etc. During all of that time, I never had an encounter though. In fact, at one meeting, I prayed for a group and they all claimed to have been deeply touched by God but I felt nothing! That was a bit discouraging at the time. Eventually I got over that as I began to see that I didn’t need an encounter to get freedom, and more importantly I didn’t know how to have my own encounter in worship at all. Also, I was insecure because I felt that I had to have this special experience to really be a Christian. As those things began to change, I was less enamored with the encounter itself.
On the other hand, in a church I visited recently, I shared my Paul Cain experience and the first thing they said was something like “well it’s not really about a prophecy, it’s about x.” What this communicated to me was “your experience was not important, and we don’t want to try to replicate that for others” I’m sorry, but the experience was critical for me, and I know it would be for many others. Don’t dismiss the Holy Ghost!
One key thing that emerged for me from the whole weekend was how our different life experiences inform our perspective of what to do to reach our common goals. We want to give to others the “thing” that God used to touch us. That could be a specific experience, a discipleship relationship, a specific teaching, etc. That history makes us who we are and gives us a passion for what we think is important. I think being aware of how that history impacts our approach is also helpful when trying to discover the best ways to reach our shared goals.
So I think one question to explore is what is it that people are actually seeking? Maybe it’s insecurity, pride, lack of closeness with God, or inability to experience God’s love that is driving the “seeking the gift.” If you touch those, you get the root. I think there is a downward spiral too. The cheapening of the real means there is less of it, which means people are more hungry for it. If you’re going to a church where you regularly experience a touch from God, then you don’t feel like you have to chase something.