Confessions of a Former Charismatic

Around this time last year, I wrote a little about my spiritual upbringing in "What I Did On My Sunday Vacation." Though I now lead traditional worship services in a United Methodist congregation, my "Sunday vacation" usually includes lifting my hands in worship and the option of dancing in the aisle at church. Though I found my way to a Southern Baptist youth group and to ordination in The United Methodist Church of my infant baptism, my earliest memories of "church" were the charismatic movement of the 1980s. When I'm on vacation on a Sunday, I seek out such a worship service.

Some of us may associate charismatic churches with scandals of TV preachers "falling from grace." When I was in seminary and would share the story of my spiritual heritage, people often questioned me about the emotionalism we attach to the Pentecostal and Holiness churches. We may be fearful of the emphasis placed on the gifts of the Spirit and the speaking in other tongues. I remember all of these components of the charismatic churches of my upbringing. And, like any denomination or congregation, the charismatic movement was imperfect. There were mistakes made and hurts caused.

But I also remember, and treasure, the quieter, less visible parts of those worship services--the parts not seen on TV or in the news. I cherish that the charismatic movement was the portal God used to teach me how to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. My fondest memories were not of the outward expressions in worship but rather of the inner work that I felt God doing in my heart.

Some of us may have turned away from the Church because of something in our church upbringing. Others of us may have left one denomination for another because of "church hurts." Most of us can point to something we "don't like" about the church of our childhood--boredom, irrelevance, disagreement, politics, etc. We may have abandoned involvement in the Church in order to be "spiritual but not religious." In doing so, we've thrown out the good with the bad.

Friends, why don't we start off this new year by looking back at the good that formed us into the people we are today instead of focusing on the bad that shackles our minds to resentment? If you are avoiding church because of a past hurt, I encourage you to seek out help & healing to be freed from that past. In the meantime, if you're skeptical of the charismatic movements, or were negatively affected by similar traditions, I'd like to share the good to which I've chosen to cling--and that is making me into the person I am today. As always, know that these observations stem only from my personal experiences.

1. The Power of the Word

Yes, the Bible was written down my human beings. Yes, it was not actually written until long after Jesus' ascension. Yes, there were a lot of arguments by the people who assembled it. But it's still the Word of God. The Holy Spirit was at work in all of those years and processes, assembling words into the Word. It is living. It is breath. It is Life. The charismatic church instilled in me a reverence for God's Word that is still evident when we stand for the reading of the gospel lesson each Sunday in the United Methodist congregation that I serve. I learned not only to appreciate the Word but to depend on it.

2. How to pray with authority

Have you ever noticed that the Lord's prayer is filled with direct confidence in communicating with God? Jesus speaks to God not in a bossy "give me what I want" way but in a trust that what he asks will happen: Your kingdom come ... Your will be done ... Give us.... Forgive us.... Lead us ... Yet, we are often afraid to pray. We're afraid of saying the "wrong" thing. We're afraid of our prayers going unanswered. We've lost confidence in the power of asking. Prayer is something in which we're always growing because it is the heart of relationship with God. I am grateful to have learned as a young child in Sunday school that God not only heard me when I prayed but also that I could ask in confident authority that he heard me. As my prayer life has grown and changed over the years, I still cling to those early teachings on prayer most of all.

3. The intimacy of praise & worship songs

I love the old hymns in the old hymnals. They are crucial to our worship, and I believe in singing them whether played on an organ or an electric guitar. There is also much to glean from praise and worship songs, many of which speak to a personal relationship with God. Some of the songs I grew up hearing were simple in their message, and that made the truth of God's love easy to grasp. Yes, we need diversity in our congregational songs. Some of the more contemporary music can remind us of God's desire to be close to us, in one-on-one relationship as well as in community. Music sticks in our memory, and I am grateful that the music of the charismatic church drew me closer to God.

Today, I invite you to reflect on your history in the Church, and try not to think of what went wrong. I invite you to remember what was right, what was good, what was pure, what was noble, what was of a good report, to paraphrase a part of Paul's letter to the Philippians. Dwell on these good memories. Give thanks for them. And if you've wandered from Christ because of the brokenness of Christians, please search for that glimmer of hope. And come back to Him....

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian