I come from a charismatic stream of Christianity. Most of the churches I have attended or been a member of have openly believed in the active presence of the Holy Spirit (the “Wild Goose“), a very personal relationship with Christ, faith healing, and active worship. This background developed in me a deep respect for religious experience, but unlike a stereotypical charismatic, I was quiet and contemplative, which caused me to develop a deep respect for the monastics, mystics, and Quakers. For the longest time, I had no idea I was part of the Charismatic movement (I was not really aware of the theological labels), but my background continues to influence me.
The Charismatic movement is a product of the 20th century and has its roots in Pentecostalism, but I find that Spirit-filled Christianity puts one in a large family of Christian traditions. I think Eberhard Arnold described this tradition well:
The life of love that arises from faith has been witnessed to over the centuries, especially by the Jewish prophets and later by the first Christians. We acknowledge Christ, the historical Jesus, and with him his entire message as proclaimed by his apostles and practiced by his followers. Therefore we stand as brothers and sisters together with all those who have lived in community through the long course of history: the Christians of the first century; the Montanists in the second; the monastics and Arnold of Brescia; the Waldensians; the itinerant followers of Francis of Assisi; the Bohemians and Moravians and the Brothers of the Common Life; the Beguines and Beghards; the Anabaptists of the sixteenth century; the early Quakers; the Labadists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; and many other denominations and movements down to the present day. (Eberhard Arnold: Writings Selected, pg. 158-159)
I wish I could add something more, but I really think Arnold says it perfectly. Spirit-filled faith is part of a long prophetic tradition going through many individuals and communities—the Hebrew prophets, early Christians, medieval mystics, “spiritualist” Anabaptists, Quakers, Pentecostals, and many others.
All of these different movements in the church believed in a deep, personal relationship with Christ and the active influence of the Wild Goose in the world, even though they each expressed such faith in different forms and practices. While I have always admired the devotion and passion expressed in the religious practices among these various groups, one thing always interests me: they were radical and counter-cultural. For example, see the Pentecostals.
Today, a lot of people see Pentecostals as conservative evangelical Christians at best and fundamentalists at worse. Many see Pentecostalism as a part of the Religious Right that has dominated American cultural and political life for the last 40 years. What is interesting is how different American Pentecostalism was a century ago, back when the fundamentalists dismissed the Pentecostals as “fanatics.”
Originally (but still in many places today), Pentecostals had a deep concern for peace and justice, radical discipleship, and community. The Pentecostals were born through various revival movements in the early twentieth century (such as the Azusa Street Revival) into a time of economic exploitation, racism, sexism, and nationalism (not too much has changed apparently). In this environment, the early Pentecostals had female leaders, practiced racial reconciliation, and preached pacifism. The Pentecostals were very counter-cultural, and they were marginalized by pretty much every established church. Overtime however, like most revivals, the movement became co-opted into the establishment, and this is especially apparent in USAmerican Pentecostalism. It seems that the same Pentecostals who were condemned by fundamentalists eventually became a great ally of fundamentalism, and later Pentecostals came to embrace racism, sexism, and war. It’s a shame.
The early Pentecostals challenged the established religious and political authorities, which is what happens every time the Holy Spirit is expressed in history. The Hebrew prophets, for example, were very clearly a Spirit-filled people, and they got into a lot of trouble with the authorities. The early followers of Jesus, similarly, talked a lot about typical charismatic activities, and that was coupled with a criminal and cult status among the authorities.
This tradition continued throughout history. Everyone who expressed a similar Spirit-filled faith was criticized and ostracized. Not only did they practice a more spontaneous faith that challenged organized religious institutions, but like the Hebrew prophets, their active faith was coupled with a prophetic, counter-cultural concern for peace and justice. The latter caused them to come into conflict with both religious and political leaders.
When I look at my roots in the charismatic church, and I look at the radical Christian groups who inspire me, I find that I cannot remove the active presence of the Holy Spirit. From the Isaiah and Jeremiah to Simone Weil and Dorothee Soelle, the presence of God has always been a major component of their radical activity. These people were not the rationalist liberals of modernist Christianity, nor were they the conservative fundamentalists—they were radicals. They mixed a prophetic concern for peace, justice, and community with a lively spiritual life. It was their intimate religious experience that allowed them to express a life of faith, hope, and love. As Ernesto Cardenal said, “only the mystic experientially lives this kind of love.”
Beware the Wild Goose. It has a long history of getting people into trouble.