You may have noticed that I haven’t blogged for a week; that’s because I’m spending much time nowadays finishing my first book! It’s about how signs and wonders are combined with peace and justice in the Bible, throughout church history and today. During the last week I’ve focused on the history part, researching and writing about saints like Francis and Agnes of Assisi and radical church movements like the Moravian church and the Jesus Family in China.
I am so encouraged to see these myriads of people who combine miracles and activism. Did you know that Maria Woodworth-Etter, who is often considered the grandmother of the Pentecostal movement, was baptized in the Spirit in a Quaker church and at one time ministered in a denomination founded by Mennonites? Or that the Salvation Army, famous for its evangelism and social ministry to the poor, experienced tons of signs and wonders in its early days?
I have now arrived to the part where I discuss movements that only have one half of the Biblical Holy Spirit Activism combination. Like patriotic, prosperity-preaching Pentecostalism, or miracle-doubting progressive liberalism. Interestingly, both of these streams originated roughly at the same time, the 20th century. They are not just unbiblical, but historically unique.
Why won’t some Spirit-filled Christians become activists for peace and justice and practice community of goods and nonviolence as the apostles did? Why does God use them? Well, I would say because He’s good. When reading through church history I encounter so many marvellous saints that I’m sure were used by God even though I don’t agree with them on every single point. I’m thinking about for example missionaries Francis Xavier and Marie Monsen.
Since I’m neither Catholic nor Lutheran I can’t stand behind all their theological thinking, but the fruits of their ministries were so great that I have to acknowledge that God uses imperfect people. And that’s good news – otherwise He wouldn’t use me and you!
Prosperity theology is actually a form of liberal theology. Instead of obeying the Bible, the prosperity preacher makes stuff up, like the idea that Jesus was rich or that disciples will have glorious lives where every trouble can be wished away. Similarly, the liberal Christian ignores Jesus’ command to heal the sick and raise the dead and focuses on the “easy” part of peace and justice, often without living in community of goods though. Both of these theologies make similar errors: they don’t want to practice Biblical Christianity as it is described in the New Testament.
Why then do non-activist charismaticism and non-charismatic activism arise within Christianity at roughly the same time? My guess is that it arose when the state church system fell down, because it opened up the possibility to call anything Christian. Previously, people who wanted to live Biblically were often persecuted and martyred, which made it a serious choice. Today, John Shelby Spong can claim that Christians shouldn’t believe that God exists or that prayer work, and Kenneth Copeland can claim that God wants to make all Christians rich, without any real consequences.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not arguing for persecution. I’m just explaining why ridiculous theology has emerged in the 20th century. Before, there was a division between persecuting state church-supporters, who were neither charismatic nor activists, and persecuted apostolic restorationists, who were charismactivists. Thankfully, the latter, Biblical stream still exists, and I’m so glad to be a part of that.