ALDERSGATE RENEWAL MINISTRIES
Aldersgate Renewal Center,
121 East Avenue
Goodlettsville, TN 37072
The United Methodist Church
and the Charismatic Movement
This document can be found starting on page 696 in the United Methodist Book of Resolutions as of the 1996 General Conference.
Since its beginning in the early 1960s, the ecumenical charismatic renewal has exerted a continuing influence upon mainline Christian bodies, both Protestant and Roman Catholic. Recent studies by George Gallup indicate approximately 18 percent of United Methodists identify with the movement.
At the 1972 session of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church, the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference brought a petition asking that a position statement be prepared on the posture of The United Methodist Church toward the charismatic movement.
A General Board of Discipleship task force consisting of Don Cottrill, director of services, Youth Ministry Coordinators; T. Poe Williams, assistant general secretary, Local Church Education Training Enterprises; Maxie Dunnam, editor, The Upper Room; Horace Weaver, executive editor, Adult Publications; and Ross E. Whetstone, assistant general secretary for Evangelism admitted the "Guidelines" for consideration by the Board of Discipleship and the General Conference.
The task force felt that this position statement should be couched in the context of the theological pluralism which characterizes The United Methodist Church; the current culturally conditioned demands for experiential Christianity, insofar as we respond to them with integrity; and the doctrinal statements, the General Rules and Doctrinal Guidelines as set forth in Paras. 68-70 of the 1972 Discipline.
The "Guidelines" portion of this paper was approved by action of the 1976 General Conference.
Terminology associated with the charismatic movement is confusing because of varying usage.
Pentecostal refers to the movement which began late in the nineteenth century, resulting in the formation of a number of Pentecostal denominations in the early years of the twentieth century. Classic Pentecostalism affirms what is sometimes spoken of as initial evidence, which includes the concept of a requisite "baptism in the Holy Spirit" that may be expressed by glossolalia or speaking in tongues. The inference that one who does not speak in tongues is guilty of withholding a full surrender of self to the will and purpose of God can be divisive among United Methodists.
Charismatic While in popular usage the term charismatic is often closely associated with glossolalia; or speaking in tongues, most persons within the charismatic movement recognize the importance of all the "gifts of the Spirit," affirming that "to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (1 Cor. 12:7). Many elevate the gifts of prophecy, healing, tongues, and interpretation of tongues because of a conviction that these gifts have been neglected by the church and should be reaffirmed.
Charismatic Movement Throughout this report the term charismatic movement is used to identify the movement which began about 1960 in mainline Christian bodies, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, reemphasizing the importance of the gifts of the Spirit in the life of the church.
In a biblical sense there is no such person as a "noncharismatic Christian," since the term charismata refers to the gracious gifts of God bestowed upon all Christians to equip them for ministry. The terminology above is used throughout this paper as a concession to popular usage.
We believe the church needs to pray for a sensitivity to be aware of and respond to manifestations of the Holy Spirit in our world today. We are not unmindful that the problems of discrimination between the true and the fraudulent are considerable, but we must not allow the problems to paralyze our awareness of the Spirit's presence; nor should we permit our fear of the unknown and the unfamiliar to close our minds against being surprised by grace. We know the misuse of mystical experience is an ever-present possibility, but that is no reason to preclude authentic and appropriate relationships with the Spirit.
In facing the issues raised by charismatic experiences, we plead for a spirit of openness and love. We commend to the attention of the church the affirmations of First Corinthians 13, as well as the 1972 Discipline of The United Methodist Church, Para. 70: "United Methodists can heartily endorse the classical ecumenical watchword: 'In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and, in all things, charity (love that cares and understands).'" Without an active, calm, objective, and loving understanding of the religious experience of others, however different from one's own, reconciliation is impossible.
The criteria by which we judge the validity of another's religious experience must include its compatibility with the mind and the spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ, as revealed in the New Testament. If the consequence and quality of a reported encounter with the Holy Spirit be manifestly conducive to division, self-righteousness, hostility, and exaggerated claims of knowledge and power, then the experience is subject to serious question. However, when the experience clearly results in new dimensions of faith, joy, and blessings to others, we must conclude that this is "what the Lord hath done" and offer him our praise.
Guidelines for All
1. Be open and accepting of those whose Christian experiences differ from your own.
2. Continually undergird and envelop all discussions, conferences, meetings, and persons in prayer.
3. Be open to new ways in which God by his Spirit may be speaking to the church.
4. Seek the gifts of the Spirit which enrich your life and you for ministry.
5. Recognize that, even though spiritual gifts may be abused, this does not mean that they should be prohibited.
6. Remember that, like other new movements in church history, the charismatic renewal has a valid contribution to make to the ecumenical church.
For Pastors Who Have Had Charismatic Experiences
1. Combine with your charismatic experience a thorough knowledge of, and adherence to, United Methodist polity and tradition. Remember your influence will, in large part, be earned by your loving and disciplined use of the gifts, by your conduct as a pastor to all your congregation, as well as by your participation as a responsible pastor.
2. Seek a deepening and continued friendship with your clergy colleagues within and without the charismatic experience.
3. Remember your ordination vows, particularly the vow to "maintain and set forward, as much as lieth in you, quietness, peace, and love among all Christian people, and especially among those that shall be committed to your charge." Also, to "reverently heed them to whom the charge over you is committed, following with a glad mind and will their godly admonitions." 1
4. Avoid the temptation to force your personal views and experiences on others. Seek to understand those whose spiritual experiences differ from your own.
5. Seek to grow in your skills as a biblical exegete, a systematic theologian, and a preacher in all the fullness of the gospel (Para. 304, The Book of Discipline, 1972).
6. Pray for the gifts of the Spirit essential for your ministry; continually examine your life for the fruits of the Spirit.
7. Find significant expressions of your personal experience through ministries of social witness.
For Pastors Who Have Not Had Charismatic Experiences
1. Continually examine your understanding of the doctrine and experience of the Holy Spirit so you can communicate this with clarity.
2. Remember the lessons of church history when God's people rediscover old truths: that the process is often disquieting, that it usually involves upheaval, change, and a degree of suffering and misunderstanding.
3. Seek firsthand knowledge of what the charismatic renewal means to those who have experienced it. Keep your judgments open until this firsthand knowledge is obtained (i.e., by attending and understanding their prayer meetings, etc.). Then observe and respond as a Christian, a United Methodist minister, and as a sympathetic, conscientious pastor. Keep an openness to scriptural teaching regarding the charismatic gifts.
4. When speaking in tongues occurs, seek to know what it means to the speaker in his or her private devotional life and what it means when used for intercessory prayer, especially in group worship. We should be aware that speaking in tongues is considered a minor "gift of the Spirit" by many who have charismatic experiences.
5. Seek to know the meaning of the other "gifts of the Spirit" in the charismatic experience, such as the utterance of wisdom, knowledge, the gift of faith, healing, miracles, or prophesying.
6. United Methodist pastors should be intentional about the benefits to be derived by a mutual sharing of a variety of experiences which have biblical support. Accordingly, the pastor should seek to keep all meetings called for prayer and fellowship open to all interested members of the congregation.
For Laity Who Have Had Charismatic Experiences
1. Remember to combine with your enthusiasm a thorough knowledge of an adherence to the United Methodist form of church government. The charismatic movement is closely related to the holiness movement, which is a part of our tradition. Consult with your pastor (or pastors) and if he or she has not also had your experience, help him or her to understand what it means to you. Invite your pastor to attend your group meetings.
2. Pray that the Spirit will help you understand, and that he may help you to maintain empathy with your colleagues and all your fellow United Methodists.
3. Strive for a scholarly knowledge of scriptural content in combination with your spiritual experiences. "Seek to unite knowledge and vital piety" (Wesley). Strive to integrate your experiences with the theological traditions of our church.
4. Avoid undisciplined undiplomatic enthusiasm in your eagerness to share your experiences with others. Resist the temptation to pose as an authority on spiritual experiences. Failure in this area often causes your fellow United Methodists to accuse you of spiritual pride.
5. Keep your prayer meetings and other gatherings open to all members of your congregation. When noncharismatics do attend, discuss with them the purpose of the meeting with an interpretation of the significance of the content.
6. Remember that there are many types of Christian experiences which lead to spiritual growth; charismatic experience is one of these.
7. Accept opportunities to become personally involved in the work and mission of your own congregation. Let the results of your charismatic experience be seen in the outstanding quality of your church membership. Be an obvious enthusiastic supporter of your congregation, its pastor and lay leadership; of your district, your Annual Conference, the General Conference, and mission of each. This may well be the most effective witness you can offer to the validity and vitality of your charismatic experience. Strive to integrate your experience with the theological traditions of our church.
8. It is not necessary to embrace all the usual physical and verbal expressions of Pentecostalism. These singular expressions may at times be a barrier to your witness.
9. Keep your charismatic experience in perspective. No doubt it has caused you to feel that you are a better Christian. Remember that this does not mean you are better than other Christians, but that you are, perhaps, a better Christian then you were before.
For Laity Who Have Not Had Charismatic Experiences
1. In our Western tradition, we believe God is constantly seeking to renew his church, including The United Methodist Church. Pray that God may make known to your own place in the process of renewal. The advent of the charismatic movement into our denomination is only one aspect of renewal.
2. Should some fellow members of your congregation have charismatic experiences, accept them as Christians. Should it edify, thank God.
3. Be aware of the tendency to separate ourselves from those who have experiences which differ from our own. Observe personally the charismatics in their prayer meetings, in your congregation, and in the mission of your church. Examine scriptural teaching about this. Pray about it. Discuss your concern with your pastor. The United Methodist Church is theologically pluralistic.
4. Do not be disturbed if your experience is different from others. This does not mean that you are an inferior Christian. Your function in the work and mission of your congregation calls for many gifts (1 Cor. 12-14). Each Christian is a unique member of the body of Christ.
5. Should your pastor be a charismatic, help her or him to be mindful of the spiritual needs of all the congregation, to be a pastor and teacher to all, and encourage her or him in preaching to present the wholeness of all aspects of the gospel.
For Connectional Administration
1. Refer prayerfully and thoughtfully to the other sections of these Guidelines.
2. Remember your pastoral responsibilities toward ordained persons and congregations within the connection, particularly toward those whose spiritual experience may involve charismatic gifts.
3. Each administrator should consider whether any teaching or practice regarding the charismatic movement involving an ordained minister of a congregation is for the edification of the church.
4. If there is divisiveness involved in a particular situation, make as careful an evaluation as possible, remembering that there are other kinds of issues which may divide our fellowship. Sometimes tensions and conflicts may result in the edification and greater purity of the church and need, therefore, to be handled wisely and prayerfully by all concerned.
5. Administrators and connectional bodies will be required to deal with expressions of the charismatic movement. We urge all involved to seek firsthand evidence about the movement, its meaning for those involved in it, and its value for the mission of the particular congregation.
6. Where an ordained person seems to overemphasize some charismatic doctrines/practices, she or he should be counseled to preach the wholeness of the gospel, to minister to the needs of all the congregation, and as a pastor to grow in understanding of our polity in the mission of the particular Annual Conference.
7. Annual Conferences may also be faced with a situation where there is a charismatic group within a congregation whose pastor, or whose lay leadership, or both, may be hostile to or ignorant of the charismatic movement. The Annual Conference Board of the Ministry, the bishop, and the district superintendent have a pastoral responsibility to mediate and to guide in reconciliation.
8. Pray continuously for sensitivity to the will of, and the leading of, the Holy Spirit.
Guidelines reproduced from Daily Christian Advocate, April 27, 1976, vol. IV, no. 1, pp. 55-56.