An essay on the impact of the charismatic renewal on the churches of New Zealand in the last fifty years.

“There has appeared within the historic churches in New Zealand a movement of spiritual renewal which has had some critics prophesying its rapid demise and others claiming that it is God’s answer to the spiritual and moral bankruptcy of our nation.” This essay examines the impact of the charismatic renewal on the churches of New Zealand from 1962 to the present day, a period including the Vietnam war, the “God is Dead” movement, ordination of women, increased awareness of Maori Land rights, the Jesus movement and a growing secularism. It examines the early days, the negative and positive impacts, and the ongoing legacy of the movement.

The charismatic renewal involved an awareness of the present-day work of the Holy Spirit, evidenced by glossolalia, which “says, ‘God is here, just as a Gothic cathedral says, ‘Behold, God is majestic’” and other spiritual gifts (1Cor12:4-11.) Spiritual healing was important, and early Anglican charismatic Rev. Cecil Marshall was the first NZ member in 1954 of the Order of St. Luke. There have been revivals of this sort from the time of the apostles onwards, but during the mid-twentieth century the movement began to move from the classical Pentecostal churches to the traditional churches. The theological ‘move to the right’ that accompanied Pentecostalism was a backlash against the increasing liberalism of the mainline churches. “God was alive and well and could be encountered and experienced. This testimony distracted the Church from having to grapple intellectually with Geering, the death of God theologies, and other challenges, but it also provided part of the answer to them”.

In New Zealand the renewal initially relied on overseas resources – visitors included Rev. Oral Roberts, who helped supply ” faith and courage to the neo-Pentecostal element in the historic churches,” David du Plessis, Father Dennis Bennett, Derek Prince, Graham Pulkingham, Rev. Michael Harper and Rev. Bill Burnett. The Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International (FGBMFI) sent fifty members to New Zealand in 1969. From 1963 to about 1971 was described as ‘the period of the pioneers’ when “the basic doctrines were absorbed and adapted to the character of each denomination [and] the first consultations with church authorities were effected.’” A Conference on “The Building of a Spirit-Filled New Testament Church” at Massey, Palmerston North in 1964 was a seminal event for some three hundred New Zealanders. From this arose Christian Advance Ministries (Rev. Ray Muller ) in 1972 and their subsequent ‘Summer Schools’ from 1973, which became Anglican Renewal Ministries whose Summer camps are now known as New Wine, which “represents a subversive and resistant form of Christianity … in relation to the liberalizing forces in the Church of England, Anglicanism and the Western churches.” Catholic-based ‘Life in the Spirit’ seminars, were used, which lifted the movement “from being isolated events in a few priest’s lives … into a widespread spontaneous movement that swept clergy and people into pentecostal spirituality in considerable numbers”, but only those parishes which used the programme fully “developed into charismatic parishes.” ‘Life in the Spirit’ was gradually replaced by an Anglican version – ‘Saints Alive!’- now superseded by Alpha, which has had around 162,000 participants in New Zealand to date.

As the charismatic renewal came into the traditional churches, it caused problems. There was a division between those who had had the Pentecostal experience and wanted to share it in community and those who hadn’t, preferring to interact only with their priest. The Brethren, after initially welcoming the movement, rejected it in 1964: “We believe the present day teaching that the gifts of tongues and healing are still in operation is divisive and erroneous.” The Baptist church while noting the “presence of charismatic Christians in “practically every church” ” found that the movement had been ‘harmful’ and ‘confusing’ for some members. Pastoral problems arose from overzealous exorcisms and a focus on the demonic. The social side of the gospel was neglected in favour of Spirit experiences, except in the less-impacted Methodist church. There was a power-struggle between factions in the Anglican Church: “the liberal-radical wing hold a lot of institutional power but have limited grass roots support while the charismatics are in a reverse position.”

Many of the problems arose from a wholesale adoption of Pentecostal theology along with the experience. “By its nature, the Movement for Charismatic Renewal has been less concerned with theology than with experience.” “Testimony theology [is seen] as an answer to all theological questions.” However it led to a “short term syndrome” – unless the “changes resulting from experiencing the Holy Spirit are theologically formulated and expressed in doctrine they are likely to be of a temporary nature only.” Two major issues were the interpretation of scripture and baptism, which was being debated in the wider Anglican Church at the time. Many Anglicans joined the Pentecostal churches where they could worship in the new way freely. Of those who remained many “‘lost’ their charismatic experience and “stepped back into line, so that Pentecostalism became known as simply a nine day wonder that people ‘got over.’ ” ”

Support from the leadership of some churches was lacking. “Partly because bishops, clergy and laity were sometimes hostile, Anglican charismatics developed…links with classical Pentecostalism” and turned to Pentecostal writings which tended to be fundamentalist for help. Methodist leaders were suspicious of the movement, leading to restricted church growth. Baptists lacked “sufficient charismatic Baptist College graduates or ministers, to have transformed attitudes from opposition to the Charismatic movement to tolerance of it” but their independent governance structure allowed for congregations to set their own flavour. The Anglican leadership seemed to have a policy of containment rather than encouragement, however Archbishop Paul Reeves attempted some genuinely constructive responses to the Renewal. The Roman Catholic Church was more positive – “following the 1968 blessing of the Pope and Bishops in Council to the Charismatic renewal two to three million Roman Catholics [worldwide] were impacted in the next two to three years.” . Some charismatic churches grew and attracted others from adjacent areas, and were “frequently disliked and feared because of this.”

There were many positive aspects of the charismatic renewal- “a greater love, … a firmer confidence in the presence, power and guidance of God; a more spontaneous joy that bubbles over in worship as well as in daily living; a deeper appreciation of other Christians’ response to the gospel of Jesus Christ; and a bolder readiness to embark on projects requiring degrees of self-sacrifice unthinkable before,” as seen in Servant theology, which relates to liberation theology as it seeks to serve the poor.

There was a hunger for Bible teaching- “..[when] a Catholic became a Charismatic, the first thing he…[did was to buy] a Bible.” The Baptist church saw changes in the way people worshipped, more church plantings, and more mission both local and worldwide.

Prayer groups flourished – the mid-week home-group was an important way of meeting pastoral and spiritual needs, as well as building up community and developing giftings. More young people were involved than in general church profiles, and these groups were often lay-led, especially in the Roman Catholic Church, with women participating equally in leadership. Maori spirituality found a home in the Charismatic churches, especially in the areas of prophecy and healing. At a time of declining church attendance, Charismatic churches grew as clergy became inspired by the movement. “By November 1974 between 40% and 50% of the clergy in the Auckland diocese were either participants in the renewal or were open to the possibility of a charismatic experience.” Even the Methodists could see the advantage. The Catholic Church was renewed, with bishops tolerating their separate services and groups.

During the 1980s the movement became more mainstream, however church leadership showed little impact until the late 80s, and theological education lagged behind, despite that fact that most students came from a charismatic background. Even so, clerical participation is quite high in Anglicans and Presbyterians. The new musical styles have become widely popular, with instruments and projected words the norm. Worship in music was lively and informal, and more in tune with popular culture. Hands raised during singing also became more common in the non-charismatic churches than formerly. More diversity is seen in liturgies in both Roman Catholic and Anglican worship, and this better accommodates charismatics than previously. At a time of general decline in religious adherence, numerical growth has been mixed, with some charismatic churches experiencing increase, and some the reverse. Baptists tended to grow, as they appealed to the baby-boomers, affirming their values, but Methodists declined as they ‘avoided charismatic divisiveness.” Some churches have grown at the expense of others – only 3% of newcomers are new to church – the same in Pentecostal and Anglican churches. Links grew between the mainline charismatic and the classical Pentecostal churches, with shared “recognition that [conservative] Christianity involves some definite positions which cannot be set aside without abandoning Christianity itself.” For many Pentecostals the movement in the traditional churches came as a surprise, but “through the growth of the Catholic charismatic renewal, the Assemblies of God in their 1972 “Council of Spiritual Life” gave recognition and cautious approval to the renewal in other churches.”

Renewal has not been universal, being relegated to small groups within some parishes rather than transforming the larger group. However, according to Michael Harper, there is ““probably not a country in the world where such a deep and full penetration of the churches has taken place” by the charismatic spirituality.”

The charismatic renewal has been a force for change within the churches of New Zealand over the last fifty years, with some negative impacts mainly during an adjustment period, and many positive benefits in the worshipping life of believers, which have not halted the decline in church adherence but have enlivened those who remain. A growing involvement of women and lay-people in leadership, and close ties between not only traditional but also Pentecostal churches are seen. Eph4:4-6


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1 thought on “An essay on the impact of the charismatic renewal on the churches of New Zealand in the last fifty years.

  1. Pingback: An essay on the impact of the charismatic renewal on the churches … – Charismatic Feeds

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