Throughout most of the 20th Century and now into the 21st, charismatic and Methodist Christians have had very little to do with each other.
Charismatics, who trace their modern origins to the Azusa Street Revival in 1906, define themselves by expressive worship, congregational autonomy, and a steadfast belief in the most vivid and visible of Holy Spirit manifestations: praying in tongues, divine healing, and being slain in the Spirit.
Methodists, meanwhile, have by and large been defined by reverent worship, connectional church government, and a general apprehension that too much Holy Spirit fervor will make us, well, not very methodical.
Excesses within the charismatic movement have led to the charismania of the prosperity gospel and word of faith prophecy.
Excesses on the Methodist side have led to a restrained worship that on more than one occasion has quenched the Spirit whom charismatics celebrate.
The divide even impacted my alma mater, Asbury Seminary. Because of its theological heritage, you would think the school would be more open to charismatic teaching and expression (charismatics have almost exclusively found their home among theological conservatives), yet in the late 60s and early 70s controversy arose around those issues. So in 1967 the Trustees issued an Official Statement In Relation To Glossolalia which asked those students and/or faculty who pray in tongues not to do so publicly in Seminary worship services or to promote the practice on the campus.
(By the time I got there twenty years later, that language & those restrictions were but a dim memory in Wilmore, Kentucky.)
All this to say that for reasons of style and substance, Methodists and charismatics have kept their respectful, if suspicious, distance from one another.
And I would say that separation betrays a sad ignorance of history, John Wesley, and the Holy Spirit himself.
Now: I do have a dog in this fight. I am United Methodist. And I resonate with charismatic theology and practice, both in terms of my own prayer life and in the way Good Shepherd has healing services.
But I actually believe it is not too much to say that, properly understood, Wesley is one of the fathers of the modern-day charismatic movement. Here are five reasons why:
1. Wesley was a Spirit-controlled and Spirit-focused theologian & pastor. Take a look at this journal entry:“Mr. Hall, Kinchin, Ingham, Whitefield, Lane, with about sixty of our brethren. About three in the morning, as we were continuing in instant prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of his Majesty, we broke out with one voice, `We praise thee, O God; we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.” (John Wesley’s Journal, Jan. 1, 1739) Sounds a bit like what our charismatic friends call being “slain in the Spirit” doesn’t it? Or this, from a Farther Appeal To Men Of Reason & Religion: There is no more of power than of merit in man; but as all merit is in the Son of God, in what He has done and suffered for us, so all power is in the Spirit of God. And therefore every man in order to believe unto salvation, must receive the Holy Ghost. So the power of the Holy Spirit was at the center of what Wesley taught as a theologian and, more importantly, what he experienced as a pastor.
2. The concept of the Second Blessing. Early Methodists taught that believers can expect and claim a second work of grace in their lives (the first being conversion): a moment of full surrender to and filling by the Holy Spirit. This doctrine has a number of different names in the Methodist tradition: entire sanctification, Christian perfection, and Second Blessing Holiness among them. Here’s how Asbury defines Entire Sanctification:
That God calls all believers to entire sanctification in a moment of full surrender and faith subsequent to their new birth in Christ. Through sanctifying grace the Holy Spirit delivers them from all rebellion toward God, and makes possible wholehearted love for God and for others. This grace does not make believers faultless nor prevent the possibility of their falling into sin. They must live daily by faith in the forgiveness and cleansing provided for them in Jesus Christ;
And what do charismatics believe in? A Second Blessing! That at some point after conversion, believers can expect and claim a subsequent work of grace, called the Baptism of the Holy Spirit in charismatic circles. What is involved for most of these folks? Receiving of the gift of tongues as well as new levels of Spirit awareness and focus.
Is it too much to believe that what Methodist call the Second Blessing and what charismatics call being baptized in the Holy Spirit are actually the same thing? That if more Methodist pursued a prayer language as part of the second blessing and if more charismatics received holiness of heart & life through it, both groups would see they are cut from the same cloth?
3. Divine Healing. The UM Book Of Worship has a ritual for healing services. Charismatics have been known to turn theirs into carnival shows. Perhaps if Methodists brought a bit more freedom to healing ministry and charismatics sought some restraint, then Rod Parsley and Adam Hamilton could host one together.
4. Camp Meeting Heritage. As the stagecoach helped America spread westward in the 1800s, the Methodists went with them. And the Methodist church that developed on the frontier was quite different from the one it left on the East Coast — more enthusiastic, less formal, and fully saturated with Holy Spirit miracles. Read this description from the best-known of them all, the Cane Ridge, Kentucky camp meeting of 1801:
Somewhere between 1800 and 1801, in the upper part of Kentucky, at a memorable place called “Cane Ridge,” there was appointed a sacramental meeting by some of the Presbyterian ministers, at which meeting, seemingly unexpected by ministers or people, the mighty power of God was displayed in a very extraordinary manner; many were moved to tears, and bitter and loud crying for mercy. The meeting was protracted for weeks. Ministers of almost all denominations flocked in from far and near. The meeting was kept up by night and day. Thousands heard of the mighty work, and came on foot, on horseback, in carriages and wagons. It was supposed that there were in attendance at times during the meeting from twelve to twenty-five thousand people. Hundreds fell prostrate under the mighty power of God, as men slain in battle. Stands were erected in the woods from which preachers of different Churches proclaimed repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and it was supposed, by eye and ear witnesses, that between one and two thousand souls were happily and powerfully converted to God during the meeting. It was not unusual for one, two, three, and four to seven preachers to be addressing the listening thousands at the same time from the different stands erected for the purpose. The heavenly fire spread in almost every direction. It was said, by truthful witnesses, that at times more than one thousand persons broke into loud shouting all at once, and that the shouts could be heard for miles around.
In our early days we were called “The Shouting Methodists.” Then we got dignified. Which is why this is such a great song.
5. The Aldersgate Renewal Movement. This hearty group of folks have hung around the borders of our denomination for a number of years now, trying to do the same thing as this post: reconnect Holy Spirit freedom and the United Methodist Church. Wouldn’t it be great if we opened up to the Spirit enough that the ARM becomes unnecessary?
I suppose I’d be glad in all this if we were able to recognize that the Spirit-filled and Spirit-filling movement did not begin on Asuza Street in 1906 but on another street 168 years earlier: Aldersgate.