Thursday, August 15, 2013

Is Charismatic Renewal for Real? part 11

Letter to Kerry Zmatick

Friends, I am sorry that this is so long and frankly, so uninteresting, but I think that the importance of Charismatic Renewal, for good and for ill, is little understood. The effects are everywhere.
  • The revolution in Catholic media is a very direct outgrowth of Charismatic Renewal. 
  •  Mother Angelica? A contemplative nun who was dragged out of her convent by Charismatic Renewal, who later parted company with the “movement” because of what she perceived as its excesses. She revolutionized Catholic radio and television; 
  • World Youth Day with its dancing bishops? I have no doubt that it is an outgrowth of the Charismatic movement’s conferences and youth rallies. 
  • That irritating fellow next to you in church who, at the Our Father, insists on holding hands with you, though you haven’t even been properly introduced and then thrusts up his hands and yours in a kind of victory wave at “for thine is the kingdom....”? Charismatic Renewal again. 
Whether you like it or don’t, the Charismatic Renewal is a fact a huge fact. The other day, I was apologizing to a faithful reader for this endless tirade. He said, “Well it’s true, a lot of people don’t understand the Charismatic Renewal.” That is not why I am writing all this. The big problem is that Charismatics don’t understand the Charismatic Renewal.  I will continue by quoting the Scriptures.
Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the LORD is about to pass by. Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD  was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1Kings 11:19 and following)
In my last disquisition, it might have surprised you to hear that stillness is at the heart of true Pentecostalism, and not noise. Certainly things can get noisy, but that is the very human response to the perceived presence of the Lord.  

I was bemoaning these things with another old Pentecostal friend and he reminded me of an experience that we both have had. Sometimes, in a small quiet prayer meeting as I would sit or kneel waiting on the Lord, it would seem that suddenly I was in a very large space, a space that seemed infinite. It would seem so large that I would almost feel dizzy. It was as if the presence in the room was too large for such a small space, and I was transported to another dimension. Pentecost is about expectant waiting, not emotional manipulation. The quiet meetings often produce the most profound experiences. 


The great enemy of Pentecostal spirituality is the microphone. The microphone is, I believe a great danger to Christianity in general. Admittedly I blather at people via microphone just about every day, but that’s because I am talking to people. 

When I first said the old Latin Mass, I was amazed that I didn’t use a microphone except for the sermon. Then it occurred to me. Why should I use a microphone? I was talking to God whose hearing is excellent. 

“But” you might say, “I can’t hear the priest unless he speaks into a microphone.” 
Has it ever occurred to you that it does not matter that you can’t hear or see what’s going on? The Mass is not about you. 

“But I am not getting anything out of it when I can’t hear it. I can’t participate.” 
Remember that if you are Catholic, Mass is a sacrifice in which you come to offer your “prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day,” to God. You may or may not get something out of it, but that is not why you come. 

A Catholic goes to Mass to give, not to get. To say that you don’t get anything out of the sacrifice of the Mass is a bit like a lamb on an altar asking, “What’s in this for me?” or like Christ on His Cross saying, You know, I’m not really getting much out this.”  

To think that you have to get something out of the Mass or that in order for it to be real it must be heard by you, means that you have succumbed to the narcissism of the Protestant Reformation. As I have told you a number of times, Luther put an end to worship when he declared that the Mass was not a sacrifice, but that it existed for the consolation and instruction of the people. What passed for worship was, in Luther’s theory, not directed at God, but at us. 

How, then, can I be consoled and instructed by something I cannot hear or see? My answer would be another question, “So, you are here to be consoled and instructed? Then certainly we will need a microphone because the service is all about you, isn’t it?” 

The sacred microphone is the necessary sacramental for the worship of an audience. The Holy Microphone, not Pentecostalism is the opposite of Catholic worship and the Holy Microphone has done much damage to true Pentecostalism as it is now doing to Catholicism. I wonder if the mega-church phenomenon may not be at its bubble’s bursting point. The bigger and bigger the church, the slicker and slicker the show, the less and less the whole thing resembles Christ and His cross. The mega-church is inconceivable without the microphone and the mega-church seems to be increasingly a kind of self-help movement rather than an expression of Christianity. It is big, it is rich and it is very consoling. And some Catholics think that imitating it is the only way to go. 

In the Christian mystery bigger is not always better. Jesus often seemed to chase people away. He seemed to actually discourage followers by telling them this was going to be tough. As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go”, but Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.” (Luke 9:57,58) 

And then there was that outrageous comment about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. That sent them away in droves. 

And what about, “Sell what have, give to the poor and then come and follow me”? 
For Jesus, smaller was sometimes to be preferred. He seemed to favor sacrificial faith over convenience. 

“That’s just not the way to build up a big congregation! Think of how much more he could have done if he’d had a microphone, or maybe one of those big screens up on Calvary so that people knew the words to the songs.” (For the humor impaired: I am being ironic.)  

Jesus and His disciples changed the world without the use of microphones. We are becoming indistinguishable from the world, one microphone at a time.  

I have attended prayer meetings at which there were more microphones in the choir than there were people in the audience, I mean congregation. Part of the original genius of the Azusa Street revival was that there was no obvious leader. No one had the microphone because as yet there was no such thing. No one could electronically overpower the small quiet voice of the Holy Spirit. Rev. Seymour would come into the hall and hide behind two packing crates and people would begin to sing and prophecy, and to speak in strange tongues. The sick would be healed and the poor would have good news preached to them, all without the help of microphones. When a prayer group needs microphones, I believe it has gotten too large. Intimacy and sincerity evaporate and the pond has grown large enough to attract some very big fish, some of whom are interested in taking up a collection.  

The greatest microphonic abuse I have witnessed at prayer meetings is amplified speaking in tongues. This, in my opinion, is idiotic. St. Paul comments on it in his first letter to the wacky Corinthians. It is perhaps salutary to remember that the central texts from which Pentecostalism draws its theology of “spiritual gifts” (so-called) is the first letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians. St. Paul wrote these chapters (1st Cor. 12, 13, 14) because the Corinthians had made a mess of the charismata. 
For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. (1 Cor. 14:2)  
If you are speaking to God, why do you need a microphone?  I have heard “prayer leaders” say, “I want to help the people get excited about the Lord!”  If the Holy Spirit doesn’t attend the meeting, all of your shouting and sweating isn’t going to help anyone “get excited.” It is an exercise of the flesh and not an encounter with God in the Spirit. You end up sounding like the priests of Baal about whom we read in the 1st Book of Kings. 
So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. (1 Kings 18:28)
Lose the microphone and just maybe the Holy Spirit will get a word in edgewise at the prayer meeting.  

Next week: “But if we lose the prayer meeting, how will they hear the teaching?” Teachings the next big enemy of the Charismatic Renewal.


  1. My church, Christ the King in Ann Arbor, is a charismatic church. I love it.♥

  2. I could do with a good deal less of the gesturing, and more reverence before, during, and after Mass.

  3. "Friends, I am sorry that this is so long and frankly, so uninteresting... "
    Father it is very interesting. This should be a book. My brother was deep into the charismatic thing but he is very reluctant to speak about it. You are helping me to understand this phenom...thanks