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Touched by the Wind: The Charismatic Movement in the Episcopal Church

Michael Harper, a leader of the movement within the Church of England until he converted to the Orthodox communion, noted that it is now the largest spiritual force in the Anglican tradition since the emergence of the Oxford Movement in the nineteenth century. All indicators seem to project that the movement will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.11

II The Charismatic Movement in the Episcopal Church is indeed a force that must be recognized. However, it is not sufficient simply to celebrate or to lament this reality. The thoughtful person, whether adherent or critic, must ask such questions as: What does this mean? Is it of God? How can it be used as a constructive force for the advancement of God’s kingdom and the enrichment of Christ’s Church?

From the beginning, the movement has seen itself as having a two-fold focus: first, bringing renewal to individuals, local churches and entire denominations; and second, bringing about the unity of a divided Christendom. The leadership has tended to disclaim any specifically theological purpose. Rather, it claims to be a renewal of experience, not of doctrine, often observing “theology divides, experience unites.”12

Critics responded by stating that this has left the movement open to the worst excesses of pietism. While they often conceded that the movement had produced a renewed vibrancy in worship, a deepening love for God, and a commitment to evangelism, they charged that it had also produced emotional excesses, spiritual elitism and anti-intellectualism.13

Furthermore, despite the claim that the movement was devoid of particular doctrinal content, Bennett and other early Anglican adherents, none-the-less, interpreted their experience in traditional Pentecostal categories. They believed “the baptism in the Holy Spirit” to be an experience subsequent to conversion which imparted the Holy Spirit’s presence and power to enable a fullness of Christian life and witness. Speaking in unknown tongues was a necessary evidence.14

Equally important, a “restorationist” world-view inherent in Pentecostal theology became an implicit feature of the movement. The New Testament in general, and the Acts of the Apostles in particular, became the paradigm for the life of the church. Practices in the Anglican tradition, not found explicitly in the New Testament, were often called into question. Dimensions thought to be part of the New Testament but not in evidence in the present expression of parish life, were introduced.15

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Category: Church History, Pneuma Review, Summer 2000

About the Author: D. William Faupel, Ph.D., serves as Professor of the History of Christianity and Director of the Library at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. His graduate education includes degrees in theology, library science and the history of Christian thought from Asbury Theological Seminary, and the University of Kentucky in Kentucky and the University of Birmingham in England. Dr. Faupel, ordained in the Episcopal Church, has served as pastor, education and editor and writer. He is the author of The Everlasting Gospel: The Significance of Eschatology in the Development of Pentecostal Thought (Deo Press, 2008).

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