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

These trends cause concern for me, and ought to be troubling for those in the movement as well. I turn to a parallel movement in the nineteenth century, to bring these concerns into sharper focus.

III Many Anglicans have often compared the charismatic movement to the renewal movement started by John Wesley in the eighteenth century. They note, with some justification, that the failure of the Church of England to embrace this revival cost it dearly, and that this must not happen again. While there is much insight to be gained from such a comparison there were many differences as well. Most notably, the social location of the Wesleyan revival was primarily among the poor and working classes, quite a different phenomenon from that of the current charismatic renewal. A more analogous comparison is the child of the Wesleyan revival, the holiness movement of the nineteenth century.

This renewal movement emerged within American Methodism as an identifiable force following the Second Awakening when the former accused the latter of neglecting to promote Wesley’s crowning doctrine of Christian Perfection. The doctrine taught that one’s sinful nature was transformed by the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, an experience subsequent to conversion. For more than thirty years, from the 1840’s to the 1870’s American religion was transformed by the penetration of holiness teaching across the whole spectrum of Protestant denominations. The initial impulse began in 1835 when two sisters, Sarah Lankford and Phoebe Palmer, moved the weekly series of Bible studies they had been conducting at two New York City Methodist churches to their home. The “Tuesday Meeting for the Promotion of Holiness” would continue regularly until 1896.

Adopting the structure of the Wesleyan class meeting, the sessions consisted of Bible study, testimony and prayer. The meeting drew people of all denominations from far and near. Laity and clergy alike came to sit at Phoebe’s feet. Within a few years, similar meetings were established along the eastern seaboard. By 1886, at least 238 such groups were meeting throughout North America and Western Europe. Recognizing the need for a journal to promote the doctrine and to tie the scattered groups together, Sarah persuaded Timothy Merritt to begin the publication of The Guide to Christian Perfection in 1839. It would continue as an influential voice for the Movement until 1902.17

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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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