What does it mean to be charismatic/Pentecostal? How can one understand that expression as part of the convergence movement? We can look to the early Christian church to get a sense of what it means to be a Holy Spirit filled community. The early Christian community was filled with the Holy Spirit. They had a charismatic sense of how to live and exist in the cultures they inhabited. The gifts of the Holy Spirit were alive and empowered them to preach the gospel wherever they went. They spoke in tongues (Acts 2:4), they healed the sick (Acts 3:1-10) and performed numerous signs and wonders (Acts 5:12-16). Paul reminds us that a charismatic life lived in the power of the Holy Spirit manifests numerous gifts meant to build up the community and give glory to God. Paul writes the following in 1st Corinthians 12:1-11:
“Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
While these gifts of the Spirit remind us of how powerful these early Christians lived the charismatic life, it does not even touch on the most powerful of gifts. A Pentecostal Holy Spirit life may not even show some of the above gifts. Paul reminds all Christian that there is one gift that supersedes all of them and I would argue the one gift that sums up the whole charismatic life. We read in 1st Corinthians 13:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
This passage reminds us that to be filled with the Holy Spirit, one is first and foremost a person where love manifests itself so strongly that people are struck with awe at the acts of Christian living. I am reminded of a passage written by an early observer of the Christian community that was awe struck at how early Christians live. Aristides, a Greek philosopher and second century Christian wrote a beautiful description of how Christians lived differently from those around them manifesting this charismatic expression of love:
The Christians, O king, while they went about and made search, have found the truth; and as we learned from their writings, they have come nearer to truth and genuine knowledge than the rest of the nations. For they know and trust in God, the Creator of heaven and of earth, in whom and from whom are all things. … Wherefore, they do not commit adultery nor fornication, nor bear false witness, nor embezzle what is held in pledge, nor covet that what is not theirs. They honor father and mother and show kindness to those near to them; and whenever they are judges, they judge uprightly. They do not worship idols made in the image of man; and whatsoever they would not that others should do unto them, they do not do to others; and of the food which is consecrated to idols, they do not eat, for they are pure. And their oppressors they appease (lit: comfort) and make them their friends; they do good to their enemies; and their women, O king, are pure as virgins, and their daughters are modest; and their men keep themselves from every unlawful union and from all uncleanness, in hope of a recompense to come in the other world. Further, if one or other of them have bondmen and bondwomen or children, through love towards them they persuade them to become Christians, and when they have done so, they call them brethren without distinction. They do not worship strange gods, and they go their way in all modesty and cheerfulness. Falsehood is not found among them, and they love one another, and from widows they do not turn away their esteem; and they deliver the orphan from him who treats him harshly. And he, who has, gives to him who has not, without boasting. And when they see a stranger, they take him into their homes and rejoice over him as a very brother; for they do not call them brethren after the flesh, but brethren after the spirit and in God. And whenever one of their poor passes from the world, each one of them according to his ability gives heed to him and carefully sees to his burial. And if they hear that one of their number is imprisoned or afflicted on account of the name of their Messiah, all of them anxiously minister to his necessity, and if it is possible to redeem him, they set him free. And if there is among them any that is poor and needy, and if they have no spare food, they fast two or three days in order to supply to the needy their lack of food. They observe the precepts of their Messiah with much care, living justly and soberly as the Lord their God commanded them. Every morning and every hour they give thanks and praise to God for His loving-kindness toward them; and for their food and their drink they offer thanksgiving to him. And if any righteous man among them passes from the world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God; and they escort the body as if he were setting out from one place to another near. And when a child has been born to one of them, they give thanks to God ( Aristides Ante-Nicene Fathers volume 9 “The Apology of Aristides, ” 276-277)
It is important that charismatic Christians understand the gifts of the Spirit as acts that culminate in love. A love for God first and foremost and a love for neighbor. The love demonstrated in the above early Christian communities reflects something unique, different, and totally radical in comparison to its surrounding community. It was a true miracle much like speaking in tongues and prophecy are. If Christians today are going to embrace a convergent Christian experience, they need to be evangelical as we have described here and charismatic/Pentecostal in the whole sense as captured in the biblical texts and early accounts of Christian living. However, there is one more dimension to this convergence that the early Church lived and that is the sacramental or if you prefer, incarnational dimension. That will be addressed in our next post!