Ask an Anglican: An Evangelical, a Baptist, and a Charismatic Walk Into a Bar…

charismatic-cartoon-2Two semi related questions from Jesse. Here’s the first:

What do you mean when you say that evangelicals and charismatics have brought Baptist ideas into Anglicanism?  In terms of the general tone of the movements at times I can see what you mean, and certainly the laity in some of these congregations are confused.  But overall I have found that evangelicals have come to Anglicanism because they are seeking precisely to move AWAY from Baptist-like Christianity to a faith rooted in the ancient Church, and if anything are criticized by the Anglo-Calvinists as being Anglo-Catholics in disguise…

As I have said before, I think there is value in both the Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical movements when they are embraced as renewal movements within Anglicanism rather than as attempts to supplant Anglicanism. The problem with some contemporary strands of Anglo-Catholicism and Evangelicalism is that they take a couple of aspects of the Anglican synthesis and blow them up out of proportion to the exclusion of all others. In the case of Evangelicalism, the sufficiency of the cross for our salvation and the need for personal conversion, both of which are important parts of historic Anglicanism, become the crucible through which all else is filtered. If those are the only essentials, then all else is negotiable. Early Evangelicals like John Wesley and Charles Simeon celebrated the Book of Common Prayer and insisted on strict adherence to the liturgy. Today, that is no longer the case.  In many Church of England Evangelical parishes, for instance, one would hardly be able to tell that the service was Anglican at all. There is virtually no difference between the C of E service and the Baptist service down the street.

The American context is a bit more mixed liturgically. Anglicans here, of whatever stripe, tend to at least observe some form of prayer book liturgy, even if it is highly supplemented by the hallmarks of contemporary mega-church worship. But American Evangelicalism in general is saturated with Baptist theology, and that cannot help but have some affect on Evangelical Anglicans in America.

If an American church calls itself “non-denominational,” nine times out of ten what that means is Baptist. Altar calls and appeals to personal conversion replace the sacraments as the means of grace. Baptism is a symbol of one’s personal conversion, nothing more, and it is only appropriate for adults. Classical Anglicanism thoroughly rejects these Baptist theses, but the more Evangelical an Anglican congregation is, the more likely it is for these ideas to be lurking in the background, communicated through music, through bad catechesis, or through a kind of preaching in which all the emphasis is placed on making a decision for Jesus. In that schema, the sacraments become a kind of emotive expression in the same way that Christian rock music, so often called “worship music” in the Evangelical world these days, is meant to elicit a feeling of salvation, rather than to actually communicate salvation through the preaching of the Word.

None of this is to disagree with the point Jesse raises that there are many young Evangelicals who are coming into Anglicanism precisely because they are trying to escape that kind of shallowness while continuing to want to hold onto what is best about Evangelicalism, its emphasis on the Gospel. The problem is not so much new converts coming in as it is a particular kind of old guard that was formed in the a-historical Anglicanism that we have been swimming in for the last century. I have known some very serious Evangelical Anglican clergy who deeply embrace the sacraments, the historic episcopate, the liturgy, and the need to baptize infants as well as adults for the sake of their salvation. But I have also known Evangelical Anglican clergy who deny all of that, who refuse to even utter the word “priest” to describe their ministry, and who have far less regard for the prayer book than many of the Liberals they vociferously denounce. As young Evangelicals continue to find a home in Anglican churches, the question will be which form of Evangelicalism will become dominant.

This is not meant to denigrate Evangelicals. There is certainly room for an Evangelical emphasis within Anglicanism, just as there is room for a Catholic emphasis, but an Anglicanism that is going to mean anything has to be true to the whole of its theological roots, not just the parts we like. Classical Anglicanism is many things, but Baptist is not one of them.

Jesse’s second question:

Could you elaborate on how you see the charismatic movement?  Coming from my background, I tend to have an “open-but-cautious” approach to the movement, but I have been a bit confused since becoming Anglican since opinions vary so widely.  Do you simply see it as the next Montanism, just an intrusion into Anglicanism, or do you think that it is indeed quite possible to be charismatic and faithfully Anglican?

I think “open-but-cautious” is a rather good way to put it. Or perhaps, if I am being honest, “skeptical-but-open” would be better. Charismaticism, or Pentecostalism as it is more often called today (I know that some people see a difference, but effectively they are the same), is a very young movement, really only going back to the start of the twentieth century, so it cannot be said to have historical ties with any Christian tradition that comes from the Reformation or earlier. Nevertheless, the movement has spread like wild fire and there are now Charismatic Christians in just about every church body imaginable. It is a movement characterized by a deep love for and need to experience the Holy Spirit. This comes out in various forms, including praying in tongues, faith healing, words of knowledge, etc.

There is good and bad here, from a classical Anglican perspective. Let’s talk about the good first. Charismaticism embraces a lived spirituality and a lived experience of God. Though some Charismatics would be surprised to hear it defined this way, Charistmaticism is a kind of mysticism, an embrace of the idea that God can be known and experienced directly in a way that is not always easily unraveled by our intellects but that is nevertheless real. God promises to be with us and to send His Holy Spirit upon us. Charismatics actually believe that God is going to show up when He says He will. That is no small thing. Many people go to church expecting to learn something about God, but not everyone expects to actually encounter God. For Charistmatics, that expectation is alive and well. This seems to me to be quite compatible with the teaching of the objective nature of God’s presence in the preaching of the Word and in the Sacraments.

That said, the danger that some Reformed folks see in the Charismatic movement is a real one. In its exuberance for experiencing God, the movement runs the risk of becoming unmoored from the places where God has promised that He will actually be. In some Pentecostal circles, this has led to the development of a theology of “name it and claim it” in which God becomes a cosmic Santa Claus prepared to dole out earthly prizes. In other places, core doctrines of the Christian faith, such as the Trinity, are denied. While many Charismatics say that speaking in tongues is a gift, some go further and suggest that if you have not spoken in tongues you are not a real Christian. Healing ministries become so central and so cultish that anyone who does not get better is shunned for not praying hard enough. All of this comes out of an unspoken bias towards emotional satisfying “experiences” of God and away from locating God objectively in the plain words of Scripture and the mundane practices of Baptism and Holy Communion.

Now, to be fair, a lot of this sort of thing happens in Charismatic churches that are off on their own and unaffiliated with any sort of larger body. Nevertheless, I have been in Anglican and Episcopal churches with a charismatic bend where lighter forms of this stuff have been present. The idea of “words of knowledge,” for instance, can be particularly problematic because it can encourage a kind of reliance on emotion in juxtaposition to reliance upon the Scriptures for guidance. I once sat through a two and a half hour Mass in an Episcopal church with a strong charismatic contingent where more than half the service was taken up with a lay person at the front of the room announcing various ailments that God was supposedly telling him that people had. “When I name yours, come up for prayer,” said the man. He had no more credibility in saying this, as far as I could tell, than does the man on the street corner wearing a sign announcing that he is the second coming, but people were lapping it up. It became obvious very quickly that this was what they came for, not for the preaching of the Gospel or to receive the Holy Eucharist, all of which formed a surprisingly small part of what was supposed to be a prayer book sacramental service. When allowed unchecked like this, it is easy for such things to grow out of proportion.

All of that said, I think we are still a long way off from seeing what final form Charismaticism will take. Perhaps if wedded with historical Christian faith and practice it will develop into a great gift for the Church. It is difficult to say. What is certain is that the tradition we have been given lays out for us a firm foundation upon which we can come to know and be known by Christ. While there may be many things that can enhance and build upon that foundation, anything that takes that foundation away from us needs to be cast aside.

Cartoon at the top from Dave Walker’s Cartoon Church, used in accordance with the fair use rules set out here.

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23 Responses to Ask an Anglican: An Evangelical, a Baptist, and a Charismatic Walk Into a Bar…

  1. Dapper Dan says:

    I’ve been following your blog for a while and have really enjoyed it (though I don’t get involved because so much is very new to me). The last couple of years I’ve been moving away from the Evangelical roots I was raised with (largely because of some reasons you mentioned here). Having attended some Anglican services I’m very interested in Anglicanism but Catholicism seems to have some strong arguments.

    Since I don’t know many authors to read in Anglicanism I was wondering if you had any “recommended readings”. (Maybe that could be a new tab on your blog….?) Right now I’m particularly interested in Anglican apologetics. Why be an Anglican as opposed to Catholic? For general Anglican theology, what are the “best” Anglican authors to read?

    Thanks for your time and keep up the good writing.

  2. Joshua says:

    I have a very hard time believing that Charismaticism has any value to it at all. I just can’t believe that the gift of tongues was nonsensical jibberish. My Confessional Lutheran Pastor had a girlfriend who was a member of a Pentecostal “movement” where they would speak in tongues and then a self appointed interpreter would come along and decipher what was being said. The equivalent of placing emotion induced jibberish into English. My Pastor wanted to prove a point to his girlfriend. so he stood up during their gathering and began to speak Latin. When the interpreter came came to decipher what he said, she got every word wrong. If we go by the consensus of the Fathers I think it is clear that the gift of tongues was actual languages in order to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments.

    • Joshua says:

      I took a look at my earlier post and wish I would have used more sensitive words. Please accept my apologies. I just don’t understand how something that has no ties to the reformation or earlier can be associated with the Holy Spirit. Granted, some of them are Trinitarian Christians, but just because they believe what they are doing is from the Holy Spirit does not make it so. As a Lutheran I can say that Anglicanism is my second favorite so to speak. However, when I see this being brought in, it puts a stumbling block in the way of me becoming an Anglican. I have a deep appreciation for classical Anglicanism and see it as a brother from another mother. I just don’t believe that Charismaticism has anything to do with Anglicanism. In the long run I believe this could cause more harm than good.

      • Fr. Jonathan says:

        I applaud you for your clarification and for seeking a more charitable tone. While I am skeptical of certain aspects of charismaticism, I don’t think we can say that there is nothing of God in it simply because it is new rather than old. The Reformation was new not so long ago, after all. And many of my fellow Catholics would say that needs to be chucked too, for the same reasons. Charismatics would argue, like Reformation Protestants, that they are simply living into and in some cases reviving practices that existed in the early Church. That is, of course, a debatable notion. But it is not such a crazy idea that it can be dismissed out of hand.

      • Bobbienry says:

        But aren’t there also Charismatic influences within Lutheranism too? For instance, if I’m not mistaken, the Ethiopian Lutheran church (which is one of the largest in the world right now) is pretty strongly “Pentay” (I. e., Pentecostal-influenced). I don’t see why it’d be any more of a stumbling block in Anglicanism than in Lutheranism since it seems to be equally influential within both traditions.

      • Joshua says:

        Like Churches that bare the name Anglican do not all stay within “the boundaries” of the Anglican formularies; not all Churches that bare the name Lutheran hold to the Lutheran confessions. So no, Confessional historic Lutheranism has no connections with Pentecostalism or Charismatisicm. It is usually looked down upon even by the most contemporary Confessional Lutheran. Even the contemporary movements within Confessional Lutheranism get viewed with some suspicion because most of this is the result of Arminianism/ work people up to make a decision for Jesus.

      • Michael Frost says:

        Thinking historically, Lutheranism known for… 1. bickering with the Reformed, 2. Lutheran scholasticism, 3. pietism, and 4. intraconfessional squabbling over accepting/interpreting BOC/FOC or languages (all the various “synods”). Lutherans not really known for “enthusiasm”, which both Luther and Melanchthon frowned heavily upon. All about Word & Sacrament and Law & Gospel. Both of these great thinkers intensely disliked the Ana-baptists and the Zwickau Prophets.

      • Keith says:

        There are quite a number of Anglicans who have written informative and in depth books regarding charismatic gifts and tongues. I would commend Fr Dennis Bennetts book “Nine O’clock in the morning” as an excellent and easy to read account of this Episcopalian ministers experience. Michael Harpur has also written quite a lot on this though he later left the CofE for the Orthodox Church.

        There are many ministers and Christians living today who can still recount their experience of a beautiful and non-English prayer language coming from their lips in prayer and worship before they even knew it was happening.



      • Joshua says:

        I would have to read what the books to make an informed decision. A charismatic Anglican may have a better understanding of this than a Pentecostal would. I am not ruling out the possibility of spiritual experience. Please understand that the vast majority of Charismatics completely disregard the sacraments and put spiritual experience in their place. The words and promises of God always supersede personal feelings or dreams. Many Charismatics do not see it this way. It may be possible to be both Anglican and Charismatic to a degree, but I have to view it with caution because I am concerned by trends I have witnessed in this movement. Even those who reject the Trinity and are not Christian as a result can speak in tongues and claim to have a direct link to God apart from His word and Sacraments.

  3. Nathan E. says:

    Your answers here are exactly what have attracted me to Classical Anglicanism as of late. I’ve been a relatively High Church Calvinist within Presbyterianism as a reaction to shallow Evangelicalism and Charismatic Theology. I went to Liberty University and, even though I had already really rejected shallow Evangelicalism, it confirmed a lot of my suspicions while at the same time reaffirming that Evangelicals, however flawed, still seek after Jesus with a fervent heart. However, the Puritan Churches have their own set of problems that are often just as bad as Evangelicalism. When you have a confession that’s as long as the Westminster and Catechisms, it is difficult to not either be totally dishonest with your adherence to the standards or just become a rigorous inquisitor and whoever does not fit in with your narrow view of the Confessions must be a closet Papist or liberal.

    Also, I do not think that shallow Evangelicalism has the resources to survive the current intellectual climate. Catechesis and Apologetic training are absolutely necessary as our cultural elites belittle the Historic Christian Faith. Let’s face it: Catechesis is not even a word to most Evangelicals these days. In this context, detached from the Historic Christian Faith, shallow Evangelicalism is the easiest target for the cultured-despisers of our Lord.

    Sadly, Classical Anglicanism will probably never even show up on the average Evangelical’s radar screen.

    • Michael Frost says:

      Nathan E, If only the “Reformed” had stayed with the best of the 16th century instead of the worst of the 17th… If only they’d stayed with Bullinger’s 2nd Helvetic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism! Rather than the messes made by Dordt and Westminster. (Just wondering, have you ever studied the Irish Articles? A more “Reformed” Anglicanism than the 39/42 Articles.)

  4. Jesse Reese says:

    Thank you very much for your responses here. I greatly appreciate the balance between good and bad here, and I pretty much entirely agree. Though you should know that the Baptist denomination was not established on altar calls and Second Great Awakening ideas of personal conversion, and there are Baptist persons and churches that are trying to reclaim the more classically Protestant soteriology of the original Baptists who would contest your characterization of Baptist theology.

    With more experience in an evangelical/formerly charismatic Anglican context, I have realized that many “new evangelical” Anglicans of a revivalist/charismatic evangelical stripe can be theologically messy–affirming Anglican baptismal theology while speaking of “conversion experiences” in ways inconsistent with it, speaking of Word and Sacrament as “means of grace” and then speaking as if God’s presence in the worship service would be a spontaneous and surprising thing. If anything, I have come to believe that this is the primary problem that I see with contemporary North American Anglican evangelicals and charismatics – theological imprecision and inconsistency.

    I have realized that a large reason for this is that contemporary Anglican evangelicalism has more to do with Billy Graham-style modern “neo-evangelicalism” looking to Anglicanism for historical rootedness (Robert Webber and the “ancient-future” movement), but in a pseudo-mystical way arising from evangelical and charismatic emphases on “experience” rather than for doctrinal or biblical reasons. This would have been a better thing if the “ancient-future” movement had not come along during one of the most chaotic periods of Anglican identity; I am finding that what this movement needs is a dose of solid Reformed Catholic doctrine and practice to reshape itself into something more effective at correcting neo-evangelical and charismatic excesses. Alas, that did not happen because Anglicanism is in a doctrinal wasteland.

    • Bobbienry says:

      Ironically, John Smyth (who founded the original Baptist movement) eventually left to become an Anabaptist/Mennonite (although one could argue that Baptists and Anabaptists are kissing cousins; they do tend to agree on about 95% of things, at least historically).

  5. I think, honestly, that the real solution is an authentic “Three Streams” approach, where each stream is balanced by the other, with an unwaivering commitment to Holy Scripture as the absolute arbiter of what God is saying and soul open to the prompting and leading of the Holy Ghost…well-catechized and discipled. Each stream seeking the support and restraint of the other two.

    If y’all are curious, contact us through our website at Completely Anglican in the catholic tradition, completely evangelical and welded to the Canon of Scripture and completely charismatic, but decently and in order.

    God has a plan for the Anglicans in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

  6. MichaelA says:

    Thanks Fr Jonathan.

    Thoughtful critiques of the Charismatic movement are needed and should be welcomed by those in it (as should be the case with every stream of Christianity).

  7. nathanjevans says:

    Yes I have. It’s a pretty interesting Confessional document. It’s from an era when the High Church and Calvinist movements hadn’t totally made enemies yet. High Church Calvinism is a more thoroughgoing Augustinianism than the Low Church varieties. The idea that the two are opposed seems to be a later idea that developed after the Puritan and High Church parties dug in in the wake of the English Civil War.

    I don’t think Dordt made any messes, of course I agree with it (so did most of the English delegates to the Synod). I do not mind the Continental Reformation so much as the Puritan movement in England. I do mind their entrenched opposition to episcopacy, but that’s another issue. The Puritan movement is where we get the ridiculously low church ideas of shallow evangelicalism with self-appointed pastors, lone-wolf Christians, and the willingness to schism over the most absurdly technical points. For instance, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church in America, despite both being conservative and holding to the same doctrinal confession, remain separate over differing interpretations of the Ruling Elder. Presbyterian denominations is pretty absurd.

  8. Stephen says:

    While I am Catholic to the core, I have had the opportunity to attend Baptist, AOG and some so called ‘Independent’ services in past on several occasions.

    If there is one thread that seems to be common to all, it’s the sense of ‘feelings’..

    At the Baptist service, there was their usual ‘Altar call’.
    Trouble was, there was no Altar…. Yes, they had a Table, but certainly not an Altar.
    When I asked about this, the friend who I attended the service with seemed confused and trying to explain it to him only seemed to confuse him all the more.

    At the Assembly of God service, two people took turns speaking in ‘tongues’.
    The Pastor interpreted, but began with ‘What I believe the Lord would have us hear’ and ‘What I believe the Lord is saying’….
    It struck me as strange that if you truly believe that this gibberish is from the Lord, then wouldn’t the Lord also provide someone who KNOWS what the gibberish means?
    I mean, you shouldn’t have to guess, know what I mean?

    The Independent service was so different that I began to wonder just what was taking place.
    A spinning disco ball reflecting colored lights, a drummer behind a plexi glass shield, a couple guitarists with spike hair bopping around to the beat and a Pastor who struck me more as DJ Rev. than a Pastor.
    The ‘service’ consisted of him telling everyone how much The Lord loves them and that just accepting that was their Golden Ticket on the train ride to Heaven!
    Then, everyone waved their hands around and bobbed up and down to a couple songs and then we left.
    Might work for some, but it left me thinking , ‘What the ……. was THAT all about’?

    Maybe it’s not ‘cool’ these days to want to worship God with a sense of awe.
    Maybe it not ‘cool’ to be silent when you enter the Sanctuary.
    After all, it’s not a gymnasium or a social hall. It’s a SANCTUARY.
    That means it’s a Holy Place.
    You and I can chat later over a cuppa.

    • MichaelA says:

      “Maybe it’s not ‘cool’ these days to want to worship God with a sense of awe.”

      C. S. Lewis had a good perspective on this: “All that is not eternal is eternally out of date”!

    • Pope Francis recently addressed a group of Pentecostals. Did you see that video? An Evangelical pastor became friends with Pope Francis through the Catholic Charismatic Renewal when Pope Francis was still a priest.

      Jesus was charismatic, liturgical, contemplative, a missionary, sacramental, and the Catholic church has it all under one roof.

    • Danny Watt says:

      I have attended various churches – Roman Catholic, currently Anglican, and various charismatic churches. I’ve found that I can appreciate and worship God in whichever style. Both worship preferences have their strong points.

  9. Stephen says:

    Lewis is great, no doubt, but I’m more of a G.K. Chesterton guy myself :

    “For when we cease to worship God, we do not worship nothing, we worship anything.”

  10. Danny Watt says:

    Hi Reverend, Chanced upon this blog while trying to learn more about Anglicanism. Could you clarify more on this statement? – Classical Anglicanism thoroughly rejects these Baptist theses.

    Why are these rejected if it’s in scripture?

    • I still say the Three Streams is the Way. Catholic, Evangelical and Charismatic–the stable gyroscope!

      Charismata is well documented in Holy Scripture and is even linked with Holy Confirmation in Acts 19. If the Holy Ghost powers the Sacraments, why can’t He empower all Christians? Jesus promised Him as the Spirit of Truth. Hard to understand why Christians would not want spiritual power in a world dominated by the spiritual.

      My best advice: taste and see that the Lord is good. All good things come down from the Father of Lights–in HIm there is no darkness at all! Trust HIm, ask Him and let Him do the convincing.

      The Church Militant!

      God bless y’all.

      The Ven CB “Chip” Harper
      All Saints Anglican Church of San Antonio Texas

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