February /March 2017 - Vol. 90
charismatic conference
  Building Charismatic Bridges

and removing walls and barriers to the Holy Spirit's work to bring Christians together in unity

by Dr. Vinson Synan

Dr. Synan's message is as relevant today as it was when it was first delivered to Charismatic Christians in 1974. Excerpt from Charismatic Bridges, by Vinson Synan, first published by Word of Life, Ann Arbor 1974. -ed.

Charismatic renewal has been ecumenical from the beginning
One of the greatest fruits of these movements has been a warm Christian fellowship that crosses ecclesiastical barriers. Although no one planned it, most charismatic prayer groups have been, in fact, ecumenical from the beginning. There always seems to be a special spiritual dynamic when charismatic Catholics, neopentecostals, and classical pentecostals join hearts and voices in prayer, praise, and worship, giving common witness to the magnificent work of the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ.

In the beginnings of the American pentecostal movement (from about 1900 to 1910) most Christians who received the pentecostal experience were members of the traditional Protestant denominations. Their first impulse was to go and share with their churches the good news that "the Comforter has come." Yet, in time, several new pentecostal denominations were formed, primarily because the established churches expelled the early pentecostals under charges of fanaticism. Walls were built then out of necessity as widely separated groups gradually formed what we now refer to as the classical pentecostal denominations. Despite this development, the historic goal of the movement remained the same: the renewal of the entire church by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit before the second coming of Christ.

God calls us to tear down walls that separate and divide
The present-day charismatic renewal is roughly at the same stage as the Pentecostal movement was in the first decade of its existence. There is a great deal of interchange between the various sectors of the renewal: great joy is experienced as participants see persons from other traditions receive the Spirit's fullness. But there seems to be a definite trend now toward the building of charismatic walls that could eventually divide charismatic Christians rather than unite them. Of course, no one would plan such a thing, but these walls could gradually appear, and become hardened quite unconsciously, if efforts are not continued to keep the lines of communication open.

We now speak of the "Catholic Charismatic Renewal," the "Lutheran Charismatic Renewal," the "Orthodox Charismatic Renewal," and so forth. Presbyterian, Baptist, and Methodist pastors and laymen have joined also in denominational, charismatic fellowships, while classical pentecostals meet with themselves in their various national and world conclaves. If we do not pray earnestly for unity in the Spirit, we shall witness the great Pentecostal charismatic movement fragmented into carbon copies of the present day ecclesiastical divisions.

Already there are reports of prayer group that welcome only Catholics, while others serve only Lutherans, etc. There are even some classical pentecostal groups that make a hobby out of denouncing "neo-pentecostalism," as if this renewal constitutes a direct danger to their tradition rather than the historic fulfillment of their mission to the world. The most striking feature of the groups that practice such exclusivism is a turning inward, a loss of the experience of victory, and a decline in both spirit and numbers. Indeed, some prayer groups have ceased to exist, precisely because of their exclusiveness.

I believe that God has called us to build charismatic bridges rather than charismatic walls. We must always endeavor to "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3) if we are to effectively evangelize the world and renew the church…

The Holy Spirit breaks down barriers and builds bridges
The Holy Spirit breaks down barriers and builds bridges between God's people. I am convinced that the only grass-roots ecumenical movement in existence today is the charismatic movement. When Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Greek Catholics, Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists, etc. receive the pentecostal experience, their first impulse is to share their newfound joy with others. This sharing is often with people from other denominations who gather in prayer groups for fellowship and praise. As the Holy Spirit manifests himself in joyful praise and worship, consciousness of dogmatic differences fades in overwhelming adoration of Jesus Christ.

When a Christian is filled with the Holy Spirit, most of the barriers of suspicion and prejudice fall immediately as perfect love flows from heart to heart. This did not come about as a result of planning in some ecumenical boardroom but because of the sovereign will of God. This is not man-made ecumenicity but a Spirit-led coming together on the basis of a commonly-shared experience with the risen Lord.

Of course, many deep doctrinal differences remain between the various Catholic and Protestant denominational traditions. These differences will not disappear overnight just by our saying "praise the Lord" together. Yet our coming together in praise gives a different perspective to our differences and at least gives us an opportunity to have precious fellowship together in the Lord.

The past 500 years have not been hopeful ones for the cause of Christian unity. The present Pentecostal - charismatic movement appears to be the most hopeful breakthrough since the Reformation for true unity in the Spirit. May we all wait before the Lord "until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13).

Century of the
                                Holy Spirit by Dr. Vinson Synan

Dr. Vinson Synan is one of the leading authorities on the history of Pentecostalism. Writing and editing more than 18 books in his lifetime, he has contributed works such as The Holiness Pentecostal Movement in the United States, The Old-Time Power, and his most recent major work, The Century of the Holy Spirit. In addition to these publications Dr. Synan released his memoirs titled An Eyewitness Remembers the Century of the Holy Spirit in 2010. His work and writings are authoritative resources on the history of Pentecostalism and various other topics in the church. In addition, he was one of the founders of the Society for Pentecostal Studies (SPS) in 1970.

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