The charismatic tradition – the spirit-empowered life
Jesus lived and moved in the power of the Spirit. This Spirit is manifested in so many ways – the wisdom of his teachings, his ability to see to the heart of individuals, his insight into the very dynamics of good and evil. People have wondered where Jesus got his ideas and his convictions; he was filled with the Spirit of God in which he put his full trust.
This tradition focusses on the power of the Spirit. Its product is joy. St Paul is the model of living in the Spirit. The heart of this tradition lies in the belief that we do not live our lives ‘under our own steam’; we are created to live our lives in cooperation with the Spirit of God. The Christian life is by definition a life in and through the Spirit. The three-fold charisms of the Spirit according to this tradition are: leadership, empowerment and community-building.
It lives out of three principles: we take responsibility. Everyone has a charism, needed by the whole body; it is our task to seek out what we are supposed to contribute. We accept our limitations: we are limited in the good we can accomplish ourselves. We work in community and contribute what we can in humility; we esteem others: we value the specific and unique contributions of others. We maintain unity amidst the diversity: we learn to function as a whole with the unique set of gifts given to the community.
This tradition has obvious strengths:it offers an ongoing correction to our impulse to domesticate God; we are reminded that God is in charge of the enterprise, not any one of us; we are reminded that God is constantly at work in our world. It offers a rebuke to our anemic practice; we are reminded that the kingdom is not built of talk but of work. It offers a continuing challenge toward spiritual growth. Finally, it offers a life of gifting and empowering for witness and service; the Spirit calls forth fervour and accompanies it with “signs and wonders”.
Each tradition has its set of perils. For this tradition, the perils include the danger of trivialization, when we focus on the signs and wonders rather than on the Spirit’s project; the gifts are not an end in themselves, but a means to build the kingdom. Then there is the danger of rejecting the rational and the intellectual; the charisms of the Spirit do not offend our reason, though they are not confined by them. There is also the danger of divorcing the gifts from the fruit of the Spirit, and the danger of linking a walk with the Spirit with speculative end-time scenarios that lack theological foundations.
Some of the big names in the history of our faith over the centuries who have favoured this dimension of the Christian faith include:
Alcuin of York ( c 732-804) bio; (no on-line bibliography seems to exist)
Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) bio and biblio
Charles Wesley (1707-1788) bio and biblio
Aimee Semple McPherson (1890-1944) bio and biblio
Contemporary expressions of this can be found in the Pentecostal movement, as well as the more recent “charismatic movement” of the mid-XXth century found in a wide range of denominations. It has been said that this XXIst century will be the Age of the Spirit, and we are seeing signs of a renewal of interest in the work of the Spirit and in the practice of Discernment, which is about paying attention to the work of the Spirit in and around us.