A Charismatic Invasion of Anglicanism?

First Things is published by The Institute on Religion and Public Life, an interreligious, nonpartisan research and education institute whose purpose is to advance a religiously informed public philosophy for the ordering of society.

Editor: R.R. Reno

Tuesday, January 7, 2014, 7:05 AM


In December Peter Berger wrote a brief reflection on Archbishop Justin Welby’s inviting four members of the Catholic Charismatic community Chemin Neuf to live and pray at Lambeth Palace. His reflection was based on a story in The Tablet. For Berger, this development was a pleasant surprise and represented a kind of invasion by global Pentecostalism into the heart of Anglicanism. I have a strong appreciation for Berger’s sympathetic interest in the dynamics and spread of Pentecostalism, which he uses as a short hand for the entire Pentecostal and charismatic movement. As I have said before, Pentecostals need friends like Berger who combine sensitivity with constructive dialogue.

Having said that, from my vantage point the event at Lambeth was neither an invasion nor surprising. It was, instead, a natural extension of a growing charismatic movement within the Church of England. In some ways, it could be seen as the fruition of a relationship between Pentecostals and Anglicans forged in 1907 when the Anglican vicar Alexander Boddy invited Thomas B. Barratt to speak at his parish, All Saints’ Church in Sunderland just outside of Newcastle upon Tyne in the north of England. Boddy had already been impacted by the Welsh Revival (1904-1905) and the preceding conventions at Keswick. Barratt, on the other hand, was a Methodist who had experienced a Pentecostal-type Spirit baptism through the Azusa Street Revival (1906-1909). From Barratt’s ministry, Boddy had his own Pentecostal experience. Beginning in 1908, he sponsored annual Whitsundtide Conferences at All Saints’, which became the epicenter of early Pentecostalism in England. He also began publishing Confidence, a periodical that served as the voice of British Pentecostalism.

I have often thought it significant that in the first issues of Confidence Boddy and others were drawing on Anglicans like J. S. Howson, Dean of Chester Cathedral until his death in 1885, to connect tongues as a seal and sign with ecstasy. Howson was also a supporter of women, arguing for the restoration of the female diaconate in his The Diaconate of Women in the Anglican Church. From the outset, British Pentecostalism had a kind of evangelical Anglican flavor to it seasoned with a touch of the mystical streams that also fed Anglo-Catholicism. One wonders what would be different if Keswick writers like Jessie Penn-Lewis and G. Campbell Morgan had not attacked Pentecostalism as a false mysticism, which Penn-Lewis went on to compare with Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam, because she saw similar bodily movements among the adherents of both groups.

In my view, Pentecostalism is nothing less than a modern version of Christian mysticism. Its twin emphases of sanctification and the charismatic mirror the monastic movement from penance to ecstatic union. This is part of why it is both misunderstood by evangelicals, receives much traction in Catholicism and Anglicanism, and has been a doorway for many low-church believers to become Anglican, Orthodox, or Catholic. It is also why Pentecostalism as a movement constantly experiences the tension between its mystical and evangelical DNA. If evangelical revivalism is its father, Christian mysticism is its mother.

These connections become apparent in the story of Michael Harper who introduced the charismatic movement into Anglicanism in 1962 after he had experienced Spirit baptism while curate at All Souls, Langham Place whose rector, John Stott, most will know. This was two short years after the Episcopal priest Dennis Bennett declared to his congregation St. Mark’s Episcopal Church that he had spoken in tongues. Harper became the director of the Fountain Trust in 1964, which was important in facilitating the charismatic movement’s emergence in the CoE. Eventually Harper became an Antiochian Orthodox priest and remained so until his death. Thomas Smail, a Church of Scotland minister who became Anglican, took over the directorship of the Fountain Trust after Harper resigned. Smail was a key Charismatic theologian who studied under Karl Barth and whose Giving Gift is an important contribution to the doctrine of the Spirit. The Fountain Trust officially closed in 1980, but it had made a mark on the Anglican landscape. In some respects, the ministry of The Fountain Trust continues through organizations like ReSource, which is Anglican, but attempts to foster renewal across Christian traditions in England.

Just one year after the closure of the Fountain Trust, David Pytches invited John Wimber to come to his church, St. Andrew’s, Chorleywood. Pytches had witnessed renewal when he was bishop of Chile, Bolivia, and Peru and he wanted to bring it to his church in England. Wimber introduced a strong emphasis on healing, the power of the Spirit, and a theology of the kingdom of God so characteristic of the early Vineyard. As a result of this encounter, Pytches began New Wine, which is an organization that promotes spiritual renewal across a number of churches. New Wine has become a network of churches, including Anglican, Baptist, and other denominations.

From these kinds of events the charismatic movement in Anglicanism continued to grow through the 1980s and 1990s. I personally experienced its vibrancy when I was at Oxford in the 90s. One person I heard speak was Graham Cray, a charismatic Anglican who was then principal of Ridley Hall, a theological college at Cambridge University. Cray has since become bishop of Maidstone and currently directs the Fresh Expressions team appointed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.

About Fr. Orthohippo

The blog of a retired Anglican priest (MSJ), his musings, journey, humor, wonderment, and comments on today's scene.
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