By Rev. Dr. J. Patrick Bowman
We all have the tendency to attach labels to ourselves. We call ourselves certain things based on physical attributes, health issues, age, national heritage, marital status, profession, etc. Therefore I might call myself a slightly overweight, diabetic, mid-senior, Scandinavian, married minister. Now I will surely modify some of those tags in the future based on changes in me within those categories. I intend to lose more weight, so at some point, I might be able to drop the slightly overweight. I will move from mid-senior citizen to just plain old-timer soon enough. I’ll always be Scandinavian. You get the picture. Some things are constants and some things change.
The definitions of many things are changing in our culture. Sometimes the meanings of categories change based on certain criteria. What our government considers the poverty level changes as adjustments are made for inflation. The definition of marriage has radically changed and will probably continue to change as new criteria are added to the definition. As long as the union of one man and one woman is still in the mix, I’ll still consider myself married. Sometimes it’s the addition of criteria to the definition and sometimes it’s the subtraction of criteria.
Of course, I always have the option of keeping a tag based on my own criteria, regardless of how others may change it around me. If the union of one man and one woman is dropped from the definition of marriage, I am still married by my definition which includes that criterion, although legally it may not be so. But that would require a lot of explanation as the new definition is accepted into common use. Remember gay used to mean happy.
In other cases, although the official definition of a label does not change, the actions of people using that label change to the point that it represents something outside its definition. If the political party you belong to began to support candidates and issues that were way outside the official party platform, and the party was beginning to be known by these extremes, would you want to continue to be associated with that party? At some point, one has to decide whether to keep the label or discard it. The options at that point are going labelless or creating a new label.
I recently created a new label for myself in the category of Christian practice. I now consider myself post-charismatic. Why did I ditch the old and adopt the new? It was a combination of me changing internally along with the fact of disliking what the charismatic label has come to represent in the hands of those who have driven it outside its original definition. In case you’re wondering, I have not forsaken the charismata. I believe in the gifts and function in the gifts. It’s the Charismatic Movement, in its current form, that I feel compelled to distance myself from, both in word (label) and deed. The original charismatic platform has not changed, but extremes in doctrines and practice by some wearing the label have created a new perception of what charismatic is and who charismatics are.
Do I need the label of charismatic to function in the gifts? I do not. Do I need the label post-charismatic to distance myself from false doctrine and extremes of practice? No, I don’t. Of course, what we are talking about here are not actual labels, but ways of thinking. A renewing of the mind, a paradigm shift comes by the Spirit through the word, or is that by the word through the Spirit? Oh my! Something else I will have to unravel. Some days my mind just works too hard.
let’s look at the phrase “Charismatic Movement.” The word charismatic is actually a combination of charis (grace), ma (the result of), and ic, from the Greek ikos, meaning “being like” or “having characteristics of.” A “t” is added before the “ic” if the base word ends in a vowel (asthma-t-ic for another example). So charismatic can be rendered being like or having characteristics of one embodying the results of grace. That is a good thing. I’m all in on that.
One definition of the word movement is “a group of people who share the same goal and work together to achieve it.” So we might say the peace movement is a group of people who share the goal of peace and work together to achieve it. We could say the pro-life movement is a group of people who share the goal of defending and honoring life and are working together to achieve it.
The problem here is not in the definition or the goal, but how individuals or sub-groups within the movement choose to act out the definition and achieve the goal. Do differing methods of achieving a goal cause a movement to become differing movements with the same name or goal? Do those committed to non-violent protest outside an abortion clinic and those who vandalize or bomb the abortion clinic consider they are working together to achieve their common goal of defending and honoring life? Did MLK, Jr. and Malcolm X, working toward the same goal in the Civil Rights Movement, use the same methods?
In Chapter 25 of The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, King says of Malcolm X, “He was an eloquent spokesman for his point of view and no one can honestly doubt that Malcolm had a great concern for the problems that we face as a race. While we did not always see eye to eye on methods to solve the race problems, I always had a deep affection for Malcolm and felt that he had the great ability to put his finger on the existence and root of the problem. He is very articulate, but I totally disagree with many of his political and philosophical views-at least insofar as I understand where he now stands. I don’t want to sound self-righteous, or absolutist, or that I think I have the only truth, the only way. Maybe he does have some of the answers. I know that I have often wished that he would talk less of violence, because violence is not going to solve our problem. And, in his litany of articulating the despair of the Negro without offering any positive, creative alternative, I feel that Malcolm has done himself and our people a great disservice. Fiery, demagogic oratory in the black ghettos, urging Negroes to arm themselves and prepare to engage in violence, as he has done, can reap nothing but grief.”
So I guess my observation when it comes to movements is that when men get involved it is easy for the original goal to become muddied in the midst of working it out. Sometimes just labeling something puts it in a box never intended for it. When man tries to institutionalize what was never intended to be institutionalized, what happens over time? What does Jesus think of the institutionalizing of His original goal and vision for His followers? Remember it was the movement of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost that brought life to the church, not a man labeled or institutionalized Charismatic Movement. This movement of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer is the only movement we should be concerned with.