This is a post that’s been going around in my head for an age. I kept writing notes in my book and then not using them because I felt whatever angle I went for, someone would get offended. So I’m throwing caution to the wind and hoping that everyone who reads this will understand that my intention is for unity and not for argument, conflict, or accusation.
I move cities a lot. That means I change churches a lot. I’ve been part of churches that met in 200-year-old cathedrals, churches that met in rented school halls, and churches that met in pubs. These churches have sat in different places across a spectrum of style, governance, and architecture – but also along a spectrum of theology that, for the purposes of brevity (lol), I’m calling traditional and charismatic. These labels are horribly vague and insufficient, but I’m trusting you’ll all know what I mean. The outward signs of our place on the spectrum seems to be how many people raise their hands or speak in tongues, whether we sing hymns or Bethel, whether we’re Calvinist or Arminian. However, these outward signs seem to also be things we use to judge or antagonise each other. Someone raising their hands in a traditional church can be a challenge; ‘Look how free I am, compared to you.’ Each end of the spectrum is suspicious and judgey of the other end. There’s no attempt at understanding each other. I feel as though the traditional vs charismatic split is the new protestant vs catholicism. Traditional churches accuse the other of false teaching and heresy while charismatics accuse traditionalists of not walking in freedom, not entering true worship, suppressing the Holy Spirit.
In New Zealand, there was a schism between the two church styles, sometime in the seventies I think. They’re now so removed from that they define themselves in opposition to the other. If charismatics believe in gifts of the holy spirit, they must be wrong, so traditional churches believe that the gifts were only for the apostles. If one prophesies, the other won’t, and so on. The only times I’ve seen the two come together, it was like those school dances with the boys on one side of the hall and the girls on the other.
It’s been so frustrating, as someone moving along the spectrum, not sure where to put my pew. I feel like wherever I sit, I’m going to miss out on half of what God wants for the church. We are spiritual beings. ‘Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.’ My fear is that traditional churches are ill-equipped to deal with spiritual forces, while charismatic churches are ill-equipped to deal with natural forces. With the divide, comes the risk of misdiagnosing someone’s problems as either exclusively spiritual or exclusively natural. Someone may need both intercessory prayer and counseling/medical attention. Depending what end of the spectrum they attend church, they may only receive one of those things. The issues we face as humans are both spiritual and natural, so doesn’t it make sense that the church should be able to operate in both realms, rather than choosing one and treating the other with fear and suspicion?
So here’s my totally crazy suggestion. What if there’s a middle ground? In fact, I’m absolutely sure that there is. What if to find the middle ground, we had to moonwalk down the spectrum and talk to someone on the other side. There are things that each side can learn from each other, so why don’t we just talk about stuff? I’m sure most of us could have a meaningful debate about God with an atheist. Why not a debate about prophecy with a charismatic? Why not Greek translation with a traditionalist? And whoever says ‘heretic’ has to put a dollar in the jar.
If the spectrum was mixed, people could choose churches that fit their personalities and worship styles without losing out on theology. Personally, I find freedom in order. I want to pray for the person to my left so there’s no mix-ups and miscalculations (like when someone gets missed and has to awkwardly pray for their own prayer point). I’m a words person and lovey-dovey stuff makes me break out in hives, so I’ll take Come Thou Fount over We Dance any day. This doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong in different styles. But what makes one person feel free makes another feel constrained and false. For you, Come Thou Fount could bore you to tears, and you want to pray for everyone in the circle. Go for it. You do you. We don’t all have to be the same!
We’re the body of Christ. What sense is there in cutting our body in half? Each end has strengths the other could use. Pentecostals are generally great at pastoral care and ministry. Traditionalists generally have deeply considered theology that takes in historical context, genre, and original languages. Let’s get together, and walk in a fuller experience of the body of Christ. Maybe one day soon, I’ll be able to fulfill my dream of finding a book about the gifts of the spirit that isn’t tainted by the biases of the author’s place on the spectrum.