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Impact of the charismatics

By Charlotte SaikowskiStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 23, 1987



Anaheim, Calif.

`HALLELUJAH! Praise the Lord!'' Dressed in shirt sleeves, John Wimber quietly leads an assemblage of Christians gathered in the auditorium at the Vineyard Christian Fellowship, a church situated in a neatly converted warehouse in the Hispanic section of this southern California city. With spontaneous ease, the congregation begins to sing ``We exalt Thee! We exalt Thee, O Lord.'' Faces, rapt and radiant, are uplifted, hands are raised high in worship, and some in the audience begin swaying gently as the strains of the hymn of praise, supported by a three-piece electronic band, swell.

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Pastor Wimber later prays to Jesus to ``touch people.'' After moments of pregnant silence, a cry is heard in the audience, then another, followed by convulsive sobs and moans in various parts of the auditorium. Small groups of people cluster around those in apparent distress and quietly begin praying, laying on hands....

``Thank you, Jesus! Praise you, Jesus!'' resound the soft cries. ``O Jesus, you are healing me, Jesus.''

Though Wimber does not regard himself as a charismatic, his services are charismatic in nature. And scenes like the above at the ``Healing '87'' conference in Anaheim in July are replicated in thousands of Pentecostal and charismatic gatherings across the United States and throughout the world. The fervor of the worshipers and ecstasy produced by the prayers for healing speak of the emotional impact of the charismatic movement on millions of Christians here and abroad.

According to church historians, the charismatic renewal is the fastest-growing Christian religious movement worldwide. Although the movement appears to have peaked in the United States, its growth in third-world countries is reported to be phenomenal. Even in the US, the independent charismatic churches (i.e., unaffiliated with mainline denominations) are said to be expanding more rapidly than any church.

It is important to understand the charismatic phenomenon, because it has tended to dominate the modern-day Christian healing scene.

Charismatics regard the healing of physical ills through prayer as only one aspect, and not the most important aspect, of their religious worship. But because this is the largest aggregate of those active in healing, the charismatics have had a substantial effect on how healing is viewed today.

While the movement embraces a wide array of practices and styles - ranging from effusive, dramatic worship (including spirited singing, hand-clapping, and even dancing) to quieter, more subdued services - most charismatics have these elements in common:

They believe in a ``Spirit baptism'' or ``filling by the Holy Spirit,'' which takes place subsequent to their conversion to Christ. This conversion is accompanied by or leads to speaking in tongues (these tongues are spontaneous and unlearned, resembling human language although largely unfamiliar to the human ear). The Holy Spirit is then viewed as empowering them with the ``gifts of the Spirit'' mentioned in I Corinthians 12, including healing.

They believe in and desire to experience the supernatural. This is taken to mean the intervention of God in the physical world, resulting in various phenomena, from the opening up of a parking space to ``miraculous'' healing, being ``slain in the Spirit'' (falling over as a result of feeling touched by the Holy Ghost), and having visions of Jesus.

They have a strong sense of Jesus as personally entering their life and governing it as their Lord and Saviour. This personal relationship with Jesus takes precedence in their services and their theology.