Late sixties: we were invited to participate in a small group within our church. This group was going to meet in someone’s home, to pray and study the Bible. Today it is difficult to imagine just how radical that seemed at the time! The church leadership did not want this home group to exist; they were threatened by it. The only reason we were allowed to meet was that a member of the church leadership team agreed to be part of this group.
Some of the hot topics of the day was speaking in tongues, prayer for healing, and other such practices which subsequently came to be known as the charismatic movement. We felt very brave in discussing these topics. Was speaking in tongues of the devil? What role does our personal faith play in prayer for healing? We studied the Bible intensely, and prayed just as intensely, as we sought the truth about these issues.
Later, through the seventies, issues raged. Did being baptized in the Holy Spirit require one to speak in tongues? Was tongues evidence of this baptism? Another debate raged over the type of music in the church. The churches I had been part of sang hymns, usually verses 1, 3, and 4!! But other groups were beginning to sing choruses. And leading them with guitar! Horrors! Again, it is difficult to remember how big these issues were back then. I got very involved in leading the music in our church. I learned to play guitar, and most Sundays I was front and center in praise singing. This was a most wonderful experience for me, one I still look back to with great fondness.
Early eighties: while attending seminary, a conservative fundamentalist student challenged one of my professors, “Seems to me you’re being awfully kind to the charismatics!” The professor replied, “I intend to be. The charismatics have been a great gift to the church in opening up a long-neglected area.” The student sat down with a “harumph!”
Another mind-blowing experience I had while in seminary was at a conference hosted by the seminary. Attending was the district minister where my former, “charismatic” church was situated. He had vigorously opposed the directions our church was taking. He and our pastor had butted heads numerous times over both the charismatic aspects of our church as well as the intentional community we practiced (see next chapter). During a break in the conference, I sidled up to a group of conference leaders which included this district minister. As I joined the group, this man said without any hesitation, “Gentlemen, I want to introduce you to Dennis. Back home, when my wife and I want to really experience God, we go to Dennis’ church.” I about dropped my coffee! I could not believe what I was hearing. That this man could have changed that much was utterly astounding.
To be sure, there were many errors in the charismatic movement. Excesses went as far as people dying from trying to manufacture a healing and stopping their medication, thinking this an indication of faith. Much guilt was piled onto people who didn’t have enough faith to be healed. Others gave leaders way too much authority, which inevitably was abused. But, as my professor’s comment indicated, there was much good brought to the church scene through the charismatic movement.
Before leaving this era, I want to share a couple more stories which occurred in the early eighties, right after I was through seminary. A common belief in churches during these times was paranoia about the world. I remember people getting up in arms over the Procter and Gamble symbol. I don’t remember all the details, but this symbol included something like a moon and stars. Procter and Gamble was a company producing all sorts of household goods, cleaners, soaps and the like. But someone, somewhere, came up with the idea that their symbol indicated that the company was evil, it was devilish in some way. I viewed this as pure foolishness, but for a time this fervour swept through the churches we associated with.
Another time we dropped in to see friends. I was listening to public radio, and had enjoyed a certain piece of music. This music was still in my head as we began our visit, and I expressed appreciation for it. When I mentioned the musician, one of our friends expressed horror over this music. “That’s pure new-age music!” she exclaimed, and made it very clear that this was not a good thing.
Again, this is early eighties, and the term “new-age” was just coming into vogue. I had heard the phrase, but never in negative terms. I pondered this knee-jerk reaction for quite awhile. And obviously, because I still remember it thirty years on, it made quite an impression on me! New-age, eh? What does that mean? Why the negative response to something which has acquired the label “new-age”? Isn’t the Christian faith “new-age”? Surely we believe in a new age to come? So, isn’t Christianity in essence a “new-age” religion? And if some in society have co-opted this term, shouldn’t we take it back by proclaiming what we believe to be the true new age?
So, this is a very brief glimpse, along with the next chapter, on what was a very foundational period of life, especially in my spiritual walk. The other part of this period, intentional community, comes next.