I have run across two excellent articles recently concerning the Catholic Church.
The first, from the Washington Post, focuses on how Catholic Church officials have dealt with and in some cases, embraced, the charismatic movement. An estimated 10 million Catholics are identified as charismatic, according to a Pew Center study cited in the article. (As featured in my Thursday post.)
But as waves of Latin American immigrants alter the fabric of life in much of the United States, they are leaving one of their biggest imprints on the Roman Catholic Church.
Their arrival is reinvigorating the U.S. Catholic Church’s charismatic movement, which had been in decline since peaking in the 1980s. In recent decades, the movement — a type of worship that includes faith healing and prophesying — has swept across Latin American countries such as Mexico, Colombia and Brazil, where Catholic leaders are using rock-star priests and beachfront Masses to stem the defections of their flock to born-again Christian faiths. (From In U.S., Hispanics Bring Catholicism to Its Feet. The Church Offers Livelier Services for a Growing Constituency of Charismatics. Washington Post, May 7, 2007)
The second article, from the L.A. Times, focuses on the question of whether the pope will embrace Brazil’s increasing charismatic Catholic population, or will the pontiff scold Catholics in Brazil for their liberation theology, as he has done in the past.
Benedict is making his first papal trip to the Americas, home to half the planet’s Catholics, and will face a church replete with competing visions of how to retain the faithful and win back those who have left. The five-day Brazil visit also will serve as an important test of whether a pope seen as a rigid, Europe-focused intellectual, who stresses traditional dogma over creative worship, can reach and influence today’s Latin America. (From Brazil and the pope: an uneasy embrace. L.A. Times, May 8, 2007)
Though I’m not Catholic, I have concerns with the characterization of Charismatics, Pentecostals and other Protestants as “those who speak in tongues.” To clarify, I believe speaking in tongues, or glossolalia, is a sign of the infilling of the Holy Spirit but not the total of what it is. To use a very simple illustration I share with my Bible study students, speaking in tongues is a sound that accompanies the Holy Spirit, like the rumble of a motorcycle, but it’s not the width and breadth of the Holy Spirit itself.
“If I were to show up at your house and say, ‘Hey, let’s go for a ride on my motorcycle,’ ” I tell my students, “and then I turn on a tape recorder and play a recording of a motorcycle engine, wouldn’t you think I was nuts?
“To reduce the Holy Spirit to speaking in tongues would be like replacing a motorcycle with a recording of its engine.” A trite, oversimplified analogy to be sure, but its principle is sound.
The newspaper accounts of the Spirit-filled services are accurate enough. I guess my gripe — no, that’s too strong of a word — my addition is that as previously stated, there is far more to the Holy Spirit than how it is manifest during worship. And we Pentecostals have largely done it to ourselves. We have emphasized speaking in tongues to the point that it has overshadowed the role of the Spirit as a guide, a comforter and a power to witness, among other attributes.
The public reads about the demonstrative aspect of Spirit-filled worship but misses out on the joys of intimacy with the Creator. The quiet (and not so quiet) promptings by the Holy Spirit to pray for someone in the middle of service, to call someone and give a word of encouragement, to somehow find the right word at the right time while giving a Bible study.
I understand what Paul meant when he said “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.” (1 Cor. 14:18) But I also understand the joys of being led by the Spirit in quiet moments with Him.
Much more on this topic in the days and weeks to come.