Dangers Inherent in the Charismatic Movement

I posted this over on our forum, and I thought I could post it here to solicit responses as well. Now before you read the title and think I have become opposed to any charismatic experiences, realize that I do consider myself charismatic, in a limited sense (at least limited from the perspective of most non-Catholic Charismatics I am sure). I am not opposed to the stirrings of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and understand that I believe that the Holy Spirit does work in the Church and in the hearts of believers today. I have even had experiences I consider “charismatic.”

I was reading a book the other day called The Pentecostal Movement in the Catholic Church by Edward O’Connor, CSC (please share opinions on this book if you have read it). He is a charismatic Catholic, supportive of the movement, *but* is also a loyal Catholic, so he lists some dangers that *may* result from Catholics that become involved in the charismatic movement, and honestly, these are some of the same complaints I see folks having about the Charismatic Episcopal Church on our forum. Also, these are dangers that are outright taken for granted in most non-liturgical charismatic churches, and the main reason why I am suspicious of purely charismatic churches. Let me know what you think about these dangers:

1. Illuminism – i.e. folks believe God is telling them something unique that nobody else knows. There is a need to feel “special” and if God isn’t telling you something unique or even mildly provocative, your credibility as a leader/follower is called into question. In my parents Sunday school class when I was in college, there were about 5 people who always said “God told me to…” whether it was which car to buy or even to get up in the morning. Not only does this destroy the free will God created us with, but how can you argue with “God told me…”??

2. Paraclericalism – a downplaying of the role of clergy, or even suggesting there is no need for the Church hierarchy. I have seen this attitude even among charismatic clergy! There is such an emphasis on the experience of the individual, that any kind of formality or hierarchy is looked down upon. The result for some Catholics is to downplay the role of the Holy Spirit acting in the Church, because the Church and her rules seem too “formal,” and the hierarchy too “stifling.” This leads some charismatic Catholics to become cafeteria Catholics, believing only in what gets them spiritually “excited.”

3. Charismania – attributing excessive significance to the charisms while downplaying other spiritual acts. I have seen this, not so much firsthand, but from the testimony of others. Speaking in tongues or prophecy become the litmus tests for true spirituality, while feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc, are downplayed or even ignored. In some churches, the more outrageous the “charismatic” event, the more the Holy Spirit is deemed present. Unfortunately, this means the Holy Spirit is never allowed to work in a dignified and quiet manner.

4. Neglect of Traditional Spirituality – i.e. past spiritual experiences are downplayed or not even studied because it is all about what “I” am experiencing “now.” This can also be seen when the traditional liturgy is “suspended” when the Spirit leads to be replaced by often questionable pet projects of the pastor. There is also a hostility to formality, and to suggest that something should be done a proper way (such as clerical dress or properly executing an essential part of the liturgy) is viewed suspiciously.

5. Tyranny of the Prophetic – This isn’t Fr. O’Connor’s, but is a term used by a good friend of mine from my seminary days. This means that the prophetic, in this case referring to the illuminism mentioned above, can trump anything. In other words, if there is an objection to what the pastor is doing, the pastor just reminds the objectors that he talked to Jesus and “God told him…” and that settles it. 2000 years of Tradition is forced submit to the private revelation of one pastor.

6. Cult of Personality – I have to add this after reading the comments to the post. One commenter makes a good point in that in some charismatic churches, and even charismatic movements, a cult of personality can develop around the pastor or leader. Despite a general suspicion of traditional hierarchy and church order among some charismatics, the pastor, who has been given special prophetic knowledge, is often viewed idealistically. The result is that he can do whatever he wants without discipline or question, including taking huge sums of money from the congregation. Why? Well it goes back to number 5 above. He has spoken with God. That settles it!

Now, these 6 things are not reasons to discard the charismatic movement in the Catholic Church, just a kind of “head’s up.” They are, I think, a good critique of charismatic experiences outside a historical Church. I mention in my article I Can’t Be Charismatic…I’m Catholic that personal charismatic experiences must submit to the Teaching of Christ’s Church, where the Holy Spirit objectively operates. And while renewal movements often spiritually enliven the Church at times when she needs renewal, all renewal must be subject to the Teachings of Christ in His Church. The Holy Spirit operating in the individual will not contradict the Holy Spirit operating in Christ’s Church.

What do you all think?