This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

Monday, September 26, 2011

True Convergence - Establishing a Godly Heritage in Our Faith Communities

I have been pondering for several weeks about how to tie several thoughts together into one cohesive thing, and today's study is the resulting fruit of that labor.   My laptop computer has actually been out of commission for several days as of this writing, so you will be getting this later than it was originally written.  Therefore, here it is for this week.

The past couple of weeks have had me drawing a lot of things from a lot of material - I have finally given a good reading of Pastor Richard Crayne's history of the independent Holiness/Pentecostal movement entitled  The Pentecostal Handbook, and I have also been re-reading some of my old Convergence movement material, notably a book by Canon Philip Weeks (of the Charismatic Episcopal Church) published in 1998 entitled Non Nobis Domine - The Convergence Movement and the Charismatic Episcopal Church, which was originally published as an instructional manual for new congregations in the Phillipines, where Canon Weeks served as a missionary with Barnabas Ministries for many years.  Although I am personally no longer identified with the Convergence Movement per se - long story I will address briefly later - my exposure to this movement in its early stages still holds much value to me, and I came to appreciate the liturgical/sacramental dimension of my faith largely as a result of it.   However, for me the Convergence Movement did its duty, as it was my first stepping-stone towards my full embrace of my faith as a Catholic Christian.  And, it's that which I am basically writing to address now.

I guess it would be a good idea for me at this point to explain to you exactly what the Convergence Movement is, as some of you may not be familiar with it who are reading this, and therefore the terminology may not be familiar either I will be using.   Sometime back in the mid-1970's, a number of Evangelical, Pentecostal, and Charismatic Christians - a large number of them being pastors and other spiritual leaders - began to embark on a journey and surprisingly it led them to some undiscovered territory, much to their shock.  And, what they found rocked their world - the New Testament Church, they discovered, was a sacramental/liturgical entity!  To get the full impact of this whole thing, you need to understand where many of these pastors came from - many of them were out of a very "free-church" tradition in which the highest authority was the local congregation for the most part, and they eschewed any and all expressions that even hinted at being liturgical as being "dead" or "formalistic."  Many of them also were afflicted with a serious spiritual disorder called "Romophobia," which means basically that their hackles would go up at any mention of anything they perceived as "Catholic" in appearance.   Therefore, when the Holy Spirit started working a new thing in this group of Evangelicals, Baptists, Pentecostals, and Charismatics, he started revealing things to them in Scripture that not only spoke positively of liturgical worship, but in some areas even mandated it!  The initial shock was somewhat overwhelming for many of these people, but they were also a people with a high regard for Scripture as well as taking seriously St. Paul's admonition in II Timothy 2:15 to "study to show themselves approved," and so they did just that.   Their yielding to the Spirit allowed the Lord to work something new in these sincere people of God, and they would not be the same!  One particular group, formed out of a group of leaders of varied denominational backgrounds within the Campus Crusade for Christ organization, included Peter Gillquist, Gordon Walker, Richard Ballew, Jack Sparks, Jon Braun, and Ken Berven, among others, called themselves intially the New Covenant Apostolic Order, which later evolved into the Evangelical Orthodox Church (in 1987, the majority of the AOC was chrismated and received into the Antiochian Orthodox Church by Metropolitan Philip, but a small independent EOC group still exists today, and is in communion with my Synod - their story is in Fr Peter Gillquist's 1989 book, Becoming Orthodox, published by Conciliar Press of Ben Lomond, CA).  Yet another individual was a former independent Baptist student who later became a professor at Wheaton College, Dr. Robert Webber - after being received into the Episcopal Church later, Dr. Webber wrote in 1985 a book entitled Evangelicals On The Canterbury Trail which became the foundational text of the Convergence Movement.   Many others followed suit, and that whole thing culminated in 1977 in Chicago, when a group of these like-minded people, many of whom were still on their search, met and drafted a statement called "The Chicago Call" that became the foundational document - officially or unofficially, depending on whom one talks to - of Convergence.   Now that we have given a historical background, it's time to discuss in a more detailed fashion what Convergence is all about.

The idea of "convergence" basically in this context involves the gathering together of positive aspects of varying Christian traditions in a balance, and in doing so the spirit of the New Testament Church would be on the road to restoration.  Most teachers and proponents have called these variant traditions "streams," and generally there are three fundamental streams they identify:

2.  Pentecostal/Charismatic
3.  Sacramental/Liturgical

Those involved in the Convergence movement maintain that all of these streams contain vital elements of the New Testament Church as Jesus intended it, but over the centuries divisions and denominationalism have caused them to be played against each other rather than working in concord.   Therefore, the task of restoring New Testament Christianity is to separate out all the man-made legalisms and divisions, retain the Biblical aspects, and "converge" them together like the pieces of a puzzle coming together.  This, they teach, would be the thing to restore the Church to its fullness.   There is much merit to this, which is what initially attracted me to this movement in the first place, and I personally have always supported those objectives.   However, even the most noble experiments, despite their sincerity and correctness, are vulnerable to man's agenda getting into the equation to muddy it up, and I feel some segments of the Convergence movement have failed because they tried to "converge" the wrong things based on the wrong directions.  I want to address that now.

To have a truly "Convergent" Christianity, there are important standards that must be upheld and maintained in order to prevent worldiness and compromise from destroying the potential witness God would have for such an endeavor.  First, ther is another very unscriptural movement out there now called the "Emerging Church" that has practically nothing to do with true Convergence and this is why - Convergence seeks to restore while Emerging Church seeks to deconstruct, and the two are mutually exclusive.  By strict standards, the two movements should have nothing to do with each other, yet I have noted lines being blurred as some Convergence churches unfortunately have embraced such heretical practices as using rock bands (or CCM, as it is called) in "worship," advocacy of the "contemplative prayer" movement (which is more esoteric and New Age than Christian), and using writings of major proponents of the Emerging Church movement - Erwin McManus, Brian McLaren, Leonard Sweet, Richard Foster, and of course the "Purpose-Driven" nonsense of Rick Warren are some examples - as teaching material.   These things are not of God, as they are diametrically opposed to Scriptural teaching and the Tradition of the Church, and a truly Convergent Church should NEVER be part of the Emerging Church.  This is why my prayer for my dear friends and brethren in the Convergence Movement is for a greater spirit of discernment.

Second, what Convergence leaders should be doing is looking back to old-time expressions of each of the "Streams," rather than trying to keep up with new fads.   A Remnant Church must be built on Remnant principles, and these include principles that are in harmony with Scripture, the Holy Tradition of the Church, and with the true discernment of the Holy Spirit.   All three of the noted "Streams" of Christianity all have rich reservoirs of these, and it is these legacies we must seek to preserve and incorporate.  For instance, let's take liturgies and prayer books - a spiritually-sensitive Convergence leader should stay away from certain things:  the post-Vatican II Novus Ordo Mass and the Episcopal 1979 Book of Common Prayer come to mind here, as neither represents the rich liturgical heritage of the Church.  The more appropriate material for liturgy, if for instance the Convergence congregation chooses to follow the Anglican legacy, would be the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, which is more Scripturally sound and more faithful to Catholic practice.  That is just one example worthy of serious consideration.

Third, an openness to the Holy Spirit does not mean "Charismania"!!  I personally and fully believe in the spiritual gifts of I Corinthians 12, that they are relevant for today and are necessary in the life of the Church.  I also believe in the experience of the infilling of the Holy Spirit as documented in Acts 2, and I myself have that experience - I received it on 21 June 1989 at a little Pentecostal Holiness church in Brunswick GA, and I did speak in tongues!  However, being a former Pentecostal minister myself, I have seen more than my share (not to mention more than I could stomach!) of certain things, and therefore vehemently eschew such things as the "name-it-and-claim-it" stuff,  the whole "Toronto Blessing" mess, and pretty much all televangelism (with a couple of sound exceptions) because none of that garbage is Scriptural.  The Holy Spirit does do things decently and in order, and although spiritual vitality is essential, it should never be confused with spiritual anarchy.   This is why Convergence pastors and leaders should look to the old-time Pentecostals as well as to the earlier Charismatic renewal in the 1960's and early 1970's, and they should avoid like the plague the majority of stuff featured on Trinity Broadcasting Network and Charisma magazine these days.  There are also two other important factors to consider relating to this.  First, the Pentecostal experience didn't just pop up when some old woman spoke in tongues in 1906 at Azuza Street - the moving of the Holy Spirit has a long history in the Church, and much of its earliest activities were in sacramental/liturgical settings (ie:  the Catholic Apostolic Church in the 1830's)!  John Wesley, the man credited with much of Pentecostal/charismatic renewal these days, was in reality a high-church Anglo-Catholic priest who prayed the Rosary, believed in Mary as Ever-Virgin and the Theotokos, and was inspired greatly by the writings of St. Ephrem of Syria, one of the greatest Eastern Church Fathers who wrote extensively on the infilling of the Holy Spirit.   Also, A.A. Boddy, an early leader in British Pentecostalism, was greatly impacted by the spiritual legacy of St. Seraphim of Sarov, another spiritually dynamic Russian saint.  More examples can be cited, and they all say the same thing - liturgy and the renewal of the Holy Spirit go together!   Second, the charismatic experience has an apocalyptic dimension to it as well - as it gets closer to the time of the Lord's return to this earth to establish His kingdom, the Holy Spirit will manefest himself in more profound ways in the lives of both individual believers and in the corporate life of the Remnant Church.  That is Joel 2:28.   That being said, it is also important to emphasize that the Book of Revelation is also both a book of liturgy and a book of prophecy, and both go hand-in-hand as you have seen from my earlier teachings on that subject.  True Convergence, then, is taught in the Bible, and it is something the Remnant needs to strive for.

That being said, I want to continue addressing subject matter periodically like this, as so much more needs to be said. However, God bless and be with you until we meet up again next time.