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"God is a God of the Present" PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 08 May 2007 08:44

Fr. Jim Tucker of Arlington, Virginia has written a long post in response to the Washington Post article on charismatic Catholics. He made one particularly interesting observation, which I have certainly corroborate - having worked in huge parishes in Fr. Jim's diocese:

"A third thing that contributes to the hemorrhages is the proportion of laymen to minister. In my own parish of 10,000+ parishioners, it's physically impossible for the three priests here to have a meaningful, personal relationship with the vast majority of parishioners. One knows a couple hundred of the people by name, is involved on a more personal basis with a few dozen, and the rest are anonymous faces.

Most of the sects' congregations are much smaller (except for the mega-churches), the pastors are in readier supply due to fewer requirements and a much shorter formation period (if any at all), and so the congregant-to-minister ratio is much more manageable, allowing for a lot of personal interaction. If you go from a place where a nameless Padre is glimpsed for 50 minutes from the crowded pews once a week (if you go that often), to a little storefront place where the pastor and his assistant ministers know your name, your kids, your job, your address, and get involved in your life -- well, quite apart from questions of doctrine, the human appeal is obvious.

For a long time, I've thought that we should come up with a way to get sound, trustworthy lay leaders in our parishes, set up as sort of grass-roots "ministers" for groups of families who want a more personal connection to the Church."


Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa would agree:

“In a 2001 interview with an Italian magazine, the cardinal said: "In my country, Honduras, the church is lay. This may scandalize. We don't even have 400 priests in the entire country, and in a medium-size city of 60,000 inhabitants there is only one priest, who must also care for the faithful spread out in 60 or 80 little villages among the mountains. He simply cannot do it."

So the Catholic Church in Honduras has trained and deployed 15,000 lay "delegates of the word," who evangelize, catechize, lead Sunday liturgies and distribute Communion, he said.

As I mentioned in my article on Independent Christianity, that is precisely the approach that evangelicals/apostolic Christians in Latin America are taking: systemically "planting" millions of small, neighborhood, evangelizing "churches" - we would call them small Christian communities - with leaders who are part of the community and have come up from the ranks.

And there is an important related issue:

I've been doing a lot of research on grace and specifically "actual grace" for Making Disciples and it has been most illuminating. One of things that the late Fr. John Hardon (famous for his orthodoxy and heroic catechetical efforts) pointed out in his on-line writings on actual grace (to my surprise) is that

"God is the God of the present, and He uses things which move me now. Often His starting point is a prayer, but not always.

God works in many ways. He appeals to people in different ways and to the same person in different ways at different periods of life. We outgrow certain things.

So he calls, draws us in another way.”



What is so attractive about these alternative forms of Christianity?

They emphasize the here and now, personal and experiential aspects of the faith.
The sort of things that move and touch the lives of ordinary, working or poor people who are not academics and historians and philosophers and theologians and whose daily life is a constant struggle. Add the promise of the experientially supernatural or miraculous answers to their suffering or struggle and you have an irresistible combination.


The Independents and Pentecostals got it from us, you know. This is exactly how the faith spread throughout ancient Rome.

That’s what Ramsey MacMullen says. (Ramsay MacMullen, the author of Christianizing the Roman Empire, was the Dunham Professor of History and Classics at Yale University. On January 5, of 2001 he was the recipient of a lifetime Award for Scholarly Distinction from the American Historical Association. The citation begins, "Ramsay MacMullen is the greatest historian of the Roman Empire alive today.")

MacMullen’s thesis? At the end of the first century, the church held a minimal significance in Roman society. It simply "did not count." Within three centuries it included ten percent of the population and had displaced the other religions of the empire. In Christianizing the Roman Empire, MacMullen addresses the factors for this amazing growth. The author demonstrates that these mass conversions first came through the power of miracles and later through the social advantage of becoming a Christian.

Not through reading the apologists and church fathers. Most people were illiterate and in any case, had neither the time or leisure or access to their works. Not primarily through the witness of Christian piety and the martyrs. Most people in the Roman Empire didn’t know of the martyrs. It wasn’t by wandering into a liturgy and being smitten by its beauty and power. The early Church practiced the discipline of the secret and didn’t allow pagans and the non-baptized to attend Mass.

No, in the early days, it was primarily signs and wonders. Healing, exorcisms, prophecy. Often through those considered to be “non-persons” in their culture. Slaves, women. That sort of thing.

MacMullen observed in his book that early sources tell us that is what motivated most people but, as post-enlightenment minded moderns, we have refused to take their word for it. “Miracles” and “healings” must be a metaphor for something else. We could, MacMullen suggests, assume that they are intelligent observers who meant what they said without anachronistically imposing our mental map upon them.

"God is the God of the present, and He uses things which move me now."

Knowing this and acting accordingly is part of being “deep in Catholic history” and in our faith.

Mugabe's Wrong PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Monday, 07 May 2007 14:00

Catholic News Service reported on the response of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's response to a pastoral letter written by the nine bishops of Zimbabwe. The original story is linked here. Mr. Mugabe's response reveals a narrow view of the place of faith in society.

"Mugabe, a Marist-educated Catholic, told the London-based New African magazine that he was not at Mass on Easter to hear the bishops' letter read.

'If I had gone to church and the priest had read that so-called pastoral letter, I would have stood up and said "nonsense,"'he said in an interview in the May edition of the magazine.

Mugabe, 83, said the letter is not 'something spiritual, it is not religious,' and the bishops 'have decided to turn political.'

'And once they turn political, we regard them as no longer being spiritual, and our relations with them would be conducted as if we are dealing with political entities, and this is quite a dangerous path they have chosen for themselves,' he said.

Aside from the not-so-veiled threats made against the bishops, there is a misunderstanding beneath Mugabe's words that is common here in the United States. The error is to believe that a person of faith, if they act according to their faith in the public forum, have moved beyond the area of faith. Sometimes it's said they've "politicized" their faith, other times, they are accused of acting politically, rather than spiritually, as Mr. Mugabe claims.

Pope Benedict has emphasized the Second Vatican Council's wider goal: to bring the faith out of the private sphere and renew it as the driving force of history. In the context of Mr. Mugabe's comments, it's important to consider a few quotes from the teaching of the Council and other magisterial documents.

First of all, according to the Council Fathers' teaching, the Zimbabwean bishops have a right to address, even critique President Mugabe's policies. "It is only right, however, that at all times and in all places, the Church should have true freedom to preach the faith, to teach her social doctrine, to exercise her role freely among men, and also to pass moral judgment in those matters which regard public order when the fundamental rights of a person or the salvation of souls require it. In this, she should make use of all the means-but only those-which accord with the Gospel and which correspond to the general good according to the diversity of the times and circumstances." Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 76

In fact, the bishops - and all Catholics within Zimbabwe - would be remiss if they did not speak out against a government that is disregarding basic human rights. "For Catholic moral doctrine, the rightful autonomy of the political or civil sphere from that of religion and the Church – but not from that of morality – is a value that has been attained and recognized by the Catholic Church and belongs to inheritance of contemporary civilization...The right and duty of Catholics and all citizens to seek the truth with sincerity and to promote and defend, by legitimate means, moral truths concerning society, justice, freedom, respect for human life and the other rights of the person, is something quite different. The fact that some of these truths may also be taught by the Church does not lessen the political legitimacy or the rightful 'autonomy' of the contribution of those citizens who are committed to them" Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding The Participation of Catholics in Political Life, 6

The kind of disjuncture that President Mugabe would make between one's spiritual life and political life is precisely what the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity from the Council warns against.

"There cannot be two parallel lives in their existence: on the one hand, the so-called ‘spiritual life’, with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called ‘secular’ life, that is, life in a family, at work, in social responsibilities, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture. The branch, engrafted to the vine which is Christ, bears its fruit in every sphere of existence and activity. In fact...every activity, every situation, every precise responsibility – as, for example, skill and solidarity in work, love and dedication in the family and the education of children, service to society and public life and the promotion of truth in the area of culture – are the occasions ordained by providence for a ‘continuous exercise of faith, hope and charity’" (Apostolicam actuositatem, 4)

Yes, Mr. Mugabe's wrong to suggest that the bishops are no longer acting spiritually, but only politically. But how many Americans would agree with him?
Quote of the Day - from Dorothy Sayers PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 07 May 2007 13:42

I came across this again as I'm working on Making Disciples. One of the things that we have seen over and over emerge from intentional discipleship is a remarkable new kind of apostolic creativity. Dorothy Sayers understood why.

She quotes A.D. Lindsey’s wonderful observation:

“The difference between ordinary people and saints is not that saints fulfill duties that ordinary men neglect. The things saints do have not usually occurred to ordinary people at all. . .’

Gracious’ conduct is like the work of an artist. It needs imagination and spontaneity. It is not the choice between presented alternatives but the creation of something new.”

The Whimsical Christian, p. 131
The Latin Future of the US Church? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 07 May 2007 12:56
Whispers covers the Washington Post article on the Catholic charismatic renewal in this country and how Hispanic immigration is reviving it.

"Though the Catholic Church does not keep official statistics on its charismatic flock, church leaders and academics say the study, considered alongside trends in the Hispanic population, suggests that the number of Catholics embracing at least some aspects of charismatic devotion has almost doubled over the past 20 years to more than 10 million adults."

As Rocco puts it in his inimitable style:

"As the continuing infusion of Hispanics into the States strengthens the church in the south and west, the new arrivals' distinctive piety putting an ever-more dominant stamp on American Catholicism in the process, the papal visit and meeting serves as further reminder to this flock to the north that -- for all the current fixation of the church's more rarefied elements on the Tridentine Mass -- the Latin future of the US church is more one of Guadalupe than Ghislieri, less "Et cum spiritum tuo" and more "Y con tu espíritu."

If you want to know more and somehow missed my 11 part article this past week on "The Challenge of Independent Christianity, go here.
Pray for Greensburg, Kansas PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 07 May 2007 10:48

Greensburg, Kansas, which was destroyed in that terrible tornado last week is located in the diocese of Dodge City, Kansas. Thank God, they have just found another survivor after two days.

We've done a lot of work in the diocese (which borders the diocese of Colorado Springs) which stretches across the praries of southwest Kansas and is one of the smallest dioceses in the US.

It's a diocese so small that Bishop Gilmore knows all the children being confirmed and that most of the diocesan leaders have their eye on that likely Catholic teen in Hays or Garden City who shows such potential. In southwestern Kansas, a town of 4,000 like Greensburg is a significant center. Its loss is enormous.

The Greensburg Catholic church, St. Joseph's, was completely destroyed and the pastor is still attempting to locate members of his congregation.

But the diocese is rallying its far-flung members via the internet. The children who attended school in Greenburg will be welcomed, without charge, to finish out the school year in any of the Catholic schools in the diocese. Collections are being taken up at every parish in the diocese and will be distributed through Kansas Catholic Social Services.

Pray for the people of Greensburg. Consider giving to the diocesan fund to assist the victims rebuild their lives.

Update Tuesday:

Catholic News Service has this piece this morning on St. Joseph's in Greenburg and the efforts of the diocese to respond.

Tim Wenzl, media liaison for the Dodge City Diocese, said St. Joseph Church was destroyed in the May 4 tornado, with only a memorial bell and a statue of St. Joseph left standing in an exterior niche of a wall. But all 160 parishioners have been accounted for and no one was killed, he added.

Another Catholic church, St. Peter and Paul in North Ellinwood, lost its steeple and has a large hole in its roof, Wenzl said. The church, which was built in a rural area and predates the Second Vatican Council, had been closed but was being maintained as a heritage site, he added.

Catholic Charities USA sent an initial $10,000 emergency grant and was collecting donations to assist in long-term recovery efforts for tornado victims. "Catholic Charities USA's Office of Disaster Reponses remains in close contact with Catholic Social Service to determine what other assistance the local agency may need in the days and weeks to come," the Virginia-based agency said May 7.

Editor's Note: Contributions to aid tornado victims may be made by phone at: (800) 919-9338; on the Web at:; or by check to: Catholic Charities USA, P.O. Box 7068, Merrifield, VA 22116-7068.

More on Pope's Trip to Brazil PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 07 May 2007 08:19
Check out this website (the Papa Ratzinger Forum), which has lots of background and great pictures regarding the Pope's visit to Brazil in English.
Snow Again This Morning PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 07 May 2007 07:33
It started last night and lasted a good deal of the night. It will be gone within hours - but still. This Mississippi girl never thought she'd wake up to snow on May 6th. They are calling it the Cinco de Mayo snow.

Around here, we think of it as white rain.
Women of Solidarity PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 07 May 2007 07:21
Here's an encouraging new lay formation and support initiative in the Diocese of Bridgeport: Women of Solidarity.

I had the chance to talk to Amy Wanamaker, one of the leaders when she called to look into learning how to help the women attending discern their charisms

Their first big event is a networking supper Tuesday night featuring a talk on the dignity of women. If you are in the Bridgeport area, check it out.
Pope to Meet with Latin Protestants PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 07 May 2007 06:55
The Pope invited the faithful to pray for the May 9-14 "apostolic pilgrimage and, in particular, for the 5th General Conference of the Episcopate of Latin America and the Caribbean, so that all the Christians of those regions may see themselves as disciples and missionaries of Christ, the way, the truth and the life."

I find it interesting that the Pope, who is nothing, if not precise, phrased his prayer request in this way: "All the Christians of those regions may see themselves as disciples and missionaries of Christ" If he was talking only about Catholics, he'd have said "the faithful".

I noticed that he is scheduled to meet
with the representatives of other Christian confessions and religions and give an address on May 10, 2007. (per the Vatican website)

It will be interesting to who attends that gathering (and who doesn't) and what the Holy Father says.

The Challenge of Independent Christianity (part 11 - the end!) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Sunday, 06 May 2007 06:39
See part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8, part 9, part 10.

Just a reminder for my readers: NONE of the staff or teachers of the Catherine of Siena Institute have ever been or are currently part of the “Independent Christian” movement! Nor have any of our posters on ID ever been part of it (as far as I know).

I am writing about this movement as a journalist, not an apologist. I am describing the second largest, fastest growing, and most missionary-minded Christian community in the world today because we have to recognize their existence in order to deal with them.

As a journalist, my job is to try and help you grasp the nature and significance of the movement. Since Independent Christianity is complicated to describe, I will spend most of my time describing and secondarily exploring some of the implications for the Catholic Church. I will not be spending my time in a detailed analysis and rebuttal of their many theological problems, not because I agree with their stance but because it would require another 20,000 words to do so and this is long enough as it is!

Evangelization and Formation of the Laity

In a previous life, I traveled across the country teaching gifts discernment and lay formation workshops with a brilliant and witty Dominican who enjoyed a little friendly “Protty-bashing”. (Sherry’s note: Have I mentioned that all Dominicans are - by definition - brilliant and witty?)

When we would zip by some six-flags-over-Jesus megachurch on our way to the next parish, he would ask me about their history and beliefs. Want to know the beliefs of Old Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit Predestinarian Baptists? No worries! I had it all squirreled away in a mental drawer labeled “truth is stranger than fiction”.

When I was done, Fr. Michael would brood for a moment upon the inexplicable ways of Providence and then utter this heartfelt prayer: “Thank God, Dad was born Catholic!”

Some of you may be feeling the same way about now. I remember early on having a conversation with Fr Michael Sweeney about the millions of Catholics who had left the Church and were to be found everywhere in non-denominational mega-churches. His response was immediate and vehement: “Just tell them to stop it!”

If only I could. I know that it is utterly, utterly mystifying to many Catholics. The idea that anyone would voluntarily leave the Catholic Church to join a congregation led by someone who has the chutzpah to announce that they’ve been personally anointed as an apostle by the Holy Spirit is too absurd – too appalling - for words.

But I know many Independents personally – some are family members and close friends– and I know that they are often impressive, intelligent people of great faith who are asking very specific, practical, existential questions. They want to experience God now – in their own lives and in the lives of others. They want to believe that God still moves today as he did in the first century. They are like my brother, rejoicing in the healing of a frail women’s arm. They are like Rolland and Heidi Baker, taking the kind of risks for others that are only possible if you don’t have to protect yourself, if you know that God will provide and there will always be enough.

We can’t simply dismiss these people, no matter how uncomfortable they make us. For one thing, the United States is the Western epicenter of Independent Christianity. There are some 80 million Independent Christians in this country. They are, by far, the largest bloc (as opposed to denomination) of Christians.

And the Independent churches that dot our landscape are full of baptized Catholics. For instance, Ted Haggard believed that 1/3 of the 14,000 locals who regularly attend New Life Church in Colorado Springs would consider themselves Catholic. It has been estimated that 30% of today’s American evangelicals are first or second generation former Catholics (The Catholic Church at the End of an Age, Ralph Martin, p. 38). Hard numbers are difficult to come by, but
I know that whenever I re-enter the evangelical world, I run into large numbers of Catholics. Some still attend Mass, others do not.

There has been much discussion of the fact that the generation of practicing Catholics just now coming into their own – the “JP II generation” – is much more traditionally minded than their Boomer parents were. There certainly is a JP II group of young adult Catholics. I have met a large number as I travel.

But we must remember that these “New Faithful” are estimated to make up only 20% of their peer group. "... a sizable number of young adults -- we estimate about 20 percent -- attend Mass and go to Communion regularly, go to confession occasionally, think of themselves as 'orthodox' Christians and read the Scriptures whenever they can. They see themselves as the future of the church and are quite naturally offended when others describe young adults as the
problem." From "American Catholics Today: New Realities of Their Faith and Their Church," reviewed in Catholic News Service, April 5, 2007.

The same study notes that, all together, only one-fourth of Catholic young adults go to Mass on a weekly basis. So it would seem that four fifths of the young adults we see at Mass every Sunday are of the “New Faithful” mindset. But 75% of baptized young adults are not at Mass. Where are they? There are other, parallel movements of Catholic young adults that are hidden from us because they are not among us anymore. As St.Dominic was fond of saying, “What about the others?”

Independent congregations are filled with young adults. The front of New Life Church is like a mosh pit during services. A couple of hundred teen-agers and young adults freely dance and sing and prostrate themselves in spontaneous worship. They believe that real worship is highly personal and spontaneous. Many of them were raised Catholic. If they are inwardly longing for the solemnity of the Latin Mass, they are certainly looking for it in all the wrong places.

Millions of Catholics of all ages – often the most spiritually hungry - are having their hearts, minds, and imaginations formed in a non-Catholic worldview. More American adults use Christian media than attend church in a given month. 78% of all churched adults in the US supplement what they receive on Sunday with Christian media. 93% of the most committed Christians – those who go to church, read the Bible and pray in a given week - use Christian media during a given month. Notice that the use of Christian media grows as the intensity of one’s Christian commitment grows. I don’t have to tell my readers that the Christian media in the US is overwhelmingly non-Catholic. (Christian Mass Media Reach More Adults With the Christian Message Than Do Churches, July 2, 2002, Barna Research.)

The temptation is to shout “Just stop it!” But simply forbidding Catholics to look outside the Church for spiritual sustenance is futile. Few adults wrestling with burning personal issues are going to accept “no” as an answer. If they believe that they are not finding what they and their families need in the Catholic church, they will vote with their feet. In the United States, all they have to do is talk to their friends or fire up their laptops or turn on their TVs or run down to the local Christian bookstore or post-modern cell church. If we do not evangelize our own, someone else - it may well be an Independent - will do it for us. If we do not form our own, someone else will. In fact, someone else is doing so at this very minute!

Nor are we free to do as the early Reformers did and shield ourselves from the New Apostolic influence by sternly jettisoning anything that smacks of the charismatic. That is not thinking or teaching with the Church.

Everyone should painstakingly ready himself personally for the apostolate, especially as an adult. For the advance of age brings with it better self-knowledge, thus enabling each person to evaluate more accurately the talents with which God has enriched his soul and to exercise more effectively those charismatic gifts which the Holy Spirit has bestowed on him for the good of his brothers.

The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity (Apostolicam Actuositatem) 30.

Independent Christians can only envision a world in which the institutional and the charismatic are opposed to one another. In this, as in so many other areas, magisterial teaching demands that Catholics teach, live, and model a more sophisticated balance. As the Holy Father proclaimed at the Pentecost 1998 gathering of the new lay movements, “The institutional and charismatic aspects are co-essential as it were to the Church's constitution. They contribute, although differently, to the life, renewal and sanctification of God's people.” (emphasis mine)

You want miracles? Ever heard of Padre Pio? Visions? Let me introduce you to Catherine of Siena. Raising the dead? Old news. John Wimber had nothing on Dominic Guzman, that cutting edge 13th century evangelist who regularly saw signs and wonders accompany his ministry.

It’s a false reading of history to believe that it is “either-or”. As Pope John Paul II put it, “True charisms cannot but aim at the encounter with Christ in the sacraments.”

The supernatural is still happening in the lives of ordinary men and women today. I know. To date, the Catherine of Siena Institute has helped over 25,000 Catholics around the world discern the charisms which the Holy Spirit bestowed upon them in Baptism and Confirmation. As my many lay and priestly collaborators can tell you, what the Holy Spirit is doing in and through the lives of ordinary Catholics – most of whom have never been part of the charismatic renewal – is both amazing and immensely encouraging.

As John Paul II observed, “Whenever the Spirit intervenes, he leaves people astonished.”

Your thoughts?

(Sherry's note: If you would like to become part of the solution, consider attending the Catherine of Siena Institute's Making Disciples in Colorado Springs this summer or West Virginia this November.)

To learn more about topics raised by this article, check out:

The World Christian database at the Center for the Study of Global Christianity. Based upon the World Christian Encyclopedia, this online searchable colossus is regularly updated. Data on 9,000 Christian denominations, 13,000 ethnolinguistic peoples, 5,000 cities, 238 countries and all major world religions.

Lausanne Committee on World Evangelization website

AD 2000 and Beyond Movement The office is closed, but the website remains and has lots of information.

Global Harvest Ministries, Peter Wagner’s organization in Colorado Springs. To get a flavor, read the Global links and Global prayer newsletter. Has links to Wagner Leadership Institute.

Ministries Today Magazine, Pentecostal/charismatic/Apostolic. Did a series of issues on the five-fold ministries.

DAWN Friday Fax, global mission and evangelization news from an independent perspective

Iris Ministries, website of Heidi and Rolland Baker. Read their blog and newsletter for a taste of the best of apostolic Christianity. Read this article about their ministry. Be prepared to be blown away.

The Parish: Mission or Maintenance?, Sherry Weddell & Michael Sweeney, OP. Catholic perspective on the role of the ordained and the parish in formation of the laity; the significance of charisms in formation. Originally presented at the North American College and the Angelicum in Rome.

The Challenge of Independent Christianity (part 10) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Saturday, 05 May 2007 17:00
Posted for Sherry W.

See part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8, part 9.

Just a reminder for my readers: NONE of the staff or teachers of the Catherine of Siena Institute have ever been or are currently part of the “Independent Christian” movement! Nor have any of our posters on ID ever been part of it (as far as I know).

I am writing about this movement as a journalist, not an apologist. I am describing the second largest, fastest growing, and most missionary-minded Christian community in the world today because we have to recognize their existence in order to deal with them.

As a journalist, my job is to try and help you grasp the nature and significance of the movement. Since Independent Christianity is complicated to describe, I will spend most of my time describing and secondarily exploring some of the implications for the Catholic Church. I will not be spending my time in a detailed analysis and rebuttal of their many theological problems, not because I agree with their stance but because it would require another 20,000 words to do so and this is long enough as it is!

Ecumenical and Intra-Ecclesial Implications

We tend to regard the three basic “types” of Christianity - Catholicism, Protestantism, and Orthodoxy - as essentially stable and fixed. Given the long histories and long memories of these faiths, it is only natural to think of religious affiliation as a deeply-rooted identity that changes only with difficulty and very slowly. We don’t expect to wake up tomorrow and find that Protestants have decided en masse that the Reformation was not a good idea or that the Orthodox have jettisoned their icons in favor of store-front missions. Our ecumenical dialogue is founded upon this presumed stability.

David Barrett, however, has a fascinating sidebar in his World Christian Encyclopedia indicating that a surprising amount of religious change is, in fact, the norm. As Barrett puts it, “Every year, millions of people are changing their religious profession or their Christian affiliation. Mass defections are occurring from stagnant majority religions to newer religions” (World Christian Encyclopedia, p. 5). It is imperative for us to understand that a significant part of this change is the result of personal choices, and not just natural birth and death. Evangelicals have a saying: “God has no grandchildren”. Although Catholics don’t usually think in these terms, the Church’s recent experience in the West should give us pause.

Christianity has experienced massive losses in the Western world over the last 60 years...every year, some 2,7655,100 church attenders in Europe and North America cease to be practicing Christians within the 12-month period, an average loss of 7,500 every day. At the global level, these losses from Christianity in the Western World slightly outweigh the gains in the Third world. (World Christian Encyclopedia, p. 5).

Most thoughtful Catholics are already aware of the grim situation of the Church in the West which, in part, spurred Pope John Paul II to call for a new evangelization.
On the other hand, Christianity has experienced massive gains across the Third World throughout the 20th century... The present net increase (in Africa) is 8.4 million new Christians a year (23,000 a day) of which 1.5 million are net new converts (converts minus defections or apostasies). Sizeable net conversions are also taking place in Asia (2.4 million/year). (World Christian Encyclopedia, p. 5).

Looking at the global scene as a whole, one must conclude that the mission ad gentes has been the great success story of the 20th century. It is the pastoral care and on-going evangelization of established Christian peoples – especially in historic European denominations - that has “collapsed”.

But there is another change, just as dramatic, which most Catholics have not yet noticed, even though it has occurred in our lifetime - in a single generation. The rise of the Independent movement is one consequence of the massive “pentacostalization” of those Christian communities who are the spiritual heirs of the Protestant Reformation.

Every day, 30,000 Christians around the world join the ranks of what Barrett calls the “renewalists”. Under the generic term renewalist, Barret would include all members of classic Pentecostal denominations (80 million); all charismatics within standard denominations including Catholics (186 million), and all “neo-charismatics” who are neither classic Pentecostals or within standard denominations (324 million). In mid 2005, there were approximately 590 million renewalist Christians in the world.

In 1970, only 16% of non Catholic, non-Orthodox Christians qualified as renewalists. By 2000, 60% of Reformation heritage Christians in the world were renewalists. And a significant percentage of the remaining 40%, who would not formally qualify as renewalists, have nonetheless absorbed some of their ideas and practices. The part of the world where Christianity is most obviously faltering, such as Europe, has the fewest number of renewalists while Latin America and Asia have the most. The United States is the western country with the largest number (31%). (A detailed look at the global growth of the renewal is available in the World Christian Encyclopedia, pages 19-21).

This is especially significant because cessationism - the theological conviction that the miracles of the apostolic age ceased when the full canon of Scripture become available as a source of revelation and guidance – is a Protestant idea. Cessationism never made much sense to Catholic or Orthodox Christians who continued to expect the saints to work miracles, but it was the norm among non-Pentecostal Protestants only a generation ago. As a baby Baptist in southern Mississippi, I was taught that things like speaking in tongues and miraculous healings were demonic manifestations. In the 80’s, many evangelical mission agencies still would not accept charismatic candidates.

Today, it is a rare American or Latin or Asian or African Protestant indeed who holds to strict cessationism. They aren’t necessarily going to be speaking in tongues anytime soon, but even the most cautious are usually open to the possibility of divine healing. This can’t help but strongly affect our ecumenical dialogue with our Reformed heritage brothers and sisters.

To understand the impact of charismatic spirituality on Catholics, we have to distinguish between actual magisterial teaching on charisms and the charismatic dimension of the Church, the Catholic charismatic renewal, and those who have simply absorbed charismatic beliefs or practices, whether via Catholic or Protestant sources.

The whole issue of charisms - how common and widely they are given, and how they are related to baptism and the apostolate of the laity - was specifically discussed in October, 1965 during the debates on the Decree on the Laity at the Second Vatican Council. Welcoming and discerning the charisms was already formal Church teaching at the highest level when what is now known as the charismatic renewal broke out in 1967 at a student retreat at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh:

It is not only through the sacraments and the ministries of the Church that the Holy Spirit sanctifies and leads the People of God and enriches it with virtues, but, "allotting his gifts to everyone according as he wills (1 Cor 12:11), he distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts he makes them fit and ready to undertake the various tasks and offices which contribute toward the renewal and building up of the Church, according to the words of the Apostle: "The manifestation of the Spirit is given to everyone for profit" (1 Cor 12:7).

These charisms, whether they be the more outstanding or the more simple and widely diffused, are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation, for they are perfectly suited to and useful for the needs of the Church. Extraordinary gifts are not to be sought after, nor are the fruits of apostolic labor to be presumptuously expected from their use, but judgment as to their genuinity and proper use belongs to those who are appointed leaders in the Church, to whose special competence it belongs, not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to that which is good (cf. 1 Thes 5:12; 19-21). (Dogmatic Constititution on the Church, 12)

Formal involvement in the charismatic renewal is a minority experience among Catholics – especially in the West. As of 2000, about 120 million (11.3%) Catholics in the world had been involved in the charismatic renewal at some point. It is much rarer among the Orthodox - only 1.5%. (Sherry’s note: in any other communion, 120 million would be a massive majority. Remember that the entire world-wide Anglican communion is only 86 million strong.)

However, the numbers of Catholics around the world who have adapted “renewalist” ideas or practices is much larger. Consider Latin America. Brazil is not only the largest Catholic country in the world; it is also the home of the largest number of denominational Pentecostals (24 million) and the largest number of charismatics (35 million) – most of whom are Catholic. A recent survey conducted by The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found, for example, that “more than half of Brazilian Catholics have embraced important elements of spirit-filled or renewalist Christianity, including a highly animated worship style and such practices as speaking in tongues and divine healing.”

And the same phenomenon is changing the face of the American Catholic Church. To explore the complex nature of religion among Latinos in the US, who already make up 39% of Catholics, the Pew Hispanic Center and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life collaborated on a series of surveys that totaled more than 4,600 interviews, constituting one of the largest data collection efforts conducted on this subject.

They found that, in the US,
more than half of Hispanic Catholics identify themselves as charismatics, compared with only an eighth of non-Hispanic Catholics. While remaining committed to the church and its traditional teachings, many of these Latino Catholics say they have witnessed or experienced occurrences typical of spirit-filled or renewalist movements, including divine healing and direct revelations from God. Even many Latino Catholics who do not identify themselves as renewalists appear deeply influenced by spirit-filled forms of Christianity.

This gap between those who are consciously open to charismatic phenomena and those who are not is rapidly becoming the new global divide between Christians. Most importantly for the US, it is opening a nearly unbridgeable chasm of experience and imagination between the enlightenment-influenced, Anglo Catholic elite (conservative, liberal, and traditionalist) and their charismatic Protestant and Catholic brothers and sisters.

(Sherry’s note: In my experience, the fear and loathing with which some intellectually inclined Catholics regard charismatics isn’t about charisms at all. The loathing is really directed toward a particular style of emotionally demonstrative worship and the fear is that the intellect and its fruit will cease to be valued. They don’t know that there are very real, supernatural charisms of the intellect.

I have had many conversations around the world with traditionalist and intellectual Christians who would shudder at the prospect of darkening the door of a charismatic prayer meeting but were clearly manifesting charisms. I’ve talked to people in dioceses so adverse to the renewal that charismatic prayer groups are literally underground. I have listened to priests who are clearly manifesting charisms of healing (and talking about it in whispers!) in the most traditionalist dioceses on earth. When I point that out to them and show them how their experience corresponds to magisterial teaching, they rejoice – but would still shudder if asked to raise their hands and sing praise songs.

In magisterial teaching, the charisms are one of the normative fruits of baptism, given for the sake of others and the mission of the Church; hence the urgency that they be discerned. If we simply regard the charisms in themselves, the whole charismatic/non-charismatic tension – which is really about something else - just dissolves.)

There is more at stake in all this than openness to the miraculous.

Protestantism, as a whole, is undergoing the biggest changes in ecclesiology, pastoral practice, and spirituality seen since the Reformation. Mainline and evangelical Protestant strategists in the west are starting all kinds of alternate congregations and movements aimed at post-modern seekers. They are called by various names: “emergent church”, “missional church”, or “simple church”. They may or may not be part of the New Apostolic Reformation but they share many similar convictions.
We believe the missional genius of the church can only be unleashed when there are foundational changes made to the church's very DNA, and this means addressing core issues like ecclesiology, spirituality, and leadership. It means a complete shift away from Christendom thinking, which is attractional, dualistic, and hierarchical. (The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church, by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost, 2003)

Cardinal George of Chicago has famously observed that U.S. citizens "are culturally Calvinist, even those who profess the Catholic faith." Ordinary American Catholics will inevitably be deeply affected, even if they never leave the Church, when Protestantism, which so dominates our religious imagination and culture as a nation, undergoes a dramatic transformation. The fact that Latinos, with their very different cultural and charismatic sensibilities, will probably soon constitute a majority of American Catholics, is only going to reinforce this trend.

More on implications for Catholics tomorrow.
Catholic Quote of the Day PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Saturday, 05 May 2007 10:25
Via David as part of this discussion at a valuable discussion of zeal and its sometimes toxic effects over at Disputations:

"There are two kinds of workmen equally earnest in their labour. The first build without destroying. They are those who temper their zeal with prudence so as to be useful to every one and to injure no one. These skilful workers do not consider that whatever is possible should be attempted ; on the contrary, they regard as possible and allowable what will serve for the profit of others. If they perceive the slightest signs of the danger of a scandal, or even of the appearance of one, which would have the effect of alienating from them the hearts of men, especially of those whose influence should be considered, they draw back and their humility is the gainer, because through the fault of others, they cannot realize the good which they hoped to accomplish.

The workmen of the second class build and destroy at the same time. They continually cut the thread which they are weaving, they possess zeal, but an inconsiderate zeal ; they allow themselves to be much more carried away by their impetuosity than guided by sound reason ; they have no regard for the grievous consequences which result from the good at which they
aim. In order to gain one soul they sometimes lose ten, and never give it a thought; if they meet with some opposition, they wish that, even if the world should be upset, their grievances should be fully redressed, and they thus change into hostility the good will which their Order had acquired and which it needs in order to promote the glory of God.

"We should not confine ourselves to looking at what zeal for the honour of God, considered in Himself, may require, but we should accommodate that zeal to what our neighbour's profit demands. Zeal for God s honour is neither zeal, nor according to knowledge, except when it is exercised for the profit of others, when it associates God s glory with the salvation of souls, and when it furthers the interests of creatures while seeking the glory of the Creator.
We ought sometimes, if we may so say, to leave God in Himself in order to seek God in our neighbour.

'I will have mercy and not sacrifice," says the Lord.'"

- Ignatius of Loyola
The Challenge of Independent Christianity (part 9) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Saturday, 05 May 2007 06:00
Posted for Sherry W.
See part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8.

Just a reminder for my readers: NONE of the staff or teachers of the Catherine of Siena Institute have ever been or are currently part of the “Independent Christian” movement! Nor have any of our posters on ID ever been part of it (as far as I know).

I am writing about this movement as a journalist, not an apologist. I am describing the second largest, fastest growing, and most missionary-minded Christian community in the world today because we have to recognize their existence in order to deal with them.

As a journalist, my job is to try and help you grasp the nature and significance of the movement. Since Independent Christianity is complicated to describe, I will spend most of my time describing and secondarily exploring some of the implications for the Catholic Church. I will not be spending my time in a detailed analysis and rebuttal of their many theological problems, not because I agree with their stance but because it would require another 20,000 words to do so and this is long enough as it is!

Some Implications for Catholics

The Debate over Dominus Iesus & the Validity of Contemporary Missions

There is a chasm the size of the Grand Canyon between the Independent reading of Christian fortunes in Asia and that of theologians like Peter Phan. Phan asserted, in an article titled “The Next Christianity” (America, February 3, 2003), that at most Christians in Asia make up only 3% of the population after 500 years of evangelization and strongly implied that the missionary enterprise was a bust. Meanwhile, David Barrett gives a figure that is three times larger (9%), and which represents a fourfold growth in Asian Christianity since 1900. Indeed, Barrett estimates that Christians will outnumber Buddhists in Asia before 2025!

At first, I was flummoxed. How could two experts in the field come up with figures that were so far apart? The answer came when I discovered that both Barrett and Fides, the communication arm of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, put the number of Asian Catholics in 2002 at 110 million or 2.9% of the total population. (Sherry’s note: David Barrett’s updated 2005 figures estimate that there are nearly 123 million Catholics in Asia.)

I realized that Phan must be using the word Christian as a synonym for Catholic. But there are twice as many non-Catholic Christians as Catholics in Asia. When I added in the numbers of Asian Protestants (57 million), the Orthodox (13.6 million), and the huge numbers of new independent Christians (179 million), the gap between 3% and 9% was easily bridged.

This is not just statistical nit-picking. Our understanding of the state of global Christianity is shaping our theological discussions. For example, John Allen’s September 23, 2005 summary of global Catholicism in The Word From Rome, states:

There's a sense in which Asian Catholicism is to the Catholic church today what Latin America was in the 1970s and 1980s, that is, the frontline of the most important theological question of the day . . . Today, it's over what theological sense to make of religious diversity, meaning whether or not we can say that God wills religious diversity, and if God does will it, what does that do to Christianity's missionary imperative? In Asia, the social reality of Christianity as a tiny minority surrounded by millennia-old religious traditions such as Hinduism and Buddhism makes this an urgent, and inescapable, theological challenge. (Sherry’s note: the emphasis is mine.)

Once again, we are being told that one of the primary reasons to rethink historic Christian belief and practice regarding the mission ad gentes is the failure of that mission. And once again, the dramatically different experience of non-Catholic Christians, who comprise two thirds of Asian Christianity, is not being taken into account when discussing this issue.

It is sometimes said that Catholics have a “big battalion” mentality. Is being a small but growing minority evidence of a failed mission? This would seem to imply that “success” involves the rapid conversion of the majority and the establishment of some kind of “Christendom”. In contrast, Independent Christians expect to be a minority and have no use for Christendom. They accept “outsider” status as the normal situation in which Christians live in this world and in which evangelization and mission occurs. For them, minority status is not evidence of mission failure. What matters is, “Are people becoming intentional disciples of Jesus Christ?”

The conversion of 1% of the population of a hitherto completely non-Christian people would be regarded by Independents as a giant breakthrough. But viewed through the lens of the “Christendom norm,” it could be used to “prove” the futility of missionary activity.

Nepal is an excellent case in point. Until 1951, Nepal was completely closed off to all missionary work. In 1960, there was only a handful of known Nepali Christians. The big breakthrough occurred in the early 60’s when two lay evangelists from India crossed the Himalayas to share the Gospel.

By 1970, there were about 7,450 Nepali Christians in an illegal underground movement led by teenagers who were tortured and imprisoned for their faith. In the early 80’s, I remember hearing an evangelical woman missionary just back from Nepal describing the marks of torture still visible on the hands of the young leaders. By the turn of the millennium, there were almost 600,000 Christians in Nepal, most associated with indigenous, New Apostolic movements.

Nepali Christianity is growing so fast that Barrett estimates that the Christian population topped 768,000 by mid-2005 and now makes up 2.8% of the total population. 582,000 or 76% of Nepal’s Christians are Independents. There are only 6,626 known Catholics in the country.

“At least 40 to 60 percent of the Nepali church became Christians as a direct result of a miracle," says Sandy Anderson of the Sowers Ministry. "Most times the people do not know what we are talking about when we preach the gospel. That's why it is very important to demonstrate the gospel. We preach. Then God heals the sick when we pray. The gospel is not only preached but demonstrated in Nepal." (The Church at the Top of the World, April 3, 2000, Christianity Today).

So what’s the verdict? Are the Christians of Nepal a failed and beleaguered minority, or a success story that sounds remarkably like the first century church? How different the evangelical imperative looks if we stop assuming that creating another Christendom—the ultimate big battalion—is the measure of validity.

Independents aren’t the only Christians who have experienced dramatic growth in recent years. Catholic growth alone - outside the west - has sometimes been spectacular in the past century. As John Allen points out:

Africa in the 20th century went from a Catholic population of 1.9 million in 1900 to 130 million in 2000, a growth rate of 6,708 percent, the most rapid expansion of Catholicism in a single continent in 2,000 years of church history. Thirty-seven percent of all baptisms in Africa today are of adults, considered a reliable measure of evangelization success since it indicates a change in religious affiliation.” The Word from Rome, September 23, 2005.

How can we simply dismiss Catholic missions as a failure? If we look at the overall picture of Asian Christianity, Christians are likely to outnumber Buddhists in less than 20 years. How can we call them a “tiny minority”?

Here the contrast between Catholic and evangelical interpretations of mission history since 1960 is that of night and day, winter and summer.

What does it mean for the debate about Dominus Iesus and multiple economies of salvation if a significant portion of global Christianity is experiencing dramatic, unprecedented growth as a result of vigorously proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord?

In what ways should the very different experiences of non-Catholic Christians challenge our current practice in this area?

Click here for next post in the series.
The Challenge of Independent Christianity (part 8) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Friday, 04 May 2007 14:40
Posted for Sherry W.

See part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7.

Just a reminder for my readers:

NONE of the staff or teachers of the Catherine of Siena Institute have ever been or are currently part of the “Independent Christian” movement! Nor have any of our posters on ID ever been part of it (as far as I know).

I am writing about this movement as a journalist, not an apologist. I am describing the second largest, fastest growing, and most missionary-minded Christian community in the world today because we have to recognize their existence in order to deal with them.

As a journalist, my job is to try and help you grasp the nature and significance of the movement. Since Independent Christianity is complicated to describe, I will spend most of my time describing and secondarily exploring some of the implications for the Catholic Church. I will not be spending my time in a detailed analysis and rebuttal of their many theological problems, not because I agree with their stance but because it would require another 20,000 words to do so and this is long enough as it is!

Ministry Focus

Traditional Christianity starts with the present situation and focuses on the past. New apostolic Christianity starts with the present situation and focuses on the future. Many traditional churches are heritage-driven . . . the founders of the movement are often thought of as standing shoulder to shoulder with the 12 apostles. On the other hand, new apostolic church leaders are vision-driven. (The New Apostolic Churches, p. 21-22). (emphasis mine)

What makes the evangelization efforts of Independents stand apart from the historic Christian practice of proclamation is the assumption that how you go about your mission changes from year to year and from situation to situation. New Apostolic Reformation leaders continually talk of “new wineskins” and “seasons”. How a particular group is to go about the Great Commission in this situation and at this time will be revealed by God directly to anointed leaders. Most frequently, receiving such revelation is the responsibility of those recognized to have the gift of apostle or prophet or both “annointings” operating together.

In October, 1999, a weary Peter Wagner returned home from a huge intercessory gathering in Turkey. He had hardly unpacked his bags when Chuck Pierce, a close collaborator, called. Pierce asked,

Peter, are you still the apostle of the global prayer movement? . . .you are the one responsible for casting the vision for all of us. If you do not seek the Lord for the next vision now, we are in danger of losing the momentum that God has given us for a whole decade.

Wagner agreed that he was responsible. He spoke to God in the shower the next morning and after breakfast “revelation began, thick and fast.” Before noon, Wagner knew that God’s next assignment for the global prayer movement was the “40/70 window” (the heartland of historic Christianity, which includes 61 countries in Europe and Asia). (The Queen’s Domain, p. 34.)

NAR leaders are not unaware of potential abuses but most are convinced that the immense good to be gained by being open to the present inspiration of the Holy Spirit given to an anointed leader outweighs the possible damage caused by “flakiness”. The assumption is that one’s close collaborators, who are spiritually mature, will “confirm” the vision if it is truly of God. Wagner writes:

So I shared these and a few other thoughts with my Global Harvest Ministries staff at lunch that same day. . .The immediate, high voltage affirmation that this was truly what the Spirit was saying to the churches was incredible....”(The Queen’s Domain, p. 35)

(Sherry’s note: Some of you began to twitch involuntarily while reading those last few paragraphs. Please remember that I am describing the beliefs of a very different kind of Christian. I am not proposing them. I will deal with some of the implications for Catholics later.)

New Outreach

The title of Ted Haggard’s 1995 best selling book captures the spirit of Independents perfectly: Primary Purpose: Making It Hard for People to Go to Hell from Your City. Independent churches are especially committed to helping the unchurched - whether baptized or not - become intentional disciples and to mature into apostolically-minded Christians. It is axiomatic among independents that as a congregation grows, it should “plant” new congregations because new congregations are the most effective evangelizers. Since most independents are not part of a denomination, they don’t have to ask anyone but God for permission.

The Church planting movement was given a huge global boost by the AD 2000 movement whose motto was “a church within every unreached people group and making the gospel available to every person by the year 2000”. Starting thousands of brand new small evangelizing Christian communities is known as “saturation church planting” and has become the central strategy in both evangelical and Independent missions over the past 20 years.

As the DAWN (Discipling a Whole Nation) movement puts it: “the whole Church of a whole nation is committed to reach the goal of seeing Christ become incarnate in every small group in every village and neighborhood and for every class, kind and condition of man. This means having at least one gathering of believers sharing Christ within easy access of every person in each country.”

DAWN’s webpage on its ministry in Latin America puts it this way: “Evangelical Christians compose 18.35% of the population. This percentage has been the result of a massive church planting effort in the last ten years. The rest of the population is primarily Catholic—characterized by the popular religiosity and nominalism found in the region... we have established a goal for the next 15 years to challenge, train, and mobilize the church and its leadership to plant 3 million NEW healthy, holistic, and harvesting churches.”

Almost all apostolic churches are heavily involved in church planting and foreign missions. They are also engaged in creative ministry to the poor.

Rolland and Heidi Baker are excellent examples of this new kind of missionary. The Bakers are a part of an apostolic network headed by Bill Johnson and headquartered in Bethel Assembly of God Church in Redding, California. The Bakers’ life direction was changed when they met Jackie Pullinger, a charismatic Anglican who has worked with the gang members and drug addicts of Hong Kong for 30 years.

In 1995, the Bakers, who both have PhD's in theology, moved to Mozambique – the poorest country on earth. They were offered a crumbling orphanage by the government but no other support. The Bakers took it and 10 years later they care for over 6,000 orphans. In their spare time, they have planted over 6,000 congregations among the poor in 10 African nations. Their work, Iris Ministries, combines an unending passion for evangelism, a constant expectation of the miraculous, and a bottomless compassion.

In the forward to their book, There is Always Enough: God’s Miraculous Provision Among the Poorest Children on Earth, Rolland writes:

When I read Rolland Baker’s comments, I was struck by how some of the very best Catholics I know long for a similar unlimited confidence in God. Independent Christianity may be Catholicism’s ecclesial antitype, but a good deal of the movement is not intentionally anti-Catholic. In fact, most tend to associate anti-Catholicism with the old wineskin of denominationalism. There are often surprising parallels between Independent ideas and Catholic teaching. As far apart on the spectrum as Independents and Catholics may be, we are all seeking to live as disciples of Jesus Christ.

In the next installment, I'll begin to look at some of the implications of this movement for different areas of Catholic life.
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