God's Strength for This Generation

by Dennis Bennett


"Now also when I am old and greyheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have showered thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come." (Psalm 71:18 KJV)


I'm pleased to have been asked to discuss the past and future of what has come to be called the "Charismatic renewal." I saw the beginning of this response to the Holy Spirit in the historic Churches, and feel the need to speak to "this generation" about what it was like at the first.


The Beginnings

The Encyclopedia Britannica (Yearbook 1973) says the Charismatic renewal may be said to have begun when I told the people of St. Mark's in Van Nuys, California about my experience. I was by no means the first "old-line" clergyman to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit, but apparently I was the first to let it be known openly to my congregation, many of whom enthusiastically received what I had to share. (I use the phrase "baptism in the Holy Spirit" in this article because it seems to me to have the best Scriptural authority. It was the term used by our Lord Himself in Acts 1:5 and which Peter quotes in Acts 11:16. I also like to use the term, "the release of the Spirit.")


A few leaders were frightened, for which I can't blame them, as it was all very new. When it was clear we were going to get into strife about the issue, I resigned as Rector of that 2,600 member parish and came to Seattle at the invitation of the Rt. Rev. William Fisher Lewis, late Bishop of Olympia, to become Vicar of St. Luke's, Ballard, which was ready to be closed as hopeless. The people of that little parish accepted what I had to share, and so it was St. Luke's that became a major demonstration of the Holy Spirit's work in an old-line congregation. (The whole story is told in detail in my book, Nine O'clock In the Morning.)


Bishop Lewis not only encouraged me to "bring the fire," but he followed what happened at St. Luke's with unflagging interest and support. Almost immediately after my arrival in Seattle, he invited me to address the Clericus, and shortly after some twelve of the local priests were baptized in the Spirit.


The Bishop also began collecting written statements from the people of St. Luke's about their experience and was planning for me to join him in making a presentation to the House of Bishops. Alas, these plans were cut short by his death in 1964. William Fisher Lewis was a true father in God, and a strong source of encouragement to St. Luke's. Through the years that have followed, I have received consistent support and encouragement from my bishop.


Pentecostal and Charismatic

As the good news began to spread, the word "charismatic" came to be used to refer to folks from old-line denominations who were receiving the freedom of the Holy Spirit while continuing in their respective traditions.


Many of the old-time Pentecostal people accepted the "charismatics" with joy, but some were suspicious because they had already written off the historic Churches as "Babylonish" (often with good reason). They figured if what was happening was real, we would "come out" as they or their forbears had done. It was hard for them to realize that their forerunners had usually been forced to leave their churches, whereas now people were being allowed to stay and tell others.


A further complication now arose. The Pentecostal people who accepted the reality of the Charismatic renewal in the historic Churches began to distinguish themselves from other classical Pentecostals by calling themselves "charismatic," indicating they were open to people from the historic groups who had been touched by the renewal. Unfortunately, the impression soon followed that if you were "charismatic" you needed to join a "charismatic" Church. Some were drawn out of the Charismatic renewal in the historic Churches to join what were really Pentecostal Churches under a new name, "charismatic."


Further confusion arose from the impression that "charismatic" referred to a particular style of worship, although this is not so. A congregation is not "charismatic" because it discards the hymnbook and sings choruses projected on the wall or is exposed to the boredom of "gospel rock," nor is it "charismatic" because people bring messages in tongues and interpretation or prophecy on Sunday morning, or raise their hands in praise.


These things can be good and valid, but they don't make a parish Charismatic. Certainly as people receive freedom in the Spirit, they will worship more joyfully and freely, but at St. Luke's, for example, it was about eight years from the beginning of renewal before there was anything at a Sunday morning service that today would be labeled "charismatic." A Charismatic parish is one in which the individual members are baptized in the Holy Spirit and are daily praying in the Spirit (in the language or "tongue" provided by the Holy Spirit) in their private prayers.


Our Own Way of Worship

Our Lord the Holy Spirit seems to want to show people the beauties and values in their own customs first, and then turn their eyes to understand those of others. At St. Luke's in the early days we first became more appreciative of our own way of worship, as the Spirit touched people's lives more deeply and joyfully.


We soon found it necessary to have three celebrations of the Eucharist each Sunday morning, and then added an Evensong service because so many wanted to come to our little church, which at that time seated less than 200. No one had to be urged to come, they wouldn't miss it, because they could sense the presence of the Lord there! Some came to all four services every Sunday, because they couldn't get enough of fellowship in the Spirit!


Mind you, this was not a specialized group of super-spirituals. The first people to respond to the Spirit at St. Luke's were old-time Episcopalians with little notion of revivalistic or "prayer meeting" religion. They were earnest Church people, who were trying to get their little mission parish off the ground. We had almost no professional or business people in the congregation at the outset &emdash; but an earnest group of "working class" Americans. They were mostly in early middle age, with a sprinkling of oldsters, although the older people were among the most active! There were just about as many men as women, and many young people came right along with their families and entered into Spiritual renewal themselves.


We knew that on Sundays we were "fishin', not swimmin' " &emdash; the idea was to catch the fish, not scare them! One Sunday at the 11 a.m. Eucharist, a young Roman Catholic couple visited us. On the way out, the husband commented, "It was a nice service, Father Bennett, but I was a little disappointed because nothing happened!" "Oh," I replied, "You mean no one spoke in tongues or anything like that?" He grinned and nodded, but his wife broke in, "But I have never attended a mass where I felt such love among people," she said. "Ah," said I, "that's what we wanted you to feel!"


Our music became remarkable for a small parish. One Sunday a choirmaster from a large English Parish visited us, and the congregation was singing plainsong, a capella. He went away shaking his head. "It is not possible for untrained people to sing this kind of music unaccompanied," he said. But they were doing it!


Several years ago my wife, Rita, and I led a seminar at holy Trinity Anglican Church in Nassau, a large parish with many professional people. The music and worship for the weekday meetings was definitely vigorous and informal, with a Caribbean flavor (fun, too!) and there were gifts of the Spirit -tongues, interpretation, prophecy.


But on Sunday morning we took part in a beautiful "high church" Eucharist, and the same group who had led the free services during the week turned up as the vested choir. The chap who had so nimbly played the keyboard during the week, turned out to be the choir director and organist, a fine and sensitive musician. That was charismatic!


Prayer, Praise, and Information

For many years at St. Luke's we had a Tuesday night session for prayer and praise to which people came from all over the area and from many denominations. At this time we were free to obey the Prayer Book, which is after all a great anthology of active praise &emdash; to clap our hands in rejoicing and sing with our hands lifted to God. "O clap your hands together all ye people!" (Psalm 47:1), "Let the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice!" (Psalm 141:2)!


On these nights, people were free to bring vocal gifts of the holy Spirit, to bring words from the Lord in tongues and interpretation or prophecy, to share with one another what Jesus was doing in their lives. We sang choruses &emdash; and we sang church music. People would go from a rousing foot stomping chorus to singing the Gloria in Excelsis almost without breaking stride, with equal fervor and blessing &emdash; and unaccompanied. It was "decently and in order" but we had a good time! The session would go on for three hours and longer, so that we came to call 1:30 a.m. "Holy Spirit Midnight!"


We held an "information meeting" every Friday evening, at which time, if I was in town, I shared my testimony and gave some teaching. Then, after further preparation we prayed with those who wanted to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Again this meeting was totally "nonsectarian." We would have people from all over the area and from many denominations. It was not unusual to have a row of Roman Catholic sisters, and we might have an Orthodox bishop present, together with ministers and people from many of the other denominations.


Sometimes a whole family would come into Spiritual freedom on the same night; or it might be three generations in one family &emdash; grandparents, parents, and children &emdash; all would receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit and go home rejoicing. If I was away the lay people would conduct the meeting with great success!


Our attendance would go up in the summer, and so would our income. There was no "summer slump" at St. Luke's. If folks were in town, they came to church. Why? Because it was the greatest pleasure they had all week! People came to church because they wanted to. It wasn't long before we had as many as 2,000 people going through our parish in the course of a single week, although the little building seated only 150 and the undercroft that served as a parish hall about 200. The parish became the physical center of people's lives because the love of God was there and they felt it.


Within six years we had become a self-supporting parish and one of the strongest in the Northwest. I began to receive inquiries from all over the country and from various parts of the world. One man visiting us said, "I have heard of this church in London, Tokyo, Honolulu, Moscow, Shanghai, and Rio. I've come to see for myself what's going on!" In the midst of all this the people were reporting the miracles that were taking place in their lives. At a home get-together it would sometimes take two hours for ten or twelve people to share what had been happening to them just that week as the Lord met their needs.


When we had a social event or party, such as at Christmas, though we were not there ostensibly to have a prayer meeting, the people would soon be all talking excitedly with one another about things that Jesus had done or was doing. If I tried to lead some "fun" singing they would go along with me for a while with such things as "Down by the Old Mill Stream," but it was boring, and soon someone would say, "Father Bennett, can't we sing something about the Lord?"


I felt that I was seeing what the early Church was like and what the Church should still be like.


Back to Their Own Folds

We urged the people who visited us not to leave their own Churches but to go back and share with them what was happening, and as a result the pastors of the area came to trust us, and many took an interest in what we were doing. A large number of them received the baptism in the Holy Spirit and out of this came the "Charismatic Presbytery," an informal group of about 150 ministers and priests, that never organized officially or elected anybody to anything but enjoyed great fellowship in the Lord.


Baptist ministers, Assembly of God pastors, Roman Catholic priests, Episcopal priests, Lutheran pastors, men from independent fellowships &emdash; we made no decisions about doctrine or practice, but we listened to each other and got to know and appreciate each other. We found we could pray and praise God together because we were all enjoying His blessings. From time to time we sponsored highly successful areawide conferences.


Because at St. Luke's we did not engage in "sheep-stealing" but sent people back to their own Churches, our congregation did not grow rapidly in size, but it did grow in strength. We did not take offerings at the public meetings on Tuesdays and Fridays, but encouraged our own people to tithe. We stopped making budgets and then trying to meet them, and we stopped asking anyone who did not come to give to the parish. After the first year, we discontinued even the time-honored "Every Member Canvass."


Although I was privileged to be the Vicar and later Rector of St. Luke's for 21 years, all this growth was not my doing but was the work of the Holy Spirit, and a shared thing with the people. I will not forget early on after a Sunday morning service, several of my friends said, "You look tired! Kneel down here, we're going to pray for you!" which they did. I found that instead of pushing a stalled vehicle, I was steering a very powerful one, and that I could receive ministry from the people just as well as they could from me.


My Own Beginnings

I had had a vivid experience of receiving the Lord Jesus as my Savior when I was eleven years old. I found He was alive and wonderful beyond belief, but since then had spent much time looking for what came next. I tried to find that "first fine careless rapture" of my conversion over again. At times I would sense that the Lord was still very much with me, but my awareness of Him was limited, although my intellectual belief was strong.


You who have been brought up in this age of awareness of the Holy Spirit, cannot imagine how blank we were on this topic back in the 40s and 50s and even later. Kenneth Scott Latourette in his masterful two volume history of the Christian Church, which covers history up to 1976, does not even mention the Pentecostal revival! Yet without question the growth of the Pentecostal movement is a most striking phenomenon of modern Church history.


In my personal Pentecost the joy and glory of God broke in upon me. I recognized it as the same kind of experience I had had when I accepted Jesus, and when I experienced His presence from time to time &emdash; it was the same sort of thing, only much more vivid, and it didn't die down or go away.


It didn't seem to matter whether I was awake or asleep, or what was going on, the new awareness of God stayed with me. It was an incredible new dimension in my spiritual life. I had been trying hard to become more aware of God, but now all of a sudden He was with me without my having to seek Him. As the Scripture said, He had sought me and found me &emdash; and I knew it!


I had no precedent for this experience. It was not the fulfillment of any expectations that had been implanted in my mind. I had never attended a Pentecostal-type church, and had no notion what they taught or believed. Moreover I did not receive the baptism in the Spirit in any kind of church setting, but in the front room of a private home, praying with two Episcopal lay people.


Anglican Precedents

True, I had done a good deal of research over several months while I was looking into it all. I reread the Second Office of Instruction in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. On page 291, the matter is made eminently clear: "The Church provides the Laying on of Hands, or Confirmation, wherein, after renewing the promises and vows of my Baptism, and declaring my loyalty and devotion to Christ as my Master, I receive the strengthening gifts of the Holy Spirit,"


I also looked at a little book which still resides on many Clergy bookshelves, Doctrine in the Church of England. It is the 1938 report on a survey made by a commission appointed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York which gathered the actual stated beliefs of the Church of England at that time.


On page 93 you can read, "Participation in the Holy Spirit is set forth in the New Testament as the distinctive mark of Christians, which separated them off from the surrounding world; in the Christianity of Apostolic times the experience described as that of 'receiving the Spirit' stand in the forefront of the Christian life, at once as the secret of its transporting joy and power and as the source of that victory of faith which could overcome the world." I am still amazed at the accuracy of this statement &emdash; "transporting joy and power . . . victory of faith" &emdash; but this is what I had missed in my own Christian experience, and what I received when I was baptized in the Spirit.


It is worth noticing, by the by, that this is an Anglican statement. Therefore the loophole which some Evangelicals use, that "these things were only for Apostolic times" cannot apply, since Anglicans believe the Apostolic ministry continues in the present day! The friends who witnessed to me simply told me faithfully what had happened to them and then prayed with me. After that I didn't have a great deal of further contact with them.


It concerns me that so many nowadays seem not to grasp, or perhaps have not even had a chance to grasp what happened back there and can continue to happen today as people receive the same Pentecostal experience. I believe the baptism in the holy Spirit to be the drive-train by which the power of the Spirit travels from the engine to the wheels.


Evangelism starts the engine, but without the drive-train the people of God don't move very far, and soon begin to wonder when Jesus is going to come and take them away from a world they obviously are unequipped to cope with!


The Zeal of the Early Church

That this Pentecostal empowering is the intention of confirmation is made clear by the fact that the Churches who have practiced Confirmation through the years, especially Anglicans, Romans, and Lutherans, all directed that the same Scripture, Acts 8:14-17, be read at the administration of the rite.


It clearly tells how Peter and John prayed with the Samaritans to -receive the Holy Spirit following their Conversion and baptism with water through Philip the Evangelist. Jesus made receiving the baptism in the Spirit mandatory, and for a very good reason, since it is what makes the power of God available through the individual believer to the needy world.


In those early days we experienced what it was like to be "early Christians" both from the excitement of discovering how real it all was, and from finding out how quickly one could become unpopular! We found out for ourselves why people in the first century were willing to risk their lives to belong to the fellowship of Jesus of Nazareth. None of us may have literally risked our lives, but we did risk our reputations, our jobs, our friends. I saw the amazing fellowship and love with which people were drawn together after they had been set free in the Spirit.


I soon found, though, that there was much in me, as there still is, that could quench my new awareness of our Lord the Holy Spirit. He never leaves us, but I found I could lose my awareness of Him if I did not follow His leading.


During these last thirty years I have been learning how to continue to respond to the Holy Spirit in me, so that His joy and power and freedom can continue to flow in and from me. I have certainly failed far more often than I have succeeded, but the Lord is patient. The main desire of my life is still to enjoy more of what I knew at the first.


So, in retrospect, my concern is still to keep that first fire burning. Not to lose my first love. Often I have wanted to cry with the Psalmist, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?" Yet I have known and learned that He doesn't. It is always I who forsake Him, or at least make my environment distasteful and untenable for Him, so that He has to retire into the depths of my spirit, where my soul is not aware of Him for a time.


It has been a difficult three decades, but I would not go back to the time before I was baptized in the Holy Spirit for anything in heaven or earth. There is no nightmare I can imagine that would be more devastating than to lose this awareness of the reality of God.


The Prospect

Now what about the look ahead &emdash; the prospect? I hear today that the Charismatic movement is dying down. Some say that the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements have both passed their prime and are now fading away, to be replaced by a "third wave" of the Spirit which, however, denies that there is any experience of a baptism in the Holy Spirit following salvation, but that it all happens when we accept Jesus. It maintains that it is not necessary to speak in tongues in order to be baptized in the Spirit.


Either of these lines of thought show that the purveyors thereof have not grasped what this Pentecostal or Charismatic renewal was and is all about. This is mainly and usually because people have not themselves received the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and therefore are sympathetic and well-meaning brothers and sisters commenting on something they have not entered into.


Many have the impression that the Charismatic renewal is simply one among several programs for strengthening the Church, something like the Oxford Group Movement of sixty years ago, or like the Cursillo movement today. Those were and are good things, but the Charismatic renewal isn't of that sort. It isn't one choice among several. It is the renewal of the experience of Pentecost as people respond to Jesus Christ's instructions to all His followers that they are to be empowered before they go out to the world with the good news.


The Charismatic renewal is not an evangelical revival, although more than anything else it has fueled the current interest in evangelism. It is highly important that we see the difference between revivals &emdash; which are occasional and short-lived upsurges of response to God, undeniably wonderful while they are happening &emdash; and this world-wide renewal of the experience of Pentecost, which has been going on with increasing momentum for nearly a hundred years.


This is the breaking forth of the Holy Spirit from the religious prison in which He has been confined through much of Christian history, so that He can begin to make Christians what they are supposed to be: centers of power and joy for the refreshing and healing of the world.


Evangelism is the initial offering and proclamation of forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ, and the receiving of new birth in the Holy Spirit. After this has happened Jesus commands us to receive the freedom and power of the Spirit, to release the Holy Spirit Who has come to live in us, so that He can bless us and work through us (Acts 1:4).


We can be so near to seeing this truth and yet so dangerously far away. The Holy Spirit comes to live in us when we receive Jesus as Savior, that is absolutely true; but we do not necessarily receive Him, that is, make Him welcome and allow Him to rule in our lives.


Through the baptism in the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God is allowed to extend his influence over our outward lives &emdash; our will, intellect, and emotions, and our physical bodies. Not surprisingly He begins with our speech, and begins to tame the unruly member, and make it usable by our Lord the Spirit so that He can give us words to adequately express our praise and love to God in "words which are not in our power to say" (Romans 8:26 Basic English Version).


Thus we can pray and intercede for ourselves and others in words that precisely express God's will. This taming of the tongue also makes it possible for God to speak through us to His people, not only in prophetic utterances, but in gifts of tongues, which are then understood through the companion gift of interpretation.


The Church Must be Charismatic 

I haven't changed my essential convictions about all this. I'm still saying the same things I did thirty years ago, although, I hope, with much more understanding of what it all means.


What is happening to people today when they receive the freedom of the Spirit is just the same as at the first, except that now we understand much more about it. We know, too, that this is when quirks and problems in our souls, that is, our psychological natures begin to show up, just the same as when an automobile is taken out on the freeway at high speed, faults in the steering mechanism show up that were not noticeable when the car was only driven to the grocery store once a day.


This has led to an increasing attention to the need for specific prayer for the healing of the soul, the psychological nature, in order for the life of the Spirit to be able to flow in and through us without hindrance.


The Church is not primarily a preaching or teaching institution. It must be charismatic. It must manifest the Gifts and Fruit of the Spirit, for they are the continuing signs that Jesus is alive and ready to bless people now! People are weary of talk about religion, whether by semi-believing intellectuals, or arrogant fundamentalists, and they are especially weary of ill-natured Christians who condemn everything and everyone, including one another. (And this includes the so-called "liberals" who use social concerns to bring people under condemnation.)


But if people see the glory of the indwelling Spirit in their friends and neighbors, and experience His fruit and gifts pouring out of God's people to heal in body, mind, and spirit, they will be drawn to the love of Jesus, and they will indeed receive His complete healing.


Jesus did good works, healings and deliverances, and these are what showed people the Kingdom was "at hand," that is, right here and now. He tells us to do the same. It isn't any different today. If people see Jesus doing these things through His followers, how can they refuse to accept Him?


The Power of the Holy Spirit


Evangelism brings people to receive Jesus, and then the Holy Spirit can come and live in them. The baptism in the Spirit is letting the power of the Holy Spirit flow out, to bless first of all the individual him or herself, and then the world around.


When Peter was challenged by the other Apostles and brethren because he had ministered to the Roman centurion, Cornelius, and his household, Peter responded, "as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them as upon us at the beginning. Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, 'John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' If therefore God gave them the same gift as he gave us when we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?" (Acts 11:15-17 NKJV).


This is what Jesus promised at the first. Let us not be found with those who withstand God, but those who rather will stand with God so that this great response to God's love and grace in the Holy Spirit can continue unhindered in our day.