The long-sought goals of Christian unity and renewal will come not through scholarity dialogues or merging of institutions, but by personal encounters of millions of Christians with the Holy Spirit, leaders of the first inter-denominational charismatic conference said here today.
"I don't believe unity will come by intellectual rationalizing of doctrine," declared the Rev. Robert H. Hawn of Winter Park, Fla., executive secretary of the Episcopal Charismatic Fellowship.
"The only unity that will come will be brought by the Holy Spirit," he continued. "It's not only the hope of the church, it's the only hope of the world."
The Rev. Larry Christienson, of Northfield, Minn., head of the Lutheran Charismatic Renewal Services, told the estimated 45,000 shouting, singing Protestants and Catholics gathered here that they were part of a special army of God.
"Throughout Christendom God is raising up committe, dedicated bodies of believers," he said. But he insisted that chrismatics - those who believe they are moved by the Holy Spirit - are "not a new denomination and never will be."
Rather, he continued, the movement "is a network of outposts strategically placed throughout the land, thriving centers of life but having a level of dedication, selflessness and discipline so that the Lord can count on them in a special way in the say of battle."
In the last decade, the burgeoning charismatic movement has seen numerous denomination wide conferences. But this is the first national assembly across denominational lines. According to conference officials, Roman Catholics are the largest single group here, with approximately 45 per cent of the total registrants.
Nondenominational church members are the second largest with over 30 per cent. Luthaerans have 6 per cent, Episcopalians 4.5 per cent, Presbyterians 3 per cent, United Methodists and Baptists 2 per cent, classical Pentercostals 1.5 per cent, Mennonites 1 per cent and Messianic Jews 1/2 per cent.
Participants gathered in denominational assemblies and specialized workshops throughout Kansas City during the day, then crowd into Arrowhead Stadium at night for three or four hour joyous sessions of songs, sermons and testimonies.
Occasionally individuals or groups of worshipers break into the ecstatic speaking in tongues, characteristic of the charismatic movement.
In his address, punctuated by frequent "hallelujahs" and "praise the Lords", Christenson asserted that the speaking in tongues and the gifts of prophecy and healing - all considered hallmarks of the movement - are essential to the renewal of all Christian churches.
To conventional church leaders who have sometimes looked questioningly on the "gifts of the Spirit" Christenson said, "We did not choose these gifts. The Lord Jesus has chosen to come knocking at these doors . . . Your controversy if you have one is not with us but with him . . . This is his work, his initiative, his renewal," ad four Chrismatic.
Christenson chided leaders of the church establishment for their reluctant to embrace the charismatic movement.
"It is one thing to weigh with sober judgement to see whether a thing be of God but too often and for too long church leaders and theologians have reacted to the charismatic renewal like irritable old codgers disturbed at their intellectual chess games by a pack of unruly children," he said.
"Periodically over the past 15 years they have unbuttoned their starched collars, rolled up their french cuffs and stormed outside to conduct investigations proving that they have the one really authentic door through which Jesus comes."