No one who attended the first interdenominational conference of charismatic Christians, which ended in Kansas City last Sunday, could be found to question whether the gathering was a great success.
"The largest grass-roots ecumenical movement in 800 years" was the assessment of conference Chairman Kevin M. Ranaghan.
The movement is "not only the hope of the church, it's the only hope of the world," declared the Rev. Robert H. Hawn of Winter Park, Fla., head of the Episcopal Charismatic Fellowship.
"In 10 years the churches will all be charismatic or closed," predicted the Rev. Chuck Murphy, former nightclub entertainer turned Episcopal priest who is a leader in his church's charismatic fellowship.
The unity theme was the one sounded most often in Kansas City. Here were Catholics, old-time Pentacostals. Lutherans, Episcopalians, Mennonites, Presbyterians, Methodists, Messianic Jews and several thousand self-proclaimed "nondenominational" Christians, all praising God together.
It was, said the Rev. Vinson Synon, general secretary of the Pentacostal Holiness Church, "a statement to the nation and the world of the way unity comes about."
But the unity expressed in Kansas City was the unity of the prom date - boy and girl each on their best behavior, in their best clothes. It was not the unity of the silver wedding, with some crises faced but with plenty of problems of life together still ahead.
Issues that have mired other quests for Christian unity or even consensus were avoided at Kansas City. There were no discussions scheduled on the question of inerrancy of the scriptures, on whether to boycott J. P. Stevens and on whether to ordain women.
The major quasidoctrinal controversy that has broken out within the charismatic movement - the issue of "shepherding," or how much control a pastor in the New Testament-type church communities of the movement should exercise was avoided.
During the day, when conferees met in their own denominational groups, the two factions of this group, who comprised the "nondenominationals," were assigned separate auditoriums, in order to avoid any possible confrontation.
Some say the Charismatic renewal movement destined to rejuvenate the Christian churches. Without denying that hope, the Rev. Michael Harper, a leader of charismatics in Britain, also sounded a warning.
"The significance of this conference" he observed," is not only in the people who are here but the people who are not here. We mustn't forget that the whole Christian world is not here. In the United States three are large numbers of people who wouldn't want to be within 100 miles of Kansas City this week."
The movement for charismatic renewal, he continued "could become something that will revitalize the whole church. But it could also become the third great schism of the church."