Charismatic Theology and Lifelong Conversion


For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
 -1 Cor. 1:18

Throughout the history of the Congregationalist strand of the United Church of Christ, we have had sustained periods of emphasis on the individual’s decision for Christ. Christians identified our paramount duty as each one recognizing his or her own sinfulness, the sacrifice of Christ, and the forgiveness of God. Especially during the Great Awakenings, Christians often experienced this recognition at a particular moment, and then they could in theory rest assured in their salvation. But there were always some who could never be quite convinced that they had really recognized Christ and that they were saved. They sought ever more vivid experiences of Christ’s grace, hoping for certainty.


A lake at the base of the Towers of Paine, Chile.

Elements of this theological perspective have arrived in Paraguay and Argentina via the Charismatic movement, starting in the 1970’s. Along with the emphasis on the individual’s decision for Christ has come, unfortunately, the shadow of doubt: have I really decided for Christ? And with that doubt comes the conviction that in doubting, we have sinned, so the cycle continues. Eventually it sneaks into our mind to ask whether our neighbor is really Christian. How about our neighbor church? Have they really decided for Christ?


The forest beneath the peaks of Mt. Fitz Roy, El Chaltén, Argentina

During one of my final workshops in South America, a church leader stood up and explained that after the salvation experience is the conversion. And whereas salvation might take place all at once, conversion is a life-long process. Conversion is working out, in community, the meaning of our decision for Christ. What does it mean for our lives? What does it mean for our service to our neighbors?

I believe that charismatic congregations might think more about the conversion aspect – the question of what does it mean to be a Christian. We might call this faith growth or formation. Faith growth is something that all of us need. It can help us move beyond our doubt-filled and ultimately stifling interiority, towards fields of grace we didn’t realize were there.


Some lovely pink flowers!
(From Torres del Paine Park)


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