We are all one body in Christ, right? Theologically, yes. But in practice, we often label one another and assign our brethren to separate spiritual camps. Although such division serves to hurt us, the practice continues.
I was raised in the Assemblies of God. I'm currently a member of a Presbyterian church. In my various moves, I have attended a Word of Faith body and settled into a Covenant church. The church my family chooses to fellowship in is based less along denominational lines and more on sound doctrine and the community of believers. But my personal experience in the last three years reminds me too well of the divide charismatics and evangelicals have yet to cross.
After 16 years in Virginia Beach, Virginia, my family moved to Wheaton, Illinois--the once hub of evangelical life until parts of it moved westward--with great excitement about God's new direction in our lives. I immersed myself in the local community and eventually started teaching adjunct graduate courses at Wheaton College.
But as I began interacting with other school moms, a strange thing occurred. Out of a desire to help me better "fit in" to the community, some of my new friends told me not to tell anyone I was charismatic. "You'll do better here if you don't mention your background and attend one of the churches I recommend," one friend shared. "Let people get to know you before you say too much about your spiritual life."
Then came Bible study. As I studied and prayed with my sisters in Christ, a conversation sparked that startled me once again: "Charismatics think they are better than other Christians," the chaplain of the group remarked. "I can't stand that pride."
I felt deeply convicted. If I was really honest, how many times had I looked down at a fellow Christian because she didn't walk in "the fullness of the Spirit"? How many complaints had I made about the powerless worship or lack of life in some churches?
Shamefully I realized that though this woman did not know it, I was guilty of having such thoughts and sometimes vocalizing them to my few charismatic friends. And worse, I held such thoughts in my heart.
God's Word works for all who believe and have the faith to stand. In Romans, Paul reminds us there is no partiality with God. Then in Galatians, he adds there is neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free because we are all one in Christ. Without being heretical, we should add to Paul's list, neither evangelical nor charismatic!
At times, we act like children who jealously fight to be elevated above the others, not grasping dad's love as unconditional. Like a parent, God loves us unconditionally. Yet God in His mercy woos us back into alignment and puts a graceful end to our nonsense. For that, I am grateful.
I'm embarrassed to say that it took me living among evangelicals to love them with my whole heart and let go of any pretense I held about being charismatic. I believe God used my time in Wheaton to open my eyes, put away judgment and love my neighbor as Jesus commanded. None of us has the one up on Christianity.
It's painful to be humbled of false pride. But what amazes me through the process of submitting to God's will is that I always have a choice. I can choose to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly, thereby conforming to Christ's model and following His greatest commandment to love my neighbor as myself. Or I can sit in a divided camp, criticizing them for not being me. I choose love.
Linda S. Mintle, Ph.D., is a Chicago-based licensed clinical social worker and author of Divorce Proofing Your Marriage (Siloam Press), available at www.charismawarehouse.com. You can visit her Web site at www.drlindahelps.com.
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