Charismatic Movement

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The term charismatic comes from the Greek word charismata, which means spiritual gifts. It is the informal name given to the movement which is calling the Christian church back to a fuller recognition of the Holy Spirit in Christian experience, and in the life and mission of the church, including the exercise of all the spiritual gifts described in the New Testament.

The modern Pentecostal movement which began in 1906 did not make much of an impact on the mainline denominations, affecting mainly the lower classes of society. What is called the charismatic movement emerged in the early 1960s in the mainline denominations and has had an impact on most denominations. It holds that being a Christian includes having a definite experience with the Spirit and the exercise of spiritual gifts, often speaking in tongues.

In the Mennonite Church (MC), in 1906 the Pacific Coast Conference resolved that all ministers, evangelists, and all members having the baptism of the Holy Ghost encourage everywhere that believers seek a definite experience of the baptism of the Holy Ghost.

Gerald Derstine

In 1954 and 1955 Gerald Derstine, pastor, and a number of young people of the Strawberry Lake Mennonite Church (MC), Ogema, Minnesota, experienced unusual signs of the Spirit, such as speaking in tongues and being slain in the Spirit. Conference officials asked Derstine to say that at least some of the activities were of the devil, but he refused. In 1956 the conference withdrew his ministerial credentials and he left. In 1977 the officials apologized for what they had done to Derstine and welcomed him back into the Mennonite Church. He continued his independent ministries from Christian Retreat Center, Bradenton, FL. Other pastors and members had the "baptism with the Spirit" during the 1950s and 1960s, often without revealing it publicly. In 1970 retired missionary Nelson Litwiller experienced the baptism with the Spirit in a Catholic charismatic prayer meeting in South Bend, Indiana. He exercised significant leadership in the charismatic movement in the Mennonite Church until his death in 1987.

Nelson Litwiller

The official response of the church came in several ways. In 1972 a consultation was held on the person and work of the Spirit at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, Harrisonburg, Virginia. Festivals of the Spirit were held at Goshen College in 1972 and 1973 with an attendance of several thousand persons. In 1974 the General Board (MC) appointed a task force to develop a statement on "The Holy Spirit in the life of the Church" to be brought to Mennonite Church (MC) General Assembly in 1975. The assembly commended the statement to congregations for study and to return counsel to improve the statement. With some changes it was adopted in 1977 as a resource for teaching throughout the church, giving a favorable response to the charismatic movement.

Some lay leaders and ministers planned a churchwide charismatic conference in 1974, held at the Landisville (Pennsylvania) campgrounds and a second one at the Missionary Church campgrounds (Goshen) in 1975. Kevin Ranaghan, executive director of the Conference on Christian Renewal among the churches, wrote Nelson Litwiller and Harold Bauman, asking whether the Mennonite Church would help in planning the event.

A group of 32 people met in Youngstown, Ohio, in October 1975 and formed Mennonite Renewal Services (MRS). The purposes were to provide consultative and liaison services to individuals and conferences, to represent charismatic Mennonites to groups within and beyond the denomination, to converse with leaders of the Mennonite Church, to provide information and referral services, and to sponsor teaching ministries and conferences. Nelson Litwiller represented MRS on the planning for the Conference on Christian Renewal (interdenominational charismatic conference) at Kansas City in 1977 and for the North American Congress on the Spirit and World Evangelization, held in New Orleans in 1987. Mennonite Renewal Services has reported to each Mennonite Church (MC) General Assembly and has been affirmed in its work by Mennonite Church General Board. The leaders of MRS sought to renew the church and to encourage renewed members to stay with the church and not to leave it. A significant factor in the renewal in the Mennonite Church (MC) has been renewal conferences. Mennonite Renewal Services continued holding churchwide conferences until 1978. Annual regional conferences emerged in 10 to 12 areas across North America. The MRS organization also held annual consultations involving persons active in renewal ministries throughout the church. People from other Anabaptist and Mennonite groups were invited to participate in the early stages of this development While some members of other groups joined MRS, no official delegates were sent more than a few times.

In April 1987 MRS decided to change its name to Believers Church Renewal Ministries and incorporated people from the Church of the Brethren renewal ministries. This was the result of working with these leaders for several Years. In the same month an Apostolic and Prophetic Council was established as an aid to charismatic congregations which needed a different kind of ministry than what their conference leaders were able to provide. In November 1987 a consultation brought together leaders of charismatic congregations and conference leaders to work at strengthening relationships. Sponsored by the Mennonite Board of Congregational Ministries, the consultation developed practical steps to strengthen relationships. By 1989 the new body was known as Empowered Ministries. This organization continued until 1995 when reduced financial support prevented its continuation. Its periodical, Empowered, also ceased at this time.

In a survey of one of every three Mennonite Church (MC) congregations in 1986, pastors reported 10 to 15 percent of the members called themselves charismatic. Between 25 to 30 percent of the pastors identified themselves as charismatic.

The General Conference Mennonite Church has been affected less by the charismatic movement in the United States than in Canada. A number of Canadian Mennonite congregations in the western provinces have a significant number of people with the charismatic experience. Some congregations have been able to minister to these persons while in others there have been tensions. Some members have left to join Pentecostal groups.

Some of the issues the charismatic movement has brought to congregations include whether the baptism with the Spirit is another name for the new birth, or is a definite experience with the Spirit as a part of conversion, or is an experience subsequent to conversion. Other issues involve worship: the raising of hands, speaking in tongues, prophecy, and the use of Scripture songs. Some charismatics have borrowed views of central leadership authority from other charismatic groups. Some of the contributions of the charismatic movement have been renewed vigor in worship, renewed interest in releasing spiritual gifts in congregational life, and new motivation for evangelism and missions.

See also Amor Viviente, Honduras; Holy Spirit; Sanctification


Bauman, Harold E. and Ernest Hershberger in Gospel Herald (27 January 1987): 52-55.

Wittlinger, Carolton O. Quest for Piety and Obedience: the Story of the Brethren in Christ. Nappanee, IN: Evangel Press, 1978: 527ff.

Author(s) Harold E Bauman
Date Published 1990

Cite This Article

MLA style

Bauman, Harold E. "Charismatic Movement." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1990. Web. 18 Oct 2018.

APA style

Bauman, Harold E. (1990). Charismatic Movement. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 18 October 2018, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 134-136. All rights reserved.

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