Archive: Special Report from Kansas City

 by Kevin LaGree, United Methodist Attorney, Shawnee Mission, Kansas

About 1,000 United Methodist charismatics met in Kansas City July 21-24, with nearly 49,000 others, as part of the ecumenical Conference on Charismatic Renewal in the Christian churches. The United Methodists gathered every morning for worship, teaching, singing, and praise.

Each worship session featured a special speaker, but preceding the message, Rev. Bob Stamps, chaplain at Oral Roberts University, led an hour of singing, prayer, and praise.

At the first session, those gathered reveled in a freedom of worship they obviously did not enjoy regularly in their home churches. After the first rousing, toe-tapping, handclapping chorus—which featured Rev. Bob Stamps, Rev. Ross Whetstone, and Rev. Tommy Tyson forming an impromptu chorus line and dancing a jig across the stage Rev. Stamps told the joyous audience, “I just told Brother Ross that this sure isn’t like General Conference!”

The audience erupted in laughter as Rev. Stamps went on, “But I thank the Lord—it’s a lot more fun!”

Rev. Tommy Tyson, a United Methodist evangelist from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, set the tone of the United Methodist meetings with the keynote speech.

“There is no such thing as a Christian who is not charismatic,” he began, striking a note of Christian unity that was repeated throughout the conference.

“You cannot have the Spirit of Christ without having the gifts of grace, the charisma,” Rev. Tyson explained.

“That means,” he continued, “that all true Christians are charismatic since all carry the indwelling Holy Spirit in them. “That means you’re one and didn’t know it! But since you are one now you can enjoy it. You don’t have to be afraid anymore!”

Speaking both to the charismatics before him and to those in the United Methodist Church who do not count themselves in that group, Rev. Tyson urged all United Methodists” … to reproduce Jesus in the realm where you are threatened.

“Life in the Spirit is not imitating Jesus but rather responding to His love. Ministry is learning to respond to Jesus in the presence of each other,” he said.

“Remember one thing I’ve said to you today if you remember nothing else: Jesus will never send you to anyone who doesn’t need you and whom you don’t need.”

In the second United Methodist meeting, Dr. Bill Thomas, pastor of the 4,000-member First UM Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, spoke to the audience at the invitation of Dr. Bob Tuttle, professor of Wesleyan studies and evangelism at Fuller Theological Seminary (the featured speaker). Both men are members of the Good News Board of Directors. “There’s a new wind blowing in The United Methodist Church,” Dr. Thomas told the crowd. “Renewal must come from the local church level.

“I learned early in my ministry that the pastor’s job was merely to create an atmosphere of faith so that the Holy Spirit can minister in the church. What has happened at our church can happen in any church, if the Holy Spirit is allowed to move freely in the church.”

Mentioning that he was leaving Kansas City to speak at the Good News Convocation, Dr. Thomas shared a part of what he planned to tell those assembled in Anderson, Indiana. He issued a call for evangelicals and charismatics in The UM Church to overlook those issues which separate them and to join together to renew the church.

“All the charismatics want the evangelicals to say is that tongues is a legitimate gift of the Holy Spirit today. The evangelicals can say that: it’s Scriptural. All the evangelicals want the charismatics to say is that not everyone must speak in tongues. And the charismatics can say that: it’s also Scriptural. It’s time to come together to renew The United Methodist Church,” Dr. Thomas concluded to loud and sustained applause.

Dr. Bob Tuttle’s message, “The United Methodist Church: Pentecost or Holocaust,” picked up on the same message. He said he saw God creating a church ” … where we are so secure in our own experience that we can allow the experience of others to work.

“It will take a lot of different kinds of leaven to renew The UM Church,” he said, “and we must remember that our security and our source must be in Him.”

After Dr. Tuttle’s remarks, a panel of discussion began that became the focus of the UM conference. Rev. Ross Whetstone, chairman of the evangelism department at Scarritt College and coordinator of the United Methodist Charismatic Conference, told the audience that several participants had asked him whether the United Methodist charismatics would organize themselves within the church.

“A number of us have discussed this question, and it is our view that there is no need for an organization at this time,” Rev. Whetstone said. He then asked the various members of the panel to speak to the question.

Dr. Tuttle predicted that the organization of the charismatic renewal would mark the beginning of its death.

“We’re not concerned about being charismatic,” Dr. Tuttle stated, “we’re concerned about being Christians.”

Dr. Bill Thomas cautioned that organizing another group would fragment the evangelical wing of the church. He emphasized that an organization already exists within the church which deals with issues important to charismatics—Good News. And he urged charismatics and evangelicals to work together through Good News.

Dr. Thomas also expressed his concern that the charismatic renewal remain local.

“We can only renew The United Methodist Church from the ground up,” he warned.

Dr. William Wilson, professor of psychiatry at Duke Medical Center, also a Good News board member, echoed the concern Dr. Thomas had that the renewal remain unstructured and local.

However, it soon became obvious that a number of participants believed some organization was necessary. Rev. Larry Eisenberg, Marlow, Oklahoma, told the audience that he was ” … coming out of the woodwork when I get home.

“You may not organize, but I’m going to try something when I get back home. I’ve never joined Good News because I thought it was too controversial, but I see now that I’m here because of some of the battles they’ve fought,” he said.

Other participants expressed their views on both sides of the organization question at a microphone provided for questions. On the whole, they seemed to agree that an organization would weaken and perhaps kill the charismatic renewal, but they also gave voice to the painful isolation and loneliness they experience in their local churches.

“You guys travel all over and see this renewal happening, and you can be confident about it,” one man said. “But we don’t know what’s happening. I didn’t believe there were this many charismatic United Methodists in the world, let alone the U.S.”

“I agree that institutionalization will destroy the renewal,” one woman told the panel. “But it would be such a comfort just to know what was going on. I don’t know about any of you,” she said, turning to the crowd. “But I didn’t hear about this meeting through any Methodist publication.”

After the Thursday UM discussion, Revs. Whetstone, Tuttle, Tyson, Stamps, Thomas, and Dr. Wilson met with those who felt strongly that some sort of organization should be set up. They lunched together and worked out an interim solution that was revealed to the participants the following day.

Rev. Whetstone asked for six weeks in which to work out what he termed, “an idea we came up with yesterday.”

“I can’t tell you all the details, because we have to talk with some other people,” he told the participants, “but I’m asking you to trust us for six weeks. You can call me if you don’t hear anything in that time.”

He bravely gave his telephone number as well as his address. Most participants agreed to the six week grace period, and most took down Rev. Whetstone’s phone number.


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