The Meaning of a Movement: the Lutheran Charismatic Renewal

The Meaning of a Movement: Lutheran Charismatic Renewal

by Rev. Eric Jonas Swensson

Introduction: Renewal Movements in the Lutheran Context

The Lutheran charismatic renewal movement[1] was influenced by charismatic Episcopalians and Catholics but was also part of the wider charismatic movement, which emerged out of the pentecostal movement, all of which flowed out of the holiness movement, pietism, and all renewal movements dating back to the early church.[2] In the 1960’s many Lutheran clergy and laity encountered a spiritual experience they had not known before, that is, the”baptism of the Holy Spirit.”[3] These people whose lives were thus changed became known as “charismatics,” those who promote the use of the gifts of God as described in 1 Corinthians 12.

There has been a scarcity of scholarly research in recent years on this movement that touched at least a million Lutherans in the United States by 1975.[4] Is the lack of research an indication that the Lutheran charismatic movement is winding down? It was necessary to identify and interview key leaders within the three major Lutheran denominations in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and our research shows there are three possible answers to the above question. The charismatic renewal has ceased to be a movement within American Lutheranism, and could therefore be viewed as a failed movement. Secondly, charismatic renewal was like leaven in a loaf, and as yeast is only distinguishable by what it did, and can therefore be viewed as highly successful. Thirdly, the purpose and parameters of the movement have been misunderstood, and its significance is yet to be seen.

Charismatic renewal was not the first renewal movement within the Lutheran Church, but was the first to rely on the gifts of the Spirit. Though Philip Jakob Spener (1635-1705) is often thought of as the “Father of Pietism” because his book Pia Desideria was an indictment of Lutheran Orthodoxy and a plan for reform,[5] Johann Arndt (1555-1621), a Lutheran pastor who studied under Philipp Melanchthon, sensed the Reformation had become mainly about right doctrine and recommended conversion to a “religion of the heart” as a remedy.[6]Carter Lindberg’s paper for the Lutheran World Federation, Charismatic Renewal and the Lutheran Tradition, critiques the theology of Lutheran charismatic renewal and sees Pietism as a second renewal with the first being “enthusiasts” such as Andreas Karlstadt and Thomas Munzer.[7] While Lindberg’s critique that enthusiasts, pietists, and charismatics have enough in common to be seen as the same movement has some merit, his conclusions are speculative considering the differences in theology and practices of these groups.[8] What is certain is that Pietists and Lutherans in the charismatic movement is had a clear vision for renewal of the Church.

Pentecostal and Holiness Roots of Charismatic Renewal in Lutheranism

The Holiness movement in the 19th century developed a theology and practice around how God was going to use the baptism in the Holy Spirit to help evangelize the world before Christ came to usher in the last stages of history. A consuming interest evolved on how a theology concerning the subjective experience of sanctification could be verified. Charles Fox Parham (1873-1929) and one of his students, William Joseph Seymour (1870-1922) helped found a movement that is still spreading around the world. Tent meetings, healing crusades, revivals, and radio shows brought pentecostalism to mainstream America after WWII. More Americans heard about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and investigated the phenomena for themselves.

Influence of the Neo-Pentecostal/Charismatic movement on Lutheranism

Episcopal priest Dennis Bennett (1917-1991) had perhaps the greatestinfluence in the charismatic renewal movement within mainline denominations after his announcement that he had received the gift of tongues led to controversy and his resignation. The bishop in Seattle offered him St. Luke’s parish that had been scheduled to be closed, and under Bennett’s leadership it became a major renewal center for clergy who were hungry for an experience of God. Early figures such as evangelist Herbert Mjorud of the American Lutheran Church (ALC), journeyed there and were baptized in the Holy Spirit. Mjorud’s six year term with the ALC was not renewed due to controversy over his inclusion of charismatic teaching in his evangelistic work.[9] He traveled the world with a healing ministry and wrote three books, including Fighting Cancer with Christ, after receiving healing from lymphatic cancer.[10] This pattern of hearing of the new spiritual experience, praying for and receiving it, and the resulting controversy was repeated in the lives of the many clergy in mainline denominations who were told, “Bloom where you are planted.”

Influence of Catholic Charismatic Renewal on Lutheranism

One of the gifts the Catholic Church brought to the Lutherans in the renewal movement was the pastoral approach of the hierarchy, and the examination of the baptism in the Holy Spirit by theologians like Killian McDonnell who issued a challenge that, “Both charismatics and the church at large should attempt in positive terms to work out a theology and practice within the Lutheran framework so that the charismatic renewal within the church is thoroughly Lutheran.”[11] According to Charles Miller, another key figure in Lutheran charismatic renewal, much of the early conflict might have been avoided if a “thoroughly Lutheran” charismatic theology and practice had been more commonly taught.[12] The Classical Pentecostal understanding of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is subsequent to conversion and baptism, whereas Roman Catholic theology says the experience is tied to water baptism rather than a new thing coming upon a person, it is a release of what is lying dormant.

For Lutherans who came into the charismatic movement before the challenge from Catholic theologians, the spiritual experience came first followed by a theological explanation borrowed from Classical Pentecostalism.[13] Later, the idea prevailed that there was a “release of the Spirit” rather than a subsequent experience.[14] However, Larry Christenson in his most recent work Ride the River  refers to David Pawson’s theory of “receiving the Holy Spirit” in Jesus Baptizes in One Holy Spirit. Both books deal succinctly with these three theological explanations of subsequence, release, and receiving. Furthermore, Christenson citing Luther’s exegetical advice to stick to the simplest sense of Scripture writes that “a person who comes to faith in Christ, and/or is baptized, does not automatically receive the Holy Spirit; the plain sense of Scripture does encourage believers to pray for, and receive, the gift of the Holy Spirit.”[15]

Charismatic Renewal within the three major Lutheran denominations

           When the charismatic renewal came in the 1960’s and 1970’s there were three major Lutheran church bodies each with about three million members. The American Lutheran Church’s center was in Minneapolis, the Lutheran Church in America had twin headquarters in Philadelphia and New York, and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod was, and is still, based in St. Louis. Each denomination experienced renewal in different years and had different responses from their hierarchy, which was partially due to timing as well as emphasis in theology and ecclesiology.

The American Lutheran Church (ALC)

Renewal came first to the ALC in 1961. During his seminary training, Larry Christenson questioned how and where the power of God for ministry was to be found. He studied the Bible and wondered as many do, why the descriptions of the early Christians were so different from what he saw in the church, and was also very curious about healing ministry through Agnes Sanford’s book The Healing Light. In August 1961, during Christenson’s second year of ministry he was invited by an elderly Norwegian woman to hear evangelist Mary Westberg.[16] Christenson was asked that evening by Westberg if he wanted to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and he received the gift of tongues soon thereafter.[17]

Christenson’s congregation became a center for renewal and he became a leader among charismatic Lutherans. In 1963, the ALC convened a committee to investigate “Neo-pentecostal”activity at Trinity Lutheran Church and three other congregations by sending a team composed of a psychiatrist, a psychologist, and a theologian to interview members. The investigative committee formed two control groups for their study, one composed of 30 members who claimed the baptism of the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues, and the second group of 30 members who did not claim the gifts.

The committee reported back that there was no difference between the mental and emotional stability of the two groups. However, the ALC presented “A Report on Glossolalia” to their convention that year suggesting, “There has been enough talking about glossolalia in our Church and that further publicity would fan the flames and do more harm than good.”[18] According to Charles Miller, perhaps the best way to sum up the ALC approach was “benign neglect,” because instead of exploring the challenges presented charismatic renewal, they ignored it to the extent they were able.[19] Despite the official position of the hierarchy, ALC clergy and laity played prominent roles in the charismatic renewal movement.

A lay member who played a vital role in the ALC was Dick Denny, a businessman whose introduction to the charismatic movement came through his wife, Betty. After their son Rick died in Viet Nam in 1968, Mrs. Denny began speaking to groups concerning bereavement, and at one meeting, she was baptized in the Holy Spirit. Denny saw a wonderful spiritual change in his wife that led to his wanting the same. He received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and with it came “a hunger and thirst to know more about God.”[20] The Denny’s joined the North Heights Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minnesota where he served as assistant to the pastor, led three Bible studies in their home with attendance as high as 65, led a prayer and praise service at his congregation which began with 40 and grew to have 450  worshipers. Denny said, “We had manifestations of the Holy Spirit as in 1 Corinthians 12, with physical healings, we learned hands-on how to deal with demons. We had a sense of expectancy, we expected God to do things and God delivered.”[21]

In 1971, a pastor told Denny at the Lutheran Youth Encounter conference that they needed that kind of event for adults.”[22] Therefore, in 1972 Denny coordinated a conference on the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Twin Cities which drew 9,000 people from 22 countries simply by word-of-mouth.[23]Attendance at these annual Holy Spirit conferences in Minneapolis grew to have 25,000 people in 1975, and then peaked as 23-25 regional conferences were being organized yearly with 500-3,000 in attendance, tapes about the gifts of the Spirit became available; and more congregations were open to renewal. The Lutheran Charismatic Renewal Service (LCRS), an organization for the needs of people who were Lutheran and charismatic was birthed at the 1975 Holy Spirit conference with Denny as national Coordinator.

In 1983, LCRS merged with the International Center for Lutheran Church Renewal of North Heights Lutheran Church to form International Lutheran Renewal Center (ILRC). Denny became the National Coordinator, Larry Christenson was Director and Dr. Dennis Pedersen the International Coordinator. “The ministry for ILRS continued, similar to LCRS, but with a greater dimension, for overseas outreach increased dramatically through the call and work of Rev. Larry Christenson and Dr. Pedersen.”[24] According to Denny, “The charismatic movement was a prophetic voice to the institutionalized church. It became defender of the faith rather than proclaimer of the truth.”[25]

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LC-MS)

In 1966 Rodney Lensch was an LC-MS pastor in Thousand Oaks, California. He had also recognized the discrepancy between the power of God in the Bible and what he had experienced in his pastoral ministry, when he heard the testimony of three clergy from different denominations speak on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. One of them, Rev. Ray Bringham went to the home of the Lensch’s, where he prayed for Lensch and his wife to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. They received it that evening, and his life was transformed completely.[26] The following year Lensch resigned from his congregation, and the next year officially left the Missouri Synod. He has since then had a faith ministry, traveling, speaking, writing, and “walking alongside” the Synod. In referring to an early meeting of charismatic pastors, Lensch said, “We had all manner of problems to be resolved, but we couldn’t agree on theological interpretation, and so didn’t get anywhere.”[27] Lensch rejects explanations of baptism in the Holy Spirit in existing Lutheran theological categories such as a release of the Spirit. Furthermore, he believes the movement was never to be about gifts, but rather the centrality of the Holy Spirit.[28]

Another prominent figure is Del Rossin who in 1969 was the pastor of a LC-MS congregation in Geneva, Illinois. He had his first encounter with the charismatic renewal movement when a fellow LC-MS pastor played the tape recording of a woman speaking in tongues. The woman was asked, “How do you know this is not of the devil?” and she replied, “Would the devil cause me to love Jesus more?” Her words pierced Rossin:

That was like a knife. There was wisdom there. That sent me on a search. Primarily I searched the Bible. I talked to other pastors. One evening, while working on a sermon, I said a simple prayer, “Fill with me your Spirit.”  The Bible came alive. I knew that Jesus Christ is alive today and the Holy Spirit quickens this in us, just as with Peter in Acts.[29]

Following Rossin being filled with the Holy Spirit, his congregation experienced renewal, and soon, “People started coming to church because they wanted to.”[30] Renewal in his congregation spread through prayer meetings and spread within the synod through conferences that attracted thousands. “Seeing the work of Christ was key and when many people were healed, the prayer meetings grew larger and larger.” Rossin believes that again today, “Many are yearning for a fresh move of the Spirit, and to see Jesus Christ’s story in us.”[31]

In 1968, there were only 44 LC-MS pastors claiming to have had the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and the denomination asked its Commission on Theology and Church Relations to study the charismatic renewal and its theology. The report was released in 1972, and argues that the Lutheran Confessions teach that Christians and receive the Holy Spirit in the means of grace, that is, the Word and Sacraments. However, the report is flawed in its methodology as none of the 44 charismatic pastors was included on the committee. Ironically, between 1968 and 1972 the number of charismatic LC-MS pastors grew from 44 to over 200.[32]

Another document, “Policy Statement Regarding the Neo-Pentecostal Movement” issued in 1975 by Concordia Theological Seminary in Springfield, Illinois, deplored the “distortions” of neo-pentecostalism, i.e., “that the Spirit works today apart from or supplementary to the means of Grace.”[33] Some charismatic LC-MS pastors did teach that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was subsequent to water baptism, but generally charismatic Lutherans understand faith as created by the Word The report also claimed charismatic Lutherans abandoned the Theology of the Cross for a Theology of Glory.[34] Concordia Seminary denied enrollment to the program for certification to applicants who answered on the questionnaire that they had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit.[35]

Renewal in LC-MS today

           Aided by Rodney Lensch and other LC-MS charismatic movement pioneers, Del Rossin convened a ministerium in 1987 that led to the founding of Renewal in Missouri (RIM) “to try to address the church in a positive way, what is the good news about renewal.”[36] RIM held informal gatherings with LC-MS hierarchy, still hosts conferences and retreats for pastors and networks within the LC-MS. RIM also publishes a quarterly newsletter which is sent to a mailing list of 10,000. Rossin said that the charismatic renewal “Really never made much difference in the Synod” [changing attitudes or the direction of its hierarchy] even though more than 600 pastors received the baptism in the Holy Spirit and dozens of congregations were renewed.”[37]

The Lutheran Church in America (LCA)

           While there were a few forerunners such as Paul Swedeberg and Glen Pearson[38], the charismatic renewal as a movement did not occur in the LCA until the 1970’s. According to Charles Miller, a charismatic Lutheran pastor and consultant, who worked with bishops in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the LCA bishops saw charismatic renewal as a move of God the same way as the Catholic bishops.[39] Also, the teaching and practice of the gifts of the Spirit were addressed similarly, i.e., boundaries were given in theological statements but the use of gifts was tolerated and even encouraged. Charismatic renewal was not addressed by the LCA until 1972 when a resolution was passed at their convention that no prejudice be shown against the charismatic movement, and that a report be written addressing the movement pastorally. The 1974 document, “The Charismatic Movement in the Lutheran Church in America, a Pastoral Perspective,” gave the background of the pentecostal and charismatic movements, explained the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and the gifts of glossolalia, prophecy, and healing. It also addressed worship, prayer, and social concerns and concluded with 14 guidelines, urging seminaries and programs of continuing education to assist pastors gain knowledge of the movement and develop skills in ministering to their charismatic members.[40]

Whereas the LC-MS document said renewal theology contradicted the Lutheran Confessions, the LCA statement stated in its first guideline, “Where it is authentic — that is, where it bears good fruit — the charismatic experience must be understood within the scope of the life of the church. There is no cause for Lutheran pastors or people to suggest either explicitly or implicitly that one cannot be charismatic and remain Lutheran in good standing.”[41] According to Charles Miller, the LCA bishops led the way and demonstrated their spiritual as well as administrative leadership.[42] Bishop McCarney of the Central Pennsylvania Synod and the Presiding Bishop James Crumley supported the Holy Spirit conferences held between1976-1983. They were both speakers at Central Pennsylvania Synod’s Charismatic Renewal Conference in 1981. Charles Miller met with Bishop Crumley in 1981 and proceeded to assist the Church, bishops, pastors and the LCA congregations in matters of the charismatic renewal within the Church. Presiding Bishop Crumley’s support and blessing indicates the extent to which the LCA leadership undertook to support the renewal.

The 1974 document guideline stated, “the charismatic experience must be understood within the scope of the life of the church.”[43] Bishop McCarney utilized the services of  Francis and Judith MacNutt in each district of the synod to teach clergy and laity how to conduct healing services, develop small groups to promote healing, and how to have a Pastoral Healing Ministry.[44] At the LCA Philadelphia and Gettysburg seminaries, charismatic students, as well as leadership within the LCA charismatic movement were openly accepted. Dr Gerhard Krodel of Gettysburg, Dr. William Lazareth and Dr. Timothy Lull of Philadelphia, though not personally involved, were publicly supportive, and helped students remain “Lutheran” by explaining how the use of gifts fit in the framework of Lutheran theology. Lazareth especially helped shape the thinking and language of a Lutheran understanding of being filled with the Holy Spirit. In the late 1970s, Charles Miller was invited to lecture at the Philadelphia seminary, where he and his wife had an on-campus group of about 18 students meeting monthly in the evenings.[45]

Charles Miller’s view that the LCA accepted charismatic renewal is not widely known, although he and Dr. Pedersen were extended calls by the constituting council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)[46]to lead renewal in the denomination. Miller had extensive charismatic ministry in the US and in Tanzania (East Africa), where the Presiding Bishop asked him to see that every pastor there was born-again and Spirit-filled.[47] Despite all his accomplishments, Miller’s name does not appear in any standard references of the charismatic movement.

What Happened to the Lutheran Charismatic Renewal Movement

           There are at three explanations on what happened to Lutheran charismatic renewal, which are not necessarily contradictory. The first view is that the movement has run its course as individuals and congregations were transformed but not the denomination. This is understandable, from the LC-MS perspective of leaders like Del Rossin and Rodney Lensch as they witnessed many pastors being forced out. Everyone interviewed agreed that many memberstired of resistance, left the Lutheran church for denominations like the Assemblies of God and the Vineyard. Rodney Lensch believes that many also left because they did not hold to Lutheran interpretations of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.[48]Lensch writes that “the charismatic renewal was birthed by a word from the mouth of God, designed to bring spiritual renewal and restoration to the whole church. It is good and proper to evaluate the charismatic renewal which as a movement has ceased.”[49] He encourages Lutheran charismatics to avoid the Elijah complex, to build on the charismatic legacy, and urges pastors to be bold now that denominational resistance is waning, and to share their testimonies by writing a spiritual autobiography as he has done. He concludes “to make your influence count while there is still time.”[50]

Jim Anderson of Harvest Network International worked for Lutheran Renewal Outreach until 1987, and is an example of a Lutheran whose priorities were in discipleship and evangelism, not denominationalism. He cites eminent church consultant Lyle Schaller’s greatest regret was that he loved his church too much. The Lutheran charismatic movement had about twenty really great leaders and Anderson wonders what might have been possible if instead of trying to renew a denomination that they loved, they had put all their effort into making something new that would be more effective in mission.[51]

Rodney Lensch said that if all the leaders of the charismatic renewal in Lutheranism had formed a new denomination rather than try to renew the old they would have one new large, dynamic denomination today.[52] This view is more consistent with members of the ALC and LC-MS than within the LCA where according to Charles Miller,”We wasted no energy or resources fighting the structure or trying to impact the church.”

Paul Anderson who took over the leadership of the International Lutheran Renewal Center from Larry Christenson in 1995, agrees that the charismatic renewal peaked in most denominations in the 1980’s, and touched thousands of individuals. However, the impact on the local churches and on the Church as a whole was less visible. “The leaders expected to see more change from within than they in fact saw.”[53] Lutheran Renewal (LR), as it is now known,[54] still hosts an annual Holy Spirit Conference, though their vision today is much different from hosting conferences and congregational renewal weekends aimed at renewing congregations and hopefully denominations. Paul Anderson’s leadership is featured in C. Peter Wagner’s recent talks and upcoming book[55] as an example of a new wineskin in the way he led the board of LR to seek the establishment of The Master’s Institute seminary, (MI), and the Alliance of Renewal Churches (ARC), a network of churches seeking renewal. Following is Paul Anderson’s interpretation of charismatic renewal and vision for the future:

We had been operating under some false assumptions. We were too optimistic and too naive. We told people to “bloom where you are planted.” In effect, we told them to wither. Starting a seminary was a radical departure, especially since we started it five miles from the largest Lutheran seminary in the States. We were raising up an alternative, Daniel 1 style. We decided that we could not start a new paradigm out of an existing one. Then we decided that we needed to connect relationally with churches that wanted to walk with us in a new network. We see LR and ARC each having their own life. We expect that LR will continue to grow as the ARC grows. How it all is governed down the road we don’t see clearly as yet, but we do see integral relationships between MI, ARC, and LR. As we look ahead, we expect even more radical changes in front of us, especially through the growth of the ARC, both nationally and internationally. LR will continue to connect with pastors and congregations, and will continue to have renewal conferences. At the same time, the ARC will possibly grow into a sizeable network of churches and pastors who are thinking more radically than the LR constituency about such things as the role of the pastor, the shape of a congregation, five-fold ministry, etc.[56]

Dick Denny points out that people who went through the charismatic renewal are found today anchoring prayer and evangelism ministries and serving as officers in charismatic and non-charismatic Lutheran congregations alike, as well as Pentecostal, Vineyard and non-denominational churches. The point does not seem to have been to change denominations but to transform people. As said, “The renewal is solidly entrenched in growing churches that preach a crucified and risen Jesus. The difference in a charismatic renewed church should be disciples. If God is moving in a church there should be disciples, not just believers.”[57]

Morris Vaagenes who was part of the movement since 1962, led North Heights Lutheran Church for thirty years, during which time the congregation grew from several hundred to 8,500 members. Vaagenes stated in 1979 that the charismatic movement in the Lutheran church as a sociological phenomenon was ending, however God was still empowering people to go out and be witnesses and then the end of the age will come. In his view,”Movements are for one generation. The second generation doesn’t pay the cost of the first, and there is a cost to Pentecost. Also, the Bible shows that all renewal movements are done with a remnant. Even though they happen through a minority, they can influence the whole. The purpose is not so save an institution but to make a people.”[58]Vaagenes believes God’s purpose for the baptism of the Holy Spirit is to ordainthe priesthood of all believers, so the time of training missionaries to live in foreign lands transitions into the training of teams of lay people for short mission trips, the time of professional clergy performing ministry for their members transition intoGod-empowered people witnessing and doing ministry, “as those whom God appoints, He anoints.”[59]

A second view is by Charles Miller, who believes that renewal was yeast in the loaf : once yeast is introduced to the loaf, it cannot be separated. Though there are no visible charismatic leaders in the ELCA since Dennis Pedersen died in a 1992 airplane crash and he has retired from active ministry. Miller believes that the charismatic renewal was much more far-reaching in the ELCA than is commonly believed as the following changes give testimony:

  • monthly anointing for healing services in thousands of congregations and a general emphasis on healing[60]

  • more emphasis today on prayer

  • more emphasis today on missions and evangelism

  • more emphasis today on spiritual gifts

  • congregations use programs and materials from many sources and backgrounds[61]

  • once the only music played in worship was from the denominational hymnal on the pipe organ, but today many congregations sing praise songs accompanied by a variety of instruments.

The third view is that the purpose and parameters of the movement have been misunderstood and its significance have yet to be seen. Larry Christenson, when asked his perspective today on du Plessis’ words on blooming where planted, repeated the vision told by Ortwin Schweitzer in 2002 at a 40thanniversary of the first conference charismatic movement in Stuttgart, Germany, “We had a vision of a field of cabbages. There was a vast field of them, and as we watched them grow in front of us we understood that they represented centers of renewal, but as they grew and we saw the blossoms we realized they were not cabbages at all, they were tomatoes.”[62] The prophecy interpreted “tomatoes” being prayer meetings, conferences, congregations, etc. in German; however, the vision could well be about the movement as a whole. Therefore, another explanation of what happened to the charismatic renewal movement is that we have yet to see what it was and will be.

Renewal was perhaps thought to be a movement to renew the denominations and congregations, but that may not have been its purpose since it may be impossible to renew a denomination. Rather, the purpose of the movement may have been as a hothouse to force blooms: a new type of missionary who will witness in their own sphere of influence.


Charismatic renewal as a movement certainly has ceased if it is to be judged against what it looked like in the 1970’s. However, because it no longer looks the same, or that it did not achieve the expectation of denominational renewal, is not an indication of failure. If its purpose was not to renew the denominations, but instead to renew the people and make the people ready for the last days it could well have established the roots to do this. Lastly, labels such as “tongues movement,” or placing more emphasis on the “gifts” than the “Giver” misdirects. The kernel of renewal is alive, well and spreading: Jesus is the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit gives charismata pneumatikifor the work of the church; anointed believers become disciples with a passion for worshiping, witnessing, and ready for the last days.

Certain conditions trigger situations. Dry underbrush needs only a spark to ignite a forest fire. Denominations like the ELCA may enjoy “charismatic” worship and emphases, yet the course set by many of its leaders could lead to drier conditions than existed in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and charismatic renewal could ignite and flash forth again.

I believe all the key figures interviewed would agree, as well as the three explanations of what happened to Lutheran charismatic renewal converge, on this one point: the purpose of charismatic renewal is not to renew denominations but to make a people.


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[1] Lutheran charismatic renewal movement is not capitalized to avoid an impression of over-categorization: it is one movement among others within a larger movement.

[2] It is essential to note that these links would not necessarily apply to Lutheranism outside of North America, nor to Orthodox congregations in North America as the Eastern church never ceased using gifts.

[3] “Baptized in the Holy Spirit,” “being filled with the Holy Spirit” or “Spirit-baptism”are different terms for the same experience. See David Pawson, Jesus Baptises in One Holy Spirit (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1997) for a cogent biblical explanation on terminology. The work of theology is to describe how that happens: however, this historical paper only touches upon the difference between the Classical Pentecostal and the charismatic Sacramental positions, and how that theology is still being shaped today (see footnote 13).

[4] Larry Christenson and Paul Anderson, “Lutheran Charismatics,” the New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, ed. Stanley Burgess (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 848.

[5] See E. J. Swensson, “Just What did Luther Discover?” available at

[6] See F. Ernest Stoeffler, The Rise of Evangelical Pietism (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1965)

7 See Carter Lindberg, “Charismatic Renewal and the Lutheran Tradition.”Lutheran World Federation papers, 1985.

8 Markku Antola, The Experience of Christ’s Real Presence in Faith (Helsinki: Luther-Agricola-Society, 1998), 4.

[9] Larry Christenson, “Herbert Mjorud,” the New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, ed. Stanley Burgess (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 902.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Kilian McDonnell, Charismatic Renewal and the Churches (New York: Seabury Press, 1976), 46.

[12] Rev. Charles Miller, interview by author, 18 December 2003.

[13] See Tormod Engelsviken, The Gift of the Spirit: An Analysis and Evaluation of the Charismatic Movement from a Lutheran Theological Perspective (Ann Arbor: UMI, 1981). Engelsviken argues that pentecostalism is “a specific experience accompanied by and interpreted by a certain doctrine.” (p.4).

[14] See Larry Christenson, The Charismatic Renewal among Lutherans (Minneapolis: LCRS, 1976), and Welcome, Holy Spirit (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1987).

[15] Larry Christenson, “Appendix Two: Extended Comment on Receiving the Holy Spirit,” and “Appendix Four: Extended Comment of the Release of the Holy Spirit.”Ride the River(Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2000) 191-199, 205-209.

[16] Noteworthy of pentecostals roots in pietism from Wesley, this all important invitation was issued from a former member of the Hauge Synod, a Lutheran denomination (1876-1917) named after the Pietist, Hans Nelson Hauge.

[17] Rev. Larry Christenson, interview by author, 10 November 2003.

[18] “A Report on Glossolalia,” cited in Killian McDonnell, Charismatic Renewal and the Churches (New York: Seabury Press, 1976), 45.

[19] Rev. Charles Miller, interview by author, 13 November 2003.

[20] Mr. Dick Denny, interview by author, 28 November 2003.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid

[23] Mr. Dick Denny, interview by author, 28 November 2003.

[24] Dick Denny, As Life Unfolds (St. Paul, 1997).

[25] Mr. Dick Denny, interview by author, 28 November 2003.

[26] See Rodney Lensch, Be All Thy Graces Now Outpoured (Edina: Beaver Pond Press, 1998).

[27] Rev. Rodney Lensch, interview by author, 10 December 2003.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Rev. Del Rossin, interview by author, 6 November 2003.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Kilian McDonnell, Charismatic Renewal and the Churches (New York: Seabury Press, 1976), 61.

[33] “Policy Statement Regarding the Neo-Pentecostal Movement,” cited in McDonnell,Charismatic Renewal and the Churches, p.63.

[34] McDonnell, Charismatic Renewal and the Churches, p.63.

[35] Ibid, 64.

[36] Rev. Del Rossin, interview by author, 6 November 2003.

[37] Rev. Del Rossin, interview by author, 6 November 2003.

[38] Vinson Synan, The Century of the Holy Spirit (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001), 163.

[39] Rev. Charles Miller, interview by author, 14 November 2003

[40] “The Charismatic Movement in the Lutheran Church in America, a Pastoral Perspective,” Board of Publications, Lutheran Church in America, 1974, 15-16.

[41] “The Charismatic Movement in the Lutheran church in America, a Pastoral Perspective,” LCA, 1974.

[42] Rev. Charles Miller, interview by author, 14 November 2003

[43] Rev. Charles Miller, email to author, 11 December 2003

[44] Ibid.

[45] Rev. Charles Miller, email to author, 11 December 2003

[46] The ALC, the LCA and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, a denomination formed by congregations that split from the LC-MS, merged in 1987 into the ELCA.

[47] Rev. Charles Miller, interview by author, 12 December 2003.

[48] Rev. Rodney Lensch, interview by author, 10 December 2003

[49] Rodney Lensch,”The Charismatic Renewal Thirty Years Later (Did It Fail or Fulfill Its Divine Purpose),” Rod and Staff, Vol. XXVI, No. 103, Fall, 2003.

[50] Rodney Lensch, “The Charismatic Renewal Thirty Years Later (Did It Fail or Fulfill Its Divine Purpose).”[51] Rev. Jim Anderson, interview by author, 14 November 2003.

[52] Rev. Rodney Lensch, interview by author, 11 December 2003.

[53] Rev. Paul Anderson, e-mail to author, 7 November 2003.

[54] The Lutheran Charismatic Renewal Service (LCRS) organized in 1975, and in 1983 merged with the International Center for Lutheran Church Renewal of North Heights Lutheran Church to form International Lutheran Renewal Center (ILRC) is now know as Lutheran Renewal.

[55] Working draft, C. Peter Wagner, The Second Apostolic Age, to be published by Regal Books in 2004, “Chapter 3: We are moving from internal reform to apostolic renewal.”.

[56] Rev. Paul Anderson, e-mail to author, 7 November 2003.

[57] Mr. Dick Denny, interview by author, 28 November 2003.

[58] Rev. Morris Vaagenes, interview by author, 2 December 2003.

[59] Ibid.

[60] Charismatic clergy lobbied for the inclusion of the Service of Anointing for Healing in the Occasional Services Book.

[61] In the past Lutheran pastors used materials from their own publishing house which were generally written by Lutherans. Lutheran publishing houses now offer materials from authors of wide variety of backgrounds.

[62] Rev. Larry Christenson, interview by author, 10 November 2003.


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