Research Project: The Church Militant
This is an abstract of my PhD thesis " THE CHURCH MILITANT: The theology & spirituality of “spiritual warfare” in the charismatic renewal and its significance in the Anglican Communion."
This rapid growth of Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity has led to a recent interest in studying it in its various forms; but a considerable number of areas still remain relatively unresearched at academic level. This thesis aims to help fill one of these gaps, particularly in terms of the prominent influence of a theology and spirituality of “spiritual warfare” in most charismatic churches. Anglican churches have not been immune from this influence, not only in Britain but also particularly in areas where the worldwide Anglican church is growing most rapidly, e.g. Africa (particularly Nigeria) and South East Asia. Focusing in this study on the Church of England, and drawing also on wider comparisons from the Anglican Communion worldwide, may thus illuminate how the charismatic approach to spiritual warfare (or the spiritual battle, a term favoured by many Anglicans) influences and integrates into a particular Christian tradition, and is at the same time in dialogue with varied cultural contexts, from Britain to the developing world. In addition, such a study has the potential to yield fresh missiological insights particularly relevant to Anglican churches in Britain today; and, since a careful study of the local and contextual should have wider general implications, my hope is also that a reflective, critical assessment of the charismatic theological approach in this area may make some contribution to wider theological discussions in pneumatology and missiology.
My methodology is primarily theological, with a strong element of historiography and some fieldwork drawing on social science methodology, particularly through interviews with charismatic Anglican pioneer leaders and also studies in 5 congregations. I aim to examine the significance of charismatic spiritual warfare theology and spirituality both in the growth and development of the Anglican charismatic renewal, and its significance in the mission of the Anglican church today, particularly in Britain. Some of the key research questions include: What were the origins of a renewed interest in ‘spiritual warfare’ for Anglican charismatics, particularly in Britain in the 60s and 70s, and the original influences on its theological formulation? What are the main contours of charismatic spiritual warfare theology and practice, within the broader framework of charismatic theology and spirituality? How is the thinking and practice of charismatic Anglican churches today affected by concepts of spiritual warfare, particularly in relation to mission?
I shall then investigate how charismatic spiritual warfare stands up hermeneutically using Biblical critical methods, and its contribution to pneumatological debate, particularly in the area of the ontological reality of demonic forces; assess different theories as to its origins; and, taking into account major theological and pastoral criticisms, consider how appropriate the charismatic understanding and practice of charismatic spiritual warfare might be in the Anglican church particularly in today’s British cultural context, and its potential contribution to church growth and social transformation.
Initial results suggest that key themes of an Anglican charismatic approach to spiritual warfare are:
An insistence on the real ontological existence of Satan and evil spirits as independent intelligent spiritual forces, that means that Christians are actually engaged in a real spiritual battle;
The importance of being aware of this battle and how to engage in it, particularly if engaged in active mission and evangelism, or in ministry that depends on the Holy Spirit’s power, where there is more likely to be ‘power encounters’; or in regular healing ministry.
A theological understanding that is based especially on the practice and teaching of Jesus (as represented in the synoptic gospels), the epistles of Paul and often a spiritualising hermeneutic of physical warfare in the Old Testament; but is also informed and moulded from practical spiritual experience.
A practice that relies heavily on the spiritual gift of discernment to know what is happening in a particular instance; and recognises that alertness and consistency in prayer in its various forms is the key element in the spiritual battle.
Though many Anglicans are very cautious in this area (particularly concerning territorial spirits), many consider ‘spiritual warfare’ as not only significant in deliverance ministry with individuals, and in church growth and evangelism, but also in potentially bringing degrees of social transformation, for example in reducing crime rates and transforming unjust structures.