From the uttermost part of the earth have we heard

 songs, even glory to the righteous (Isaiah 24:16)


The tune was still ringing in my ears and I couldn’t get the words out of my mind.

And you shall seek Me and you shall find me when you shall search for Me with all your heart. And I will be found of you when you shall seek Me with all your heart.

It was 1973 and suddenly my life was a wreck. A hard working – and sometimes hard drinking – journalist, I had emigrated from Britain to join the Gisborne Herald in New Zealand as a sub-editor, bringing my young family with me. But while I toiled my wife became involved with another man, a friend I had tried to help. She moved out to join him and I was left devastated with our two girls to care for.

Enter cousin Eileen and her husband George, emigrants to New Zealand before me, who claimed to have recently met Jesus personally. To my embarrassment they erected a tent with a large ‘One Way Jesus’ sign on my front lawn and while I was at work sang gospel choruses to my children. They stayed until they thought I was converted.

God, George insisted, was not to be found in the bleak Strict Baptist chapels we had both known as children in Britain. Rather Jesus Himself was now  ‘saving’ thousands in New Zealand courtesy of something called the Charismatic Movement. 

George and Eileen’s experience of being saved through a real, emotionally tangible encounter with the Saviour Christ Jesus  didn’t become mine until later but what did impact me then was the beautiful music of the songs George kept playing in his van as we drove to the beach and back. Choruses like, And you shall seek Me and you shall find Me, and, For as truly as I live all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, touched me at my core and I began to seek to be saved. Two years later I finally was along with my girls Lucy and Vanessa.

But what was it about those irresistible songs?  They had drawn me like iron filings to a magnet. They were Christian songs but like nothing I had ever heard in either the dour Strict Baptist chapels I had known, nor in the Church of England services experienced at school. They were fresh, contemporary, real and compelling. To hear or sing them was to hear God speaking to you direct.

Scripture in Song, as it was called back then, was something new. Puritans had sung psalms long ago but now the majestic words of the King James Bible were set to bright, moving tunes in the musical genre of the 60s and 70s. The impact was so sudden and so great the songs breathed new life worldwide into an ailing Christianity. Nearly every denomination was affected with many seeing growth in numbers for over 20 years as a result of this charismatic experience.

And nowhere was the impact greater than in New Zealand. The 1978 Operation World handbook said of New Zealand:

Charismatic renewal has brought about widespread changes. The impact has been greater than in any other English-speaking nation.

In New Zealand it began back in 1968 when a young Baptist couple, Dale and David Garratt felt God calling them to lead people to a freer worship of God. They wrote songs that were simply Bible verses set to contemporary music. The music (piano, guitar and drums) with rhythm and sounds that were unfamiliar to the church culture of the day was all at once hugely popular. And controversial, for it challenged the status quo of the day.

Albums of their songs circled the globe as congregations began to sing the choruses in new and freer forms of worship in which everybody could join. The Garratts state:

Not being musicians ourselves we gathered people together to help us record the songs to the best of our ability. With this music we found ourselves called from the comfort of Aotearoa to travel and teach groups around the world about how to praise and worship their Creator. For the next 25 years ... from Asia to North America, Europe to Africa, God entrusted us to lead people to worship Him according to the words of Jesus, in spirit and in truth.

The first few Scripture in Song albums were just that – scripture in song. But a few years on that changed. In the 1980 Songs of Praise album many songs are not taken direct from scripture but are choruses imported mainly from American Pentecostal circles. The Garratts had departed from their ‘King James Bible scriptural’ base and also lost the uniquely New Zealand indigenous flavour of their original presentations.

But before this happened at least one Old Testament prophecy was fulfilled in part by the Garratts’ songs. In Isaiah 24:16 it was prophesied: ‘From the uttermost part of the earth have we heard songs, even glory to the righteous’. Interestingly, New Zealand is indeed the uttermost part of the earth as you travel from Jerusalem.

These days on his website David Garratt fears that in charismatic worship, ‘music (and the musician) has become the master’ replacing the word of God. He says: ‘We can hardly overestimate the importance of singing the truths of scripture or of singing songs of worship that put God in the highest place’. The Garratts’ original mandate from God was to:

                Lead people to God, not ourselves.

                Write songs able to be quickly learned and easily memorized by musicians and worshippers.

                Ensure the messages of the songs were biblical.

Sadly, the Garratts original scripture songs are rarely sung today even in charismatic and Pentecostal circles; they have been overtaken by what Garratt describes as ‘weak lyrics we find it difficult to see a biblical base for’. Worship, he says, is too often a repetition of ‘feel good lyrics that challenge our thinking very little at all’.

Today nearly 50 years after the charismatic renewal sparked by Scripture in Song one has to ask what was God’s purpose for it all? Was it to save and revitalize the existing church? Apparently not, for even charismatic ministers and Pentecostal pastors acknowledge it did not and could not do that. Today most churches are in rapid decline, as they were before the 1960s charismatic movement began.

Was the renewal just to recover backsliding Christians? Or was it to bring about better and more meaningful worship of the Lord? Certainly churches and lapsed believers found fresh life from it and worship improved but was that all there was to it?

While some hold that the Charismatic Movement was not from God but from the devil, others (and I would include myself among them) see it as a genuine ‘visitation’ from the Lord at least in its early form. However, just as the reason for Jesus’s coming as Messiah was largely lost on his people Israel, so God’s purposes in the charismatic renewal were missed some 2,000 years later. 

Rather than God’s real message, a wrong theology about the so called ‘Holy Spirit’ – a postulated personage rarely found by such a name in the pages of the King James Bible - came in. This stemmed from an imported brand of American Pentecostalism that promoted ‘baptism with the Spirit’ (which in the Bible was a one off fulfilment of a promise made exclusively to Israel, not to Gentiles) and one therefore which is scripturally invalid for today.

As best can be ascertained, the ‘baptism with the spirit’ with its trademark speaking in tongues and spiritual gifts was not present in the Scripture in Song stage of the movement. Rather, as will be spelled out later, the movement’s beginning, before it all went wrong, was a spiritual quickening of people to the absolute truth of God’s word which also contained a message from God that was misunderstood and ignored.

It was the same at Jesus’s first coming. At the outset he preached: ‘Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matt. 4:17). Multitudes followed him to see miracles of deliverance, healing and resurrection but very few got the message of the kingdom. In the end they rejected both the message and Messiah their King and crucified Him.

In his ministry on earth the kingdom message was Jesus’ first priority and also his last. After his resurrection He spent 40 days teaching the apostles about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). And this became the kingdom gospel they proclaimed after his ascension, as recorded in Acts 8:12, 19:8, 28:23. But still the Jews at large would not receive it. So God set Israel aside (Rom. 11:11 and Acts 28:28) and instead sent salvation by grace unto the Gentiles along with the kingdom of heaven message.

 ‘And they will hear it’, the Apostle Paul prophesied. And hear it the Gentiles did but like the Israelites they did not understand it. The kingdom, Gentiles have wrongly concluded, from Paul’s day to this, was the professing church. Thus the Roman Catholic Church proclaimed itself the ‘kingdom of God on earth’ and hailed its pope as ‘the Vicar of Christ on earth’. And the Anglican Church and other mainline Protestasnt church proved little better.

The same error surfaced in the Charismatic Renewal. One much sung chorus went so far as to assert ‘and we your church enforce your will on earth’.  How anybody seeing ‘this present evil world’ (Gal. 1:4) as it really is could sing such a thing and mean it is beyond understanding.  The world does not and will not obey God and the church has never been able to make it do so. The charismatics, like Israel, had ‘zeal’ but, as the Apostle Paul would say, ‘not according to knowledge’ (Rom. 10:2).

I believe God had greater purposes in mind in the Charismatic Move, ones that nobody grasped at the time and that few, if any, see today. Instead, people, ministers and churches were swept along on an emotional wave generated by songs and music designed to manifest the presence of God in a touchy, feely way. But the essential message, beyond confirmation that God is real and saves, was lost.

What then were the missed and misunderstood messages of God in the New Zealand Charismatic Movement?

First up, through Scripture in Song the Lord was calling people back to faith in scripture, most of all in the King James Bible. They were to know that his anointing still rested on the KJB at a time when new and corrupted modern Bible versions were bidding to replace it. Yet replace it they did. And that in itself may be one reason the Charismatic Renewal eventually faded out.  Offhand, I can’t think now of a single Pentecostal or charismatic assembly that still uses the faithful old KJB.

To be continued