Thursday, April 22, 2010

Kansas City 1977

Yesterday, Christianity Today magazine posted on its website an interview with Pentecostal historian Vinson Synan.  The occasion was the publication of Synan's new book, An Eyewitness Remembers the Century of the Holy Spirit (Chosen/Baker).

Vinson Synan
In response to a question about what was the high moment of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement, Synan said, "The movement reached a climax in America around 1977 during the Kansas City conference, because all the different streams came together.  The 50,000 people in the stadium showed the vigor and force that was sweeping the world."

Synan, dean emeritus of Regent University's School of Divinity, goes on to note that national television and magazine outlets covered the conference, which occurred in July of 1977 and was officially titled, the Conference on Charismatic Renewal in the Christian Churches.

An example of that coverage was this article published in the August 8, 1977 issue of TIME magazine.

"At one point, the Rev. Bob Mumford, a nondenominational evangelist from California, halted his speech at the Arrowhead Stadium, where the Kansas City Chiefs play football, and called time out for a 'Holy Ghost break.'  He began to shout: 'Glory to God!  Jesus is Lord.'  The audience rose and joined in," TIME reported.

Mumford at Arrowhead Stadium
The charismatic journal New Wine gave this account of the same moment, "That session was one of the highlights of the conference, especially in the middle of Bob's message, when, after he said, 'If you take a sneak look in the back of the book ... you find out that Jesus wins!'  the entire crowd spontaneously broke into a five or ten minute period of uninterrupted praise and worship."

A video clip of the conference can be seen below. Five minutes of Mumford's talk can be seen beginning at the 15:30 mark.

New Wine's coverage of the momentous Kansas City conference --- including prophetic words that were given, and the text of Mumford's message, The Beauty of Holiness --- can be read here in the October 1977 issue of New Wine.  Readers without a high-speed internet connection should be aware that that link connects to a 64-page .pdf file --- the entire October 1977 issue. 

(Mumford was also featured on this blog December 20, 2008, easily the most-viewed item ever on this blog.  Over 20 percent of the traffic on this blog goes to that item).

Media coverage of the conference

[UPDATE August 29, 2015 - Charisma News just posted an article online about the conference. It was printed in the September-October 1977 issue of Charisma magazine.]


Steven Ganz said...

I think that the meeting in Kansas City is probably too recent to see its effects. I am more inclined to see the Charismatic renewal of the Catholic and Protestant churches of the 70's as having a greater impact. If it were not for all those folks coming into the 'fullness' of the Spirit I think that the C of the P/C wouldn't be.

I also think that the best remains to be seen.

Steven Ganz said...

As if I know...

Jon Rising said...


Three years have passed since you left your comment.

I have reflected on this question a fair bit in the intervening time (plus, you will notice that this item has been updated with additional photos and a video clip).

After that additional reflection I would say that I am in agreement with Vinson Synan - the Kansas City conference was the high point of the Charismatic Renewal.

I cannot think of any other moment - or specific period of time - that competes with the KC conference for that distinction.


Steven Ganz said...

Well John, I haven't thought about it at all. But I still think that the best is yet to come, although I doubt it will be strictly under the label of Pentecostal/Charismatic. The resurrection ought to be hard to beat.

Jon Rising said...


My lengthy response is going to require more than one comment section (the software only allows so many characters per comment).

I think most would agree that determining what was the high point of the Charismatic Renewal does not mean much to our daily lives.

However, the benefit of such an opinion by a serious historian like Synan (which, of course, was offered in response to a question posed by Christianity Today)is to provide focus for readers who may not know much about the Charismatic Renewal. Readers who may ask, What was it? How wide was its impact?

The impact was enormous. For instance, I was amazed to read this statistic in George Marsden's, Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism: "By 1979, 19 percent of all Americans identified themselves as charismatic or Pentecostal" (Marsden cites Richard Quebedeaux's book, The New Charismatics, II, as the source of this information.

Nineteen percent! Marsden is an outstanding historian, so I am inclined to accept the statistic, but nineteen percent?! (I am quite sure that one out of every five people I met in 1979 were not Pentecostal or Charismatic - that would have been great.)

*** continued in next comment ***

Jon Rising said...

So the impact was huge and those not very well acquainted with the history need to have that perspective. I believe Christianity Today's question and Synan's response are an attempt - however limited - to give a window into the impact. The 1977 conference was obviously a large gathering and it was interdenominational; from Roman Catholics to Mennonites many, many groups came - and participated. As Synan points out, the secular media took notice.

I agree with Christianity Today's editor in chief, David Neff, that the Charismatic Renewal is virtually nowhere to be seen today, at least not in the way it was visible in 1977. I also agree with his assessment of why that is true.

In 2010 Neff wrote, "Some say the mainline charismatic renewal fizzled. It is more accurate to describe it the way Jesus pictured the kingdom of God: like yeast that spreads through bread dough. You can hardly identify it as a movement anymore, but it has changed the way most churches worship. Repetitive choruses and raised hands are now more common. Except in pockets of hardcore resistance, the fact that a fellow Christian may praise God in a private prayer language hardly elevates an eyebrow.

"Pentecostalism and the charismatic renewal have jointly given believers what historian Chris Armstrong calls Pentecostalism's chief contribution to Christianity: an awareness of 'a deep well of living water from which everything else flow[s] ... the personal, relational presence of the living God'" (Christianity Today, May 2010).

*** continued in next comment ***

Jon Rising said...

So, while the Charismatic Renewal with its glossolalia, healings, prophecies, and passionate worship is no longer an identifiable movement (certainly not as it was when the world took notice in Kansas City in 1977), the work of the Holy Spirit has remained - and grown - in many places. And, as you say, the best of God the Holy Spirit's work is yet to come.

Wendell Smith's son Judah presented this concept clearly I think in an interview with Charisma News this month. I'll close with a bit of that interview, providing a link to the entire interview at the end.

*** continued in the next comment ***

Jon Rising said...

Charisma News: How do you see the word charismatic changing today?

I see it probably, in a sense, becoming more and more prevalent. By prevalent, I mean people are more and more open to it. I think the actual term charismatic has been misinterpreted, misunderstood and in some cases not known, not even heard of. In the era we live in, the great thing is people aren't getting hung up on these technical terms as much as they are getting really caught up in the person of Jesus and in the simplicity of Scripture.

What I know about the charismatic movement and all that is charismatic is beautiful and wonderful, and I'm excited because I see a generation that maybe will never know the word charismatic but will know the person of Jesus and the gifts of the Spirit and the power of the Holy Spirit. I think that's what's exciting to me. In the era we're living in, maybe some of the technical terms won't be as known, but the expression and living out the Scripture will be very realistic.

Charisma News: Does The City Church still emphasize certain "charismatic" elements?

Yeah, we do. Absolutely. Always will. A lot of it is the vernacular changing or vocabulary that's changing. People are functioning very similarly; the gospel remains the same. But its packaging, its delivery is changing, and I think that's what people - I hope - won't misunderstand. A new era and generation of leaders and communities and churches, but the gospel is remaining the same. The expression of the Holy Spirit is the same. I think the vernacular and vocabulary are changing. And I think in a lot of ways that's exciting.

Steven Ganz said...

Thanks Jon for leaving such a full comment. I see what you mean.

It seems to me that one of the goals of the Charismatic renewal was to ignite each person by the Holy spirit so that body ministry would include the use of the spiritual gits, especially those found in the list in 1 Corinthians 12. It looks to me that that was part of the baby thrown out with the bathwater. Because the baptism in the Holy Spirit was and is still a contentious issue, there was a lot of backpedaling for the sake of peace. I see a huge need for better exegesis on this topic so that the church can be the witness God wants her to be - assuming better exegesis will influence the church. Maybe throw in better example and it just might work out.

I am doing a LOT of teaching on this here in Panama because the missionaries taught about the Spirit so badly that they left a weak and divided church with the understanding of the Holy Spirit as the watershed.

Jon Rising said...

I am praying for your ministry in Panama.