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Evangelical Movements in Redemptive History

The thirty-year period between the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council and the threshold of the third millennium…has been a time in which the evangelizing vigor of the original ecclesial community has in some ways re-emerged (GDC, par. 2).

The Rise of an Evangelical Movement

Throughout redemptive history prophetic voices and movements have heralded the clarion call of repentance and spiritual renewal. In observing the rise of such movements, a pattern something like the following generally emerges:

  • There is a decline in spiritual fervor and faithfulness among the people of God.
  • A prophetic person, such as Jeremiah, John the Baptist, St. Paul, St. Francis, or John Paul II is raised up by God.
  • This person, impelled with a divine mission, spreads a message of repentance and renewed faithfulness to God.
  • As the Lord’s people respond to the message — generally in the midst of hostile reaction to the word of the Lord — a community or movement forms around the prophetic message and messenger.

Illustrious Movements in Redemptive History

The rediscovery of the Law of the Lord and the subsequent revival of religion under King Josiah as described in II Kings 22 is typical of the impulse for renewal that we find breaking forth throughout biblical and Church history. Many instances of this impulse might be given; here are just a few examples:

  • The prophetic ministries of Jeremiah and Ezekiel
  • John the Baptist’s ascetic and reformational ministry
  • The religious and missionary renewal carried out under St. Benedict’s army of monks
  • The rediscovery of the simple, yet radical, Gospel of Christ under the Novus Evangelista, St. Francis of Assisi
  • The preaching ministry of the vir evangelicus, St. Dominic
  • The intensely studied outbreaks of religious renewal in the high middle ages that gave birth to evangelical movements such as:
    • Peter Waldo and the Waldensians
    • The Modern Devotion
      • Which greatly influenced:
        • The Catholic Reformation, and
        • Erasmus, and through him, the Protestant reformation
      • And gave rise to:
        • Geert Groote’s Brethren of the Common Life
        • Thomas A Kempis’ writing of his classic evangelical book Imitation of Christ
          • Which significantly impacted:
          • John Wesly and the Methodists, through whom came:
            • the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which gave birth, eventually, to:
              • the twentieth-century Charismatic renewal, which has revived virtually every ecclesial body of Christendom, perhaps with no greater fruit than in the Catholic Church itself.
              • Contemporary trans-denominational evangelical movements

Perennial Sources of Renewal

In surveying these outbreaks of the evangelical impulse in redemptive history, certain emphases reappear. Although such outbreaks — if they be true movements of spiritual renewal — must in the final analysis be attributed to the grace of God, nonetheless, we would do well observe any perennial characteristics of such renewals. At the risk of oversimplifying complex phenomena, the following may be identified as characteristic or perennial sources of renewal in both the spiritual awakening of individuals and of evangelical movements in redemptive history. We have also included examples from Church history where such emphases are well-illustrated.

Strong emphasis upon interior conversion

The writings of the post-Vatican II popes

Renewed devotion to the Scriptures

  • Renewal under King Josiah in II Kings 22
  • The preaching of the good news under John the Baptist and Jesus Christ
  • The divine command to Augustine, to “take and read”
  • The conversion of St. Francis while listening to the Gospel
  • In producing his vernacular translation of the New Testament, it has been said that Erasmus “laid the egg that Luther hatched.”
  • The conversion of John Wesley while listening to the reading of Luther’s preface to the book of Romans
  • The Navigators and other Protestant evangelical movements
  • The Focalare and other Catholic evangelical movements

Earnest devotion to prayer

  • Teresa of Avila
  • John of the Cross and the Carmelites
  • the Jesuits & other Tridentine movements of spirituality

Intense Christian Community

  • Acts 2-4
  • Monasticism
  • Brethren of the Common Life
  • Contemporary house movements—like Focalare
  • The current small Christian community movement
  • Joyful commitment to the work of evangelization*
  • The New Evangelization