The Rev Ron French, a Uniting Church minister, wrote when editor of Living Water, the Journal of the Uniting Church Queensland Synod Committee for Renewal Ministries.
There’s a world of difference between
a commitment to the Lord
and a relationship with the Lord.
It was a warm night in March, 1995, as around 2,000 people crowded into the worship centre and overflowing areas of Northside Christian Family in Brisbane. The organisers had been expecting 400-500 but 800 had registered for the day event and many more had gathered for the Wednesday night meeting once it was known it was open for general attendance.
The reason? To find out what this ‘Toronto blessing’ was all about. To find out if God indeed was blessing people with an outpouring of his Spirit, and, if that was so, to get some for themselves, for the people who had gathered were hungry.
Pastor John Lewis introduced us to Baptist pastor Guy (pronounced Gee) Chevrau, and some of what Gee shared with us over the next three days is summarised here.
What cannot be fully expressed is what happened after the message.
I’ve seen people slain in the Spirit before as the man out the front shouts for the power of God to come down and with hand on forehead down they go. But this was different. There was no hand on forehead, nor was there shouts from those in charge. Instead a gentle voice invited to you to close your eyes and fix your vision on Jesus, and, in many cases, legs out from underneath you and gentle down you went.
This was also followed by laughing or sobbing or twitching or moving or jerking or some or all of the above. Some explanation of the phenomena follows in this article.
Guy shared with us that it ought not surprise us that God should want to initiate a blessing upon his people at particular times and in particular places. He said in the UK you can now travel 30 miles in any direction and find an outpouring of God in this way. His comment:
This new move of God is taking us out to where we cannot return.
God is calling us to a radical theological humility.
There’s a world of difference between a commitment to the Lord and a relationship with the Lord.
God desires not just the former but also the latter.
Is this from God?
Guy cautioned us on judging the phenomena. He called on us to wait six months and then look at the kind of fruit we have.
Do we have a renewed desire for worship?
Have the dividing walls come down?
Are we feeding the poor?
Are we praying for the sick?
Is there a renewed love for God’s word?
Is it a privilege to pray?
Has fear and insecurity been lifted off?.
Where did this come from?
Randy Clark is the founding pastor of the Vineyard Fellowship in St. Louis. After years of seeing little fruit and power in his ministry he became desperately hungry for God. Hearing of unusual manifestations of God’s presence through the ministry of South African evangelist, Rodney Howard-Brown, Randy attended one of Rodney’s meetings at Tulsa, OK. Randy was powerfully touched and, in going home, began to see a similar outbreak of the Spirit among his people.
In January 1994 John Arnott, pastor of the Toronto Airport Vineyard invited Randy to come to Toronto to speak and minister. Two days of meetings in Toronto turned into what, to date, have been 90 days of almost continuous in numerous locations in Ontario and in the United States.
The meetings have been dubbed renewal rather than a revival by psychiatrist and author John White and by John Wimber, international leader of the Association of Vineyard Churches.
Randy and those who have been associated with him say that this move of God is more associated with refreshing the church and calling home the prodigals than salvation for the lost. People are coming to Christ but not in the numbers one typically sees in times of revival.
The Toronto Airport Vineyard now has meetings of refreshment every night of the week except Monday and people from all over the world have attended and gone home blessed.
The ministers and leaders of Northside Christian Family and Garden City Christian Church have been across and the ‘Catch the Fire’ meetings at Everton Park occurred in response to these people meeting with this new wave of God’s presence.
Now various Uniting Churches are experiencing this blessing.
The small group which meets at Rosewood Uniting Church on a Sunday night began experiencing some of these manifestations of the Spirit after the April John Wimber conference last year.
This particularly related to the shaking and laughing but in late January /early February this year the falling and resting in the Spirit was added to the agenda. We didn’t understand what was happening at first, except we realised God was doing something. Attending the meetings at Everton Park clarified a number of issues for us. Since then the manifestations have only increased.
Those who have been hungry and desperate for an outpouring of God in their lives and in ministry have come forward for a blessing and have rested in the Spirit as he has gently blessed them. The other manifestations have occurred as well.
To explain this further, the following comments are adapted from Guy Chevrau’s teaching.
What does the Bible and the church say?
There are basic doctrinal approaches in the Bible. These include:
a. Christian theology (what Christians are to be believe),
b. Christian ethics (how Christians ought to behave),
c. Christian experience or practice (what Christians do).
When dealing with supernatural phenomena, we are dealing with the area of Christian practice. While there is primary text dealing with prophetic revelation, there are no primary texts that clearly state that Christians are to fall down, shake or look drunk during seasons of divine visitation.
There are, however, a number of secondary (remember, secondary does not mean invalid or unimportant) texts that illustrate that these were some of the responses people had during the moments of divine visitation.
There are also numerous examples of similar phenomena in church history, especially in seasons of revival. The purpose in putting this information together is to develop a biblical apologetic for what we see happening among us. Much of what we are seeing is strange to the natural mind. The following are some of the phenomena that we have seen in our meetings: falling, shaking, drunkenness, crying, laughter, and prophetic revelation.
Are these manifestations biblical?
First it needs to be said that it is perfectly normal and even necessary to inquire into the biblical nature of Christian experience. It is also OK to admit that much of this looks ‘weird’ as long as we don’t prematurely judge it. When Paul first went to the Greek city of Berea, the book of Acts says that the Bereans were more noble than the other Jews Paul had encountered in Greece because they ‘searched the Scriptures daily to see if what Paul was saying was true.’ (17 v 11)
When we ask. ‘Is it biblical?’ we are probably asking for what is commonly called proof text. A proof text is a portion of Scripture that, when taken in context, validates a particular position we are taking. In order to ascertain whether these phenomena are biblical, we need to lay down some ground rules for solid interpretation.
The most common phenomena we have seen in our meetings is people falling down. Often they remain conscious but engaged with the Lord. They feel weak and find it difficult to do anything but rest with God. We have seen that as they lay with the Lord they have had significant changes in their lives.
Genesis 15:12 – This literally reads ‘A deep sleep fell on Abram’. This is the same word that is used when God put Adam to sleep when he made Eve (Genesis 2:21).
1 Samuel 19 – This text shows that for something close to a 24 hour period Saul lay in a prone position with God speaking through him.
Ezekiel 3: 23; Daniel 8:17; 10:9 – being overwhelmed
Matthew 17: 6,7; John 18: 6 – As Judas and the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, they had an interesting encounter. ‘When Jesus said. ‘I am he,’ they turned back and fell to the ground.’ Here we see an immediate falling back in response to the presence of Jesus. They were apparently able to get up shortly thereafter because they went on to arrest Jesus.
Acts 9:3 – When Paul was apprehended on the road to Damascus by a light from heaven, he says, ‘I fell to the ground and heard a voice.’ Again we see that falling was a normal response to a divine visitation.
Revelation 1:17 – Here we see an experience similar to Adam’s and Abram’s where the person not only falls but is also unconscious for an extended period of time.
Jonathan Edwards, the main instrument and theologian of the Great Awakening in America (1725 – 1760), says in his Account of the Revival of Religion in Northampton 1740 – 1742:
Many have had their religious affections raised far beyond what they had ever been before, and there were some instances of persons laying in a sort of trance. Remaining perhaps for a whole twenty-four hours motionless, and with their senses locked up, but in the mean time under strong imaginations, as though they went to heaven and had there a vision of glorious and delightful objects.
It was a very frequent thing to see outcries, faintings, convulsions and such like, both with distress, and also admiration and joy.
It was no the manner here to hold meetings all night, nor was it common to continue them till very late in the night; but it was pretty often so, that there were some so affected, and their bodies so overcome, that they could not go home, but were obligated to stay all night where they were.
Charles Finney (1792-1875) was one of the most powerful revivalists since the reformation:
At a country place named Sodom, in the state of New York, Finney gave one address in which he described the condition of Sodom before God destroyed it. ‘I had not spoken in this strain more than a quarter of an hour.’ says he ‘when an awful solemnity seemed to settle upon them, the congregation began to fall from their seats in every direction, and cried for mercy. If I had had a sword in each hand, I could not have cut them down as fast as they fell. Nearly the whole congregation were either on their knees or prostrate. I should think in less than two minutes from the shock that fell upon them. Everyone prayed who was able to speak at all.’ Similar scenes were witnessed in many other places.
A remarkable power seemed to accompany the preaching of George Fox where ever he went, whether in Britain or America, Germany, Holland or the West Indies. He usually went about the country on foot, dressed in his famous suit of leather clothes, said to have been made by himself, and often sleeping out of doors or in some haystack. He was ridiculed and persecuted, beaten and stoned, arrested and imprisoned, more frequently perhaps than any other man, and yet the Lord seemed to greatly bless and own his labours.
Describing his meetings at Ticknell, England, he says ‘The priest scoffed at us and called us “Quakers”. But the Lord’s power was so over them, and the word of life was declared in such authority and dread to them, that the priest began trembling himself, and one of the people said “Look how the priest trembles and shakes, he is turned Quaker also”.’
Conclusion: There is a biblical precedent for shaking in God’s presence. In the verses where the cause of shaking is mentioned, it has to do with holy fear. The shaking we are experiencing seems to be related more to prophetic ministry and impartation of spiritual fights of which parallels can be seen in Fox’s ministry.
Jeremiah 23:9 – as drunk
Acts 2:13 ff – ‘Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine.’
Compare Acts 10:44-46 where apparently the same kinds of phenomena occurred with the Gentiles. That the 120 newly filled believers were acting in a ‘drunken’ manner is what is known as an argument from silence. The text never says that they were but it is obviously inferred. They would not be accused of being drunk because they were speaking in different languages. They would have been accused of such because they were acting like drunks. ie.laughing, falling, slurred speech by some, boldness through lack of restraint, etc.. The analogy of the gift of the Spirit being ‘new wine’ would lend itself to the connection.
Eph 5:8ff: In a passage dealing with the Ephesians putting off their old carousing lifestyle, Paul exhorts them ‘Do not get drunk on wine which leads to debauchery, instead be filled (Greek present tense ‘keep on being filled’) with the Holy Spirit’. Paul is contrasting carnal drunkenness with spiritual filling. Given the tense of the Greek verb, he appears to also be making an analogy as well as a contrast. Being filled with God’s Spirit is similar to being drunk on wine. The difference is that the former is holy while the other is sinful.
Shaking is also common in our meetings and is one of the hardest phenomena to understand. The kinds of shaking vary greatly. Sometimes the shaking is accompanied by all sorts of bodily contortions, sometimes mild, sometimes almost violent. What, if any, biblical precedent is there?
Daniel 10:7; Psalm 99:1; 114:7; Jeremiah 5: 22 – trembling
Jeremiah 23:9 – This is a significant verse because Jeremiah is relating that what happened to him on at least one occasion involved a trembling/shaking of his bones. His wording seems to imply that he shook from the inside out. It would take a powerful force to cause his bones to quiver inside his body. The analogy to being overcome could also be a reference to being entranced by the coming of the prophetic word. This text is an answer to God’s plea in Jeremiah 5: 22.
Hab. 3:16; Acts 4:31; James 2:19:
George Fox (1624 – 1691) founder of the Quakers:
After a life changing experience with the Holy Spirit. Fox had some remarkable experiences.
After passing through the experience described above, Fox was mightily used of God, and great conviction of sin fell upon the people to whom he preached. ‘The Lord’s power began to shake them’ says he,, ‘and great meetings we began to have, and a mighty power and work of God there was amongst people, to the astonishment of both people and priests.’ Later, he says, ‘After this I went to Mansfield, where there was a great meeting of professors and people; here I was moved to pray, and the Lord’s power was so great, that the house seemed to be shaken.’
Neh 8:9; 2 Chron 34:27; Lk 19: 41; Heb. 5:7.
Acts 2:37 – This text doesn’t say they wept but it’s hard to imaging ‘being cut to the heart’ as not evoking that emotional response.
John Wesley (1703-1791):
On April 17, 1739,, there was another remarkable case of conviction of sin, in Bristol, Wesley had just expounded Acts 4 on the power of the Holy Spirit, ‘We then called upon God to confirm his Word’ says he. ‘Immediately one that stood by (to our no small surprised) cried out aloud, with the utmost vehemence, even as the agonies of death. But we continued in prayer till ‘a new song was put in her mouth, a thanksgiving unto our God’ Soon after, two other persons (well known in this place, as labouring to live in all good conscience towards all men) were seized with strong pain, and constrained to roar the disquietness of their heart. These also found peace ‘Many other wonderful cases of conviction of sin attended Wesley’s preaching. It was a frequent occurrence for people to cry aloud or fall down as if dead in the meetings, so great was their anguish of heart caused, no doubt, by the holy Spirit convicting them of sin.’
Job 8:21; Psalm 126:2; Ecc 3:4.
John 17:13; If there is any prayer in the Bible that will be answered, it is the high priestly prayer in John 17. Certainly the full measure of joy with the Trinity includes laughter
Johnathan Edwards wrote:
It was very wonderful to see how person’s affections were sometimes moved when God did as it were suddenly open their eyes, and let into their minds a sense of greatness of his grace, the fullness of Christ and his readiness to save. Their joyful surprises has caused their hearts as it were to leap, so that they have been ready to break forth into laughter, tears often as the same time issuing like a flood, and intermingling a loud weeping. Sometimes they have not been able to forebear crying out with a loud voice, expressing their great admiration. The manner of God’s work on the soul, sometimes especially, is very mysterious.
Conclusion: Again, laughter lifts within the general flow of Scripture. Christians can be so filled with the joy of the Lord that they are given over to fits of laughter.
One of the things we are seeing is that people are having visions, dreams and prophetic words while under the power of the Spirit. All throughout the Bible, prophetic revelation occurs during periods of divine visitation.
There is no way we can cover this subject in this context so a few key passages will have to suffice.
Num12:29; This is a very significant passage. It shows that prophecy can be a response to the Spirits coming. The phrase, ‘when the spirit rested on them’ (v25) is also reminiscent of the Spirit alighting on Jesus like a dove at this baptism.
Num 11:6; 1 Sam 10:10; Acts 2:17-18; 1 Cor14.
George Fox: And a report went abroad of me, that I was a young man that had a discerning spirit; whereupon many came to me from far and near, professors, priest, and people; and the Lord’s power brake forth; and I had great openings and prophecies, and spake unto them of the things of God and they heard with attention and silence, and went away and spread the fame thereof.’
What are the phenomena for?
Signs of the Lord’s presence.
In Exodus 33 v 14 in response to Moses, it says, ‘The Lord replied. ‘My Presence will go with you.’ The promise of God’s Presence is the distinguishing mark of God’s people. Moses says to God ‘What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth.’ (v16)
The abiding presence of the Holy Spirit is in each Christian and since Acts 2 has been continually active in the Church. Jesus speaking of the Spirit, says to the disciples, He is with you and will be in you.’ (John 14 v 17) There are times, however, when God allows us to see his presence to build our faith and show us where he is working. 2 Kings 6:17.
Is God shaking us to wake us up?
Eph 5:14 This command precedes the exhortation to be filled continually with the Holy Spirit. We are to wake up and seek to be continually filled with the wine of God’s Spirit.
If we haven’t heeded God’s previous wake up calls, perhaps He is now shaking us to arouse us and get our attention.
To humble us
When Randy Clark asked God why he was bringing all the phenomena to Toronto, God replied that he was looking for people who were willing to look publicly foolish for the honour of his name.
Paul Cain said ‘God offends the mind to reveal the heart.’
The bottom line issue is one of control. God wants to know who among his people will be willing to play the fool for his glory.
To anoint us
The filling of the Holy Spirit is a repeatable experience and one we are commanded to continually experience. (Eph 5:18)
God will sovereignly move on us to impart supernatural ability to do certain things. 2 Tim 1:6.
The Holy Ghost descended on me in a manner that seemed to go through me, body and soul. I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love, for I could not express it in any other way. It seemed like the very breath of God. I can recollect distinctly that it seemed to fan me, like immense wings.
No words can express the wonderful love that was shed abroad in my heart. I wept aloud with joy and love; and I do not know but I should say, I literally bellowed out the unutterable gushings of my heart. The waves came over me, and over me, one after the other, until I recoiled I cried out ‘ I shall die if these waves continue to pass over me.’ I said ‘Lord I cannot bear any more’ yet I had no fear of death.
Finney continued for some time under this remarkable manifestation of the Holy Spirit’s power. Wave after wave of spiritual power rolled over him and through him thrilling every fibre of his being.
Galatians 5:22: ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’ Simply put, if the long term fruit is Gal. 5:22, it’s of God. The character of Jesus is the destiny of the Church (Romans 8:29).
Concerning the fruit of this, we can ask:
1. Are the people being prayed for asking for God? They will get God.
2. Are the people praying asking for God and exalting Jesus? The Holy Spirit will come in answer to their prayers.
3. Are those praying asking for the gift of discernment? It is given.
4. Are the leaders humble and exalting Jesus? Is the atmosphere peaceful, even though perhaps noisy? If yes, then these are signs of the Holy Spirit’s presence.
5. Is the fruit good? Then it’s God.
What about the emotion?
Our presupposition: If it were God, there would be very little or no emotion in it. Again, the Bible says something else
There is a full range of emotions seen in the scriptures.
a. David danced, wept, fought
b. Jesus wept, was joyful, angry
c. Peter wept, rejoiced, felt convicted
d. God has emotion, as we do. We have been created in his image.
Historically, emotions have been seen in the movements of God.
Jonathan Edwards saw no distinction between the head and the heart. ‘Nothing of religious significance ever took place in the human heart if it wasn’t deeply effected by such Godly emotions.’
John White says ‘The lack of emotion is just as sick as being controlled by emotion.’
Emotion comes from seeing reality (truth) clearly. When the Spirit of truth comes, we see things as they really are which opens up our emotional being.
What is happening?
We ask the question, ‘What in the world is happening to us?’ It is clear from what we are seeing and hearing from all over the United States, Canada, England and other places that we are in a sovereign move of the Holy Spirit. Peter told early onlookers to the Spirit’s activity to repent that times of refreshment would come from the Lord’s presence (Acts 3 v 19) What should be our response to such a season of diving visitation? The clearest passage in the New Testament on the subject of a local church’s response to the coming of the Holy Spirit is 1 Cor 12-14.
1. Paul’s purpose in writing 1 Corinthians was to answer a set of questions delivered to him in the form of a letter from the church (see 7 v 1; 16 vv 17). He had also received some information from ‘Chloe’s people’ (1 v 11). When Paul proceeds to answer their questions about spiritual gifts, he does so in a sermon where he is dealing with questions related to when they gather together for church (11:27).
2. In Chapter 12, Paul encourages the activity of spiritual gifts when they gather together also, he also said that the church was Christ’s body which was to be built up as spiritual gifts are exercised.
3. His admonition in chapter 13 is that they exercise disagreement in love. Herein lies the most important point of all as we press into the season that is upon us: without love it profits us nothing.
In chapter 3 Paul had already established that whoever co-labours to build on Paul’s apostolic foundation will have his/her works weighted on the day of the Lord. One works will be labelled ‘gold, silver and precious stones.’ Others will be labelled ‘wood, hay and stubble.’ It is the quality of each person’s work that will make the difference. How do we know that our work is the kind of quality that will pass the fire test on that day? I believe the answer is in the motive. In Chapter 13 Paul says that the motive must be love.
In Matthew 7:15-23, in a passage dealing with false prophets who would be known for their fruit, Jesus said ‘Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly. “I never knew you. Away from me you evil doers.”‘ This passage allows for a category of person in the church that amazingly are able to move in spiritual gifts but at judgement day will be counted among those that do not know Jesus. The difference is that they are not doing the will of the Father. Their motive is not one of love for God or people, but is self serving. Jesus is clear; self serving activity, no matter how powerful, doesn’t count.
4. Paul finishes his response to the Corinthian question of spiritual gifts in Chapter 14 where he says that the sign of a loving exercise of gifts is the building up of Christ’s body. If the exercising of gifts does not, in the end, build up the church, it has been counter productive. Whether because of ill motive or because the leaders have not been facilitating the operation of the gifts in the meeting ‘decently and in order’ (14 v 40) the fact of the matter is that the gifts have not been allowed to work to build up the church for the common good.
5. The final word then, about the season that is upon us, belongs to the apostle Paul. He calls us to embrace the Holy Spirit’s ministry in our midst. He exhorts us to exercise the gifts with a loving heart posture in such a manner that the church is edified. The leaders need to see that this is done in an orderly way. What counts in the end is not whether someone fell or shook or even was healed. No, what counts ultimately is whether they are loved and built up. What happens as a result of the Spirit’s sovereign intervention is us to God. This is his work, not ours. Our job is to love and pray for the kingdom to come, watching as we do, for what the Father is doing so we can bless it.
So what has Father been doing during this season that has been upon us? As we conclude, we need to ask whether we are seeing any long term fruit. This is the ultimate test in determining if it is God. In Acts 3:19 Peter called his onlookers to repentance so their sins could be wiped out. The result in their lives was that times of refreshing would come to them from the presence of the Lord.
One of those seasons of refreshment is upon us now. John Arnott, the pastor of the Airport Vineyard in Toronto, reports that the overriding theme has been joy. This is thoroughly consonant with the New Testament which sees joy as a sign of the presence of the Spirit in the believer’s life (there are over 60 references to joy in the NT). God’s people are simply having fun in him. In the early days of the apostles, as they were searching for a word that would communicate to the Gentiles the ecstasy of having their sins forgiven and being in right relationship with God through the atoning blood of Christ Jesus, they choose the word euangelion which we now translate ‘gospel’ or ‘good news’. It was a completely secular word that was used in reference to the emperor’s birthday. It was a holiday, a day of good news. The apostles travelled throughout the ancient world preaching the day of God’s party had come.
We are learning to party in God again because the Spirit of the Lord has come among us to teach us grace, mediate forgiveness and reveal the Father’s love in Christ. The second characteristic of this renewal, then, is a return to our first love, Jesus. Reports are coming from every corner about people falling in love with Jesus in a whole new way, about a new love for the Bible, about being taken up into heaven in the form of visions and dreams. In the arms of Jesus is fullness of joy.
The third characteristic of the renewal is healing. Reports too numerous to count tell of physical healings, deliverance from demonic influences and deep emotional wounds being touches. It seems that as people spend ‘floor time’ with God, he meets them where they are, the point of need. He is removing barriers that have kept us from moving forward with God.
Much of the shaking has to do with empowerment for service. Spiritual gifts are being imparted through the laying on of hands. We have impartations for intercession, evangelism, healing, prophecy and pastoral care.
There has been a significant return of prodigals to the church. God is healing old wounds and drawing lost ones back into fellowship with himself and with the church.
Numerous people have been saved but not enough to characterize this as a genuine revival. Revivals are characterized by masses coming to Christ. Those that have been on the vanguard of the move of the Spirit believe that its purpose is to refresh the church and to prepare it for the mighty and genuine revival that is on the horizon.
May God give us wisdom, faith and obedience in this time of his visitation.
(c) Ron French, Living Water. Used with permission.
© Renewal Journal 7: Blessing, 1996, 2nd edition 2011
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