* I know of no other book like this one that provides rapid-fire, easy-to-read, factual literary snapshots of virtually every well-known revival since Pentecost. … I felt like I had grasped the overall picture of revival for the first time” ~ C Peter Wagner
Same 2020 text now as Revival Fires with Chapter 7: Twenty-first Century Revivals
* Amazing by Jo Swan: Full of true accounts of what happens to whole towns and cities when God’s people humble themselves, pray, and the Holy Spirit rushed through with his transforming power. Loved every minute of these stories. ~ Jo Swan
Bible StoryPictures & Models Bible Story Pictures & Models – PDF Amazon edition An activity book with 58 pictures and models for children and parents or teachers to enjoy.
* Bible Story Pictures & Models stands out above the rest, looks and sounds original, fun and very inspirational … Your illustrations and models are all terrific for them to color and create. It is all very well done and inviting for your targeted young readers. ~ Ellery Alouette.
* This is an excellent children’s bible story and activity book. Our family loves it and enjoys it everyday reading a different story and creating our own pictures and models. Thanks to the author for putting this wonderful book together for families to learn more about the Lord’s Word while enjoying some creativity time as well. ~ Jewell Hart.
* The Queen’s Christmas & Easter Messages is an appealing, highly unusual and very creative anthology. ~ Alison Sherrington
* I haven’t seen anyone else draw the events of these years together in this way before. Using the Queen’s speeches not only ties in the unfolding events of our time but reveals a deep spiritual glue that provides a fascinating and intimate insight into the personal life of our Queen. A fascinating read. ~ Rev Philip Waugh
* A new and innovative approach to the Christmas Story and its clear message of peace and goodwill to all. It is a rewarding experience to read it from cover to cover. ~ Don Hill
* What an amazing collection! This has so many wonderful Christmas messages and is a great addition to any family during the holiday season. ~ Jenny & Benny
* This is a remarkable work and something quite unique that I’ve not come across before (and believe me I’ve seen most ideas). There is a huge appetite for devotional type books and I’m sure that this one will appeal to many people. ~ Russ Burg
* One of the most interesting devotionals ever! As a huge fan of all things Narnia, I am so grateful for this deeper aspect of the truths in C.S. Lewis’ stories. Geoff Waugh did a great job in crafting such a book as this. What a wonderful addition to any collection, and an inspiration to know Jesus more deeply. ~ Belinda S.
* You can read the Narnia tales as just good stories, but CS Lewis wanted people to see more. This book will help you see the many links with Jesus, the Lion of Judah. Use this to enhance your wonder and love of Christ. ~ Rev Dr John Olley
* Best companion work I know of. … Either for a young person who is interested in exploring more, or as a resource on a pastor’s desk, it is an invaluable companion to the original series. ~ Amazon Customer
* This is a great companion when you read, and is a stand-alone teaching on the depths of teaching that C.S. Lewis weaves into Aslan’s character. Definitely worth your time. ~ Steve Loopstra
* Looking for a great book to help you meditate on the wonder of Jesus in all his richness and grandeur and love? Geoff Waugh has helpfully and thoughtfully brought together wide-ranging biblical passages (not just a string of references for you to look up!), arranged in clearly titled sections (this book is a combination of his smaller books, The Lion of Judah nos. 1-6). Read this book prayerfully and you will not be the same! Then share it with others. ~ Dr John Olley.
* This book is full of information, biblical information. I have learned so much from it and what I wasn’t able to keep in my head, I had my handy highlighter, so I could go back to it and find it. It is a book of multiple books and it’s not that big, but it’s filled with so many facts and details. If you want to learn more from the Bible, this is the book to read. ~ A. Aldridge.
Hundreds of ideas for Christian groups with a wealth of activities, studies, prayers, and resources for groups of all ages. Contents are: Ideas for integrated Bible studies; Ideas for Bible studies and prayers; Ideas for church activities – devotional, educational, creative, serving, social, sporting; Ideas for all ages together; Ideas for building relationships.
This book offers a huge range of activities, arranged according to group activities. It provides a wide range of activities for many different kinds of groups. The first section, Ideas for Integrated Bible Studies, gives you four group studies on each of the themes or topics.
* Five Stars: I really enjoyed this book. It helped me to understand more about what I have been going through. ~ James Bird
Jesus on Dying Regrets– Blog Jesus on Dying Regrets – PDF Advice about the top 5 regrets of the dying Gift Edition in colour This small book explores Jesus’ advice about the top 5 regrets of dying patients. Those regrets are transformed into these positives: 1 Be true – “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” 2 Work wise – “I wish I didn’t work so hard.” 3 Express feelings – “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.” 4 Stay connected – ” I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.” 5 Be happier – “I wish that I had let myself be happier.”
* I have read many similar stories, but this one exceeds them all. … Geoff has done well to not only be in so many places and seeing God at work but also writing a book about it all. ~ Barbara Vickridge
* I am enjoying these Journals a lot! Read about things that the Bible talks about, but they are happening in our day and age around the world. Some of the journal pages I skip over, but not many. The people of our day are being the army of our God and His work is advancing. Let us be encouraged and pray that God helps others bring glory to God and that we ourselves follow God’s directions in our own lives to let God shine thru us. Talk about getting a lot for your money! ~ Deborah Mares
Persecution and opposition to God and the Bible continue to increase globally, but so does revival, just as in the Book of Acts.
Revival explodes globally now. Where God’s people take his Word and his promises seriously in repentance, unity and commitment, revivals of New Testament proportions blaze like wildfire across the nations of the earth.
These reports give some examples of current transforming revivals where whole communities have been totally changed. Many of these accounts are reproduced from recent reports.
China gripped by spiritual revival, 2017 report
Forty-one years after China’s Cultural Revolution snuffed out all forms of religious expression, hundreds of millions of Chinese people are flocking to religions like Christianity. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ian Johnson believes what’s transpiring in China is nothing short of “one of the world’s great spiritual revivals” and says the world better take note because the impact of this “spiritual transformation” could have significant global implications. “People in China are looking for new moral guideposts, some sort of moral compass to organize society,” said Johnson, author of The Souls of China: “So they are turning to religion as a source of values to help reorganize society.” Johnson spent six years researching the “values and faiths of today’s China.” He says the fastest-growing drivers of this “religious revolution” are unregistered churches or so-called “house” or “underground” churches.
“These groups have become surprisingly well-organized, meeting very openly and often counting hundreds of congregants,” Johnson wrote in an article. “They’ve helped the number of Protestants soar from about one million when the communists took power to at least 60 million today.” Over the past 15 years, CBN News has also documented this unprecedented revival. From the countryside to the big cities, we’ve highlighted how a new generation of Believers is changing the face of Chinese Christianity. “Any casual visitor to the country can tell you that the number of churches, mosques, and temples has soared in recent years, and that many of them are full,” Johnson wrote. “While problems abound, the space for religious expression has grown rapidly, and Chinese Believers eagerly grab it as they search for new ideas and values to underpin a society that long ago discarded traditional morality.”
Church leaders that CBN News spoke with say prayer has played a key role in sparking the Christian revival. For example, in one corner of northeast China, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, thousands of Christians have been meeting for an unprecedented prayer movement. What started as a small gathering several years ago has turned into a nationwide prayer initiative uniting hundreds of Chinese churches. In some cases, this revival is even touching China’s state-controlled churches known as Three-Self Church. “Now there’s big revivals happening in the Three-Self Churches,” Dr. Zhao Xiao told CBN News from his offices on the outskirts of China’s capital city. Zhao is one of China’s foremost experts on Christianity. A former Communist Party member and atheist, Zhao converted after reading the Bible.
“If you go to Haidian Church, you’ll find yourself in a more than 100-metre line trying to get inside and worship. In Shenzhen, there are usually an average of 500 people being baptized each Sunday!” he shared. Decades ago, the Chinese government had a law that said that young men and women below the age of 18 could not attend Three-Self Churches. Zhao says those rules have been loosened in recent years. “There’s an increasing proportion of them in churches now, more young male Believers, professionals, mainstream celebrities, especially in the big cities, that are attending the church unlike the past when it was mainly the elderly who attended.” While the government remains deeply suspicious of China’s religious revival, Johnson says it hasn’t stopped people from exploring matters of faith.
Source: CBN News, May 2017
Bangladesh: The Christian faith is exploding, 2017 report
Sandwiched between India and Myanmar, Bangladesh is the third largest Muslim-majority country in the world. Despite persecution, the Christian faith is growing fast in this nation. Bangladesh is 89% Muslim and nearly 10% Hindu, according to the Joshua Project, with Christians numbering less than one percent. Often beset by floods, cyclones and tornadoes roaring through the Bengal Delta, it also has the sad distinction of ranking number one in the world for children suffering malnutrition.
One ministry leader, who recently completed a fact-finding trip to the country, believes Christians are being undercounted. “Christianity is much larger and growing, especially in the rural areas,” says Jim Jacobson, president of Christian Freedom International (CFI). On his trip, Jacobson interviewed scores of indigenous Christian pastors, street evangelists, missionaries and converts to Christianity. “According to them, Christianity is on the increase, mostly underground, and the growth is a cause of concern for the Muslim majority, leading to persecution.”
20,000 Muslims have converted among the hill tribes
One 60-year-old pastor, a former Muslim, reported to Jacobson that 20,000 Muslims have converted to Christianity among the hill tribes of northeast Bangladesh in the last 12 months. This pastor faces many hardships, has been beaten numerous times, and must pay bribes to the police to continue his ministry.
Another pastor and Muslim convert to Christianity told him that in his district more than 6,000 have converted to Christ since 1991. This pastor has been targeted for assassination by a radical Islamic group. He told CFI, “Of course I am afraid, but when I think about my spiritual life I am not afraid. We continue to preach, no matter what.”
Jacobson believes the under-reporting of believers is because most tallies only count ‘traditional Christians’, people born into the Christian faith who attend government-approved churches. “But ‘converts’, those who change their religion from Islam to Christianity are not counted and no surveys have been made,” he contends. “The number of Christians in Bangladesh may be as high as 10 percent of the population.”
One pastor told Jacobson that after he converted in 2007, his rickshaw shop and tea business were taken away from him and he was disowned by his family. “Two imams caught him talking about Christianity in the market and attacked him. The imams beat him and tied him with ropes in front of a nearby mosque. His sons ransomed him only after they agreed that they would force him to reconvert to Islam.” When the sons failed to persuade him to return to Islam, they beat their father nearly to death, took all his possessions and left him for dead. In this pastor’s rural village, he has seen more than 700 Muslims convert to Christianity in the last two years.
The young people are interested in Christ
Babul, a Muslim who converted Christianity in 2013, once worked as a day labourer. After his conversion, his life was threatened and he was disowned by his family. He had to go into hiding in the jungle to survive. After eight months in the jungle, some Christian converts helped him. He is now a ‘street preacher’ and faces many hardships to share the gospel. He has been beaten numerous times but sees it as a badge of honour. “The young like me, are converting,” Babul told Jacobson. “Many more are interested in Christ.”
Bakar, another Christian convert told CFI, “Christianity is really growing in Bangladesh. The next generation is becoming Christian. We believe that Bangladesh will become a Christian nation one day. Islam has no mercy, no compassion, no love. It has nothing to offer. Christianity offers the assurance of eternal life, it offers hope.”
Source: Jim Jacobson, CFI
18,000 imams, mullahs and emirs led to Christ in West Africa, 2016 report
In the last 15 years Brother Thomas and his team have led 18,000 imams, mullahs, and emirs to Christ. “We have led several Al Qaeda commanders to Christ, some of whom penetrated our centre as spies.”
At 19, a leper first introduced him to Christ and a blind man led him to salvation. “His reading braille captivated me,” says Brother Thomas*. “I asked him where I will go when I die.” In response to the young man’s request, the blind man quoted Scripture from the Book of John. The power of God’s Word left a lasting imprint on his heart and propelled his future ministry. “I didn’t understand the cross or what my decision meant, but I went ahead and received Jesus as my personal Lord and Saviour.” Raised in a Muslim home and community in West Africa, he experienced hostility, but took it in stride. “Every true believer should experience opposition,” he maintains. “The important thing is the discovery of the life-given Spirit in Christ. I found a new life.”
Two years after his life-changing conversion, he felt an overwhelming desire to share the Good News. “I saw my people were living in darkness,” he says. Although he had little training, he began to travel from village to village for several weeks at a time. “Nobody told me to go. I didn’t know many of the Scriptures,” he admits, “but I wanted to tell people that Jesus can give you eternal life.” Through eventual contact with Sudan Inland Mission (SIM), he received further training. In 1990, he went on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ and served with them for a decade, utilizing the impactful JESUS Film. In 2000, he started his own organization, which targets Muslim leaders throughout West Africa. “They the leaders are sincerely deluded,” he observes. “Satan has blinded their eyes. They cannot see the light of the gospel.”
“They were born into it,” he continues. “Nobody told them anything different. Most people in West Africa are not Muslim by choice. They are born into a community that believes in Islam.” Brother Thomas decided he and his team would have to approach the “custodians” of the community of Islam, something very few are willing to do. “Christians never take the initiative to go to them,” he observes. “The Bible never tells us to wait for them to come to us. The Bible says to go. The lack of going to the Muslims is disobedience.” Brother Thomas and his team develop relational connections with Muslim scholars slowly and privately. It may take weeks or months of meetings before an Islamic scholar will discover the Truth.
“We met with a Shia leader in one country for a year,” he notes. After Islamic services on Friday, this Muslim leader would drive several hours to spend a weekend with Brother Thomas. “I went through the Word teaching him. The turning point was when he realized that Jesus is God.” Remarkably, this imam actually stayed in the mosque, but his message changed dramatically as a follower of Jesus. The man’s changed perspective did not go unnoticed.
“They took him to a psychiatric hospital and took his wives away. They said he was mad,” Brother Thomas says. After his release from the psychiatric facility, Brother Thomas urged the man to escape. “We don’t know where he is today. Quite a few of these leaders who converted have died.”
Another Muslim leader who met with Brother Thomas made regular appearances on national TV during Ramadan. “He came to Christ because we proved to him the Quran is not the inspired word of God and is not in the program of God for salvation,” he recounts. One Friday evening a mob of other scholars came to kill the recent convert, but were unsuccessful. “He was fearless,” Brother Thomas says. “They gave his wife to his best friend and took his daughter away because he rejected Islam. This year he was poisoned and died.” Brother Thomas believes that in the top ranks of Islamic scholars, many are atheists, because they no longer believe in the inspiration of the Quran.
In the last 15 years Brother Thomas* and his team have led 18,000 imams, mullahs, and emirs to Christ. “We have led several Al Qaeda commanders to Christ, some of whom penetrated our centre as spies.” His team of 300 has dwindled to 65, due to the intensity of the fight. “Some have died, some left us, and some became afraid,” he says. He has developed a training program that is bearing fruit wherever it has been employed. Brother Thomas believes the church has been ineffective in reaching Muslims because they have concentrated on methods and strategies. “Christians want to bribe the Muslims to faith through relief and compassion, but those methods do not save. If you give relief to them it will not save them.” For salvation Muslims must discover Christ through His Word.
*name changed. Source: God Reports, 2016
The Great Underground Revival in the Middle East, 2016 report
By J. D. King, director of the World Revival Network (2016 report).
Many Middle-Eastern Christians publicly acknowledge the fact that dreams actively facilitated them coming into a saving knowledge of Jesus. For example, Nabeel Qureshi is a former devout Muslim. He became a believer in part through a visionary experience. When recounting his conversion he writes,
“I asked God to reveal himself to me in truth, through dreams and visions. All those things, combined with actually reading the Bible, are what drove me forward to the point of accepting Christ.”
When asked about his conversion to Christianity from Islam, Pastor Naeem Fazal of Mosaic Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, mentioned several things that impacted him. He pointed out things like friendship with a knowledgeable Christian as well as reading the Bible. However, it was a particular supernatural encounter that brought him into a moment of crisis. Having a visionary experience one night, Fazal had an encounter that forever shifted the course of his life.
“It looked like a figure made up with light—solid, yet transparent. It was an experience like no other. The peace I felt from this presence was so powerful, so aggressive … and [He] introduced Himself to me and said, ‘I’m Jesus; your life is not your own.’ The next morning my life changed forever.”
Fazal acknowledges that he is not unique in this experience. He notes that “the majority of the [Muslim] conversion stories I hear seem to involve dreams and visions inspired by the Holy Spirit in which Christ is supernaturally revealed.”
Joel Rosenberg’s Insights into the Middle-Eastern Revival
More Muslims have committed to follow Christ in the last 10 years than in the last 15 centuries of Islam. In spite of great difficulty and turmoil, Christianity is unquestionably expanding throughout the Islamic world. God is up to something amazing in a region that many have thought was unreachable.
Joel Rosenberg, an Evangelical researcher, author, and resident of Israel has documented the recent upsurge of Christianity in the Middle-East. Through first-hand reconnaissance, coupled with reports from Arabic nationals, Rosenberg demonstrates that Christianity is rising rapidly in the world of Islam.
Admittedly some of the following statistics have shifted in the aftermath of the Isis and other violent demonstrations against Christians. Those who follow Jesus have been slaughtered and have experienced severe persecution in this region. Nevertheless, Joel Rosenberg’s observations provide a window into many amazing developments.
Some of the particulars can certainly be debated, but in many of the Mediterranean nations, Christianity is making extraordinary inroads. Though the subsequent conversion figures are impossible to confirm, even in their imprecision, they provide a snapshot of what’s transpiring in the Middle East.
A number of reports suggest that increasing numbers of Christ-followers are emerging in the brutal, war-torn nation of Sudan. Here, in the Nile river valley – along the Islamic strongholds of Northern Africa – It is being noted that
“One million Sudanese have turned to Christ since the year 2000—not in spite of persecution, war, and genocide, but because of them…the estimated total number of believers in the country is more than 5.5 million.”
Many are convinced that the great brutalities that this nation has encountered are becoming a catalyst for the expansion and growth of Christianity. Rather than inhibiting the Church, the war is actually propelling it.
Pakistan is typically not identified as a nation experiencing a move of God, but apparently they’re beginning to see one spark within their contentious borders. Christianity’s Middle-Eastern expansion is particularly evident in this unexpected place. Rosenberg acknowledges that,
“Senior Pakistani Christian leaders tell me there is a ‘conversion explosion’ going on in their country. There are now an estimated 2.5 million to 3 million born-again Pakistani believers worshiping Jesus Christ. Whole towns and villages along the Afghan-Pakistani border are…converting to Christianity.”
This Islamic country is not alone, many others in this region are having similar things take place.
Reliable reports suggest that there is also a great revival erupting in the land of Egypt. Rosenberg declares that, “Ministry leaders in Egypt estimate there are more than 2.5 million followers of Jesus Christ in their country. Many of these are Muslim converts.”
Undoubtedly, the severe persecutions and disruptions related to the “Arab Spring” have affected the lives of Christians throughout this nation, but the faithful have remained strong. Martyrdom invites outsiders to examine the claims of those willing to die for Jesus. It is believed that many amazing things are taking place in Egypt.
Surprisingly, the contentious nation of Iran is also beginning to encounter the rising flames of awakening. Violent Islamic Fundamentalism has not been able to impede the advancement of the Gospel in this fierce Persian nation. Reflecting on this reality, Rosenberg writes,
“At the time of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, there were only about five hundred known Muslim converts to Jesus inside the country. By 2000, a survey of Christian demographic trends reported that there were two hundred twenty thousand Christians inside Iran, of which between four and twenty thousand were Muslim converts. And according to Iranian Christian leaders I interviewed, the number of Christ-followers inside their country shot dramatically higher between 2000 and 2008.”
Yes, you read that right. Christianity went from 500 people to 220,000 in 21 years. Contrary to what many Americans think, Christianity is quietly advancing behind the scenes in some of the most unlikely places around the globe.
Reports continue to come in. A strikingly similar stirring is also taking place in Saudi Arabia – unquestionably the epicenter of world Islam. One wouldn’t expect the growth of Christianity in Mecca, but it is happening. Summarizing some of what he has heard, Joel Rosenberg reports that “Arab Christian leaders estimated there were more than one hundred thousand Saudi Muslim background believers in 2005, and they believe the numbers are even higher today.” Saudi Arabia is being quickened by the Spirit of the Lord. It seems to be positioned to experience significant growth in the decades to come.
Christianity is also quietly advancing in the turbulent nation of Iraq. Again, it needs to be noted that these numbers precede the vicious emergence of Isis and the aftermath of the Arab Spring. Multitudes of Christians have been martyred since these figures were originally reported. Yet, even the fact that Muslims felt compelled to quell its advancement suggests that Christianity’s influence has been growing.
“Before 2003, senior Iraqi Christian leaders tell me, there were only about four to six hundred known born-again followers of Jesus Christ in the entire country, despite an estimated seven hundred fifty thousand nominal Christians in historic Iraqi churches. By the end of 2008, Iraqi Christian leaders estimated that there were more than seventy thousand born-again Iraqi believers.”
As many are aware, the expansion of Christianity has been greatly hindered more recently in Iraq. Don’t be mistaken, this martyrdom and brutality will ultimately give way to more Christians in the land once known as Babylon.
The whole Islamic world is currently shaking. We have already discussed some of the amazing advancements that are taking place in several of Arabic nations. These are where the greatest signs of revival are evident. Nevertheless, on a lesser level, other Islamic nations are also experiencing a tremendous stirring within their borders. One of these is Algeria. Rosenberg recounts the recent upsurge in Algeria, noting that:
“more than eighty thousand Muslims have become followers of Christ in recent years…The surge of Christianity has become so alarming to Islamic clerics that in March of 2006, Algerian officials passed a law banning Muslims from becoming Christians or even learning about Christianity, and forbidding Christians from meeting together without a license from the government.”
Algeria is beginning to come alive with the gospel like much of Northern Africa.
Another ancient Middle-Eastern locale where Christianity is beginning to take root is along the borders the eastern bank of the Jordan River. The Islamic land of Jordan is also experiencing the grace and wonder of Jesus. Reflecting on what is transpiring in this nation, Rosenberg noted the following:
“God has been reviving the Jordanian Church in the last four decades, and particularly in the past few years. Conservative estimates say the number of believers in the country is now between five and ten thousand. The head of one major Jordanian ministry, however, believes there may be as many as fifty thousand believers in the country.”
Jordan is also experiencing the salvation of Jesus Christ.
Other Islamic Nations
Almost every Islamic nation has been experiencing a significant upsurge of Christianity over the last twenty years. Though the numbers aren’t equally high, all are experiencing the impact on some level. Here are some of the other reports.
While in the nation of Morocco it has been claimed that “between 20,000 and 40,000 Muslims have become Christ-followers.” Rosenberg suggests that, “The number of Afghan believers is now between 20,000 and 30,000.” In Kazakhstan “there are more than fifteen thousand Kazakh Christians, and more than one hundred thousand Christians of all ethnicities.” Reflecting on Lebanon, Rosenberg suggests that, “there are about ten thousand truly born-again followers of Jesus Christ today.” Reports suggest there were no Muslim background Christians in Syria fifty years ago, but today “there are between four and five thousand born-again believers in the country.”
Rosenberg’s figures suggest that there are over 13 million Christians in Islamic countries and a majority of them are from a Muslim background.
There are other evidences of a notable transformation taking place. For example, Journalist George Thomas notes that,
“A Christian revival is touching the northernmost reaches of Africa. In a region once hostile to the gospel, now tens of thousands of Muslims are following Jesus. As the sun sets over the Mediterranean Sea, Muslims across Northern Africa are converting to faith in Jesus Christ in record numbers… What experts say is that there is a profound move of God in the predominantly Muslim nations of Mauritania, Western Sahara, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia.”
Tino Qahoush, a researcher and filmmaker, has been traveling to various parts of this region to document the Christian revival that has been taking place. Reflecting on what he observed, he noted the following,
“What God is doing in North Africa, all the way from actually Mauritanian to Libya is unprecedented in the history of missions. I have the privilege of recording testimonies and listening to first-hand stories of men and women, of all ages.”
Jayson Casper, a journalist with Christianity Today, also pointed out some astounding growth that’s taking place in the Arabian Peninsula. He writes,
“Today the Pew Research Center numbers Christians in the Arabian Peninsula at 2.3 million – more Christians than nearly 100 countries can claim. The Gulf Christian Fellowship, an umbrella group, estimates 3.5 million…United Arab Emirates Christian population [is] 13 percent, according to Pew. Among other Gulf states, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar each about 14 percent Christian, while Oman is about 6 percent. Even Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest cities (Mecca and Medina), is 4 percent Christian…”
One of the best examples of the expansion of Christianity within Muslim lands is through the work of Heidi and Roland Baker. Along with their church plants and trained workers from Iris Ministries, the Bakers have made an extraordinary impact on the brutal nation of Mozambique. The province that they currently operate in was entirely Muslim before their arrival, but a little over ten years later those figures have changed drastically. Kelly Head from Christ for the Nations writes,
“The Bakers are now based full-time in Pemba, Mozambique, in an area where Heidi says was once called a ‘graveyard to missionaries.’ But recently the government announced publicly that it’s no longer a Muslim providence; now it’s a Christian providence.”
Iris Global in Mozambique (from their website):
Two devastating cyclones in 2019 flattened thousands of homes and villages. Iris Global worked with international efforts to bring relief along with thousands of solar Bibles in local languages, eagerly wanted by previously resistant people groups.
Iris Global currently feeds well over 10,000 children a day, as well as various members of many other communities, currently including 4,000 families in Malawi. Its network of churches also numbers more than 10,000, including some 2,000 churches among the Makua people of northern Mozambique. Iris operates five Bible schools, in addition to its three primary schools and its school of missions in Pemba. Current major projects include continuing outreaches to very remote coastal regions via Iris’s recently acquired boat, expansion of Iris’s air transport abilities, investment in a range of cottage industries, and a special well-drilling initiative. Iris, having recently acquired a drilling rig by generous funding from several U.S. churches, intends to transform life in desperately dry villages everywhere possible. One by one.
“The primary mission of Iris Global as a family is to seek the face of God with all our hearts, that we might glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. We proclaim Jesus. He is our salvation, our prize, our reward, our inheritance, our destination, our motivation, our joy, wisdom and sanctification — and absolutely everything else we need, now and forever.”
The abrupt changes to the once Muslim Africa are something even the Islamic clerics are beginning to acknowledge. In December 2001, Sheikh Ahmad al Qataani, the president of The Companions Lighthouse for the Science of Islamic Law in Libya, appeared on a live interview on Al-Jazeera satellite television. He declared the following:
“Islam used to represent, as you previously mentioned, Africa’s main religion and there were 30 African languages that used to be written in Arabic script. The number of Muslims in Africa has diminished to 316 million, half of whom are Arabs in North Africa. So in the section of Africa that we are talking about, the non Arab section, the number of Muslims does not exceed 150 million people. When we realize that the entire population of Africa is one billion people, we see that the number of Muslims has diminished greatly from what it was in the beginning of the last century…As to how that happened, well, there are now 1.5 million churches whose congregations account for 46 million people. In every hour, 667 Muslims convert to Christianity. Everyday, 16,000 Muslims convert to Christianity. Ever year, 6 million Muslims convert to Christianity. These numbers are very large indeed.”
It is obvious from these and other reports that Christianity is advancing.
Source: World Revival Network
The staggering rise of the church in Iran, 2019 report
A report from the International Prayer Council, 2019.
For many years, Iran was one of the most difficult regions of the world to reach with the gospel. In 1979, however, there was an Islamic Revolution in Iran. The ruling monarch, Shah Pahlavi, was overthrown, and in his place an Islamic Republic was birthed, led by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Sharia law became the law of the land, and Muslim clerics became the heads of state. Many in those days believed Iranian society would flourish. The new regime made great promises about rights and economic progress and that the laws of man would be replaced by the laws of God, they claimed.
Near the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, we see that the prayers of many Christians have been answered, and the climate in Iran is vastly different. The gospel has spread throughout the land despite increased persecution of Christians. In 1979, there were about 500 known Christians in Iran. Today, the average estimate of Christians range from 300,000 to upwards of one million, according to missions experts. Operation World continues to list Iran as having the fastest-growing evangelical church in the world. In fact, more Iranians have become Christians in the last twenty years than in the previous 1,300 years, since Islam came to Iran.
Several factors have contributed to the rapid growth of the church in Iran. Here are four of the most important.
1. Disillusionment with Islam
Since the time of the revolution, the Islamic regime, which promised much in the way of economic development and freedom, has not delivered. Rather than prosperity and growth, the economy stagnated. The people also have been oppressed, women punished for not covering their hair, and others punished for speaking out in protest. As a result, the country has isolated itself further from the rest of the world. Because the Islamic Republic has tied religion and state so closely together, the people’s disappointment with the government has led to great scepticism of Islam. Consequently, Iranians have become increasingly open to hearing the Christian message.
The rise of persecution against Christians in Iran has served as a sign of the rapid growth of Christianity. In the 1990s, several key church leaders in Iran were killed. One of the most famous martyrs, Mehdi Dibaj, gave a defence before the Islamic courts prior to his death that has become a rallying cry for many Christians in Iran. Dibaj declared, “I would rather have the whole world against me, but know that the Almighty God is with me; be called an apostate, but know that I have the approval of the God of glory. Life for me is an opportunity to serve him, and death is a better opportunity to be with Christ.”
Examples like this have emboldened the church. One faithful brother in prison recounted the moment he received news that many of his colleagues were being arrested. Briefly, he considered fleeing but remembered the words of Jesus from John 10, that he is not the hired hand who sees the wolves coming and flees, but he is rather the good shepherd, who lays his life down for his sheep (John 10:11–12). He went home knowing it would lead to his arrest, but he saw prison as an assignment by God to reach many within prison. This persecution has served to motivate further evangelistic zeal among Iranian Christians.
3. The Diaspora and Use of Media
A countless number of Iranian Christians have been scattered around the world. Many of these saints sense a unique calling to continue supporting the work of gospel advancement within Iran from the outside. The advancement of technology through the Internet and satellite TV has made the Christian message more accessible to Iranians who may have never even met a Christian. The diaspora Christians have been active in broadcasting the gospel and Bible teaching into Iran. In the last decade, social media also has been a powerful tool to reach Iranians and teach them the truths of Scripture.
4. Bible Distribution
Although persecution has not produced the results that the Iranian authorities wanted, they have continued to work hard to stamp out the message of Christianity. The Bible (especially the New Testament) is banned literature in Iran. But the people have been hungry for the word of God. There have been over two million New Testaments printed in recent years for dissemination in Iran, and about 180,000 entire Bibles have been distributed within the country. As Paul told Timothy, “The word of God is not bound!” (2 Timothy 2:9).
Christians in Iran.
Thirty years of Islamic revolution have made Iranians the most open Muslim people in the world to Christ. And it is only the Gospel that can bring peace to Iranians and the whole Middle East. …
“Mahmoud has become a totally new person since he met Christ,” beams Vahid, talking about his disciple. “Honestly, I’m jealous of the deep love Mahmoud has for the Lord. He’s the one ministering to me these days.”
While COVID-19 has ravaged Iran’s government and economy, a popular Christian satellite channel is reporting an upsurge in Iranian Muslims converting to Christianity.
Mohabat TV has recorded 10 times more salvation decisions online than this time last year, with 3,000 Iranians coming to Christ every month since March. “We have seen an increase in our online traffic from inside Iran,” said Mike Ansari, director of operations for Mohabat TV. “That’s why we call this the pandemic of hope.”
Revival in South America, 2014 report
There is a massive Evangelical revival going on in South America. Latin American religious demographics are changing. Brazil is now around 25% Evangelical and their numbers are growing so fast that Brazil is expected to become the world’s first Latin Evangelical Nation.
1-3 Million Brazilians converting to Evangelicalism every year.
Pentecostals go into drug and crime ridden favelas and Evangelicals pack the largest stadiums for worship, prayer and evangelism. Chile is 15% Evangelical, and Reformation Day is now a national holiday in Catholic Chile. Even famously Catholic Argentina is now 9% Evangelical.
Tens of millions of Latin Americans have embraced Pentecostal Christianity, according to a Pew Research Center survey on religion in 18 Latin American countries. Nearly one-in-five [nearly 20%] Latin Americans now describe themselves as Protestant, and across the countries surveyed majorities of them self-identify as Pentecostal. Pentecostals share many beliefs with other evangelical Protestants, but they put more emphasis on the “gifts of the Holy Spirit,” such as speaking in tongues, faith healing, and prophesying.
Pentecostalism is now a global phenomenon. We asked Andrew Chesnut, professor of religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, to discuss how and why Pentecostalism has grown so dramatically in Latin America in recent years.
Why have we seen this shift in Latin America in recent decades away from Roman Catholicism and toward Pentecostal Protestantism?
Andrew Chesnut: One reason is that Pentecostalism has very successfully absorbed Latin American culture. So, for example, the music that you hear in Pentecostal churches has the same rhythms that people enjoy outside of church. In fact, in only a century, Pentecostalism has become indigenous, or “Latin Americanized,” to a greater extent than Roman Catholicism has in its four centuries in Latin America.
There are other factors. For instance, some Latin Americans who grow up Catholic convert to Pentecostalism at a time of a health crisis, because Pentecostalism puts such a great emphasis on faith healing. This healing ministry is one of the propelling motors of the Pentecostal boom.
And the Pentecostal preachers tend to sound more like their congregants. They are often unlettered and they speak to their flock in the same way that people in Latin American speak to each other. They also tend to look like their congregants. So in Guatemala, many preachers are Mayan, and in Brazil they are Afro-Brazilian.
Are there particular groups or types of people in Latin America who are especially drawn to Pentecostalism?
Chesnut: Historically, Pentecostalism has appealed to the poor and to outsiders. But more recently, it has begun to appeal to middle-class professionals, such as doctors and lawyers, who have formed their own denominations in Brazil and Guatemala, among other countries. The emphases on “inner healing,” individual responsibility and prosperity theology are especially appealing to these more affluent Pentecostals.
Some people, particularly men, are attracted to Pentecostalism because they are struggling with substance abuse or other problems. Pentecostalism promotes healthy lifestyles and serves as the largest detox center for Latin American men. Men who join these churches often stop hard-drinking or gambling or womanizing.
How did Pentecostalism begin in Latin America?
Chesnut: For the most part, it was imported from the United States. In the early 20th century, Pentecostal missionaries began arriving in South America and they start doing well almost immediately. One reason was the emphasis on gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as faith healing, which resonated with many people.
Unlike earlier American missionaries, Pentecostals also were quick to train Latin American pastors and nationalize their denominations. For example, the Assemblies of God in Brazil [the country’s largest Pentecostal denomination] was fully under Brazilian control by 1930, just two decades after the first American evangelists arrived.
Is there a deep connection today between American Pentecostal churches and those in Latin America?
Chesnut: There is a connection, but today, things are reversed. Pentecostalism is now overwhelmingly anchored in Latin America, rather than the United States. In Brazil, for example, the Assemblies of God has 10 million to 12 million members, while the American Assemblies of God church has 2 million to 3 million. So now, the Brazilian church is the big brother and the United States is seen as mission territory.
Many [Latin American] churches are now sending out missionaries to the United States, as well as to Europe and Africa and even Asia. In the U.S., these missionaries have tried to attract Euro-Americans and African Americans. But so far, they’ve had little success. Instead, they’ve attracted Latin American immigrants living in the U.S.
Do you think that the increased religious competition from Pentecostalism has made Latin America more religious?
Chesnut: Yes. I think competition from Pentecostal churches has definitely made the Latin American religious landscape more robust. In addition to contributing to a certain renewal of the Catholic Church, it’s impacted mainline Protestant churches – like the Presbyterian and Methodist churches – which, like the Catholics, now also offer their own version of Pentecostalism. If Pentecostalism had never come to Latin America, I think the religious landscape would not be nearly as vibrant as it is today.
Evangelism in Venezuela, 2019 report
Six Thousand (6000) people accepted Jesus Christ in Venezuela and they were baptized… the glory of God fell upon them…
George Otis reported on recent developments in Arizona.
As of Fall 2018, every single nation on earth was represented at Arizona State University! Over 150 nations had someone on the ASU campus, while other nations are involved online – including North Korea and Antarctica! From this one place, Spirit-led believers have the potential to impact the entire family of nations, just as the apostles did on Pentecost!
In recent months, this huge university, the largest in the United States, has been in the grip of a bona fide spiritual awakening.
By our definition, formed over twenty years of monitoring transforming revival around the world, a true awakening means the work of God is comprehensive. This stands in contrast to a human campaign or initiative where results are typically confined to a single category or location within the community.
At ASU, God’s sweep is as broad as it gets.
Not surprisingly, united prayer has proven to be a major factor behind these happy developments. After several tough years where campus ministries tended to go their own way, things took a pleasant turn in the fall of 2017. Instead of the usual two to three ministries coming together before God, prayer events at the local Campus Christian Center were rocking a three-fold increase in intercessory participants.
By 2019, fully a dozen ministries united behind a forty-day prayer focus where petitions were lifted day and night from a tent erected near the main campus square. The initiative was so fruitful, the ministries decided to continue the effort over the balance of the academic semester.
During fall in 2019, the tally of participating ministries and campus churches reached seventeen, as a fresh fifty-six-day campaign drew prodigals, atheists, Muslims, New Agers, and students suffering from depression. In addition to witnessing numerous conversions, healings, and deliverances, the intercessors also watched God begin to move among the University faculty and administration.
One of the more significant breakthroughs involved the school’s Interfaith Council of Religious Advisors. Today, the council is headed by the son of a Baptist minister!
Even more dramatic has been the departure from the university of notorious atheist Lawrence Krauss. Virulently anti-Christian, the highly-paid professor routinely packed out Gammage Auditorium on campus by bringing in atheist luminaries such as Richard Dawkins and the late Stephen Hawking.
A theoretical physicist, Krauss founded the Origins Project in 2009 with the aim of placing the university at the forefront of the New Atheist Movement. By promoting hostile, anti-religious rhetoric and policies (“teaching Creationism to youth is child abuse”), Krauss bullied Christian students and faculty into silence.
During the worst of Krauss’s campaign, God assured one late-night intercessor that the professor would be brought low, and that the backbone of the atheist movement on campus would be broken.
Given Krauss’s fame and tenure, this prospect was almost unimaginable.
And yet, on Oct. 21, 2018, Lawrence Krauss announced his resignation after being stripped of his role as an academic chair and as the Director of the Origins Project. This action came in the wake of an impending termination procedure urged by the dean of ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
According to ASU provost, Mark Searle, action was taken because the physicist “violated the school’s sexual harassment policy and code of ethics.” In a July 31 letter to Krauss, Searle told the professor his behaviour was “unprofessional, reflects a failure of leadership, and is extremely disappointing.”
As for the Origins Project itself, the university newspaper notes that “sources point to a very different future for the project.” The initiative has already lost its name.
With Krauss out of the picture at ASU, Christian faculty in both the arts and sciences are again raising their flag. A March 2019 conference on Science and Faith allowed students to engage faculty in six fields, an approach being lauded by the university president. As one professor’s official profile declares: “Through his work he intends to glorify God, from whom all good things come.”
Transforming winds have also been coursing through the university’s athletic department. During 2019, over 100 Christian student athletes attended an all-sport gathering in the men’s football facility that featured worship, prayer, and inspirational messages.
Many athletes were touched at this student-led event as the room was charged with the Spirit of God. One of them, star wide receiver N’Keal Harry — whom many analysts peg as a top-15 pick in the NFL draft — gave his heart to Christ and is devouring the Word. He is arguably the most popular personality on the ASU campus.
And Harry is but one of an estimated twenty to thirty football players who have turned their lives over to Jesus in recent months. The wrestling team has also been impacted through the open witness of Austyn Harris and All-American Josh Shields, and encouraging reports are coming in from athletes associated with hockey, lacrosse, gymnastics, track, swimming, and volleyball.
Dorm and Greek life are likewise feeling the impact of the Gospel. As one knowledgeable source told me, “Before this year, it was hard to find any Christians in the Honors dorms. Now, it seems like they are everywhere!” Better yet, they are uniting in prayer that God’s purposes will be realized in the lives of these elite students.
So much more could be said, but I’ll leave you with the observation one student athlete shared with me earlier this month: “The identity of ASU is being flipped.”
As of Fall 2018, every single nation on earth was represented at Arizona State University! Over 150 nations had someone on the ASU campus, while other nations are involved online – including North Korea and Antarctica! From this one place, Spirit-led believers have the potential to impact the entire family of nations, just as the apostles did on Pentecost!
Dr Sam Hey, a former high school science teacher, lectures in Biblical Studies at Citipointe Ministry College, the School of Ministries of Christian Heritage College in Brisbane. His article is part of his Ph.D. research studies.
“Until recently it was possible to obtain a doctorate in theology at a Pentecostal Bible College without knowledge of ancient or modern languages, without knowledge of the origin or composition of the Bible, without secondary education, and simply on the basis of six years’ instruction on the Bible” (Hollenweger 1972, 292).
As Pentecostalism has matured and been accepted into mainstream denominations this pre-critical fundamentalist view of the Bible has had to be replaced by more sophisticated approaches which are more widely accepted by those with whom they interact. But that change rang alarm bells for many Pentecostals who had discarded scholarship as faith-destroying and even demonic.
Pentecostal beliefs have been considerably influenced by the hermeneutical approaches that they have used. Pentecostalism inherited from the Reformation the belief that Scripture has meaning which is clearly and easily discerned (Osborne 1991, 9). From John Wesley they inherited the conviction that the text of Scripture needed to be integrated into their own life, speech, and devotional experience (Arrington 1988,378). The Holiness movement gave them a subjective fundamentalist view of Scripture and a suspicion of critical scholarship (Hollenweger 1972, 291).
After an initial period of isolation, Pentecostal churches found increasing opportunity for interaction with evangelical churches which shared their common goals. The large Pentecostal Assemblies of God (AOG) movement joined the National Association of Evangelicals when it was founded in 1942 (Hyatt 1996, 179). The upward social mobility, higher incomes and suburbanisation which followed World War II led to a change in educational outlook and aspirations of American Pentecostalism led many members to pursue a more sophisticated understanding of their beliefs.
Bible school training was improved and the Bible-based theology programs of the 1940’s were mostly replaced by liberal arts degree programs (Menzies 1971, 376). The change in training methods has led to changes in the thinking of the graduating church leaders. Through them it is changing the Pentecostal movements. The inauguration of credentialing of AOG ministers in 1959 was an indicator of the increasing concern for conformity (Menzies 1971, 376).
With an increasing interaction with evangelical churches came the adoption of their historical- critical methods. This led to an emphasis on the context and the pursuit of the intention of original author of the text (Cargal 1993, 163; Fee 1991,86). This development has not been welcomed by older traditional Pentecostals who say that it threatens the Pentecostal belief in a post-salvation reception of the Spirit evidenced by glossolalia.
The younger, newer graduates are also concerned. Sheppard says that a dependence on critical exegesis challenges the vitality and freedom that characterised traditional Pentecostalism and will endanger its future (Sheppard 1994, 121). He says that Pentecostals were beginning to pursue the historical-grammatical method at a time when biblical and theological scholarship has moved beyond this emphasis (Sheppard 1994, 121). Sheppard singles out Gordon Fee as an example of this. Joseph Byrd suggests that the Pentecostal emphasis on detailed critical exposition in seminaries has produced pastors with a good knowledge of technical exegesis but lacking the prophetic edge which characterised early Pentecostalism (Byrd 1993, 207).
The application of scholarly methods such as that of Fee and Menzies has challenged the distinctive Pentecostal belief that a post-salvation “baptism in the Spirit” evidenced by tongues is the intended teaching and the normative pattern of Scripture. When Fee’s critical methods are used, the experiences of Jesus and the apostles are found to be so different from those of modern day Christians that they must be considered irrelevant (Fee 1991,94). The Pentecostal claim to an intended pattern in Acts which can be applied to all Christians is found to be unwarranted. Glossolalia as the sole evidence of the Pentecostal baptism is also found to be untenable (Fee 1991,99).
The historical method and pursuit of the author’s intention has created an unbridgeable historical gap which has led Pentecostal scholars in recent times to question this approach (Cargal 1993, 163). Many Pentecostal scholars in recent times have begun to look to other approaches for support for the distinctive Pentecostal beliefs.
Recent editions of the Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, Pneuma, reveal that the hermeneutical sophistication of Pentecostals has risen dramatically over the last decade as they have begun to integrate the latest hermeneutical practices. This is seen in the writings of Pentecostal scholars such as Cargal (1993), Byrd (1993), Harrington and Pattern (1994) and Arrington (1994). These scholars have begun to point out the inadequacies and dangers of the Pentecostal emphasis on intentionality and the grammatical, historical, and critical context of the text. They have looked to post-modern hermeneutical methods instead (Mclean 1984, 36).
While it is beyond the scope of this article to evaluate post-modernism to any large degree, it is important to consider the ways in which this influential movement is affecting the development of Pentecostal hermeneutics in general and the distinctive Pentecostal beliefs in particular. In recent times the ability to locate an absolute, intended meaning within the text has been challenged by the recognition that the interpreters of the text “cannot silence their own subjectivity, or achieve an objective neutrality” (Thiselton 1977, 316).
Gerald Sheppard says that both liberals and fundamentalists have perpetuated the same false notion that the original intention of the author can be located. Both of these “left and right wing modernist groups” are pursuing the same impossible task (Sheppard 1994, 121).
Cargal (1993, 163) and Arrington (1994, 101) observe that most Pentecostal preachers have been unaffected by the greater acceptance of critical scholastic methods. Many Pentecostals have continued the Pentecostal practise of interpreting the same text differently at different times to meet the different needs that arise. Pentecostal readings of Acts have had less to do with a rationalistic, inductive method of biblical interpretation and more to do with a creative interaction with the text of Acts (Macchia 1993, 65).
Pentecostals usually emphasise the immediacy of the text and multiple dimensions of meaning arising from the “leading of the Spirit”. They give scant consideration to its historical-critical context. This approach invariably leads to multiple meanings and multiple applications the same text. At times one of these meanings can attract strong support and become a fixed belief. The post-salvation experience evidenced by glossolalia is an example of this.
Many Pentecostal scholars in recent times have claimed that the Pentecostal method has “more continuity with post-modern modes of interpretation than with the critical-historical method” (Cargal 1993, 165; Arrington, 1994, 101). Post-modernism distinguishes itself from modernism by the rejection of the notion that “only what is historically and objectively true is meaningful,” (Cargal 1973, 171). However, it must be remembered that Pentecostalism and post-modernism have different reasons for rejecting this claim.
Some Pentecostals, such as Howard Ervin, have suggested that the post-modern questioning of modern scientific certainties provides support for a return to the ancient world views of biblical times (Ervin, 1981,19). Ervin’s view is a naive misrepresentation of post-modernism. While post-modernism recognise that reason and rationalism cannot tell us everything, it does not claim that critical thinking is passe, but simply that it is limited (Cargal 1993, 178).
Despite this qualification, the “post-modern vision of reality opens up the possibility of the transcendent virtually closed by modernity.” (Cargal 1993, 178). Therefore Cargal is able to say that developments within post- modern methods of interpretation hold promise for Pentecostals (Cargal 1993,187).
The Pentecostal emphasis upon the Spirit as the source of multiple meanings of the text is an important contribution which Pentecostalism can make to the Western Church. Cargal says that “the [Pentecostal] recognition of the dialogical role of the experiences of the believer in both shaping and being shaped by particular interpretations of the biblical text is both compatible with certain post-structuralist views of the reader as creator of significations and an important critique of objectivist views of the meaning of the Bible and its authority” (Cargal 1993, 186).
The larger text
In this last decade Pentecostals have recognised that the process of interacting with biblical narratives such as Acts is “more complex and creative than a mere historical investigation into the original intention of the author/editor” (Macchia 1993, 67). Pentecostal beliefs such as the belief in the sign of glossolalia did not just arise from the biblical text, but from the larger historical and cultural texts with which Pentecostalism was interacting.
In recent years Pentecostal students of hermeneutics have recognised that the study of the text needs to be broadened to include the inter-textual connection which exists between the biblical texts, the ritual “texts” enacted in worship and the relational “texts” of the faith community (Dempster 1993, 129; Cargal 1993, 163).
A trans-contextual basis is needed which allows the “comparative evaluation of contextual criteria of interpretation and indeed the purposes for which each set of criteria gains its currency” (Thiselton 1992, 6). Pentecostals have not interpreted the text as individuals, but as members of communities of readers who cannot be isolated from their communal expectations. It was the expectations of the faith community and its social setting which ultimately determined the Pentecostal interpretation of glossolalia in Acts and not historical-grammatical concerns.
Pentecostalism is increasingly recognising the role of its traditions and Christian communities in shaping its beliefs (Fee 1991,69). The text of Scripture is usually read in the light of one’s own sociological, cultural, religious, ecclesiastical and national histories. Fee says that the Pentecostal belief in a baptism in the Holy Spirit distinct from conversion and evidenced by tongues “came less from the study of Acts, as from their own personal histories, in which it happened to them in this way and therefore was assumed to be the norm even in the New Testament” (Fee 1991, 69).
The Pentecostal New Testament scholar, Gordon Fee, has challenged the Pentecostal beliefs which have arisen from their traditions suggesting that they need to be re-examined on the basis of the biblical texts (Fee 1991, 69). Some Pentecostals see this approach as an implicit threat to the Pentecostal belief in tongues as the evidence of a post salvation Spirit baptism (Burgess and McGee 1988, 305).
Plurality of meanings
Church of God pastor and scholar, Joseph Byrd believes that new hermeneutical methods such as those of Paul Ricoeur are needed if the distinctive Pentecostal beliefs are to survive the sophisticated theological treatments by Pentecostal scholars such as Fee (Byrd 1993,203). The hermeneutics of Holland and Ricoeur offer promise to those who seek to preserve the Pentecostal tradition as it acknowledges the role of the readers in projecting their own interests, desires, and selfhood into the text (Thiselton 1992,472).
Wolfgang Isler suggests that biblical texts are deliberately ambivalent (Thiselton 1992,517). This ambivalence has enabling interpretations such as those of Pentecostals to meet the spiritual needs of twentieth century Christians. Isler suggests that the text deliberately invites the reader to place themselves into different roles within the textual setting (Thiselton 1992, 517).
Sheppard suggests that Pre-critical Pentecostalism should not be dismissed as uncritical, but recognised as attuned and acclimatised to the cultural values of the marginalised groups in which it began (Sheppard 1994, 127). Michael Foucault has shown that modern ways of knowing have led to pre- and post-modern values being overlooked. Early Pentecostal hermeneutics has focused on subjective, intuitive ways of knowing, the validity of which needs to be reconsidered (Foulcault 1973, 217-249).
Pentecostal hermeneutics must allow for the claim that the Holy Spirit reveals deeper meanings of the text that allows it to be culturally relevant (Cargal 1993,174). The difficulty with this proposal is that it easily leads to excesses and misinterpretations. The emergence of the unitarian Pentecostals is an example of this (Synan 1997,161). Unless other controls exist, Fee suggests that “we must abide by rules of good exegesis and exert extreme caution in considering any deeper meanings.” (Fee 1979, 39).
In recent times the task of hermeneutics has been widened to consider the way in which biblical texts have been used to serve the interests of different groups and to loosen or maintain dominating power structures and authorise values which serve the interests of individuals or corporate entities within religious communities (Thiselton 1992, 7). Recent Pentecostal studies by Margaret Poloma confirm that glossolalia has provided support for the Pentecostal protest against modernity and motivation for evangelism (Poloma 1989, 3).
Glossolalia has also been a symbol used to promote individual, social and racial equality, they have been replaced by beliefs which condone organisational, sexual and racial dominance (Poloma 1989, 3). Poloma says that while charismata such as tongues are a factor in the rise and revitalisation of religious movements, “it seems to depart quickly once it has completed the task of institution building” (Poloma 1989,232).
The Appeal of Pentecostalism in a Post-modern Age
It is not difficult to locate reasons for the appeal of Pentecostalism in a post-modern world. Pentecostalism has challenged the perceived threats inherent in post-modern approaches and has provided appealing alternatives to post-modern dilemmas. In contrast to the uncertainty arising from a complex multiplicity in post-modernists, Pentecostalism speaks of one absolute unchanging God who is behind all different views.
In contrast to the post-modern perplexity in facing an avalanche of information, Pentecostalism reduces truth to one source of information, the Bible and one interpreter – the Holy Spirit. Post-modernism accepts the uncertainty of past and of the future events. In contrast to the variety of experiences which exist in a post-modern world, Pentecostals claim the one Holy Spirit which behind the variety of charismatic experiences. Glossolalia is still the chief Pentecostal experience and it continues to provided evidence of a supernatural God and an invisible world.
The attempt by some Pentecostals to align Pentecostal hermeneutics with the popular post-modern movement must not overlook the differences that exist between them. While post- modernism is in reality an extreme form of modernism, and a “misnomer for ultra modernity” (Oden in Dockery 1995, 26), Pentecostalism is a reaction against modernity.
Post-modernism accepts the anti-supernatural, pro-critical approaches that were important in modernism and these would not be accepted by most Pentecostals. “Although the post-modernist hesitates to deny the validity of all religions”, says Lints, “he hesitates also to assert the exclusive truth of but one religion.” (Lints 1993, 206). Pentecostalism, in contrast still holds to a single Christian truth. Glossolalia is considered to provide support for the existence of the supernatural and evidence that Pentecostalism is the one true faith.
Pentecostals appear to be divided between the modern, critical approach typified by Fee and the post-modern approach of recent scholars. One solution to this dilemma is Paul Ricoeur’s post- critical hermeneutic (Byrd 1993, 207). Paul Ricoeur has attempted to combine attempts to reconstruct the original meaning of the text with attempts to existentially apply readings of the text to contemporary situations (Bleicher, 1980, 217). His description of the movement of the reader from a naive, intuitive interpreter of the text to an increasingly self-critical analyst mirrors the development of Pentecostal hermeneutics well. This hermeneutic, which has developed from that of Schleiermacher asks us to listen with tolerance and mutual respect and to balance the creative with the analytical (Thisleton 1992, 4).
Ricoeur has shown that objectivity and subjectivity need not be considered as opposites, but two aspects of the one paradigm that exist along side each other as “two sides of the one coin”. These two should interact. The Pentecostal praxis informed what was found in Scripture, while at the same time careful study of the text has informed Pentecostal praxis (Moore 1987, 11). By combining the benefits of the Critical-historical-literary method with the recognition that multiple interpretations of the text exist the Pentecostal interpreter is equipped to discover and applied the “biblical” message. (Arrington 1994, 101). The dual recognition of the objective and the subjective leads to the acknowledgement that the differing understandings of the glossolalic references in Acts have been shaped by the differing contexts in which they were formed. Modern hermeneutics can no longer a search for the “true” or “historical” meaning. It must examine the effect of the text and investigate the processes which the text creatively produces and sets in motion.
The hermeneutics of Ricoeur stresses the creative effect of symbols, metaphors and narratives on religious imagination and thought. This method encourages an awareness of the diversity of meanings that the text will present to diversity of readers (Byrd 1993, 211). When applied to the interpretation of the glossolalic passages in Acts this method would suggest that Pentecostal and non Pentecostal interpretations exist side by side as alternative readings of the text.
The recognition that symbols within the text will be re-experienced by succeeding communities and generations in different ways builds greater tolerance and understanding of the ways in which beliefs such as that concerning glossolalia change. New generations of Pentecostals will not be expected to have the same experience of the text’s symbols as the first generation of Pentecostals (Byrd 1993, 211). They must be allowed to develop their own views which are appropriate to their own times and situations.
Professor of Sociology, Margaret Poloma suggests that it is not the glossolalic experience alone which makes Pentecostalism distinctive, but the expectant social reality in which it occurs (Poloma 1989, 184). Malony and Lovekin say that the charismatic group, and not the individual’s experience determine the effects of glossolalia upon a person (1977, 383). Poloma says that the Pentecostal experience must involve the unexpected and be constantly renewed if it is to survive the pressures of typification, patterned role expectations and institutionalization (Poloma 1989, 185).
Consequently, an exciting new wineskins for biblical scholarship is the emerging hermeneutic of Pentecostalism which challenges the historical-critical approach, and invites the Holy Spirit who inspired Scripture to interpret it to the faith community and to individuals within that community.
Arrington F.L. “Hermeneutics”, in Burgess S.M. and McGee G.B. Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1988.
Byrd, J. 1993. “Paul Ricoeur’s Hermeneutical Theory and Pentecostal Proclamation.” Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies 15, No 2: 203-215.
Cargal, T. B. 1993. “Beyond the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy: Pentecostals and Hermeneutics in a Postmodern Age.” Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies 15, No 2: 163-188.
Dempster, M. W. 1989 “The Church’s Moral Witness: A Study of Glossolalia in Luke’s Theology of Acts,” Paraclete, 23:11-7, Winter.
Dempster, M. W. “Paradigm Shifts and Hermeneutics: Confronting Issues Old and New”, Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies 15, No 2: 129-136.
Dockery, D. S., ed. 1995. The Challenge of Postmodernism: An evangelical Engagement. Wheaton: Victor.
Ervin, H. M. 1981. “Hermeneutics: A Pentecostal Option,” Pneuma: The Journal for the Society for Pentecostal Studies 3, Fall.
Fee, G. D. 1991. Gospel and Spirit: Issues in New Testament Hermeneutics. Peabody, Massachusetts, Hendrickson, (Second edition, 1994).
Hollenweger, Walter J. 1972. The Pentecostals : the charismatic movement in the churches. Minneapolis: Augsburg.
Hyatt, E. L. 1996. 2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity. Tulsa, Oklahoma: Hyatt Ministries.
Poloma, Margaret. 1989. The Assemblies of God at the Crossroads: Charisma and Institutional Dilemmas, Knoxvile: University of Tennessee.
Johns, D. A. 1991. “Some New Directions in the Hermeneutics of Clasical Pentecostalism’s Doctrine of Initial Evidence,” in Initial Evidence, ed. G. B. McGee. Peabody: Hendrickson.
Macchia, F. D. 1992. “Sighs too Deep for Words: Toward a Theology of Glossolalia,” Journal of Pentecostal Theology, No. 1, October, 1992, 47-73.
Malony, H. N. & Lovekin A. A. 1985. Glossolalia Behavioural Science Perspectives on Speaking in Tongues. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Menzies, W. 1971. Anointed to Serve: The Story of the Assemblies of God, Springfield: Gospel Publishing House.
Moore, R. D. 1987. “Approaching God’s Word Biblically: A Pentecostal Perspective,” Seminary Viewpoint 8, November.
Sheppard, G. T. 1994. “Biblical Interpretation After Gadamer”, Pneuma: The Journal for the Society of Pentecostal Studies. 16:121.
Synan, V. 1997. The Holiness- Pentecostal Tradition: Charismatic Movements in the Twentieth Century. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Thiselton, Anthony C. New Horizons in Hermeneutics. Grand Rapids: Michigan: Zondervan, 1992.
White, J.F. 1983. Sacraments as God’s Self-Giving, Nashville: Abingdon.
The Great Leap of Faith – comment by Max Welsh, Editor-in-Chief of The Bulletin:
In discussing the role of religion in Australian politics, especially with Americans, I stress the fact that Australia is probably the most secular of all the democracies. We do not have an established church. At the individual level, people may claim allegiance to one faith or another but, in practice, we are not a church-going nation.
We do have religious leaders who speak with the authority of their rank. However, their ability to influence the national debate, let alone to set the national agenda is, at best, modest and usually marginal.
While committed Christians have formed themselves into non-partisan fellowships, at the federal parliamentary level there is no real equivalent of the Moral Majority movement in the United States.
I’m referring here to a mass political force. The Pentecostal movement, which operates outside traditional religious groups, has been around for some time but it has a low profile in the national political-cum-social debate.
It may be that I’m the one out of touch, but I was surprised when senior writer Diana Bagnall told me more Australians attend Pentecostal services than Anglican churches. This is a major, fast-growing religious force.
Its low profile is in large part due to its atomistic, as distinct from hierarchical, form of organisation. But it also reflects a widely held view among Pentecostal leaders that the mass media – a singularly secular institution – has in the past sensationalised their activities, exhibiting more scorn and ridicule than sensitivity and understanding.
If that is true, it’s a pity because what is happening in this corner of Australian life is both interesting and important for what it says about our society. It was on this basis that Bagnall researched and wrote our cover story.
The New Believers, by Diana Bagnall
Christianity is being born again. Pentecostal congregations are swelling, the influence of their leaders is soaring, and politicians are starting to take notice. Diana Bagnall examines the attraction of the absolute in an age of doubt.
There’s a point at which continuing to caricature a sizeable group of Australians as a weird or loony fringe when they are going about a lawful activity in a purposeful, well-organised manner begins to backfire. Think of One Nation. When the group numbers scores of thousands and has been notching up double-digit membership growth each year for the best part of two decades, the ridicule is clearly unsustainable.
Call them misguided if you want, or politically subversive, which they undoubtedly have the potential to become, but don’t trivialise born-again Christians as marginal or eccentric. Because the numbers tell a different story. Their signature mix of conservative theology and radical religious practice is as mainstream as the church comes these days if by mainstream we mean belonging to that part of the river where the water flows most strongly and in greatest volume.
That they are relatively invisible at a national level is partly because their culture and vocabulary is so particular (in many respects theirs is a parallel universe), and partly because the Pentecostal churches that attract them in the greatest numbers don’t have the street-corner presence of traditional churches. Sure, a handful of Pentecostal congregations are housed on big acreages in large, purpose-built auditoriums, complete with cafes and youth centres, recording studios and schools, but more find a home in recycled buildings – warehouses, primary schools, community centres. And that’s what’s fooled us.
We haven’t seen the communities and the networks. And they’re big, vigorous and potentially powerful. Brian Houston, who heads the Assemblies of God denomination in Australia, estimates that there are 3000 full-time trainees in AOG Bible colleges across the country. Many of these churches are young churches. In the Christian City Church, a Sydney-based denomination that didn’t exist 20 years ago and now claims 25,000 members worldwide, for example, 70% of attendees are aged I5-39. The predominant style is contemporary and prosperous. Hip even.
These are places where winners hang out, where the rewards are tangible and tantalising. They promise the good life on Earth, and of course, the bonus of eternal life. They offer intimacy and excitement, a sense of belonging and of righteousness. A heady mix.
The church in decline has become a media cliché. Church leaders, those whose opinions are sought out because their brands of Christianity are familiar and visible, are increasingly portrayed as desperate men, maximising what’s left of greatly depleted stores of spiritual and temporal authority. One minute they’re talking of the need to market their spiritual “programs” more effectively, the next they’re wading more deeply, with government encouragement, into bureaucratised social welfare.
Save for the odd embarrassing episode where a triumphant Melbourne Cup jockey or superstar footballer takes advantage of his media access to proclaim his love for the Lord, there is little in the mainstream media to suggest that the church is anything other than a cultural backwater populated by the elderly and the backward-looking. Census data seems to prove the point. It shows a 35.5% increase between I99I and I996 in the number of Australians saying they had no religion and the major Christian denominations losing market share.
So what about the 3500 people who turn up each weekend to worship at the Christian City Church in Oxford Falls, near Sydney’s northern beaches? What about the 5000 women who milled among the marquees and pots of pink and magenta petunias at Pastor Bobbie Houston’s women’s conference last month at the Hills Christian Life Centre in Sydney’s Baulkham Hills? What about the 1200-strong Ipswich Region Community Church in Queensland waiting on the completion of a new 1000-seat auditorium and 350-seat youth and children’s facility? What about the 100,000 people who are expected to march into the Sydney Olympic Stadium on June 10 (the Day of Pentecost) under the banner of the Awakening 2000 movement to celebrate ‘the reason for the turning of the millennium’? Don’t they count?
As a combined grouping, there are now more people worshipping in Pentecostal churches than at Anglican churches each week, according to the most recent National Church Life Survey. Only Catholic parishes have a greater number of attendees. But these new Christian communities don’t just restrict themselves to Pentecostal churches, which makes the business of mapping their influence much more difficult than simply counting bums on pews. There are contemporary evangelical, charismatic and Pentecostal churches across denominations, says Melbourne Anglican leader Peter Corney. “The majority of adults attending Protestant churches on Sunday in Australia would go to one of these types of churches,” he says. “Almost all the large churches (that is, over 500 members), and the churches with young congregations, fall into those categories.”
For just as loyalty to political parties has broken down over the past decade and capturing the swinging voter has become the measure of political success, so too the old religious tribal connections have broken down. People are open to persuasion. In the new churches the power of the message is in its communication. “We scratch where people are itching,” says Mark Edwards, 41, an ex-lawyer who has increased membership of the Ipswich Region Community Church sixfold in the eight years he has been its senior minister.
His sermons are more likely to focus on financial management (he has just finished a two-year term as president of the local chamber of commerce) and work issues, relationships and raising children than on fine theological argument. But, fundamentally, there is still only one message – salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Part and parcel of that is acceptance of the Bible’s authority, literally across the board. … For it is now well understood by those who analyse patterns of church growth and decline that firmly drawn boundaries and clearly stated values are an asset rather than a liability to churches in a post-modernist world characterised by impermanence and relativity. The balance of theological power is shifting on the ground as people vote with their feet for more conservative, orthodox Christian values.
“Liberal theology has reigned supreme in the theological colleges, and still does, but out there, in the trenches, the whole liberal theology thing just hasn’t worked,” explains Peter Corney, who until last June was vicar of St Hillary’s Anglican Church, in Melbourne’s Kew. “It has failed to capture the hearts and minds of a generation of young people.”
The average size of Anglican and Protestant congregations in Australia is around 70, with more than a third having fewer than 25 attendees, according to the National Church Life Survey. Yet in 20 years, under Corney’s evangelical leadership, the congregation at St Hillary’s grew from 150 to 1000. Most of those filling the pews in the two Sunday evening services are under 25. Further east in the same city, 2300 people pack the pews of Crossway Baptist Church which under ex-missionary Stuart Robinson’s leadership has grown by about 20% each year since the mid ’90s. People lock into clearly defined vision and values, says Robinson. “They want to know where they are going.”
In fact, St Hillary’s and Crossway are the exception rather than the rule in more than one respect. For while Corney believes that the church is entering a post-denominational era, it is an undeniable fact that most of Australia’s mega-churches are Pentecostal, not in itself a denomination but a brand of Christianity that features as its centrepiece the highly charged experience called baptism of the Holy Spirit. The most common sign of a Pentecostal experience is that a person begins speaking in tongues (making sounds that usually they can’t understand and feel they can’t control), but there are other signs such as falling to the ground in a trance or, as happened first in Toronto in the early ’90s, laughing uncontrollably (the Toronto Blessing).
Pentecostal churches have been around since the beginning of the century, but burst into international prominence in the ’70s during the so-called charismatic renewal. At that time, a fair few people attending regular churches were also caught up in Pentecostal-style worship. While some of them defected early on to the Pentecostal churches, many hung in with the old denominations hoping they would move with the times. By and large they were disappointed, and by the mid ’80s large numbers of church-goers were spilling out of old churches and into new ones in a massive shift in the Protestant landscape that some have compared to the Reformation of the 16th century.
That exodus gathered momentum in the ’90s. Between the 1991 and 1996 censuses, Pentecostal groups overall increased their membership by 16%. In terms of the number of congregations established, the growth appears to be even more dramatic. The National Church Life Survey found that between 1991 and 1996 the number of congregations within four Pentecostal denominations, the Assemblies of God, Foursquare Gospel, Christian Revival Crusade and the Apostolic Church, had grown from 832 to 1046, a 26% increase.
The NCLS found that the overall growth in Pentecostal denominations was predominantly due to ‘switchers’, that is people who are joining from other denominations. The survey found nearly three times as many switches joining the Pentecostal churches as there were newcomers without a church background.
The leaders of these new churches make no apology for their gain at another’s expense, “People will go where it’s happening for them,” Phil Pringle, 47, founding head of Christian City Churches and senior pastor of the mega-church at Oxford Falls. At Brian Houston’s Assembly of God church at Baulkham Hills in the north-west of Sydney, growth is limited to how many carpark spaces can be accommodated on the 8.5-hectare site. The church is about to embark on building a 3500-seat auditorium. “Most people here think it is too small,” he says. Already, the Hills Christian Life Centre pushes through 7000 churchgoers on any one weekend. Like those who attend any of the big, new regional churches, they are likely to drive past 100 other churches on their way. The question is, why?
We can talk, as Pringle does, about an “ache” for God, we can talk about seeking refuge from the confusion of modern life and about the eternal longing for meaning. And all these things go some way to explaining the filling up of the churches. But there are more temporal reasons, to do with charisma, seductive packaging, the power of positive thinking, professional standards and, possibly most importantly, the effective harnessing of youthful idealism and passion.
Men like Pringle and Houston bear as little resemblance to conventional clergymen as Brad Pitt does to Laurence Olivier. Pringle, once an art student and still a painter, started his church in 1980 with 12 people in the Dee Why Surf Club on Sydney’s northern beaches. It has grown into a denomination (a formalised denomination, that is) encompassing, according to his estimates, 25,000 people in 100 churches around the world. Houston, 46, runs two Assembly of God churches and one of gospel music’s most successful recording stories, Hillsong Music, which claims annual worldwide sales of more than 2 million albums. Aside from the Baulkham Hills operation, there’s a smaller church at Waterloo in central Sydney with a congregation of 2300.
Not for Pringle or Houston the quiet scratch of pen on paper within the sanctuary of a book-lined study. They move at a furious pace, as much entrepreneur as pastor, as much celebrity as preacher. It is nothing for them to be opening a new church in Los Angeles one week, addressing a conference on the Gold Coast the next, all the while churning out the next motivational book, overseeing the operations of their various training colleges and schools and co-ordinating the activities of roving teams of laptop-toting pastors, big pools of musicians and singers, and expanding counselling and community service arms.
Masters of communications technologies, they draw around them sophisticated teams to produce web sites and videos, music recordings and television programs for broadcast on both free-to-air and pay TV (the Australian Christian Channel is part of Optus TVs basic package). Their core role, however, is to spearhead the growth of their churches by presenting their deeply conservative religious message week after week in a compelling, high-energy, contemporary format.
“I would struggle with that kind of pressure,” admits Father Mike Delancy, a Catholic parish priest at New Norfolk in rural Tasmania whose daily pastoral fare is much more likely to be a funeral service than a baptism of any sort. He’s involved in the ecumenical Awakening movement, and unusually for a man of his cloth, counts many Pentecostal pastors as his friends. “The flip side for them is that when the high energy drops off, so do the people,” he says.
Physically, the churches these men lead (and make no mistake, this is a man’s world – women have a vital place in it, but the Bible’s teaching is firm on the gender hierarchy) are designed to be user-friendly for “seekers”, as newcomers are called. No knee-bruising pews, no distracting religious icons. The purpose-built auditoriums are cathedrals of modern entertainment with all the technological wizardry. Christian City Church at Oxford Falls is in the process of redesigning its web site to give live online access to church services. But even in more modest locations, church services are conceived of as multimedia events – display windows for marketing Christianity – rather than as liturgical set pieces to mark a religious calendar.
There’s none of that intimidating business of knowing when to stand and when to kneel, and which page of the order of service or which number hymn to turn to. “Culturally relevant” is the buzz phrase used to describe the approach. Instead of priests and altar boys, the focus of attention is a rock band, usually several musicians and singers who pump out music with the catchy rhythms and romantic tub of good pop. The words are simple, and projected on big screens.
In fact, the services are not unlike Saturday night variety TV – seemingly effortless, but planned down to the last minute. At Edwards’Assembly of God church in Ipswich each service (and, typically, there are several each Sunday, designed for different congregations) is planned six months in advance by a salaried creative arts director who leads a team of about nine people and draws on a bigger pool of about 70 musicians, singers, sound, lighting and drama people. Edwards explains: “You go to a Barbra Streisand concert and you expect a certain standard of that concert. Why should people who come to our church expect any less?”
Edwards is a former lawyer, a local lad who switched careers in his mid-30s to follow his passionate belief. He’s typical of the new breed of church leader – intelligent, thoughtful and community oriented. Bronwyn Hughes, a member of the National Church Life Survey team, says leaders of growing churches have a profile that closely matches the leadership profile of management literature. “These people function in a similar change environment. [Their role] is about mobilising people, and gaining their trust.”
Some of the new church leaders are traditionally trained denominational ministers but the great majority are not. Melbourne pastor Mark Conner, for example, inherited the church from his father, Kevin. He was a musician and a youth leader before he took over the reins. Houston, too, inherited his church from his father Frank (there’s a dynastic streak in these churches). Robinson, of Crossway Baptist, says his Pentecostal friends laugh at him because he has a string of degrees. “In contemporary church, we don’t place a high value on the status of ordination,” he explains. A leadership “gift”, by contrast, is mandatory. “I think all these guys could run a large company somewhere,” explains Corney, who is now executive director of the interdenominational Institute of Contemporary Christian Leadership.
Yet, curiously, they have relatively little profile beyond their own world. That, it seems, is about to change. “The church that I see is a church of influence, a church so large in size that the city and the nation can’t ignore it, a church growing so quickly that the buildings struggle to contain [it] . . .” write Houston and his wife Bobbie in a manifesto placed prominently in the foyer at Baulkham Hills -just a few metres away from the Brian and Bobbie exhibition stand, a bookstall of their books and videos over which their names are written in neon script.
Houston’s stated desire for influence more in keeping with the size of his church is a sharp new turn for the Pentecostals. Until very recently, Pentecostals have lacked a cohesive national voice. The hallmark of Pentecostal churches is that they are strongly autonomous. Individual pastors run their own show and are not answerable to a church hierarchy. To their members, that flat management structure is undoubtedly a drawcard, but it means these new churches lack any kind of national cohesion, and they’ve punched below their weight politically. But if politics is about whose values are going to prevail, then these communities are finding their voice.
On February 18, Houston launched a new alliance of Pentecostal churches called Australian Christian Churches claiming to represent more than 1000 churches and 170,000 members. That’s by no means all the Pentecostals in Australia. Pringle’s Christian City Church is not yet involved, and may never he (there is territorial jealousy in this arm of the church too).
But the intention behind the new alliance is what counts. “If the people of God see themselves as grasshoppers, everyone else sees them as grasshoppers,” says Houston, leaning forward, his elbows resting on his long legs, the blond highlights in his hair an altogether unsurprising touch in a thoroughly modern preacher. “I want to change inside the church . . . [I want it to be known] that the message of God is valid, that there is nothing to apologise for. I believe it is time that we started to see ourselves as a legitimate voice of the church and no one else is going to see that if we don’t even see ourselves that way.”
Rearing its head here is the old Pentecostal underdog. They are used to being out in the cold. For example, Houston was only in January asked to join the National Council of Churches even though he was appointed national president of the Assemblies of God in May 1997. Pringle comments wryly that “maybe we have enjoyed it out there a little.” And it is undoubtedly true that Pentecostals revel in their outsider status. When Hollywood pastor in pink, the impeccably manicured Holly Wagner (a dead ringer for Meg Ryan) excitedly told of a deal she had struck with “the secular publisher HarperCollins” to publish her book The Dumb Things She Does, The Dumb Things He Does, she spoke of taking her book “out there”. There is that degree of them and us going on here.
So what is the Australian Christian Churches’agenda? Making disciples, of course. There is no other for Christians. “I love this country and I really believe the church has answers for Australia. I genuinely would like to see the church helping people and give them the answers that they want,” says Houston.
Pringle is going down another path. Last year, Prime Minister John Howard opened Pringle’s church at Oxford Falls. Pringle is in Canberra reasonably often, at the invitation of Alan Cadman, federal member for Mitchell, who attends some of the CCC’s services. He has lunched with John Anderson, John Forrest and Brian Harradine. He doesn’t like the idea of Australia developing a Christian political party. Neither does Ian Jagelman, a former Pricewaterhouse Coopers accountant who is now senior pastor of a 1000-strong church in the Sydney district of Lane Cove-Ryde. “I am not sure that we are not better off having strong relationships with our local members and when an issue comes up letting them know what we think about it,” he says. “There comes a point where our church will be so big, where clearly people in the political process will want to know what we think.”
It’s not tongues but
a different way of being a Christian
Why is Pentecostalism so popular? It is now over half a billion strong worldwide, and has been and continues to be the fastest-growing Christian movement in the world. It has made inroads not only in third-world regions like Africa and Latin America, but it also continues to attract huge followings in the United States and Europe.
Walter J. Hollenweger is the leading expert on worldwide Pentecostalism, which he has been studying for more than 40 years. Having grown up in the Pentecostal church, he later became ordained in the Reformed Church of Switzerland. From 1965 to 1971 he was executive secretary of the World Council of Churches, then served as professor of mission at England’s University of Birmingham for 18 years. His seminal book The Pentecostals (Hendrickson, 1972) was recently followed up by Pentecostalism: Origins and Developments Worldwide (Hendrickson, 1997).
What is a Pentecostal?
Worldwide there is so much variety that about all one can say is that a Pentecostal is a Christian who calls himself a Pentecostal. Though Americans tend to focus on the gift of tongues, overall Pentecostals emphasize that God has given several gifts – not just speaking in tongues but also healing and the so-called rational gifts like organization or building a school. Diverse gifts to diverse people. It’s not a strictly theological definition but a phenomenological one.
Why is speaking in tongues the focus in America?
There are many reasons, of course, but one is that American and other middle-class cultures, as in Switzerland, find tongues an extraordinary phenomenon, so these experiences get a lot of attention. In Africa or Mexico, on the other hand, speaking in tongues and healings are not considered extraordinary – they can even be found in some indigenous pagan religions. (Speaking in tongues is not even “supernatural,” as many Pentecostals have found out.) Tongues aren’t even spoken in a lot of third-world Pentecostal churches. Instead, third-world Pentecostals focus on corporate worship, singing together, and Christian education. American Pentecostals don’t seek education as much as an experience of the supernatural.
What have been the key changes in Pentecostalism?
First, more and more young Pentecostals are becoming scholars through reputable universities. It’s true for Pentecostals in Europe, North America, and Latin America. It’s also true for Africa and for Asia.
There are now several hundred young Pentecostal scholars with doctorates, and that, of course, changes the breadth and depth of Pentecostalism. Most of them have maintained their roots in Pentecostalism, so they are now bilingual. They can speak in the university language, in the language of concepts and definitions, but they can also speak in the oral language of Pentecostalism, and I think that is an extremely important part of their success.
Second, this increase in education has led in many places to more ecumenical openness. In the past, nobody wanted to talk to the Pentecostals, and the Pentecostals didn’t want to talk to any of the other churches because they saw them as a lost cause. Now, for instance, there is a worldwide dialogue between Pentecostals and Roman Catholics that has been going on for 20 years. There have also been many contacts with the World Council of Churches, and the latest example is a global dialogue with the Presbyterian churches.
David du Plessis, a pioneer in ecumenism, has been instrumental in both these changes. He went to the Catholics. He went to the World Council of Churches. He went to all the universities. And the fact that he was a reasonable man and also a Pentecostal astonished many people. They thought Pentecostals were all a little crazy and could not think properly. But when they got to know him, they realized that it is possible to speak in tongues and be a critical scholar.
Another change, of course, is the worldwide explosive growth to nearly half a billion adherents.
Why is Pentecostalism so popular?
Some scholars think it has to do with its theology and doctrine. But Pentecostal theology is not homogeneous. Others think it’s because of Pentecostals’ aggressive evangelism. That is partly true because a real Pentecostal is by definition an evangelist, whose faith is as infectious as the flu.
The most important reason is that it is an oral religion. It is not defined by the abstract language that characterizes, for instance, Presbyterians or Catholics. Pentecostalism is communicated in stories, testimonies, and songs. Oral language is a much more global language than that of the universities or church declarations. Oral tradition is flexible and can adapt itself to a variety of circumstances.
Can’t oral tradition drift off into sub-Christian and even heretical beliefs?
Certainly, but overall there is a basic evangelical consensus among Pentecostals. They are similar to the early church in this respect. Early Christians didn’t have a formal, written confession of faith, as Presbyterians and others do today. They had the stories of Jesus. Even Jesus didn’t spell out doctrine; he gave his followers stories of miracles, and taught through proverbs and parables.
The earliest church was united, but not as much through their theology as through the Lord’s Prayer, Paul’s collection for Jerusalem (his theological “enemies”), baptism, and the Eucharist. Their statements of faith were simple, and the simplest was “Jesus is Lord.” It was a very different way of achieving togetherness, and it was achieved through these oral forms.
Ironically, when the ecumenical confessions came later, they did not unite the church. They divided it, as propositional theology always does. But across divided theology, it is possible to pray together, to sing together, and to act together. That’s what Pentecostals do at their best.
Is it fair to say that when you convert to Pentecostalism, you are converting not to a certain theology but to a new experience of faith?
Yes, and that has important evangelistic consequences for Pentecostals.
In many circles, when you become a Christian, you talk about gaining a new understanding of the Lord’s Supper and baptism (they are either more or less sacramental), but other people are not terribly interested in that. When you become a Pentecostal, you talk about how you’ve been healed or your very life has been changed. That’s something Pentecostals talk about over and over, partly because people are interested in hearing that sort of thing.
Pentecostalism today addresses the whole life, including the thinking part. More mainline forms of Christianity address the thinking part first and that often affects the rest of life, but not always.
Yet it seems most Pentecostals are far more right-brained and intuitive than left-brained and rational.
Indeed, the “orality” of Pentecostalism – the singing, the dancing, the speaking in tongues – accents the intuitive. But a mature Pentecostal will try to connect the intuitive and the rational. Always emphasizing the analytical will destroy faith. But only emphasizing the intuitive leads to chaos. A challenge of the Pentecostal movement is to combine rational thinking with its spontaneous emotional side.
This is the challenge for all Christians, really. The rationalist needs the Toronto Blessing and has to be slain in the Spirit to realize that. It sometimes seems silly to me, but you’ll notice that it is rationalists and intellectuals who fall down. People who have a balanced emotional and intuitive life don’t need that. True, some rationalists dance, sing, go walking in the mountains, or play a musical instrument, but then they go back to their science, to rational lives, and the two are not connected.
What most concerns you as you think about Pentecostalism in the coming century?
First, Pentecostalism must confront its tendency to segregate and separate into countless denominations. It’s happening all the time, and it really is a scandal.
The other challenge is common to all Christian churches: What do we do with the ecological threat to the world? What do we do with the threat of hunger and the plight of refugees? It’s a challenge that will hit Pentecostals harder than any other churches because their largest churches are on the poor side of the world. But as Christians, we have a contribution to make — not just in money but in prayer and in developing solutions that politicians cannot.
But Pentecostals are not known for their social activism.
That’s true in some ways, but it is a misconception in others. Many of Martin Luther King’s marchers were black Pentecostals. In Brazil there are many Pentecostals sitting in parliament. And in many third-world countries, Pentecostals are trying to develop new ways of gaining political influence without the game playing we have in the West. In Latin America, for example, they try to work with sectors of the Catholic church to get water or a school or a new street for a poor district. So there are quite a number of places where Pentecostals take up the structural issues, but they do not take them up by founding political parties. They start from the local needs and the local misery people experience every day.
Copyright 1998 by the author of Christianity Today, Inc./Christian History Magazine.
Spring 1998, Vol.XVII, No. 2, Page 42. Used with permission.
(c) Renewal Journal 13: Ministry, 1998, 2012. Reproduction is allowed with the copyright included in the text.
Daryl Brenton wrote this article summarising the influence of 20 pioneers as part of his Bachelor of Ministry studies at the School of Ministries of Christian Heritage College at Brisbane Christian Outreach Centre. He served in Papua New Guinea as a Language Programme Co-ordinator with the Bible Translation Association.
Christ as Saviour, Sanctifier/Baptiser in the Holy Spirit,
Healer, and Coming Lord, are important in the formation
of Pentecostal/Charismatic ministry and evangelism.
The late 19th Century saw a blend of four major doctrines that produced a seedbed for Pentecostal/Charismatic theology and ministry in popular Evangelical and Fundamental circles. These doctrines: Christ as Saviour, Sanctifier/Baptiser in the Holy Spirit, Healer, and Coming Lord, are important in the formation of Pentecostal/charismatic ministry and evangelism.
Edward Irving (1792‑1834) was appointed as a Scottish Presbyterian pastor of a London congregation in 1822. He developed a Christology which essentially said that Jesus took on the complete human condition and was only enabled to live a sinless life or work any miracles through the operation of the Holy Spirit. Thus the means of sanctification and miracles were considered to come via the operation of the Holy Spirit in people. His church used gifts of the Spirit including tongues, prophecy and healing prayer. Expelled from his church, he established the Catholic Apostolic Church. The movement was used by early Pentecostal theologians as an interpretative guide for their own experience.
Charles Parham (1873‑1929) was the founder of two bible schools and many Apostolic Faith churches, author of two books and editor of a publication promoting Pentecostal theology. He was first to formulate the opinion that baptism in the Spirit was shown by the occurrence of speaking in other tongues (1901). This gave emerging Pentecostals an identity separate from previous holiness movements. Along with this, he gave the movement a strong missionary emphasis through his expectation that the reinstatement of tongues would lead to a world‑wide missionary movement and had a large influence on the spread of the doctrine of divine healing.
William Seymour (1870‑1922) was the other outstanding person involved in the beginning of the Pentecostal movement. Seymour was influenced by Parham’s theology and started a mission (1906) which became famous/infamous as thousands of people came to see what was happening. Publication of the periodical, Apostolic Faith reached 50,000 and gave Seymour a wide influence. While his influence was curtailed by 1914, Seymour is still regarded as having influenced every Pentecostal strand, either directly or indirectly through the Azusa St. Mission in Los Angeles.
Donald Gee (1891‑1966) spent a significant amount of time as a Bible teacher, editor, author, historian and Pentecostal theologian. He served as vice chairman and chairman of the British A.O.G. for ten years and three years respectively. With this influence, Gee tried to stifle the parochialism of the day and made efforts to promote ecumenicalism within and without Pentecostalism. His wrote more than thirty books and over five hundred articles.
Smith Wigglesworth (1859‑1947), an effective personal evangelist, was primarily famous for his emphasis on faith and the miraculous healings and other answers to prayer that accompanied his ministry. This combination has made Wigglesworth an important example for Christians of every denomination to believe for miraculous answers from God and was often called the Apostle of Faith. Wigglesworth was influential in the life of David du Plessis through a prophecy and subsequent advice, which directed David into a widespread ecumenical ministry.
Maria Woodworth‑etter (1844‑1924) started as a Holiness minister. Because she was a woman preacher and her meetings were attended with supernatural occurrences, she drew great media attention. From 1885 on, her ministry had large numbers of conversions. She claimed to experience speaking in tongues, prophecy and other charismata. In 1912, Maria preached at F.F.Bosworth’s church, influencing many important Pentecostal leaders in the USA. All of this greatly helped to spread the Pentecostal message and must have served the cause of women’s calling and gifting in ministry.
Aimee Semple Mcpherson (1890‑1944) served as an evangelist for the A.O.G. and later founded the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. She edited a publication, The Bridal Call, opened a radio station, wrote several books, started a bible college (L.I.F.E.) and an aid organisation for the poor and distressed and encouraged many women to enter into ministry. One of her main goals was to challenge her followers to trust in Jesus. Her vision was interdenominational and worldwide, from the start.
John G. Lake (1870‑1935) was noted for a marvellous healing ministry and his contribution to the establishment of the Apostolic Faith Mission in South Africa where he established over 600 churches in seven years. He was influenced by Alexander Dowie, William Seymour and Charles Parham. In his missionary work, John helped to establish one of the largest works in South Africa. Returning to America, John settled in Spokane, Washington and established some churches and his famous Healing Rooms. Here it was estimated that over 100,000 people were healed.
Oral Roberts (1918‑) is internationally famous for his message of hope and healing. Oral’s huge crusades helped to revitalise Pentecostalism after WWII, he was instrumental in helping form the FGBMFI and greatly influenced the foundation of the Charismatic movement with his ecumenical style. Wide spread use of TV, radio, books, magazines, newspaper articles, personalised letters and intercessory prayer made him one of the most influential Christian leaders in the USA. His decision, in 1968, to affiliate with the United Methodist church formed a bridge for the Pentecostal message to move into mainline churches. Oral established one of the most amazing educational organisations in the world. The Oral Roberts University and the City of Faith medical and research facility, both run on Christian principles and prepare many Christians for the ministry, mission work and vocations.
Kathryn Kuhlman (1907‑76) was one of the world’s best known female evangelists. By the age of twenty eight, Kathryn had established a church with a 2,500 seater building and an influential radio ministry. At thirty nine, miraculous healings unexpectedly began to occur in her meetings, bringing her national fame through ‘Redbook’ magazine. She regularly filled a 7000 seat auditorium for ten years, having outgrown one with 2500 seats. Kathryn had a great impact on the Charismatic movement through her widespread fame.
The Latter Rain Movement
George Hawtin (1909‑) was prominent in the early Latter Rain movement. He pioneered a bible institute as a Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada pastor in 1935. George resigned in 1947 and joined Herrick Holt’s ‘Sharon’s Global Missions’ as president. Shortly after this, a revival in the bible school brought him a leading role in the resulting movement. His leadership was rapidly eclipsed as others took on leadership roles.
Myrtle Beall (1896‑1979) ‑ founded the Bethesda Missionary Temple, with a 3000 seat building, from a Sunday school ministry. Originally an A.O.G. church, the Bethesda temple withdrew its membership, as it became a centre of the Latter Rain movement. It provided direction for many North American churches. Her son James succeeded her as senior pastor in the late 1970’s and is an influential charismatic renewal leader and contributed to many charismatic journals. Myrtle’s daughter, Patricia Gruits, authored an important book, Understanding God (1962), which has influenced many churches’ theology in the USA.
Yonngi Cho (1936‑) was elected general superintendent of the Korean A.O.G. in 1966 and is the pastor of the world’s largest single congregation with 800,000 people. Cho has also authored many books on faith and church growth which have been very influential. Perhaps Cho’s greatest contribution has been the establishment of ‘Church Growth International’, which has promoted the principles of home cells, prayer and fasting, which have made such a change to his church.
Demos Shakarian (1913‑) was the founder of the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International and has helped to spread the Pentecostal message into many countries. FGBMFI has over 300,000 members world wide and is a non‑denominational organisation. It has been a great impetus to the Charismatic movement.
David du Plessis (1905‑87) was instrumental in promoting ecumenical fellowship between factions of the Pentecostal movement and later, between the Pentecostals and Evangelicals. Perhaps his greatest influence was in his unofficial liaison between the Pentecostal movement and the World Council of Churches. Through this work, representatives from mainline churches found a non‑antagonistic representative of the Pentecostal message with whom they could establish a rapport. He also lectured in many universities and seminaries This greatly influenced the formation of the Charismatic movement.
David Wilkerson (1931‑) was an A.O.G. pastor who established Teen Challenge as an organisation which would cater for the converts from his successful street evangelism ministry in New York City. He established a bible institute as a part of Teen Challenge and the organisation has become international as World Challenge. David also co‑founded Times Square church in New York City. Of his many books, perhaps the most influential has been The Cross and the Switchblade which sparked interest about baptism in the Holy Spirit from both Protestant and Catholic circles.
Loren Cunningham (1914‑) was the founder of Youth With a Mission (YWAM). Once an A.O.G. youth pastor, Cunningham’s vision has spawned an international missionary organisation that is primarily manned by self‑supporting, short‑term, volunteer youth. Through this organisation, a school of ministry has been established, much missionary work has been accomplished in many countries and aid has been distributed to needy countries. YWAM’s emphasis is on spiritual and physical aid to the mission field and finding, then obeying God’s will.
John Wimber (1934‑) founded the Vineyard Ministries International. John had worked as a church growth consultant with hundreds of churches of many denominations. The occurrence of healings in his ministry in 1977, launched him into an international ministry and an intense church planting program. He lectured at Fuller Seminary on the relationship of miracles and church growth, influencing many upcoming ministers.
The Charismatic Movement
Dennis Bennett (1917‑) was an Episcopalian clergyman who was baptised in the Spirit in 1959. Taking over a parish which was due to close for the third time, Dennis transformed it into the strongest Episcopalian parish in Northwest America within twelve years. His testimony introduced thousands of people to the charismatic experience in the US. and overseas, often lecturing in major universities and theological schools. He helped to found the Episcopal Renewal Ministries.
John Sherrill (1923‑) worked as senior editor for Guideposts for several years and with his wife Elizabeth, has co‑authored several influential charismatic books. His, They Speak with other Tongues was an important book in shaping the charismatic movement. It explained charismatic phenomena and how he, an Episcopalian, had been baptised in the Spirit. He and his wife also co‑authored The Cross and the Switchblade, another influential book
Pentecostalism can be seen as a bridge between the currents of the Holiness movement and the modern Charismatic movement. It preserved a specific type of theology with a strong emphasis on evangelism in the power of the Holy Spirit that has been released into the main body of Christendom in recent years. Its ministers came from all walks and stations of life and reflect God’s multi‑faceted character.
Language Programme Co-ordinator
with Bible Translation Association
One of the stories which really affected me was about an expatriate translator who was working in the Sepik province of Papua New Guinea in the 1970s. Once, after a three-hour canoe ride, this translator arrived in a village of another language group and she noticed that there was a church building in the village square. When she asked the people if there was a missionary staying with them, they replied that no, there was not. She asked if they had a pastor and again they said, “No.” Finally, she asked them why they had built a church and they answered, “We are waiting for someone to come and translate God’s Word for us.” When I heard these words, I began to realise that English readers have dozens of Bible translations, and thousands of Bible resources, but many people do not even have scripture in their language, let alone commentaries, Bible studies, and other books that we take for granted. The tragedy of this story is that no one was available to take up the project in this particular village.
While thinking about these kinds of issues, we met the Executive Director of the PNG Bible Translation Association as he was passing through Brisbane. It occurred to me that if a time ever came when expatriate organisations would have to leave the country, a national organisation could still be effectively in place. So, I thought that helping BTA would be something important that I could do to support the Kingdom of God in Papua New Guinea.
Harvey Cox, Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the reshaping of Religion in the Twenty-first Century. Addison-Wesley, 1995.
Famous for his book, The Secular City (SCM 1965), in which he wrote about the ‘postreligious’ age, theologian Harvey Cox has concluded that ‘Today it is secularity, not spirituality, that may be headed for extinction.’ He invites a generation of Christian leaders schooled in ‘postreligious’ thinking to rethink in the light of Pentecostalism.
A new era has dawned. Cox is global in his scope, insightful in his diagnosis, generous in his evaluation. He writes about Pentcostalism as a sympathetic onlooker, noting its enormous and increasing impact on Christianity, and on the reshaping of religion including the church.
The book will be read widely by non-Pentecostal leaders and theologians. Here is a leading contemporary theologian, whose writing has impacted theological education for three decades, now exploring the significance of this global phenomena.
Part I gives an overview of Pentecostalism. Part II has chapters on primal speech, signs and wonders, ‘the future present’, women, and music. Part III surveys the enormous impact of Pentecostalism around the world and concludes with an evaluation called ‘the Liberating Spirit’.
Old stereotypes crumble in Cox’s investigation. Pentecostal congregations include ‘medical secretaries, computer programmers, insurance salesmen, graduate students in microbiology, and actors and police officers, as well as people who were out of work and down on their luck.’ Here dynamic faith, missionary zeal, and sacrificial involvement in social issues cross boundaries of class, race, gender, age and theological systems.
Cox describes the decline of scientific modernity and traditional religion in the context of emerging fundamentalism and experientialism with the dangers and promise these entail. He hopes Pentecostalism will challenge the deepening ruptures that divide us and ‘open people to new outpourings of the divine spirit and a fresh recognition of the motley oneness of the human family’.
Written in descriptive narrative theology, Fire from Heaven may become a theological classic supplementing the pioneering work of ‘the recognised dean of Pentecostal studies’ Walter Hollenweger who published The Pentecostals in 1972. (GW)