Millions of people disagree with what Israel Folau (Izzy) said or the way he said it, just as millions of people disagree with what the Bible says about a lot of things.
But the crucial issue here is not a Christian footballer, nor even the Bible. After all, Christianity has been violently opposed for 2,000 years since that crucifixion on Calvary.
The crucial issue is losing “freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of belief and freedom of religion” in this free land of the “fair go mate”.
Why religious freedom is a big issue in Australia:
Bernard Gaynor has a background in military intelligence with three tours of duty in Iraq with the Australian Army. Married with eight children, Bernard’s courageous advocacy has cost him more than $400,000 in legal fees. In the process of defending himself he has lost two homes and now lives in rental accommodation.
Since 2013 Bernard Gaynor has faced 50 separate allegations of wrongdoing. Not a single allegation against him has succeeded. He has also defended himself in military inquiries and state tribunals, before magistrates and even in the High Court in Canberra.
A Tasmanian bishop was sued for publishing his church’s and the Bible views on marriage. Some Ministers of Religion have been sued for preaching the biblical teaching on marriage.
A Victorian teacher launched legal action against a Christian college claiming she was discriminated against over her political and religious beliefs in support of same-sex marriage, setting up a test case over faith-based protections for religious schools.
On April 10, Israel Folau posted on his Instagram account the following message: “Warning: Drunks, Homosexuals, Adulterers, Liars, Fornicators, Thieves, Atheists, Idolators: Hell Awaits You. Repent! Only Jesus Saves.” Next to this big, bold statement was the message: “Those that are living in Sin will end up in Hell unless you repent. Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him.”
This eye-catching text was from the Bible, a loose paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10: “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
If someone else had posted this it would almost certainly have slipped under the radar. But Folau was being watched. Partly this is because of his brilliance as a footballer. He holds the record for the most tries scored in Super Rugby. In 2007 he won rugby league’s Dally M Rookie of the Year award for having scored the most tries in his debut year. In that same year he was the all-time youngest international player (he was 18 at the time). …
But it looks as though Folau was also being watched for an opportunity to punish him for being a Christian; indeed, for being a blunt defender of the classic, conservative Christian faith.
The attack on Folau provoked an unexpected reaction: many Aussies were unhappy. They flooded open-line radio with calls in support of the right of Folau to hold and express his faith. This support was not limited to the 52.1 percent of Australians who called themselves Christian in the 2016 census. A bucket load of callers took the line of “I don’t support what he said or the way he said it, but, hey the bloke’s obviously sincere so why is he being bashed up like this?”
Whether articulated or not, the underlying feeling of much of this response was: Australia is a free country. There was a distinct unease about the possibility of losing at least some degree of freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of belief and freedom of religion in this wide, brown land. …
This is no storm in a tea cup: this is central to Australia’s character as a nation and raises three questions: ● Why should there be penalties for defending classical Christianity? ● Why do the rights of one group trump all other rights? ● What is the actual content of the view he is defending? …
But as Folau’s short post indicates, there is more to the story. Here’s the completion of those words from the Bible quoted above: “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:27-28).
There is the offer of God’s love and forgiveness and restoration: switching at life’s end from the bad option (separation, isolation, “hell”) to the good option (connection, community, “heaven”) as a free gift. From the point of view of classical Christianity, Folau saw people in danger and shouted out a warning. In other words, the intention of his message was the exact opposite to how it has been portrayed. And for that Folau is being punished.
In a landmark judgment, the UK Court of Appeal has upheld the rights of British Christians to freely express their faith by handing victory to former student social worker Felix Ngole. Overturning a High Court decision to uphold Felix’s expulsion from Sheffield University, the crucial outcome represents a major development of the law. It is now clear that Christians have the legal right to express biblical views on social media and elsewhere in public without fear for their professional careers. This is the first Court of Appeal judgment regarding freedom of expression of biblical views which sets limits on the rights of professional regulators to restrict free speech on social media.
The ruling is likely to be relied upon in hundreds of future cases. Felix was expelled in 2016 from his social work course at the University of Sheffield after quoting Bible verses on Facebook that were deemed critical of homosexuality. In 2015, he had entered into a discussion on Facebook over the imprisonment of Kim Davies, the Kentucky marriage registrar jailed for refusing to issue marriage licences to same-sex couples. During an online political debate, many views were exchanged on the Christian faith. A devout Christian, Felix quoted Bible verses affirming the traditional Christian opposition to same-sex marriage and of the sinful nature of homosexual activity.
Some months later, Felix was reported to the University of Sheffield by a fellow student and was subsequently disciplined in a Fitness to Practise hearing. He was informed that he had brought the social work profession into disrepute and was then expelled from the course, losing the career he had worked so hard for. In the court hearings, the university argued that Felix had ‘lacked insight’ into the effect of his posts on social media. During his Fitness to Practise hearing, the University had told him that the expression of his Christian views was unacceptable and he was effectively told either to renounce his faith or stay silent on pain of losing his career.
In the High Court hearing, the University of Sheffield implied that Felix was not allowed to express his Christian viewpoint on same-sex marriage or homosexuality on any public forum, including in a church. The Court of Appeal held that it was the university that was ‘lacking insight’ in not understanding a Christian viewpoint. In addition, the Court of Appeal praised Christian Concern co-founder Pastor Ade Omooba MBE for urging that the university seek caution and compromise. The Court of Appeal condemned the position of the university whereby people would live in fear if private expressions of views were overheard and could be reported anonymously.
The court ruled that: “The expression of views on theological grounds does not necessarily connote that that person will discriminate on such grounds.” It was further recognised that Felix had never been shown to act in a discriminatory fashion. The outcome of this case will have significant implications for freedom of speech. Comments made by people on social media, often many years ago, have recently been arbitrarily used to silence viewpoints that people dislike or disagree with. Commenting on his win, Felix said: “‘My personal loss is gain for future Christians’. This is great news, not only for me and my family, but for everyone who cares about freedom of speech.
Felix continued ”I have suffered tremendously as a result of how I was treated by the University and I feel that 4 years of my life have been taken from me. Despite all this, I feel full of joy that what I have lost will be so much gain to Christians in the future as a result of this important ruling for freedom.” Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which supported Felix, said: “This is a watershed case for Christians and a resounding victory for freedom of speech. We are delighted that the Court of Appeal has seen the importance of this case and made a ruling that accords with common sense.”
Williams continued “It is shocking that the university sought to censor expression of the Bible in this way, and we hope this sends out a message of freedom across all universities and professions that Christians and others should be allowed to express their views without fear of censorship or discipline. “Christians now know that it is their legal right to express biblical views on social media or elsewhere without fear for their professional careers. This is a major development of the law and must be upheld and respected in all Christian freedom cases.
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
President Kennedy’s speechwriters attributed this quote to Edmund Burke.
Keyes says that the quote has not been successfully traced:
. . . which Kennedy attributed to Edmund Burke and which recently was judged the most popular quotation of modern times (in a poll conducted by editors of The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations). Even though it is clear by now that Burke is unlikely to have made this observation, no one has ever been able to determine who did.
You can support Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells’ Religious Freedom Petition to go to the Senate. Many Christian lawyers are concerned that the current anti-discrimination bill is toothless.
This link gives you 7 tools to help you:
1. The Issues with Religious Freedom
2. Religious Freedom contents to raise with your MP
3. Sample Letter to your MP
4. How to contact Senators and Members of Federal Parliament
5. Petition by Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells
6. Flyer introducing the Senate Petition
7. Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells Speech on Religious Freedom
New Christian’s Guide gives you a basic introduction to living the Christian life through faith in Jesus Christ your Saviour and Lord.
New Christian’s Guide is an introductory guide for new Christians starting out in their life in Christ. It covers basic essentials including Jesus’ instructions on loving God and loving others, with these topics:
Introduction: Welcome to God’s Family
Faith in God – God our Father
Gift of Faith
Follow Me – Jesus our Lord
Follow Jesus in obedience
Follow Jesus in his Word
Follow Jesus in prayer & worship
Follow Jesus in fellowship
Follow Jesus in service
Follow Jesus in mission
Filled with the Spirit – the Holy Spirit our Guide Born of the Spirit
Living in the Spirit
Led by the Spirit
Fruit & Gifts of the Spirit
2 Love Others Love one another Serve one another Encourage one another
Here is the beginning of this book.
Welcome to God’s eternal family. I’m writing this book as a personal letter to you, a new Christian who believes in Jesus. You have given your life to him and you want to follow him and live for him.
If you are already a growing Christian you may find some help in this Guide also. And if you have not yet chosen to be a Christian and follow Jesus, this may help you to decide.
Billions of people believe in Jesus, the Son of God, our Saviour, so you have joined a huge worldwide family of God. Probably somebody told you about Jesus, perhaps a preacher or a friend, or maybe you just want to read more about him.
So welcome to the family of God. We believe in God our Father, we believe in Jesus Christ his Son our Saviour and Lord, and we believe in God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, who lives in us and gives us new life, our Christian life. ‘Christian’ means Christ in you!
Our Christian life begins with faith. We trust in God. We believe in Jesus, God’s Son, as our Saviour and Lord or King. We have faith that God lives in us by his Spirit and that we live in God now and forever.
That’s good news. Really good news. The most famous verse in the Bible puts it this way:
God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).
Now that you believe in Jesus and trust him with your life you have eternal life. That eternal life does not start when you die. It starts now and never ends. Jesus said:
This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent (John 17:3).
You have done that. You have given your life to God and he has given you new life, his life in you. Because you believe in Jesus and trust him, God lives in you by his Spirit, and you live in God. You have given your life to him and he has given his life to you. So you know him, your God, and you know Jesus your Saviour, because God’s Spirit now lives in you and makes everything new:
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
You are forgiven. When you believe in Jesus your Saviour you ask him to forgive you for all your sin, and he promises to do that: If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-9).
You are clean. That promise reminds us that God goes on cleansing us, not just once, but always, as we trust him and continue to acknowledge or confess our sin and failures. You can do that quickly, and at any time, such as thinking or saying, “Sorry.” Make it a habit. Keep short accounts with God!
You have new life, eternal life. That’s God’s promise. He gives his life to you and lives in you by his Spirit who is also the Spirit of Jesus. So Jesus lives in you by his Spirit and you now have new life: I am crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2:20).
So the old life has gone and a new life, eternal life, has begun in you. You are born again with new life, God’s life ion you.
You are in God’s family. You have a worldwide family of God’s people, your brothers and sisters. You will get to know some of them well in your local church or group. You will also find many brothers and sisters in other places worldwide. We all share God’s life together and we grow in the unity of his Spirit.
What about problems?
Does this new life mean we are now free from all our problems and difficulties? No, but we do have a new life as we encounter problems and difficulties. We have God’s help and guidance in new ways. God promises to guide and help us, and Jesus promised that his Spirit, the Holy Spirit, would help us.
You now have this amazing new life with God your Father and Jesus your Saviour and Lord living in you by his Spirit, the Holy Spirit, who helps us. Jesus said:
If you love Me,keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, andHe will give you anotherHelper, that He may abide with you forever —the Spirit of truth,whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with youand will be in you.I will not leave you orphans;I will come to you (John 14:15-18).
You have God’s help, always. That never ends. So we face our problems and difficulties trusting in God to help and guide us.
How do we go about living this new life with God’s help?
We keep on trusting him. We keep on living for him, with his help and strength. He is our intimate Friend and Guide.
So the title of this little book is not mainly about principles but about a Person. The New Christian’s Guide is God in us, Jesus living his life in us by his Spirit, and guiding us.
That’s a life-long adventure! We can all learn to let God be our Guide more fully, and trust in Jesus to lead and help us by his Spirit now within us, teaching us, leading us, helping us, empowering us, and transforming us.
So, do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2).
Easy to say – hard to do!
Yes, in some ways it is easier said than done. Living the Christian life is not always a piece of cake. It can be tough at times as we keep listening to Jesus and obeying him. But, as an old hymn says:
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
Living this new Christian life means that we trust and obey our Guide. He leads us by his Spirit within us. So now, as you read this, you could pause and thank him that he is with you, he is within you, and he promises to guide you.
If you find some resistance inside you, just confess it. We all resist God’s great love and holiness at times, so we need to just confess that, know that he forgives and cleanses us, and that he promises to help and strengthen us as we live for him.
The rest of this New Christian’s Guide is my attempt to help you follow your eternal Guide, your Father God, your Saviour Jesus, and your Guide and Helper the Holy Spirit.
Jesus said that the most important commandments of all are just two, so let’s explore that with our New Christian’s Guide:
‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it:
‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:37-40).
Our obedience springs from love and flows strong in God’s love. We love Him because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).
Love is why we obey
Jesus says that we will obey his commandments because of our love for him. We obey from love, not just from duty. Our duty becomes our delight. We love him and love to live for him and please him.
We understand about obeying in love with people we really love such as our parents or husband or wife. We love to please them because we love them. It’s our delight, not just a duty. We love to please or obey them, and we are so happy when our love pleases them.
Jesus’ obedience was a natural part of his loving relationship with his Father, and he calls us into loving obedience also.
If you keep My commandments you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love (John 15:10).
Jesus lived in full fellowship and intimate loving relationship with his Father. Consequently, his obedience flowed naturally and supernaturally from that.
So this book explores how we can obey Jesus in love by loving God and loving others. Loving God and loving others are inter-related. John, the Apostle of love, reminds us:
Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also (1 John 4:20-21).
Believing in God and in his Son Jesus changes us and enables us to love God and to love one another.
Jesus reminds us that the greatest of all the commandments is to love God.
God’s love for us brings us into a loving relationship with him and with others. You could thank him for his love right now!
C S Lewis wrote, “On the whole, God’s love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for Him. Nobody can always have devout feelings: and even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about. Christian Love, either towards God or towards man, is an affair of the will. If we are trying to do His will we are obeying the commandment, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.’ He will give us feelings of love if He pleases. We cannot create them for ourselves, and we must not demand them as a right. But the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not” (Mere Christianity, Book 3, Chapter 9, emphasis added).
Jesus pointed out that our God who loves us is One Being. Jesus and the Father are one in eternal union with the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, I and the Father are one. … Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. … But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. (John 10:30; 14:23, 26). We have one God revealed in three divine persons who love us: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
That is a divine mystery, but God reveals himself to us as we believe in him and trust him daily.
Here is a simple way to understand how God is always with us and within us.
We breathe all the time, usually without thinking about it. Now that you are thinking about it you may even breathe more deeply, or take in more breath!
The Bible has one word for breath, wind and spirit. So translators choose the most appropriate English word to translate it from Hebrew (ruah) or Greek (pnuema).
Our natural breathing is rather like breathing in the breath of God of the Spirit of God, by faith. Just as our physical breathing helps to cleanse our lungs and bodies so our spiritual breathing also cleanses us.
We breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide continually without even thinking about it. Similarly, in our relationship with God we continually inhale God’s breath, his Spirit, and exhale impurities, by faith, by trusting God.
Another physical picture or parallel is how our heart continually pumps blood throughout our bodies without us thinking about it, cleansing our bodies. Similarly, the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, goes on cleansing us from our sin, for if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).
That verse gives us another picture or parallel. The sun always shines, even on cloudy days. So in daylight we live in the light without thinking about it. It’s natural. We can see. Similarly, as we live by faith in God we live in his light. God is light and in him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5).
As a Christian, you are born again into a new life with God, who is light, so you live in his light. Living that way means that you are continually cleansed because of Jesus’ blood given for us all in his death on the cross. So now you have new life, the life of God’s Spirit living in you constantly.
All of that helps us to love and thank God for all he has done for us in creating us, redeeming us from sin, and living in us as we live in him by faith.
So this section on loving God looks at these three dimensions of loving God:
Faith in God our Father
Following Jesus our Lord
Filled with the Spirit our Guide
A prayer of faith you can pray:
Thank you my Father and God for loving me. Thank you Jesus my Saviour and Lord for dying for me. Thank you Holy Spirit of God for living in me and giving me new life, the life of Jesus in me. Forgive me for my sin and I choose you now. Thank you Lord my God for forgiving me and saving me. I give my life to you and I choose to live for you. Help me to live for you always. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Discerning what is of God, and what arises for other reasons is no easy task. We may all see the same things but our interpretations will differ. Objectively, all we have to go on is the observation of behaviour. But we also draw on experience, background, context and spiritual discernment to refine these observations. Behind all that we may carry some deeply-held convictions, both theological and psychological, which tell us what to expect as normal.
History and Scripture combine to tell us certain things are to be expected when the Spirit of God is at work, and this information can help us to some degree to discern the authentic from the counterfeit. Yet we then have to qualify that, since if something unexpected occurs, fitting no known pattern, we have to choose between saying ‘This must be counterfeit’ or ‘The Spirit blows where he will and we must not presume to limit God’. With guidelines like that, practically anything can be identified as the Spirit’s work, or demonic counterfeit, or neither.
So far, I have not been very helpful. In part I think this arises because our dilemma may arise from asking the wrong questions, or the right questions in the wrong way.
Come with me and observe a scene. I see a large number of men and women, some sitting, some standing, some silent, others singing, others again talking apparently to themselves, and on coming closer we can make no sense of what they say. Some sway, others rock to and fro. Some put their hands in the air and leave them there for some time. Others lie on the ground and roll around. I try to engage them in conversation but they seem to be in a private world of their own, quite unresponsive to conversation.
What is it?
What are we to make of these unusual kinds of behaviour? Is this sick, is it demonic, is it theatrical pretence, is it ecstatic? Is God being honoured, and if so how can we know?
My picture is in fact a collage from experiences over the years. This description could well fit my time working in the chronic back wards of a psychiatric hospital before the new anti-psychotic drugs arrived – the snake-pit days, still within living memory for some. The picture might be of a Balinese festival, with extended ceremonies, prayers and fire-walking. In this case we can also add a good deal of colour and music and flowers. The fire-walkers are impressive, whether due to trance or the help of some drugs, I cannot tell.
The picture might also be that of a camp meeting with Rodney Howard-Browne, or the Toronto Blessing, but there, in addition to colour and music I would see many people falling on the ground and laughing uncontrollably. With these additions, we might also have been spectators in a large presentation of stage hypnosis by a skilled performer – a theatrical event in which these as well as other bizarre and unusual behaviours could be observed, strictly for entertainment.
My point in bringing these four together is that if we merely observe what is happening in a detached way, without a context, we shall witness a remarkable degree of similarity, but this will not answer the underlying questions of meaning. Seeking to sort experiences into the emotional or the psychotic or the spiritual by no means exhausts the categories of relevance. Emotional may be the product of something physiological, like a natural biochemistry imbalance, or a drug trip. It may be more the product of inter-personal influences, such as openness to suggestion, persuasion and imitation. Spiritual can, of course, also be sub-divided to ask whether we are responding to a movement of the spirit or some demonic influence.
Even when we have identified all the categories, a sound answer will still elude us because interactions between all the categories can and do occur. To ask about ‘either/or’ when it is both – and is to set ourselves up for confusion. This has been a recurring problem for pentecostals since the days of the Azusa Street revival to the Toronto Blessing, as many commentators have noted 1.
In particular, Harvey Cox makes some interesting comments about the confluence of thinking from faith and science when he remarks,
A rush of research has appeared in scientific journals on the significance of the so-called placebo effect, as the recognition dawns that the improvement patients frequently experience after they have had ‘nothing but a sugar pill may stem from the trust they place in the doctor. New research points to the possibility that certain ritual acts might actually trigger human endocrine and immune systems, and evidence has revealed the vital importance of a patient s perception of being loved and cared for in his or her recovery. A few medical researchers have begun to ask whether what they call ‘altered states of consciousness or trances (which the pentecostals called being ‘slain in the Lord ) can help release the body s inner healing mechanisms (1995:109).
You might want to argue that we can only discern the true nature of the events by abandoning the objective stance and being involved as participators. That argument is attractive at a Christian Convention, but I prefer not to adopt the strategy for understanding the alternatives – like becoming psychotic to understand psychosis. Nor should we risk demonic involvement in order to discern. An objective position based on Biblical wisdom should suffice. I prefer, therefore, to confront such questions by asking some strategic questions.
1. Does it matter if the behaviour looks remarkably similar in these quite different settings?
I sense that some are bothered by the parallels, but for me the answer is ‘no’. I observe the Balinese at prayer and worship and know that they are not worshipping Jesus Christ, but that does not invalidate prayer and worship as human activities. I can observe someone raise a hand in the air – it may be to worship, but it may be for many other reasons too. Stage hypnotists love to demonstrate the phenomena of hand levitation- they are simply using naturally occurring phenomena.
In the past I might have raised the question whether the behaviour was voluntary or involuntary, favouring actions undertaken by choice and expressing concern over what might be beyond personal control. I now know that the distinctions between voluntary and involuntary are meaningless, as we have learned that it is possible to gain control over apparently involuntary behaviour 2.
I might also have asked whether the behaviour was undertaken consciously or unconsciously, but here too the convenient separation we grew up with (due largely to Freud’s influence) has broken down3, so that today we speak of various states of consciousness – alert, asleep, drowsy, preoccupied, dissociated, anaethetised, hypervigilant, etc. We can track the changes through monitoring brain function and find that some tasks are undertaken better by one part of the brain than another. The psychotic’s behaviour is modified by drugs which affect specific pathways and linkages, sometimes with striking results. Listening to me now, you need your left brain to be active, to follow the logic of an argument strung together in sentences in linear fashion. However as we sing and worship together, we engage our right brains more fully, enlarging our experience to be open to beauty, spontaneity and creativity. Logic and reasoning become less important at such times, and we become more open to suggestion and group influence. Here we engage in rational thought, there we access our emotional world more readily.
2. Is one of these states more spiritual than another?
All those four settings I mentioned involve states of awareness that are different from our usual experience. Whether it be the escape from reality of the psychotic, the temporary collusion of the hypnotist and subject to dissociate, the frenzy of the religious festival, or the ecstatic response to word and music at a camp meeting, we can all recognise that an alteration occurs. Disinhibition, openness to suggestion , altered physiological states and a profound sense of things being ‘different’ are typical. The possibility of powerful change in response to an acceptable suggestion is such that many later report amazing benefits. In the Pentecostal context these benefits are attributed to the work of the Holy Spirit.
I repeat the question – is one state more spiritual than another? Is the highly right-brain focussed experience of tongues and slaying in the Spirit more scriptural than the left-brained activity of reading scripture or listening to a sermon? Are the left brained advocates of propositional truth more spiritual than those who expect signs and wonders?
I hope the answer to that set of questions is ‘no’. When we try to box in that which is spiritual, and separate it from the intellectual, or the physical, or the emotional parts of ourselves, we cultivate the kind of dualism that has confused us for centuries. Just as our conventional categories of body, mind and spirit do not reflect the Hebrew view of mankind found in scripture, so too if we try to label one experience more spiritual than another, we risk similar problems. Evangelicals look down on charismatic phenomena because they are emotional and non-rational, while prizing purity of teaching and doctrine. Pentecostals meantime rejoice in a different kind of knowing which is experientially based, and sufficiently convincing of the presence of God that sound doctrine can afford to follow on behind.
3. If the behaviour is so similar, what questions should we be asking?
The really important questions relate not to the behaviour we observe, but the meaning of this behaviour, and its purpose. In the psychiatric hospital, bizarre behaviour occurs as deeply troubled people, who feel powerless, seek to escape from reality and the demands placed on them. They enter a private altered world where they make their own rules, regardless of the wider world. Some cults do the same, collectively of course. It is not useful to ask whether this escape is chosen voluntarily, as I have already indicated that this is a problematic category. We can understand the escape behaviour a little better if we follow the view of illness that argues that the psychosis is not the problem, but it is the solution to the problem.
The stage hypnotist encourages people to explore experiences in a new way, thereby creating a form of entertainment which rewards the hypnotist not only financially, but also with a great sense of personal power. Stage hypnosis is something I stand firmly against,not because it is intrinsically evil, but because it is open to abuse of trusting people, and it carries hazards which are not justified for the sake of entertainment. The hypnotic state, or trance, is one powerful example of an altered state of consciousness, and one which is readily entered in a group setting without any formal induction being needed.
Patrick Dickson in Signs of Revival writes as a medical practitioner and one who has had a positive experience of the Toronto Blessing in England. He raises as cautions the possibilities of auto-suggestion, hysteria, group pressure of the crowd, and the disinhibition that suggestible people show in such settings4. I am fully persuaded that these concerns are well-founded, but they are no reason to reject the reality of spiritual blessing that also occurs. The dangers of group hypnosis have been expressed with regard to Billy Graham crusades also, even though the overt behavioural expression is less obvious5. What matters is not that this happens, but that we recognise and understand this so that false claims are avoided. This cannot be achieved if we simply deny that powerful suggestion is at work, and certainly not if we follow the view that hypnosis is intrinsically demonic6.
Nor do we need to fear these altered states. Not only can good clinical work be done using them, but scripture is clear that God speaks when people are in trance states. Peter’s vision which occurred in a trance state at Joppa7 is a fine example of an experience that proved to be a major cross-roads for the early church. Some of the Jews might well have supposed that such a radical message of taking the gospel to the Gentiles could only be demonic in origin, as the traditional barriers and categories were shattered8.
Apart from the two uses of the word (trance) in Acts 10 relating to Peter’s experience, the other usage is in Paul’s experience (Acts 22:17) when he reports ‘as I was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance and saw Jesus…..’ The terminology is from the physician Luke in each case, and might suggest a technical sense of the term. Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible suggests that
As other elements and forms of the prophetic work were revived in ‘the Apostles and Prophets’ of the N.T., so also was this…..Though different in form, it belongs to the same class of phenomena as the gift of tongues, and is connected with ‘visions and revelations of the Lord’. In some cases, it is the chosen channel for such revelations. To the ‘trance’ of Peter in the city….we owe the indelible truth stamped upon the heart of Christendom, that God is ‘no respecter of persons’, that we may not call any man ‘common or unclean’.9
Money, Sex and Power
Just ten years ago, I was called to travel from Adelaide to Houston, Texas, to testify to the U.S. Attorney-General’s Commission on pornography. As I left the hearings and walked back to my hotel, I paused at a secular bookshop, struck by the title in the centre of the window, Money, Sex and Power, by Richard Foster. They were actually the three temptations we had been addressing at the commission, as we discussed the pornography industry.
They are the three great temptations we always need to check out when we see something new and growing. In 1994, Harvey Cox delivered a lecture at Fuller Seminary based on his book Fire From Heaven10, his history of Pentecostalism from Azusa St to the present. These are among the cautions he raises as he sympathetically documents the phenomenal growth of Pentecostalism in recent years – he also mentions the oft-repeated charge that there is a demonic element at work.
While expressing cautions, he analyses the powerful positive reasons why there has been such a tremendous positive response around the world. He identifies some of the unmet needs of the urban society, such as loneliness, powerlessness, loss of meaning, a loss of transcendental spirituality, showing how these themes are addressed in pentecostal theology. These appear to be equally powerful in Australia in understanding the response of many to the Toronto Blessing meetings.
So let us get behind the questions like ‘Is this demonic or of God?’ ‘Is this real or counterfeit?’, ‘Is this spiritual or hypnotic?’ As I have thought these issues through, the more have I realised that the questions are presented in the language of traditional pentecostal theology, which is not my tradition, so my own bias emerges as I advocate caution over such dualism.
The divine, the natural, the demonic
I am much more comfortable with a world view that embraces not only the divine and the demonic, but also allows space for the natural – our humanness, created by God, but distorted by sin. I confess my sympathy for the comments of Andrew Walker, who, in writing about Demonology and the Charismatic Movement, says throughout the Middle Ages, a sound psychology of the spiritual life developed that distinguished between God’s acts, the devil’s ploys, and the normal processes of the natural world.
A Christian world view that is divided into the tripartite arenas of the divine, the natural, and the demonic is unlikely to fall prey to a paranoia that dissects the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’. Charismatic theologies and methodologies that do tend to divide the cosmos into God’s kingdom of light and Satan’s kingdom of darkness are in constant danger of first adopting a paranoid world view, and then becoming entrapped and socialized into the paranoid universe.11
Discernment will not create artificial separations, but it can offer wisdom in knowing the balance of forces at work. Even the question of separating the godly from the demonic is not clear-cut since we should expect to find a mixture, like wheat and tares. The fruit will help us discern in due course, but it is risky to pre-judge the balance.
The fact is that God made us complex beings, innately spiritual so that we may relate to Him. If these unfamiliar experiences bring people into a more intimate relationship with God, then we should welcome them. At the same time there will be people attracted to the phenomena ,seeking not God but the experience. Others will be attracted by the temptations of money, sex and power. To the extent these overshadow the Godly purpose of the experience, they will compromise the gospel, yet without extinguishing it.
The most common question I hear is ‘Are we dealing with something spiritual, or something psychological, and how can we know the difference?’ The question is impossible to answer because it comes from false assumptions. The dualism in the question, spiritual or psychological, comes from Greek thought, in contrast to the unified view of mankind expressed in Hebrew thought –
Plato had made a clear-cut distinction between mind and matter. Although Aristotle had recognised they were interdependent, he still insisted mind and matter were unlike. Even Descartes, who marks the beginning of modern psychology, held to a dualism…12
Wholeness and integration
Hebrew thought emphasises that wholeness or healing can only occur when the spiritual and the emotional come together as a total entity – the self.
Religious experiences are spiritual. They are also emotional, or should be. A response to the gospel is profoundly emotional in its significance. Worship, laughter, joy all bring changes which affect the emotions well as the endocrine system such that illnesses may be reduced or even cured. There is now a respectable literature on the effects of laughter in assisting cancer sufferers13.
We cannot automatically attribute the benefits of sustained laughter to the work of the Holy Spirit. Such phenomena are also seen in other religious contexts as well as totally secular ones. Nor should we dismiss benefits because they seem unusual, or because we find them hard to understand.
I believe in a God who cares as much about my emotional health and physical well-being as he does about my spiritual condition. And I believe that all these are inextricably entwined as one entity, the person, so that benefits to one affect all the rest, just as harm to one area also impacts the rest. I have found it helpful personally to follow these questions of interaction through with David Benner, who in his book Psychotherapy and the Spiritual Quest14 develops a strong argument for embracing the Hebraic understanding of human nature, favouring the term psychospirituality as a challenge to our dualist categories.
The either-or question is the wrong one, so the question about how to discern which is which becomes moot. Graham Twelftree, writing on the demonic, remarks helpfully on the difficulty when he says
An increasing number of psychologists and therapists employ a multiple-causation approach, recognising that mental illness and the demonic are not mutually exclusive but that either, both or neither may be the cause of illness. However, there are those represented by John White, who consider that science is helpless in diagnosing the presence of the demonic: ‘I can conceive of no demonic state which cannot be explained by a non-demonic hypothesis’. Therefore, because of the subtle, incoherent and devious nature of the demonic, the pastor or healer requires a God-given facility to discern the possible demonic dimensions of an illness.15
Although this paper was invited to have a primary focus on the current manifestations of the Toronto Blessing, it it clear that the question of discernment goes much wider than this. Quite apart from efforts to discern what is of God in major movements, there is also the personal question that presents when individuals show unusual signs of activity which may have similar ambiguity. Here too a broad range of opinions exists, from those who deny the demonic, to those who percieve this to be a very common phenomenon, all too often missed by secular and even Christian counsellors.
A ministry of discernment
Here too I would offer similar cautions to those above. While I have personally no doubt about the presence of the demonic in the experience of some who come for help, I could not be certain of this or more than a handful of cases in thirty years of practice. On those occasions, a time of prayer has been helpful but I have valued being able to call on those with specific gifts who have used their deliverance ministry to bring release.
On the other hand, I have met dozens who had been reported by their pastors as being possessed or demonized, whose condition had not improved with spiritual ministry, but who were benefitted by conventional psychological treatments. This suggests that a broader knowledge of alternative explanations would be helpful among those who exercise a ministry of discernment.
The most important area these days in which great care should be exercised lest people are actually made worse is in the area of what used to be called multiple personality disorder (now dissociative identity disorder)16. It is a common pattern for such persons to reject unacceptable parts of themselves as a key part of the disorder, even calling such parts evil or demonic, as their mode of trying to understand what is happening to them. This is particularly the case where Christians are struggling to understand the splitting which has occurred in their experience. Some are also able to recognise parts which are distinct or non-self, and not just unacceptable parts of the self. It is essential to distinguish between these two aspects, since the former parts need to be acknowledged and re-integrated into the whole person if healing is to be achived, while the latter parts may be understood as evil influences needing deliverance.
Concerning discernment, the important questions are ‘What is the outcome? ‘What is the fruit?’ ‘Is God glorified?’ ‘Are his works manifest?’ ‘Is there personal spiritual growth?’ ‘Is the body of Christ blessed?’ This is not just a ‘means justifies the end’ argument. We need great sensitivity and respect for one another when altered states of consciousness occur. There is vulnerability and trust at stake, so manipulation of any kind in order to promote signs and wonders cannot be ethically justified. We all know that short term ‘cures’ can remit later and engender bitterness and disillusionment against God.
In some contexts, powerful effects lead people away from God – to seek power, or money, or self-aggrandisement or occultic involvement or, as with the psychotic, an escape from reality. Where we see real and lasting change,with maturity of spirituality and a desire to know God more, then I believe God is at work, even though we recognise that human failings complicate that truth.
1.e.g. The most obvious either-or polemical tract is Henry Sheppard’s A New Wave of the Spirit? Revival or Satanic Substitute? Paradise, SA 1995.. For a solid historical commentary see Chap 2 of Harvey Cox Fire from Heaven. Addison Wesley, 1995. Specifically addressing the Toronto Blessing and RHB, see ‘Is it Revival?’ Mainstream, Summer 1994; Nigel Copsey, ‘Touched by the Spirit’, Baptist Times, Sept 15, 1994; Harry Westcott’s Vision Newsletter No. 64; Toronto Blessing-true or false? PWM Trust, 1994; Geoff Strelan, ‘Toronto Blessing: The Facts’, New Day, Feb. 1995.
2. In the clinical area, the use of biofeedback, which grew out of psychological research in the sixties, especially through the work of Neal Miller, has been developed as a way of gaining control over functions such as heart rate, pulse and body temperature with tremendous health benefits. Pain management, muscle re-education and migraine treatment are among the striking benefits.This approach relies on technology. Other religions have taught such control, using meditation and relaxation techniques, for centuries, especially in Asia.
3. Not only is there greater complexity of thought in relation to conscious/unconscious experiences. In addition, the very negative understanding of the unconscious as the residual location for our evil impulses and secret sinful desires is giving way to recognition that the unconscious can also be the repository of creativity, appreciation of beauty and the capacity for much good that has remained hidden. This more Christian understanding challenges the negative view of the Freudians. See especially, Wanda Poltawska, ‘Objectifying Psychotherapy’, Catholic Medical Quarterly, May 1992, 18-23: and George Matheson’s entry ‘Hypnosis and Spiritual Experience’ in Baker’s Encyclopedia of Psychology (ed. D. Benner) 1985.
4. Quoted in S. A. Baptist News, April, 1995, p.1.
5. A good historical linkage between trance phenomena and religious experience, and with reference to experiences in crusades, see George Matheson, ‘Hypnotic Aspect of Religious Experience’, Journal of Psychology and Theology, 1979, 7, (1), 13-21.
6. This argument was advanced by Nader Mikhaiel, Slaying in the Spirit – The Telling Wonder (self published, 1992). He makes a convincing case for showing that the phenomena of slaying in the Spirit are very similar to those found in hypnotic states, but then goes on to a guilt-by-association argument that hypnosis is intrinsically demonic, and therefore rejects what happens when people are slain in the Spirit. This association with the demonic is illogical and unwarranted. There really is no reason to fear the professional and ethical use of hypnosis for therapeutic purposes. Most of the objections to it arise from false stereotypes, second-hand misinformation and selective quotes from Christian authors. For an alternative view, see Court, J. H., ‘ Hypnosis revisited’, Interchange, 1984, 34, 55-60; Court, J. H., ‘Hypnosis and Inner Healing’, Journal of Christian Healing,,1987, 9,(2), 29-35, and Court J. H. (in preparation) Hypnosis, Healing and the Christian.
7. Acts 10:10
8. Acts 10:28; Gal.3:28
9. Smith, William (1863) A Dictionary of the Bible. London. pp. 1566-68.
10. Cox, Harvey (1995) Fire from Heaven. Addison-Wesley.
11. Walker, A. (1994) ‘Demonology and the Charismatic Movement’, In T. Smail, A. Walker and N. Wright (eds.) The Love of Power and the Power of Love. Minneapolis: Bethany House. p. 56.
12. Whitlock, Glenn (1983) ‘The structure of personality in Hebrew psychology’, in H. N. Malony (ed) Wholeness and Holiness. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. p. 47.
13. The emerging specialisation of psychoneuroimmunology is proving very effective in bringing healing, and conceptually challenging the traditional dualism. Norman Cousins was a pioneer in showing that laughter can be therapeutic.
14. Benner, David. (1989) Psychotherapy and the Spiritual Quest. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
15. Graham Twelftree, writing an entry ‘The Demonic’, in David J.Atkinson and David H. Field (eds.) New Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Pastoral Theology. Leicester: InterVarsity Press. 1995. pp. 296-297.
16. Dissociative Identity Disorder is the term now used in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, 1994 (known as DSM-IV).
4 My Conversion, Theological Studies and Persecution
5 Foreign Land – Australia
6 My Dream for an Orphanage
7 Light Home
8 God’s Miraculous Provisions
9 Ministries and Opportunities
10 Stepping out in Faith
11 Children’s Issues
12 My Dream
My Dear Friend, I take this opportunity to thank you for choosing to read my book. I am sure that you have read many books so far. Every book or life story you read has offered something to you. Now you are about to read another book that has something for you. Though I am part of this story, it’s not really about me. However it is about the One who created me, who called me, who guiding me, who gave me the vision, who entrusted me at work and who is using me for His glory in India. So it is all about my God who transformed my life.
In my life, I never thought that I would write a book. I didn’t think that there would be something to write as a book about my life. But God has led me to write my life story to encourage each and every believer to trust God more. In this book, you are going to read my life from childhood till today. Especially the last four years have been something different in my life that I never imagined or dreamed of. All these four years are filled with God’s miracles, miracles and miracles. You may wonder how these miracles happened in my life. In this book I am going to share how I am seeing the miracles by trusting God. I am also going to share with you how God raised me from a remote village in India to show His love to needy children in India. Through this book I want to bless you, encourage you, inspire you and challenge you to trust God even more.
Do you agree with me that your story, my story and our story is part of the biggest story! That is God’s story. So now you are going to read His (God’s) story. Here I would like to request you not to listen to me, but listen to God and what He is going to speak to you through this book. I am sure your time will not be vain for choosing to read this.
It is my sincere prayer and hope that God will speak to you through this book to be able to see the need and to take action together to show His love to the orphan, poor and needy children of India.
So without further delay I let you to get into the book.
Enjoy your reading,
Brother Elisha Chowtapalli
Some photos from the book
Endorsements by friends of LIGHT Home
Elisha’s work in India is astounding and inspirational. His passion for God and the poor, especially children and old people has led him to many ventures. Each vision he has is followed up by hard work and determination to give people a better life to be lived. Elisha’s faith in God has led to the building of an Orphanage for 50 children; a Garden of Eden to feed and support children and old people; tailoring classes for women to start their own business and a Bible College. He also organizes crusades and conferences for pastors, women and youth. Over and above this Elisha arranges food, clothing and Bibles for those in need in surrounding areas. It is amazing what he has achieved in just four years with the help of family and friends, and all have benefitted greatly. We wait in awesome wonder for the next vision. Elisha we are very proud of you.
Leighton, Nanette, Christel and Wade White
Mine was the oldest face amongst this sea of national and international students all gathered to live and work together for three months to learn about serving God through festival outreach. If I felt like a fish out of water, gasping to adjust to the cultural shock of being a student and getting to know this mixture of people that I was eating with, sharing accommodation with, and learning all the rules, rules, rules that the hierarchy insisted on – how were these international young people coping?
One young Indian man touched my heart. We learnt that he was from a very poor Indian village and belonged to the poorest of poor caste system, the Dalits. Here he was, coping with all this, as well as trying to understand the language, eating foreign food (pumpkin… how could we eat that?) and learning Australian cultural everyday norms, such as flushing the toilet paper down the loo. Elisha simply watched and learnt, while at the same time listening to God seeing a vision for his own people in desperate need back in his hometown. No amount of Western comfort and “celebrity status” amongst us could deter him from his goal, “to start an orphanage in my house on 19th August 2007”. “Orphanage in your house?” I’d say, “What do you own?” “I am oldest son – my father’s house is mine, two rooms – we will live in one and the orphan in the other,” Elisha would reply with a determined look in his eyes.
And he did. From these humble beginnings he has established the orphanage and then many programs, to help his people to live a better life. However more importantly he shows them how much God loves them. For the Dalit caste people who are told they have no worth in life to discover how precious they are to God, become one of his children and inherit eternal life, it is life changing.
I had the privilege of attending Elisha’s wedding and visiting the Light Home, seeing first hand some of his programs in action. I cannot describe the joy it brought to see all this first hand, to talk to those who benefit and see hope and dignity restored. I am sure you will enjoy reading about Elisha’s journey and how God uses those who are willing to step out, no matter how little they have, to help the widows and orphaned. Don’t be surprised if God challenges you too.
Manilla (NSW), Australia
I first came to know Elisha in 2006 when Sam (my husband) & I billeted him while he did a course with Fusion [Certificate III in Youth & Community Work (Christian)] in Australia. His great desire was to help his people in India come to know the one true God and to help reduce their poverty by starting a Home for children through which they would know God’s love and get an education. We promised to support Elisha with this dream and over the past three years have witnessed the incredible work God has done. By opening their home to needy children Elisha’s parents and family provided him with the initial support his dream needed. I pray God will bless them abundantly for their self-giving love, faith and trust in Him.
I feel that the Light Home Ministry is doing a great work answering Christ’s command to care for the poor, as well as share the Gospel. Through humble servants seeking to fulfil God’s plan may the Light Home and associated work continue to prosper and give glory to God.
Julianne and Sam Hoffard
In July 2008 I had the privilege to be involved with Elisha and a team from Australia in some outreach meetings and some Pastor’s training meetings. I was left with many impressions about our experience in India. The most pressing for me, was the size of the harvest about to come, and the labourers needed to bring in the harvest and disciple the nation. With that in mind, after our time in India I spoke to Elisha about my burden. He too shared a similar burden. It was with that in mind we together in July 2009 commenced the Light Bible School. With 35 students including pastors and leaders we ran an intensive four week long training school. Elisha was one of the few people I have met in India that has the organizational skills, the financial integrity, the profile, and the standing in the Christian community that would allow me to partner with him in this project. I am committed to working with Elisha to help provide an annual Bible School that will minister to as many pastors and leaders as we can, in our vision to win India to the Lord.
Tamworth( NSW), Australia
It’s incredible that God has taken a young Dalit man from working in a quarry earning $1US per day to demonstrating how the Good News reconciles all things to Christ.
Elisha’s heart for his nation mirrors God’s heart in his ministries to the poor, spreading the good news, and feeding the orphans and the widows. I heartily recommend Elisha and his story to you.
Elisha’s story will inspire and challenge you. God takes the weak things of this world to confound the mighty, and Elisha’s story of God’s grace and miracles among the Untouchable caste of India is a testimony to God’s mighty power. Read, be blessed, and take action.
From the Foreword
Meeting and getting to know Elisha has been and continues to be one of the highlights of our lives. First let me tell you how our paths finally crossed.
It was 2nd of May, 2005, as I was laying in my hospital bed, my mind grappled for answers. Why? Why God did this happen? God where was your guardian Angel who was supposed to be protecting my daughter? I had taken her for a joy ride on my motorbike along the road. At that time, without warning a truck ran over us. Anna my precious daughter was dead. My wife Lynda and I did not even get to say goodbye to our precious daughter Anna.
In the midst of all the questions that raced through my head I had a strong sense of the small still voice saying that this was the beginning of a new chapter and that Jesus the Christ would be glorified. Anna was now with him. In a strange way I felt a peace and the presence of God’s Spirit was very real.
It was in 1981 at aged 16 years old that Jesus had taken hold of my life. From the early years I had dreamed of being an evangelist and from time to time had the opportunity to share my faith and see some souls come to Christ. For the next 25 years I tried to be faithful to God and was committed to being a good husband and father to my two daughters, Miriam and Anna. Also for 12 years I had worked hard to build a business and the Lord had brought much blessing upon it. At around age 38 I had begun to ask questions and wonder what purpose God had for our business. We owned our home, we had a healthy savings account, and we had our superannuation, but I was deeply weighed down with life and was desperate to be free from it all. I hoped and prayed that God had a higher plan.
It was while I was in hospital that Lynda gave me Anna’s diary. As I read about Anna’ dream to have a music band called WakeUp, God began to speak. And I listened as a new chapter began to unfold. God showed me that I would fulfil that dream. I began to organize the first WakeUp for Tamworth, my home town. On 16th September, 2006, we had our first WakeUp meeting. I preached the gospel of Jesus Christ and many souls were saved. Anna’s dream was fulfilled and my dream to be an evangelist had just begun. Our business was now profitable enough to finance the “WakeUp”.
Meanwhile as I got busy saving the world, my wife Lynda went into a very dark place for many months. For a time she gave up the desire to live and could not eat food; I began to fear that she would die from starvation and a broken heart. Praise to Jesus the day came when she began to recover. She was then invited to go to India with a group of ladies who were helping women in poor places to build small businesses. Lynda’s time in India changed her life. It was in India as she spend time with Indian women and their children that God began to heal her broken heart.
After arriving home Lynda wanted to take me to India. I praised Jesus that she had again found a reason to live. Twelve months later the three of us, Miriam our eldest daughter included, boarded a plane bound for India.
As we were making plans for this journey I made my first contact with Elisha at a Fusion meeting in Sydney. I was inspired by him and his dream to start a Children’s Home. Over the next two years I continued to hear news about Elisha through Fusion newsletters. Elisha was only 26 and had been a Christian for only four years. I was amazed that such a young person could have such a noble dream. I was inspired by Elisha’s faith and even more so as in time I watched the dream begin to unfold.
The thing that impressed me most about Elisha is his ability to dream a dream and build on that dream. Meeting his family and the Light Home Children has been one of the greatest high points of our lives. Now as I write this I am sitting with Elisha travelling across India conducting WakeUp meetings and church leaders’ conferences. Many Hindus are coming to be baptized and are receiving Jesus Christ the one true God. Many Pastors and Church leaders are being challenged and inspired by the Word of God.
I thank you Jesus for bringing Elisha into my life and making this all possible.
The last page of Elisha’s book:
I encourage you to seek the Lord and see if He is asking you to help one or more children in our LIGHT Home. If He puts this in your heart, please do not hesitate to contact us. You will receive the photograph and testimony of the children you are praying for and supporting.
We have a sponsorship plan. It takes $30 USD or AUD / €27 Euros / £20 GBP to support one child per month. With your kind support a kid will have food, clothing, education, medical supplies and above all he/she will get to hear the gospel. Your help will change in a child’s life forever.
If you support today, if you invest today for God’s kingdom, one day in eternity you will get to see the children and people that you supported present before the throne of grace. And they will testify that because of this person I came here. So would you like to hear such testimonies from the children and families! Then start doing something today. Let us make difference in the lives of needy Dalit children.
TAX DEDUCTIBLE GIFTS: We are proud to partner for Project J686N Light Society’s Development Projectwith Global Development Group (ABN 57 102 400 993), a Christian based Australian DFAT (Dept of Foreign Affairs & Trade) Approved Non-Government Organisation carrying out quality humanitarian projects with approved partners and providing aid to relieve poverty and provide long term solutions. Global Development Group takes responsibility for projects according to DFAT rules providing a governance role and assisting in planning, monitoring, evaluating and auditing to ensure the projects are carried out to DFAT requirements. Tax deductible receipts for gifts over $2 with a preference for this approved aid and development project will be issued by Global Development Group for project J686N – Light Society’s Development Project. Tax deductions apply in Australia, New Zealand, UK and USA.
‘Stand in faith for your healing,’ they exhorted him. They had prayed for his healing with sincerity and compassion, but the long road of days, weeks, months, perhaps years, of ‘standing in faith’ stretched ahead. Who would stand with him?
During those days when doubt and uncertainty assail the heart of faith, who would be there to encourage and pray with him again and again until the conflict was clearly over?
If ever there is need of a small company of Christian friends and pilgrims, it is in such cases. How often the physical dis-ease is a symptom of loneliness, resentment, or buried anger. The care of others in a close knit group, ministering the grace and forgiveness of Jesus can dispel the loneliness, melt the anger, and affirm the healing process.
The small group needs to learn the Christian graces of perseverance, longsuffering, gentleness, faithfulness and hope for others. Those who have entered deeply into a small group experience will know the personal pain, doubt and fear borne on behalf of one another. You stand in faith for a brother or sister. Like the four men who let down their friend through the roof to the feet of Jesus, you bring your brother or sister again and again to Jesus.
Recently a good friend of mine died of a brain tumour. He had experienced several years of remission of what was an inoperable condition. This remission was a direct result of prayer for healing. During the subsequent years, to a large extent he stood alone in his church and there was little experience of a surrounding healing community. Would it have made a difference? I do not know. I do know, however, we have often failed in our healing ministry because there has been no community of Christians in daily, weekly, close-knit support. To be in community means to have all things in common – even our pain and sickness.
Cures are to be looked for, not only in the sick person, but also in the community. R. A. Lambourne (1963: 110) expresses it this way: ‘So a man who has a congenital defect about which he is chronically embittered, may be saved by the loving service and prayers of another person or group and yet retain his congenital deformity, whilst one of the group who has been involved may be relieved of a peptic ulcer.’ Experience has shown us that those with such defects may also have significant healing through persevering, persistent prayer.
The recorded experience of God’s direct intervention in healing over the past twenty years has often been the accounts of healings received through the ministry of the healing evangelist. Books on healing were initially a description of the way God intervened in healing in a wide variety of physical, emotional and spiritual conditions through that healing ministry.
Subsequent literature has come to grips with biblical principles of healing and methods of preparing all the people of God to pray for healing and exercise the gift of healing, but little has been said or taught about the importance of people being immersed in a healing community.
It is good that those at the healing meeting are asked to stand in faith for the person prayed for, but what happens after the meeting has concluded? Many are completely healed and may well stand alone, but not all. What community will these have to sustain their faith as the healing work goes on?
In some fellowships, healing teams are used so that the individualistic approach is modified. The teams are prepared to handle whatever may emerge, whether it be physical healing, deliverance from demonic oppression, or the healing of past hurts and broken relationships. Wholeness of life is the focus. Yet the need for continuing care may not be met.
A person from a strong Christian fellowship who experiences the healing grace of God can depend upon the support of that fellowship. There the healing process will be strengthened in the combined faith and mutual commitment to one another.
It is quite a different experience for people with a history of broken relationships and little personal discipline to find a community of people who will lovingly guide the formation of their Christian life and growth in faith. They need a caring community committed to support them.
The formation of Christian life and character – the whole area of Christian discipleship – needs a long period of painstaking care from the committed community. A young woman convert with a history of broken foster homes and drug taking experienced significant healing, but her life habits and attitudes formed over many years needed to be changed. She usually stayed in bed till the afternoon. For months an older woman would travel across town to her one-room flat, wake her, and see her washed, dressed, and out into the everyday world.
We long and pray for these alienated people to be brought into the Kingdom. Yet we recoil from some of the long term implications of lives that need to be made in the image of Christ. How beautiful that we are not alone. The Holy Spirit grants his gifts of knowledge, wisdom, discernment, courage and healing. We also have one another, if we can genuinely find oneness of purpose and love or common unity. That is community.
Christian community is an ideal we cherish but find difficult to achieve. In the many communities to which we belong – a sociology dictionary lists some ninety – we submit only a small portion of our lives. An ultimate goal of Christian community is to have all things in common. However, in our Western church we have absorbed a materialistic individualism which results in a rejection of strong commitment to group values. A pietistic approach to the Christian life emphasizes our individual personal relationship to God and tends to devalue the group relationships.
The instructions to the New Testament churches were primarily for groups, not individuals. ‘Saints’, commonly used in the New Testament for Christians, occurs there 62 times and 61 of these are in the plural form. We belong together.
Church communities need to provide a structure and opportunity for people to so relate with each other that these relationships show them how to become healing people. Christians in small groups in sensitive communication with each other a more likely to be aware of the needs of the wounded.
To a greater or lesser extent we are ‘wounded healers’. Our own wounds give a sense of identification with the wounded. We have all known, for example, how loneliness and loss bite into our emotional stability. James Lynch, in The Broken Heart: the medical consequences of loneliness (1979: 181), says, ‘The lack of companionship, the sudden loss of love and chronic human loneliness are significant contributors to serious disease (including cardiovascular disease) and premature death’.
He adds that ‘the true revolution of our times is the disappearance of friendship and that has gone hand in hand with the loss of community’. Those who lack the surrounding comfort and support of an intimate community lack one of the most powerful antidotes to stress and disease. In a neighbourhood group members can be immediately responsive to emergent need. The immediate awareness of need and the continuing healing issues out of fellowship; the formation of a new lifestyle from the witness of what Jesus has done in the lives of others. How often, too, the healer need healing. Pressure and stress need to be discerned, understood and prayed for in the whole group.
No group will be free of every ailment and oppression, but what a joy it is to have fellow pilgrims to be part of one’s whole life. In the midst of our human frailty we can experience a wholeness in the Holy Spirit which transcends our weakness. One of our friends, dying of cancer and surrounded by her own healing community, entered into a wholeness not experienced previously.
As Lambourne (1963: 110) puts it, ‘This type of situation is exemplified by the dying patient who makes of dying, as of life, not just “one damned thing after another”, but a “reasonable, lively and holy sacrifice”, a time of growing in wisdom and stature. Those who are near, serving, easing the pain, enter, if they wish, into the wholeness into which the patient by faith has entered … so the community in acts of healing, relieving suffering, and suffering together, enters the communion of saints, the community of those made whole.’
Lambourne, R.A. (1963) Community Church and Healing. London: Darton, Longman & Todd.
Lynch, James (1979) The Broken Heart. San Franscisco: Harper and Row.
Selections edited from A New Way of Living, Nos. 67, 68, June – October, 1993, the magazine of the Christian Outreach Centres. Manifestations like those described here occurred in revivals throughout history, including Pentecost.
One could have been forgiven for thinking they had just walked into a huge wine tasting event, where someone forgot to tell the samplers to stop. But the wine these people were imbibing didn’t come from any earthly vineyard. This was pure Holy Spirit vintage wine.
People were everywhere some standing, some sitting, some stretched out on the floor. It looked more like pandemonium than regular church.
What prompted every church meeting to run at least one hour overtime as the crowd continued in praise and worship?
Put simply, the Holy Spirit was doing something different. Although the phenomenon was so new and unique, to those caught in its flow it seemed so natural.
When the fires of Pentecost fell in Acts 2 not only did the 120 begin speaking in other tongues, but obviously they were very affected in a physical sense.
The sceptics of the day who witnessed the event were saying, ‘They’re drunk. These followers of Jesus are drunk.’ From this we can safely deduce that the 120 were staggering, laughing, dancing, linking arms and singing. In other words, they were generally having a good time in the Lord, who had just visited them in a mighty manifestation.
So it was in the week beginning 2 May, 1993, at Christian Outreach Centre, Brisbane.
Some staggered drunkenly, others had fits of laughter, others lay prostrate on the floor, still more were on their knees while others joined hands in an impromptu dance. Others, although showing no physical signs, praised the Lord anyway, at the same time trying to take it all in.
People who had never prayed publicly for others moved among the crowd and laid hands on those present.
‘When we first saw it in New Zealand early in April we were sceptical,’ said Nance Miers, wife of Christian Outreach Centre International President, Pastor Neil Miers. ‘I’ve seen the Holy Spirit move like this here and there over the years. But this was different. In the past it seemed to have affected a few individuals, but this time it was a corporate thing.’
Neil Miers himself was physically affected, along with several other senior COC pastors, early in this Holy Ghost phenomenon. Later he viewed the series of events objectively.
‘It started in New Zealand and then broke out in New Guinea, and now it’s here. If I know the Holy Ghost, it will break out across the world wherever people are truly seeking revival. ‘For the moment this is what God is saying to do, and we’re doing it. It’s that simple.’
But despite the informal nature of the events, Pastor Miers, adopting his shepherd role, was careful to monitor the situation.
‘There are some who are going overboard with it; just like when someone gets drunk on earthly wine for the first time. The next time it happens they’ll understand it a little better.’
God is doing many things. He’s loosening up the church. He’s working deep repentance in certain individuals, and healing deep hurts in others.
Just like the outpouring in Acts, it was the public ministry that followed which really changed the world. First God has to shake up the church and then He uses these people to shake up the world.
Splashes of this revival have touched people’s lives throughout the Christian Outreach Centre movement around the nation and the world.
Students who usually spend lunch times playing football or talking with friends lined the door of the chapel waiting for praise and worship sessions to begin.
Chaplain at COC College, Mansfield, Koula Konstantinos, said that compulsory chapel times which normally lasted 30 minutes were extending to two hours. The voluntary chapel times at lunch times were consistently attended by 50 to 60 students.
‘Students go back to class drunk, some just crying with the Holy Spirit doing work in their lives,’ she said. ‘I have been told by one primary teacher that the behaviour has changed in the actual class room. We’ve had recommitments, baptisms in the Holy Spirit, habits being broken off their lives. I just see real excitement.’
Koula said the peer pressure which normally quenches a student’s desire to reach out to God was being reversed. Many students wanted to forego other subjects in favour of having chapel all day. She said entire classes are responding to altar calls for recommitments to Jesus.
It could be a children’s worker’s dream! What do you do when most of your class at children’s church is lying on the floor for up to 1 1/2 hours under the power of God?
Phil Radnedge, superintendent of Redcliffe COC’s children’s church, said some of the happenings on Sunday mornings over the past few months defy logic, but he welcomed it as a true move of the Holy Spirit.
‘On a number of occasions our senior section (grades 47) has been completely overcome by joy,’ he said. ‘Normally shy and selfconscious children have laughed uncontrollably for hours at a time as they danced and jumped from one end of the classroom to the other.’
Phil said that even though the outward manifestations were exciting to see, it is the work that God is doing within the children which is vital. As one of his children explained, ‘God is making me bigger inside so I can love Him more.’
One confused parent approached Phil wondering why her once shy, introverted little boy had become confident and assertive virtually overnight.
‘It has been my privilege to see lives radically transformed since this move of God began,’ Phil said. ‘Parents are speaking of children who can’t put their Bibles down; other children are praying more now than at any other time in their life. These children have developed a great hunger for God.’
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Innisfail COC was just as tangible in the Teen Church and Children’s Church meetings as it was in the adults.
One young boy who comes from a broken marriage was prayed for at the Teen Church meeting. Up until then he had been very hardhearted, but after the meeting his mum commented that she had a new son. He even gave her a kiss for the first time when she picked him up from high school on Monday.
Another teenager got on the drums and played the most powerful solo. The teen leader turned to the boy’s sister and commented, ‘This must be the Holy Spirit.’
The girl replied, ‘I should know. I’ve heard him practice and he can’t play like this.’
Others laughed, some wept, some danced, some just lay on the floor and could not get up. Some looked a little drunk and started singing, ‘We’re not drunk as you suppose, we’re just filled with the Holy Ghost!’
But the teen’s leader, Charlie Dalla Vecchia, noticed the greatest wonder: ‘No one wanted to stop when it came to go home now that’s a miracle!’ he said.
Port Macquarie, N.S.W.
Pastor Alan Deeks reported:
On Sunday 16 May our morning meeting started as usual at 9 am
The similarity to any other meeting ended there. People were caught up in a powerful move of the Holy Spirit that had some crying deep tears as God moved upon them, and others were laughing and falling around as if they were drunk.
We were unable to fit in a time of communion and certainly no preaching was necessary as the Holy Spirit continued to move. Apart from the few who had to leave, nobody left at the usual ending time for meetings.
A teenage girl had to be carried from the meeting. Several have had to be helped from the church by other people.
A similar experience occurred again that night, but with a greater emphasis on repentance and crying to God for souls.
The following week the numbers at our midweek prayer meetings doubled, and a great sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit was experienced by those praying.
People no longer seemed to be concerned at the length of the meetings, and we have gone way overtime now on almost every occasion since the first Holy Ghost meeting. People are reluctant to leave in case they miss something.
There is a fresh expectancy in meetings and in people’s lives, and a sense of excitement of what God is doing.
Taree, N. S. W.
As the people of Taree COC prepared for three days of intensive prayer and fasting in early May, they were unaware of what was about to happen.
Pastor Ron Jones returned from a District Chairman’s Camp in Brisbane and shared about the new move of the Holy Spirit. The supernatural power of God was unleashed. People came from surrounding towns to be part of the action.
During the three days of prayer and fasting the church doors were open 24 hours a day. One family from out of town slept over so they did not miss what God was doing. This encouraged other people to sleep over as well.
People prayed around the clock, many becoming involved in intercession for lost souls. Deep travail and groanings were heard, similar to natural childbirth.
At many times over the three days laughter broke out, sometimes with as many as 200 people involved. Many were ‘slain’ supernaturally in the Spirit and rested in God’s power for hours on end. Many wept uncontrollably. Others were prayed for on the floor and set free from demonic oppression. Several couples, on the brink of despair and certain divorce, had their marriages restored.
Pastor Ron Jones said that as word spread, people from surrounding districts such as Forster, came to have a look. He said many caught the outpouring of the Spirit and took it back to their respective churches.
‘Many of the local interested visitors were supernaturally touched. Whether the talk was good or bad around town, it certainly reaped a crop of hungry people and those thirsty for the things of the Spirit,’ he said.
‘We have had prechurch prayer meetings where everyone present was drunk in the Holy Ghost, church meetings where the power of God fell so dramatically that people were slain in the Spirit in the back row of the church with no one laying hands on them.
‘The past weeks have caused great revival among the people,’said Ron. ‘Enthusiasm and spontaneity overflow in each meeting and we have had an enormous interest shown in church by increased numbers of youth as well as adults.’
Newcastle, N. S.W.
Glenn and Jayne Wilson, youth leaders at Newcastle COC, were among the first to experience the Holy Spirit’s outpouring there. For the first time in five years Glenn found himself ‘slain’ under the anointing. He said that as well as finding a total peace flooding his soul, a burning desire for God was also reignited that night.
Another man experienced a supernatural boldness which sprung from his new relationship with the Holy Spirit.
‘Before this new move of the Holy Spirit I used to pray for people reluctantly, and then apologise straight away for my shortcomings,’ he said. ‘Talk about lacking confidence! Since receiving this new anointing, I find that the Holy Spirit stirs up inside me so strongly that I just have to pray for people or lay hands on them. The Holy Spirit can give you a love for people that will empower you for sure!’
Several women have explained that they have been released from deep hurts which they had harboured for years.
Another lady found herself sharing Jesus with people with an ease and desire which she thought she could never know. ‘I can’t help myself,’ she said. ‘A new boldness and a heart for people who do not know the Lord seems to continue to grow inside me.’
Families are also being restored. One man, Allen, spent nearly an hour at the first night of revival on the floor of the Newcastle Centre, weeping and repenting before God until a tremendous sense of freedom and joy flooded his spirit.
‘I have been yearning for a deeper relationship with my wife and children for many months, even though there was nothing lacking in our marriage,’ he said. ‘That night, however, the Holy Spirit gave me such a love for my Heavenly Dad that I couldn’t get enough. Within minutes the Holy Spirit had made my love for God my number one priority and shown me that my wife and kids needed to be second. I told this to my family and peace just flooded our relationship. By putting the Lord first, He has blessed our family so much.’
A spokesperson for the Newcastle Centre said that the church, as a family, was also being renewed. She said there was a new sense of unity and freshness being imparted by the Holy Spirit.
‘There is genuine repentance,’ she said.
Many visions and prophecies have been shared. The prayer meetings are both exciting and powerful, and we’re all getting a desire for God and a burden for our city.’
Passion seems to be the number one word on people’s lips at Hornsby COC since the new move of God started, according to spokesman Begin Markham.
Begin said there had been an undeniable change in people’s attitudes and they now attended meetings out of a strong desire to meet with God, rather than to perform a duty.
‘There is a desire to be full constantly with the Holy Ghost,’ he said. ‘After the tears, laughter and crying out to God, the fruit remaining is a passion for God Himself not the spectacular, but a hunger for the presence of God and a passion to dive into the Word of God.
Comments from other people at Hornsby COC include:
* During a prayer meeting I was crying out for souls, and my heart turned to my 16 year old son who was in prison. I had never cried for someone else so much before. When I arrived home from that meeting, the telephone was ringing, and it was my son. There was an urgency in his voice. He wanted to start his life from scratch and was fed up with drugs and alcohol, which were responsible for his detention. God has moved powerfully. My son has been released early and is back at school, and came to church last week to ask God for help!
* One night I had a terrific Bible study prepared for the home cell which I lead but I felt the Holy Ghost ask me to share about passion. Tears came from my eyes as I heard what God was saying through me and I remember thinking, ‘This is bigger than me!’ By the end of the meeting I had repented of ridiculous attitudes, but the meeting did not end there, for me. It continued until midafternoon the following day. It was easy to give over sinful attitudes and the like, and God gave me more of the Holy Ghost in return. The Lord did some terrific surgery, and I have been free ever since.
* God showed me a vision of myself walking through a fire, holding the Word of God in my hand. Everything around me was being consumed by the fire, except the Word of God. I came through the fire, and the only thing which remained was the Word of God in my hand. I have a greater passion to serve God, and a greater fear of God in my life. I know that I will never be alone again the Holy Spirit is my close friend and is always there. As I felt the Holy Ghost’s love for the lost I was totally broken on the ground in tears.
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory
On 9 May, Canberra COC hosted a guest singer. As she began a song about the prodigal son, the Centre’s pastor, Len Russell, started to sob loudly.
Afterwards he got up and shared with the congregation. People responded to the altar call where the power of the Holy Spirit came and people were slain and filled with laughter.
One man was so drunk in the Spirit that he had to be driven home. He was still drunk two days later and still laughing in the Spirit.
The ladies’ prayer and Bible study group was completely taken over by the Holy Spirit. A lady was so drunk that her husband had to leave work to drive her home. Other ladies had to sober up to drive and pick their children up from schools.
There have been visions of castles, moats, and draw bridges with rusty chains, referring to the lives of Christians bound up by habits or sin. As these areas have been surrendered to God, and after much weeping, conquering these areas became easy.
Caroline, a lady who has had constant back pain since a car accident five years ago, is now free of all discomfort and was filled with holy laughter.
Marcus was a 10 year old with a major supply of shyness and according to his mother Linda, he hardly spoke a word even at home.
But it seems God has done such a work inside Marcus that he is now displaying a totally new personality to his family and friends.
‘He even prays for me!’ said Linda. ‘If I say that I’ve got a headache, he’ll come up to me and start praying fullon, loud, faith prayers. It has carried over into other areas of the home. He is being very helpful and cooperative and very open he doesn’t mind just talking and sharing.’
The transformation in Marcus started at a Victorian COC Youth Convention in June where Stewart Moncrieff was a guest speaker, and continued later at Warrnambool COC.
Pastor of the Warrnambool Centre, Charlie Bartkus, said he was as surprised as the family at the dramatic change.
Apart from clapping, dancing and laying on the ground laughing, Marcus was displaying a boldness which defied explanation. All this from a 10 year old boy who never clapped or smiled in church before, and who avoided looking other people in the eye.
Pastor Louise Swan wrote:
In Melbourne, the outpouring of the Spirit began on Mother’s Day, 9 May. From the outset amazing manifestations of the Spirit began to happen.
A young man, normally very ‘with it’ and ‘together’ fell under the power of the Spirit and began to laugh uncontrollably for three and a half hours. The next month he spent most of the time either staggering around with a stunned look on his face or slain in the Spirit for most of each evening. Often periods of the same laughter overwhelm him. Normally a rather aggressive driver, he drove home from church all the way at 40 km/h and gave way to everything.
Much emotional healing is taking place as some onceconservative people are being transformed through laughter.
One young girl fell to the floor as my husband Barry and I prayed for her release from excruciating back pain. After about a minute of agonising pain and tears she began to laugh, and spent the next hour and a half laughing and free of all back pain.
One young married man fell under the power of the Spirit and lay on the floor for over three hours. He has been totally transformed by the experience.
A lady walked in the front door after a meeting at Melbourne had begun, stood back doubtfully and decided that the church had finally gone ‘too far’. No one came near her, but the Holy Spirit hit her and she crumpled to the floor, laughing uncontrollably.
A Chinese lady, who had watched sceptically through one of the first revival meetings, asked us to pray for her at the next meeting but did not want hands laid on her. She had decided that if it was God, He would have to show her. We began to pray (no hands!) and within half a minute she had crumpled over from the waist in laughter, and then dropped to the floor laughing and crying at the same time. She lay prostrate on the floor for a half an hour repenting of her unbelief, and then got up and testified to everybody of her experience.
One young girl, whose mother had died the previous year, spent an entire evening sobbing with grief on the floor. The next meeting saw her filled with Holy Ghost laughter and she laughed for hours. Her face was totally transformed, as also were her emotions. She went home from the meeting and wrote an anointed song about the outpouring of the Spirit. It has blessed hundreds already.
Many have had visions while under the power of the Spirit or while in prayer. These have included visions of the lost in their hopeless state, visions of hell, visions of revival in all nations, visions of dramatic healings, of bodies coming back to life.
Sometimes people lying together, slain in the Spirit, have had combined visions where all have been watching the same happenings. Each has emphatically confirmed what the other was saying and continued the description.
Marriages have been miraculously restored and many other relationships are being healed. One couple was about to separate and also leave the ministry. The miracle of restoration has to be seen to be believed! They are more in love with one another now than they have ever been, and it happened almost overnight as the Spirit fell on them.
New songs are flowing out of the revival. These have ignited fresh passion for God in the hearts of the people.
Perth, Western Australia
Church services in Perth Christian Outreach Centre no longer hold a routine format, but rather the Spirit is leading and the power of God is having a dynamic effect.
It was Mother’s Day when revival began moving in a way that no one had seen or expected before. Some people began to laugh while others wept. Since then meetings have been held most nights of the week with people hungry for more of God.
People’s hearts and attitudes have and are being changed. Conversations are about the Lord, no one really seeming to care for the everyday events and cares of life. People have been set free from habits such as smoking.
Visions and dreams have been experienced by many people. God’s Spirit has moved, changing people in a sovereign way.
Busselton, Western Australia
The fire of God is also sweeping across the city and country areas of Western Australia. Pastor Helen McInnes from Busselton Christian Outreach Centre said, ‘People have been inwardly healed and delivered. We have not had to counsel, but instead the presence of God has come and is moving. He is greatly purifying and cleansing.’
The main result has been that people are seeking God. God is revealing his glory, and revelation is coming to people about the true meaning of obedience and surrender.
Even though there are outward manifestations, it is the internal work that is eternal. Best of all, this is just the beginning.
Manifestations of the Spirit
Here is a guide for those people who are wondering what the fuss is all about.
1. A passion for God
Men and women are yearning for more of God Himself (Psalm 42:12) and for His Word (Job 23:12). There is an eagerness among people to gather with other Christians (Psalm 69:9) and to pray (Acts 12:5). Much of this prayer is intercession for souls. There is much travailing and prevailing (Galatians 4:19).
People are turning away from sin and dead works and turning to God (Acts 20:21, 2 Cor. 7:910).
3. Restoration of relationships, renewed love
A new unity is sweeping groups of people. Broken relationships are being restored through humility and an openness to the needs of others (Galatians 5:22, Isaiah 58:12).
4. Overwhelming joy
People touched by the Spirit are genuinely happy (Acts 8:8). There is singing (Ephesians 5:1819), dancing (2 Sam. 6:14), shouting (Psalm 5:11) and clapping (Pslam 47:1). Laughter is sometimes uncontrollable (Pslam 126:6).
5. Inexplicable peace
People are finding God’s peace as the Holy Spirit sets them free from grief, confusion, stress, anger, frustrations, hurts and other bondages (Isaiah 53:3, Malachi 4:2, Luke 9:11).
6. Dreams, visions and prophecy
Just as the prophet Joel foretold (Joel 2:28) when the Spirit is poured out many will see revelations with their spiritual eyes (Acts 2:17). Prophecy and other gifts of the Spirit are common occurrence (Acts 2:1718).
Some people are receiving healing in their minds and their bodies (Isaiah 53:3, Malachi 4:2, Luke 9:11).
Selfconsciousness is being swallowed up by a holy boldness (Acts 4:31). People are finding that sharing the Gospel is easier than before.
Some are receiving from the Holy Spirit clearer guidance with respect to their ministry, their work, their families and other areas of their lives (Proverbs 3:56).
10. People slain in the Spirit
Even the sceptics are finding themselves on the floor at prayer meetings, sometimes for hours (Revelation 1:17).
There have been tears of joy and thankfulness and repentance (Psalm 136:56).
12. Drunkenness (in various stages), daze, stupor
Men and women of undoubted character have been seen staggering around as drunk people as they have come under the influence of the Holy Spirit (Jeremiah 23:9, Acts 2:13, 15). People have seemed to switch off mentally and physically as God reveals things to them in the Spirit (Numbers 24:4 and Acts 10:10).
Since these reports have been gathered, similar phenomena are being reported world wide, including reports associated with the ministries of Benny Hinn, Rodney Howard-Browne, the ‘Toronto Blessing’ and refreshing and revitalising of churches in many lands.
The Holy Spirit may at times break down existing patterns of prayer and worship in order to renew his people.
Sometimes this is because of inadequacies in the attitude of those worshipping, as in Isaiah 1:10-20. There God is tired of the sacrifice and worship of those who do not repent.
At other times the working of the Holy Spirit comes simply to give a renewed vision of the majesty and holiness of God, to refresh devotion and commitment, and to lead people to a new understanding of his nature. This is a part of the contiunous renewal of which Paul says, ‘let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts … and the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish … and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God’ (Colossians 3:15-16).
Such a time of renewal took place over three days in September 1993 during second semester at the Bible College of Victoria (B.C.V.). This special and unplanned period became a time of renewal, growth, conviction and great blessing.
B.C.V. is an interdenominational, evangelical college training people for ministry in Australia and overseas. There are about 180 full time students and almost as many more part time students. Ever since its foundation in 1920 individual, group and community prayer and worship have been an important feature of the community life of the college.
The priorities of the college are expressed as ‘Knowing, Being and Serving’. This means knowing God in personal relationship; being transformed to become more like the Lord Jesus Christ as Spirit-filled people of compassion, faith, vision and power, living holy lives in the personal and social realms; and serving God in the world, developing gifts for ministry for building up the church, meeting the diverse needs in society, and proclaiming the gospel to unreached people.
As a consequence of this commitment, time is regularly given over to prayer. Students and faculty pray in daily chapel services, in fellowship groups, in lectures, at meal times, in faculty groups, in pairs and room groups on special prayer days and nights, and in prayer cells for specific issues including healing, evangelism, community life and student ministries. People pray, sometimes with conviction and joy, at other times with doubts and fears.
Continually there are testimonies to the blessing of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is programmed as an important part of college life and God honours that commitment, but on occasions God wants to do something different.
A desire for God
The recent time of renewal began with the group responsible for preparing for a regular day of prayer. Others had a growing conviction that God’s Spirit wanted to move in a new way. One student, reflecting the feelings of many, said, ‘My heart had already been prepared to meet with God – and I was not disappointed. For some time I had recognised the hunger in my heart and my need for God to refresh and renew my weary spirit.’
A number of people felt a desire for the presence of the Holy Spirit. Various experiences indicated that the Lord wanted students to be involved in all night prayer to prepare for the day of prayer for the whole college.
Many would agree with the student who said, ‘For the last two years it has been an increasing prayer of mine that God’s Spirit would move across this nation, and more recently that I would experience more of God’s fulness in my life.’
Significantly, a desire for God to work in this country in a dynamic way is connected with a willingness to allow God to work in a new way personally. It is difficult to communicate what one has not experienced.
One student observed that although none of those who met the Lord on that day would claim the necessary qualities for spiritual leadership in this generation, nonetheless a start was made, for ‘when God raises up spiritual leaders, He first judges them so that they may depend on Him alone’ (Holland 1993:1).
The presence of the Spirit
On Tuesday 21 September about 140 of the college community gathered together in the chapel for prayer. A time of teaching followed the praise and worship. The teaching was brief, about 20 minutes, low key and even understated. Then as people were invited to pray or receive prayer, the effect was as tremendous as it was unexpected.
What had been planned as a 50 minute session became a four hour response to the presence of the Holy Spirit as he touched people’s lives and moved them to prayer, repentance, reconciliation, testimony, praise and commitment. It is difficult to describe this; it needs to be felt.
All who were present found that this was a special time. The college community comprises diverse groups of people from a wide range of denominations and traditions of prayer and worship. Many of them are prayerful people but most had never experienced a time like this.
The Holy Spirit convicted, empowered, challenged, encouraged and renewed people. Forty or more sought prayer. They had a tremendous ministry together.
The day’s program was transformed, replaced by the plans ofthe Spirit. Significant personal matters were dealt with that day and in the days that followed.
One student acknowledged, ‘God was convicting me of my doubt in the Holy Spirit’s power to work in and through my life. … I knew I had once again to give the Holy Spirit permission to consume those parts of my life that had been preventing me from loving God more completely.’
For many, the infilling of the Spirit meant that they were overcome – sometimes with grief and repentance, at other times with joy, often with weeping, and often with relief and rejoicing.
The ministry continued over the next couple of days. People were reconciled. They shared in prayer. They ministered to one another and were counselled.
Two days later, when the college community was gathered together, an opportunity was given for people to share testimonies of what God had done over the past few days. One hour became two, then three and four hours, as they praised, prayed, and gave testimony to the experiences of the Spirit.
It was a time for hearing how people had been challenged about their prayer life, their relationship to the Lord, their relationships with others, personal attitudes, and ministry challenges. Again there were tears and rejoicing.
Lives had been changed, barriers broken down, resistances overcome, forgiveness granted, and blessing received. Although lectures had been planned, they simply did not happen that day. Such was the intensity of the moment that no one wanted to leave the chapel.
Lessons of the Spirit
Four points stand out as concluding observations, although many other things could be said.
1. Historic connections.
There is a connection here with the noted revival which took place at Asbury Seminary in the U.S.A. in 1970 and which had far reaching effects throughout America (Coleman 1970).
The speaker at the start of the day of prayer was the Rev. Mark Nysewander who was visiting B.C.V. with the Rev. Richard Stevenson. Both are part of the Francis Asbury Society (U.S.A.), a society focused on renewal through the Holy Spirit. Mark had been present as a student at the revival at Asbury Seminary in 1970 and is continuing that ministry through the Francis Asbury Society.
2. Future influence.
This experience at B.C.V. may or may not spread to other people and places, but whether it does or not, it will continue to mean a lot to those who experienced it. Many future ministries will be enriched by this personal experince.
Knowing through experience what God can do in renewing a community is essential for communicating this to others and for preparing them for it. The historic connection between revivals may continue as students and faculty better understand the power of God to move people and as they become more confident in ministering in his name.
3. A gentle ministry.
It should be emphasised that the ministry exercised over these days was described as ‘a gentle ministry’ with ‘no hype’. Others were ‘surprised by the quietness’ of the time shared together. It is no insult to those leading worship beforehand or to those involved in teaching to say that the worship and teaching were not extraordinary in any way.
There have been more articulate, more dynamic, more profound sermons preached at B.C.V. than these. The worship was more restrained than it has been at other times, but this time the effect was different from all other times. Clearly, the issue was not human hype, enthusiasm or ability, but the providence of God who initiates and controls.
4. An openness to the Spirit.
While no one can command the activity of God, it is clear in retrospect that there was a willingness on the part of many people, students and faculty, to be open to whatever God had to offer and a commitment to not allowing programs to interfere with the work of the Spirit.
This openness had surprising implications. While many were looking for a wider renewal in Australia, God wanted to work closer to home, with those who were praying.
God deals first with his messengers and challenges them to be the kind of servants he wants them to be.
Coleman, R., ed. (1970) One Divine Moment. New Jersey: Fleming Revell.
Holland, H. (1993) ‘An Extraordinary Day of Prayer’ in Ambassador: Official Journal of the Bible College of Victoria, No. 151, p. 1.
See also comment on the Asbury Revival in Renewal Journal (1993) #1, pp. 44-45; #2, p. 51.
The Rev. Dr Colin Warren wrote as the Uniting Church minister at Rangeville, Toowoomba and Founding Director of Freedom Life Ministries. This article is adapted from his doctoral dissertation with Fuller Theological Seminary.
Main line churches in Australia reach mainly the middle class. We need to recognise there cannot be a dogmatic ordering of the church with respect to forms of worship, language used, and leadership style, if we are going to minister meaningfully to the poor, the rich, and all between. A homogeneous target population must be determined, and different methods of presentation used to meet the needs of each group.
Unity, not uniformity
The particular homogeneous group we are reaching consists mostly of well educated people. When people come from other social levels, they are welcomed warmly. A few remain; mostly they drop away. We despair for allowing this to happen, but I see it as axiomatic that this should occur, unless we analyse why it is happening and do something constructive to alter the situation.
It does not matter how much those from a different homogeneous group are welcomed, they will feel that they are square pegs in round holes. They have different types of conversation, different interests, speak differently, watch different TV programmes, and the children relate differently to their parents. To reach different homogeneous groups, we must develop a diversity of approaches, recognizing different needs in the areas of fellowship, preaching, and concentration span, and tailor our approach to meet the need.
It is quite reasonable for the leader of a highly educated or mentally alert group to lead from behind, using inductive methodology, but a group that does not have the same mental capacity will prefer to be with one who leads them more directly. Similarly, when counselling the first group, non-directive methods could be used more successfully than with the second group, who frequently would be helped more by a directive counsellor.
All of this indicates the need for diversity of approaches, and the need to recognize that to have unity in the church, we do not need uniformity.
Yet, denominations geared to a parish system often prohibit planting unique styles of churches if it infringes on another parish’s boundary. We need a radical change that permits forward looking parishes to exercise vision that allows for obedience to the commission that Christ gave to the church.
We are organizationally geared to a maintenance ministry, not a growth ministry. This means that our churches try to encompass different homogeneous groups within the one congregation and then feel despair when they cannot hold them.
New Testament pattern
Is there a way through this dilemma without causing division? I believe there is. It lies in the concept of the home church that was so successful in the apostolic days. Historical research indicates the probability, that as the Jewish synagogue was a gathering together of a group around the Torah, so originally there was a gathering of house churches around the synagogue, with persons to have oversight of these house churches.
In the New Testament, oikia and oikos are virtually used synonomously, and have the same range of meanings as in secular Greek, and the Septuagint. The most frequent use is in:
a. The literal sense of house (Matthew 2:11; Mark 7:30).
b. The metaphorical sense of family, household, or family of God (Matthew 13:57; John 4:53; 1 Corinthians 1:16; 2 Timothy 1:16).
In the primitive Christian community, the family of God concept can be seen as a strong possibility in the house churches that were established, where the family of God was seen to include slaves and other workers who belonged to a Christian household and formed the nucleus congregation of a house church, where the house was the meeting place (Acts 11:14, 15, 16, 31, 34; 18:8; 1 Corinthians 1:16).
It is important to recognize that it was a missionary situation, and the establishment of house churches was of great significance for the spread of the gospel. The early church took over the natural order of life of the community.
In a similar way, churches today in our secular society are in a missionary situation. The crucial thing is to spread the gospel. There has to be an organizational structure for the church, but that structure must be subservient to the spreading of the gospel. Pragmatic needs require that the church will always be living in the paradoxical situation where it is an anti-organizational organization. Its structures must not hinder people from being brought into the Kingdom of God.
Circumstances alter cases. The message of the church has not and will not change, but the way we package that message must change to meet the existential situation. In Australia, we seem to have reversed this process. We have changed the message to accommodate the beliefs of our society, and have considered to be suspect anyone who seeks to change the status quo with respect to the method of presentation.
Church Growth studies show that there are homogeneous people groups in any society. Churches have frequently disregarded this reality, which at first glance appears to run counter to the scriptural teaching that in Christ we are one (Galatians 3:28).
The homogeneous unit principle does not deny this, but recognizes that within this oneness, there is also diversity due to many factors which can inhibit close and lasting intimate relationships. A series of home churches can be commenced by a mother church which caters for specific groupings of people who always feel that they are on the fringe of the normal grouping for that particular location.
An example could be where evangelism wins young people who have been involved in the alternate life scene and have experienced the drug, occult, permissive sex culture. Parents of ‘straight’ young people have a natural and legitimate fear their sons and daughters may be attracted to the permissive culture before the old habit patterns of the alternate life style young people have been broken.
The relearning of behaviour patterns often involves a long education process. New Christians do not necessarily drop their former behaviour patterns immediately. In many cases, they are fourth generation pagans and have known no other behaviour in terms of role models. A home church can conveniently bring together such groups of people and begin the discipleship process to a Christ-like way of life.
Another example may be a group of business executives. These are often under enormous pressure in the work situation and these pressures can produce difficult dilemmas in terms of ethical decisions and can involve them in serious family problems when work pressures destroy familylife. They need to be able to talk to those who know and understand their needs. Because of the responsible position they hold that affects the lives of many people under them, total confidentiality must be maintained. They can only share their burdens with those who can be trusted. Often this can only be with those who carry similar burdens and who can adequately support them in these situations.
The home church can provide a setting for the fulfilment of this need. Many other groupings of people do not fit into the normal church in Australia and so do not attend worship, but frequently would like to do so. Their position on a resistance-receptivity scale would change, if given the right opportunities.
Paul spoke with greater relevance and meaning to the community of his day than we do to people from the counter culture, and other unreached groups. Paul as a social thinker has much to teach us about reaching those yet untouched by the church. He revealed much about the internal dynamics of his communities. They lived alongside the philosophical schools of his day and the mystery religion communities. There was nothing novel or unusual about the appearance of the Christian communities, as communities. Their novelty was their message and the radical freedom they offered.
Robert Banks (1979:65) identifies three major components in Paul’s idea of freedom:
1. Independence from law, death, and alien powers.
2. Dependence on Christ and the Spirit.
3. Interdependence with others and the world.
The purpose of that freedom was so that the Christian could live a life of righteousness, conforming to the way of Jesus, which was the way of the cross (Luke 14:25-27).
Paul led his converts into a personal relationship with one another. He showed that the gospel had a shared communal aspect to it so that to embrace the gospel, was to enter into community (Rowthorn 1986:9).
The converts gathered together in private homes and shared community (Romans 16:5). It is because Paul saw Christians as belonging to both a heavenly church and a local church that he saw them as being in a continuing personal relationship with one another which was far more important than an institutional relationship. These churches had their roots in the household unit and took some of its characteristics.
Paul emphasized their unity with Christ, and refers to the church as the body of Christ. For Paul, worship involved the whole of a person’s life, every word and action, and was inclusive of the whole of a person’s time on earth. The purpose of the church was for the edification of its members through ministry to one another.
If we in our day can catch this vision, the need for increasing the size of buildings with the coming of new converts would be minimized. We could have a central church, sending out suitable lay persons to win and disciple in their homes those who find it hard to fit into the church scene.
Paul saw the gifts of the Spirit as being for the community and they were set in a frame work of love (Ephesians 4:12, 1 Corinthians 12:7). The community of believers had at its centre the key of fellowship expressed in word and deed. For him, the focal point of reference was the relationship between the members of the body.
In our situation, this could best be accomplished in the informal, intimate relationship of a home. In Paul’s day, distinctions along national, social and sexual lines were becoming blurred. A broadening in the notion of citizenship was taking place. He thought more in terms of the things that unite people than the things that divide them.
Paul saw women functioning differently from men, but he saw them as full members of the Christian community. Although he placed some restrictions on them, he also accorded them prominence, particularly in the teaching and exhortation areas. He recognized functional diversity within the community.
Paul dissolved traditional distinctions between priests and laity. He emphasized corporate responsibility, at the same time allowing inequality in the Christian community within unity. His communities were theocratic in structure. Because of the different gifting of each person, each was able to participate with authority in its activities.
The churches recognised a diverse distribution of gifts, but no hierarchical or formal structure. There was leadership, but there was also the freedom under that leadership to exercise the Spirit’s gifts. The body as a whole determined whether behaviour was in order (1 Corinthians 4:29) within the fellowship of worship. Paul’s communities were participatory societies, where authority was distributed throughout the whole group.
Rather than set himself over these Christian communities, Paul stood with them in all that he did. His authority was God’s gift to him, given in his Damascus road experience. It was an intrinsic authority from the Holy Spirit, evident to all. It did not need to be legislated.
This is the authority that I believe God the Holy Spirit will invest in the people who will lead home churches. They will be chosen in the same way that Paul and Barnabas were chosen, as the Spirit led the church (Acts 13:2).
Laity can build the church
We tend to forget that those whom Jesus sent out to evangelize the world were trained on the apprenticeship model, not in theological colleges. Neither should be denigrated, but it should be recognized that both can successfully be used when operating in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Rangeville Uniting Church has been training a group of lay persons in preparation for sending them out, in the same way Jesus sent out his disciples. In Jesus’ day, they were called out from ordinary occupations. We can expect God to do the same today.
The great commission has not changed and if we truly believe that God is going to win the world, there will not be enough clergy to handle the harvest. In our situation, the church buildings are now inadequate. We do not want to invest further resources in buildings, but in people. We are ready to send out lay persons to plant churches in their homes.
The desire is to target those groups not being reached. If some consider that lay persons would not be theologically adequate for the task, we need to remember that the first prominent theological thinkers on behalf of the church were lay persons of great ability; men like Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine. It is good to remind ourselves that revolutionary movements like the Cathars, the Waldensians and the Lollards were spearheaded by the laity. They developed a great preaching activity and urged a return to the Bible.
The Reformation in Europe, like the previous Conciliar movements, was mainly a movement of the laity, as was the Reformation in England. In the middle ages, the urge for reform sprang mainly from the laity. In the Reformation on the continent, it was the laity who provided the main driving power.
John Calvin was one of the most conspicuous examples of a layman who was a self made theologian. Many other examples could be given of the key role of lay persons in the significant advances of the church. The church government needs to see the laity as an essential part of the church, rather than an insufficiently tapped source of cheap labour.
To treat ordinary church members as immature, is to keep them immature. The laity, more than the minister, are immersed in a hostile world and can minister out of a first hand knowledge of the current pressures on the ordinary person. The clergy must allow themselves to be taught by the laity.
Lay pastor as counsellor
Some would say that the counselling role of the home church pastor requires that a person be trained. What if the candidate has not filled this expectation? That would be the preferred option, but many clergy have little counselling training also. Untrained, caring support can be effective. We must use the tools available. Carkhuff (1969:10) states that: ‘While professional programmes have failed to produce tangible evidence of their translation to client benefits or, indeed, evidence that they are concerned with researching their training efforts, assessment of lay training programmes have yielded positive results.’
He goes on to point out that lay counsellors appear to have a greater ability to:
1. Enter into the milieu of the distressed.
2. Establish peer like relations with people being helped
3. Take an active part in the client’s life situation.
4. Empathize more effectively with the client’s style of life.
5. Teach the client within the client’s own frame of reference.
6. Provide the client with an effective transition to higher levels of functioning within the social system.
In the helping professions, the key ingredient for an effective helper is the capacity to empathize with the one seeking help. The counsellor who protects him/herself by remaining clinical, may be able to handle a greater number of clients because of less stress, but his/her effectiveness will be minimized.
The preparedness for self disclosure and making oneself vulnerable breaks down barriers in the one who is seeking help. I have found that those we would appoint to a position of lay pastor have already been trained in counselling to the level necessary to be very effective. They have already proved this.
Holy Spirit gifts
I am not advocating a technique or a gimmick, but I am urging a new approach to taking advantage of results of Church Growth studies on homogeneous groups, and the use of God given gifts of the Spirit among the lay people of our church, who are prepared to recognize and come under duly appointed authority.
The structure that I am proposing to link the mother church with satellite home churches is one which I believe suits our particular case, given the rules and regulations under which we must work in the Uniting Church of Australia.
Other situations may adapt these principles in other ways. I suspect that modifications would be necessary to suit specific cases.
The laity have a ministry to the world, and a ministry to the church. In the home church model, they can exercise both of these roles. To do this, they need the support of the whole church, which includes the clergy who can assist them to release their Holy Spirit gifts.
Banks, Robert (1979) Paul’s Idea of Community. Lancer.
Carkhuff, Robert (1969) Helping and Human Relations, Vol.1. Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Rowthorn, Ann (1986) The Liberation of the Laity. Morehouse-Barlow.
Adrian Commadeur comments on charismatic renewal and Christian communities. This account of his discoveries, following eight years as a Redemptorist student, is adapted from Chapter 4 of his book The Spirit in the Church.
The gift of the Holy Spirit, with accompanying charisms, has the purpose of empowering the Christian to witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus.
This has been the experience of many in the charismatic renewal, both to desire and to be able to share the good news of Jesus Christ within the Christian community and to the world. While it belongs to the very nature of the church to proclaim the gospel, I grew up with the notion that the church was there to keep Catholics fervent, and reach out to the pagans in Africa or Asia to evangelise them.
Since the coming of the Holy Spirit in a fresh personal Pentecost, the call to evangelisation has stirred me strongly. At times I have responded according to my ability.
Life in the Spirit seminars
One of the early leaders of Renewal in the United States, Steve Clark, developed a series of
teachings in 1971. It was based on early Church practice of introducing catechumens or serious inquirers into the community of faith.
On the basis of the perceived needs of those seeking the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the series consists of seven weekly sessions of teachings and discussions and prayers. Life in the Spirit Seminars have been used worldwide to bring people from either unbelief to faith, or from belief to deeper faith and the release of the Holy Spirit.
The seminar is an effective means of spiritual growth through teachings on basic Christian themes and daily biblical reflections between weekly sessions. A participant’s book including daily Scripture readings and prayers is made available to each person. More than one million copies have been printed.
For the team presenting the Seminar a Team Manual was prepared, showing in detail the method of conducting the seminar and the contents of each of the teachings. By 1974 already 100,000 copies were in use.
The Life in the Spirit Seminar has been, and continues to be, a most effective way of bringing people into a new and personal relationship with Jesus Christ by means of the release of the Holy Spirit. It is a marvellous way of renewing faith, clarifying the basics of doctrine, incorporating people into a community of faith and love, and introducing them to the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit which enables them to become more effective witnesses to the risen Jesus.
For nonbelievers, especially young people who have not heard the gospel (even though it may have been presented to them either at school or in church), it is an introduction to Christianity. For those who have been lukewarm in faith, or uncertain of their beliefs, it is a renewal, especially through an introduction to the person of Jesus. To those who search for a deeper life of faith and prayer, it is a fulfilment of the heart’s desire. For all, the Life in the Spirit Seminar is a fulfilment of the promise of Jesus, `You will receive power, when the Holy Spirit has come upon you’ (Acts 1:8).
Prayer Groups are a wonderful means of evangelisation and introducing new people to a fuller life in Christ and the Spirit. There are approximately 450 Catholic charismatic prayer groups around Australia. They meet in churches, church halls, meeting rooms, school rooms, chapels and homes.
They range in numbers from as few as three or four, to around 300. The average size of the 90 groups in the Melbourne Archdiocese in 1991 was 25 participants. On special occasions like a healing Eucharist, there can be twice the normal number in attendance. If a conservative estimate of 20 people per meeting were accepted, then some 10,000 Catholics meet every week in charismatic prayer groups around Australia. Some 20,000 could be said to be active Australia wide.
While Covenant Communities are the major alternative, prayer meetings are the normal local expression of the Catholic charismatic renewal. This means that the prayer meeting should be a significant place for evangelisation into the local church community.
Across the spectrum of the Church there are now a number of exciting examples of renewed parishes where people flock to join in worship, fellowship, Christian formation and service. One of the major tensions that Catholic Charismatics must resolve is their commitment to their prayer meetings and to their parishes.
On the one hand, the prayer meeting often provides for warmth of fellowship, ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit, strength and conviction in praise and worship, and teaching that is based both on Scripture and on the spiritual experiences of the speaker. In addition, there are times of social activities and regional and national conferences, retreats, seminars and similar `celebrations’.
On the other hand the parish provides for Sunday and weekday Eucharist, the sacraments such as reconciliation, and pastoral care in sickness. Parish activities are multifaceted and provide for schooling, caring, sporting, social and adult education activities. In this way the different needs of the charismatic parishioner are met.
Ideally both these needs should be met in the parish that is renewed in the Spirit, in which there is a spiritual vitality that can attract others to its worship and lifestyle. On the one hand, people are satisfied with a deeper spiritual journey through the prayer meeting. On the other, the necessary and the obligatory elements of the faith are satisfied.
Certain principles apply in all parish renewals. It seems that there needs to be a sovereign
initiative of God and a parish clergy and leadership open to the Holy Spirit. One of the principal methods seems to be the formation of the Parish Group (Cell) System, to enable informal formation at a personal level.
The pastor at St Boniface’s, Fr Michael Eivers, outlines six factors that are keys to the success of the cell system.
* The cell system must initially be directed by the pastor and continue to have his support.
* Cells are community related, and reach out to people in the members’ neighbourhoods and work environments.
* Cells are selfmultiplying groups.
* The cell system is the parish way of life, not just another program.
* Cells are highly evangelistic, missionary groups.
* Continuous training and motivation of cell leaders is critical (Perini, p. 9).
I hope that in Australia there will soon be parish priests with their parish teams, who will dare to renew the sacramentalized and evangelise unbelievers in the power of the Holy Spirit and through the cell system.
One eloquent expression of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in charismatic renewal has been the formation of Covenant Communities.
Covenant Community is a group of Christians who have been led by the Lord to bind themselves to Him and also to one another in the form of public commitment. Its call is to live a Christian lifestyle, in family and single life, through openness to the charismatic gifts, worship and prayer, sharing and teaching, and support for one another (Emmanuel Covenant Community, Brisbane).
As early as 1971 the first members of prayer groups in the USA felt the call to bind themselves together in a shared lifestyle. It may have been relatively easy to do so for students and graduates of the various universities. They had both the idealism and the freedom to commit themselves to one another, without such other commitments as family or mortgages.
Some of the earliest communities were True House, led by Joe Byrne, and People of Praise, led by Kevin and Dorothy Ranaghan and Paul de Celles, in South Bend, Indiana, near the University of Notre Dame, and the Word of God, led by Ralph Martin and Steve Clark and others, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, around the University of Michigan.
On visiting them in 1973 I was impressed by the strength of numbers and commitment to the cause of renewal of the Church through a return to the lifestyle of the early Christians. Even within each community there seemed different levels of commitment. Many lived in households and some shared their goods and possessions, including their socks!
A number of Covenant Communities have developed within the charismatic scene in Australia. They range up and down in numbers and influence. If some have a lower profile they still have qualities shared by most other communities. There are also signs of new or renewed religious communities which give rise to hope for new sparkling life and ministry of the Church in Australia.
The Brisbane based Emmanuel Covenant Community was formed in 1975, with four men and their families responding to the call to bind themselves together in Community. First members and leaders of the Community were Brian Smith and John Carroll, with their wives, Lorraine and Penny, and their families. As early as 1976 Emmanuel became affiliated with other communities, notably in the United States, and later to others around the world in an International Brotherhood of Communities (IBOC), and in The Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and Fellowships (1990).
Associated with Emmanuel in Australia are a number of Communities that have been helped by them in their establishment. These include Bethel in Perth, Hepzibah in Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide, and Disciples of Jesus in Sydney and Melbourne. Other communities include many small groups of people who have committed themselves to the Lord and to one another, but have not grown in strength or numbers. Although the membership of most Communities includes a majority of Catholics, a number of Communities could be said to be ecumenical such as Servants of Jesus in Sydney.
Membership of Catholics, Anglicans, Protestants and perhaps some Pentecostals requires sensitive leadership and acceptable common activities. Within ecumenical Communities, Catholic fraternities have at times been structured, to enable a specifically Catholic identity to be expressed, especially in the liturgical life of the Community.
Communities commit themselves to be of service in the Church and to the world. At times they do outstanding work either through large organised groups such as the National Evangelisation Team (NET) or through small teams of evangelists who travel within or outside of Australia to preach the gospel. Many Communities have developed a specific ministry such as to the poor, for unmarried mothers, or visiting the lonely.
Charismatic community lifestyle
Most of the Communities share a basic lifestyle which is expressed in certain practical ways. Membership of the community is demonstrated by participation in:
* general community gatherings.
* smaller groupings for discussion, sharing, and support.
* a Christian formation program for family and single life.
* informal gatherings for social activities.
* teaching and evangelistic outreaches according to the opportunities offered or initiated.
* leadership exercised by a group of elders, the number of which is determined by the needs and size of the community and supported materially and financially by the members.
* members seek to live in close geographical proximity for easier fellowship and support.
* traditional Eucharistic and liturgical prayer.
Communities are making a significant contribution to the renewal of the spiritual life of the
church. They promote a commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ and a mutual love of members of the community. Extensive teaching programs and pastoral oversight have strengthened the life of faith and sharing among their members. Numerical strength and the pooling of resources have been made possible. This has enabled leaders to be constantly in touch with leaders worldwide and so have maintained bonds and standards of renewed community life.
Fraternity of Covenant Communities
On 30 November 1990, a significant event occurred in Rome. On that date the Pontifical Council for the Laity promulgated the decree which inaugurated the Catholic Fraternity of Covenant Communities and Fellowships. The decree noted that Covenant Communities from Australia, Canada, France, Malaysia, New Zealand and the United States were ‘motivated by the desire both to assure greater dialogue and collaboration among themselves and to deepen their communion with the Successor of Peter as an essential element of their Catholic identity.’
The decree recognised the Fraternity as a Private Association of the Christian Faithful within the Catholic Church. It expressed the hope that this recognition would consolidate and promote the Catholic expression of the charismatic movement, might increase its spiritual fruits and encourage intensified apostolic activity in the work of evangelisation.
At the inauguration, Brian Smith from Brisbane, was elected President of the Executive of the Fraternity. He noted that the declaration was the most significant event in the history of the charismatic renewal since the 1975 Holy Year international conference and the acknowledgment it received from Pope Paul VI at that time. He said, ‘It is the first time that the Renewal has had formal, canonical recognition by the Vatican.’
Communities of life and service
A further expression of the charismatic renewal has emerged in the church. Groups of committed people have established themselves as communities of life and service. These include the establishment of houses of prayer, teams of service, or new religious houses or communities of lay people married or single with a focus on such ministry as street kids or contemplative prayer. Localised and adapted to cultural and religious circumstances, these communities add greatly, but often unobtrusively, to the life of the church at large. All of them would consider themselves to be part of the main stream at the heart of the church.
One of these communities of life and service is the Holy Spirit of Freedom Community. Frank and Lu Feain lead this community with three houses in Melbourne and Perth, have a circle of collaborating tertiaries to support them financially, materially and spiritually and work for homeless `street kids’. This community brings the love of God to drug users and victims of domestic abuse, through `friendship evangelism.’
Another group is the House of Prayer at beautiful Carcoar, NSW, conducted by Helen and Neville Bowers and serving both the charismatic renewal and the local diocese. The ministry includes the provision of retreats, seminars and days of prayer.
Another significant development over recent years is the number of Schools of Evangelisation. Young people especially, receive formation in mature Christian living, and practical training in the skills of sharing the gospel with others.
The church exists to evangelise
All of the expressions of Catholic charismatic renewal demonstrate the creative activity and
ministry of the Holy Spirit. While some may judge one form or lifestyle or expression superior to another, all expressions of charismatic renewal aim to assist in the growth of personal holiness and to serve the church and world with the proclamation of the gospel.
In conclusion, the experience of successful prayer groups and communities shows that a dynamic lifestyle where each has a sense of belonging, plays a significant role in the community, and is accountable to someone else best attracts new believers, and keeps them as effective members of the church community.
Blum, Susan (undated) ‘A Parish Where Everyone Evangelizes’ in New Evangelization 2000, issue 5.
Perini, Pigel (undated) ‘New Evangelisation in an Ancient Basilica’ in New Evangelization 2000, issue 7.