PASTORAL AND CONNECTION CARE
Riverlife Baptist Church
Here is relevant information from Riverlife Baptist Church, one of the larger churches in Brisbane, Australia. You may be able to use or adapt this for your church congregation.
You have probably been following along with the developing news and growing concerns of the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). As a church family, we do not want to partner with any fear but simply practice good hygiene and safety to minimize the risk to our community. Please read the following carefully.
As in any cold or flu season, I want to encourage you to stay home from Sunday gatherings or other church-related events throughout the week if you, your family members or roommates are experiencing any cold or flu symptoms (fever, persistent cough, headache, chills or unexplained rash). Please seek medical attention if you are experiencing these symptoms.
If you have recently travelled to any high-risk countries (China, Iran, Italy, South Korea, Hong Kong or Japan as currently identified by the World Health Organisation and Australian Government Department of Health), please follow the recommended guidelines here and stay home for a couple of Sundays (14 days).
If you are planning on attending regular activities, please ensure you wash your hands with soap, make use of hand sanitizer stations, cough into your sleeve, sneeze into a tissue and put any tissues or waste in the bins provided. Simple, but very helpful!
We post the sermon to our weekly messages podcast here and the video feed on our website here and encourage you to access the teaching from home if you are unable to join us in person. You might also like to take advantage of our Spotify playlists here for some worship playlists we have collated.
We are also taking extra precautions to keep our building sanitary for everyone who will worship with us in person this weekend and in the coming weeks and have also reviewed some of our ministry guidelines to include the following:
We are stocked up on hand soap and hand sanitizer (located at several stations).
We are sanitizing surfaces between gatherings (including Kids Check-in Kiosks).
Volunteers, as always, please follow cleanliness and safety procedures in our Children’s Ministry and be even more diligent during this time.
Our friendly Host Teams and Greeters will be welcoming you with a smile and a wave this week rather than a handshake.
Our Ministry Teams (both in service and at special events including Encounter) will adjust prayer ministry protocols to be mindful of personal space and close contact.
In faith, we continue to uphold those directly affected by this virus in prayer and ask that God would release wisdom to our leaders, strategies to our health professionals and healing to those experiencing symptoms.
With the surge in the number of confirmed cases of Coronavirus (COVID – 19) around the world, experts say that the likelihood of it spreading to Australia and within our communities is inevitable.
The World Health Organisation has now declared the outbreak of COVID – 19 to be a pandemic, and the Australia Government has been taking necessary steps to prepare for this, with the Department of Health providing regular updates in relation to planning for and responding to COVID – 19.
We need to be thinking about prevention and preparation strategies now that a pandemic has been announced. So, what can we do as the QB Movement to be prepared to respond and keep our church community safe?
Firstly, and until further notice, churches and congregation members should continue to go about normal daily life, church, work or study as normal. Church and congregation members should however already be promoting and following best personal hygiene practices.
Practising good hand and sneeze/cough hygiene is the best defence against most viruses. This includes:
Washing your hands frequently with soap and water, before and after eating, and after going to the toilet. Wash for at least 20 seconds and dry with paper towel or a hand dryer.
Cover your cough and sneeze – if you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow. Dispose of tissues and use alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
If unwell, avoid contact with others (touching, kissing, hugging, and other intimate contact).
Try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth.
Prevention Ideas for Churches
Buy an alcohol-based hand sanitiser with over 60 per cent alcohol and have these available throughout the church.
Shaking hands is optional! Give permission for fist bumps or a hand wave to replace hugs and hand shaking.
Place boxes of tissues in easily accessible areas e.g. church reception/information tables.
Wipe down surfaces touched by churchgoers such as door handles and railings after each service.
Limit potluck meals and other nonessential large gatherings.
Consider hosting conference calls or video chats as alternatives for face-to-face meetings
Request that people displaying flu like symptoms stay at home and seek medical attention.
Review Communion practices/procedures to take precautions to limit the spread of infection via potential cross contamination
Preparation Ideas for Churches
Preview your church’s emergency response plans and communication plans in the context of a pandemic.
Church leaders should consider appointing a second in charge (2IC) who can run the church efficiently in his/her absence.
Remind your congregation that accurate information is essential, and that it is important to use trusted sources such as State and National Health Departments.
Churches should also prepare to support vulnerable people in their community especially the elderly and people with a disability.
Promote that all people should seek medical care if they require it.
Encourage church staff and congregation members to review their family emergency plans and take time to prepare now. For more information go to www.qld.gov.au – Emergency Plan
Create plans to enable church staff to work remotely/from home if that becomes a necessity. More information on this is available from www.fairwork.gov.au -COVOD – 19
Many affected countries have suspended their church services, and some bigger churches are streaming their Sunday services live. Facebook Live or using pre-recorded videos for sermons are effective options.
Other adaptions could include following the Jewish tradition of a treasury or offering box at the entrance, and communion available on designated tables.
Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, wrote about the plague in the Roman Empire: How suitable, how necessary it is that this pestilence, which seems horrible and deadly, searches out the justice of each and everyone and examines the minds of the human race; whether the well care for the sick, whether relatives dutifully love their kinsmen as they should, whether masters show compassion for their ailing slaves,
whether physicians do not desert the afflicted.
Plagues in the Roman Empire, and currently in many countries, also became times of evangelism and revival.
See more information about revival such as the Moravian Revival among refugees which sparked the Evangelical Awakening in Europe and America.
Iran: The country where Christianity is growing fastest
This may come as a surprise to many, but Christianity is growing faster in the Islamic Republic of Iran than in any other country in the world. Tens of thousands of Muslims are abandoning their faith and are beginning to follow Jesus.
Experts say the ongoing political crisis and economic challenges are fueling widespread anger against the regime. Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani is promising to resolve the country’s economic, social and political problems after days of protests gripped the Islamic nation last month. At least 21 people died in clashes with police, and over 1,000 were arrested.
Mike Ansari says political turmoil is creating unique opportunities to share the love of Christ. “Many Iranian Christians have turned to us asking what it is they need to do,” Ansari wrote in an email. Ansari is the president of Heart4Iran Ministries, which is bringing 86 different ministries together with the goal of serving and blessing the people of Iran. He says with all the negative news about Iran, it is easy to miss the big and often untold story of what is really happening inside the Islamic nation. “God is at work in Iran. Jesus is building His church, the Spirit is transforming lives and the gospel is on the move.”
Today 4 satellite TV channels are broadcasting continuous Christian broadcasting into Iran.
Mohabat TV is the media arm of Heart4Iran Ministries. In 2006, Mohabat TV became the first 24-hour Farsi Christian satellite TV channel to beam gospel programs into Iran. Today, it is one of 4 satellite TV channels broadcasting continuous Christian programming. “Christian satellite TV broadcasts into Iran have played a vital role in the success of the underground house church movement,” Ansari wrote. “The significance of media strategy is that it by-passes security measures set by the government and reaches the people of Iran through their TV set or on their smart devices. According to World Mission, the house church movement in Iran is one of the fastest-growing churches in the world. It is the lifeline of Christianity inside this country.”
Recently 20 Iranians, many of whom accepted Christ watching Mohabat TV, traveled to an undisclosed location to get baptized. CBN News was granted exclusive access to the celebrations.
Recently 20 Iranians, many of whom accepted Christ watching Mohabat TV, traveled to an undisclosed location to get baptized. CBN News was granted exclusive access to the celebrations.
Ansari, an Iranian by birth, sat down with CBN News correspondent George Thomas for an exclusive look at the church inside Iran.
Why is the house church movement in Iran growing so fast?
“The church is growing because the people of Iran are disillusioned with Islam and they are looking for answers to life. They are not finding answers in the traditional forms of state religion or the faith of their ancestors. They are looking for new answers, they are not happy and satisfied where they are spiritually. It seems that a large number of these people are actually having dreams and visions about a shining man dressed in white far before we are out there telling them about Jesus.”
Is there a specific area of Iranian society that Jesus is touching more than others?
“The demographic that is responding to the gospel the most is the younger generation, who are very tech-savvy. These are people, anywhere from 18 to 30 years of age. They are online, they are following the world’s pop culture, they are very much plugged in and they are looking for answers. They want to belong to a larger purpose and meaning in life, and they are finding that in Jesus.”
The 1979 Islamic Revolution was supposed to usher in this great Islamic revival. Did that ever materialize?
“After almost 40 years of the Islamic regime, the average Iranian is realizing that Islam is bankrupt and Islam is not able to answer to their social, daily lives and the dilemmas they are dealing with. Iran is facing a host of crises, from drug addiction to depression to suicide to sexually transmitted diseases to human trafficking.”
Almost 40 years into the Islamic Revolution the average Iranian is realizing that Islam is bankrupt.
How bad is persecution against those who decide to abandon Islam and embrace Christianity?
“Iran is listed in Open Doors’ top 10 of most persecuted countries. The reality of Iranian Christians is that they cannot go out on the street and share their new faith with people. They cannot celebrate anywhere publicly, and they are constantly in fear of retaliation from the authorities. Becoming a Christian in Iran, especially if you are from an Islamic background, is illegal and is punishable by the legal code in the country. This is why we want people around the world to continue lifting up the persecuted church in Iran.”
You recently commissioned an extensive survey inside the country to find out how many people are watching programs on Mohabat TV. What did the survey results show?
“We had no idea that so many Iranian youth are following our programs. It appears that roughly about 16 million Iranians within the last 12 months have viewed one or more of our programs on satellite TV and also on their mobile devices. That roughly translates to about 20 percent of Iran’s population and that is an overwhelming number.”
Mohabat TV produced a map showing all the locations Iranians are calling the show from.
How many people call in to your channel and how many have accepted Christ since you launched the network?
“It is a rough estimate that within the last 11 years we’ve been able to connect with over one million Iranians through our call center. These are people who have contacted us wanting to know more about Christianity. These are people who have either become Christians or have had dreams or visions, and wanted to find out more about Jesus. Or people who have become Christians and they want to find out how to grow in their new faith and how to be discipled or how to start a house church in the country. In 2016, our call center processed about 700 contacts per day, which resulted in about 93 decisions for Christ per day. That’s roughly about three people every hour that confessed their faith in Jesus.”
Is satellite TV still the most important evangelism tool to reach Iranians with the gospel or is social media becoming even more important?
“In 2013 and 2014 when the Iranian Green Revolution took place, we realized the importance of Twitter. That was a glimpse into what was coming. In 2017, we realized that social media has fully arrived in the Middle East, especially in a country like Iran where especially the youth are actively using social media on their mobile devices. In addition, the numbers we’ve been getting through our survey is additional validation that this is a sound strategy for ministries to start focusing on.”
Source: George Thomas, CBN
Source: Joel News International – # 1067 | January 26, 2018
Iran: Fastest-growing church has no buildings
For the last few years, researchers have credited the underground church in Iran as the fastest-growing Christian church in the world.
It has unique characteristics that defy comparison with churches in America and Europe, and in the opinion of some who know it well, the church in the West could learn by studying it.
The fastest-growing church in the world has taken root in one of the most unexpected and radicalized nations on earth, according to ‘Sheep Among Wolves’, an outstanding two-hour documentary about the revival that has taken place inside Iran. The Iranian awakening is a rapidly reproducing discipleship movement that owns no property or buildings, has no central leadership, and is predominantly led by women.
‘The movement is predominantly led by women’
The documentary was produced by Frontier Alliance International (FAI), which supports disciple-making teams targeting the ‘unreached’ and ‘unengaged’ within the 10/40 Window. There is a mass exodus leaving Islam for Christianity within Iran, according to FAI.
“What if I told you Islam is dead?” one unidentified Iranian church leader says in the film. “Many of the ruling class still follow Islam because that’s where the high paying jobs are, but the majority of the ordinary people love God and recognize that Islam is the problem. What if I told you the best evangelist for Jesus was the Ayatollah Khomeini? The ayatollahs brought the true face of Islam to light and people discovered it was a lie, a deception.”
Efforts by the ayatollahs to destroy Christianity have backfired, but have served to refine and purify the church. “What persecution did was destroy the churches that were only about converts,” the Iranian church leader noted. “Converts run away from persecution, but disciples are willing to die for the Lord in persecution.”
‘What if I told you Islam is dead?’
Often a disciple-making movement begins the first moment someone comes into contact with an unbeliever. “Everything is founded on prayer. We find people of peace through prayer. We even find locations through prayer,” the Iranian church leader noted. “Jesus has gone faster than us. He has come in their dreams or he’s come miraculously in their lives. When we hear this, we know that Jesus has gone ahead of us.”
Their emphasis is not planting churches; it is making disciples. “If you plant churches, you might make disciples. But if you make disciples, you will plant churches,” the Iranian church leader said. “It is obedience-based discipleship based on the authority of Scripture. Every time you read the Scripture, you must obey it. This is how people become conformed to the image of Christ and sanctified. They are not just reading the Bible for information. They are reading the Bible to get transformed.”
About 55% of the disciple-makers are women, according to the film.
Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He then said: “Follow me.”
– Luke 9:58-59a
This church lets 225 homeless sleep on the pews
Lack of sleep is one of the most critical health issues for the homeless. An average of 225 homeless people seek safety and rest on the pews in the sanctuary of St. Boniface church in San Francisco every day, thanks to The Gubbio Project.
The Gubbio Project was co-founded in 2004 by community activists Shelly Roder and Father Louis Vitale as a non-denominational project of St. Boniface Neighborhood Center located in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood in response to the increasing numbers of homeless men and women in need of refuge from the streets.
“No questions are asked when our guests walk into the churches; in an effort to remove all barriers to entry, there are no sign-in sheets or intake forms. No one is ever turned away; all are welcomed, respected and treated with dignity,” the project’s website states.
While the church uses the front 1/3 of the sanctuary for church-goers to celebrate daily mass at 12:15 p.m., the Gubbio Project uses the back 2/3 of the sanctuary. “This sends a powerful message to our unhoused neighbors – they are in essence part of the community, not to be kicked out when those with homes come in to worship,” the non-profit organization says. “It also sends a message to those attending mass – the community includes the tired, the poor, those with mental health issues and those who are wet, cold and dirty.”
In addition to a place to rest, the church offers warm blankets, socks, hygiene kits, and massage services.
From Chapter 1, “Gangsters in the Doorway” in Do What Jesus Did, by Robby Dawkins. [The first of two testimonies by Robby Dawkins. The second blog is Interrupted by God.]
This meeting took place at the end of 2011. It has now made national news that there were no homicides in all of Aurora in 2012. That hasn’t happened since 1946.
The door of our church swung open, and in sauntered two of the “princes” from the Latin Kings, the dominant gang in our city. Our church is located in the hub of East Aurora, Illinois, a Latin King hot spot. As they walked in, they simply squared up to me in greeting, hardly twitching a muscle. With a nod to the door, they began pointing out different bullet holes in the building and other scars recalling their past battles. This was a typical “Don’t mess with us” threat. When they walked into my church that afternoon, it was because our city was on a brink of an all-out gang war, and they were making it clear that I was definitely in their territory.
Aurora has a long history of violence, from its Al Capone days in the 1930s and ’40s to the ever-increasing gang violence of the ’80s and ’90s, when the gentrifying of Chicago’s urban slums squeezed whole neighbourhoods of lower-income tenants into our western suburb. The resulting pressure between warring gangs that were being channelled into smaller and smaller overlapping territories often boosted our homicide rate higher than Chicago’s. Thanks to exhaustive efforts by community leaders, churches and the police, the situation had finally begun to stabilize. Then the threats began. Outraged by an increasing sense of marginalization and a “lack of respect” from the police, the Latin Kings began issuing warnings that blood would soon flow in the streets. Several drive-by shootings occurred, and a repeat of history seemed imminent.
Alarmed, police began calling me. As a police chaplain I had mediated several high-profile situations in the past and had seen God radically work in the gang community. I currently had several major ex– gang leaders attending my church who had confirmed that a war was on the horizon. After talking with some insiders, I connected with an Aurora businessman committed to community-gang relations. He had grown up in school with one of the major Latin King leaders, and through this connection he often was able to serve as a liaison. He agreed to set up a meeting for me with two of the main leaders. They had street names like Diablo. I had seen their faces on the police station walls for years, and now seeing them framed in the church doorway with nothing but thin air between us sent a quick jolt down my spine.
One gang leader, Shotgun, was in his forties, a fiercely grim-faced man who seemed possessed by an obsession with death. (Shotgun is a nickname I gave him; I’ve changed some names in my stories to protect people’s privacy.) His second man, Diablo, was mainly silent but kept his eyes locked on me the whole time, watching my every move. A woman with them, Diana, had also come. She looked rough when she walked in and was a fiery talker. She had no problem letting me know who she was and what she was about.
I had two of my dear friends with me. Todd White was one, and Darren Wilson was the other. Darren was working on a documentary about the power of God.
Shotgun wasn’t too interested in introductions. He was doing most of the talking. In candid detail, he described for us a shootout that had occurred on the front property of the church and the killing that took place at the corner of our building. He was letting us know just who it was I was dealing with. Without being too specific, he let us know that “they” were about to do some damage in town. He told me that “some people” in the gangs weren’t happy, and if that kept happening, there would be blood in the streets. He said a lot of people were going to get “really jacked up,” and added, “If people aren’t careful, things are going to get really crazy around here.”
I had watched Shotgun before, in the park across the street. One afternoon he and a friend got out of a car and strolled into the crowded park. Within a few minutes, the other men in the park stopped what they were doing, walked over to shake his hand and his friend’s, then backed away carefully. The men took their families and left. Women pushed their strollers quickly out of the park, and twenty minutes later there wasn’t a sign of life on the block. This was a man who wielded fear in our community.
I looked at Shotgun now and thought about how much God actually loved this person standing before me. I told him squarely, “I know there’s the threat of a war, and that can’t happen.” The two men looked at each other. “Yeah, is that why you invited us here? To try and stop the war?” Diablo asked.
“No,” I said. “Actually, I asked you to come here so that I could introduce you to God.”
That was obviously the last thing they expected to come out of my mouth. Diablo looked at me with the strangest expression, then clutched his crucifix and said, “What do you mean? We know who God is!”
I studied him. “Yes, that might be true, but you’ve never met Him the way you’re about to. If you’ll let us, we’ll pray for you, and you’ll meet God.” I glanced over at the businessman and asked, “Could we start with you?”
This businessman attends our church now, but at the time I didn’t know him well at all. He’s a tall, well-built businessman who heads up the Latino business network in the area. He may have been from a mildly Catholic background; I wasn’t sure. But whatever his beliefs, clearly the last thing he had expected us to do right then was to pray. He seemed especially surprised to suddenly find himself at the center of it. Thankfully, he agreed to go along with it, though I realized that if this didn’t go well, he would probably never meet with me again. I intentionally wanted to start with him because he was the leader of our meeting and the gang leaders trusted him. What he experienced would help legitimize it for the others as he encountered the reality of God and what He was about to do.
We began to pray, “Lord, we bless my friend.” I knew he had had an accident years earlier and had suffered back trauma ever since. As we prayed, I recalled this and felt led to pray for healing. The suffering from his back injury was something he struggled with on a daily basis, and his attempts to find ways to numb the pain had negatively affected his life. I asked him if his back still hurt, and he confirmed that he was in pain at the moment from both his back and his shoulder.
I told this man in front of the others, “God is about to make Himself real to you and completely heal your back and take away the pain.” We prayed, commanding his back to come into alignment and be fully healed. After a few minutes we asked him to check his back. I could feel God’s presence in the room.
He started to move and twist, his eyes widening in disbelief as he realized that not a single twinge of pain or discomfort remained. He said out loud, “It’s gone! I can’t believe it. It’s been years since I’ve been without any pain.” He sat there perplexed. “I don’t understand where it went.”
His childhood friend, Shotgun, looked at him. “Are you for reals, man?” (Yes, for reals, not for real. For reals is a very typical phrase in poor urban areas; I hear it in my church every week.)
The rest of the meeting the businessman was silent, his face half hidden behind his hands as he seemed in deep thought, considering what had just happened. He told me later that he felt heat and electricity come over his whole body when we prayed for him. During the rest of the meeting, he didn’t try to stop us or intervene in anything else we did, although later he told me it was way outside what he felt comfortable with.
Diablo had been leaning forward and staring at me the entire time, rocking back and forth a little in his chair. From experience, I could tell already from a few things that had happened that he actually was demonized, but I could also see a look of great hunger on his face. It seemed as though what had just happened with the businessman had peeled a layer off Diablo’s defensive mask. He seemed a little softer and I saw desperation in his eyes, almost like, “I don’t know what this is. It scares the hell out of me, but I just have to have it. . . .” His desperation was reaching past the barrier wall— past the dark stronghold of fear and destruction that had defined his life.
We turned to Shotgun and I asked, “Can we pray for you next?” I also asked him if he had a daughter. I sensed the Lord telling me that He wanted to heal Shotgun’s relationship with his daughter.
Shotgun answered, “Yeah, I have two daughters. Neither of them will even speak to me anymore.”
Then I asked him if something was also going on in his back. I sensed the Lord wanted to heal that, too.
He confirmed, “Yeah, I was shot in the back a while ago; it’s still always in pain. One of the disks was permanently messed up.”
My friend Todd White, who was sitting next to me, also asked Shotgun if one of his legs was shorter than the other.
“Yeah, that’s right.” He nodded slowly, as if a bit mystified by what was happening around him.
Todd asked if he could take Shotgun’s shorter leg in his hands, and he spoke to it: “Leg, get out here! Bones, muscles, skin, grow right now.”
The leg shot out as we watched. Diablo’s eyes popped open, and he stood up to check it. Everyone was stunned.
“Yeah, it’s straight now,” Shotgun confirmed. His back pain was also completely gone.
I looked at him with so much love. “You know, what God just did with your back, He wants to do with your entire life.” The guys looked at each other, and it was as if something had broken in the room. Diablo was next. I sensed God prompting us with a word of healing for his torso area, and Todd said he felt God highlighting Diablo’s stomach in particular. Diablo lifted up his shirt and showed us scars where he had been shot in the stomach. A huge chunk was missing where the wound had been. We prayed for the pain to leave and for complete healing to occur in his stomach.
Diablo’s eyes widened, and he grabbed his stomach. He said he felt heat and electricity there, and that he had felt it all over him since the moment he first walked in the door.
We explained that what he felt was often a manifestation of God’s presence that comes bringing healing. Todd then began praying for Diablo’s scarring to disappear. Honestly, we couldn’t tell much of a difference afterward, but the two gang leaders swore it had changed and said it was about 50 percent gone. Shocked, they were stunned into silence. Their posture was completely different from when they had come in; the hardened arrogance, cursing and threats that had surrounded their entrance were gone.
When I looked at Diana, the Lord showed me some of the spiritual weight she had been under.
I told her, “You’ve been having demonic visitation at night, hearing voices and having terrible nightmares.”
The brassy, outspoken Diana dropped her head down to her chest and started nodding quietly. We also sensed that the Lord wanted to heal her from the stomach trouble and digestive problems bothering her. She confirmed that she was suffering in those areas, too. I told her, “Diana, God loves you and wants to heal you. We can pray for you, and all those problems can leave right now.”
We started praying and commanding the demonic spirits that had been attacking her to leave in the name of Jesus. As we took authority and bound them in the name of Jesus, Diana began sweating profusely. Suddenly she doubled over in her chair as if pushed, and she gasped and let out a huge sigh of air. With that, a heaviness seemed to lift off her, and her face looked different.
We asked her if she had felt something leave, and she nodded. Then we told her, “This needs to be sealed up so that it can’t return. The only way that can happen is if you want to accept Christ.”
Diana nodded and agreed she would do that.
We looked around the table, and I said, “That goes for all of you. If you want to pray right now and give your life to Christ, He will continue to heal you and set you free in every area of your life.”
They all nodded and said yes. I asked them to repeat a prayer giving over their lives to Jesus and making Him their Lord. Shotgun especially, who was standing behind Diana, was almost shouting the prayer, passionately asking God to forgive him for every sin he had committed.
All four of them— the businessman, Shotgun, Diablo and Diana— ended up coming back to join our church on Sunday morning. They’ve also started new relationships with people in the community. Today, Shotgun in particular is a changed man. When I met him before, he was driven by the spirit of death. Whereas before he looked completely angry and hollow eyed, today he glows with laughter and joy. He is the first one to tell jokes and welcome newcomers to our church.
Diana has not missed a Sunday in church since that day and has become an outspoken advocate for Jesus to everyone she knows. She brought her entire family to our church. Shotgun and Diablo brought some other men they met on the street into our church for prayer, and those men also decided to leave their gangs and follow Christ. For weeks afterward, I would get calls from these former Latin King leaders telling me that they kept experiencing the presence of God everywhere they went— when they woke up, in the shower, when they were eating, all the time. One of them told me, “Robby, this is the best stuff in the world.” Crying, he called to say, “I don’t know why, but when I think about how Jesus has changed me, I can’t stop crying. I want the world to know how much Jesus can change people!”
Needless to say, there never was any gang war after our meeting, but both Shotgun and Diablo are still somewhat haunted by their reputations. Every time they show up on a Sunday morning, cop cars begin circling our church. Yet these men continue to praise God, grow in Christ and bring more and more people into relationship with Him. It’s interesting how God works.
At the end of our meeting when everyone had accepted Christ, I looked at these guys and said, “What just happened here will change this city.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was giving a prophetic word. This meeting took place at the end of 2011, it has now made national news that there were no homicides in all of Aurora in 2012. That hasn’t happened since 1946.
Another twist to this story is that we started the church fifteen years ago in Diana’s sister’s living room! I remember her sister, Bobbie, asking us back then to pray that Diana would come to Christ and turn away from the life she was leading. Fifteen years later, I had the privilege of leading Diana to Christ when she walked through the door that day. Yet Diana and I did not know our connected history through Bobbie until afterward.
The results of our meeting with the gang leaders became an awesome testimony in our community. It was part of a long series of changes we’ve seen God bring since we moved to Aurora to plant the church. Many times, it has been an uphill battle. Numerous break-ins have occurred at the church building, and I’ve had my car stolen several times— twice by members of our church. At different times over the years we’ve struggled financially, and it has been difficult growing a community of people as committed to the vision as we are. There have been pain and hard times— but in the midst of it all, we’ve seen incredible breakthroughs time and time again. God has been at work healing, transforming families, restoring marriages, providing jobs and ultimately changing the Aurora community. He has made it a place of hope where people from different parts of the country and even the world come to be trained and equipped.
Dawkins, Robby (2013-06-15). Do What Jesus Did: A Real-Life Field Guide to Healing the Sick, Routing Demons and Changing Lives Forever (Ch. 1). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Church on Fireis available as an eBook. Build your free Revival Cloud library and download a book any time to your computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone. See Welcome page.
by Rowland Croucher
. The Rev. Dr Rowland Croucher wrote as a Baptist minister and was editor of the newsletter Grid. This chapter is adapted from the Summer 1986 issue.Also reproduced in John Mark Ministries
Charismatic renewal is not going way. According to David Barrett, editor of World Christian Encyclopedia, pentecostals and charismatics numbered an estimated 100 million worldwide in 1980. He says that number jumped to about 150 million by 1985 and 337 million by 1989.
The word charismatic (Greek ‘charisma’ – a gift of grace) is useful as an adjective but sometimes offensive as a noun. Here we will reluctanly use charismatic as a noun, and as an adjective, but with the understanding that every true Christian is charismatic.
We are now hearing about post-charismatics. They had assumed the experiences in Acts 2,8,10,19 and 1 Corinthians 12 to 14 were normative for all Christians for all times. Having sought an emotional high, they found that their version of the charismatic renewal promised more than it delivered.
Let us work through the myths or misconceptions in order.
1. Renewal is a fairly modern phenomenon
Those unfamiliar with the mistakes of the past, as Santayana said, are likely to repeat them. Movements of religious renewal are not new. That happens when something lost is found: the book of the law (Josiah), prayer and asceticism (Desert Fathers), simple lifestyle (Franciscans), justification by faith (Luther), sanctification (Wesley), spiritual gifts (Pentecostals).
Christian renewal emphasizes the church’s organic, communal nature and tends to idealise the primitive apostolic church. Static institutions are challenged to change and become dynamic.
Traditionalists are usually blind to the disparity between the institution’s claims and its ineffectiveness. Renewalists often have little, or an idealised, sense of history; God is on their side and against the institution. They don’t realize that they too will set up new institutions which will eventually settle down, preserve a status quo and be challenged again.
Howard Snyder and others have helped us formulate a mediating model of the church, which affirms history and expects renewal – both.
. 2. Enthusiasm is a sign of immaturity
Not necessarily. Stolid Anglo-Saxons may not approve of too much enthusiasm, but other cultures (Latins, Africans) like it. Two Israelite leaders, Eldad and Medad, got excited when the Spirit fell on them, so Joshua the institutional spokesman told Moses to stop them. Moses retorted by wishing the Spirit might similarly fall on the lot of them (Numbers 11:26-30)!
Experiences of some of the mystics (Richard Rolle, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross), reveal an affinity to modern charismatic phenomena.
The Holy Spirit being manifested in a person, a culture or an age produces various attitudes: an ordering attitude, a praying attitude, a questioning attitude, and an attitude of receiving. Without the receptive attitude the other three dry up. Mark Hillmer says that without mystical experience, without an ongoing awareness of the presence of God, we do not live a full and rich Christian life. The charismatic renewal represents the re-entry into the world of the felt presence of God. It means that mysticism, the attitude of receiving, is being renewed for us.
In all renewal movements there is a predictable dialectic: a move far enough one way will cause the pendulum to swing back to the other extreme.
The sad history of enthusiasts illustrates both the dangers of unchecked fervency not centred on the revelation of Jesus Christ, and also the inadequacy of merely institutional or rational authority. The faith is endangered when Christians have to choose between this uncontrolled fervency and dessicated, authoritative, uninspired orthodoxies in Protestantism or Catholicism. The Spirit of God is the Spirit of love and community, the Spirit of reflection and control.
. 3. Pentecostalism is an ecclesiastical abberation that can be ignored
Not without reason has Pentecostalism been called the third force within Christendom. Pentecostalism teaches a necessary second stage in a believer’s relationship to the Lord – baptism in the Spirit – whose initial evidence is speaking in tongues. Its mission has been to restore spiritual gifts that had been neglected or opposed by the churches: tongues, interpretation, prophecy, faith, miracles, healing, wisdom, knowledge, and discernment (1 Corinthians 12:8-10).
. 4. Charismatic renewal in the 1960’s and 1970’s was indistinguishable from the older Pentecostalism
The Neo-pentecostal renewal began in a significant way in the historic churches in the 1950’s.
Catholic charismatic renewal (the term Neo-pentecostal soon went out of vogue) probably goes back to Pope John XXIII convoking the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), and his prayer that the Holy Spirit would renew the church as by a new Pentecost.
Charles Hummell uses a World War II analogy to explain what happened. Pentecostalists based their pneumatology on the Synoptics and Acts: wasn’t Jesus first conceived by the Holy Spirit, then later baptized in the Spirit? Didn’t the disciples receive the Holy Spirit when Jesus breathed on them, but were later filled with the Spirit at Pentecost?
Traditional theologies, on the other hand, were Pauline. They said you mustn’t build doctrines from these events in the primitive church, but rather ask ‘What do the New Testament letters to various churches teach us?’ And only once is baptizing in the Spirit explicitly referred to there (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). And so the battle-lines formed, and the troops became entrenched within their fixed positions.
It was something like the French Maginot Line facing the equally impregnable Siegfried Line. Each army was safe behind its ramparts but unable to advance. Suddenly the German panzer divisions moved swiftly around these fixed positions and rolled into Paris without a pitched battle.
So with our little theologies. We fight our wars, protect territory already won, and are often ill-prepared to take new ground. Hummell explains that for decades pentecostal and traditional theologies of the baptism in the Spirit faced each other along one major doctrinal battle line. Then suddenly the Holy Spirit moved around these fixed positions to infiltrate charismatic renewal behind the lines in mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic churches.
Catholic charismatic renewal has less emphasis on spiritual gifts and more on nurturing a personal relationship with Christ and on developing Christian community. In 1979 the Australian Catholic Theological Association said that through the movement thousands of Australian Catholic men and women were able to experience a deeper conversion to Jesus Christ; a renewal of faith; an introduction to a serious prayer life; a new appreciation of the Scriptures; an openness to the use of their gifts from the Holy Spirit; a commitment to evangelism.
. 5. Conservative churches are frightened to touch charismatic renewal because it is an all-or-nothing package
Peter Wagner, professor of church growth at Fuller Seminary has popularized the notion of a third wave of renewal experienced in many churches in the 1980’s. He says that many historians feel this century has seen the greatest outpouring of the Holy Spirit since the first century or two. The first wave came with the pentecostal movement. The second came around the middle of the century with the charistmatic movement. The third wave is more recent, having begun around 1980, with the same powerful, supernatural acts of the Holy Spirit which had been confined to pentecostals and charismatics now being seen in a growing number of evangelical churches.
Wagner goes on to talk about his ‘120 Fellowship’ that meets from 7.30 to 9.15 Sunday mornings. They see signs and wonders on a regular basis. They don’t teach a baptism in the Holy Spirit as a second work of grace but see the Spirit’s impact as a filling or anointing of the Spirit which may happen to a person many times. They do not permit themselves to be called Spirit-filled Christians, as if others in the church were something less than Spirit-filled.
They try to avoid the Corinthian error concerning tongues; they neither forbid nor stress it. They treat tongues as just another spiritual gift, not as a badge of spirituality. Many pray in tongues, but they do not encourage public tongues in their class.
Wagner sees the third wave of the Spirit as an opening of the evangelicals and other Christians to the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. He notes evidence of this in many mainline churches now incorporating renewal in their worship service, sponsoring healing services, or praying for healing and deliverance in their normal worship times.
. 6. There’s only one way to understand the term baptism in the Spirit
Baptism in the Spirit, in the pentecostal and charistmatic traditions, is an effusion of God’s Spirit upon a Christian with power for praise, witness and service. It is an experience which initiates a decisively new sense of the powerful presence and working of God in one’s life, and usually involves one or more charismatic gifts, observes Francis Sullivan. Pentecostals normally view it as a second work of grace. Charismatics have come to understand it as a deepening of the faith grounded in the new life received in Christ.
When a person becomes a Christian (and that can happen in many different ways), he or she never realizes all that has happened. A fuller understanding of justification, for example, may come much later. But it happened earlier. So we mustn’t put dogmatic strait-jackets on this experience. Conversion can be dramatic (if the person was running hard from God beforehand, for example), or quite matter-of-fact.
So with the Holy Spirit. Luke and Paul write about the work of the Spirit from different perspectives. For Luke the Spirit gives believers power for witness in the world – and that can be repeatable. Paul talks about the Spirit incorporating us into the body of Christ – that’s once-for-all.
Words can have different meanings in different contexts. Paul has perhaps five separate meanings for flesh. The Bible has many ways to describe the meaning of the death of Christ. Baptism is used in the Scriptures as a flexible metaphor, not merely as a technical term. I heard theologian Clark Pinnock say that so long as we recognize conversion as truly a baptism in the Spirit, there is no reason why we cannot use ‘baptism’ to refer to subsequent fillings of the Spirit as well’.
. 7. Regarding spiritual gifts, the best course is to be conservative (stick to the safe ones and leave the others well alone)
Every church ought to be open to the full spectrum of the gifts. Spiritual gifts are meant to create truly Christian community. Where there is love, there’ll be gift-giving. God’s gifts are love-gifts – God at work.
Gifts are given freely by the Holy Spirit. They can’t be manufactured by us nor is their presence or absence a sign of Christian maturity.
In a truly biblical fellowship the focus is not on the gifts, but the Giver. But that shouldn’t be a cop-out, ignoring the gifts we aren’t comfortable with.
Here’s a common problem: ‘I had the best hands laid on me, but nothing happened’. Well, what did you expect to happen? Faith-filled prayer believes you have received the Spirit: leave the rest to God’s timing. David du Plessis (Mr. Pentecost) says that baptism in the Spirit is always easy when Jesus Christ does it for you, but always difficult when you struggle to do it yourself or with the help of others. And Richard Lovelace comments that Christians act as though fellowship with the Holy Spirit were very hard to establish. Actually it is very difficult to avoid! He says all that is necessary is for the believer to open up to that divine Reality in the centre of consciousness which is the most fundamental fact of a Christian’s inner life’.
Western fundamentalism has been infected with dispensationalism which sees the activity in the Book of Acts as transitional; the canon of Scripture is now closed, and the curtain has been brought down on all this sort of thing. When Paul says tongues and prophecy will be with us until the perfect comes (1 Corinthians 13:10) they say Paul meant a perfect Bible. The rest of the church interprets Paul as referring to heaven, when we shall see face to face.
Prophecy is a direct dominical utterance (thus says the Lord) for a particular people at a particular time and place, for a particular purpose. The Divine Word also comes through Jesus, through Scripture, through circumstances, and through visions (more commonly in non-Western cultures).
Prophecy gives the church fresh insights into God’s truth (Ephesians 3) or guidance about the future (Acts 11), or encouragement (1 Corinthians 14:3, 1 Timothy 1:18), or inspiration or correction. It either edifies the church or brings it under judgement (God is in this place! – see 1 Corinthians 14:25). The biblical prophets combined judgement with hope.
. 9. Tongues is an ecstatic gift (for immature Christians)
The gift of tongues (glossolalia) is a quasi-linguistic phenomenon, not language in the normal sense of the term.
Tongues-speaking is not an indication of mental imbalance. After fifty years of research the consensus still runs, as with Virginia Hine over twenty years ago, that available evidence requires that an explanation of glossolalia as pathological must be discarded.
Two decades of research into the discrete functions of left and right hemispheres of the brain appears to show that the dominant cerebral hemisphere (the left, for 95% of the population) specializes in thinking processes which are analytical, linear, logical, sequential, verbal, rational. The right hemisphere normally shows preference for thought that is visiospatial, simultaneous, analog (as opposed to digital), emotional.
While speech has been seen to rise from mapped sectors of the left hemisphere, language-formation capacities are probably spread over both hemispheres. Glossolalia may be right hemisphere speech, sharing a location beyond – but not contradictory to – the usual canons of rationality. It is appropriate to think of glossolalic prayer as neither irrational nor arational, but rather transrational; when reason fails in prayer, the Spirit helps (Romans 8:26,27). It’s spirit to Spirit communication rather than mind to mind. (1 Corinthians 14:15).
Richard Beyer claims that there is a fundamental functional similarity between speaking in tongues and two other widespread and generally accepted religious practices, namely Quaker silent worship and the liturgical worship of Catholic and Episcopal churches.
. 10. What if they’re not healed?
Let’s look at the tough questions.
Does God want everyone healed? Pentecostalists usually say yes (and if you aren’t, the problem is with lack of faith – yours, or your praying friends’ or your church’s).
Most others would say no.
Francis McNutt offers a more balanced view. In general, he says, it is God’s desire that we be healthy, rather than sick. And since he has the power to do all things, he will respond to prayer for healing unless there is some obstacle, or unless the sickness is sent or permitted for some greater reason.
The church today surely needs less pride and prejudice in this area. ‘But what if we pray publicly and they’re not healed?’ is the kind of faithless question that stymies our maturing in this area. Our calling is to be faithful and obedient. It’s God’s business whether he heals or not!
. 11. Deliverance from evil spirits is a medieval or animistic idea. We’ve now outgrown all that.
Naturalism is a view of the world that takes account only of natural elements and forces, excluding the supernatural or spiritual.
This world view has influenced theology in this century principally through Rudolf Bultmann. He claimed that because the forces and laws of nature have been discovered we can’t believe in spirits, whether good or evil.
Against this, the biblical worldview holds that the universe consists of both visible and invisible creatures, angels, demons, and powers. As theologians like Gustav Aulen and Helmut Thielicke point out, the inbreaking of God’s kingdom in the ministry of Jesus Christ can’t be understood apart from its being a war against the principalities of evil. Emil Brunner says we cannot rightly understand the church of the New Testament unless we break out of the strait-jacket of naturalism and take seriously the dynamic manifestations of the Holy Spirit.
Someone has calculated that 3,874 (49%) of the New Testament’s 7,957 verses are ‘contaminated’ with happenings and ideas alien to a naturalistic world-view. Morton Kelsey noted that the only large group of Christians who take seriously the idea of a direct encounter with the non-space-time or spiritual world are the Pentecostals and the charismatics, and they have come in for derision from every side.
However, as C.S. Lewis and others have warned us, there are two opposite errors we must avoid: either disbelieving in the devil’s existence, or giving Satan more attention than he deserves. Cardinal Suenens similarly exhorts us to steer a safe course between Scylla and Charibdis, between underestimation and exaggeration.
Within the church the gift of discernment of spirits is very important. The Scriptures suggest various tests to discern the spirits: Is Christ glorified (John 16:14)? Is the church edified? Are others helped? Does it accord with Scripture? Is there love? Is Jesus Lord of the person’s life? Is there submission to church leaders – allowing others to weigh what is said or done?
. 12. It’s all so divisive that we ought to leave charismatic issues well alone
Divisiveness would head anyone’s list of the issues confronting us in the modern charistmatic renewal.
My observation, however, is that divisiveness is not a function of the presence or absence of certain spiritual gifts, but of insecurity, fear (charisphobia), insensitivity (charismania), or lovelessness on one or both sides.
David Watson talked about tidy churches, with piles of papers neatly in order. The windows are opened, but the fresh wind of the Spirit blows the papers about, so the elders scurry around collecting them all again, and close the windows. You’ve got tidiness, even stuffiness.
That’s the picture of many a church, he suggests. He wants to have the windows open with a fresh breath of the Holy Spirit blowing. Untidiness with life is preferable if the alternative is tidiness and death. One of the tidiest places you can find is the cemetery.
Let us beware of the error Gamaliel warned about (Acts 5:33-39). If this is of God, we must take the movement seriously.
Certainly the swift stream of renewal often throws debris on to the banks. Old wineskins can’t cope with new wine without bursting. When the Spirit is at work, the devil will be sowing weeds among the wheat.
. 13. Experience-centred and Word-centred theologies won’t mix
The success of an experiential theology must be judged by the ease (or lack of ease) with which it moves from Spirit to Word. If Word and Spirit can be held in dynamic union, then experiential theology has the possibility of becoming definitive for the life and witness of the church today.
Too often Word takes the place of Spirit. Our traditional theologies run the risk of being rationalistic, contrived conceptual schemas. The Holy Spirit is the subject of a sterile pneumatology, with little openness to an experience of his power.
But, again, an experience-centred theology sometimes stays there. Sometimes there’s an unhealthy identification of truth with a prophetic leader, or a great experience; everything else derives validity through reference to these. Or else the Bible is used as a sanction for one’s independent feelings and experiences. Or perhaps we are not open to the whole of experience.
Thus an unhealthy individualism and a pervasive subjectivism often accompany pieties of personal experience. As Russell Spittler has put it, individualism is a virtue when it assures conscious religious experience, but becomes something of an occupational hazard for Pentecostal-charismatics. Add in some dominant personality traits, take away an acquaintance with the church’s collective past, delete theological sophistication, and the mix can be volatile, catastrophic.
Let us beware of inhabiting simplicity this side of complexity, or complexity the other side of simplicity, but rather move to simplicity the other side of complexity!
The security of the slogan is easier than the hard work of discovering the truth. Much of what is written in pentecostal/charismatic books is what Kilian McDonnell calls enthusiastic theological fluff – pink hot air in printed form.
There is a great need for a thorough-going charismatic theology. For example the juxtaposition of the ideas of baptism in the Spirit and the release of spiritual gifts may be seen to be a most significant contribution to twentieth-century theology, but a lot more work has to be done on it yet.
. 14. In the church’s worship you can’t mix charismatic elements with traditional forms
Probably, in retrospect, it will be seen that the pentecostal movement will have made its most important contribution in corporate worship, in the sphere of liturgy and preaching, and not in the sphere of pneumatology, as is constantly and quite wrongly supposed, suggests Walter Hollenweger.
Aspects of pentecostal/charistmatic worship are invading traditional churches with a rush! It’s becoming more common for worshippers of all kinds to raise their hands in adoration, as they sing scripture-songs in their morning worship-services. However these songs are as limited as is charismatic theology. There are very few about mission and justice, for example. They’re mostly ‘God loves me and I love God’ songs. Nice, but there’s more; love issues in a life of witness and obedience in a hostile world.
The way forward ultimately is to integrate the unique insights and results of charismatic renewal into the full life of the church, with a submission to the order, tradition, doctrine and spirituality of the church as a whole. It’s not helpful to go underground. Every special movement needs the whole church body to give focus, direction, discernment and correction; it needs to be tested, evaluated, encouraged, improved and admonished. As Cardinal Suenans says, to be most useful, the charismatic movement must disappear into the life of the church.
. 15. The problem of elitism should eventually go away
I’m pessimistic on this one. We enjoy sorting others out according to false hierarchies of value. There have always been ‘haves and have-nots’ in the church. Only the categories change. In one era a priestly caste takes special prerogatives to itself and we have the evil of clericalism. In others there are heresy trials with the orthodox removing the heterodox. In the charistmatic renewal, experience is the watershed: those who have ‘arrived’ have been ‘baptised in the Spirit’ in a discernible experience subsequent to conversion, and speak in tongues. But the New Testament mostly uses ethical rather than experiential categories to define stages of Christian maturity. For example, Barnabas was spirit-filled; that is, he was filled with goodness and faith (Acts 11:24).
. 16. Magic isn’t a problem if we’re ministering in Christ’s name
It is possible for a miracle-centred theology to become theurgical (Greek ‘theourgia’ – magic). An openness to signs and wonders can easily degenerate into miracle-mongering.
Miracles are not just for show. Jesus resisted the temptation to work miracles to dazzle people or to seduce them into believing in him, notes Alan Richardson. He refused to give the Pharisees a ‘sign from heaven’. He did not want to be sought after as a wonder-worker.
Magic involves repeating formulas (vain repetitions). It’s wanting blessings more for my sake than God’s. It’s manipulating deity for my ends.
. 17. The charismatic renewal is ecumenical
If it is charismatic, it’s ecumenical, says Mr. Pentecost, David du Plessis. But he adds that there has been a dangerous tendency by pentecostals/charismatics to criticize the church, leading to the formation of schismatic, independent groups:
The more schismata the less charismata (1 Corinthians 12:25,26), he would say. This humble Pentecostal pioneer had a passion for unity because the prayer of Jesus was for unity, that the world may believe. He saw little hope for the world unless unity comes to Christianity.
. 18. Charismatic renewal and mission
Christians are commissioned to do in their world what Jesus did in his: bringing salvation (wholeness, the reign of God), where there is pain, sickness, lostness, alienation, oppression, poverty, war, injustice. So the church’s mission has three dimensions: evangelism (preaching good news), works of mercy (relieving persons’ pain), and works of justice (addressing the causes of pain). It uses three instruments: word (what we say), deed (what we do) and sign (what God does).
Pentecostalists/charismatics have brought the church back to signs and wonders and they have generally done evangelism better than others.
But pentecostal/charismatics churches are weakest of all in the justice area. There’s more in the prophets than Joel’s promise of the Spirit on all flesh. The prophets cried out for justice, the redress of wrongs done to the poor.
. 19. Being baptised in the Spirit is an antidote for antinomianism
It isn’t. Antinomianism (living carelessly and lawlessly) is as much a trap for pentecostals/charismatics as for anyone.
. 20. Conclusions: the way forward
Sherwood Wirt noted that the most important gift God has given to the charismatic renewal is a fresh outpouring of love. Not joy, not ecstasy, not tongues, not miracles, not even martyrdom, but love.
And there’s something else the cautious ought to be more afraid of: attributing the work of the Spirit to the devil. That’s a very serious sin, Jesus warned.
Paul sums it up: ‘Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts’ (1 Corinthians 14:1).
This Renewal Journal continues to discuss controversial issues, such as the current ‘blessing’ transforming thousands of churches and multiplied thousands of people in the last few years.
People often have strong and opposite opinions about whether it is indeed a ‘blessing’ or not.
What can we make of it all?
Important cautions need to be made. To endorse and swallow everything that is happening as good would overlook the usual excesses, theological imbalances, and human sin. We are never free of that. It is present in all we do.
So we need to recognize our own bias to sin and to blindness. We all need the light of God’s grace and mercy.
Often those who most strongly assert their own theological purity may tragically disobey the most important commandments of all – to love God and love others. Theological purists, of all traditions, tend to judge others in direct contraction to Jesus command (Matthew 7:1 – judge not).
Having said that, we do need to exercise wisdom and discernment.
Some groups are excessively emotional and gullible. Other groups are excessively intellectual and proud. Others toss around like the waves of the ocean, riding the latest fad. None of us are free of a blind spot or two. So we need to walk humbly with our God, open to correction and willing to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).
God gives grace to the humble and wisdom to the meek, but he resists the proud. The discernment we need is available but hidden from the worldly wise and haughty. That is a key to understanding this current ‘blessing’.
Thousands of God’s people testify to the humbling grace of God transforming their lives, even with and often through strange manifestations. Hard hearts are softened, and people weep – then joy comes in the morning. Burdened souls find release in joy unspeakable, full of glory and wonder, including laughter. Broken lives find a peace that passes understanding even in the midst of uncertainty; worry dissolves into exultant faith.
A common thread in the blessing of the mid-nineties is the empowering grace of God multiplied to those who hunger and thirst after what is right.
More than most of us have ever seen, we now see, hear about and read of significant changes in people and in churches where the current blessing has burst into bloom.
Pastors confess their sins of control, pride, theological rigidity, jealousy and fear of people’s opinions. Many are reconciled and work publicly together for God’s glory, not for the glory of their own denomination or theological stance. Churches which once competed, blamed others for ‘sheep stealing’ and criticised each other, have confessed their sins of division and hatred, found reconciliation and an astonishing love for one another. Many of them now co-operate to minister this blessing together.
Blessing in the nineties catapulted so many of us into new dimensions of renewal and revival in the 21st century. This century opened with renewal and revival transforming individuals, churches and whole communities. The Renewal Journals document some of those recent changes.
The current ‘blessing’ has been around long enough for us to assess its fruit in thousands of churches and lives. Ask around. You may be amazed at the people who will tell you of God’s grace bursting into their lives in these days, of new zeal for the Lord, of worn out leaders refreshed and renewed, of timid Christians finding surprising boldness and joy.
The high and mighty are being brought low, and the lowly made strong. Such is the Kingdom of God. Surely it is logical that if the glory and power of God touches us even a little, we will be undone, shake, tremble, weep or laugh for sheer joy.
The Renewal Journal, Number 5, on ‘Signs and Wonders’ included comment on the current blessing from overseas by Derek Prince, John Wimber, Jerry Steingard and others. It included some early Australian observations on this blessing. This issue, Number 7, gives Australian testimony and comment from leaders involved in it.
Owen Salter describes developments in Australia and overseas. Greg Beech, and Ron French add historical reflection to their testimonies. Dennis Plant, Alan Small, Andrew Evans and David Cartledge give their perspectives on the impact they have seen in the church. Charles Taylor and John Court offer wise counsel, and I comment on our discoveries in current renewal ministry.
The Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship (formerly Toronto Airport Vineyard Christian Fellowship), which during the first two years of the current blessing impacted about 100,000 people a year continues to minister in its significant expression of this current blessing. The Vineyard Churches also continue to minister that blessing in their unique way which has brought blessing to thousands around the world. Others minister this blessing in their own ways also, such as the Anglicans at Holy Trinity Brompton in London, the combined churches in Sunderland in England, Melbourne in Florida, Pasadena in California, and various Pentecostal expressions of this impact such as ministries of people like Rodney Howard-Browne, Benny Hinn, Argentine healing evangelists, and many others.
And you? And me?
If, as multiplied thousands testify, God is blessing his people in profound ways right now, may we not miss the day of our visitation. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. They shall be filled (Matthew 5:6).
Every revival is born in prayer, in seeking the Lord earnestly together. Every revival is sustained in prayer, as people continue to seek God and bring others into praying, believing, obeying communities of God’s people.
Young George Whitefield, converted at 21 in 1735 wrote in his journal in 1737:
We began to set apart an hour every evening, to intercede with the Great Head of the Church to carry on the work begun… Once we spent a whole night in prayer and praise: and many a time, at midnight and at one in the morning, after I have been wearied almost to death in preaching, writing and conversation, and going from place to place, God imparted new life to my soul, and enabled me to intercede with Him for an hour-and-a-half and two hours together… I cannot think it presumption to suppose that partly, at least, in answer to prayers then put up by His dear children, the Word for some years past, has run and been glorified, not only in England, but in many other parts of the world. [George Whitefield’s Journals (1960:91)]
The Spirit of the Lord was poured out on one of those praying groups in January 1739. Within two months the crowds which gathered to hear George Whitefiled preach at Kingswood near Bristol had grown from 200 to 20,000 as God’s Spirit moved upon them. John Wesley began his famous open air preaching with those crowds and continued that for fifty years.
I recently visited Elcho Island, east of Darwin, with a team of 15 for their annual Thanksgiving Weekend on the anniversary of the revival there in 1979. God’s Spirit moved most strongly that weekend, I believe, when we waited on the Lord together, with Aboriginal leaders responding sensitively to the Spirit’s leading. We worshipped and prayed. Small clusters of people prayed for those who sought prayer, and God touched them gently and strongly.
The small communities there impressed me. Many people pray constantly, for hours a day, still. In some of those remote places the presence of the Lord is strong. The fires of the Spirit burn.
We can all do that – in our home groups, house churches, and meetings. We can wait on the Lord in worship and prayer and respond to his Spirit among us.
May revival fires be blown by the wind of the Spirit across this great south land of the Holy Spirit, igniting thousands of communities of the King.
God’s Spirit now moves like gusts of wind blowing and like waves breaking over us. It can be turbulent.
Many people report that their lives have been profoundly disturbed lately. Props and false securities are being shaken. False foundations crumble revealing what is built on the Rock.
This issue of the Renewal Journal explores some of the emerging developments as human structures are shaken and eternal issues emerge. In radical small communities people are learning to be the church, to pray in faith, to use spiritual gifts, to serve one another, to reach out in love. Increasingly, small groups are becoming the church in the home and the work place for many people. Some are linked with congregations. Some are house churches.
Communities of the King multiply. God is raising up a new breed of people committed to him and to one another, loving and serving in the power of the Spirit.
The articles in this issue of the Journal describe that. Charles Ringma, Dorothy Harris and Tim McCowan call us to discipleship in community life. Shayne Bennett and Adrian Commadeur report on charismatic communities among Catholics. Ian Freestone, Spencer Colliver and Col Warren outline emerging patterns of house churches and Barbara Nield examines the amazing growth in China’s house churches. Brian Edgar tells of renewal in a Bible College community and Darren Trinder reports on Spirit waves in Christian Outreach Centres across Australia.
God moves in many ways, including the multiplying of these emerging small communities of committed people. Thousands are praying as never before. Reports continue to come of God’s Spirit stirring.
All across this land the Spirit of God is leading people to wait on the Lord in worship, prayer and faith, then minister in the Spirit’s power. This journal strongly encourages that.
A lady in Belmont, Victoria wrote, ‘We thoroughly enjoy reading the Renewal Journal and have started a prayer group for revival.’
A husband and wife in Newtown in Victoria were blessed by the Journal and as a result they started a prayer group for renewal in their Reformed Church.
A young man in Brisbane bought extra copies of the Renewal Journal to distribute to his leaders’ group at his church and has urged them to spend more time seeking the Lord together.
This Renewal Journal strongly encourages prayer – personally, in groups and families, and in networks of praying people.
The phone rang as I sat to type this page. A man from Norfolk Island who had attended a ‘Catch the Fire’ renewal service held at Tingalpa Uniting Church in Brisbane phoned me to say how he was delighted with the meeting. He said “The worship at that meeting rode the wind like eagles” (Isaiah 40:31).
I had the privilege of speaking there, and found (as seems common now) that stories today of God’s current acts continually illustrate comments from Acts 3:19-21 where Peter called for repentance so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord. They still do.
The church was full at that meeting, so after extended times of worship and teaching we stacked the chairs at the sides, leaving room for our prayer team from the Renewal Fellowship to pray for all who desired it. Many did. I prayed for minsters and their wives. The Lord seemed to touch many deeply, as he is doing all over the world. The host minister said later that he could not rise from the floor. While there the Lord spoke clearly into his heart, telling him he was loved just as he was, not for what he did, for he is a child of God.
We continued to worship late into the night with songs of love and compassion, including some spontaneous love songs. The pianist played harmonies as I read from Daniel 7 and Revelation 7 about the majesty and glory of the Lord. That prophetic music not only magnified the reading and exalted the Lord, but ministered powerfully into people’s lives.
The man from Norfolk Island attends the Uniting Church there, where this kind of worship and ministry has been happening recently this year. They had not seen that since the days the island was founded by the Pitcairn people. The church on Norfolk Island began in such revival. People were regularly overwhelmed by the Spirit then as they cried out to God in their need.
Increasing numbers of people now report on these fresh touches of God and the deep refreshing from the Spirit of the Lord.
Is it revival? Most say, not yet. But it may be the beginnings of revival. Church leaders in Argentina now see revival with thousands upon thousands being saved and filled with the Spirit. They say that many churches had these times of renewal and refreshing for five years with increasing intensity until revival broke upon them.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the Baptist prince of preachers who lived through revival in London in the late 1850s, called it a time of ‘glorious disorder’. Revival is unpredictable. Often disturbing. Like Isaiah in the temple (Isaiah 6) we find ourselves overwhelmed, convicted, aware we are unclean, undone, and needing to be made right with God. Just a small touch of the glory of God is unnerving, and obviously beyond anything we can comprehend or control.
However, we can respond. With repentance. With humility. With unity. With prayer. With love for God and one another. With worship.
New dimensions of worship
Many of us are living through further dimensions of worship now. Some of us began experiencing corporate worship in a structured one hour church service. Sometimes the Spirit seemed to move upon us and the singing would take off, the preaching was inspired, and people responded at the altar call for prayer and counselling. That still happens.
Then we began experiencing more of the Lord’s grace (charisma) and power. We longed for fuller, freer worship. People began composing new songs of worship, praise and response, including Scripture in song. Those songs quickly spread worldwide. As with hymns of earlier revivals, the best remain in widespread use. Others fade away. Only a few of Charles Wesley’s 6,000 hymns still remain, but they are great!
Now in further touches of the Spirit we find some of the new songs and old hymns helpful, but limiting. Increasingly we worship with spontaneity. Harmonies and melodies and spontaneous songs blend with the best of the new songs and old hymns in creative expressions of worship.
This year I was able to worship in many places including the Philippines, Ghana, Toronto, Anaheim, and in meetings in Australia from Perth to Brisbane. Often powerful spontaneity found expression in extended worship. Many times we worship in harmonies and Spirit songs for extended periods.
All the revivals I’ve read about experienced this. We will see much more yet.
This issue of the Renewal Journal explores many dimensions of worship. John & Carol Wimber describe intimacy with God. Geoff Bullock reminds us of our mission. Dorothy Mathieson gives prophetic challenge. Robert Tann and Robert Colman explore healing in worship. Lucinda Coleman surveys the history of dance in worship. Stephen Bryar and Stan Everitt comment on the significance of renewal. I reflect on worship in revival.
Worship God (Revelation 22:9). That command in the last chapter of the Bible points the way ahead for us now, and forever.
Church in the 21st century is changing. Previously the rate of change has been gradual, spanning many generations. Now change is rapid in all areas of society, including the social expressions of “church.”
Charismatic renewal and revival continue to powerfully transform church and community life. Home groups, cell groups, interest groups, and mission groups proliferate. They can thrive without budgets, salaries, or church buildings.
China and Africa lead the world in radical expressions of being the church – often without church buildings, salaries, and traditional services. Latin America provides increasing examples of community transformation and Christians celebrate together in fiestas and all night united prayer and worship festivities. Local governments often underwrite the cost of these celebrations because of the enormous impact for good they have on the whole community.
This issue of the Renewal Journal explores some growing edge challenges emerging now in being “church” in the new millennium.
Ray Overend finds fresh hope for “The Voice of the Church in the 21st Century” because secular university culture is beginning to change and throw bright light on the very foundations of Christianity, and on just why the Church has lost spiritual authority in the world.
Sandra J. Godde, Founder and Director of Excelsia Dance Company, calls for Christians in the Arts to give the church a prophetic voice in her publication, “Redeeming the Arts: visionaries of the future.”
Ann Crawford examines the presuppositions and processes that distinguish Christian counselling from other forms of counselling in her article, “Counselling Christianly: implications for pastors and church-based counselling professionals.”
John Meteyard and Irene Alexander engage in “Redeeming a Positive Biblical View of Sexuality,” showing how human sexuality and spirituality are very close to another, both dealing with intimate relationship, deep desire, and being known for who we truly are. They outline theological principles for a positive and integrationist perspective for human sexual experience and expression.
Irene Alexander explores the relationship of “The Mystics and Contemporary Psychology” to show how the mystics experienced God’s reality in the depths of their being and have often passed on profound truths that can enable us to be close to God.
Warren Holyoak examines “Problems Associated with the Institutionalisation of Ministry” particularly the difficulties imposed by hierarchical structures, inappropriate distinctions, and inappropriate roles in leadership and ministry.
Most of these articles were presented and discussed at the 2002 Contemporary Issues in Ministry conference held at the School of Ministries of Christian Heritage College in Brisbane, Australia.
The Renewal Journal Publications in the 21st century include inspirational books on renewal and revival on www.renewaljurnal.com. The books continue to explore stories of renewal and revival. Here is another.
Miracles in PNG
Matt Ransom tells of the beginnings of a new ministry for Fr Charlie Kape.
I have to tell you of the amazing story of Fr Charlie Kape, a Papua New Guinea Catholic Priest.
In Feb. 1998 he visited our church, St Thomas the Apostle Canberra, to take part in a school of evangelization. At the same time a number of revival meetings with being held with Randy Clark and his team. Fr Charlie got absolutely blasted as a result of Randy’s ministry and went back to PNG full of God’s FIRE.
The day Fr Charlie returned, he was at a meeting and he prayed with a woman with a broken arm. Her arm was instantly healed. The next day he was asked to go and visit a man with tuberculosis, he was bedridden. He too was instantly healed.
As a consequence crowds began to seek him out, and again many were healed.
At one meeting, Fr Charlie was in an area where he didn’t know the language. So he spoke in tongues. All the people understood him speaking to them eloquently about Jesus Christ.
Early in 1999, he organized the procession of a cross around his part of the country, to evangelize people. It ended at Port Moresby, the capital (and ravaged by violence and poverty). The procession travelled through an area where any cars that travel are held up, and many killed. The young men who conducted these crimes were touched by the worship, the cross and the message of Jesus. As a consequence, 50 turned to the Lord, handed over their guns and weapon, and stopped their violence. There have been no holdups in that area since. The police superintendent went to visit the young men, burned up their criminal records and invited the young men to become police cadets. 30 said yes!!!!
Fr Charlie has also suffered many attacks. In June of 1999, he was attacked by a group of young men. One attempted to pierce him with a sword and another bashed him with a sword. He ended up in hospital and showed us the scars in his head.
He has a lot of support from his Catholic church and is training up his people. But he needs our prayers.
Finally, Fr Charlie told us how at one powerful meeting of 3000 people, at one stage, he felt to extend his hand toward the people. As he did so, power came from him. People just fell over under the power of the Holy Spirit, and many were healed (he didn’t even lay hands on them). Praise God.
The great Christian revolutions come not by the discovery of something that was not known before. They happen when somebody takes radically something that was always there –
H. Richard Neibuhr
Challenges facing the church, its leadership and each of us, have always been there – in Scripture, in Jesus’ call and commands, and in the Spirit’s persistent regenerating and renewing of people and communities.
One of the great challenges facing Christians is how we understand and exercise leadership. We all lead. It may be in the home, with our children or youth, in the community, and in the church. Leadership in the church is not just from the platform or pulpit. We’re all involved, and can all take initiatives such as contacting people by phone, over coffee, in home groups or in a huge range of activities such as taking food to the sick or bereaved.
Jesus demonstrated and insisted on servant leadership. To lead is to serve. We lead by serving. Kingdom leadership is fundamentally different from leadership in society. Jesus emphasised this when James and John wanted recognition or prominence (Mark 10:35-45). How do we demonstrate kingdom leadership here and now?
The timely, significant articles in this issue of the Renewal Journal explore some of these challenges in contemporary ministry facing us in the church.The articles were presented and discussed as papers in 2001 at the first annual Contemporary Ministry Issues Conference hosted by the School of Ministries of Christian Heritage College at Citipointe International Christian Outreach Centre, Mansfield, Brisbane.
This conference demonstrated many responses to current challenges. Keen to interact, teachers, students and visitors packed the seminar lounge at Rivers Café, an integral part of Citipointe Christian Outreach Centre at Mansfield. All the conference speakers are involved in leadership and ministry, not stuck in libraries. Most of them are so ministry and people-focused that their research is constantly tested in the lively interface of practice and theory.
Irene Brown examines the transforming power of the kingdom within: the kingdom of God is within you. We can be liberated from the prevailing bondage to Christian law, and made free to really love and serve one another. Jesus insisted on that as the true mark of his followers: “By this shall everyone know that you are my disciples, if you have love for another.” Irene emphasizes that approach in her Christian counselling courses.
Jeannie Mok challenges churches in multi-cultural Australia to embrace our changing context with courage and sensitivity. Our ethnocentric pride or prejudice can increase barriers between people when the churches should lead the way as radical bridge-building communities of compassion and equality. Jeannie co-pastors the multi-ethnic International City Church in Brisbane and is principal of the Asian Pacific Institute which offers a range of multicultural courses. These include the pioneering Pentecostal external studies from Manchester University in England to masters level.
Sue Fairley tackles some sacred cows enshrined in our church traditions. The place of women in ministry and leadership raises temperatures all over the world. Tradition easily suppresses fresh movements of the Spirit who calls and liberates women as well as men to be leaders, missionaries, pioneers, and equal partners in ministry. Many traditions need to be challenged, and Sue does so in her ministry as Principal of Trinity Theological College in the Uniting Church in Queensland. Her article may surprise you!
Susan Hyatt reports on a significant international conference on women and religions. She emphasizes a return to a biblical pattern of equality in ministry and service in her writings and speaking, including ministry with her husband in seminars and publications. Susan’s report provides further insights into the place of women in Pentecostal and charismatic ministry in addition to those quoted by Sue Fairley in her article.
Mark Setch, senior pastor of a progressive Uniting Church in Brisbane, applies his doctoral research on leadership to ministry. He takes seriously Jesus’ command to make disciples – not just make church members, pew sitters, or meeting attenders. Mark is also pro-active in united prayer and ministry among pastors and churches in the Redcliffe area of Brisbane where some leaders pray together regularly, some churches now gather for combined services, and some pastors exchange pulpits.
Sam Hey has been researching and teaching about biblical renewal and revival movements which confront the secularising pressures on all Christian institutions. He applauds Harvey Cox’s conversion from The Secular City thinking of the sixties to the Fire from Heaven thinking of the nineties! A longer version of Sam’s article is available in the Contemporary Ministry Issues Conference Papers, 2001 ($20 including postage). There he gives a slice of his current Ph.D. research with 80 footnotes. Here we reduced that paper considerably, with only 30 footnotes!
Global Reports continue to highlight current developments in revival worldwide and the Book Reviews cover three author-published books which all contain detailed discussions of their renewal and revival themes.
This issue of the Renewal Journal provides inspiring, informative articles which we pray will help you understand and embrace what the Spirit is saying to the contemporary church.