Dr C Peter Wagner, formerly Professor of Church Growth at Fuller Theological Seminary, author of numerous books, was President of Global Harvest Ministries and Co-ordinator of the United Prayer Track for the AD2000 and Beyond Movement.
The Kingdom of God has been steadily advancing
and the rate of advance has never been greater than it is now
The 1990s were extraordinary times. The Kingdom of God has been steadily advancing and the rate of advance has never been greater than it is now. The steady movement of the light of the Gospel of Christ has pushed the forces of darkness into their final comer, the part of the world called the 10/40 Window [people living 10-40 degrees north from west Africa to east Asia]. The future has never been brighter for the people of God, but at the same time the task has never been more formidable. As Scripture says, the devil has great wrath because he knows he has a short time (see Rev. 12:12).
New Spiritual Weapons
God never fails to provide the resources His people need for any challenge He gives them. The unusual times in which we live are no exception. God has provided the Body of Christ with some new spiritual weapons which will help us penetrate the darkest realms of the Enemy with the message of salvation through the blood of Jesus Christ. Among these new weapons of warfare, three stand out above the others in my estimation:
* Strategic‑level spiritual warfare
* Spiritual mapping
* Identificational repentance
When I say these are ‘new’ weapons, I do not mean that they have just now come into being. Their roots go back to the Bible. Certain individuals and certain Christian traditions have used them in the past to one degree or another. The newness comes in the fact that only in the 1990s has the broad spectrum of the Body of Christ begun to understand the nature of these weapons of spiritual warfare and how to use them in advancing the Kingdom of God.
At this time I am going to deal with the third of these spiritual weapons: identificational repentance. This gives us the awesome power to heal the past.
For me at least this is very new. I have been a Christian for 45 years, and I never once recall hearing a sermon from the pulpit on identificational repentance. I have four graduate degrees in religion from respectable academic institutions, and I was never taught a class on the subject. You do not find the issue raised in the writings of Martin Luther or John Calvin or John Wesley.
Fortunately, we now have a textbook on the subject, namely John Dawson’s remarkable book, Healing America’s Wounds (Regal Books). In my opinion, this is one of the books of the decade for Christian leaders of all denominations. Only because we now have access to this book has the United Prayer Track or the AD2000 Movement been bold enough to declare 1996 as the year to Heal the Land, featuring massive initiatives for repentance and reconciliation on every continent of the world. This is so important to me that I require my students at Fuller Theological Seminary to read Healing America’s Wounds and I invite John Dawson himself to come in and help me teach my classes.
Some may wonder what international significance a book like Healing America’s Wounds might have. Only this. We Americans are not ignorant of the fact that our nation has gained high international visibility for many things, some good, but some very bad. Now by God’s grace many American Christian leaders want our nation also to be known for our deep remorse over the national sins and atrocities we have committed. We want to be among the first to corporately humble ourselves before God and before the people we have offended, to confess our sins, and to seek remission of those sins in order to heal our deep national wounds. With no desire to be arrogant, we hope that if we provide a good example which pleases God, some other nations may see fit to follow our lead.
What exactly is involved in identificational repentance?
In order to understand it, let’s go from the known to the unknown. Most of us have been well trained to understand personal repentance. We know that sin can and does invade our personal lives. When it does, it has devastating effects not only on us, but on others around us. And we know what to do about it when it happens. This has been taught in every one of our seminaries and Bible schools. We do find it in the works of Luther and Calvin and Wesley. It is no secret that personal sins can and should be remitted.
A basic theological principle for this is found in Hebrews 9:22: “Without the shedding of blood there is no remission for sins.”
In Old Testament times the blood was that of bulls and goats and other animals which were sacrificed. Then Jesus Christ shed His blood on the cross to pay the price for sin once and for all. So today when we deal with a sin in our personal life we know that we must:
* Identify the sin specifically.
* Sincerely confess the sin and ask God to forgive it.
* Know that God is faithful and just to forgive our sins whenever we do confess them because of the blood which Jesus shed on our behalf.
* Once forgiven, walk in obedience from that point onward, and do whatever is necessary to repair the damage that our sin has done to others.
It is important to recognise that having a sin forgiven does not automatically and by itself heal the wounds that the sin might have caused.
We must recognise that nations can and do sin corporately. God loves nations, and I join those who believe that God has a redemptive plan for each nation, or for that matter for each city or people group or neighbourhood or any visible network of human beings. But corporate national sin damages the relationship of the nation to God and prevents that nation from being all that God wants it to be.
Is this a hopeless situation? No. The Word of God has clearly outlined the remedy:
If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14).
God desires to bring corporate healing. He wants to heal the land. The way that He does this is parallel to the way He deals with individuals. If we desire to see the healing come to our national wounds, we must take the following steps:
1. Identify the national sin. This is no place for vagueness. We must be specific, not evasive. For example, the principal sin of my nation, the United States, is clearly racism and our corporate sins which have established the spiritual strongholds are clear. The broadest and most pervasive sin that our nation ever committed was bringing Africans to our shores as slaves ‑ human merchandise to be bought, sold and used for any conceivable purpose to satisfy the desires of their white masters. But beyond this, the deepest root of national iniquity, and also, as I see it, one of the primary causes of our subsequent lust for slaves, was the horrendous way we white Americans treated our hosts, the American Indians. What does the breaking of over 350 solemn treaties say about U.S. national integrity?
2. Confess the sin corporately and ask God for forgiveness. We must not assume that one act of repentance and confession will suffice in all cases, although in some it may. Because the ministry of identificational repentance is so new to many of us, we do not as yet have a clear idea as to specific rules and guidelines on this matter. Meanwhile let’s follow John Dawson’s advice: we keep doing it until it’s over; or Cindy Jacob’s criterion: we forgive until there is no more pain.
3. Apply Christ’s blood. Since there is no remission of sin without the shedding of blood, there will be no remission of national sin outside of the atonement of Christ. For this reason it is very important to recognise that only Christians can do the necessary confession and repentance because only they have the spiritual authority to apply the blood of Jesus. Granted, Christian leaders who have been endowed with a higher level of spiritual authority than others can often be the most effective participants in such spiritual initiatives. But political, judicial and legislative authorities who are not redeemed by Jesus Christ and who are not filled with the Holy Spirit cannot be designated as point people for significant acts of repentance, although they may often be present when the act occurs and participate in whatever gestures of forgiveness may be appropriate.
4. Walk in obedience and repair the damage. Obviously this final step will frequently be the most difficult to implement, particularly in cases where the national iniquity has passed through many generations. Presumably, however, legislative acts and judicial decisions will much more readily accomplish their intended purposes once the strongholds of iniquity have been removed and the power of the Enemy has been weakened.
The Iniquity of the Fathers
Why should we be concerned about what our ancestors might have done? This is an important question raised by many who hear of identificational repentance for the first time. The answer derives from the spiritual principle that iniquity passes from generation to generation. One of many biblical texts on the matter comes from the Ten Commandments that Moses received on Sinai: “I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations…” (Exodus 20:5).
Technically speaking, sin can be understood as the initial act while iniquity is the effect that the sin has exercised on subsequent generations.
I interpret the reference to the third or fourth generation as a figure of speech meaning that it can go on and on. Time alone does not heal national iniquities. In fact if the sin is not remitted, the iniquity more frequently than not can become worse in each succeeding generation. But the cycle can be stopped by corporate repentance. Quite obviously, the only ones who can confess the sin and put it under the blood of Jesus are those who are alive today. Even though they did not commit the sin themselves, they can choose to identify with it, thus the term “identificational repentance.”
We have two clear biblical examples of how this is done, Daniel and Nehemiah: Daniel said, “I was… confessing my sin and the sin of my people” (Daniel 9:20). Nehemiah said, “Both my father’s house and I have sinned” (Nehemiah 1:6).
Notice that each of these two confessions has two parts: the sin and the iniquity. Both Daniel and Nehemiah confessed sins that they did not commit, and both recognised that the iniquity had been passed to their own generation. Because of this they admitted that they were not personally exempt from the residue of that sin in their own daily lives. For many of us the second part is more difficult than the first because we have too often tended to fall into patterns of denial.
When we remit the corporate sins of a nation by the blood of Jesus Christ through identificational repentance, we effectively remove a foothold that Satan has used to attempt to hold populations in spiritual darkness and in social misery. It happens because we are recognizing that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, as Paul says, but “mighty in God for pulling down strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4). When we do that, the glory of Christ can shine through and the Kingdom of God can come in power.
“Heal the Land”
The year 1996 was designated as the time when Christians around the world agree to take aggressive action toward healing the wounds of their lands. Many initiatives begun in 1996 will continue in subsequent years. For example, a “Reconciliation Walk” in which thousands of Christians will walk the known routes of the Crusades was planned. Scheduled from November 1995 to June 1999, the top agenda item was repentance for sins of Christians against Muslims and Jews. Other planned initiatives include:
American whites repenting on the sites of Indian massacres.
American whites repenting for the slave trade.
Christians from Japan repenting for the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Europeans repenting of the sins of World War II.
Christians from the North and from the South repenting over sins of the American Civil War.
Similar events are being planned on every continent of the world.
As the Body of Christ agrees to pull down strongholds of corporate sin, the way will be opened for revival of churches and a harvest of souls greater than anything previously imagined. Identificational repentance gives us the power to heal the past.
Dr David Yonggi Cho wrote as the senior pastor of Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, Korea. This article is reproduced from his message “Speaking God’s Word for Church Growth” published in the Church Growth Manual, No. 7.
One day the Holy Spirit impressed upon my heart, “God sent his word, and he healed the people. Why don’t you give the word boldly to the people?”
This must have been the idea of the Holy Spirit. “Speak the healing. God sends his word through your mouth. God asked Ezekiel to speak to the air: You life, go into that body. So, why don’t you speak?”
At first I was scared, but then I was determined to speak. After I saw those impressions, then I began to boldly speak that such and such a person was healed, and such and such a disease is disappearing.
Miracle after miracle began to occur. The person who was healed came to me saying, “When you spoke that word, it shook me hard. Suddenly I felt the healing power flow, and I was healed.”
Through my own experience, I found the wonderful secret that through our mouth confession God’s creative power is working. In the book of Genesis, God spoke and the light appeared; God spoke and the firmament appeared; God spoke and the earth appeared. Jesus spoke and the people were forgiven. Jesus spoke and the sick people were healed. Jesus spoke and the devil left them. Jesus spoke and the turbulent sea became calm.
When you read the Bible, sick people were not healed just through prayer in the New Testament. They were healed by ‘speaking’. Peter said to Aeneas, “Rise up” (Acts 9:34). To Paul Jesus said, “Stand on your feet.”
They always spoke healing to the people. From that time until now, I would always just speak the word, and God created tremendous miracles.
In 1992 I went to the eastern part of Russia. It was very dangerous there. Russia was in a great turbulence, especially in eastern Russia. It is so far away from Moscow that the discipline was very loose. It was very difficult there. I went to a stadium filled with about 35,000 people. The Russian Orthodox Church was out there to attack me. The Communists were scaring me. On the second day I was ready to leave my hotel and was being carefully watched by the KGB. However, I could not leave my hotel because they were trying to assassinate me. They constantly intimidated me so I was incarcerated in the hotel. I was sitting in the hotel the whole day, and in the evening I would go out.
That evening when I took up my Bible and was ready to leave the hotel; I heard a voice. It was a very clear voice. It was almost audible. It was ringing in my soul: “You are leaving as a living man, but you will return as a dead man tonight. You will be assassinated. You came as a living person to our city, but you will return home in a casket. So don’t go to the meeting or you will return home in a casket.”
Every day people in Russia were being killed by shooting. So, I was preaching behind bullet‑proof glass that the Russian government had given to me. If I would be killed, it would become a diplomatic problem, so the Russian government commanded me to stand behind bullet‑proof glass. They could shoot me from the back. So while I was preaching, I was very conscious of the people behind me. It was a terrible feeling.
When I heard that voice in my hotel room, I had to decide if that was from the Holy Spirit or from the Devil. If you don’t clearly discern this right away, then you will be in trouble. At that time I began to see the predicament of Paul. When Paul was returning to Jerusalem, the government and prophets said that Paul would be arrested and bound and put in jail. These things would be waiting for him, so he was admonished not to go up there. But Paul was determined to go to Jerusalem, knowing that he would be arrested.
Before my experience in Russia, I always thought that Paul made a great mistake. He should have listened to the voice of those people. Still Paul went because he discerned the right voice of the Holy Spirit.
Almost instantly, I said to myself. “I should not go to the service tonight. I do not want to die. I want to see my wife and children.”
I prayed, “God, what shall I do?”
I began to hear another voice, a still, small voice in my heart with great assurance. Then I heard two distinctive voices. That was some experience. The first voice was coming strong and loud in my soul, “You are a dead person. Tonight you will be shot at. They will carry your dead body to the hotel. Don’t go.”
Then the Spirit said to my heart when I prayed, “Go to the meeting tonight. You will have great miracles in the service tonight.”
So I said, “You Devil, in the name of Jesus Christ, get out of me. To live is Christ. To die is gain. So if tonight I go to heaven, it is okay. I am ready to accept that.”
I went out of the hotel trembling. I was really afraid. The people were packed in the stadium and as I sat on the platform, I was constantly looking behind me.
Just before I stood up to preach, an ambulance was coming to the stadium. Usually an ambulance would not be permitted to get close to the stadium. As the ambulance came closer, I could hear the siren and thought, “Oh, they must have heard that I was going to be shot at and they have come to take me away.” I froze in my chair.
The back door of the ambulance was opened, and they carried a man out. He looked like a rich man and one who was in high authority. They put him into a wheelchair and pushed him out among the crowd. The Communist young people came and began to argue. They said, “Why do you come to this kind of meeting? He is preaching false doctrine. There is no living God. You cannot be healed. You are bringing shame on us. We are Communists. We do not believe in God. He is telling a lie. Go back into the ambulance.”
At that moment, many Christian people came and said, “No, Christ is living.”
These two groups of people were surrounding this man in the wheelchair and arguing back and forth. I got inspired and said, “Oh God, if you don’t heal this man in the wheelchair now, I will be in great trouble. I will be shot at for sure then.”
I stood up and preached under the unction of the Holy Spirit. When I asked for those who wanted to be saved, all 35,000 people stood to their feet.
I said, “Everyone sit down. You misunderstood me.” So I said, “All those who want to be saved for the first time, please stand up.”
The 35,000 people stood up again. I asked my interpreter, “Did you say my words correctly?”
He said, “Yes.”
I asked, “Then why do they all stand up?”
He looked at me and said, “Pastor, these people have never heard the Gospel before in their lives. For 70 years we have never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They are all newcomers. You are from the Western country. You don’t know our situation. They all heard the Gospel for the first time this evening, and they all want to be saved. So, just accept them. Don’t question them.”
So I had them stand up and led them to Jesus Christ. Then I began to pray the healing prayer. Usually, I have great success in divine healing in Russia because the people are so humble and so easily believe. However, that night I was concerned about the Communists’ gang. Though I preached strongly, and prayed the healing prayer strongly, I was afraid to announce the healings that took place.
God had clearly put in my mind that a miracle was going to take place, but I was afraid. So I just said, “This man with a deaf ear was healed. This man with arthritis was healed. This man who has stomach trouble is healed.”
Actually, I could not say that the man in the wheelchair was healed, but my interpreter said, “Yes, everyone knows this person. He is a great man. He was in an accident and has a broken backbone. He has been in a wheelchair for seven years. They tried every way, but he could not be healed.”
I have been trained medically, so when I heard that I thought, “That is impossible.” It is impossible for that man with a broken backbone and broken nerve chord to be healed.
The people began to stand up and testify of their healings. This strengthened my faith, so I said, “My brother, who is sitting in that wheelchair, you are healed.” That was not an easy job at all. That man started to rise up. He sat down again but struggled to rise up a second time. He sat down and a third time struggled to get up. Very wobbly he started to walk a few steps, then he began to run, then rushed onto the platform.
He hugged me with a typical Russian bear hug. I was being choked. He hugged and cried saying, “I am healed. I was sitting in that wheelchair for seven years and now I am healed.”
Then I began to hear a roaring sound as the Christian young people chased the Communist young people. The Communists were running from the stadium, and the Christians were running following after them.
This man who was healed was so excited that he jumped off the high platform. I was scared then. Then he went to where his wheelchair was and hoisted it into the air and began to walk. The entire stadium was in an uproar at this time.
The Communists had completely failed that night. What a success for the Christians! Before I left my hotel, the Devil scared me. And, if I had not heard the Holy Spirit speaking to my heart, I would not have come to the stadium. Since I prayed and heard the Holy Spirit. I could come.
A positive announcement is very, very important. If you speak negatively, you will stop the current of the Holy Spirit. But when you speak positively, you release the power of the Holy Spirit.
So, when people begin to talk negatively among your cell leaders – “”I have no power. I have no strength. I have no confidence.” – they can do nothing. They are already defeated. So I tell them not to say negative words. Always say, “In Jesus Christ I can teach. I can win. I can preach. I can do all things in Jesus.”
Even though you may have no ability in yourself, say “I can do all things in Jesus.”
Your attitude is very important. If you don’t teach your cell leaders to have the right kind of attitude, after two or three tries in their cell meetings they will give up. The number of casualties is too heavy.
Give your cell leaders strong teaching on having visions, and living in the vision. Then make their attitude to be positive, let them see Jesus. Don’t let them look at the wilderness. Don’t let them look at themselves. Make them look to Jesus. Then make them confess an affirmative confession. This is very important for church growth.
(c) Church Growth Manual No. 7 published by Church Growth International, Yoido P.O. Box 7, Seoul 150‑600, Korea. Used by permission.
In the summer of 1985 I was leading a four week Youth With A Mission (YWAM) training school for some fifty students in Holland. I had quit my job as a civil engineer and joined YWAM in 1977. A friend, and former YWAMer, Paul Piller from the Philippines, contacted me and offered to speak for a few days when he visited Holland.
I consented, although I wasn’t thrilled about his subject: healing. I knew one had to watch out for people who only wanted to talk about healing, faith, miracles, and demons.
I trusted Paul, but you never know what can happen to someone who has spent five years in the U.S. Paul had brought some others along: young fellows in T-shirts, blue jeans, and sneakers. I wondered why they had come. Were they going to sing or perform a drama?
As Paul began speaking, I relaxed. No screaming, no emotionalism. After the lecture, he and the young fellows moved around the group praying without saying much. One word stood out: ‘more’.
‘More of you Lord!’ They seemed unperturbed as certain things I was unfamiliar with started happening. Someone started weeping, others collapsed on their chairs, someone else stood shaking. After three days the place was turned upside down. People were filled with joy, received healing, delivered from demons, released from grief. I had hundreds of questions! I had tasted the new wine and I wanted more.
Paul suggested I go to a conference in Sheffield, England, led by a man named John Wimber. Off we went, with a number of YWAMers. I was ready for anything. My ‘holy frustration’ had reached a point where I was willing to let God do whatever he wanted.
I had been warned to get ready for change. God had spoken to me through the story in the second chapter of John’s Gospel – the wedding in Cana – where Jesus performed his first miracle of changing water into wine. Interestingly, the servants at the wedding were allowed to participate, because they filled the jars and took the newly transformed wine to the leader of the feast. Somewhere between the jar and the lips of that man, the water changed into wine.
The application for me of that story is that God is looking for people who want to co-operate with him in bringing this about. I had run out of wine, and now I wanted to see the Lord bring out his best vintage. I wanted God to restore my joy, and fill me with the Holy Spirit.
The conference was life-changing, even though I didn’t have any spine-tingling personal experiences or visions of ecstasy. Nevertheless God gave me a deep inner peace and an affirmation that the teaching I heard, and the ministry I was observing was from his hand.
Giving the Holy Spirit room
My wife and I and others returned home with a clear sense of purpose. Like the servants at the wedding in Cana, our part was to obediently draw out the water and faithfully carry it to others. God would change it into wine.
During the following months, I discovered how exciting life becomes when we give more room to the Holy Spirit! I tried to cultivate a greater sensitivity to God’s voice. My goal was to listen better to what he was saying, and act upon that in faith.
As John Wimber likes to point out, another way to spell faith is R-I-S-K. This new openness to the promptings of the Spirit led to some powerful times of ministry. My emphasis during individual counselling changed to less talk and more prayer. We also learned that demons are for real, but we have been given authority to drive them out (Matthew 10:8).
Though this new realm of ministry was exhilarating, we needed people from outside to help, advise, and direct us further. We invited people like Barry Kissel from the Anglican church in Chorleywood, England. He imparted to us much in the way of ministry skills.
At a certain stage in this new development I sensed the Lord said: ‘It’s time for you to begin modelling the ministry, like I did.’ After much hesitation, I announced we were going to start a training class with worship, teaching, and practical application. For the first lecture I had John Wimber on video. I led the practicum. The Holy Spirit ministered in a lovely way to a great many of the sixty who showed up. Some received comfort; others were healed. We decided to have a whole Saturday every month with those ingredients: worship, teaching, and ministry.
By word of mouth alone the group grew to about 350 after eight months. The team working with me had grown to about 30 persons. After each training day we evaluated, prayed, and discussed. I had learned the importance of multiplication. Your team can’t be big enough!
Passage to India
For the first two years of our marriage, my wife Marianne and I had worked with YWAM in Nepal, a country located between China and India, astride the Himalaya Mountains. For some time we had felt God was leading us back to that part of the world. In early 1989 we left for India with our three children. We ended up living in Bombay for almost four years. From the start I knew I was to invest myself in people. I constantly asked myself, ‘How can I give away what God has given me?’
I itinerated as a teacher in the discipleship training schools (DTS) which YWAM runs in different parts of the country. The theme that developed in my teaching was: ‘How to minister like Jesus.’ The teaching was simple, with lots of examples of how we should pray. After the lecture phase of the DTS, the students would go out for three months of outreach, usually involving evangelism and church planting. They came back with some amazing stories. For example:
The students were sent … to five different villages. At the end of two months they had established three fellowships in three different villages. Half the village where they stayed is ready to follow Jesus as Lord. Within the next three weeks 68 believers will be baptised. Despite all religious strongholds, barriers, Hindu militants and oppositions, God showed his mighty power through healings, and signs and wonders. Some people saw visions of Jesus hanging on the cross and showing them how much he loves them.
In that area the crops suffered from a disease. The farmers came and asked the team to pray to Jesus. The very next morning the people went to the field and discovered the disease had been totally wiped out. They came with great joy to confess their belief in Jesus since he had heard their prayers.
Once, while I was leading a small seminar, a local pastor named Garry walked in while I was praying for someone in front of the class. He left thinking, ‘I can do that.’
The first person he prayed for when he got home was his Hindu brother-in-law. For many years severe back pain had cost him many sleepless nights. The next day the brother-in-law returned, declaring the Lord Jesus had healed his back. He had slept through the night without waking up once.
Garry, who later became a good friend, had been having discussions with a strong Muslim about the Bible and the Koran. The argument always stopped where one would say ‘The Bible is the word of God’ and the other ‘The Koran is the word of God’. This time Garry took a different approach.
‘Can I pray for you?’ he asked, when he met the man again. Because Indians are among the most religious people on earth, this man, like almost everyone in India, was glad to receive prayer. As Garry put his hand on the man’s head and started praying the Muslim fell down and stayed on the floor for quite a while. Garry was puzzled! What next?
When the man got back on his feet, he shared what happened. While he was lying on the floor, he clearly heard a voice saying, ‘The Bible is the word of God!’ He went home with a Bible in his pocket.
Garry was on a roll. Wherever he went he prayed for people: in church, in the home groups, and especially in the streets while evangelising. In the time we worked together, several churches took root in the slums. People came mainly because they saw Jesus was more powerful than their own gods. Now Garry is going around equipping others to ‘minister like Jesus’.
‘Will this work?’
More and more I began to see the power of multiplication: invest yourself in a few people next to you and then let them go and do the same thing to others. You may never know the result until heaven, but it could be more powerful than the biggest healing crusade!
After a three week course, 25 YWAMers went back to their bases in different parts of the country. God had meet with us in special ways during those weeks, as we met together or as we went out to visit people and pray for them.
As two brothers went back to Varanasi, the holy city of the Hindus, they wondered, ‘Will this work back home?’ The first time they went into a Hindu village after their return, they started to worship Jesus. They intended to start a church there. Immediately the Holy Spirit started to come on people; demons manifested and were driven out. People saw the power of God and wanted to know more, providing an excellent opening to preach the Word of God.
While walking along the bank of the Ganges River, one of the brothers began talking to a Hindu priest. After a while, the Brahman complained about his headaches. Again, being highly religious, he was willing to receive prayer, even if it was offered in the name of Jesus. Under the power of God he fell down and after he got back up, his headache was completely gone. He sure wanted to know more about this powerful God!
Respect for God
India is more a continent than a country, with almost 900 million people who speak 1,600 different languages. Patrick Johnstone, in Operation World, estimates evangelical Christians comprise one per cent of the population, but the number is growing. Two thousand people groups have not been reached with the gospel yet. India must be reached by the spiritually equipped Indian church, but for a while non-Indian partners can help train and support Indian workers.
In YWAM, we have mixed teams of Indians and foreigners who plant churches, evangelise, and minister to the poor in various ways. Hindus and Muslims have great respect for God. The Hindus have millions of gods. Most Indians, especially the poor, are open to spiritual reality, and exercise great faith, upon hearing about a loving God who sent his Son to this world. In evangelism, miracles happen quickly and open many doors to preach the gospel.
I first experienced this in Bhopal, a city where some eight years ago a gas leak at the chemical plant killed at least 2,000 people. Today many still suffer the effects: eye problems, mouth sores and breathing difficulties. With a small team we visited the site where the calamity took place.
As some people gathered, one of us shared briefly who we were and our purpose for coming. One person was prayed for and got healed. More people came who wanted prayer. Some invited us to enter their huts to see those too sick to come out. We were busy for the next two hours to bless, comfort, and encourage. Many people received physical healing, saw visions of Jesus, were blessed with peace. We left many friends in this mainly Muslim community.
Of course, the nature of kingdom warfare is ‘attack – counter-attack’. The gospel does meet with opposition. Militant Hinduism is experiencing a revival. The north of India is hostile toward the gospel and to Western influence. To make one convert there is like making a hundred in the south.
An Indian friend of mine desired to work in Bihar, a state in the north, also known as ‘the graveyard of missionaries’. He had worked with me for sometime and learned more about how to minister in power evangelism. In Bihar, near the border of Nepal, he rented a home where he invited people. He shared with them, prayed for them and taught them how to pray for others. Many were blessed, healed, delivered, and came to salvation. A small church was established.
Across the border in Nepal, the spiritual atmosphere was different. Tremendous openings existed. Within a year almost a hundred people attended the newly started church! Approximately 50 churches have been planted in India by YWAM-trained workers through power evangelism.
More than eight years have passed since the visit of Paul Piller and since the conference with John Wimber in Sheffield. I have seen thousands of people who ran out of wine partake of ‘the best wine’ as I willingly brought them what I have: just plain water.
Australian Christians have often thought that revival was ‘just around the corner’ (Wilson 1983:26). However, since the mid-1960s the prevailing trends in Church attendance in Australia have shown a steady decline, apart from the growth of the Pentecostal Churches (Chant 1984:219-224). Without doubt Pentecostals have had many new conversions but it can be argued that the new growth is also transitional – dissatisfied people coming from mainline denominations. But, have there been any signs of genuine revival in recent times?
Ian Murray (1988:333) writes, ‘The Christian past of Australia has largely vanished out of sight. Not surprisingly, many have drawn the conclusion that the country has no Christian history of which it is worth speaking.’ However, this paper outlines an episode of Australian Christian history which is well worth retelling.
The story is simple. The happening is unique. It illustrates the way in which the Christian gospel can profoundly penetrate and radically re-orient Australian people.
Ministry at Wudinna
Wudinna. This was the Rev. Deane Meatheringham’s first appointment following his training at Wesley College. The town is somewhat isolated, being situated about 250 kilometres west of Port Augusta on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia.
‘What a depressing picture the Wudinna Circuit must have presented to the young, enthusiastic probationer, Rev. Deane Meatheringham and his new bride, Rosslyn, as they arrived in 1967 to live and labour there’ (Curnow 1977:81).
The district was known to be one of the hardest Methodist circuits in the state, and hard for others also. At one time the residents in nearby Minnipa quite literally ran the Anglican minister out of town.
Deane Meatheringham began by preaching the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. He attempted to form small Bible study groups but this didn’t arouse any interest (Meatheringham 1981:3). At best, the Wudinna congregation consisted of about 40 to 50 members. About 8 families were regulars. By October 1967, the numbers attending Sunday services were actually down to about 9 or 10 people, and most of those were reluctant even to speak of spiritual matters. The status quo prevailed.
Even so, Meatheringham persisted with his preaching and teaching. ‘He pounded the gospel, the grace of God,’ remembers Marj Holman. In November 1967 he preached a sermon at Minnipa entitled ‘God has acted; we must react.’ He invited a formal response and much to his surprise three women who only haphazardly attended church came forward. For the regular worshippers, this occasioned a slightly embarrassing end to the service, but it also marked the beginning of an outbreak of groups in which many people expressed an unprecedented desire to learn and grow in their faith.
The three women were eager to become involved in confirmation classes, and they invited some of their friends to join the class at Mount Damper. About 15-20 people had attended the first teaching group in which the preparation for confirmation took place. Then, early in 1968, another confirmation class began with others who had been affected by Meatheringham’s preaching and teaching of the gospel. Studies were given on the meaning of baptism and also on justification by faith. A continual stream of people found their lives renewed as they happily put their trust in Jesus Christ.
The Leighton Ford Crusade came to Adelaide from 31 March to 7 April, 1968. Participation in and prayer for the Crusade was commended to all Methodists, ‘in the strongest possible terms’, by the President of the Methodist Conference, the Rev. Merv Trenorden. About 150 people attended the hall in Wudinna to listen to Leighton Ford via a land-line. An appeal was made and again people came forward. Soon after, when Merv Trenorden came to Wudinna to preach for the Confirmation Service, he was astonished by the activity which was taking place.
Twenty new converts were confirmed. People who had held nominal roll membership for years were experiencing Christian conversion – new birth. A group of teenagers had responded to the gospel. In October, 1967, the Wudinna Youth Group had joined with Glen Osmond Baptist youth for a Church camp at Crystal Brook. This had been a significant time for several of them. A vibrant Christian Endeavour group was formed and lead by Meatheringham. The Churches of Christ people were welcomed as associate members of the Methodist Church. People were starting to ask for Bible study groups and there was a growing hunger for Christian teaching and literature (Curnow 1977:81).
Wudinna has known many hard times and had experienced a severe drought in 1959, but interestingly enough locals recall how 1966, 1968 and 1969 were particularly good years. The country flourished, the economy was buoyant and it was a very busy time for farmers. At this time, the Jehovah’s Witnesses had been quite active within the area and it is not insignificant that people were very aware of ‘the law’ and of morality. However, the people here were largely unaware of and unaffected by the charismatic movement which was making some impact within the Australian churches. In this sense, the message of unconditional grace was being sown in well-prepared and virgin soil.
Mission at Wudinna
Meatheringham was authorised by his local 1968 September quarterly meeting, to make enquiries concerning a mission. As a result, the former overseas missionary, Anglican minister and Principal of the Adelaide Bible Institute (now the Bible College of South Australia) the Rev. Geoffrey Bingham, was contacted and he agreed to come. Meatheringham sought Bingham’s advice regarding preparation for the mission. It was recommended that prayer groups be formed. A total of 12 groups soon began meeting around the circuit.
The Wudinna folk also had a strong desire to be trained in some way. This happened through the Lay Institute For Evangelism (L.I.F.E). It was a wing of the Department of Evangelism in the Church of England Diocese of Sydney. Rev. Geoffrey Fletcher was the Director. The L.I.F.E. programme was designed to teach lay people ‘how to present Jesus Christ, how to avoid religious jargon, how to overcome anxiety in sharing, how to answer questions, how to avoid arguing’ and so on. Deane Meatheringham led the studies.
The enthusiastic desire to participate in these training courses was beyond anyone’s expectation. Sixty people came along to listen to the hour long tapes and to take part in the drill. A telegram was hurriedly sent off to Sydney: ‘Rush Twenty Extra LIFE Manuals to Wudinna S.A.’ While some folk did become Christians or were renewed through these programmes, they were primarily times of preparation for the mission.
The mission was planned for 24-31 August, 1969, and was a joint venture of the five congregations in the Wudinna Methodist Circuit. The few Churches of Christ families in the district were also closely associated with the Methodist Church. The Anglican parishes of Elliston and Streaky Bay joined in encouraged by the Rev. Dennis Crisp, the Anglican Minister from Elliston. It also had the support of the Lutheran Church. The Catholic Priest at Minnipa, Father Wesley Heading indicated his personal enthusiasm and prayerful support by sending Meatheringham a telegram prior to the mission. A combined Methodist-Anglican committee consisting of 8 members was elected to promote and make arrangements for the programme.
The mission was entitled FREE INDEED. The theme was taken from John 8:36, ‘If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.’ It was well advertised using posters, personal and printed invitations, and through the use of articles written for local papers. As it was intended to be a ministry of the body of Christ it was agreed that no offerings be taken up at meetings.
Geoffrey Bingham came to Wudinna with a team of 11 students from the A.B.I. They played an active and significant part in the worship services and shared their own personal testimonies with the locals. Bingham was no newcomer to missions, nor to revival. He brought wisdom and experience with him. At one time he was the minister of a strong, dynamic congregation which sometimes attracted up to 1000 people at Holy Trinity Church, Millers Point in Sydney. Historian Stuart Piggin described him as probably the most successful young minister in Sydney during the 1950s (Lecture, 1992).
In 1957 Bingham had gone to Pakistan as a missionary (Loane 1988:90). Then in 1961 he founded the Pakistan Bible Institute and during a nine year teaching career from 1957-1966, witnessed two great waves of revival in this predominantly Muslim Country (Bingham 1992:95-120).
Bingham came to Wudinna not give revival messages, but to simply preach from the Bible. The messages were solid teaching about bondage to sin and Satan and the powers of darkness and the flesh and the world and so on; and the true freedom which Christ gives from such powers. Bingham is a powerful preacher. He has a commanding presence and a winning sense of humor.
The huge turnout for the first meeting at the Minnipa Anglican Church startled the organisers, impressed the visiting preacher and surprised the crowd of about 150 locals who came to hear him. ‘No one gets West Coast people to come out if they don’t want to,’ observed John Kammermann.
But this was a phenomenon which continued throughout the week of the mission. The atmosphere was expectant, people listened intently and many who attended were people no one even expected to be interested in Christian things. One well known local businessman who was an avowed atheist and communist attended more than one of the meetings!
On the first Sunday morning in Wudinna, the Church was so packed with 200-300 people that the ministers had to tip toe through the sanctuary in order to get past the overflowing masses of people. Many folk were crammed into the porch and some were even forced to listen from the windows outside.
At the service at Koongawa on Sunday afternoon, Ruth Toy, the organist, who usually put out about 6 chairs for the congregation, added enough extra to allow for the mission team! By the time the meeting began, the entire hall was filled with about 100 people. Ruth Toy was stunned. Not surprisingly, she was one of those who was deeply affected by the mission. She experienced such an amazing conversion, that her husband approached Rev. Bingham and asked him what he had been doing with his wife. When Bingham asked what he meant, the husband replied ‘Well she was a chain smoker and she stopped smoking and she was a pretty powerful swearer and she doesn’t swear a word and she was a very angry woman and I don’t see any anger.’
Things like that happened one after the other. All meetings were extremely well attended. Kyancutta Hall on the Monday night had 200-300 in attendance.
Wudinna local Marj Holman vividly remembers how she was completely renewed through the mission. Both young and old, those who had been pew sitters for many years, plus those who had been newly drawn into the church scene, repented, were brought to tears, brought to their knees, received forgiveness and were given new life and unimaginable joy in the Spirit. Some were amazed that even their headaches were healed immediately. Yet, there seemed to be no pattern at all to the way in which God was moving.
On the Monday night at Kyancutta as Bingham was preaching, he could hear strange noises going on during the meeting. He had been fighting to get his words out. He couldn’t see anyone’s mouth open and it struck him that it was a demonic phenomenon. He had previously witnessed meetings like that in Pakistan, and so he said, ‘Satan, in Christ’s name we rebuke you, and command you to leave this meeting.’ There was a loud bang. People sat there a little bit astonished at what had happened, but, the whole place was absolutely quiet.
People later remarked that up until that point they had felt their minds were very scrambled and they couldn’t hear what the preacher was saying. It had not made sense, people couldn’t hear rationally. But at once, everything changed and the preaching was full of power. Many people remained behind after this meeting and refused to go home until they had spoken with someone about becoming converted to Christ.
Impact of the Spirit
John Dunn, one of the students on the mission team, testified to being healed of a longstanding problem during the week of the mission. He also recalls some of the unusual events: A farmer who had not been coming to the meetings, although his wife did, was out on his tractor when great conviction came upon him and he got down in the dust and gave his life to the Lord. A woman believed she was healed of a kidney complaint in one of the meetings, and tests at the hospital the next day showed that there was no longer any problem with the kidney. Many were converted. There was also great opposition. Some shouted back or walked out as Geoff was preaching.
John Kammermann was another local Wudinna farmer who became a Christian at this time. He was a man who had previously listened thoughtfully to preachers, but had always known that he had insufficient resources within himself to sustain a commitment to Christ. However, this mission was different. He had a strong desire not to attend the meetings at all, yet somehow he was compelled to go.
‘I remember that by the time we got to the Sunday service,’ he recalled wryly, ‘there were only seats right down the front under the preachers nose. However in the wisdom of God that’s where you get a good look at the conviction of the messenger! I was convinced that he knew God. If he could know God like that then maybe I could as well.’
The reality of God’s presence and the singing in the meetings was quite extraordinary. It was something John and others had never expected. He recalls how the truth and words of one particular song kept coming back to him: ‘Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days, all the days of my life. And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever, and I shall feast at the table set for me.’
In many ways the situation and the events of those glorious days defies both explanation and description. God was at work graciously revealing himself, giving to each what they needed. It was remarkable, and somewhat unusual, to see the way in which children would happily go to sleep on the seats of motor vehicles or on the floor of the meeting halls. Bingham (1992:99) comments on this same phenomenon during revival in Pakistan.
Some folk surprised their own friends and relatives, as they deliberately broke normal patterns of behaviour and hurried off to be in time for the meetings. ‘I think our parents thought we were a bit strange,’ recalled Kay Kammermann.
The gift of the Spirit
On the Saturday night Bingham taught concerning the Holy Spirit. He made the point that the Father was pleased to give the gift of the Holy Spirit to those who asked. He said, ‘What the cross cleansed, the Spirit comes to fill.’ The assurance given was that God was true to his Word and that he delighted for the West Coast folk to receive his gift. Many did.
‘God was in the place forgiving the sin of our past godlessness, and giving the gift of His Spirit,’ John Kammerman remembered. ‘Even now that memory still evokes emotion.’
The promise of a rich future from God’s hand was something many could not contain. The atmosphere at the meetings could neither be explained or induced. People felt the presence of the Lord and had the expectation that all was well with them on account of that Presence.
At the end of the meetings crowds of people would just sit silently in wonderment for half an hour not moving. One woman was so settled in her seat a member of the mission team invited Bingham to meet her. She spoke in a voice of wonderment saying ‘I never knew he loved me like that!’
Deane Meatheringham reported, ‘We couldn’t get people to stand up and leave. This is the closest I have come to seeing things we read of in Acts or in John Wesley’s Journal.’
There was a woman who had heard the Christian message many times before. For years she had experienced the agony of various shoulder aches and pains. Some time after the mission, she stood up in Church and told how as she was sitting down milking the cow one morning it dawned on her what the Word of God had been saying to her for years. And that was that she was free! All her aches and pains went and she was liberated.
Other occurrences were similar to those decribed in the New Testament such as Acts 2:13 where newly Spirit-filled believers were described as drunk. One man, Trevor Gerschwitz, was so excited and effervescent when he called in to speak with his Lutheran Pastor, Ron Wilsch, on the way home from one of the meetings, that the Pastor later commented that if he hadn’t known him better, he’d have sworn he was drunk.
One burly farmer approached Bingham one night and said, ‘My wife and I made decisions when we were teenagers, but I’ve never seen her like that. I want what she’s got. You’ve got to give it to me.’
Bingham explained that what she had was freedom and that he could not give it to him; only Christ could do that. So one night the man stood in a prominent place at the back of the great mob at Minnipa while Bingham preached. All of a sudden he put his hand up and waved at Bingham as much as to say, ‘It’s happened you know; I’ve got it, this freedom’.
One night after the meeting, a local man, Ron Holman, ‘fairly stoic by nature,’ went and sat down beside Bingham. When asked what he thought of the meeting, Holman replied that he thought it was all right.
Bingham recognised that here was a man who generally didn’t seek conversation, so he said to him ‘Have you ever received the gift of forgiveness?’
Holman replied, ‘No I haven’t.’
Bingham then asked him if he wanted to. The reply was blunt: ‘Why do you think I’m sitting next to you?’
Within a few minutes he was absolutely liberated. Holman has since had quite a history of helping on mission teams, and regularly having witness and ministry.
The mission included a civic luncheon and visits to schools. Each day the mission team would meet for prayer. Throughout the week there were also numerous small informal gatherings for meals and discussions all across the 80 mile circuit, as well as a Saturday afternoon picnic, where people took the opportunity to talk more intimately with one another. Numerous folk sought out Bingham to ask him further questions concerning his messages.
Many beheld a previously unseen phenomenon – West Coast men actually had their Bibles out while they were cooking the BBQ – and were more interested in the message of the Bible than the food on the fire. But what was so strikingly unusual about all this, was that it seemed so natural.
Bingham notes that revival should be natural.
We need to understand God’s purpose for history. We need to see why, and how, revival is essential as a phenomenon in the course of history. We need to understand its goal. When we do, then the whole subject of revival is removed from the theoretical area, from mere human theologising, or human attempts at manipulating God into action. It comes into the realm of necessary action. We discover, in fact, that the word ‘revival’ in one sense covers the whole of the action of God in history. The principle of giving life, sustaining it and renewing it – that is, revival – is the work which God is about continually’ (1983:ix).
This was not religion but life. People were free indeed. Consistent with Bingham’s style, the mission had been free of gimmicks and tricks aimed at manipulating people. From one point of view, there was no need for it, it was an evangelist’s delight. ‘People were getting converted hand over fist,’ and this left a deep impression upon everyone.
The climate was such that in fact ‘someone could have got up to skull duggery,’ John Kammermann noted. The West Coast community had seen their fair share of entertainers, hypnotists and spiritualists. Bingham was aware of the pitfalls of such an atmosphere and was well acquainted with his own powers as a speaker. On the Wednesday night at the Wudinna Hall, in his concern that people not be manipulated, he gave a demonstration of the effects which could be induced by a speaker. He deliberately vocalised a hissing noise. The whole gathering reacted and a loud clunk was heard as everyone’s feet hit the floor together. People have commented how thankful they were that the potential of the situation had been publicly exposed and recognised. A clean, clear atmosphere prevailed.
The last planned meeting on the Sunday afternoon was quite amazing. There were well over 400 at the meeting. People came from as far away as Ceduna and Cummins. Many have said it was like the first Pentecost but without tongues.
Of the final night Bingham said, ‘Like a great rain of beauty and silence and joy, it just descended on the whole congregation. It was quite remarkable. I’d have called it a very gentle but a very powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And I can remember the joy in the worship and praise that night.’
During the mission there had been no appeals for people to come forward. There had been no pressure applied. But there had been an astonishing response. Children and people right up to those in their seventies, and many from each age group, had been deeply moved.
At the close of the final meeting, people wanting to talk with someone about faith were invited to move about halfway down the hall and enter into the supper room, where the team and other local folk were waiting to help. Over 50 people were counselled by those who had been prepared for the task.
In the weeks, months and years that followed the mission, God continued to reveal his love to his people at Wudinna. The mission had been no seven day wonder, but folk continued to be converted to Christ (Curnow 1977:82-83).
During the week immediately after the mission, John Kammermann arrived home from work keen to share with his wife Kay the details of a marvellous encounter with God, which he had experienced while shearing a sheep. In it he had understood anew the dynamic truth of God’s love. ‘It was not that God is love AND sent his Son; but rather IN the sending of his Son, God is love.’
How might that be communicated to a farmer in a shearing shed? As he recounted the somewhat unusual, yet seemingly natural happening, Kay quickly replied, ‘Guess what? The very same thing happened to me today while I was hanging out the washing.’
Many enriching conversations took place. Neighbours would sit down together somewhere out on the boundary fence of their large properties and go through the great events of salvation together, or read and ponder the words of Scripture while working on a tractor.
There had been something like 31 home groups in the week leading up to the mission. Some of these now combined and turned into Bible studies. The Ladies Guild virtually became a Bible Study Group (Curnow 1977:82).
Meatheringham was untiring in his efforts to nurture his people. This included writing a counseling booklet entitled ‘Christianity is Christ.’ As a Pastor he moved well among the community and encouraged people to continue in their faith. There were 61 confirmees during his 5 year term at Wudinna (Curnow 1977:83). Pastoral letters were written to teach, exhort and encourage people. The instruction given was clear and simple. People were enjoined to accept their salvation joyfully, live by faith in Christ, read the Bible diligently, pray earnestly and worship regularly.
Following the mission the Wudinna folk regularly sent teams of young preachers out to places like Haslam and Streaky Bay to help out. Families and groups would often get into cars with all their kids, and they would sing from chorus books all the way to and from their destination. Many people opened their lives and homes to one another. Spontaneous sharing of meals took place and people loved to gather together in homes after Church. There was a general air of excitement in the Church and people eagerly heard the Word from Deane and guest preachers.
One of the leaders, when praying during the mission ‘saw’ a large heap of leaves and a strong gust of wind scattering them all over what seemed a map of Australia. This was interpreted as indicating that lots of people touched by God would be moved on into many parts of this land; and it happened that way. Many people moved in later years to Western Australia, Victoria, Queensland and other parts of South Australia.
A consolidating mission entitled WE REIGN IN LIFE was organised in 1972 with the circuit now being pastored by the Rev. Ian Clarkson. Bingham and another team of students returned to lead the mission and the important question put to the Wudinna folk was taken from Galatians 3:3 ‘Having begun in the Spirit’ where are you now?
There had in fact been some difficulties within the church community since the time of the first mission. Some had sought to place greater emphasis upon the role and work of the Holy Spirit, and this caused divisions. One group broke away and later became the Christian Revival Crusade (C.R.C). To this day, hurts are slowly being healed.
After the first mission, it was natural enough that reports of revival soon began to circulate. Fellow pastors were eager to discover what techniques were used. When faced with this question at the Annual Methodist Conference, Deane Meatheringham made the now famous reply: ‘We organised a mission and God got out of hand.’
In a report on the happening, Meatheringham concluded: ‘Some people might say that we have had a revival. But in such arid days as ours I think this is exaggeration. We have seen the sparks of revival, and possibly the beginnings of even greater things.’
Apart from the movement in Pakistan, Bingham describes this event as the second closest thing to revival he has seen. The closest being what began at the Garrison Church in Sydney and spread from there to other churches during the mid 1950s.
This was the episode of Christian life which took place at Wudinna in 1969. In manifold ways the story continues to unfold in the 1990s.
Bingham, G. C. (1983) Dry Bones Dancing. Adelaide: New Creation Publications.
— (1985) The Day of the Spirit. Adelaide: New Creation Publications.
— (1985) Christ the Conquering King. Adelaide: New Creation Publications.
— (1992) Twice Conquering Love. Adelaide: New Creation
Chant, B. (1984) Heart of Fire. Adelaide: The House of Tabor.
Curnow, E. A., ed. (1977) Faith on the Western Front. Aldis.
Loane, M. L. (1988) ‘Geoffrey Cyril Bingham’ in These Happy Warriors. Adelaide: New Creation Publications.
Meatheringham, D. (1981) Gospel Incandescent. Adelaide: New Creation Publications.
— (1969) Pastoral Letter: ‘The Assurance of God’s Word.’
— (1969) Pastoral Letter: How to Succeed as a Christian.’
— (1969) Report of Mission Held at Wudinna, August 21-31.
Murray, Ian. H. (1988) Australian Christian Life from 1788. The Banner of Truth Trust.
Piggin, Stuart (1992) Lecture: ‘Piety and Politics in Australia in the 1950s,’ given to ‘Australian Religious History’ class at Flinders University (S.A.), on 21 May.
Wilson, B. (1983) Can God Survive in Australia? Albatross Books.
Mrs Sue Armstrong and her evangelist husband the Rev. Dan Armstrong founded Kairos Ministries in Australiaand organized the Vineyard Conferences here with John Wimber and his teams. Sue reports on revival moves they have seen, including the Wimber Conferences in Brisbane and Perthin 1994. This article is expanded from the June and September 1994 Kairos newsletters, ‘News Across Australia’.
Once you have been in a place that is experiencing revival you will never forget the sounds! I have heard these sounds in other countries and up in the North amongst our aboriginal people and I have longed for the time when I would hear them here in our churches.
I will never forget a night in Papua New Guinea at Manngai High School, New Ireland, when the Holy Spirit fell on the young students gathered. They cried and wailed. They fell They shook. Repentance was there. Salvation came to many and deliverance from demonic powers came to some. I remember driving back to our village late that night singing, ‘Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,’ and truly knowing what that glory was!
I remember a night at Lelean High School in Fiji when the Holy Spirit fell on around 600 school children. It was pitch dark as there was a blackout with no power. Yet, we sure had Holy Spirit power! Bodies were lying everywhere, some pleading the mercy of God as their sin was revealed, some praising, some sobbing, some resting under the power of God. Suddenly people appeared from nearby houses. They saw flames coming from the buildings and they came to put out the fire, but there was no fire!
On another occasion in Fiji the Spirit fell during worship. We were singing to the Lord and suddenly weeping broke out. The Indian Fijian young folk and the Fijian kids began to run to each other and embrace. Racial hatred was dealt a severe blow as these kids repented and loved one another. We had no way of knowing that there would be a coup in a matter of weeks and that this touch from God was a moment of great importance.
In Indonesia we saw people flocking to the front of the large galvanised iron building. Some fell as they came and remained motionless. Some shouted as they had a common vision of Jesus. A group of Muslim school girls had a common vision of hell. People received healing and many were set free from demonic forces. The noise was ear splitting and the place was like a battle field – not at all the way I imagined revival would be. As people lay motionless on the floor some panic stricken people tried to administer smelling salts, but the ‘sleeping people’ remained on the floor with beatific smiles on their faces.
On a visit to Africa to the Transki, Dan was in a big gathering of blacks. He was listening to a massed choir singing in that amazing close harmony that only Africans can achieve when the Holy Spirit fell on the meeting. The whole choir fell to the floor. The pastors jumped to their feet exclaiming, ‘The Holy Spirit is here!’
Dan describes the next event as ‘like watching wind in a wheat field’. The Spirit moved among the people in waves and they swayed and fell as the Holy Spirit touched them. Many experienced miraculous healing and some who had come as spectators were saved.
The revival was different again in Arnhemland, Australia. It was much more gentle in its beginnings. The meetings were held at night in the open air, and people came out of the darkness to kneel on the ground and acknowledge Jesus as Lord. After that they jumped to their feet and joined with those praying for others. This was spontaneous. Immediately they began to experience the gifts of the Holy Spirit operating in their new lives.
There were special manifestations. One night we went with them at their request to cleanse the ceremonial grounds. Satan manifested in some of the people with bizarre happenings. One man bit a young woman. Another man tried to crucify himself on the cross the people had erected. Dogs went wild, barking, biting, fighting and howling all over the island. Then came the presence of the Lord over the place and a great release of joy and celebration.
I have read accounts of revival by J. Edwin Orr, John Wesley, John Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards. They describe the falling, shaking, wailing, laughing and even rolling and drunken behaviour. But that was then. It’s surely not for our sophisticated society!
Over the past year reports have filtered through of churches experiencing some of the above phenomena, just here and there in regular services or home groups. Just the whisper that revival is on the way.
In Brisbane and Perth at the Wimber Conferences last April, right from the first meeting it became clear that God had his own agenda. During the initial worship time the Holy Spirit began to rest on individuals across the auditorium and ripples of laughter could be heard. Before John Wimber gave the opening message he called out young folk who had obvious signs of the Spirit resting on them – shaking, trembling, laughing and one just quiet and transfixed. He spoke of the way the Spirit moves on people’s lives and that we must trust the Holy Spirit and not try to stop or control what God is doing.
Each meeting the Holy Spirit came and people were touched in all kinds of ways. Here are a few testimonies.
* Although just a young married man I had to resign from my job because of chronic fatigue syndrome. The first night at the conference I was released with amazing laughter and the fatigue completely left during the conference. Energy has returned.
* I stood up and was really praising God, in my tongues language, and beseeching him to heal my back (where a tumour had been removed) which seemed to have got worse in terms of niggling pain of late. One of the members from my church put her hand right where the operation had been. After a few moments there seemed to be a real heat, like a hot water bottle, beneath her hand. John Wimber said, to the effect, ‘God is touching a man right now and putting his spine back together!’ The heat stayed around my waist area for some time and then, like honey running out of a container quite slowly, the feeling of heat extended down my leg following the sciatic nerve – I know my sciatic nerve! This feeling of heat ran right down to my foot where it stayed for several minutes. I could literally feel the power of God around me. I met with God that night. (He has been free of pain and can move his leg at the hip and knee.)
* I have had severe scoliosis for 35 years. I sought healing on Wednesday night and when I arrived home my wife (a registered nurse) agreed that the hollow on the left side of my lower back had changed and become more like the right side. It would appear that a rotated vertebrae may have been realigned.
* I received prayer for hearing loss Wednesday night and today I have not had to wear a hearing aid and my hearing is much improved.
* I had been walking with two walking sticks for four years. I had a fall after my hip replacement surgery causing the bone not to knit. This caused pain when I walked. On Tuesday night John Wimber had a word for someone who had had hip problems for 63 years causing pain in the right leg. Members of the team prayed for me and I am now walking without my sticks and the pain gets less every day.
* I have had arthritis in both knees for three years. Two of the girls in the team prayed for me and the pain and discomfort has completely gone. I can now move quite freely without discomfort.
* I have received the most special healing of major pain from a broken heart. Two young kids from the American team prayed for me. This has opened my eyes and given me a new vision for youth ministry.
* No one can know what it is like for someone who has believed for 39 years that she cannot be loved or should even exist, to suddenly discover that she is loved by the living God.
God touched people powerfully, in many different ways.
But the sound was there! I heard the Spirit come. John Wimber spoke from Judges 13:3, speaking to the nation of Australia: ‘You are sterile and childless but you are going to conceive and have a son.’ Revival is being brought to birth in this nation. Listen for the sound. Revival has begun!
North America and England
We have received reports of similar moves of God this year.
Charisma magazine, June 1994, told of people from all denominations flocking to a small church in Toronto, the Airport Vineyard, where revival has been stirring this year. People tell of the manifest presence of God. Many rest in the Spirit. Many exhibit laughing and drunken behaviour. Many report healings and release from emotional problems. The meetings have been dubbed ‘the laughing revival’ in which ordinary people, not high profile leaders, have suddenly begun ministering powerfully in the Lord.
Terry Virgo reports in New Frontiers magazine, July 1994, on moves of God this year following his return from ministry in South Africa:
On my return to Columbia, Missouri, I found our church meetings were totally transformed and that a new release of the Holy Spirit had overtaken us. We have seen extraordinary sights in terms of people being filled with the spirit of joy and ‘drunkenness’. We have seen lives totally transformed. People have a new hunger for God and a new zeal to see him glorified. I have seen lives changed so rapidly and the atmosphere of a church changed so swiftly.
He also describes moves of God this year in England:
I returned to England and found that wherever I went to report news of this outbreak, God accompanied us with more signs of his mercy and overwhelming love for his church.
First of all I met with a number of leading brothers in New Frontiers and we had two days of amazing experiences of God’s presence and a release of prophesying such as I have never known. After that came an unforgettable evening in my home church in Brighton which continued till 11.30 p.m. Many were overwhelmed by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Following this, over two hundred full-time elders from New Frontiers gathered for fasting at Stoneleigh where once again the Spirit of God was poured out in phenomenal measure. I have never seen such spiritual drunkenness and joy in my life. And once again the release of prophecy was breathtaking.
God moves powerfully in revival. People repent. Many are healed and delivered. God pours out his Spirit. Christians minister as Jesus did, and as he taught his disciples to do.
The sounds of revival are stirring again. You’ll hear cries of repentance, great joy and liberty, and awe and excitement at the amazing grace of God.
Editor’s P.S.: Darryl Krause (YWAM, Norway) wrote this in September 1994:
An Outpouring of God’s Spirit
Concerning the ‘Tronoto Revival’, we are beginning to experience something of it here also.
On 20th January this year the Holy Spirit was poured out in a special way at a meeting of the Airport Vineyard Church in Toronto, Canada. Meetings have continued there almost every night since then. Meanwhile similar outpourings began occurring elsewhere, often as a result of someone being ‘infected’ in Toronto and then returning to their home place.
It is reported that over 500 congregations in North America, and in England over 600 congregations (mostly Anglican), have been touched so far by this move of God. Several Norwegian Churches have now also been touched. Just over a week ago our local congregation was ‘hit’.
This outpouring has been mostly in the form of refreshing and renewal for God’s people, but there are also many who have come to salvation. The meetings have been characterised not by charismatic leader figures or gifted worship leaders, but by the Holy Spirit working deeply in people’s lives as ‘ordinary’ believers pray for and minister to one another.
Many thousands of believers have been led into an incredible new degree of freedom and security in their relationship with God. Some sob deeply or even cry out loud as the Holy Spirit ministers to deep areas of pain in their lives. Others dance around like children or laugh wildly – literallly drunk in the Spirit – as they rejoice in God’s goodness. Many are interpreting this as part of the outpouring of God’s Spirit before the period of great harvesting.
The Rev. Dr Colin Warren wrote as a Uniting Church minister and former Principal of Alcorn College in Brisbane and Founder of Freedom Life Ministries. He ministered with teams who counselled and prayed with the sick and afflicted.
Share good news – Share this page freely Copy and share this link on your media, eg Facebook, Instagram, Emails: Renewal Journal 4: Healing
Christ has paid the price to set us free, but many Christians are not free. They are bound by compulsions or problems such as fear, grief, hurt, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, anger, lust, hate, sickness, or other emotional disorders.
Yet, many Scriptures promise freedom. Here are some:
‘So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed’ (John 8:36).
‘For freedom Christ has set us free’ (Galatians 5:1).
‘Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom’ (2 Corinthians 3:17).
Many people in need of counselling, however, are not free. Why are there so many Christians who are not free? Does it mean that we cannot take these Scriptures literally? Or is there another answer? Our experience has shown that freedom is possible and we can take the Scriptures at face value.
The answer lies in taking Jesus seriously. The Christian church in many places, particularly in the western world, has not accepted the threefold task given to it by Jesus, that is to preach the gospel, heal the sick, and cast out demons (Matthew 10:78; Mark 6:13; Luke 9:12).
The area that most often needs attention to set people free is the area of the emotions. Paul’s prayer in 1 Thessalonians 5:23 says, ‘may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Our whole being is involved.
This can be represented by three concentric circles. The inner-circle represents the spirit, the core of our being. Outside of that the middle circle represents the soul consisting of mind, emotions and will. Outside of that again the body is represented by the outer circle.
When we accept forgiveness obtained for us by Jesus on the cross and open our lives to God, God the Holy Spirit enters and dwells at the core of our being. No evil spirits can enter the core of our being when we are born of the Spirit of God. They can, however, afflict us to a lesser or greater degree at the levels of our soul and body. A result of that affliction is that we lose the fullness of freedom offered by Jesus.
All is not lost, however. Jesus gave power to the church to remove the offending intruders. This power was given to the twelve when he sent them out and also to the seventy-two who came back rejoicing because the demons submitted to them (Matthew 10:78; Luke 10:17).
Can a Christian be demonized?
The answer is both yes and no. Demons cannot take over the spirit of a Christian. They can, however, invade the soul and the body. Many beautiful Christian people have problems in the areas of their emotions, minds, wills, and bodies. These are areas that evil powers can invade. This robs many of God’s people of the total freedom obtained for them at such cost by our Lord. This state need not continue because Jesus gave the church power to remove demons and set the captives free.
A common false idea is that a person can only be demonised as the result of deliberate involvement with the occult. Evil powers or spirits have other opportunities to oppress a person beside occult involvement. Some of these need to be understood so that we can minister God’s healing and deliverance to the oppressed.
These ills or oppressions do not always involve demonization, so we need to avoid the opposite errors of seeing demons in every situation or of ignoring them altogether. We cannot attribute all pain, sickness, infirmity, or other ills to demonic spirits. Ministry in this area requires the use of gifts of the Holy Spirit including discernment of spirits, and words of knowledge and wisdom (1 Corinthians 12:810) coupled with training in this spiritual field to ascertain if spirits are responsible.
Demonic oppression may be caused in many ways.
1. Deep hurt in interpersonal relationships.
A woman confined to bed with severe pain was referred to us by her doctor. She did not respond to pain-killing drugs and had experienced severe emotional distress. After receiving counselling, which included casting out several spirits, she was able to leave her bed. Approximately two weeks later she asked for further counselling. On that occasion she was set free from other spirits which included those of infirmity, pain and sickness. Immediately the major areas of pain left her. When I met her approximately four weeks later she was free from pain, was filled with a new joy of living and was seeking to help others in need.
If we allow fear, anger, hurt, grief, loss, hate, bitterness, jealousy, rejection or other emotional areas to fester in our lives, or if through circumstances we cannot control they gain a foothold in us, that can allow evil powers to oppress us with a spirit associated with that particular emotion.
2. Inherited problems from forebears.
These may be seen as having only a genetic base. Yet they are often also of a spiritual nature. I have frequently found that such things as sickness, as well as other disorders, have come because of an ancestor’s involvement in behaviour which has passed on a curse to future generations.
One such case is of a successful business man whose life was made difficult by internal physical problems requiring three operations. When he came for prayer several spirits were oppressing him. These were bound to the truth revealing that his grandfather’s relationship with people involved in Luciferian rites had given Satan permission to oppress this man. When the spirits were cast out his condition healed and he was able to have a much closer relationship with God in his prayer and devotional life. This is just one of many such cases.
3. After severe accidents or sickness.
Sometimes people are vulnerable to oppressing powers of evil after serious accidents or illness. Spiritual forces of sickness, grief or infirmity may find entry.
A woman in her late sixties had been totally deaf in one ear and partially deaf in the other. When she was twelve years of age abscesses had burst in both ears leaving her hearing seriously impaired. At first I thought that her physical impairment was an automatic result of the abscesses. However, I was constrained by the Holy Spirit to bind and cast out the spirit of deafness. She subsequently went to her specialist and had further tests. These confirmed that her previously totally deaf ear was now hearing.
4. Deliberate sin.
Probably the most prevalent area of deliberate involvement and continuing addiction applies to sexual sins. If a person is habitually involved with such things as pornographic literature or videos, sex outside of marriage, or masturbation, those actions give unclean spirits legal right to afflict the person in that way. We have ministered to many people with these problems whom God has graciously set free.
5. Transference from another person.
Given certain conditions a person can be infected with spiritual oppression affecting someone else. An example of this is when a person is in a fear provoking situation with someone who has a spirit of fear oppressing him or her. This can be the condition in which the spirit of fear multiplies and infects the other person also.
6. Involvement with the occult.
We are experiencing large numbers of people who have had a deliberate openness to or involvement with the occult. One example is of a seventeen year old girl who from the age of ten had been gradually getting deeper into occult things. This addiction led to Satan worship with its ugly rituals and sacrifices including eating the flesh of things sacrificed. She was trapped into something she could not escape, thinking there was no power that could deliver her. She came for help and claimed Jesus as her Lord. The spirits were then cast out and she has learned how to live a victorious Christian life and helps others to be set free.
7. The result of a curse.
Curses may not be just empty words. Demonic oppression can be the result of a curse placed on a person either deliberately or unwittingly by someone else where harm is intended and declared against another.
We ministered to a man in his late twenties who from earliest childhood had sexual desire toward males. He had never allowed this desire to be gratified but had suffered greatly from it. He had no desire for women. We have discovered many times that this so called genetic problem was in reality a spiritual problem. In his case, after three unsuccessful attempts to help him, we were told through a word of knowledge to pray and fast for some days. It was then revealed that the problem was the result of a curse on the family from a former generation. Such was the strength of the curse that we were told it would be two years before he was completely free, even though prayer ministry with him was successful.
8. Oppression by astral travel.
Invasion may occur by those involved in astral travel who deliberately seek to enter another person. This requires the breaking of spiritual, emotional and physical ties, and the doorways to the spirit need to be sealed to prevent reentry.
A university student came for counselling because she had the eerie feeling that she was being watched when she was in her home. As we prayed a name was given to one of the team. The student knew that the person named was involved in astral travel and had taken an unnatural interest in her though she did not encourage him. Through prayer, authority was taken over this spirit, the chains binding her to him were broken and the doorways of entry were closed and anointed with the anointing oil of the Holy Spirit. She had no further trouble.
These problems have all been dealt with on many occasions through prayer and deliverance ministry by teams sensitive to the Holy Spirit. People can be set free.
Freedom from principalities and powers
Our western worldview of rationalism has hidden from us the real meaning of much of Scripture. This is being rediscovered now.
An example is Ephesians 6:12, ‘For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.’
We have not understood the significance of this for winning the world for the kingdom of God. Many Scripture passages indicate there are hierarchies of demonic powers. I have described how evil spirits may be cast out of people and this sets them free to be the persons God created them to be. However, if we are going to carry out the great commission under the authority of Jesus to whom all authority has been given in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:1820), then we will need to use the means God has given us to do so. That will involve waging war on the principalities and powers of evil including conflict with world authorities of Satan and the territorial spirits controlling demonic powers over countries and cities.
The Holy Spirit convicted our church of this some years ago. We entered into prayer for eighteen months before God have us the names of the principalities and powers over our city. Then, after a day of prayer and fasting we were told by the Holy Spirit to have a further week of prayer and fasting. At the close of that week God revealed the names of these powers and how to bind them. This was done.
Since that time many people came inquiring about salvation and for counselling. The Lord has taught us that although it took the whole church to be in prayer for eighteen months before these strong spirits could be bound initially, those Satanic powers need to be bound daily.
All Satanic powers were totally defeated by Jesus’ atoning work on the cross. If we do not take advantage of the victory Jesus won then we as a church are not using the weapons God has given us in the power of the Spirit to win the world for Christ. This is why Jesus spoke of binding the strong man and plundering his goods (Matthew 12:2829). As we bind these territorial and ruling spirits God’s power is able to pierce the darkness and the convicting power of the Holy Spirit brings many into the kingdom of God.
Caution! Do not attempt to bind principalities and powers until the church has had sufficient prayer and God the Holy Spirit has given permission and instructions. The degree of prayer required will vary with the strength of the powers being bound. This varies with each situation, hence the need to be guided by the Holy Spirit. These powerful forces can cause great affliction to the unwary.
Real freedom through the authority of Jesus Christ our Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit will come when the church fulfils its threefold commission given by Jesus to preach the kingdom of God, to heal the sick and to cast out demons.
Jesus Christ is Lord. He reigns. Just as we can respond to his reign for our salvation, so we can respond for healing and deliverance in the power of his Spirit in our lives and in the world.
Jesus healed the sick and commissioned his church to heal the sick. That ministry is still a vital part of the church’s mission.
These past twenty years have been the most rewarding of my forty years of public ministry, and the most controversial. It thrust me into a healing ministry. God’s calling in my life, along with a changed theological perspective, opened the way for my involvement in this ministry which was so much a part of Jesus’ life and work.
Each year, as an itinerant preacher and teacher in healing and wholeness ministry, I visit numerous groups and serve in many churches, mostly mainline ones. The healing ministry is growing everywhere as the church is renewed in faith and obedience.
Faith accepts the evidence
I am often asked, ‘How did you get started in the healing ministry?’
My answer usually contains the three elements of conviction, desire and practice.
The conviction of Jesus Christ’s immutability, the one who is the same forever, came as I discarded certain dispensational teachings. That false emphasis claims that the healing ministry instituted by Christ was not meant to continue in our time; that it lasted only till the end of the apostolic age. I came to understand that if the command of Jesus to go and heal the sick was valid two thousand years ago, it must be equally valid today. If he retained the power to save souls it is hardly likely that he would have lost the lesser power to heal.
When I became fully convinced that Christ’s power to heal was unchanged and that he really does heal now, I wanted to help people this way. The desire to be able to touch people with peace and a sense of wellness, which had been in me since I was a very small child, began to stir deeply and insatiably within me.
In practice, I saw God’s power being released through the ‘laying on of hands’ causing visible physical change in people. My mind and spirit took a gigantic leap of faith which accepted the evidence before my eyes. The process can only be described as traumatic and revolutionary. I went through a theological and philosophical change. This all issued in a reawakening of what I now believe was a God inspired childhood desire to touch and heal.
I did not have long to wait to begin the practice of expectantly praying for the sick. A group of Full Gospel Businessmen visited the church where I was the pastor. They came, at my request, to conduct a healing seminar. As they ministered God’s grace in power I watched with tremendous excitement and anticipation. These lay people placed their hands on those who were seeking release from pain. They were convinced that it was all occurring through faith in Jesus Christ who is the same, yesterday, today and forever. They believed in a God who really does make it happen.
Then, full of anticipation and brimming with hope, I asked if I could ‘have a turn’. I recall with thankfulness that my friend Doug McFadgen readily agreed that I should pray. Not having had any previous experience or model to follow I began to put into practice what I now believe, and others who know me concur, is an authentic healing ministry. Some more recent examples of this style of ministry have confirmed it also.
As I reflect on those early renewal beginnings with a sense of wonder, love and praise, I do not have words to adequately express my thanks to God who gently and generously educated me in the presence and power of his Spirit. He showed his predestined calling to heal by releasing the gift of faith in me so that I might practice his healing ministry among hurting, bruised and broken lives.
Health is natural
Extraordinary scientific advances in many areas of medical research and health care have been accompanied and balanced by an increase in holistic health practitioners. Spiritual healing, as illustrated in Scripture and other historical literature, comes into this arena of a holistic approach to healing.
Most spiritual healers and practitioners of holistic medicine take the view that the causative factor present in many forms of human disease and dysfunction is found in systems imbalance. Holistic practitioners aim to restore such imbalances through natural or supernatural powers.
My own point of view is that health is natural but disease and dysfunction are unnatural. My aim, therefore, is to release by faith into suffering lives the appropriate supernatural power so that whatever has caused imbalances in physical, mental and spiritual ways will be overcome and corrected.
Today’s rediscovery of the Christian healing ministry marks a return to a fundamental part of our Lord’s teaching. The number of individuals and church groups practising spiritual healing through sacramental rites, laying on of hands, anointing with oil, and the prayer of faith is increasing every day. Praise God, miraculous healings reminiscent of biblical examples occur with greater frequency. Through the revival of the Christian healing ministry we have been immeasurably blessed.
Today, more clearly than ever before, I see the healing ministry of the church as an authentic answer to the agnostic belief that Christianity is mere legend, or only a philosophy, or solely an historical event finished two thousand years ago. To know the healing Christ is to see Christianity as what it is meant to be; a dynamic, living reality.
The whole person
Spiritual healing as demonstrated by Jesus deals with the care of the whole person, body, mind and spirit. It calls people to salvation and to closer relationship with God. However, not all who are healed seek salvation, and not all who are healed in spirit are also healed physically.
Some claim that when healing through prayer does not occur there will be psychological damage. Also it is suggested that those who are not healed will tend to blame themselves or doubt the reality of their faith. We have found this to be a false understanding. Those healed in spirit know that an unhealed body is no more the will of God than a sinful world is his will. Both result from universal human failure, corporate faithlessness and mass disobedience. Centuries of unbelief and sin cannot be instantly dispelled. The thunder of human doubt and misunderstanding cannot be immediately silenced.
Nevertheless, I am convinced that total health is the primary will of God, and I will not cease to proclaim that Jesus is the Saviour of our bodies and minds as well as our spirits. Therefore, while total healing may not immediately occur, or not ever during some people’s earthly life because of unknown or alien factors, nothing can impede God’s healing of the spirit. This is the basis of true wholeness. None who turn to God remain totally unhealed.
Repentance opens the door
Faith unlocks the door to God’s power but repentance opens it. This dimension of remission from sin presents a great obstacle for some people who find it difficult to believe that what Jesus said must simply be done.
The testimony of those who have seen and felt the incredible effect of his words concerning repentance cannot be ignored. If we emasculate his teaching, selecting only what we want to believe and rejecting what we would prefer to discard, we find ourselves left with a powerless ideology instead of a dynamic religion.
Our own sin is one of those aspects of Christianity which most of us would probably like to forget, or even deny. But the destructiveness of sin in our lives, and the full salvation of God’s forgiveness are central to Christ’s teaching. This lies at the heart of the church and is an essential part of the healing ministry. To deny our sin is to deny our salvation, for we cannot be saved from what we do not have.
The list of our sins is long. We cannot describe it all here. The more obvious sins of the flesh are pretty well known. They should not be minimised. However, the sins most frequently overlooked are the sins of the spirit: hostility, resentment, anger, fear, jealousy. These most flagrantly violate the law of love issued by our Lord. To break this law is to commit an offence against God. We then suffer the consequences of physical and mental disease as well as spiritual sickness. The best health insurance cover I know starts with the declaration, ‘O God, I repent and am heartily sorry for this …. , my sin.’
The force of humility
Having noted that unrepentance can mitigate against spiritual healing, and having pointed to some common sins of the spirit, I want to single out pride as the greatest culprit.
The saints of history all put their finger on pride as the most common of sins which beset us. It is also the most dangerous because it is insidious and far reaching in its effects. It may not be inaccurate to claim that pride is actually behind and responsible for all other sin.
Michelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel when he was approached one day by an admiring inquirer who asked the famous painter, ‘What is the first article of the Christian religion?’
The answer came quickly, ‘Humility.’
‘And what is the second article?’ asked the eager questioner.
‘Humility,’ Michelangelo replied.
Desiring to press the point further, the inquirer asked, ‘Sir, what is the third article?’
‘Humility,’ came the unhesitating reply from the great man of God.
Pride leads to the exaltation of our own egos to the point where we worship ourselves and our achievements instead of the creator of both. This tendency leads us into the greatest sin of all, a wilful separation from God.
Pride has nothing to do with self respect which our Lord surely meant us to have and to maintain or he would never have issued his second commandment. Pride means the sort of self aggrandisement which precludes humility. Humility is the basis of our relationship with God.
Without humility we cannot have true faith for faith involves complete confidence in someone other than ourselves. Whatever other virtues we may possess, if we do not have humility we are lost. However grave our faults, if we are humble enough to confess them we can be saved and healed.
Willingness releases spiritual energy
God has made us volitional beings. We choose. Because of this volition the psalmist suggests that we need to be willing in the day of God’s power (Psalm 110:3).
As I have ministered through twenty years to thousands of people with laying on of hands I have concluded that little happens in the way of transformation in the lives of those prayed for until there is an act of will which enables the release of God’s healing power. When we surrender ourselves in obedience and submit willingly to God’s mercy and grace, then healing power can flow.
This is especially so for those who pray for others. God uses willing humans as means of his mercy and grace. There is that fine moment, I believe, when by faith we consciously let go and let God make it happen.
It seems logical, and is supported from my own experience, that when those praying are willing to be a channel of God’s grace and those being prayed for have a wholehearted readiness and willingness to receive, then healing is most likely to happen, provided the willingness is accompanied by humility and repentance.
Not everyone prayed for is totally healed. However, significant numbers testify that something good has taken place. There are often visible signs of God’s power on them or feelings present which signify changes for the good. There may be a sense of heat or warmth, tingling, some euphoria, or physical adjustments felt. These are often indications of divine healing being manifested through the Holy Spirit.
Also, different people exercise different gifts of healing (1 Corinthians 12:28). In my own ministry there is most evidence of healing where structural problems exist, where there is pain because of injury and where there is stress. Other kinds of healings occur but these areas respond most in my ministry. It appears that different ministries of healing flow through different people with particular healing gifts or powers.
Spiritual healing is complex and mysterious. There are no simplistic answers. We need to maintain a proper and balanced biblical approach and not treat it lightly or tritely. To draw back from a ministry of healing is to quench a major dimension of God’s kingdom among us.
I am convinced that God does want all people to enjoy health in every area of life (John 10:10; 3 John 2). So we should use every good means at our disposal to receive and impart this wholeness.
The Rev. Canon Jim Holbeck, an Anglican minister, wrote as the leader of the Healing Ministry at St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney, 1988-2006, where he succeeded Canon Jim Glennon who commenced the weekly Wednesday healing service in 1960.
Having entered into my early twenties with virtually no experience of church life, and thinking that religion was absolutely irrelevant, I have completely changed my mind. I am engaged in what I once thought absurd and far from reality.
That I should be writing such a chapter as this shows that changes and healing through God’s Spirit can take place in today’s world.
The change began with my conversion at the age of 23. I came to realise that Jesus Christ was the Son of God who had died for my sins on the cross and who was now alive. I had seen the change he made in members of my own family who had ‘accepted Christ as Saviour’ as they put it. Then a few people I knew asked Christ into their lives and I began to see change in them.
I was encouraged that Christ could change people radically. Surely the world would be completely changed as people heard the good news and responded to it! But no! I was soon to learn the sad fact that some people can hear the message that had excited me and transformed my life, and be totally unmoved by it.
The message of the possibility of healing by God’s Spirit in today’s world also excited me, and I hope it will not leave you unmoved. Here are some of the lessons the Holy Spirit is teaching me as I journey on the learning curve regarding healing.
Healing is accelerated through conversion
One of the first things I noticed with many of those who became Christians was their general improvement in health. Some would have carried a heavy burden of guilt. As they received forgiveness in Christ, the burden was lifted to a large degree. In fact, many people have come to me for counselling for some physical or emotional or relationship problem and have been introduced to Jesus and accepted him as the Lord of their lives. From that point, the healing they had been seeking in various ways became a reality in their lives.
It makes sense that the greatest healing of all is spiritual healing because it open up the body, mind and spirit to the Lord’s power. I believe that we should be aiming at presenting the gospel to every person who asks for healing. After all, what is the use of their gaining all the healing in the world if they are still going to lose their souls?
We are not always given the opportunity to present the gospel to individuals who seek healing, however. Some may allow us only a limited time to talk with them and pray for them. What should our response be to such people? Here’s another lesson I have learned.
God heals unbelievers
Sometimes God brings healing to those who aren’t committed Christians. We might like to argue theologically about whether he should or shouldn’t, but in the meantime he does anyway!
One of the results of unbelievers receiving healing is that they can realise that Christ is alive and well in his church, and in gratitude they give their lives to him. Not all do, though. I notice in the New Testament that of the ten lepers who received healing only one returned to thank Jesus. The others, nonetheless, were still healed.
There are many who come to our weekly Wednesday Healing Services in the Cathedral who are not believers, but whom the Lord heals. Many who come to receive healing meet the Healer, Jesus Christ himself. Their healing made them realise that God is alive, and that he loves and cares. So they responded to his love as they saw it revealed in the cross of Christ and as they experienced it personally through their healing.
God wants to heal the real problem
Often the Holy Spirit gives some insight into the real problem when we talk with people in a prayerful environment, having invoked the Spirit to do his work of revealing and giving wisdom. We are humbled to again realise that the Holy Spirit is indeed the real Counsellor who longs to set people free and who may reveal problem areas in people’s lives.
I was once confronted with a woman who was extremely agitated because her husband had been overlooked for a position she felt he should have gained. Not knowing how to get her to be quiet so that we could talk sensibly about it, I suggested we pray! As I prayed she gave a long sigh. When the prayer finished I looked up to see a completely different woman. She was, rather, the same woman with a completely different countenance. Where, a few moments before, there had been extreme agitation, there was now an incredible serenity. She said quietly, ‘God has shown me that my whole attitude is wrong. Thank you so much for your help.’
She left a transformed woman in an encounter that lasted no more than five minutes. During the following months she continued to be at peace. In my prayer, I was asking that God would be with us as we talked and that he would give us wisdom. Not one word of counsel did I offer her. God the Holy Spirit, the Counsellor, healed her as she opened up to him.
Many counsellors use the expression ‘the presenting problem’ to describe the situation that the counsellee presents as being their problem. But often they don’t know what their real problem is. Their presenting problem is only their own perception of their need. The Holy Spirit, however, knows exactly what the root cause is and is able to reveal causes, not just symptoms. I find that this sort of thing is happening more and more in the ministry of those involved in counselling.
Christians may have deep problems
As a brand new Christian I used to think that once we became Christians all personal problems would disappear. I was astounded to begin to associate with people who had been Christians for thirty years or more but had all sorts of personal hangups and were so unloving and critical.
On my first venture into an ecumenical training class to prepare for a Beach Mission, I found those relatively younger Christians very wary of me, an Anglican, at a time when few Anglicans were involved in such ministries. I thought we were ‘all one in Christ Jesus’ and that we would have wonderful fellowship together. I was taken aback at such suspicion. Thank God, that depth of suspicion has lessened over the years.
Then as I began to read more of the New Testament I saw that even Christian leaders sometimes don’t act Christianly. Paul in his letter to the Philippians had to rebuke two fine servants of Christ, Euodia and Syntyche, and tell them to be reconciled. On another occasion he had to correct the apostle Peter for conduct that was not helpful for the Christian cause in Galatia. It showed me that we are always going to be human no matter how Christlike we become. There will always be within us the potential for sin or insensitivity or error.
More recently I have realised we are the product of so many influences including the things said or done to us during our lifetime. Sometimes we may be aware of some of those factors. Often we are not. Some of us as Christians may be as totally committed to Christ as we are able to be, yet there may still be problem areas.
Praise God, the Lord is interested in healing even the damage we have suffered in the past, to enable us to reach more potential in him. Admitting we have some problems is not a sign of weakness or spiritual illhealth. Rather, it may be a sign that greater healing is in progress. The person who has seemingly got it all together, who is dependent upon no one, who never seems to be affected by the difficulties around them, may be the one who needs the greater healing.
Healing is a lifelong process
In Romans 12:12 Paul writes about the transformation that God brings to us as our minds are renewed. Sometimes we don’t realise how the world has squeezed us into its mould, even in terms of our thinking and worldview. That has been so for many of us regarding healing and spiritual gifts. If we have a worldview that dictates that God doesn’t heal today, then that becomes a tremendous barrier to receiving healing. If we believe that God can bring healing to damaged emotions, but not healing of bodies, there is little motivation to reach out for such physical healing.
Our understanding of all the ‘unsearchable riches’ we have in Christ is meant to grow as we continue to know him. Some of us have experienced some degree of physical healing through prayer. This has increased our capacity to believe that God can do more. The testimony of people I respected as mature Christians who had been healed of lifethreatening illnesses through the healing ministry at St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney made me look more deeply into the whole area of healing.
I came to see that the Lord is interested in healing us not only spiritually so that we can live in heaven, but that he also wants to heal us emotionally and physically to equip us to live for him on this earth. The ‘unsearchable riches’ are always more than I am able to comprehend or appropriate. Part of maturing as Christians may involve appropriating more of those ‘unsearchable riches’ which are ours in him. That will take more than our lifetime.
Healing comes through cooperating with God
I recently preached about being doers of the word as well as hearers. For example, if God commands us to forgive others, then we must act upon that word and do so. As one woman in the congregation heard those words she prayed, ‘Lord, do I need to forgive someone?’ Immediately a person came to her mind. She was aware of the hurt this person had caused her years ago. She prayed a prayer thanking God for bringing this to her mind, and before God she forgave that person. She then asked God to forgive her for holding resentment against that person for so long. Just then she was filled with an incredible warmth which lasted for hours. When she phoned to share this with us some days later, she was able to say how free she felt knowing that these deep wounds had been healed. She cooperated with God as he brought her this insight and received a great healing as a result. One wonders how many people could know greater healing if they cooperated with God’s nudges rather than ignoring them.
Psalm 139 has meant a great deal to Christians for generations. Recently we have discovered its significance for the healing of memories, or for healing of past hurts. The Psalm reminds us in a powerful way of God’s omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence. David states that God knows all things, and then turns that truth into a prayer. He asks God who searches all things to search him, to know him, to test his anxious thoughts, to see if there is any offensive way in him, and to lead him in the everlasting way.
David wants God to share that knowledge with him, so that he might act upon that insight. Because God knows the root cause, as well as the present symptoms, he knows the real areas that need healing. In many counselling situations these days, this fact is recognised with a prayerful reliance on the Spirit of God to bring any revelation necessary for a person’s healing.
Healing comes in the Lord’s way and in his time
Paul wrote in Colossians 4:2, ‘Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.’ He knew we need to keep our spiritual eyes open, to see how God answers our prayers. If we’re really honest, we have to admit that so often in our prayers we’ve got it all worked out as to how best God might answer them. It will be in this way, and at this time. We often pray, expecting that God will answer in the way we think best. But his way may be quite different from what we imagined. His timetable may be much slower than ours. As Isaiah wrote so long ago, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are his ways our ways. We might add, neither is his timetable our timetable.
This is especially so in healing. Often we have people come to our services for physical healing and through his word God shows them their need for salvation. They are saved, and then much later find the healing. Others miss the answer to their prayers because they are impatient. When it hasn’t come according to their timetable they get resentful and hinder the healing that was coming to them in the days ahead. We may be sure that when God’s answer comes it will always be to his greater glory and to our greater good.
Unfortunately, or should I say fortunately, there is no conclusion! Being on the learning curve with the Spirit of God means that we have to be open to new insights the Spirit brings.
When those who have studied healing for decades say that ultimately healing is a mystery, it’s not because there are no truths that can be learned. Rather it’s a statement that comes from the humility of learning that no matter what we think we know regarding healing, there are more lessons to be learned. I’m grateful for these lessons I’ve learned over the years, but I’m looking forward immensely to those that the Spirit of God will teach us in the days ahead.
This article is adapted from a Church Growth essay Barbara wrote in her M.A. studies.
The prodigious growth of the house church movement in China is one of the greatest phenomena in the 20th century. Various observers of these Chinese Christians maintain that this move of the Holy Spirit is gathering people into the kingdom of God at the rate of 35,000 daily, and 12 million yearly (Paterson 1989:23; Waugh 1993:47).
Although it is difficult to obtain accurate statistics, approximations show that, whereas in 1949 there were between 800,000 and 1 million Protestant believers in China (Paterson 1989:103; Kang 1990:79; Kauffman 1991:6) and 4.5 million Roman Catholics (McGavran 1989:1) by 1989-1991 there were possibly as many as 50 million in the house churches. Carl Lawrence, however, estimated there were 75 million and a Japanese Christian editor who spent 6 months investigating the Churches throughout China in 1989 estimated 100 million (McGavran 1989:1).
The State Statistical Bureau of China completed a 2 year survey of religious believers in 1992 and the unofficial figures indicate 63 million Protestants and 12 million Roman Catholics (Asian Report 197, 1992:9). The Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) maintained there were 5,000 official Churches and 5 million believers under its auspices in 1989 and these figures were unaltered in 1992. This means at least 50-58 million – the majority of believers – attend the house churches (Paterson 1989:71). Most of the growth has occurred in rural areas where 80% of the population lives.
These figures do not only represent quantitative growth since growth has been sustained for almost half a century and is still increasing. There must be highly significant qualitative factors operating in the Chinese Church to achieve such phenomenal growth.
My purpose is to evaluate the key principles that have contributed to the effectiveness of the house church movement in China. I will examine the historical context and the revival context which emerged from it. Both of these contexts involve dynamic theological and spiritual elements at work in the burgeoning Church.
Christianity and colonialism
The growth of the Church in China cannot be divorced from the historical and political events of the 19th and 20th centuries. Church growth in general ‘is closely conditioned by both history and anthropology’ (McGavran 1980:153).
The arrival of the Protestant missionaries of the 19th century coincided with the victories of western colonialism. ‘Missionaries and colonialism in China were inseparable, at least in the minds of the Chinese’ (Kauffman, 1975:82).
In 1869 a Chinese official retorted to the British Ambassador: ‘Take away your opium and your missionaries and you will be welcome’ (Kauffman 1975:83). The Boxer Rebellion of 1900 is an example of violent aggression against Western influence including Christianity. 189 missionaries and children were martyred as well as an even greater number of Chinese Christians (Francis 1985:23).
Therefore between 1949-1966, after almost 100 years of unwelcome foreign harassment, the Communists vigorously targeted and attacked Christianity primarily because of its identification with imperialist exploitation (Paterson 1989:40).
Not only was the timing of the introduction of Christianity into China fraught with difficulties, but the manner in which it was propagated aroused considerable discontent among the Chinese Christians. Western missionaries were challenged quite early to adopt the concept of indigenisation.
The principle of self-responsibility and self-support for mission-planted Churches was advocated in 1841 by Henry Venn, secretary of the Church Missionary Society. By 1851 the concept had been formulated as the Three Selfs: self-supporting, self-governing, self-propagating’ (Shenk 1990:29).
In 1856 John Nevius, a Presbyterian missionary, set out this plan for indigenization:
1. All Christians should work for a living and evangelize their neighbours;
2. Ecclesiastical organisation should only be developed as the Christians deemed expedient;
3. Churches must be self-supporting;
4. Churches should use local architectural designs;
5. Church buildings should only be constructed when affordable;
6. The Chinese church should both send and support its own evangelists;
7. Strong emphasis must be given to prayer and Bible training (Kauffman 1975:91).
The self-supporting, self-governing and self-propogating principles became the theme for the First General Conference of Protestant Missionaries in China, held in Shanghai in May, 1887.
The Chinese Church, too, was beginning to realise the need to be independent of the foreign missions. In 1906 the Rev. Yu Kuochen of Shanghai established a small independent Chinese Church (Shenk 1990:32). It represented a voice of protest against the strategies of the missions.
On a larger scale, the True Jesus Church, commenced in 1917 in Tientsin and Peking by Chinese pastor Paul Wei, soon gained nation-wide prominence. This Church emphasised witnessing, tithing, and local Church government. A strong belief in the supernatural power of God to heal, deliver and empower believers was also a catalyst in its expansion throughout China (Kauffman 1975:93).
The tension that existed between the two parties resulted from different interpretations of the meaning of ‘self’. The western missionaries believed in indigenous leadership, evangelism and self-support, but within the framework of western traditions, forms and structures.
On the other hand the Chinese Church leaders desired to express their faith in Jesus in Chinese cultural forms and patterns. This drive for homogeneity, the principle of establishing the gospel in every people group – panta ta ethne – without circumcising inherently good cultural practices, is a natural and spiritual desire which the Bible endorses (Matthew 24:14; 28:19; Romans 16:26).
In the imperialistic climate of China it was very important to the evangelistic thrust of the Chinese Church to be able to preach the gospel and establish people into the Body of Christ in culturally relevant ways to offset the distasteful provocation of colonialism. The Chinese Church leaders therefore expressed their disapproval in 1922 in the following statement at the National Christian Conference held in Shanghai: ‘We wish to voice the sentiment of our people that the wholesale, uncritical acceptance of the traditions, forms and organisations of the West and the slavish imitation of these are not conducive to the building of a permanent genuine Christian Church in China’ (Shenk 1990:32).
Missions and Churches subsequently made genuine attempts to affect change, and establish Chinese leadership in the Church. There were positive signs of the Church becoming indigenous. Powerful Chinese preachers and evangelists were used to win many converts. Others, such as Wang Ming-Tao ‘stood for adherence to the Scriptures and withstood heresies and false teachings’ (Paterson 1989:41).
In 1926 Watchman Nee established The Christian Assemblies, also known as The Little Flock. These were locally autonomous churches without any central organisation. Prominence was given to Bible study and teaching, and the movement produced excellent Chinese evangelists and Bible teachers (Kauffman 1975:94).
However, the period of the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) brought further instability and suffering to the Chinese people, and the momentum of change was impeded in the centrally organised churches (Shenk 1990:33; Francis 1985:23). At the same time, though, conditions in the eastern provinces caused an exodus to the inland regions where the gospel increased and spread.
This was due to the timely intervention of God himself for in places such as the northern province of Shantung he was sovereignly orchestrating his church.
In the early 1930s, Shantung experienced a supernatural visitation of the Spirit of God, characterised by deep repentance and public confession of sin by both believers and new converts, accompanied by signs and wonders in healing, speaking in tongues, and casting out demons. People from all denominations were affected.
This visitation impacted the church across China, resulting in Bible conferences and a rapid increase in church membership (Kauffman 1975:92). ‘To many (in China) the churches and their faith seemed the only stable element in a distraught and changing world’ (Latourette, cited in Kauffman 1975:93). God used the suffering of the people to prepare the church for the intensity of persecution that was soon to follow.
Intervention of the Spirit of God
An excellent model of the Spirit’s preparation of the church for the onslaught of Communism is afforded in the truly indigenous group known as The Jesus Family (Ye-su Chia-ting). Under the Holy Spirit’s direction, this commune:
* Had no central control – therefore , unlike denominations under central leadership, could not be easily controlled by the Japanese or the Communists.
* Refused to accept any foreign funds, on the basis that God was their source and they should exercise faith for his provision. Churches with foreign funds were liquidated in 1949.
* Had no church buildings. The buildings they owned were used for worship, but simultaneously used to produce their agricultural products – providing the livelihood of the commune.
* Encouraged their people to allocate a separate area in their homes for worship – a marvellous preparation for the ensuing forced worship of believers in the house churches.
* Had a dynamic faith in the supernatural ministry of the Holy Spirit which was a normal part of the worship of the commune, and proved to be an essential expectation of the persecuted church.
This church began in 1920 under the leadership of Ching Tien-ying. He established a commune in Shantung Province using land left to him by his great grandfather. The felowship spread through the north of China and into the interior. He established agricultural policies, progressively tithing from 10-90% of the harvest annually. During the famine of 1942 the commune gave 90% of the harvest to the poor and still met their own needs. Later the Communists needed one acre per family for life support, yet The Jesus Family was able to feed 500 people from 43 acres and still give away 90% of the produce (Kauffman 1975:95-97).
Effects of initial Marxist/Communist rule
In 1950, under the leadership of Mao Tse-Tung and the Marxist/Communist regime, the Christian Manifesto called on the Christian church to expose and oppose the effects of imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucratic capitalism, and help promote an independent, democratic and patriotic China (Paterson 1989:54-55).
However, the Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) was established in 1954 by the government to mediate between itself and the church. The name was a prostitution of the ‘Three Self’ principles espoused by the Christian missionaries of the previous 100 years, since the blatant agenda was to secure from the Christians a total commitment to Communist/Marxist policies, and therefore a united, patriotic China. Where the Bible and patriotism conflicted, loyalty to the party line was to be paramount. Chinese evangelical Christians saw the TSPM as the Party’s controlling mechanism of the church.
Since the government viewed the TSPM as the voice of the Protestant Church, pastors and churches who refused to be associated with the movement were vehemently attacked, and many were imprisoned and tortured. Wang Ming-Tao, an eminent Peking Pastor, was arrested in 1955, imprisoned, and subjected to brainwashing and mental torture. He was not released until 1978. He was typical of the fate of many devout Christians of this period who refused to compromise with the State (Paterson 1989:42). Watchman Nee was also arrested in 1952 and never released.
By 1958 all Christian meetings not authorised by the government were dissolved. Many Christians stopped attending the TSPM churches because they had become primarily centres for political indoctrination. The house church movement came out of the cauldron of this attempted politicising of the church. During this period, believers began to meet quietly in their homes for mutual encouragement, prayer, and sharing of the Lord’s Supper. These meetings were a reflection and extension of the traditional Chinese social emphasis on family life (Paterson 1989:78).
These house churches (1954-1966) became the fertile soil out of which explosive growth occurred. They provided the climate for the preservation of ‘grass roots’ evangelical Chinese Christianity, and through attention to the basics – Jesus Christ, crucified and risen again, the power of corporate prayer, and the mutual edification of the Body of Christ – laid a firm foundation for growth.
Another factor influencing the success of this movement in the early stages was its roots in the cultural basics. The Chinese church was now truly indigenous. At the same time, the Holy Spirit had been progressively teaching believers to hear and respond to his voice and minister in his power in preparation for the years of the Cultural Revolution, when the church was mercilessly and relentlessly persecuted.
Persecution: context for revival
During the decade 1966-1976, the Red Guards – representatives of the hardliners of the Communist Party – embarked on a ruthlessly cruel campaign to eradicate religion. For Christianity it meant:
* Confiscation of all Bibles and Christian literature;
* The stifling of all remaining institutionalised Christianity;
* Closure of all church buildings;
* Public humiliation of Christians through physical and emotional assault;
* Imprisonment in labour camps, factories and farms;
* Suicide of some Christians;
* A denial of faith in Christ for some;
* Betrayal of fellow Christians by some.
Yet, the gospel spread to areas without any previous witness, due to the exile of believers to remote farms and labour camps (Paterson 1989:45-46). Amazingly, even Red Guards, impressed by the lifestyle of the believers, turned to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ during this time.
Many Chinese believers testify to the fact that the church was purified in the fires of this persecution. Only those who were wholeheartedly committed to Jesus withstood such fierce opposition. One woman believer said ‘If a person joins us, we have a real Christian’ (Paterson 1989:94).
Suddenly, believers needed each other more than ever before. Meeting in small groups, mostly in homes, they learned the value of the unity of the Body of Christ, the edifying effects of fellowship with other Christians, the power of prayer, the priceless value of the Scriptures, and the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit in their midst. The lessons of the preceding years were now bearing fruit in their dire need for mutual strengthening and encouragement.
The Chinese church was developing a quality of lifestyle and attitude that many Western Christians have never experienced. As they were leaderless in many instances, they began to appreciate the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers.
This is the true meaning of revival – a fresh and deepened commitment of believers to Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. Christians who know him in this measure have a hope that transcends all hopelessness in this life. Although it was very dangerous to witness openly to the Lord at this time, many believers did so. The church primarily grew from conversions as people observed the way Christians endured persecution, and saw their lifestyle under extreme pressure.
By 1977 a more moderate set of pragmatic policies was pursued by Deng Ziaoping in the early years of his second term in office. The more liberal faction of the Party campaigned for the Open Door policy for the West – to help foster much needed industrial reforms.
Christians were released from prison for political expediency. China wanted to boost her trade and diplomatic relations by impressing the West with a policy of religious freedom and attention to human rights issues (Paterson 1989:49-50).
During the decade 1978-1988 the house churches saw great multiplication growth (McGavran 1989:1), and initially enjoyed relative peace. Consequently, the Christians boldly evangelized, worshipped and taught in large meetings. Outstanding reports included one city where 60% of the population became Christians, and a city of 160,000 where the majority are Christians, living in 13 communes (Paterson 1989:82).
David Wang (Paterson 1989:163) reports of another situation in which the majority of the citizens of an entire county became Christians in 1988. A Pastor had been imprisoned in 1963, when there were only 170 believers in his county. When he was released in 1986, there were 5,000 believers. Two and a half years later, the church had grown to 56,000 believers.
Evangelism: the result of revival
Conversions on a huge scale are the result of aggressive evangelism, characterised by a bold proclamation of the Gospel, accompanied by signs and wonders in the power of the Holy Spirit. Believers who learned to operate in the power of the Spirit in the secret meetings of the house churches now boldly proclaim the saving, healing and delivering power of Jesus Christ.
This is specialised evangelism that works through the supernatural intervention of the Holy Spirit into particular situations. Itinerant evangelists devote their lives to preaching the gospel from province to province. They constantly risk imprisonment and harassment from the authorities, but they are passionate in their ministry and are seeing much fruit for the kingdom of God.
The church encourages the ministry gift of an evangelist, and also emphasises the individual’s responsibility to witness, both in word and lifestyle. Anthony Lambert (1989:8) says the house church model for effective witness in China today is the simple, apostolic proclamation of the Gospel, combined with sacrificial life-style and suffering. This … is remarkably effective in reaching the masses of the people. … The church is growing by leaps and bounds from the grass roots upwards.
Influence of radio ministry
One other form of evangelism in China deserves special mention. The Christian radio ministry has progressively impacted unbelievers all over China. During the years when the country was closed to the outside world, the Far East Broadcasting Company received virtually no feedback on the influence of their programs on the Chinese. However, after 1979, letters received from inside China reveal that Christians are being nurtured, encouraged and strengthened by the broadcasts. More than 50% of the responses are from unbelievers seeking information about the gospel.
The following figures show the increase in written responses each year between 1978 and 1988. The overall decadal growth rate is a staggering 9,000%.
The responses totalled only 177 for the entire period between 1969 and 1978, but sharply increased after China and the United States resumed diplomatic relations in 1979.
1979 – 3,000 responses.
1980-1986 – 10,000 responses a year.
1987-1988 – 16,000 responses a year.
Given the fact that there are many who still cannot respond because of the danger, the radio ministry is of immense value to the cause of the gospel (Paterson 1989:115-116).
Reasons for growth
Vital theological convictions have produced significant spiritual emphases in the house churches.
As early as 1917, Chinese believers recognised the sovereign, supernatural power of the Spirit of God to heal the sick, perform miracles, and deliver from demonic oppression. I believe it is significant that this revelation coincided with the drive of Chinese Christians to become indigenous.
Western believers presented the Gospel from a Western theological perspective – appealing to people’s rational processes. Faith was based on the message proclaimed in words. The preached word has been emphasised exclusively, and Jesus has been well presented as ‘Christ the wisdom of God’.
However, the Chinese – and other Third World peoples – are more acutely aware of the dimension of the spirit world. Therefore, ‘Christ the power of God’, acknowledged in the preaching of the Word with accompanying signs and wonders, is the way God demonstrates his supremacy over all false gods (Wang, Asian Report 194, 1992:9-10).
Chinese Christians expect the Holy Spirit to declare the Lordship of Jesus through supernatural acts as a normal occurrence. This theological absolute is the common thread evidenced throughout the house church movement. I am convinced this is the fundamental reason for its preservation and outstanding growth. Within the house church movement itself ‘most Christians still recognise signs, wonders and miracles as the number one factor resulting in church expansion’ (Wang, Asian Report 198, April, 1993:7).
2. Revelation of the Lordship of Jesus Christ
The primary priority of Chinese Christians is encouraging and maintaining a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Persecution has driven the church to the basics of the faith, and a very real experience of the presence of Jesus in their lives. Their faith is in Jesus who is present now in the believer, and is returning soon. Therefore, effecting reconciliation between him and all who desire salvation is a matter of urgency.
3. A Theology of entering into Christ’s sufferings
A theology of suffering has issued from the fires of persecution. Christ Jesus suffered for them, therefore they willingly enter into the fellowship of his sufferings (Phil.3:10), and consider it a privilege to identify with him as his representatives in situations of persecution where they can demonstrate his great love for sinners.
David Wang tells of a woman Christian worker in a poor province of China sentenced to five years hard labour who refused to be bailed out by fellow Christians. She saw imprisonment as a divinely appointed opportunity to minister the gospel in the labour camp. Her only request was that Christians would support her in prayer (Asian Report 194, April, 1992:7).
4. A belief in the power of prayer
All the activities of the house churches flow from a base of intensely fervent prayer. Intercession occupies a major portion of their church meetings. Whole congregations unashamedly weep as one before God, and the entire group of believers sustain a unity of focus, adding their passionate ‘Amen’ to the pleadings and supplications of their fellow Christians (Balcombe Video, 1993).
One Chinese pastor, returning from a conference in a western nation, said ‘Our brothers in the West know how to plan, but we know how to pray’ (Paterson 1989:189).
Persecution drove them to prayer, and now persistent corporate prayer is frequently sustained for three to four hours in any one church gathering.
5. Belief in the church as a spiritual structure
No other structures except the Body of Christ are necessary in this movement. The vast majority of house churches do not own any property, but meet in homes, old buildings, and even, in at least one instance, a cave. What is important is the spiritual membership of the group.
Inherent in this doctrine is their faith in the priesthood of all believers. Leaders do not dominate the church, but encourage all members to live pure lives, and take their rightful place in the Body of Christ (Paterson 1989:189).
6. Recognition of the Scriptures as the Word of God
The Bible is highly esteemed among Chinese Christians. They will go to any lengths to obtain a copy, sometimes travelling for days to make contact with a courier, and risking detention by the Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB) for obtaining ‘foreign supplied’ Bibles.
In other places, one copy is circulated among members who are responsible for hand-copying the text. The lack of sufficient Bibles, along with limited sound Biblical instruction, unfortunately leaves many places open to heresy. Pastors refuse to send their potential ministers to seminaries operated by the TSPM, because of the strong political content of the courses.
7. A responsible belief in the mission of the church
These house churches take seriously the church’s mission (Matt.28:18-20). This is attested to by the spiritual harvest they are experiencing. Every Christian is encouraged to witness, and the ministry of the evangelist is given a high profile (Paterson 1989:189).
Ensuing spiritual elements
Definitive spiritual emphases have emerged from these theological convictions in the house churches today in China. For ease of comparison, they are presented in a simple table. They represent Church Growth principles at work supernaturally.
Recognition of, and dependency on signs and wonders
* sensitivity to the Holy Spirit in evangelism* exercise of spiritual gifts
Revelation of the Lordship of Jesus Christ
* presentation of the basics of the gospel* emphasis on personal relationship with Jesus Christ for conversion growth
* commitment to personal witnessing* sustained vitality in worship
Entering into Christ’s sufferings
* selfless Christianity* boldness in witnessing* focus on eternal values
Belief in the power of prayer
* sustained, persistent, fervent prayer* total dependence on God’s miraculous intervention to preserve his testimony
The church as a spiritual structure
* supportive, caring community* every believer essential to the Body of Christ* emphasis on lay ministry* importance of corporate fellowship
Recognition of the Scriptures as the Word of God
* high view of Scripture* an insatiable hunger for God’s Word* willingness to risk personal safety to obtain Bibles
Responsible belief in the mission of the church
* personal evangelism* fearless preaching of the whole Gospel
The greatest benefit to the church in China is the unity gained from a truly indigenous church functioning in the power of the Spirit.
In addition to this principle of indigenous unity, the following phases of Church Growth advocated by Eddie Gibbs (1986:43-45) are all strongly contributing to the current growth of the church in China and are evident in the theological and spiritual elements.
1. Mobilising the witnesses.
2. Equipping the people of God for ministry. This is encouraged, but at times hampered through lack of suitable materials and teachers.
3. Creating a climate of receptivity. This has been a work of the Holy Spirit, using the persecution of the church and the expulsion of Western missionaries to focus the church on the real issues.
4. Effecting regeneration.
5. Incorporating into the Body of Christ.
6. Involvement in the ministry of Christ.
The Chinese house churches have flourished under the dynamic direction of the Holy Spirit. This growth occurs within a climate of official hostility to Christianity. The strategies of the Spirit have developed a truly Chinese church independent of any foreign control or influence, free to propagate the gospel in terms easily understood by its fellow citizens.
These churches are constrained by the present suffering to present the gospel as a matter of urgency, compelled by the love of Jesus Christ for lost sinners. The whole church seriously applies itself to evangelistic mission, and gathers the converts into a nurturing community to build them up so that they can take their rightful place in the Body of Christ.
Despite the remarkable growth of the Christian church in China, there is still much work to do. The best figures reveal there are 100 million believers in this country of 1.289 billion. When we consider that China is one fifth of the population of the world, and 33.5% of the world’s population is Christian (Barrett 1993:23), the church in China is faced with a formidable task to fulfil the Biblical mandate to preach the Gospel to every people group.
They have pressed on by the power of the Holy Spirit in the past, and will continue to do so in the future as they combine his supernatural enabling with their tenacious devotion to the task at hand. Fired by their constant knowledge of Jesus Christ present in his power they proclaim Maranatha, the Lord is coming.
Balcombe, Dennis (1993) ‘Harvest Time For China’, Video, Mount Gravatt: Garden City Christian Church.
Barrett, David B. (1993) ‘Annual Statistical Table on Global Mission: 1993’, International Bulletin of Missionary Research, January, 1993, pp.22-23.
Chao, Jonathan (1988) Wise as Serpents Harmless as Doves. Pasadena: William Carey Library.
Francis, Lesley (1985) Winds of Change in China. Guidelines For Effective Service. Sydney: OMF.
Gibbs, Eddie (1986) ‘Power Won’t Flow From Principles’ Global Church Growth, July/August/September, 1986, Volume xxiii, No.3. pp.43-45.
Hunter, Kent R. (1990) ‘Whatever Happened To The Homogeneous Unit Principle?’, Global Church Growth, January/February/March, 1990, Volume xxvii, No.1, pp.1,4.
Lawrence, Carl (1985) Against All Odds: The Church in China. Basingstoke: Marshall Pickering.
McGavran, Donald (1980) Understanding Church Growth (Revised). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans.
——- (1989) ‘What is Happening in China?’ Global Church Growth, April/May/June, 1989, Volume xxvii, No.2. pp.1,4.
Kang, Wi Jo (1990) ‘Korean Minority Church-State Relations in the People’s Republic of China’, International Bulletin of Missionary Research, April, 1990, Volume 14, No.2., pp.77-82.
Kauffman, Paul E. (1975) Confucius, Mao and Christ. Hong Kong: Asian Outreach.
——- (1991) ‘China’s Opposing Attractions’, Asian Report 190, Volume 24, No.3, May/June, pp.3-7.
Lambert, Anthony (1989) ‘The Mandate of Heaven: An Analysis of the Present Overall Situation in China’, Global Church Growth, Volume xxvi, No.2 pp.7-9.
Paterson, Ross (1989) Heartcry For China. United Kingdom: Sovereign World.
Pierson, Paul E. (1985) Historical Development of the Christian Movement – Class Syllabus. Pasadena: Fuller Theological Seminary.
Shenk, Wilbur R. (1990) ‘The Origins and Evolution of the Three-Selfs in Relation to China’, International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Volume 14, No.1, January.
Wagner, C. Peter (1976) Your Church Can Grow. Ventura: Regal.
Wang, David (1992) ‘Asia’s Maturing Church’, Asian Report 194, Vol.25, No. 2, March/April.
——- (1993) ‘China/Hong Kong: At The Crossroads’, Asian Report 198, Vol.26, No.1. March/April.
Wark, Andrew (1992) ‘Reaching and Teaching’, Asian Report 196, Vol. 25, No. 4. July/August/September.
Waugh, Geoff (1993) ‘Astounding Church Growth’, Renewal Journal, Number 2, pp. 47-57.
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