Every revival is born in prayer, in seeking the Lord earnestly together. Every revival is sustained in prayer, as people continue to seek God and bring others into praying, believing, obeying communities of God’s people.
Young George Whitefield, converted at 21 in 1735 wrote in his journal in 1737:
We began to set apart an hour every evening, to intercede with the Great Head of the Church to carry on the work begun… Once we spent a whole night in prayer and praise: and many a time, at midnight and at one in the morning, after I have been wearied almost to death in preaching, writing and conversation, and going from place to place, God imparted new life to my soul, and enabled me to intercede with Him for an hour-and-a-half and two hours together… I cannot think it presumption to suppose that partly, at least, in answer to prayers then put up by His dear children, the Word for some years past, has run and been glorified, not only in England, but in many other parts of the world. [George Whitefield’s Journals (1960:91)]
The Spirit of the Lord was poured out on one of those praying groups in January 1739. Within two months the crowds which gathered to hear George Whitefiled preach at Kingswood near Bristol had grown from 200 to 20,000 as God’s Spirit moved upon them. John Wesley began his famous open air preaching with those crowds and continued that for fifty years.
I recently visited Elcho Island, east of Darwin, with a team of 15 for their annual Thanksgiving Weekend on the anniversary of the revival there in 1979. God’s Spirit moved most strongly that weekend, I believe, when we waited on the Lord together, with Aboriginal leaders responding sensitively to the Spirit’s leading. We worshipped and prayed. Small clusters of people prayed for those who sought prayer, and God touched them gently and strongly.
The small communities there impressed me. Many people pray constantly, for hours a day, still. In some of those remote places the presence of the Lord is strong. The fires of the Spirit burn.
We can all do that – in our home groups, house churches, and meetings. We can wait on the Lord in worship and prayer and respond to his Spirit among us.
May revival fires be blown by the wind of the Spirit across this great south land of the Holy Spirit, igniting thousands of communities of the King.
God’s Spirit now moves like gusts of wind blowing and like waves breaking over us. It can be turbulent.
Many people report that their lives have been profoundly disturbed lately. Props and false securities are being shaken. False foundations crumble revealing what is built on the Rock.
This issue of the Renewal Journal explores some of the emerging developments as human structures are shaken and eternal issues emerge. In radical small communities people are learning to be the church, to pray in faith, to use spiritual gifts, to serve one another, to reach out in love. Increasingly, small groups are becoming the church in the home and the work place for many people. Some are linked with congregations. Some are house churches.
Communities of the King multiply. God is raising up a new breed of people committed to him and to one another, loving and serving in the power of the Spirit.
The articles in this issue of the Journal describe that. Charles Ringma, Dorothy Harris and Tim McCowan call us to discipleship in community life. Shayne Bennett and Adrian Commadeur report on charismatic communities among Catholics. Ian Freestone, Spencer Colliver and Col Warren outline emerging patterns of house churches and Barbara Nield examines the amazing growth in China’s house churches. Brian Edgar tells of renewal in a Bible College community and Darren Trinder reports on Spirit waves in Christian Outreach Centres across Australia.
God moves in many ways, including the multiplying of these emerging small communities of committed people. Thousands are praying as never before. Reports continue to come of God’s Spirit stirring.
All across this land the Spirit of God is leading people to wait on the Lord in worship, prayer and faith, then minister in the Spirit’s power. This journal strongly encourages that.
A lady in Belmont, Victoria wrote, ‘We thoroughly enjoy reading the Renewal Journal and have started a prayer group for revival.’
A husband and wife in Newtown in Victoria were blessed by the Journal and as a result they started a prayer group for renewal in their Reformed Church.
A young man in Brisbane bought extra copies of the Renewal Journal to distribute to his leaders’ group at his church and has urged them to spend more time seeking the Lord together.
This Renewal Journal strongly encourages prayer – personally, in groups and families, and in networks of praying people.
Book by Rene Laurentin, Waco: Word, 1982. Video/DVD/YouTube originally by Catholic Charismatic Renewal, USA.
The book by Rene Laurentin, Viva Christo Rey! (Word, 1982) tells the amazing story of God’s work among the poor of El Paso and Juarez on the border of Mexico and Texas.
People there who live in cardboard homes without electricity or running water, without employment, have found in the Holy Spirit an abundance of joy, grace and riches which few people today enjoy.
A charismatic Catholic prayer group took the gospels seriously, and decided to provide a meal for the people who scavenge their living from the city dump. They were prompted by Jesus’ command to share food with those in need. They provided food for 150 people at Christmas, but over 300 turned up, and then brought their friends. The food did not run out and there was enough left over to give to various orphanages.
So began a ministry of love and care which has grown for over forty years. The sick are being healed, both medically and through prayer. The hungry are fed, and food has never run out in twenty years. Employment has been provided in cooperatives. Better housing has been built.
Fr Rene Laurentin writes that ‘most importantly, they have found in the Holy Spirit the source of the spiritual conversion that has made for more humane living through converted action. The Holy Spirit, too, has given them a capacity for renewal, a capacity rarely found among intellectuals, who are so often lost in things, in learning, and in the orchestrated power and influence that earned the rich the reproach of Jesus. The gospel is still the good news proclaimed to the poor.’
One prayer group decided to do something in obedience to Jesus. Miracles have followed.
The one hour enthralling DVD (copy of a video) of the same name, Viva Christo Rey! (Hail, Christ the King) provides a stirring documentary of early beginnings and recent developments. It was produced jointly by the Catholics and Assemblies of God.
‘Stand in faith for your healing,’ they exhorted him. They had prayed for his healing with sincerity and compassion, but the long road of days, weeks, months, perhaps years, of ‘standing in faith’ stretched ahead. Who would stand with him?
During those days when doubt and uncertainty assail the heart of faith, who would be there to encourage and pray with him again and again until the conflict was clearly over?
If ever there is need of a small company of Christian friends and pilgrims, it is in such cases. How often the physical dis-ease is a symptom of loneliness, resentment, or buried anger. The care of others in a close knit group, ministering the grace and forgiveness of Jesus can dispel the loneliness, melt the anger, and affirm the healing process.
The small group needs to learn the Christian graces of perseverance, longsuffering, gentleness, faithfulness and hope for others. Those who have entered deeply into a small group experience will know the personal pain, doubt and fear borne on behalf of one another. You stand in faith for a brother or sister. Like the four men who let down their friend through the roof to the feet of Jesus, you bring your brother or sister again and again to Jesus.
Recently a good friend of mine died of a brain tumour. He had experienced several years of remission of what was an inoperable condition. This remission was a direct result of prayer for healing. During the subsequent years, to a large extent he stood alone in his church and there was little experience of a surrounding healing community. Would it have made a difference? I do not know. I do know, however, we have often failed in our healing ministry because there has been no community of Christians in daily, weekly, close-knit support. To be in community means to have all things in common – even our pain and sickness.
Cures are to be looked for, not only in the sick person, but also in the community. R. A. Lambourne (1963: 110) expresses it this way: ‘So a man who has a congenital defect about which he is chronically embittered, may be saved by the loving service and prayers of another person or group and yet retain his congenital deformity, whilst one of the group who has been involved may be relieved of a peptic ulcer.’ Experience has shown us that those with such defects may also have significant healing through persevering, persistent prayer.
The recorded experience of God’s direct intervention in healing over the past twenty years has often been the accounts of healings received through the ministry of the healing evangelist. Books on healing were initially a description of the way God intervened in healing in a wide variety of physical, emotional and spiritual conditions through that healing ministry.
Subsequent literature has come to grips with biblical principles of healing and methods of preparing all the people of God to pray for healing and exercise the gift of healing, but little has been said or taught about the importance of people being immersed in a healing community.
It is good that those at the healing meeting are asked to stand in faith for the person prayed for, but what happens after the meeting has concluded? Many are completely healed and may well stand alone, but not all. What community will these have to sustain their faith as the healing work goes on?
In some fellowships, healing teams are used so that the individualistic approach is modified. The teams are prepared to handle whatever may emerge, whether it be physical healing, deliverance from demonic oppression, or the healing of past hurts and broken relationships. Wholeness of life is the focus. Yet the need for continuing care may not be met.
A person from a strong Christian fellowship who experiences the healing grace of God can depend upon the support of that fellowship. There the healing process will be strengthened in the combined faith and mutual commitment to one another.
It is quite a different experience for people with a history of broken relationships and little personal discipline to find a community of people who will lovingly guide the formation of their Christian life and growth in faith. They need a caring community committed to support them.
The formation of Christian life and character – the whole area of Christian discipleship – needs a long period of painstaking care from the committed community. A young woman convert with a history of broken foster homes and drug taking experienced significant healing, but her life habits and attitudes formed over many years needed to be changed. She usually stayed in bed till the afternoon. For months an older woman would travel across town to her one-room flat, wake her, and see her washed, dressed, and out into the everyday world.
We long and pray for these alienated people to be brought into the Kingdom. Yet we recoil from some of the long term implications of lives that need to be made in the image of Christ. How beautiful that we are not alone. The Holy Spirit grants his gifts of knowledge, wisdom, discernment, courage and healing. We also have one another, if we can genuinely find oneness of purpose and love or common unity. That is community.
Christian community is an ideal we cherish but find difficult to achieve. In the many communities to which we belong – a sociology dictionary lists some ninety – we submit only a small portion of our lives. An ultimate goal of Christian community is to have all things in common. However, in our Western church we have absorbed a materialistic individualism which results in a rejection of strong commitment to group values. A pietistic approach to the Christian life emphasizes our individual personal relationship to God and tends to devalue the group relationships.
The instructions to the New Testament churches were primarily for groups, not individuals. ‘Saints’, commonly used in the New Testament for Christians, occurs there 62 times and 61 of these are in the plural form. We belong together.
Church communities need to provide a structure and opportunity for people to so relate with each other that these relationships show them how to become healing people. Christians in small groups in sensitive communication with each other a more likely to be aware of the needs of the wounded.
To a greater or lesser extent we are ‘wounded healers’. Our own wounds give a sense of identification with the wounded. We have all known, for example, how loneliness and loss bite into our emotional stability. James Lynch, in The Broken Heart: the medical consequences of loneliness (1979: 181), says, ‘The lack of companionship, the sudden loss of love and chronic human loneliness are significant contributors to serious disease (including cardiovascular disease) and premature death’.
He adds that ‘the true revolution of our times is the disappearance of friendship and that has gone hand in hand with the loss of community’. Those who lack the surrounding comfort and support of an intimate community lack one of the most powerful antidotes to stress and disease. In a neighbourhood group members can be immediately responsive to emergent need. The immediate awareness of need and the continuing healing issues out of fellowship; the formation of a new lifestyle from the witness of what Jesus has done in the lives of others. How often, too, the healer need healing. Pressure and stress need to be discerned, understood and prayed for in the whole group.
No group will be free of every ailment and oppression, but what a joy it is to have fellow pilgrims to be part of one’s whole life. In the midst of our human frailty we can experience a wholeness in the Holy Spirit which transcends our weakness. One of our friends, dying of cancer and surrounded by her own healing community, entered into a wholeness not experienced previously.
As Lambourne (1963: 110) puts it, ‘This type of situation is exemplified by the dying patient who makes of dying, as of life, not just “one damned thing after another”, but a “reasonable, lively and holy sacrifice”, a time of growing in wisdom and stature. Those who are near, serving, easing the pain, enter, if they wish, into the wholeness into which the patient by faith has entered … so the community in acts of healing, relieving suffering, and suffering together, enters the communion of saints, the community of those made whole.’
Lambourne, R.A. (1963) Community Church and Healing. London: Darton, Longman & Todd.
Lynch, James (1979) The Broken Heart. San Franscisco: Harper and Row.
After years of prayer, vision and planning, we have established a place of healing the whole person from a Christian perspective. It is called the Christian Wholeness Counselling Centre (See: Living Wholeness ).
This is a place where Christians and non-Christians can be seen by Professional Counselling Consultants from a number of disciplines, including Psychology, Social Work, Occupational Therapy, the Pastoral area and Psychiatry. It is a place where our passions are to strive for excellence in the area of psychiatry, psychology and the social sciences, and counselling within the context of a Biblical theology.
The psychiatric, psychological, social and spiritual issues are addressed within a framework of professional Christian counselling, facilitating one’s journeying toward wholeness. We acknowledge the spiritual dimension of the person in addition to the physical, psychological and social dimensions. We invite clients to integrate the spiritual aspect of their life within a Christian counselling context. It is also a place where professional counsellors can develop their skills, integrating their Christian beliefs with their professional practice. The centre helps to equip and train Christian counsellors and the church in Christian counselling and pastoral work. All this is done in an ethical manner with integrity and compassion. Here, the problems relating to the whole person can be addressed. These include personal, emotional, psychiatric, behavioural, physical, spiritual, social and family, educational, career related, stress, and trauma related problems.
The problems can relate to the whole person so the avenues for healing are focussed on each part of the person. In essence, helping the person to face their failures and their pain in the presence of God and from there to move on to practise the presence of God is the spiritual pathway to healing. Healing comes not only in practising the presence of God, but also in walking alongside with a fellow human being, and in conjunction with a supportive church network. Thus, healing does not come in a vacuum but is done in the context of the priesthood of all believers, the presence of God and being part of the body of Christ.
Integrated approach to healing Spiritual healing or prayer in itself often is not the only thing which needs to happen for healing. People often need other interventions. That may be medication, marital therapy, or some of the other forms of professional interventions. God never made us just to be spiritual, although the spiritual is central. God also made our bodies and our minds which often groan. Our bodies and brains may need medication, and our minds therapy. These are provided in many forms at the Christian Wholeness Counselling Centre. They include: Individual Therapy, Group Therapy, Family Therapy, Marital Therapy, Child Therapy, Adolescent Therapy, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Psychodynamic Psychotherapy, Pastoral Counselling, Psychiatric Treatment, Educational Assessment, Career Guidance, Grief Counselling, Crisis Counselling, Trauma Therapy (EMDR), Stress Management, Anger Management, Conflict Management, Assertiveness Training, Communication and Social Skills Training.
The likelihood of success in healing depends on how motivated or desperate the person is to change, the extent of how much they feel they can be involved in changing compared to how hopeless they might feel, and how severe their problems are in terms of physical, psychological, social or spiritual ones. The longer the problems have been going on, even back into previous generations, the harder it seems to be for change to occur. Intervention may include prayer for inner healing, breaking of past bondages, and on-going medication or counselling support. For some healing happens at a faster rate, for others it may take a number of years.
Healing is significantly enhanced if, in the context of coming to the Centre, a person can be free to be real and open in the Body of Christ. Thus the importance of close fellowship is vital. The church itself is a major organ for healing. In summary, Christian Wholeness Counselling looks at the whole person in the context of their relationship with God and the church, and their own social network. It acknowledges that our bodies are yet unredeemed. It acknowledges that at times God does work in miraculous ways, but normally tears will not be dried or taken away until we reach heaven. Healing follows a sequence. Here are essential steps on the pathway to wholeness.
Admit and be Real about Failure START HERE: The place for healing to begin is where one walks alongside another – one step beside and one step behind. In that posture, the person is strengthened to be able to face the pain, their failures and their sin. This often seems to be the hardest part but is where healing starts.
As the darkness is brought into the light, then that which was hidden can be addressed. Where many find it hard to walk on a road to healing, is this very first step of even acknowledging the problem. For true healing this needs to be acknowledged to oneself, to God and to another human being. Admitting and being real about one’s failures and sins is the place to start. The Christian Wholeness Counselling Centre allows this to occur in a place where the issues of the whole person can be addressed.
Believe and Receive Forgiveness THE 1ST STEP: Having faced and, to some extent, owned the problems, the first step of healing on a spiritual dimension is to return to the rock from which one was hewn, to receive the things which God has done. This step to healing is through a repentance, a returning, a step of faith rather than by the primary strivings of our wills and our own efforts. This step is one of believing and receiving God’s forgiveness. It happens initially at conversion, and needs to be repeated frequently. As we remember and return to what God has done, rather than trying to strive to better ourselves, change can come. It is through this step that one returns to the rock from which one was hewn, to receive the things which God has done to stand in one’s true position.
YOUR POSITION: Where is the position to which we need to return? What has God done which is healing? What is it that is there for healing, even when we have failed and fallen? God has done four major things for us in this area: he has provided us with his presence, he has placed us and set us apart for himself, he has given us his purposes, and he has provided all we need. This enables us to say, ‘I am yours and you are mine’, even in our pain or failure as well as in wholeness. First, God’s presence is with us: Emmanuel. Although we can quench the Holy Spirit, we have been sealed with him as he has been stamped on to our hearts. For those who are truly his, we cannot rub off that stamp. Even though the prodigal son felt no longer worthy to be a son, the Father thought otherwise. Even in our darkest moments, the darkness cannot turn off the light. Even in our lowest periods, God is beneath us. Even where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.
Healing comes as we realise God has not abandoned nor forsaken us, but is there for us right in the context of our pain. God owns us despite our sin. Second, God has placed us close to himself. He has given us an identity of being a child of the Father with his Spirit indwelling us. Being identified with Christ in God lifts up the head of the shameful and weary traveller. Third, God has purposed us to relate with him in intimacy, in Jesus by his Spirit. This gives us a reason for living which nothing can touch, even in the context of suffering. God’s purposes remain constant despite our unfaithfulness. This leads the wandering person to have a God-given clarity and perspective on where they have come from and where they are going. So, even in our groaning, with all around seeming to overwhelm us, God’s purposes can still be fulfilled. All things can work for good. His good is our intimacy with Jesus. Our imitation of Jesus can grow. Our conformity to him can be renewed. Our sense of companionship and closeness to God can deepen. Fourth, God has provided for us his forgiveness and his freedom, leading us to his fullness.
Our lives and experiences so often betray what God has done, leaving us feeling hypocritical, shameful, and in effect no different from what we would be if we were non-Christians. Our lives more often than not are lives of the wilderness rather than those of the Promised Land. The tendency then is to believe much more in our failings and feelings than in what God has done because the two do not seem to match up. Having faced our own sins and failures and returned to what God has done, we can stand in his grace, mercy, and forgiveness. In the context of facing the reality of oneself, the head of the wounded and fallen can be lifted up and can see another reality, the reality of God and what he has done. Through being real about these realities a new perspective and new direction can again be followed. So the shameful may stand upright, in grace and access to God; the lost may belong; the fallen and failed may get up, yet again.
Choose to Respond to Freedom 2ND STEP: From this position, we can move on in the freedom which God provides. Receiving the provision of God’s freedom leads us to relate with God in the fullness of his Spirit and walk in wholeness and healing. Only as we receives what God has done in our life can we move on to practise the presence of God in the context of our humanity. But how do we receive and respond to this freedom? Where does this freedom come from and where does it lead? How do we take this second step? This is where the mystery of God’s provision applies. Because he has placed us in Christ, we also died with him and have been raised with him. We know, however, that we are very much alive and our sinful nature abounds. How is it then that we continue to sin? A major reason appears to be not only the abuse of God’s grace, but the unbelief of what God has done. The unbelief is partly because the reality of our experience shouts louder than the reality of what God has done.
Thus in Romans 6, Paul provides 3 steps to receive and respond to this freedom.
* First (v 6), we must know and remember what God has done. We must realise that we have been crucified with Christ. We should have been warned of this when we became Christians.
* Second (v 11), we must believe this and reckon ourselves to be dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
* Third (vs 12-13), we must then yield ourselves to God and not to our own sinful desires.
Our bodies are very much alive but our self-centred nature has been crucified with Christ. However, it is only as we know this, it is only as we believe this and as we then put this into practice that we appropriate and apply what God has done. As we take these steps in the face of our selfishness, a Godliness can slowly and falteringly develop. There can be a renewing of our minds and a conformity to Jesus. This is a gradual walk and needs to be applied to each situation. As we do this, as we present our bodies and our minds as a living sacrifice, to be renewed by God, then we can move on to practise the presence of God, to fellowship with God and to love others. Then we can start to move into true Christian wholeness.
YOUR PRACTICE: As we respond to God and to what he has done, we can move our position into the practice of Christian wholeness and healing. Wholeness was defined best by Jesus when he said, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength … Love your neighbour as yourself’. So as we struggle with issues, we start to bring into God’s light and into God’s presence these problems and, together with God and a fellow traveller, we can move on. The pains and hurts of the past and the present can be cast on God; we are now not alone. As they are faced, the past which lives in the present can be let go on and released. Forgiving others starts to become possibe. Changing thoughts, perceptions and behaviours in relation to oneself and others can begin again. We go on again. Love arises. The salvation which God has worked in us starts to become worked out.
So we are freed to respond and to relate with God. In the context of pain and sin, we can actively relate with God and in doing so can actualise and realise the presence of God in their humanity. Being very real, we can start to interact with God, to imitate Jesus and to slowly experience some kind of intimacy with the Trinity. We can start to live who we are, to walk by the Spirit and not just to be born of the Spirit. Shame and guilt no longer hold their power. We are free to leave our self-centredness to live a God-centred life. We are free to respond to God even as the Psalmist did, in ruthless reality. We can now move from the isolation and aloneness of darkness into abiding in God. This is not ‘airy fairy’ or living in some supernatural spiritual cloud. This is relating to God and being free to do so as a very real human being. Having reconnected with God, hope revives and we can once more go to others to love them and to bring God’s healing to them. There is power to go to those who have hurt us, in our families especially. There is power to be real about the pains which we have received from others and yet to go and to seek and touch our offenders with the wounded hands of Jesus. Spiritual warfare can be done. This is practising the presence of God. This is the narrow road which brings life. This is knowing God and showing God. This is being filled with the Spirit. This is the narrow path that leads to life, and healing.
RETURN TO THE START: Yet so quickly practising the presence of God seems to disappear yet again in our sins and failings from which we have just come. And so, returning to the reality of our failures, we can AGAIN turn to our position in God and from there move on to practising a God-centred way of life. This is not sinless perfection, but a spiral – from practising the presence of God to falling back into sin to repenting, to walking on with God. As we do this, it is more than going round in circles. We spiral up on a journey, as with wings like eagles, slowly rising in sanctification. As we take hold of God in this way, God takes hold of us and as we open to God, God fills us with his Spirit. This is the spiritual aspect of healing – abiding in God, and is something which we need to encourage in each other. However, when things get too hard, a place like the Christian Wholeness Counselling Centre can further facilitate healing. Consultants cannot of themselves do the work, but in closeness to the suffering clients, and in the presence of God, all three in a healing triangle can walk the road to true healing, to wholeness, to Shalom.
Summary: a sequence of healing and wholeness.
START HERE: “I Admit and am Real about my Failures.”
1ST STEP: “I Believe and Receive God’s Forgiveness.”
YOUR POSITION: God’s Presence, Placing, Purposes and Provisions.
2ND STEP: “I Choose to Respond to God’s Freedom.”
YOUR PRACTICE: “I Do live and Relate with God in the Fullness of his Spirit.”
The Holy Spirit may at times break down existing patterns of prayer and worship in order to renew his people.
Sometimes this is because of inadequacies in the attitude of those worshipping, as in Isaiah 1:10-20. There God is tired of the sacrifice and worship of those who do not repent.
At other times the working of the Holy Spirit comes simply to give a renewed vision of the majesty and holiness of God, to refresh devotion and commitment, and to lead people to a new understanding of his nature. This is a part of the contiunous renewal of which Paul says, ‘let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts … and the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish … and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God’ (Colossians 3:15-16).
Such a time of renewal took place over three days in September 1993 during second semester at the Bible College of Victoria (B.C.V.). This special and unplanned period became a time of renewal, growth, conviction and great blessing.
B.C.V. is an interdenominational, evangelical college training people for ministry in Australia and overseas. There are about 180 full-time students and almost as many more part-time students. Ever since its foundation in 1920 individual, group and community prayer and worship have been an important feature of the community life of the college.
The priorities of the college are expressed as ‘Knowing, Being and Serving’. This means knowing God in personal relationship; being transformed to become more like the Lord Jesus Christ as Spirit-filled people of compassion, faith, vision and power, living holy lives in the personal and social realms; and serving God in the world, developing gifts for ministry for building up the church, meeting the diverse needs in society, and proclaiming the gospel to unreached people.
As a consequence of this commitment, time is regularly given over to prayer. Students and faculty pray in daily chapel services, in fellowship groups, in lectures, at meal times, in faculty groups, in pairs and room groups on special prayer days and nights, and in prayer cells for specific issues including healing, evangelism, community life and student ministries. People pray, sometimes with conviction and joy, at other times with doubts and fears.
Continually there are testimonies to the blessing of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is programmed as an important part of college life and God honours that commitment, but on occasions God wants to do something different.
A desire for God
The recent time of renewal began with the group responsible for preparing for a regular day of prayer. Others had a growing conviction that God’s Spirit wanted to move in a new way. One student, reflecting the feelings of many, said, ‘My heart had already been prepared to meet with God – and I was not disappointed. For some time I had recognised the hunger in my heart and my need for God to refresh and renew my weary spirit.’
A number of people felt a desire for the presence of the Holy Spirit. Various experiences indicated that the Lord wanted students to be involved in all night prayer to prepare for the day of prayer for the whole college.
Many would agree with the student who said, ‘For the last two years it has been an increasing prayer of mine that God’s Spirit would move across this nation, and more recently that I would experience more of God’s fulness in my life.’
Significantly, a desire for God to work in this country in a dynamic way is connected with a willingness to allow God to work in a new way personally. It is difficult to communicate what one has not experienced.
One student observed that although none of those who met the Lord on that day would claim the necessary qualities for spiritual leadership in this generation, nonetheless a start was made, for ‘when God raises up spiritual leaders, He first judges them so that they may depend on Him alone’ (Holland 1993:1).
The presence of the Spirit
On Tuesday 21 September about 140 of the college community gathered together in the chapel for prayer. A time of teaching followed the praise and worship. The teaching was brief, about 20 minutes, low key and even understated. Then as people were invited to pray or receive prayer, the effect was as tremendous as it was unexpected.
What had been planned as a 50 minute session became a four hour response to the presence of the Holy Spirit as he touched people’s lives and moved them to prayer, repentance, reconciliation, testimony, praise and commitment. It is difficult to describe this; it needs to be felt.
All who were present found that this was a special time. The college community comprises diverse groups of people from a wide range of denominations and traditions of prayer and worship. Many of them are prayerful people but most had never experienced a time like this.
The Holy Spirit convicted, empowered, challenged, encouraged and renewed people. Forty or more sought prayer. They had a tremendous ministry together.
The day’s program was transformed, replaced by the plans ofthe Spirit. Significant personal matters were dealt with that day and in the days that followed.
One student acknowledged, ‘God was convicting me of my doubt in the Holy Spirit’s power to work in and through my life. … I knew I had once again to give the Holy Spirit permission to consume those parts of my life that had been preventing me from loving God more completely.’
For many, the infilling of the Spirit meant that they were overcome – sometimes with grief and repentance, at other times with joy, often with weeping, and often with relief and rejoicing.
The ministry continued over the next couple of days. People were reconciled. They shared in prayer. They ministered to one another and were counselled.
Two days later, when the college community was gathered together, an opportunity was given for people to share testimonies of what God had done over the past few days. One hour became two, then three and four hours, as they praised, prayed, and gave testimony to the experiences of the Spirit.
It was a time for hearing how people had been challenged about their prayer life, their relationship to the Lord, their relationships with others, personal attitudes, and ministry challenges. Again there were tears and rejoicing.
Lives had been changed, barriers broken down, resistances overcome, forgiveness granted, and blessing received. Although lectures had been planned, they simply did not happen that day. Such was the intensity of the moment that no one wanted to leave the chapel.
Lessons of the Spirit
Four points stand out as concluding observations, although many other things could be said.
1. Historic connections.
There is a connection here with the noted revival which took place at Asbury Seminary in the U.S.A. in 1970 and which had far reaching effects throughout America (Coleman 1970).
The speaker at the start of the day of prayer was the Rev. Mark Nysewander who was visiting B.C.V. with the Rev. Richard Stevenson. Both are part of the Francis Asbury Society (U.S.A.), a society focused on renewal through the Holy Spirit. Mark had been present as a student at the revival at Asbury Seminary in 1970 and is continuing that ministry through the Francis Asbury Society.
2. Future influence.
This experience at B.C.V. may or may not spread to other people and places, but whether it does or not, it will continue to mean a lot to those who experienced it. Many future ministries will be enriched by this personal experince.
Knowing through experience what God can do in renewing a community is essential for communicating this to others and for preparing them for it. The historic connection between revivals may continue as students and faculty better understand the power of God to move people and as they become more confident in ministering in his name.
3. A gentle ministry.
It should be emphasised that the ministry exercised over these days was described as ‘a gentle ministry’ with ‘no hype’. Others were ‘surprised by the quietness’ of the time shared together. It is no insult to those leading worship beforehand or to those involved in teaching to say that the worship and teaching were not extraordinary in any way.
There have been more articulate, more dynamic, more profound sermons preached at B.C.V. than these. The worship was more restrained than it has been at other times, but this time the effect was different from all other times. Clearly, the issue was not human hype, enthusiasm or ability, but the providence of God who initiates and controls.
4. An openness to the Spirit.
While no one can command the activity of God, it is clear in retrospect that there was a willingness on the part of many people, students and faculty, to be open to whatever God had to offer and a commitment to not allowing programs to interfere with the work of the Spirit.
This openness had surprising implications. While many were looking for a wider renewal in Australia, God wanted to work closer to home, with those who were praying.
God deals first with his messengers and challenges them to be the kind of servants he wants them to be.
Coleman, R., ed. (1970) One Divine Moment. New Jersey: Fleming Revell.
Holland, H. (1993) ‘An Extraordinary Day of Prayer’ in Ambassador: Official Journal of the Bible College of Victoria, No. 151, p. 1.
See also comment on the Asbury Revival in Renewal Journal (1993) #1, pp. 44-45; #2, p. 51.
The Rev. Dr Colin Warren wrote as the Uniting Church minister at Rangeville, Toowoomba and Founding Director of Freedom Life Ministries. This article is adapted from his doctoral dissertation with Fuller Theological Seminary.
Mainline churches in Australia reach mainly the middle class. We need to recognize there cannot be a dogmatic ordering of the church with respect to forms of worship, language used, and leadership style, if we are going to minister meaningfully to the poor, the rich, and all between. A homogeneous target population must be determined, and different methods of presentation used to meet the needs of each group.
Unity, not uniformity
The particular homogeneous group we are reaching consists mostly of well-educated people. When people come from other social levels, they are welcomed warmly. A few remain; mostly they drop away. We despair for allowing this to happen, but I see it as axiomatic that this should occur, unless we analyze why it is happening and do something constructive to alter the situation.
It does not matter how much those from a different homogeneous group are welcomed, they will feel that they are square pegs in round holes. They have different types of conversation, different interests, speak differently, watch different TV programs, and the children relate differently to their parents. To reach different homogeneous groups, we must develop a diversity of approaches, recognizing different needs in the areas of fellowship, preaching, and concentration span, and tailor our approach to meet the need.
It is quite reasonable for the leader of a highly educated or mentally alert group to lead from behind, using inductive methodology, but a group that does not have the same mental capacity will prefer to be with one who leads them more directly. Similarly, when counselling the first group, non-directive methods could be used more successfully than with the second group, who frequently would be helped more by a directive counsellor.
All of this indicates the need for diversity of approaches, and the need to recognize that to have unity in the church, we do not need uniformity.
Yet, denominations geared to a parish system often prohibit planting unique styles of churches if it infringes on another parish’s boundary. We need a radical change that permits forward looking parishes to exercise vision that allows for obedience to the commission that Christ gave to the church.
We are organizationally geared to a maintenance ministry, not a growth ministry. This means that our churches try to encompass different homogeneous groups within the one congregation and then feel despair when they cannot hold them.
New Testament pattern
Is there a way through this dilemma without causing division? I believe there is. It lies in the concept of the home church that was so successful in the apostolic days. Historical research indicates the probability, that as the Jewish synagogue was a gathering together of a group around the Torah, so originally there was a gathering of house churches around the synagogue, with persons to have oversight of these house churches.
In the New Testament, oikia and oikos are virtually used synonomously, and have the same range of meanings as in secular Greek, and the Septuagint. The most frequent use is in:
a. The literal sense of house (Matthew 2:11; Mark 7:30).
b. The metaphorical sense of family, household, or family of God (Matthew 13:57; John 4:53; 1 Corinthians 1:16; 2 Timothy 1:16).
In the primitive Christian community, the family of God concept can be seen as a strong possibility in the house churches that were established, where the family of God was seen to include slaves and other workers who belonged to a Christian household and formed the nucleus congregation of a house church, where the house was the meeting place (Acts 11:14, 15, 16, 31, 34; 18:8; 1 Corinthians 1:16).
It is important to recognize that it was a missionary situation, and the establishment of house churches was of great significance for the spread of the gospel. The early church took over the natural order of life of the community.
In a similar way, churches today in our secular society are in a missionary situation. The crucial thing is to spread the gospel. There has to be an organizational structure for the church, but that structure must be subservient to the spreading of the gospel. Pragmatic needs require that the church will always be living in the paradoxical situation where it is an anti-organizational organization. Its structures must not hinder people from being brought into the Kingdom of God.
Circumstances alter cases. The message of the church has not and will not change, but the way we package that message must change to meet the existential situation. In Australia, we seem to have reversed this process. We have changed the message to accommodate the beliefs of our society, and have considered to be suspect anyone who seeks to change the status quo with respect to the method of presentation.
Church Growth studies show that there are homogeneous people groups in any society. Churches have frequently disregarded this reality, which at first glance appears to run counter to the scriptural teaching that in Christ we are one (Galatians 3:28).
The homogeneous unit principle does not deny this, but recognizes that within this oneness, there is also diversity due to many factors which can inhibit close and lasting intimate relationships. A series of home churches can be commenced by a mother church that caters to specific groupings of people who always feel that they are on the fringe of the normal grouping for that particular location.
An example could be where evangelism wins young people who have been involved in the alternate life scene and have experienced the drug, occult, permissive sex culture. Parents of ‘straight’ young people have a natural and legitimate fear their sons and daughters may be attracted to the permissive culture before the old habit patterns of the alternate lifestyle young people have been broken.
The relearning of behaviour patterns often involves a long education process. New Christians do not necessarily drop their former behaviour patterns immediately. In many cases, they are fourth-generation pagans and have known no other behaviour in terms of role models. A home church can conveniently bring together such groups of people and begin the discipleship process to a Christ-like way of life.
Another example may be a group of business executives. These are often under enormous pressure in the work situation and these pressures can produce difficult dilemmas in terms of ethical decisions and can involve them in serious family problems when work pressures destroy family life. They need to be able to talk to those who know and understand their needs. Because of the responsible position they hold that affects the lives of many people under them, total confidentiality must be maintained. They can only share their burdens with those who can be trusted. Often this can only be with those who carry similar burdens and who can adequately support them in these situations.
The home church can provide a setting for the fulfilment of this need. Many other groupings of people do not fit into the normal church in Australia and so do not attend worship, but frequently would like to do so. Their position on a resistance-receptivity scale would change, if given the right opportunities.
Paul spoke with greater relevance and meaning to the community of his day than we do to people from the counter culture, and other unreached groups. Paul as a social thinker has much to teach us about reaching those yet untouched by the church. He revealed much about the internal dynamics of his communities. They lived alongside the philosophical schools of his day and the mystery religion communities. There was nothing novel or unusual about the appearance of the Christian communities, as communities. Their novelty was their message and the radical freedom they offered.
Robert Banks (1979:65) identifies three major components in Paul’s idea of freedom:
1. Independence from law, death, and alien powers.
2. Dependence on Christ and the Spirit.
3. Interdependence with others and the world.
The purpose of that freedom was so that the Christian could live a life of righteousness, conforming to the way of Jesus, which was the way of the cross (Luke 14:25-27).
Paul led his converts into a personal relationship with one another. He showed that the gospel had a shared communal aspect to it so that to embrace the gospel, was to enter into community (Rowthorn 1986:9).
The converts gathered together in private homes and shared community (Romans 16:5). It is because Paul saw Christians as belonging to both a heavenly church and a local church that he saw them as being in a continuing personal relationship with one another which was far more important than an institutional relationship. These churches had their roots in the household unit and took some of its characteristics.
Paul emphasized their unity with Christ, and refers to the church as the body of Christ. For Paul, worship involved the whole of a person’s life, every word and action, and was inclusive of the whole of a person’s time on earth. The purpose of the church was for the edification of its members through ministry to one another.
If we in our day can catch this vision, the need for increasing the size of buildings with the coming of new converts would be minimized. We could have a central church, sending out suitable lay persons to win and disciple in their homes those who find it hard to fit into the church scene.
Paul saw the gifts of the Spirit as being for the community and they were set in a frame work of love (Ephesians 4:12, 1 Corinthians 12:7). The community of believers had at its centre the key of fellowship expressed in word and deed. For him, the focal point of reference was the relationship between the members of the body.
In our situation, this could best be accomplished in the informal, intimate relationship of a home. In Paul’s day, distinctions along national, social and sexual lines were becoming blurred. A broadening in the notion of citizenship was taking place. He thought more in terms of the things that unite people than the things that divide them.
Paul saw women functioning differently from men, but he saw them as full members of the Christian community. Although he placed some restrictions on them, he also accorded them prominence, particularly in the teaching and exhortation areas. He recognized functional diversity within the community.
Paul dissolved traditional distinctions between priests and laity. He emphasized corporate responsibility, at the same time allowing inequality in the Christian community within unity. His communities were theocratic in structure. Because of the different gifting of each person, each was able to participate with authority in its activities.
The churches recognized a diverse distribution of gifts, but no hierarchical or formal structure. There was leadership, but there was also the freedom under that leadership to exercise the Spirit’s gifts. The body as a whole determined whether behaviour was in order (1 Corinthians 4:29) within the fellowship of worship. Paul’s communities were participatory societies, where authority was distributed throughout the whole group.
Rather than set himself over these Christian communities, Paul stood with them in all that he did. His authority was God’s gift to him, given in his Damascus road experience. It was an intrinsic authority from the Holy Spirit, evident to all. It did not need to be legislated.
This is the authority that I believe God the Holy Spirit will invest in the people who will lead home churches. They will be chosen in the same way that Paul and Barnabas were chosen, as the Spirit led the church (Acts 13:2).
Laity can build the church
We tend to forget that those whom Jesus sent out to evangelize the world were trained on the apprenticeship model, not in theological colleges. Neither should be denigrated, but it should be recognized that both can successfully be used when operating in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Rangeville Uniting Church has been training a group of lay persons in preparation for sending them out, in the same way Jesus sent out his disciples. In Jesus’ day, they were called out from ordinary occupations. We can expect God to do the same today.
The great commission has not changed and if we truly believe that God is going to win the world, there will not be enough clergy to handle the harvest. In our situation, the church buildings are now inadequate. We do not want to invest further resources in buildings, but in people. We are ready to send out lay persons to plant churches in their homes.
The desire is to target those groups not being reached. If some consider that laypersons would not be theologically adequate for the task, we need to remember that the first prominent theological thinkers on behalf of the church were laypersons of great ability; men like Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine. It is good to remind ourselves that revolutionary movements like the Cathars, the Waldensians and the Lollards were spearheaded by the laity. They developed a great preaching activity and urged a return to the Bible.
The Reformation in Europe, like the previous Conciliar movements, was mainly a movement of the laity, as was the Reformation in England. In the middle ages, the urge for reform sprang mainly from the laity. In the Reformation on the continent, it was the laity who provided the main driving power.
John Calvin was one of the most conspicuous examples of a layman who was a self-made theologian. Many other examples could be given of the key role of laypersons in the significant advances of the church. The church government needs to see the laity as an essential part of the church, rather than an insufficiently tapped source of cheap labour.
To treat ordinary church members as immature is to keep them immature. The laity, more than the minister, are immersed in a hostile world and can minister out of a first-hand knowledge of the current pressures on the ordinary person. The clergy must allow themselves to be taught by the laity.
Lay pastor as counsellor
Some would say that the counselling role of the home church pastor requires that a person be trained. What if the candidate has not filled this expectation? That would be the preferred option, but many clergy have little counselling training also. Untrained, caring support can be effective. We must use the tools available. Carkhuff (1969:10) states that: ‘While professional programs have failed to produce tangible evidence of their translation to client benefits or, indeed, evidence that they are concerned with researching their training efforts, assessment of lay training programs have yielded positive results.’
He goes on to point out that lay counsellors appear to have a greater ability to:
1. Enter into the milieu of the distressed.
2. Establish peer like relations with people being helped
3. Take an active part in the client’s life situation.
4. Empathize more effectively with the client’s style of life.
5. Teach the client within the client’s own frame of reference.
6. Provide the client with an effective transition to higher levels of functioning within the social system.
In the helping professions, the key ingredient for an effective helper is the capacity to empathize with the one seeking help. The counsellor who protects him/herself by remaining clinical, may be able to handle a greater number of clients because of less stress, but his/her effectiveness will be minimized.
The preparedness for self disclosure and making oneself vulnerable breaks down barriers in the one who is seeking help. I have found that those we would appoint to a position of lay pastor have already been trained in counselling to the level necessary to be very effective. They have already proved this.
Holy Spirit gifts
I am not advocating a technique or a gimmick, but I am urging a new approach to taking advantage of results of Church Growth studies on homogeneous groups, and the use of God given gifts of the Spirit among the laypeople of our church, who are prepared to recognize and come under duly appointed authority.
The structure that I am proposing to link the mother church with satellite home churches is one which I believe suits our particular case, given the rules and regulations under which we must work in the Uniting Church of Australia.
Other situations may adapt these principles in other ways. I suspect that modifications would be necessary to suit specific cases.
The laity have a ministry to the world, and a ministry to the church. In the home church model, they can exercise both of these roles. To do this, they need the support of the whole church, which includes the clergy who can assist them to release their Holy Spirit gifts.
Banks, Robert (1979) Paul’s Idea of Community. Lancer.
Carkhuff, Robert (1969) Helping and Human Relations, Vol.1. Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Rowthorn, Ann (1986) The Liberation of the Laity. Morehouse-Barlow.
Captain Ian Freestone wrote as a Church Army Captain working with the Ruach Neighbourhood Churches in Sydney. Original Renewal Journal article, 1994. For further information see Ruach Ministries on www.ruach.org.au
Out of a desire to see a fuller expression of Christian community in the church and out of a passion to see unbelievers come to Christ and become part of his church, several of us began a network of house churches.
We often refer to them as neighbourhood churches, firstly, because not all of them meet in homes and secondly, because we are wanting to encourage each house church to have a neighbourhood vision for outreach.
God spoke prophetically to us at that time saying, ‘You don’t grow a church from the outside in but from the inside out. The house church is the basis for growth and the key to growth is faith.’
That was in 1990. It has been a difficult road at times since then and we still have a real sense that we are on a journey. We join with many in believing that revival in this nation is imminent, if not upon us, and what is needed are structures that can cope with an influx of new Christians. The establishing of house churches provides one means for us to ride on what the Lord is wanting to do.
Why House Churches?
There is a growing realisation that our present church structures are inadequate to meet the demands of a changing society. It is doubtful whether they are flexible enough to cope with a major outpouring of the Spirit of God. Ralph Neighbour, a pioneer and proponent of cell group churches, has called for a ‘second Reformation’. He suggests that present church structures are woefully inadequate: It is sad, but true: the church structure we have duplicated over and over in this century is shockingly inefficient! The buildings are empty for most of the week. The members aren’t equipped to minister to hurting people. Everything centres on activities within the church buildings’ (1990:14).Unless we are prepared to critically examine the structures in the church, we will continue to be inhibited in our God‑given mission: to be Christian community in such a way that we might ‘know Christ and make him known.’
John Smith recognises our failure in the Australian Church to reach ordinary people for Jesus: ‘To the average Australian, the church always has been, and still is, a foreign culture. Nor has there been sufficient attempt to change that image…The church is a subculture from abroad: it still has a distinctly colonial air about it. … If we are ever going to communicate to the majority of Australian people, we will have to make some savage changes to our church agenda’ (1988:214‑215).
What we need therefore in the church are bridge builders: people willing to work towards new models of church life and ministry (Kaldor 1988:23). The church in the house is one of those bridges. Yet it is more than a bridge. In our opinion it is the most appropriate context for the expression of Christian community. We share Robert Bank’s belief that ‘on biblical and contemporary grounds the Home Church is fundamental to any quest for renewal’ (1986:39).
The problem with our present church structures is that we have developed what Howard Snyder calls an edifice complex. He suggests that we have patterned the organisation of the church on the temple model. We have confused the building the church meets in as the church itself instead of seeing the church as the people of God. In a powerful critique of present day church buildings, Snyder points out that our church buildings are a witness to our immobility, our inflexibility, our lack of fellowship, our pride and our class divisions (1975:69‑73).
Ross Paterson makes some provoking comments concerning Chinese House churches: ‘Churches which lost their buildings and their corporate life (after the cultural revolution) became centred around and rooted in the family, as meetings had to be held in homes… This lack of structure has proved of enormous benefit to the church in China’ (1989:195).
Many have sought to introduce small groups within churches to address our crisis in the West but, as David Prior states, there is ‘disillusionment with the widespread proliferation of such groups.’ He adds, ‘This is in no sense to decry the real benefits which individuals have undoubtedly received as members of prayer groups, Bible‑study groups, etc., it is simply to underline their inadequacy in terms of discovering what a local church is intended by God to become’ (1983:9).
Robert Banks, as part of his argument to say the same, quotes C. M. Olsen: Although small groups have been utilised as a church renewal scheme, they have rarely been legitimised as a full expression of the church. They have been conceived as an adjunct for the personal growth of the participants… Meanwhile the ‘real’ church gathers in the sanctuary at eleven every Sunday… the small group is relegated to serving as a means to a larger end… In this role it cannot become anything more than a halfway house’ (1986:15).
Theologically, church buildings can be no more than convenient places for God’s people to meet in larger numbers. We talk about church as something we ‘go to’ for an hour or two once a week. We say that it is important to ‘go to church’ to fellowship with God’s people. But often the nature of the church service and the way things are structured actually work against the kind of ‘koinonia’ the Bible speaks about. As Snyder insists, ‘Church buildings are not made for fellowship… homes are. And it was in homes that early Christians met to worship’ (1975:71).
According to the New Testament, the most common place for ‘church’ was in the home. Kevin Giles makes clear the point that you can only begin to unravel the workings of early church leadership when you understand that the background to the epistles is church in a house setting (1988).
It seems that the temple courts provided the believers with a place for large‑scale public witness while the needed community life could be developed through the home: ‘Every day they continued to meet in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts’ (Acts 2:46).
The church in the house was not an extension of the real thing, an appendage to what we would know as a formal Sunday gathering. Nor was it a deliberate ‘church growth strategy’ of the apostles to fulfil the need for fellowship and encouragement outside the main body of the church. The church in the house WAS the church!
They did all of what we try to do inside our church buildings (and more) and with much greater effectiveness. As others have noted, the absence of church buildings was not a hindrance to the rapid expansion of the church; instead, in comparison to the situation after AD 200, it seemed a positive help.
There are numerous people in the New Testament, both men and women, who are said to have held church meetings in their homes. Among them were Priscilla and Aquilla, Gaius, Nympha, and Philemon.
The concept of the church in the house is not a new one. Throughout the history of the Christian church there is evidence of God’s people meeting in homes for church. Over many years and in many different lands God has been calling his church home. This is illustrated in recent days in the Basic Christian Communities in Central America, the revival taking place in Communist China, the growth of ICTHUS fellowship in London, and Faith Community Baptist Church in Singapore, as weas the number of independent house churches that have begun worldwide.
How the Lord is leading us.
* Within the house church everything happens. It is the church! Bible teaching, fellowship, worship, breaking of bread, exercising of gifts, collection of money for God’s work, pastoral care, and reaching out into the community all take place through the ministry of the house church.
* House churches are not seen as an extra on top of the real thing, that is, church on Sunday. On the contrary, the house church is the church; the nucleus of the church’s life and ministry.
* They are networked together in a ‘pastorate system.’ The house church is the church, but the house churches also meet together at times for a Celebration Service in a rented hall. This is not to try to ‘do church’ but to simply celebrate in all that God is doing through his church. These celebrations happen in districts at least once a month and then every few months the districts join for a combined celebration. These gatherings of praise and worship are helpful to remind the neighbourhood church member that he or she is part of a wider community of God’s people. This provides both for the intimacy in a home‑church context as well as a regular opportunity for a combined celebration.
* Each is led by an unpaid pastor. These pastors meet regularly with the pastorate leaders for training and encouragement.
* The members of a house church comprise the total family. All age involvement is encouraged.
* It is a commitment beyond the two hours spent together. House church members are involved in interacting meaningfully outside the meeting time.
* Retreat centres are used so that 2 or 3 house churches can go away together. These are times of refreshment, restoration, empowering and equipping.
* All the house churches are urged to reproduce another house church thus avoiding the tendency to just get bigger and become just another independent church.
* There is an emphasis on creative ministries in the house church and in celebration services. This has led to the writing of many home‑grown community worship songs that have been recorded.
The development of House churches is a strategy God is giving to grow the church from the ‘inside out’. We believe that if the basic unit of the Christian community became the church in the home, then many could be reached with the Good News of Jesus.
Notwithstanding the above, house churches are not to be established merely as evangelistic ventures. The house church system is not simply a program or a technique to win the unconverted. The emphasis is to build biblical Christian community that leads to a powerful witness to Jesus in the neighbourhood area. House churches are begun to enable the Body of Christ to be the body of Christ. They are set up to ‘be the church’ in the place in which they are planted.
This new wineskin of house churches that the Lord was revealing to us did not arrive in a spiritual vacuum but in the context of a community which had been on a journey of renewal. This should be a warning to any group which thinks they can simply transport the house church vision into their own context without being mindful of the necessity for spiritual renewal as the foundation for real growth.
A house church whose members have not tasted of the new wine may have new structures but little spiritual life. The journey of renewal will be critical for any group desiring both new wine and new wineskins.
Banks, Robert and Julia (1986) The Home Church. Australia: Albatross.
Giles, Kevin (1988) Patterns of Ministry amongst the First Christians.
Kaldor, Peter and Sue (1988) Where the River Flows. Australia: Lancer.
Neighbour, Ralph (1990) Where Do We Go From Here? USA: Touch Publications.
Olsen, C. M. (1973) The Base Church: Creating Community Through Multiple Forms. Atlanta: Forum House.
Paterson, Ross (1989) Heartcry for China. Great Britain: Sovereign World.
Prior, David (1983) The Church in the Home. Great Britain: Marshall Pickering.
Smith, John (1988) Advance Australia Where. Australia: Anzea.
Snyder, Howard (1975) The Problem of Wineskins. USA: IVP.
Watson, David (1978) I Believe in the Church. London: Hodder and Stoughton.
Adrian Commadeur comments on charismatic renewal and Christian communities. This account of his discoveries, following eight years as a Redemptorist student, is adapted from Chapter 4 of his book The Spirit in the Church.
The gift of the Holy Spirit, with accompanying charisms, has the purpose of empowering the Christian to witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus.
This has been the experience of many in the charismatic renewal, both to desire and to be able to share the good news of Jesus Christ within the Christian community and to the world. While it belongs to the very nature of the church to proclaim the gospel, I grew up with the notion that the church was there to keep Catholics fervent, and reach out to the pagans in Africa or Asia to evangelise them.
Since the coming of the Holy Spirit in a fresh personal Pentecost, the call to evangelisation has stirred me strongly. At times I have responded according to my ability.
Life in the Spirit seminars
One of the early leaders of Renewal in the United States, Steve Clark, developed a series of
teachings in 1971. It was based on early Church practice of introducing catechumens or serious inquirers into the community of faith.
On the basis of the perceived needs of those seeking the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the series consists of seven weekly sessions of teachings and discussions and prayers. Life in the Spirit Seminars have been used worldwide to bring people from either unbelief to faith, or from belief to deeper faith and the release of the Holy Spirit.
The seminar is an effective means of spiritual growth through teachings on basic Christian themes and daily biblical reflections between weekly sessions. A participant’s book including daily Scripture readings and prayers is made available to each person. More than one million copies have been printed.
For the team presenting the Seminar a Team Manual was prepared, showing in detail the method of conducting the seminar and the contents of each of the teachings. By 1974 already 100,000 copies were in use.
The Life in the Spirit Seminar has been, and continues to be, a most effective way of bringing people into a new and personal relationship with Jesus Christ by means of the release of the Holy Spirit. It is a marvellous way of renewing faith, clarifying the basics of doctrine, incorporating people into a community of faith and love, and introducing them to the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit which enables them to become more effective witnesses to the risen Jesus.
For nonbelievers, especially young people who have not heard the gospel (even though it may have been presented to them either at school or in church), it is an introduction to Christianity. For those who have been lukewarm in faith, or uncertain of their beliefs, it is a renewal, especially through an introduction to the person of Jesus. To those who search for a deeper life of faith and prayer, it is a fulfilment of the heart’s desire. For all, the Life in the Spirit Seminar is a fulfilment of the promise of Jesus, `You will receive power, when the Holy Spirit has come upon you’ (Acts 1:8).
Prayer Groups are a wonderful means of evangelisation and introducing new people to a fuller life in Christ and the Spirit. There are approximately 450 Catholic charismatic prayer groups around Australia. They meet in churches, church halls, meeting rooms, school rooms, chapels and homes.
They range in numbers from as few as three or four, to around 300. The average size of the 90 groups in the Melbourne Archdiocese in 1991 was 25 participants. On special occasions like a healing Eucharist, there can be twice the normal number in attendance. If a conservative estimate of 20 people per meeting were accepted, then some 10,000 Catholics meet every week in charismatic prayer groups around Australia. Some 20,000 could be said to be active Australia wide.
While Covenant Communities are the major alternative, prayer meetings are the normal local expression of the Catholic charismatic renewal. This means that the prayer meeting should be a significant place for evangelisation into the local church community.
Across the spectrum of the Church there are now a number of exciting examples of renewed parishes where people flock to join in worship, fellowship, Christian formation and service. One of the major tensions that Catholic Charismatics must resolve is their commitment to their prayer meetings and to their parishes.
On the one hand, the prayer meeting often provides for warmth of fellowship, ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit, strength and conviction in praise and worship, and teaching that is based both on Scripture and on the spiritual experiences of the speaker. In addition, there are times of social activities and regional and national conferences, retreats, seminars and similar `celebrations’.
On the other hand the parish provides for Sunday and weekday Eucharist, the sacraments such as reconciliation, and pastoral care in sickness. Parish activities are multifaceted and provide for schooling, caring, sporting, social and adult education activities. In this way the different needs of the charismatic parishioner are met.
Ideally both these needs should be met in the parish that is renewed in the Spirit, in which there is a spiritual vitality that can attract others to its worship and lifestyle. On the one hand, people are satisfied with a deeper spiritual journey through the prayer meeting. On the other, the necessary and the obligatory elements of the faith are satisfied.
Certain principles apply in all parish renewals. It seems that there needs to be a sovereign
initiative of God and a parish clergy and leadership open to the Holy Spirit. One of the principal methods seems to be the formation of the Parish Group (Cell) System, to enable informal formation at a personal level.
The pastor at St Boniface’s, Fr Michael Eivers, outlines six factors that are keys to the success of the cell system.
* The cell system must initially be directed by the pastor and continue to have his support.
* Cells are community related, and reach out to people in the members’ neighbourhoods and work environments.
* Cells are selfmultiplying groups.
* The cell system is the parish way of life, not just another program.
* Cells are highly evangelistic, missionary groups.
* Continuous training and motivation of cell leaders is critical (Perini, p. 9).
I hope that in Australia there will soon be parish priests with their parish teams, who will dare to renew the sacramentalized and evangelise unbelievers in the power of the Holy Spirit and through the cell system.
One eloquent expression of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in charismatic renewal has been the formation of Covenant Communities.
Covenant Community is a group of Christians who have been led by the Lord to bind themselves to Him and also to one another in the form of public commitment. Its call is to live a Christian lifestyle, in family and single life, through openness to the charismatic gifts, worship and prayer, sharing and teaching, and support for one another (Emmanuel Covenant Community, Brisbane).
As early as 1971 the first members of prayer groups in the USA felt the call to bind themselves together in a shared lifestyle. It may have been relatively easy to do so for students and graduates of the various universities. They had both the idealism and the freedom to commit themselves to one another, without such other commitments as family or mortgages.
Some of the earliest communities were True House, led by Joe Byrne, and People of Praise, led by Kevin and Dorothy Ranaghan and Paul de Celles, in South Bend, Indiana, near the University of Notre Dame, and the Word of God, led by Ralph Martin and Steve Clark and others, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, around the University of Michigan.
On visiting them in 1973 I was impressed by the strength of numbers and commitment to the cause of renewal of the Church through a return to the lifestyle of the early Christians. Even within each community there seemed different levels of commitment. Many lived in households and some shared their goods and possessions, including their socks!
A number of Covenant Communities have developed within the charismatic scene in Australia. They range up and down in numbers and influence. If some have a lower profile they still have qualities shared by most other communities. There are also signs of new or renewed religious communities which give rise to hope for new sparkling life and ministry of the Church in Australia.
The Brisbane based Emmanuel Covenant Community was formed in 1975, with four men and their families responding to the call to bind themselves together in Community. First members and leaders of the Community were Brian Smith and John Carroll, with their wives, Lorraine and Penny, and their families. As early as 1976 Emmanuel became affiliated with other communities, notably in the United States, and later to others around the world in an International Brotherhood of Communities (IBOC), and in The Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Covenant Communities and Fellowships (1990).
Associated with Emmanuel in Australia are a number of Communities that have been helped by them in their establishment. These include Bethel in Perth, Hepzibah in Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide, and Disciples of Jesus in Sydney and Melbourne. Other communities include many small groups of people who have committed themselves to the Lord and to one another, but have not grown in strength or numbers. Although the membership of most Communities includes a majority of Catholics, a number of Communities could be said to be ecumenical such as Servants of Jesus in Sydney.
Membership of Catholics, Anglicans, Protestants and perhaps some Pentecostals requires sensitive leadership and acceptable common activities. Within ecumenical Communities, Catholic fraternities have at times been structured, to enable a specifically Catholic identity to be expressed, especially in the liturgical life of the Community.
Communities commit themselves to be of service in the Church and to the world. At times they do outstanding work either through large organised groups such as the National Evangelisation Team (NET) or through small teams of evangelists who travel within or outside of Australia to preach the gospel. Many Communities have developed a specific ministry such as to the poor, for unmarried mothers, or visiting the lonely.
Charismatic community lifestyle
Most of the Communities share a basic lifestyle which is expressed in certain practical ways. Membership of the community is demonstrated by participation in:
* general community gatherings.
* smaller groupings for discussion, sharing, and support.
* a Christian formation program for family and single life.
* informal gatherings for social activities.
* teaching and evangelistic outreaches according to the opportunities offered or initiated.
* leadership exercised by a group of elders, the number of which is determined by the needs and size of the community and supported materially and financially by the members.
* members seek to live in close geographical proximity for easier fellowship and support.
* traditional Eucharistic and liturgical prayer.
Communities are making a significant contribution to the renewal of the spiritual life of the
church. They promote a commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ and a mutual love of members of the community. Extensive teaching programs and pastoral oversight have strengthened the life of faith and sharing among their members. Numerical strength and the pooling of resources have been made possible. This has enabled leaders to be constantly in touch with leaders worldwide and so have maintained bonds and standards of renewed community life.
Fraternity of Covenant Communities
On 30 November 1990, a significant event occurred in Rome. On that date the Pontifical Council for the Laity promulgated the decree which inaugurated the Catholic Fraternity of Covenant Communities and Fellowships. The decree noted that Covenant Communities from Australia, Canada, France, Malaysia, New Zealand and the United States were ‘motivated by the desire both to assure greater dialogue and collaboration among themselves and to deepen their communion with the Successor of Peter as an essential element of their Catholic identity.’
The decree recognised the Fraternity as a Private Association of the Christian Faithful within the Catholic Church. It expressed the hope that this recognition would consolidate and promote the Catholic expression of the charismatic movement, might increase its spiritual fruits and encourage intensified apostolic activity in the work of evangelisation.
At the inauguration, Brian Smith from Brisbane, was elected President of the Executive of the Fraternity. He noted that the declaration was the most significant event in the history of the charismatic renewal since the 1975 Holy Year international conference and the acknowledgment it received from Pope Paul VI at that time. He said, ‘It is the first time that the Renewal has had formal, canonical recognition by the Vatican.’
Communities of life and service
A further expression of the charismatic renewal has emerged in the church. Groups of committed people have established themselves as communities of life and service. These include the establishment of houses of prayer, teams of service, or new religious houses or communities of lay people married or single with a focus on such ministry as street kids or contemplative prayer. Localised and adapted to cultural and religious circumstances, these communities add greatly, but often unobtrusively, to the life of the church at large. All of them would consider themselves to be part of the main stream at the heart of the church.
One of these communities of life and service is the Holy Spirit of Freedom Community. Frank and Lu Feain lead this community with three houses in Melbourne and Perth, have a circle of collaborating tertiaries to support them financially, materially and spiritually and work for homeless `street kids’. This community brings the love of God to drug users and victims of domestic abuse, through `friendship evangelism.’
Another group is the House of Prayer at beautiful Carcoar, NSW, conducted by Helen and Neville Bowers and serving both the charismatic renewal and the local diocese. The ministry includes the provision of retreats, seminars and days of prayer.
Another significant development over recent years is the number of Schools of Evangelisation. Young people especially, receive formation in mature Christian living, and practical training in the skills of sharing the gospel with others.
The church exists to evangelise
All of the expressions of Catholic charismatic renewal demonstrate the creative activity and
ministry of the Holy Spirit. While some may judge one form or lifestyle or expression superior to another, all expressions of charismatic renewal aim to assist in the growth of personal holiness and to serve the church and world with the proclamation of the gospel.
In conclusion, the experience of successful prayer groups and communities shows that a dynamic lifestyle where each has a sense of belonging, plays a significant role in the community, and is accountable to someone else best attracts new believers, and keeps them as effective members of the church community.
Blum, Susan (undated) ‘A Parish Where Everyone Evangelizes’ in New Evangelization 2000, issue 5.
Perini, Pigel (undated) ‘New Evangelisation in an Ancient Basilica’ in New Evangelization 2000, issue 7.
I will never forget January 1975. I was in Melbourne as the representative of a youth prayer group to attend a national conference on charismatic renewal. It was a time when the charismatic renewal was riding on the crest of a wave. Thousands of people had gathered from across the country as well as overseas to hear a line up of exciting speakers. They represented many denominations and the gatherings were marked by an incredible sense of joy and freedom.
During this conference, Fr Vince Hobbs, Brian Smith and John Carroll, three leaders from the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Brisbane, began to share a vision of developing covenant community. They also took the opportunity to speak with Ralph Martin, one of the conference speakers, who was also a leader of a charismatic covenant community in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The Statement of Community Order Document (Section B.1.) explains that ‘A covenant community is a group of Christians who have been led by the Lord to express their love and commitment to him and to one another as part of a divine call or vocation. They do this through a public life-long commitment called a covenant.’
A time to begin
I still remember Brian Smith coming to me at the conference saying, ‘I really believe now is the time to build community.’
The idea of charismatic communities was not new. We had been in contact with them from as early as 1972 when Brian Smith first went to the United States. The hesitation about moving towards community was always a question of timing and maturity. Until now, no one was ready to step out and make that first move. That was about to change.
On their return to Brisbane, Brian Smith and John Carroll with their wives and families began to meet with two other couples to pursue this sense of call. In February of 1975 the four couples washed each others’ feet as a sign of their commitment and as an expression of their service to one another, not just in spiritual matters but in the whole of their life circumstances.
A new foundation was being laid which others would soon be invited to join. These couples shared their vision with the people of the prayer group at Bardon, which was the principal meeting place for Catholics involved in charismatic renewal with about 400-600 attending.
Responses varied. Some were excited at the new iniative because they had been looking for an opportunity to be more committed and for a way of including their children in this charismatic experience. Others were cautious and questioned this new direction.
After some weeks the community had its first intake. Thirteen families expressed a desire to be part of this new move of the Spirit. In the first year the community grew to nearly 200 members.
I observed the community from the beginning, preferring to remain part of the youth prayer group that had also begun to develop a strong sense of community. I had some suspicion about how this Brisbane Covenant Community (as it was then called) was going to develop. Would it begin well and simply become another prayer meeting or would it actually begin to achieve the goal of building a Christian way of life?
By the end of the first year it was obvious that the community was not only talking about a way of life, it was actually living it.
Early in 1976 our youth group of around 30 people decided that our call was to a community way of life and that it was better to join with the Brisbane Covenant Community than attempt to go in our own direction. After a few months formation our group made covenant, committing ourselves to follow the Lord in the context of this people called the Brisbane Covenant Community.
A time to build up
The first years of the community were life the beginning of a great adventure. It was the time of laying the foundationstones. The dynamism of the charismatic renewal had flowed into the community. Charismatic gifts played an important role in bringing depth and richness into our praiseand worship.
As well as gifts that we’d come to appreciate in prayer groups, we realised there were so many more gifts that we hadn’t thought about as charisms. As we shared life together as a community, other things became important.
Different ministries with children and young adults began to emerge as well as gifts of administration and various roles of service. Our horizons were broadening. We grew in our appreciation that charisms were given for the building up of the body.
We had a growing consciousness that this Christian community lifestyle was important both for the church and for the world. Cardinal Suenens had already begun to articulate the need for the church to offer pilot projects as a prefiguration of the kind of human community for which the world is searching so painfully… From a human point of view, it might seem paradoxical to make the future of the church dependent upon small Christian communities which, no matter how fervent, are but a drop in the ocean… But if we consider the spiritual energy released by every group which allows Christ to fill it with the life of the Holy Spirit, then the perspective changes, for we are putting ourselves in the strength and power of God (A New Pentecost, pp. 151-153).
If the Church is to fulfil its mission, communities which demonstrate this Christian way of life are an integral part of that mission.
A study conducted by Fusion, a Christian organisation committed to evangelisation in the Australian context, spoke of Australians as ‘people who think in terms of the concrete rather than the abstract, and very often thought forms that are used to express the Christian message are alien to them… What Australians need is a model. Once it’s seen in action they are quite capable of recognising its meaning’ (Fusion 1986).
This challenge to be a Christian community for the church and for the world was somehow at the heart of our mission.
One of the other hopes which was born out of this community life was a longing for reconciliation between Christians. While the founding members were predominently Catholic, there were also two Anglicans among them. This experience of sharing life together, coupled with the general enthusiasm of the 70s with regard to ecumenism, caused the community to hope that through the charismatic experience and a committed way of life it might find a way through the problems and divisions of a separated Christianity.
In late 1976 the name of the community was changed to the Emmanuel Covenant Community and with the change of name was a growing confidence that God really was with us and leading us in building this way of life. From the point of view of structure, the community lifestyle encompassed four main expressions, as outlined in the Emmanuel Statement of Community Order Documents (Section B.5.):
1. The General Community Gathering which is a meeting of the whole community to worship, to receive teaching and to maintain a common vision and fellowship;
2. Small group meetings are opportunities for share the Christian journey and receive encouragement and support;
3. Formation teaching courses are conducted to provide teaching on the spiritual life and everyday living as well as giving a clear orientation on the life of the community.
4. Social life in the community plays an important role in developing a genuine and balanced Christian lifestyle.
While these basic structures were important, the community had to offer more if it was to be a model to the church and the world. One of the most important developments in this area was the forumation of clusters.
In 1978, members of the community began tomove geographically closer together so that the community dimension would take moreconcrete expression. Community had to be demonstrated in practice, not just in theory. As families and single people moved closertogether, more and more opportunities presented themselves for the building of authentic Christian community. These included travelling to work together, sharing mowers, syupporting people when they were sick, providing practical care for widows, and other expressions of support.
Localised community expressions also enabled Emmanuel to be more effective in its local outreach and to contribute something to the wider community. Taking initiative at the local level to hold football games, Australia Day celebrations, picnics in the park, and Christmas carols were but a few ways that we endeavoured to share our lifestyle and contribute to our local community.
These were bridges of friendship which were built in local neighbourhoods to let others know we were ordinary human beings and not aliens from another planet ready to capture them and take them with us (which was one rumour circulating about us). Time and good will helped to break down some of the initial fears that were encountered when devloping clusters.
A time to reach out
While the initial concentration of energy in Emmanuel was in trying to become that which we claimed to be – a Christian community – we didn’t cease to reach out to others in local parishes, at national conferences, and in assisting other groups in both Australia and New Zealand in their desire to develop community.
In February, 1980, when I was conducting one of those outreaches to northern Queensland, I received a phone call asking me to serve as an Elder of the community. ‘An Elder is a leader in the community who together with a body of Elders exercises a governing role in the community’ (Statement of Community Order Document, Section D.3.).
My first response was a sense of awe as I reflected on God’s call in my life. The second awareness that I had was the sense of responsibility in leading and caring for this people that God had called into being. The prophet Jeremiah came to mind and his exclamation to the Lord when he protested that he was too young. ‘Say not, “I am too young.” To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak’ (Jeremiah 1:7). I was 25 years old at the time, married for three years with one small daughter. In the days ahead, that scripture gave me a lot of strength.
In November of 1980 the Emmanuel Community began its most ambitious missionary outreach. Responding to requests for assistance, three teams of five people travelled to six south east Asian countries to conduct leadership and training programmes for the Catholic charismatic renewal. I led the team which went to West Malaysia and Indonesia.
For each one of us who participated in these outreaches our lives would never be the same. Asia and her people had taken deep root in our hearts and in the coming years God would give some of us many opportunities to return, to live amongst the people and assist them in the devlopment of their own covenant communities. Today there are at least six covenant communities in Malaysia with new groups forming year after year.
Our outreach to Asia was not just a matter of going to Asia and giving out. We received more than we could ever hope or imagine. This was true for Emmanuel as a whole, especially when Asian brothers and sisters would visit us. In sharing life together, we were changed by their humility, love and commitment to Christ. Through our contact with them we became aware of our own poverty.
This experience of our own poverty was to be relived over and over again as future teams would go to Papua New Guinea and Fiji sharing life with the people and growing in love and understanding of their culture and way oflife. For Emmanuel, the key to outreach is living the life.
The people who participated in these outreaches were not experts but ordinary people who gave up their own holidays and paid their own way. What they had to do share was not so much what they had read in books but what they had experienced in trying to live the Christian life day by day in the context of a community. These were things that people could relate to, whether they lived in the highlands of Papua New Guinea on in the coastal villages of Fiji. Through outreaches like these the community grew to realise the importance of being faithful to the challenge of living the Christian life day by day.
A time to die
The first ten years of the community, although facing many challenges, were rather like when the apostles walked with Jesus and never ceased to be amazed at what he could do. Then just as the apostles were called to a baptism of suffering, so were we although I don’t think we really anticipated what we were about to experience.
Our baptism into Christ emcompasses his life, death and resurrection. All of these elements are imporant. What is it like for a community to be baptised into the death of Christ?
For Emmanuel, there was no single event but rather a series of them which brought about a real sense of dying in the community. At a very human level, people were tired of living such a committed life year after year. It was demanding and the cost was high. People struggled with their commitment and asked the question, ‘Is it worth it?’
At around the same time ecumenical tensions arose as well. We found ourselves struggling with the same ecclesiological problems that the wider church was experiencing. Despite our early hopes and many years of hard work, we had to admit our own limitations and faced the fact that it was not possible to build the ecumenical community we had once dreamed about.
Added to this was the breakdown of international relationships amongst covenant communities resulting in divisiveness and resentments. The once young and healthy community was suffering through its own sin and human limitations.
Perhaps the greatest test of trust was to come on 1 February, 1988. We had just celebrated Eucharist at our community office when we received word of an urgent phone call for Brian Smith. No one could have anticipated his words as he emerged from his office: ‘My daughter Teresa has passed away.’ The next twenty-four hours would reveal the truth of Teresa’s brutal rape and murder.
The question on everyone’s lips was how could God allow this to happen. Like many other people in the community, I had known Teresa since she was a little girl. She was a real character, full of fun, life and faith. That evening as Brian and Lorraine Smith were interviewed on national television, they spoke of their forgiveness for Teresa’s murderer. As the Emmanuel community attempted to comfort Brian and Lorraine, so too did they comfort the community by continuing to speak of forgiveness and the need to surrender to God’s will.
While Teresa’s life had a wonderful impact on the lives of many, I would dare to say that her death had a greater impact. There is no doubt that she was a servant of God in both her life and in her death. As we trusted in God to raise Teresa, his servant, from death into fulness of life within him, it somehow gave us all a little more courage to believe that God would raise Emmanuel from its despair and bring it to new life.
A time for healing
The resurrection for which we hoped was not immediate but it did happen. It did not come as a result of good planning or skilled leadership but purely through the action of the Holy Spirit. Members of the community were renewed in their commitment. There was a new enthusiasm to move on. It was a different enthusiasm from that of the beginning. It was one marked by realism and a desire to give in to the will of God.
This was especially evident among the young people in the community. While the community is now clearly Catholic and not ecumenical in its entity, the heart to work towards Christian unity still remains an important charism.
A fruit of the difficulties experienced between communities internationally has been the development of two international associations for communities.
The first is the International Brotherhood of Communities (IBOC) which provides a meeting place for all the different expressions of covenant communities around the world. It is ecumenical in its expression and seeks to encourage leaders of communities as they respond to God’s call.
The second group is the Catholic Fraternity of Charismatic Communities and Felowships. Inaugurated in Rome in November 1990, the Catholic Fraternity had very humble beginnings. While fewer than 40 delegates from 13 communities gathered for the inaugural meeting, we experienced a conviction that God intended to do great things from this small beginning. More than 200 covenant communities from around the world have sought information on becoming part of the Fraternity. The Emmanuel Community in Brisbane was not only a founding member of the fraternity but did much of the preliminary work which culminated in a formal recognition by Pope John Paul II. This is the first time a cononical approval has been given by the Vatican to any charismatic group.
As I look back over my years of involvement in the Emmanuel Covenant Community, some things are clear to me. The contribution of covenant communities to the life of the church and the world must come out of brokenness and humility rather than pride or arrogance. The path to humility is the way of the cross and whether we like it or not, Jesus calls us to embrace it. ‘Whoever does not take up his cross and follow in my steps is not fit to be my disciple’ (Matthew 10:38).
We are not people who have it all together, but people who are on a journey, people who experience the same trails and temptations as anyone else. Unlike our early years when we thought we were going to save the whole world, we have come to find that our only boast is the cross of Christ. The cross is our redemption. As we surrender to the cross, so too do we dare to hope in the resurrection.
Fusion (1986) ‘Understanding and Reaching Australians’, a Position Paper.
Dr Dorothy Mathieson was the Australian Coordinator of Servants to Asia’s Urban Poor, and lived and worked in the slums of Manila in the Philippines as well as travelling to support Servants staff internationally.
Dr Tim McCowan served for eight years with Servants to Asia’s Urban Poor in Mainila
Only the Spirit can bring forgiveness, love and patience,
so essential to community building
We are called to community with one another and with the poor in the slums.
This is one of the principles of a group of crosscultural workers called Servants in Manila,
Bangkok, Phnom Penh and other Asian cities. We are trying to respond to God’s heart for the poor. We have embarked on a journey of vulnerability discovering gradually how increasing intimacy with the Father leads to opting for the poor and the despised, not for the systems of power and control. Only the Spirit can empower this.
Servants’ principles are not just abstract Guidelines but living realities, forged in the context of the joy and struggles of welding teams together and living with the poor.
Incarnation calls us to the poor, to live with them, learn from them, discover the poverty of our rational, materialistic worldview and stance of western accomplishment.
Simplicity calls us to live focussed lives, discovering the freedom of releasing as many resources as possible to God’s agenda of lifting up the downtrodden.
Servanthood reminds us that followers of Jesus must live as he lived, as a servant. Then we will be eager to empower and liberate the poor through relinquishing our own agendas, expertise and control.
Holism calls us not to function with a limited mandate in the context of a complicated poverty and injustice. What is the gospel to the starving mother, the prostitute supporting her extended destitute family, the community worker jailed illegally? We are called to preach the word, show compassion, plant churches, heal the sick, but also to do justice. The whole gospel for the whole person means the Spirit must be allowed to operate so the good news comes truly in word, deed and in power.
Community challenges us to forgo our cherished individualism and private agendas and to
discover how others are totally necessary for our survival, effectiveness and spiritual growth. But it is here that we founder. We need a clear theology of community and we need to flesh out what this means for us.
Tim McCowan of the Manila team has worked on this:
Servant’s Community: Theological Basis
Christianity is a communal faith. ‘Individual Christianity is a contradiction in terms’ (McAfee Brown, The Bible speaks to you, 202). We cannot live the Christian faith in a vacuum, or without others. This belief is based on the following theological foundations.
1. God is ‘a community’
As Christians we believe God is a trinity of persons, called Father, Son and Holy Spirit. An intimate communion of three making one. Distinct but unified. A community, selfsufficient yet desiring to reach out and include others in their extravagant love.
2. God’s image
According to the evangelical German theologian, Karl Barth, we most accurately reflect God’s character and image when we are in community. God ‘created man in his own image … male and female he created them.’ The image of God is not so much ‘our rationality’ or volitional capacity, but our communality. God’s image therefore is only properly reflected when we are together in our differences and complementarity. Art Gish in his classic, Living in Christian Community (p. 21) says that the phrase ‘Let us make man in our image’ indicates that the fellowship in the Godhead created the manwoman community to reflect God’s concern for fellowship and communion. The human ‘we’ identity is to be a reflection of the divine ‘we’.
3. God is a covenant maker
God delights to make covenants to show his concern for ‘peoples’ rather than just individuals. All his covenants, although made with individuals, are focused on affecting his people or the nations. They embrace communities, not simply individuals.
4. Jesus is a community builder
Jesus intentionally called a group of disciples, and gathered them together into a community. They were to be ‘with him and to be sent out’ (Matthew 10:1; Mark 6:1; Luke 9:1, 10:1). Jesus’ central teaching was to the so called kingdom or reign of God. But
if it is true that God’s reign concerns history … we who live nineteen hundred years after the event [of Jesus’ living, death and resurrection] must share in its power, not merely by reading of it in a book or hearing it in a verbal report, but by participating in the life of that society which springs from it and is continuous with it … The centre of Jesus’ concern was the calling and binding to himself of a living community of men and women who would be the witnesses of what he was and did. The new reality which he introduced into history was to be continued through history in the form of a community, not in the form of a book (Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret, pp. 5758).
He called them to leave their families and previous vocation and stay with him. They lived together, shared a common purse, and adopted an alternative lifestyle from the surrounding society. He also sent them out in pairs to preach, heal, cast out demons and invite others to join their wider band. He therefore formed them into a ‘community in mission’.
5. The church is a community
Throughout the New Testament, the church is described in communal terminology. It was a community of believers, centred on Jesus Christ, more than an institution. The Reformers, living in a time of ‘Corpus Christianum’, sought to define the church by its various functions, i.e. the teaching of the Word of God, the administration of the sacraments, and right discipline. Yet this misses a fundamental point. The church does not consist of those who merely do certain things, but by those who are ‘in Christ’. It is a fellowship of persons, entirely without an institutional character. It is the body of Christ; the family of God; a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people (1 Peter 2:9).
Tim applies these biblical principles to Servants.
Servants’ community in Manila is:
1. A ‘missionary band’
We are expatriates in a foreign land, called and committed to a single, broad missionary mandate. We are not a community just to share our struggles and a few possessions, but to engage in holistic mission amongst the urban poor. Like the Moravians before us, we are a ‘community in mission’ that seeks to find empowerment for ministry through our communal life together. In other words, we are bifocal, aiming to keep community and mission holding hands. We live separately, but come together two days a month, in order to be sent out again. This is our missionary spiral, if you like.
2. A valiant attempt
Trying to engage in strategic ministry whilst living with the urban poor, plus maintaining a viable communal life, places us in an unavoidable tension. We often feel torn between the calls of our squatter neighbours and our own community. Where is the priority? Not wanting to lay down hard and fast rules, and keeping our bifocal vision, means we have sadly seen some fall through the gaps. We are still not sure how possible it is for us to ride this gigantic wave of the Spirit, who calls us with such amazing patience, to trust him for ‘the impossible’.
3. A fragile association of ragged radicals
Every Servant starts off as an idealist. We are all very different, but we all come out generally to see the slums transformed. Pretty soon we realise that most squatters are set in their ways, and are not so open to being changed. When all our plans have filled the waste bin, we discover just how much we need each other in the team. Maybe our self esteem or a particular project is in tatters, so that our frustration level is up and our energy level is down. These are the times when we come into ‘teamtime’ wounded, bruised and broken. This is why we are unashamedly committed to each other, to be burdenbearers, available to be agents of the Lord’s healing for each other.
4. An ‘open circle’
Servants is not a selfperpetuating community. Our real empowerment for mission comes not just through our corporate life together, but our corporate worship life. In our fragility and brokenness, we unashamedly open ourselves up to our Healer, Redeemer and Lord. The depth of our need goes beyond ‘the water’ each of us can contribute. We need ‘the living water’ that only he can give. He is the reason for our leaving family, friends and earthly treasures, and embracing the pain and joy of serving the ‘little ones’. Beside the extravagant generosity of our God, we are mere grateful beggars, trying to encourage some others to accept his gracious invitation.
5. A ‘little leaven’
Servants is a small daring minority, that seeks to be an agent transforming both the squatters and their slum communities. Although we boldly cling to such a grand vision, few outsiders know of our existence as a community. It is ‘hidden’ and seemingly insignificant to any social analyst. We are seeking not to multiply our organisation, but our distinctive ethos and values. Slowly, yet wonderfully, this leaven is spreading through ‘the dough’. Others (both Filipinos and Westerners) are now joining us as we follow the Lord into difficult discipleship amongst the poor and marginalised.
6. An unfinished story
We have made many mistakes on our journey as a ‘community in mission’. We don’t claim to have the whole truth, or to be on our last chapter. We are on a big learning curve, wanting to keep listening to the Lord, each other, the poor, and our brothers and sisters in the wider body of Christ. We’re not builders laying concrete footings, but sojourners putting down a few tent pegs, that we may just have to pull up tomorrow. Our structures, our leaders, and our composition have all changed, but the One who calls us on is faithful and he will accomplish what he has set out to do (1 Thessalonians 5:24). We don’t wish to put ourselves up as the only model of mission amongst the urban poor, but to be faithful to the vision and invitation that the Lord has given us in this small corner of his world. Please pray for us.
Community only possible through prayer
The theology is sound; the derivative principles are inspiring. But the gaps created by the reality of community living are glaringly obvious. We discover that our desperate inadequacy for the huge task reveals not only our own weaknesses but those of other team members. After the first thrill of involvement, we reach the awful conclusion that we don’t like one another, doubt the others’ callings, disrespect their motivations.
Closeness lowers the barriers, then we fear losing control. We dissolve, become belligerent, too passionate for side issues, too reformist about others, too accusing of our own shortfalls. The more and more we try to create unity, we destroy it. The high call to selfsacrifice that community issues jars against our pervading personality preferences, impressive education, theological training and expertise.
Only the Spirit can bring forgiveness, love and patience, so essential to community building. And it is happening, but it’s so fragile. We have to abandon ourselves to the dynamic of the Spirit, not to legislation or to past successes. What will the Spirit reveal next …. in me …. in us …. in new directions?
As we respond to his painful and joyful refinings, we can build ourselves into communities which the poor can see and say in amazement, like the earliest observers of the faith did, ‘See how they love one another.’