Archive for the ‘renewal’ Category

LS020106In the contemporary British Pentecostal and Charismatic scene, there has been a growing trend over the last decade or so for leaders to adopt the strategic ‘attractional’ model for church worship services. Often, to ensure that the meetings are ‘seeker-friendly’ it can mean that classical Pentecostal spiritual phenomena, such as tongues and prophecy, are actively discouraged in the public setting, based on the assumption that the visitor will find these spiritual gifts too bizarre. Paul’s instruction to the Corinthian charismatics to ‘calm down’ so that the guests at church won’t think that Christianity is utter madness is brought to the fore (1 Corinthians 14:23), although it would seem that the apostle’s desire is for intelligibility rather than any embarrassment over spiritual phenomena, such as might be the case today. For Paul, authentic and accurate prophecy deployed in mission was most definitely ‘seeker’ aware (1 Corinthians 14:24).

Defending their charismatic pedigree, these leaders insist that the prophetic gift has certainly not been axed from the church’s DNA and is actively at work in small groups, prayer meetings and often during ‘altar time’ on Sundays. However, what can be observed is a very distinct and fundamental change in the practical outworking of the prophetic in the contemporary church, and one that does not often allow for significant evaluation of the words being spoken. In the old model, certainly among the British Pentecostals, the prophetic word would be spoken out by a church leader or member for the whole church to hear, either spontaneously or through the church microphone if approved. This ‘corporate moment’, where all were able to hear the word, often meant that the nature of the prophetic message was somewhat broad – it was, after all, intended for the larger congregation to hear. Thankfully, any dubious theology or over-stepping of the mark by the ‘prophet’ (e.g. harsh rebuke, or fortune-telling style guidance) could be instantly corrected by a mature leader, helping to bring the ‘judging’ or ‘evaluating’ element to bear upon the spoken word, in line with Paul’s Corinthian command (1 Corinthians 14:29). It is clear that at Corinth this was the approach and the speaking prophets were limited to three messages, probably due to time constraints.

As we jump forward to the twenty-first century, with its ‘ministry teams’ ready to pray and sometimes prophesy over people during the Sunday morning ‘appeal’, we see a very different model at work. Certainly, there could be more than three prophetic words shared, due to the nature of the event, but much more significantly, the prophetic gift is sometimes being used for personal instruction and direction, and in a very private context. Similarly, in the house, prayer or small-group setting, the presence of a mature leader, able to discern, correct or helpfully evaluate prophecy, is not necessarily guaranteed; even to suppose that prophetic words would be delivered corporately into that smaller setting if it is not being ‘modelled’ by the leaders of the larger church service. In short we have moved prophecy from mostly public to mostly private – from the dynamic declaration to the whispered word.

Now, this is not to suggest that personal prophecy has no New Testament foundation whatsoever, but it should perhaps be considered to be extraordinary rather than the standard practise. It certainly isn’t private. Agabus is our primary example, but he is a designated, Ephesians 4:11, capital ‘P’ Prophet with a track record of predicting future events (Acts 11:28). Even when he does speak specifically over Paul’s life (Acts 21:11) the surrounding context of the passage shows that it was not a private moment, but one in which other Christians were obviously present and listening. Similarly, the prophets at Antioch who provoke the timing of the missionary launch of Barnabas and Paul are clearly operating in a setting that at least includes all of the church leaders (Acts 13:2), if not the broader Antioch Christian community. These leaders rejoice at the word and commit any action to prayer (Acts 13:1, 3). This would appear to be the standard pattern for a New Testament prophetic ministry: prophets, of varying kinds, may speak, but never ‘in a corner’, and firm decisions are made by leaders (aided by prophecy perhaps), but never by the prophets themselves. Notice: Agabus’ incredible prediction of a coming famine leads to a decision made by others, not actually by him (Acts 11:27-30). Isn’t that interesting? He was a guide but no means was he the governor.

So here is my word of caution for leaders who, with all good intention, seek to retain the spiritual gift of prophecy within a seeker or attractional context – let’s be careful that in gagging the un-interpreted tongues-speakers to seemingly obey one part of Paul, we don’t unleash an equally unbiblical charismatic practise. Arguably, prophecy without evaluation is no better than public tongues without interpretation, with the ‘distinguishing of spirits’ the possible support gift to the prophetic in Paul’s mind. No Senior Pastor wants church people subject to untested, secret, personal guidance from a would-be Isaiah this coming Sunday morning or on Tuesday evening at lifegroup. While we as the shepherd lovingly seek the ‘one’ lost sheep in mission, let’s not feed the ‘ninety-nine’ to the prophetic wolves, albeit well-meaning wolves who may not realise the danger of their open mouths or the sharpness of their teeth.

I am certain that the Holy Spirit can help us to do all things well but it may be time for a re-think about how best and biblical to incorporate prophecy in attractional church models that keeps close to all the wisdom and direction that flows from First Corinthians’ wonderful fourteenth chapter.

Peter Cavanna will be teaching at ‘Voice in the City’ – a prophetic conference in Cambridge on Saturday 25th July 2015. For more information, go to http://www.kingscambridge.org

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I have recently been teaching my 2nd Year ‘Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies’ class at Mattersey Hall Christian College, and we have been discussing speaking in other tongues from the Book of Acts and Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. One of the unspoken questions, especially among Pentecostals, might be this: why did God choose such a peculiar spiritual gift to accompany the Baptism in the Spirit (Acts 2:4; 10:46; 19:6) and the ongoing devotion of praying with one’s spirit (1 Corinthians 14:14)? Let’s face it – speaking or praying in a language that the speaker does not understand is… well… a little strange! What may lie behind God’s purpose in bestowing such an unusual ability when His Spirit comes upon us for the first time? Here are some thoughts:

  • Speaking in tongues at the Baptism of the Spirit reminds the believer that they have been empowered to take the Gospel to foreign lands. This was the response of many early Pentecostals at the beginning of the twentieth century. Each time you speak in tongues, let it be an indicator of your own missionary call – yes to your closest neighbour, but also to the ends of the earth too. When the Spirit came on people in ‘Acts’ they invariably left town to preach Jesus elsewhere. Speaking in tongues should draw your attention to the urgent spiritual needs of those far, far away.
  • Similarly, speaking in tongues is an indication that all kinds of people need to be reached for the Lord. In the Book of Acts there was religious racism – a prejudice against sharing God’s word with the Gentile peoples. That is unlikely to be an issue for us today, but we can still have a reluctance to engage with certain ‘types’ of people – whether they are too rich or too poor, too sinful or too religious, too dangerous or too pious, to speak in tongues is to remember that God’s word is for people who aren’t at all like me!
  • Speaking in tongues is an instruction that we are to share God’s love in the language of our hearers. At Pentecost this meant in their own national tongue (Acts 2:11), but there can be a broader application. The unchurched world do not share some of our religious language and ‘Christianese’ and we must learn to break down the Gospel message, without compromise or dilution, into a form that our contemporary culture can fully understand. That is all part of being Pentecostal.
  • Finally, speaking in tongues is a thrilling assurance that a supernatural God is with us for the task ahead. In a post-modern Western society, significantly penetrating our culture can perhaps seem a complete impossibility – a battle that simply cannot be won. But take heart, the Lord of the harvest Himself is with us, willing to stretch out His hand to perform miracles and confirm the word with accompanying wonderful signs.

So, the next time you are speaking to God in your ‘unknown tongue,’ just maybe your mind need not be completely unfruitful. Perhaps you can catch afresh an exciting burden for reaching others for Jesus Christ, people who are far, far away, powerfully demonstrating that ‘everyone who calls upon’ His Name shall be saved (Acts 2:21).  Just be sure that when you go, you speak in their language. That’s completely Pentecostal!

Lucky Dip!

Posted: September 2, 2013 in renewal

Pool of Bethesda

I have been thinking recently about the story of the pool of Bethesda from the fifth chapter of John. The sick people around the pool believed that on special occasions an angel would stir the waters and the first person in was cured (John 5:1-15). When questioned the man is bitter, resentful that others have made it into the water ahead of him. “I’ve got no-one to help me!” he complains (verse 7). Perhaps today, too many of us are a little like him – feeling weak or lame, waiting for our ‘lucky break’ – a piece of good fortune that we will gladly attribute to heaven as long as we get what we feel we need. Like an ‘X Factor’ teenager, we are putting all our hopes for future mobility on a big break – perhaps a career change, a marriage proposal at last, or a special empowerment or anointing from God: a lucky dip in this life. And how we disguise our indignation when others seem to get blessed ahead of us! We have all been there. But perhaps the story teaches us to take our eyes off the pool completely and on to the Saviour. The lame man is cured without getting his feet wet. It’s a genuine meeting with Jesus that we need, not a strange charismatic experience, no matter how wonderful. And don’t miss Jesus’ strong warning at the end, to turn from sin (verse 14). If we really want to stay upright, we need to hear and obey the voice of God on a daily basis. Why don’t you take your eyes off the pool today and on to Him? You can get your lucky break any time you like, as long as that break is called Jesus.

The Ark

2 Samuel’s sixth chapter reports a funeral in the middle of a renewal. This tragic event, namely Uzzah is struck dead simply because he tried to steady the Ark of the Covenant (verses 1-8), has something to teach us about how to handle a move of the Holy Spirit today. Uzzah’s error was not so much that he ‘touched’ the Ark, but more fundamentally that he neglected to know and/or obey the requirements of the Word of God, even during a wonderful revival. The Law was clear: the Ark had to be particularly handled (Exodus 37:5; Numbers 4:6,15); but in the midst of ecstatic worship and anointed celebration, it is still possible to neglect the principles of the Word. Perhaps David was just as responsible as Uzzah, having not taught Uzzah the appropriate way to deal with the Ark. This should be a sobering thought for all of us today, especially leaders, who wholeheartedly love the Lord’s Presence, as represented by the Ark, and want it to come to our city.

I serve in a church where we value the moving of the Holy Spirit, and, yes, the adrenaline rush when experiencing the undeniable activity of a powerful God. But if we forget about obedience to the Word, applying its principles in reverent and holy fear, then a time of renewal can very easily become a funeral. To be sure, God’s goodness is to be thoroughly enjoyed. We’ll no doubt be criticised for our foolish abandonment to Him. It’s not a ‘cool look’ for the Michal’s in today’s church to see the passionate receive the touch of God (2 Samuel 6:20-23). But obedience to God’s Word will not be suspended during a revival; not then, not now.

So what is the key to handling the move of the Spirit well? Perhaps this is best represented by what happens in 2 Samuel 6:10-12. David wanted the Ark, the Presence, to go directly to his city. A noble and pure ambition. But, first, it had to go home (in this case, to the home of Obed-Edom). For the Lord of revival to take root in a church, He must first go home with all His hungry seekers. Revival can’t go directly to the city – to the places of influence and power, to the estates, to the schools, to the streets and marketplaces – not without first going home after Sunday service. Jesus is the Lord of the believer in his or her private place, on Monday mornings and Thursday afternoons, as they enjoy God and know and obey His Word. That’s good soil for something very special – a fountain flowing deep and wide!