Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Holy Spirit is NOT for Sale!!

I love it when I walk around a Christian bookshop and I experience a book title reaching out and grabbing me (not literally). This latest book by J Lee Grady (Editor of Charisma Magazine) is called; "The Holy Spirit is Not for Sale!". I have heard of Grady but am not familiar with him. It was the foreword by Dr R T Kendall that made me knew I had to buy it. R T Kendall is one of my heroes and those who have sat under his preaching as I have know that he is not fooled lightly (some may disagree with that - but that's my personal opinion). Dr Kendall wrote;

"I could not put this book down. It is compulsive reading. But it is more than that: it is essential reading for every person who professes to be a charismatic Christian ... this book could be a turning point for the charismatic movement".

What caught my attention the most in flicking through the book in the bookshop was how J Lee Grady is drawing on the experiences of the Third World for US here in the Westernised world to learn from. I am tired of the concept of the Western world sending "missionaries" to the Third World. Like the risen and glorified Christ said to the church in Revelation 3:17;

"You think you are rich - but you are poor".

We have wasted our glorious inheritance of various movements of the Holy Spirit and have allowed theological pride and snobbery to quench the power of the Spirit. The fact that Dr John Piper has to even answer the question; "Do you believe we should cast out demons today?" - suggests a complete blindness on the part of the Western church in ignoring the gospel.

Anyway one chapter that stood out to me straight away was dealing with the issues of spiritual authoritarianism. Grady writes; "How can we know when a particular church or church leader is crossing into the danger zone of authoritarianism? Here are seven warning signs I have detected in my own experience".

1. Lack of accountability.

Grady writes: "If a pastor or a church leader is not open to correction from his colleagues, he has set himself up for failure and displayed a blatant form of pride".

2. Lack of acceptance of other denominations, churches or ministries.

Grady writes: "We need to expect our leaders to display an attitude of humility towards the rest of the Body of Christ".

3. An atmosphere of control.

Grady says; "Authoritarian church leaders are masters at using Scripture to manipulate people. They often quote 1 Chronicles 16:22; "Do not touch My anointed ones". Another favourite is Hebrews 13:17; "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority" ... such passages can be used to intimidate people and keep them from challenging wrong. Some pastors don't recognise the difference between valid criticism and slander".

4. Dominating attitudes in leaders, usually manifested by haughtiness and anger.

"Tyrants are surprisingly similar. Because they want to control their surroundings, they often blow up when people do not conform to their demands or don't do so as quickly as they wish. We might expect bullying in the corporate world but we should not tolerate it among church leaders".

5. Emphasis on leaders hearing God for the people, rather than encouraging them to hear God for themselves.

I should add that one of my major concerns with Sovereign Grace Ministries recently came from Jeff Purswell's well publicized comment; "You" (speaking to SGM preachers) "are standing in the very stead of God". That scares me because surely it puts SGM church members in a difficult position. If your SGM leader preaches something that worries you - you are not just disagreeing with man. You are disagreeing with someone "standing in for God".

Grady writes; "In authoritarian church situations, members are not encouraged to seek God's guidance for themselves. Rather they are urged to conform to their leader's preferences ... thus the church members develop an unhealthy dependence on man in order to function spiritually and a diminished ability to trust God".

6. Leaders assuming ownership of their people and churches.

Grady says; "In authoritarian churches ... the church is governed once again like a dictatorship ... pastor's salaries remain undisclosed and the pastor maintains control of the church board if there is one ... such a system is a far cry from the biblical view of the church as a living organism, kept vibrant as each member plays a part. All church members should share a sense of ownership in the local church".

7. Women viewed as inferior.

This is one that I am particularly fierce about. I've got one mother and seven sisters and have grown up in two churches that do have the tendency to treat women as inferior. I'll never forget one experience sitting in a home group and seeing the pastor turn to his heavily pregnant wife and say; "Dear - will you go and make the coffee?". What?!?!?! Why can't you get up off your backside and go and make it!?

Grady writes; "In most (authoritarian churches) women are viewed as important only in their function as wives and mothers and they are not encouraged to step beyond these confines to pursue ministry opportunities ... women eager to be used by God or to share their spiritual insights with church leaders are branded rebels or "Jezebels"".

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Dilemma of Prevailing Prayer

To most Christians the issue of "prayer" can range from extremes - one extreme is an awesome blessing made possible by the Cross of Christ and the glory of the Gospel. The other extreme is possibly one that not many Christians will admit to and that is a massive source of legalistic guilt and shame because many feel they are not measuring up to "standards" (mainly extra-biblical standards set by other Christians).

I've had a few thoughts brewing for a while now and wanted to express them. I have prayed in varying degrees and measures as long as I can remember as a Christian. My earliest recollection of prayer was when I was about 12 (around 1990) and I was on a paper round praying for revival in Dunstable - my home town. I have my pastor Dr Stanley Jebb to thank for that - a passion for revival was inbred in us from an early age. As yet - that prayer hasn't been answered.

I've prayed for the conversion of one of my best friends - Scott. That's been answered gloriously at the "Together on a Mission Conference" in Brighton in 2005! He was definitely and wonderfully touched by God and then again in 2006 under Rob Rufus's amazing ministry during one of his seminars. So there's one of the most wonderful prayers answered - a soul saved!

But conversely again - I endured the most hideous experience of my life working at Acorns Children's Hospice in Birmingham where I felt bullied by the management and staff. It was quite upsetting to hear on a local radio station an advert for Acorns stating, "Acorns is a wonderful place to be". NOT my personal experience! Working there pushed me possibly the closest to suicide I have ever been. I was persuaded to take a grievance out against Acorns which was then promptly dismissed - half accepting that the management "could" have reacted to my concerns faster. My point being - I prayed constantly throughout the 13 months I was there for God to intervene and to turn the situation around. He didn't.

Then take the experience with Sovereign Grace Ministries here in the UK! Again an awful experience for a time and one that very nearly led to me cutting my family off and departing to begin a new life without them. I struggled so much with the fact that my family appeared to stand with the church leaders against me. The night before the meeting I had recently with the Sovereign Grace pastors Pete Day and I prayed together and we admitted before God we didn't have the faith to pray for a glorious miracle - a reconciliation. We went with no faith whatsoever. And yet God intervened - and wonderfully reconciled us all! And I am now welcome back in Bristol at my parent's church!

So my dilemma;

1. Revival - God hasn't answered - yet.
2. Scott's conversion - God answered!
3. My experience at Acorn's Children's Hospice - God didn't answer (or said "No").
4. My experience with SGM Bristol - I didn't pray and yet God answered wonderfully!

It doesn't seem logical does it? Calvinists (even though I am one-ish) tend to retire behind the "sovereignty of God" and put it all down to Him. If God answered - He wanted to. If He didn't - He didn't. Frankly that seems like a cop-out to me and actually seems contrary to the Word of God. Let's consider these verses on prayer;

1. Obviously prayer is instructed in the New Testament: Colossians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:17

2. But it cannot be denied that prayer is the God-given means to obtain what God has to freely give: Matthew 7:7-11; Matthew 9:24-29; Luke 11:13.

3. The Bible allows for the fact that prayer is often motivated by need: James 5:13. And one of my favourite verses on prayer: Matthew 7:11: "Jesus says, "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him."

4. Above all and the Puritans would argue - most importantly - prayer is communion with God. This (I think) is the key to understanding prayer. Jesus spent hours in prayer - and how ridiculous to even imagine this was anything but pure joy to Him. He spent hours in prayer because He loved His Father above all. I must admit I found myself imagining what those hours in prayer between the Son of God and the Father were like. Was it even CLOSE to my prayer times - me talking and silence from heaven (it seems)? It can't be so! I imagine a loving conversation between Father and Son. One speaking - one listening - and vice versa.

There is no one I more enjoying turning to for advice than C H Spurgeon on prayer. I think Spurgeon describes the experience of many Christians so well;

"We spend the time allotted, but we rise from our knees unrefreshed, like a man who has lain upon his bed but has not slept so as to really recover his strength. When the time comes round again conscience drives us to our knees, but there is not sweet fellowship with God. There is no telling out of our wants to him in the firm conviction that he will supply them. After having gone again through a certain round of customary utterances, we rise from our knees perhaps more troubled in conscience and more distressed in mind than we were before. There are many Christians, I think, who have to complain of this".

Spurgeon suggests positively;

A. There should be a specific object of desire for prayer.

"My brethren, we often ramble in our prayers after this, that, and the other, and we get nothing because in each we do not really desire anything. We chatter about many subjects, but the soul does not concentrate itself upon any one object ... Did we ask an audience at Her Majesty's court, we should be expected to reply to the question, "What do you wish to see her for?" We should not be expected to go into the presence of Royalty, and then to think of some petition after we came there. Even so with the child of God. He should be able to answer the great question, "What is thy petition and what is thy request, and it shall be done unto thee?".

Rambling - oh how often have I heard rambling at prayer meetings! Some Christians seem to be blessed with the gift of praying long, laborious and often pointless prayers.

B. There must be perspective in our prayers.

Spurgeon urges us to "Look above";

"Once more look up and rejoice. Though you have sinned against him he loves you still. Ye have not prayed unto him nor sought his face, but behold he cries to you still—"Seek ye my face;" and he saith not "Seek ye me in vain." Ye may not have gone to the fountain, but it flows as freely as before. Ye have not drawn near to God, but he waiteth to be gracious still, and is ready to hear all your petitions".

I think that we have to admit a glorious mystery in prayer. I suspect (and I could be wrong) that God delighted to answer the un-spoken prayer of Pete and mine with the SGM situation because it brought glory to Him. I don't know why He didn't answer the Acorns situation or the revival cry from so many thousands. Maybe He yet will. All this speaks to remind me that He is God and cannot be tied down. But the key thing - communion. He invites us to pray to get to know Him because when we speak to Him - He speaks back. Conversation is two-way!

I share this - simply to say that I walk on in the challenge of prayer seeking to know Him better!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

This is Not a Phase which is Passing!

I was out for a run today and was enjoying the newly converted Dales Bible Week worship to my iPod. One of my favourite "70's" songs is "I hear the sound of rustling". Here it is - the quality is poor and apologies for that. It comes from a 70's audio tape. But I love it;
The particular line that grabbed me was this;

"And this is not a phase which is passing - it's the sound of an age that is to come".

I love the passion with which the gathered thousands sung it and I found myself wondering where they are today and how they are today. I have no doubt whatsoever that the majority of them gathered at the Dales sung that song with all their hearts and believed it. But was the 70's a "phase that has passed?". Or have we been left with an incredible legacy? I felt there are two challenges;

1. To my parent's generation (those who were there at the Dales Bible Week).

Have you lost your "first love?". Have you lost the fire that so excited and motivated you during those incredible years in the 1970's? Yes - the Yorkshire showground is now empty - where thousands once sung their praises to God. Yes - the Stoneleigh showground is now empty - where even more worshipped and danced before the Lord. But the truths that were preached and the revelations that were shared during those days? Has heaven said they are no longer true? Parents - you need to remember and not forget what you experienced during those days.

Or this WILL become a "phase" - a happy memory that you think back to with nostalgia rather than a truth that will touch a world.

2. To our generation (those who grew up as "charismatic" babies).

Have we taken up the baton? Our parents passed on so much to us - many of the key teachers of that day are still faithfully teaching the Word of God - men such as Terry Virgo. True some such as Bryn Jones and Ern Baxter have been taken to glory already and are now cheering us on as heavenly witnesses. But have we watched and learned from much of the pioneering that took place during those days? What are we doing to take the spiritual inheritance to a waiting world? We can't just sit here and expect to continue to receive "daily manna" from our parents generation. It's time to get up and go out and get it ourselves!

It's time to see the nations burn with the fire of God - nothing short of that will see the "nations flow to Zion!".

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Some Tweets to Follow!!

I don't often comment on Twitter on the blog to be honest - but since getting a new iPhone I've had the facility to follow tweets and re-post some of the best. It is a useful tool - I do love quotes when they are perceptive and prophetic. I hate quoting "for the sake of it" - I find that as pointless as it is annoying. But today was a particularly incredible day for some tweets and quotes - particularly from Rick Warren who said today;

"Every single drop of blood that fell from Jesus' body on the Cross shouted "I love you! I love you! I love you THIS much!".


"No one counterfeits $3 bills since they don’t exist. Phony miracles,churches & believers indicate the genuine is out there".

John Lanferman who leads the Newfrontiers team in the USA also said quite profoundly;

"The Gospel without power is not good news at all".

Finally Twitter is a good way of keeping abreast of news not just reading great quotes. Dave Taylor - one of my sister's pastors from Christchurch in Newport (Sovereign Grace) - has gone to plant a church in Sydney in Australia (wow I'd like to be called there!) and has a great looking website;

I don't know Dave at all but people speak very highly of him as being an incredible worship leader as well as truly and highly valuing the gospel of grace.

So all in all a good "Twitter" day!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"An Honest Conversation" - EMA Assembly 2010 - Part 2

Last week (I think) I posted the first half of a Panel Discussion held at the EMA Assembly in London this year - present were Terry Virgo, Hugh Palmer, Vaughan Roberts, John Coles and Liam Goligher. The first half of the discussion focused around what the leaders DID agree on. The second half moves into what they DON'T agree and gets interesting!

Vaughan Roberts (V.R): Thank you Liam – over to you John.

John Coles (J.C): I was hoping to hear the wisdom of the other people because I am at a bit of a loss to know what the other reasons were. We obviously have so much in common here. The roots of many of us are the same – my own spiritual history is much the same as Hugh’s. We were working in Scripture Union camps together in the summer holidays at the same time – I went on one of Dick Lucas’s original reading parties and my background was with 2 curacies in conservative evangelical churches. I was appointed to be a vicar of a liberal, middle of the road church. It was in that context that I felt the way I presented the gospel at that stage didn’t actually have power to lead people to Christ.

So I was propelled into saying “God there must be more than this to get these people converted” – it was a real longing to see the lost saved that made me pray for a greater empowering of the Spirit because obviously that is what the Spirit comes for. When I began to get my eyes opened to the wider, charismatic/Pentecostal world and church and instead of seeing the church through the blinkers of my own training up to that point then I realised there was a lot more beyond my own experience up until that point. The more I learned the more I realised I have to learn now. God is bigger than any of us understand in part. We are all life-long learners and should be willing to learn from all sources that God is doing all around the world.

Take for example the Anglican church and the issues of morality and sexuality – we praise God for the orthodox church in Asia and Africa. Now some people heard me talk about what I was learning and feared that I was rejecting what I had learned before. So sometimes what we are saying – that is all that people think we are saying. Rather than we are saying – this, AND all this! So I sadly found myself being distanced from some people in friendship. I was going to other conferences to learn the new things I wanted to learn which was always on the basis of what I had already learned rather than in order to reject what I had already learned. I think by and large gatherings like this gather one group of people and gatherings at New Wine gather other groups of people learning other things at other stages in their lives. At times we have got to get together and realise what we DO have in common. This is why I think this is a very healthy thing what we are doing – and it is a real privilege for me to be here today.

V.R: I would love to hear the historical perspective of Hugh and Terry in a moment but I wonder if we could broaden it out – so far the emphasis has been on what we hold in common. And it may be that you feel it was accidental but I suspect behind it are some fairly important differences as well as other things we should never have divided on. So as you continue on the historical issue, are there big differences and if so what are they that we should never have divided on? We will start with you Hugh.

H.P: Yes – ‘historical perspective’ is one of those big words isn’t it and I am I not sure I have got a broad enough perspective for that but personally, coming just after Liam had invented rock music *laughter*, university days as John said – there were folk who thought of themselves as charismatic. Speaking in tongues was a big thing in those days but we were all involved in the same Christian union and same gospel business. At some point down the line there came a point where our differences became more important to us than the things we had in common. It may have been conscious or it may have been unconscious. I remember in my first curacy a guy coming up to me who would have been charismatic if you like and he said; “Well of course you would say that wouldn’t you because you are an evangelical”. I said; “Well you are as well aren’t you?”. He said; “No, no I’m a charismatic”.

It was the first time I had heard someone define themselves as charismatic over and above being evangelical. Before we had been evangelical and some were charismatic and others weren’t. Many of the folk when I was up in Norwich – and the trouble with these labels is that they are stereotypical and static but let me just use them as shorthand and say I mean nothing more than that. They come from Brethren backgrounds and had been well drilled in the Scriptures.

Somewhere in their mid-teens it had all gone a bit dry and the new life and fervour and passion that they had got was linked with their experience of receiving the Spirit and their theology of it. I remember as they enthusiastically gathered and talked to disciples and students what struck me was that they were living this experience on the 15 years of the bedrock of Bible teaching they had got. They were teaching the thing that had captured their hearts at the moment and I said; “You do realise what you are passing on is actually different from what you have got for that very reason – you have just taken the very top layer and removed the other”. Again I remember sitting with a charismatic friend hearing a teacher explain why baptism in the Spirit wasn’t a second experience and so on and he went through Acts and so on and I remember my friend saying; “Well I can buy all of that – but are you going to leave people sitting complacently in their chairs?”. The danger of the conservative side was that we taught the Spirit in terms of what the Spirit was not and what we shouldn’t believe and shouldn’t think. Then you end up in different streams and groups and we don’t meet each other and rub shoulders and we don’t test each other at all and now we don’t know whether we are people who don’t know each other and have some differences or whether we have different gospels that are coming out.

V.R: I would love to hear you Terry on the historical perspective as you will have as good an insight as any but I would also love to hear about where are the differences we differ on?

Terry Virgo (T.V): I think probably down through the centuries there have been differences that have driven quite hard wedges into the body of Christ. For instance the issue of Anabaptists in terms of harsh and judgemental decisions which we now look back in a very different light as the years have slipped by and I celebrate days like this and the friendships that we have come to experience certainly on this platform and reflected out across the room. Divisions do come not necessarily always through theological difference through quick reactions, quick caricaturing (if you think that you must be that – or you were seen with him the other day and he definitely thinks that).

So that runs ahead of you in quite a dangerous way. I was first invited many years ago to speak at a conference called Spring Harvest and you had to tick on a form whether you were charismatic or reformed. And I ticked “charismatic” AND “reformed”! *laughter*. And I would feel before God that I am a “conservative evangelical” – and I have never identified that. I know some people would say I am charismatic and not an evangelical. I have never identified with that and have always felt horrified by that. I would say my desire is to conserve biblical Christianity. In that sense “conservative”. Some people read “conservative” as “cautious” – what do I mean “conservative”? Do I mean English caution? Or do I mean conserving what the Bible says? So to pick up Vaughan’s last words – where do we differ and where do our differences lie, I would say I am personally trying to conserve Biblical Christianity as far as is possible in the 21st century with its downloading and jet planes.

I feel one of my greatest fears would be a doctrine of “cessationism” – that the Christianity of the Bible is different to a Christianity of today.

So for many of us – how and when we receive the Spirit would be a debate point we can spend some time on. But we all very generously want to feel we are experiencing something of God’s fullness. But are we also saying we want that to result in Biblical Christianity in the sense that there was power evident, supernatural things happened? That’s what Biblical Christianity was – are we saying we think that should be something different today? Are we saying that the sort of thing that happened through the apostles and the New Testament church continues today? Men like Stephen and Philip and the way they preached the gospel and the gospel advanced included that supernatural element or are we saying that was an empowering to get the gospel “started”? That would be held by some and they would say there are seasons. I know that for myself I feel I am a conservative evangelical – I want to conserve what I feel is in the Bible which would include what the Bible speaks of – which would include supernatural elements in the Bible.

Never seeing that in opposition to Biblical exposition, the teaching of the Word, building lives on Biblical revelation but moving on with the empowering aspects. I personally feel I guess within the UK now and its complete loss of Christian foundation we are more back to the kind of culture that Paul and the apostles invaded – where there is nothing you can draw from. When Billy Graham came to England in the 50s and 60s he could almost be like an Old Testament prophet and say “Come back to the truth that you actually know”. You can’t do that anymore and I think it is more like Paul’s day where the Gospel came not in word only but power – which I think was attesting signs. I think globally the advance of the gospel which is taking place in many other maybe southern hemisphere nations are seeing phenomenal break through.

I have just been reading in your bookshop here a book I haven’t seen before – the “Journals of John Tsung” – I have read about him before and he is an evangelist with phenomenal signs and wonders that took place through his ministry that led to vast numbers of people being converted. I would feel that is biblical Christianity and I would like to conserve it. So for me that is “conservative evangelicalism”.

V.R: You have mentioned two things and spent a bit longer on signs and wonders and we will come back to that. You have also raised the question of how and when the Holy Spirit comes. I guess going back 30 or 40 years that was the major point of division. The whole question of “baptism in the Holy Spirit” and some then changed the terminology but still expected some kind of second blessing. The inevitable question there – are there two types of Christian and that ended up being a cause of division up and down the land. Do you want to say a bit more about your own view on that Terry and then we will hear from others? Because I think clearly this has been a significant point of difference.

T.V: I think to say “two kinds of Christian” is very much oversimplifying our whole breadth of Christian experience. There may be those who have been plunged into water and there may be those who have been sprinkled. There may be those who say they have had a “sanctification experience” like Keswick used to teach – I didn’t. So all sorts of divisions and I would say to say there are two kinds of Christian is a very great oversimplification and I certainly wouldn’t live with that or accept that. To me how you receive the Spirit – and we could certainly spend a long time talking about that! – I feel personally in the New Testament there was a “coming upon” of the Spirit. The great Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones says that the teaching that says you have experienced everything at the new birth – that doctrine is the greatest reason for the quenching of the Holy Spirit over the last half a century. He felt very strongly about that. I think there is an argument for that. I feel the coming “upon” of the Holy Spirit which I see in the New Testament. For example when Jesus said to the disciples; “Wait till the Spirit comes upon you” – they knew what that meant. They had their Old Testaments – they knew of men like Gideon and men like Samson. People we have been hearing about who were suddenly “empowered”.

V.R: If I may just come in – would you see that “coming upon” as an infilling for a particular task that might happen on a number of occasions or would you expect for the unbeliever who has come to Christ and been forgiven, that there would be then a moment when the Holy Spirit comes in a significant moment unlike the extra fillings for particular tasks?

T.V: I would not feel it was for a particular task in the New Testament. No.

V.R: Thank you – Liam, any reaction on this particular issue which clearly has been a cause of difference?

L.G: And it still is! My view is that when someone is baptised into Christ by the Holy Spirit they receive the Holy Spirit and the progress we make in our Christian life is that more and more of our lives are captivated by, controlled by, empowered by and enabled by the Holy Spirit as we respond to the Word of God, as we grow in our relationship with God, as we pray. I personally think that some of us do not expect anything from God. By that I do not mean great experiences but I am saying that some of us do not expect that God will make a difference to us. Even though intellectually we do believe that the Bible can change a person, we experientially do not expect any change in ourselves.

We go to church on Sunday and we expect that the preacher will say something that will draw from us the “aha! I hadn’t seen that before!”. That is about as far as our expectation from church is concerned. That there will be a little insight into how that text will link with this. We will hear a good talk and go away feeling that the Bible was adequately taught and handled but without any expectation that anything will change in me or in the lives of unconverted people who may be there. So for me without having to create any unbiblical process – it seems to me that just living under the Word of God, if that word is (as we heard this morning from John Piper) Spirit and life then one would expect the Word of God would be changing people and that Christ would be encountering people through His Word and that we would have the expectation of things happening in our lives. I would say that a lot of signs and wonders are tied to the roles of the apostles and the early church – they were authenticating the ministry but I would expect that there are things that happen in ordinary Christians lives which are analogous to (not the same as) things you would find in Scripture and I would expect that to be happening. So the kind of things you (to John Coles) described – that happens! To me that happens quite frequently in Christians lives!

This kind of things happens! I believe in the ministry of angels – we believe in the ministry of angels! Do we think that there are things happening in our lives that are so unusual that there must have been the involvement of angels? Do we believe in the providence of God? Well the providence of God incorporates my dream life – it incorporates every area! Do I think the providence of God could stir me to have a dream that encourages me to prayer about something because there is something coming up? I would say we don’t need to use biblical categories in an unbiblical way and I hope that’s not disrespectful to those who hold a different view – I would simply expect in a living relationship with the Lord.

V.R: Thank you – we are beginning to merge these two areas. So John, any reflection on what’s called the “2nd blessing” or on the signs and wonders and then we will come to Hugh.

J.C: I think the word “expectation” is an important word here. When the Holy Spirit gives birth to a new Christian what are the possibilities for that new Christian and what do we as teachers teach are the possibilities? The possibilities are probably far beyond what any of us have yet realised – because God is able to do more than we ask, think or imagine. So the issue is am I letting the Holy Spirit lead me into all that God says and dreams and becomes possible for me? And then am I teaching others to expect more than I or we have yet experienced of Him? Or am I saying “Don’t expect”.

So when I prayed the prayer to receive Christ into my life at the age of 17 and a half – I was told; “Don’t expect to feel any different”. I imagine quite a lot of people here were told that. You didn’t therefore feel any different because you shut down that expectation.

Now project a number of years on and here am I now for the first time in my life in a charismatic meeting and there are some “words of knowledge” whereby the speaker’s team sense that God is saying there are people in the room with particular needs and they are going to pray for those people. And one of them describes a rash I have on my hand which I have just developed in the previous week between the base of the 1st finger and the thumb on my left hand – exactly where my problem was. I found myself at the front of the meeting being prayed for in front of everyone a few moments later. They didn’t tell me they were about to use me as a guinea pig because I had never been to one of these charismatic meetings before – I didn’t know that was the trap door I was about to fall through. As they began to pray for me someone in the gathering collapsed on the floor and the person praying for me stopped and immediately began to pray for this person as if they were having a heart attack. I interrupted him and said; “No they are not having a heart attack – they are just being set free”.

This person had been a student member at the church where I had done one of my curacies and had come to me during that time and had talked to me about the ministry of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit and whether this was normative Christianity today. I said to them; “I wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole – don’t expect that thing today, it’s not normal and it’s not necessary”. As a result that person had shut down all that side of their spiritual life for the next four years. In this meeting when they saw me – myself being set free from that lack of expectation and experience they themselves were also being set free from the chains I put around them which basically said; “Don’t expect to have this kind of New Testament Christianity”. So coming back to expectation what are we teaching as possible for 20th century Christians today?

It is not a question of “have I been filled? – did I have a great wow experience in the past that immediately lead to the use of any of the supernatural gifts (1 Cor 12)” and whether or not that was synonymous with when I was converted. The question is – whether NOW I am being filled with the Spirit so NOW I am living a life with an equal expectation of a supernatural interventionist God as they did in the New Testament?

And am I teaching that to the people I am pastoring and teaching such that – for instance – and this is where the rubber meets the road such as characteristic of charismatic or conservative evangelical church and the way we use the terms. By the way I really love Terry’s way of describing “conservative” as “conserving”! How then do we do evangelism? Do we go and knock on doors and say “Can I talk to you about Jesus?” or do we (a la Luke 10) go and knock on doors and say; “Is anyone sick so I can pray for you?”. And the consequence of the expectation I have been speaking to you about is that every Christian can do the latter and not just the former! Going and blessing a house with peace and saying “Can I pray for anyone that’s sick” – will also open the doors which leads to evangelism and ultimately a relationship with Jesus Christ.

V.R: Thank you John. Hugh?

H.P: If you don’t have the Spirit of Christ then you don’t belong to Christ Paul says. I have been confronted before by people who tell me I might be Christian but I haven’t received the Spirit and I need that before I can be properly Christian – and my answer to that is, look you can tell me I’m not a Christian but don’t tell me I am a Christian but don’t have the Spirit. I can’t be in that sort of weird no-man’s land – it doesn’t seem to be a biblical one. To say there is some kind of necessary thing I need over and above – I struggle with hugely. I must be able to say that at one end but commands like “Go on being filled with the Spirit” have no place in my mindset, my heart-set, my expectation. It seems to me the danger of the label can be that we have just got a box.

And if you have got a label then everything I have in that box is where you are, whereas it seems to me that there is much more of a spectrum – so you can take things whether it is tongues or healings. Actually expectation is an important word – so is there the expectation that all this is mandatory which I would raise huge question marks by in the New Testament. So it seems to me that those are some of the labels we have got to grapple with and it doesn’t always help us. I suspect we may have people at the far ends on some points and even we may be at the far ends on some of these points.

V.R: On one particular issue in light of what John has just said – in your evangelistic programme at All Souls, if you are not knocking on doors and offering healing are you in some ways being sub-biblical? How would you respond to some of the things John has been saying about signs and wonders? Are you missing out on something that should be normative? Because I take it that isn’t the way you do evangelism?

H.P: We may do it differently from you Vaughan! (*laughter*). I am not convinced as I read through the New Testament that remains normative. Which is not the same thing as saying I shouldn’t expect it ever. As I read on there are all kinds of illustrations around Jesus and the Gospels and the early church and certainly those signs and wonders and miracle works certainly should be seen at least as endorsing the revelation of the Apostles but as I read on in the New Testament and the letters and so on, there seems to me to be significantly less emphasis that way and as I read them less expectation that is the normative thing. I don’t find Timothy being expected to. Now we can say well it was just so obvious that he didn’t have to say it. I am not convinced by that. Nor am I trying to say that is the only expectation for those miracles in the New Testament –

But I would want an expectation level that doesn’t have it as normative and mandatory without reducing it to; “Oh it can’t and won’t happen so if I hear of a healing then there must be something manipulative about it”.

V.R: We are running out of time and I just sense we have touched on some huge issues – which was always going to happen. We are talking briefly but it may be that you are really frustrated and something hasn’t been said that you really wanted saying or a false impression has been given. Where then do we go from here – what are the on-going challenges for us? Can we work together? Can’t we? What should we be saying to one another? So it’s an opportunity really to say what you want as we draw to a close.

T.V: I think it will be when I’ve gone out of the door that is when I will think; “Oh I should have said that!”. I honestly celebrate the relational developments that have made this possible. They have not always been there. 20 years ago there was a lot of hostility which I feel is not present now. And it has been a joy to celebrate common ground – evangelically common ground speaking at conferences. This last Sunday I was speaking in Croydon and I understand there were 21 churches represented there and I did something similar in Aberdeen and Dundee – right across the city. Things like New Word Alive have been a great, great joy to stand on the same platform with people who would have different ways of doing local church and I really celebrate that. I would urge that we hear one another through and that we are sure we understood what was being said and I am sure we can be in danger of highlighting something. When we got started people made all sorts of accusatory comments which people in our ranks thought; “Why did they say that?

That’s not what we are at all!”. I think those days have gone. I thank God so much for that. I think there is a genuine appreciation and celebration of other people’s success – I genuinely believe that – we praise God for people who do church differently to us, the success they are enjoying, and the breakthroughs that they see. I think there’s a lot of borrowing from one another that is quite fascinating. Earlier on John Coles spoke about our worship songs flowing over. We have the great privilege of having Stuart Townend and Nathan Fellingham in our local church. It was great to be invited to speak at Keswick and virtually every song that came before I preached was written in my home church. I thought; “Well this is lovely!”. That we can enjoy comradeship – it’s a delight and I would encouragement that more and more – hearing one another through. Yes so maybe we do differ on our expectation of the supernatural which is the thing we just came to an end on. I think we would say we live in the “Now but not yet” – we do live in the limitations of that whole eschatological overlap that we will not see everything break through yet but our levels of expectation – yes I know I want my levels to be pushed through.

V.R: Time is running out so let’s keep it fairly prompt. Liam?

L.G: There’s a sense of which if you have been listening very carefully you will have noticed that everyone is a cessationist up to a degree. The question is of degree really. There is nothing we are saying that what is happening in our churches is actually exactly what happened in Acts. We are not seeing what happened in Acts as an actual reality. If anyone said that I think we are diminishing what is going on in Acts in terms of the quality/quantity of the signs and wonders that are going on there. Many of my charismatic friends are quick to say; “Well it’s not quite the same – we have apostles today but they are not quite the same”. My own view is that the remaining issue is the issue of revelation and continuing revelation. That is the heart of the thing and I would want to emphasise.

I would want to say that prophecy and tongues have to be taken together as revelatory things and that revelation is complete in Christ and He is the final Word and that gets into the Bible and we have it. Now having said that I believe the Holy Spirit acts along and through the Word – that He uses it in ways and with power in our lives and in ways that are not always as tied down as we would like them to be. I don’t think the unusual is normal. But I do think the unusual happens. Certain things are not normative in the church – the normal means of grace are the way God normally works. But absolutely if we believe in the sovereignty of God – we have to say that things will happen that are extraordinary. We pray for healing in our church! The elders pray for healing regularly.

V.R: I am going to have to stop you there Liam – time is very short. John and then Hugh?

J.C: Our nation needs Jesus – how do people come to faith in Jesus? He said; “Believe Me because of what I am saying but if you cannot believe Me because of what I am saying, believe Me because of the works I am doing”. How do people come to faith? Some will come to faith through their minds. Hearing, reasoning and responding. Some will come through other felt needs being met. I think that is the issue of the words being preceded by the works. From my experience when the two happen together we are seeing a wider cross-section of our community coming to Christ as a result of both those two things. What’s the implication of this? For local mission some churches may well emphasise the Word. Some may more emphasise the works and felt need evangelism. Let’s just rejoice that they are complimentary that more may come to faith in Jesus because without them – they are lost. That is what we are going for friends – that the lost may be saved. That hell may be plundered and heaven populated. People can come through the Word or through the works – they did in Jesus day and let’s make sure they are still coming. If another church emphasises the Word or the works in a way that we are not, instead of criticising let’s firstly commend and give God’s blessing on each other’s churches – and as in Oxford let’s try to work together as much as we can.

V.R: Thank you John.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Is Eschatology Still on Our Agenda?

The last couple of blog posts have been considering "What Mean these Stones?" - the Charismatic heritage that means so much to so many. One of the key hallmarks of the 1970's was the positive eschatology that swept the world. The sermons from the Bible Weeks and the prophecies and indeed the worship songs all spoke of a glorious church that was advancing the gospel. A couple of my favourite worship songs that I remember hearing thundering out from the cowsheds of the Bible Weeks was;

"For I'm building a people of power
And I'm making a people of praise
That will move through this land by My Spirit
And will glorify My precious name".

"Jesus has sat down at God's right hand, He is reigning now on David's throne,
God has placed all things beneath His feet - His enemies shall be His footstool ...
Sound the trumpets, good news to the poor, captives will go free, the blind will see,
The kingdom of this world will soon become, the kingdom of our God!".

Well a sure way to check the validity of any theology is if it gets roundly criticized and condemned by "cautious evangelicals" and indeed - positive eschatology did indeed. I found an insightful piece by the ironically-named "Discernment Ministries" (I always wince when I see a ministries devoted or named as such). They write;

"However, in 1971 a watershed event took place that was to unite all camps of the budding Restoration Movement, and helped it to adopt officially its neo-latter rain doctrine. Arthur Wallis, fired by his endtimes vision which was becoming ever more radical, called a national leaders’ meeting in 1971 to discuss eschatology. He wanted to do away with the “doom-and-gloom” theology theology of pre-millennialism. He believed what was needed was a united leadership to oversee the coming of the kingdom, and the restoration of the glorious endtime church".

It's interesting that Arthur Wallis is credited with the advent of positive eschatology (at least in the UK). Every charismatic leader (such as Terry Virgo and Bryn Jones) credit Arthur Wallis's books such as "In the Day of Thy Power". The "Discernment Ministries" article goes on to talk about Ern Baxter's contribution to this positive eschatology - which of course makes my ears prick up;

"Baxter was invited to speak, along with Bryn Jones, at the Capel Bible Week in 1974, and later went on to achieve an almost godlike status amongst the Restoration fellowships. He could do no wrong ... Ern Baxter’s teaching was, like that of Arthur Wallis, derisive of pre-millennialism, and contained the concepts of the Pattern Son and the Corporate Christ as well as the role of the Church in bringing in the Kingdom. Baxter had, by the mid-70’s, become part of the influential Fort Lauderdale Five".

I think I would disagree with the statement; "He could do no wrong". But that's an aside. What also led me to think about this post was that I am reading the infamous "Left Behind" novels in my spare time. I'm enjoying the drama but the depressive theology is wearing me down.

Oh that there were a series of novels from the victorious eschatological view point!

What's my point? I heard a video recording of Dave Holden speaking at the Brighton Leadership Conference 2000 (the one where they cancelled Stoneleigh Bible Week) and he said something very insightful;

"Your eschatology will shape your ecclesiology".

Or in other words - what you think about the end times will shape your church life, what you sing, what you preach and above all - how you reach out to the lost. Have we forgotten about thinking about the end times? I don't mean heaven and the 2nd Coming. I mean how history is going to wrap up. One more victorious 70's song I used to love singing at church;

"The Lord has given
a land of good things,
I will press in and make them mine.
I’ll know His power,
I’ll know His glory,
And in His kingdom I will shine.

With the high praises
of God in our mouth
And a two-edged sword
in our hand,
We’ll march right
on to the victory side,
Right into Canaan’s land".

Sunday, August 08, 2010

"God Remembered Noah" - Stanley Jebb

I am so grateful for this "what are these stones?" theme I am thinking through at present. I was spending today hunting through my library of church magazines and journals reading and remembering. I found a magazine from my home church in Dunstable - dated October 1985. Dr Stanley Jebb wrote the pastoral letter and it spoke SO directly to my current situation and relation to God. Proof that the word of God doesn't age or grow old and can STILL speak today!

Here it is;

God Remembered Noah (Genesis 8:1) by Dr Stanley Jebb.

"Do you ever feel that God has forgotten you? Does it sometimes seem that the grey, cloudy heavens cannot possibly hide a loving Father? Has He not spoken for some time? Has your deliverance not yet come?

Consider Noah's position in Genesis 6 to 8.

1. Staying Put in the Ark.

Everything around the ark was bleak and horrible. Nothing much seemed to be happening. The only sounds to be heard were those made by the animals, cacophonous at times, the creaking of the boat, the sound of wind, rain and waves, and what conversation the family managed to snatch between chores. God seemed to be silent.

Noah was very much restricted in his movements and in his activities. He couldn't go very far not could he do very much, not much, that is, beyond the daily chores of caring for the animals and doing any repairs necessary. Noah and his family were in the ark for one year and ten days. (Genesis 7:11, 13, 8:13-16).

What else was Noah doing? He was trusting God. He trusted God in the waste of waters, in the confined space, in the limited activity, in the darkness, in the divine silence. While he kept busy with family life, the animals and the ark, he kept looking up to God.

He had expectancy of deliverance (Genesis 8:6-12).

2. When God "Remembered" Noah.

When the Bible says that "God remembered" it does not mean that God had forgotten.

H C Leupold in his commentary on Genesis says, "It would never occur to one familiar with Hebrew to draw the conclusion from this statement that for a time God had forgotten Noah". In Isaiah 49:15 we read; "Can a woman forget her nursing child, and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget but I will not forget you".

"Remembering" - when used of God means that He now acts, so that to man it appears that He has just remembered.

We use the word in a similar fashion when we say that someone was "remembered" in a will. The word translated "remembered" is often used implying a remembering with kindness, granting requests, protecting, delivering (e.g Genesis 9:15; 30:22, Ex Ex 2:24; 1 Sam 1:11).

"God remembers" that is, acts at the appropriate time with exactly what we need. All the time that Noah was trusting, God was working according to a plan.
3. The Time of Action.

When, in God's providential timing, it was right to emerge from the ark, the action began with a word from God.

(8:15, 16). God said; "Go out".

So often we act upon serious and momentous matters without a word from God. When we are moving in an important or significant or unusual way it is wise to seek a word from the Lord.

The word contained a command to be fruitful and multiply. God expected Noah and his descendants to subdue the earth and fill it. While God remembered Noah it is also true that Noah remembered God. He built an altar and worshipped the Lord. How easy, yet how dangerous, it is to forget God (See Romans 1:20 ff).

Just as God remembered Noah, so He remembers us.

He never forgets us, but acts in His own good time, the very best time, to accomplish His will and bless His people.

"His love in time past forbids me to think, He'll leave me at last in trouble to sink,
Each sweet Ebenezer I have in review, confirms His good pleasure to help me quite through" (John Newton).

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Holy Convocations ... What do these stones mean?!!

I found myself doing something rather odd the other day. I was playing on Google maps and found myself looking at satellite images of some of the sites of the Bible Weeks I have been to. Here is;

1. Where Stoneleigh Bible Week (Terry Virgo and Newfrontiers) used to be held (near Coventry, UK):

2. Where the Anglia Bible Week (my home church Bible Week visited by Ern Baxter) used to be held (Norfolk, UK);

3. Finally where the Dales Bible Week used to be held (Bryn Jones, Ern Baxter, Bob Mumford and Terry Virgo among other speakers and leaders) - this was in Yorkshire, UK.

View Larger Map

So why did I indulge in this rather nostalgic practice? Well I was challenged recently by a blogging friend as to why I spend so much time thinking about the great men and women of the past - such as Ern Baxter. He suggested that I should move into "today's" anointing. I respect him so listened and have thought through for some time whether I have an unhealthy emphasis on the past. There is a sense however that thinking about the past is important - and a vital reminder to what God HAS done - particularly when He doesn't seem to be doing much.

Note I didn't say He isn't doing much. I said when He doesn't "seem" to be doing much.

Joshua 4: "Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder ... to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, 'What do these stones mean?' ... These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever."

Matthew Henry comments on these verses from Joshua;

"The works of the Lord are so worthy of rememberance, and the heart of man is so prone to forget them, that various methods are needful to refresh our memories, for the glory of God, our advantage, and that of our children. God gave orders for preparing this memorial".

It struck me that there is very little that I can do to provoke or see a new move of God. I can pray clearly, I can look and watch. But start a new move? That is God and God alone's glorious timing and work. But what I CAN do is to provide "various methods" to refresh the memories of us. To remember the great and glorious mountain-top occasions at those now-empty showgrounds - to reflect on the prophetic insights and teaching that came from those Bible weeks.

I've still got the "Stoneleigh Bible Week 2000" leaflet - the first Stoneleigh I went to. Terry Virgo wrote the "Welcome" and said;

"We want to come together again to celebrate, be encouraged, renew our vision, encounter God in power and be sent on our way solidly renewed, empowered and freshly commissioned to our great task".

The thought that struck me was this - is there any LESS need for any of those things? To me - they aren't luxuries. They are NECESSITIES to the Christian life. But Stoneleigh Bible Week was stopped for reasons well known. Newfrontiers invested quite a bit in their annual "Together on a Mission and Mobilise" conference held in Brighton. But that's stopping too next year apparently.

The question I'd still pose is - how is the church celebrating, being encouraging, renewing vision (if we have one) and encountering God in power? Has the "age of Bible weeks" passed and how have those necessities been replaced? Until those questions have been answered, I will still remind of those high times past - a pile of stones if you will.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

"An Honest Conversation" - EMA Assembly 2010 - Part 1

I was hoping to go to the EMA Assembly in London this year with Pete Day but however our diaries did not allow it (the story of my life with conferences these days!). The topic of the Holy Spirit is one very close to my heart and to know that Terry Virgo was invited to take part in the following discussion made it a must-hear for me. John Piper and Wayne Grudem were also speakers - so I cannot wait to get onto hearing those sessions!

For now here's Part 1 of the Panel Discussion. Terry Virgo of course, Hugh Palmer - Rector of All Souls Langham Place and Liam Goligher from Duke Street Baptist Church. John Coles was the only one I was not familiar with - he is the Director of New Wine. The discussion was chaired by Vaughan Roberts from St Ebbes in Oxford.

“An Honest Conversation” – The Ministry of the Spirit in the Local Church
EMA Assembly – Terry Virgo, John Coles, Hugh Palmer and Liam Goligher.

Vaughan Roberts (V.R): Well welcome to this afternoon’s session and what we have called “An Honest Conversation”. I am grateful to my conversation partners who I will welcome in just a moment. First though a word of introduction from my own local context. As some of you will know I am a pastor in Oxford and on one end of Pembroke Street there is St Ebbes Church and at the other end of Pembroke Street there is St Aldates Church. We hold much in common and have done for many many years. I have been a member for 20 years I guess and over the years there have been occasional moments of disagreement and tension particularly I think among the student members of the congregation over the charismatic debates and discussions.

When Charlie Cleverly (who is the Rector of St Aldates) arrived about 8 years ago I went to see him and we decided we would meet regularly to pray and we included Andrew Winkfield-Digby who is the vicar of St Andrews church in the city. It is a very high powered gathering as you can imagine and on one occasion I turned up at Andrew’s house at 08:00, Charlie turned up at 08:00 at my house and Andrew turned up at 08:00 at Charlie’s house which is where we were all meant to be. We do normally manage to meet every 5 or 6 weeks or so and during that time a very warm and close friendship has built up between me and Charlie. We are brothers in Christ and we love Him. Our passion above all else is to make Him known and to see people converted. There are things we have been able to do together as we long to see the city of Oxford reached with the gospel. So Charlie has started a mission called “Love Oxford” which has been a gathering of evangelical church leaders trying to set up 1 a year a large gathering in one of the local parks where we put aside secondary differences and Christ and His Cross are preached. Thousands gather and it is a tremendous opportunity for witness to the Lord Jesus whom we all worship.

During the course of our friendship there have been other things we have chatted about that we disagree on sharply. We reckon there are some things that we cannot easily do together. We have not planted a church together. We don’t do our ministry training courses together. In Charlie’s language, he puts it; “In some things there is not sufficient spiritual DNA” and there are some things that we can do together. One of the happy things we have done together from time to time is to share a platform and have a discussion from time to time rather like this – and the fact it was so needed came home to me when people were surprised to see us not only on the same platform but to see that we were friends. In that discussion we were able to affirm things we agreed on and from the context of brotherhood and friendship – to have things that we sometimes disagreed on. We both felt that was a healthy thing to happen. What has occurred over the past few decades through different types of evangelicalism is sometimes divides through – not particularly any great difference in theology – but we just don’t know one another. We have our own conferences, our own minister’s meetings and we have found how helpful it is to meet with one another.

I hope we are going to replicate something of that this afternoon. Most of us are local church pastors and all the time I hope we will be thinking; “What is it we can do locally on the ground with other pastors from other churches that might have other views on some things we might view as secondary and other things we might view as very significant indeed. What can we do together? And what can’t we do together? Can we at least discuss and talk? So I am very grateful to my four friends for joining me this afternoon and they will be known to many of you.

• Hugh Palmer – the Rector of All Souls, Langham Place and the Chairman of New Word Alive.

• Terry Virgo who leads the Newfrontiers network of churches around this country and internationally as well.

• Liam Goligher from Duke Street in Richmond and conference speaker from all over the world as well.

• And John Coles who leads the New Wine network.

Thank you for coming. I am going to pray as we begin our discussion.

“Loving Father thank You very much for our unity with all those who are born again. Our unity with Christ and our unity with one another by the Spirit. We grieve over differences sometime and divisions and we need real discernment to know when we should be affirming unity and pushing secondary things to one side and when we should be engaging with differences that really matter and the need to be talked through. We pray we will do that this afternoon and do it in a right way and we pray this kind of thing will happen increasingly throughout this land for the glory of Your Name. Amen”.

We have had opportunities to chat some of us a few months ago and some of us just now and we all agree that that there are increasing divisions among evangelicals and an increasing breadth has emerged and certain truths need to be reaffirmed in the wake of this increasing breadth and I would be interested if I could just go along and start with you – Hugh. What are the key truths that we evangelicals need to reaffirm in the face of worrying breadth on these matters?

Hugh Palmer (H.P): I definitely include the sufficiency of the Scriptures. Unless we have come to any common mind on the Scriptures it is hard to see where we can go further. Certainly within evangelicalism there seems to be all kinds of worrying trends at least among those who want the label of evangelical. There seems to be all kinds of not looking at the Scriptures, the Person and Work of Jesus which has got to include His atonement. Some of the ideas that come around the idea of penal substitution recently within evangelical frames is something we need to talk through. Some of the uncertainty around the judgement and wrath of God – and I would think we would need to revisit areas of regeneration and repentance and at times a temptation to indulge in a repentance-free Christianity.

V.R: Thank you Hugh. Terry – do you want to pick up from there?

Terry Virgo (T.V): Okay I would endorse all that has gone before. I would say the authority of Scripture and all that is included in that. That has to be foundational and fundamental to everything we do and say beyond question. Maybe in our individualistic generation the relevance of the local church as a place where you work out your Christianity not as a loner – when we say Scripture is the final authority which we wholly endorse – the danger of every person becoming his own interpreter can be dangerous. We need to dignify the local church with its own authority so we don’t all become separate entities having our own interpretation of the authority of the Scripture. So much of Christianity in the New Testament is worked out with one another with all those “one another” verses – “correcting one another, encouraging one another” etc. I guess another thing I would perhaps mention is that I feel there needs to be a very clear foundation of grace in the churches. I think sometimes the gospel is complicated by the addition of laws and rules which sometimes really confuse our relationship with Jesus having been settled. We are accepted in Christ and we build our lives from there.

Perhaps one thing we must never drift from is the call of the local church to be involved in world evangelization. Even in our (correctly I think) talking about the things we are talking about today – we must never fail to see that there is a world for us to reach. I think that must become high on our list of priorities.

Liam Goligher (L.G): I want to endorse everything that has been said so far. *laughter*. You will hear this a lot. To clarify I think there is a fault line in British evangelicalism over the issue of the authority of Scripture. I would love to say the inerrancy of Scripture – I think there are some euphemisms like “the infallibility of Scripture” which may mean something different today to what we would understand historically of “inerrant Scripture”. The Roman Catholic church are quite clear – I read in an evangelical magazine in the last couple of months that the word “inerrant” is an American word and therefore we shouldn’t use it! The Roman Catholic Church in their 1985 catechism say that the Scriptures are without error and I would underline that. I also want to clarify salvation in terms of justification by grace alone by the imputed righteousness of Christ alone – because the idea of imputation has always been accepted and all the confessions since the Reformation would have been held by Arminians as well as Calvinists but this has been greatly undermined recently and the idea of imputed righteousness needs to be reclaimed for evangelicalism.

My only additional thing I would add is that sadly in broader evangelicalism in the last few years we have seen some of our major evangelical movements invite speakers here to this country who would not I think agree with fundamental creedal Christianity – which I would describe as catholic (with a small “c”). Basic Christianity – what C S Lewis would describe as the hallway we come into to define ourselves as Christians – that is our view of God as Trinity, the view of Christ as two natures and one Person and so on. I think there are real challenges in evangelicalism about what basic Christianity is.

John Coles (J.C): I agree. *laughter*. I wrote down three things and two of them have been said already actually – but within the context of the society in which we live. Namely regeneration and revelation. Society in which we live now believes that human beings have another aspect to their personality rather than just the mind. We need to embrace the post-modern age as a reawakening of human beings as spirit beings. The question is – what then happens, how do you benefit from what God has done for us in Christ? It is only by being born again of the Spirit and in the church – the church is losing the concept of regeneration and we need to be aware of how necessary that is in our society today given the awareness of human beings as spirit beings. Revelation – we have talked about that a bit but I think I would like to say that the question still remains for us and this is obviously the elephant in the room: Has God spoken or does God speak? I would like to say that He HAS spoken and He DOES still speak. I agree on the authority, sufficiency and inerrancy of Scripture but I have a love relationship with a God who has always spoken with human beings. So unless I am able to use that language about my relationship with Him I believe my Christianity is sub-biblical rather than fully biblical Christianity.

I want us to maintain the language of God still speaks today although the relative authority and the issues about how He speaks today is different from the written Word of God – it is not a new doctrine or a new morality – it is in personal guidance, direction, and I am alive today partly because that happened. On the morning of December 30th as we were getting up – my wife said to me, “I had a strange dream last night” and the impact and interpretation of it was that you are going to have to pray like you have never prayed in your life before. That afternoon I had a heart attack at 3pm which resulted in a cardiac arrest. In the grace of God the medics got there – but she knew that this was the moment that God had prepared her for in the dream. She and two of our children immediately engaged in prayer in a way that she had never seen previously. So that is a different category of God speaking but of equal significance for my life and future from the others.

The third thing I wrote was respect. 1. Regeneration. 2. Revelation. And 3. Respect. I look back to my days in Christian Union at university as I know many evangelicals do when there was a really vibrant unity that was able to embrace difference. We had robust conversations with Baptists – I was an Anglican paedobaptist and they believed in believer’s baptism. But we never questioned each other’s sincerity to Christ, the Bible or to mission. I was never described by my Baptists as not being “biblical”. I fear that within some of the tribes now there is an accusatory word that is used from one tribe to another – “You are not being really biblical, you are not being Scriptural”. There is an assumption that if you are being biblical then you will agree on every point of interpretation in the same way that I have interpreted that Scripture. I think we should respect each other enough to say; “I think you are being biblical – I know your heart but I just interpret those texts differently” – but actually you are equally evangelical as I am.

V.R: Anyone want to have a second bite in the light of what’s been said?

L.G: To what degree are we coming back to this later – that’s the thing?

V.R: Well – I guess for example John has mentioned “Has God spoken/does God speak” – I am quite sure we would all agree that God speaks. There would be debate I would imagine on how we would expect him to speak but I guess that may come as another issue to return to. Well let’s move on to another question. Our theme is “Spiritual Ministry” – each of you could speak for a long time on what you think that looks like in practice. But if I could limit you to a couple of minutes what would you want to major on when you think about Spirit-filled ministry? Let’s mix up the order – let’s start with Terry if we may.

Terry Virgo: I always think of the Book of Acts when they said; “Choose men who are full of the Holy Spirit to do this ministry” – it must have been very challenging because it looks like the whole church was very full of the Holy Spirit! Yet they selected men and found that Stephen was full of wisdom and full of power. I would feel that one of the marks of the early church as regards being full of the Holy Spirit was that there was a power to carry on witnessing in spite of hostility, opposition – it was perhaps their lack of courage at the Cross that so sadly seemed to disqualify Peter. For instance that made him deny that he even knew Jesus. Subsequently in the empowering of the Spirit there was a boldness. Certainly the word “boldness” is one that seemed identify believers in the early church – “Who are these unlearned fishermen – these non-trained rabbis – where did they get this boldness?”. I think boldness is something that characterised the early church when it was filled with the Holy Spirit. I think joy is another word you find characterising the Spirit-filled life. Even in the context of great opposition – Paul said to the Thessalonians; “Even in the midst of great suffering you received joy in the Holy Spirit”. It is not simply the kind of happy-clappy thing that can be dismissed as frivolous but a joy that can be found in the midst of pain. Maybe the kind of joy that Paul and Silas demonstrated in the inner prison late at night.

I would say the immediate Presence of the Spirit is huge – for me intimacy with the Presence of the Spirit – the coming of the Spirit was the recovery from exile - we are back into the Presence of the Lord.

So when on the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit fell upon them – they knew God was with them in an intimate way that surpassed anything they had known from when Jesus Himself was with them. He of course said; “I won’t leave you orphans – I will come to you”. So for Israel to be back into the Presence of the Lord in an unprecedented way – for God to be among them – accessibility – “By one Spirit we have access to the Father”. A sense of God’s nearness – His intimate Presence – both for individual in his own devotions, the corporate meeting and the sense that God is with us, we are in His Presence, we have access to Him. These to me I think would be biblically rooted truths that govern the high prize I would put on enjoying the Presence of the Holy Spirit.

V.R: Thank you – Liam?

L.G: Boldness, joy and a felt sense of the Presence of God – what the Puritans refer to I think as a “feeling-sense” of the Presence of God. I wonder if we do expect in our churches (especially at the conservative end of the spectrum) to come expecting that God is present and when His Word is spoken that God is speaking to us? I believe that the second Helvetic confession is absolutely right when it says the preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God and an expectation of immediacy when the Word is proclaimed especially in the Assembly of God’s people that there will be a living lively sense that God is there. So the boldness and evangelism and joy in our experience and relationship with God and a felt sense of God’s Presence – especially when we are together I think are vital. The effects and evidences that the Holy Spirit is present in power among us must be surely a converting ministry. We long to see a converting ministry. As you look over the evangelical scene isn’t it amazing that the Holy Spirit is quite indiscriminate about this. He gives a converting ministry to a charismatic person and to a very conservative ministry over here and He is quite indiscriminate about pouring that out on the church! But it seems the me the one thing we have lacked among us – how many can say that the Holy Spirit is present to do what we all believe whatever end of the spectrum we are on? I am convinced that where the Lord is – there will be a converting of hearts. And then I think there will be a sanctifying work in our hearts.

V.R: Thank you very much. John?

J.C: I have written down “Pleasure in God”, “personal transformation” and “power in witness”. Which seems to me to match up exactly with what you are saying. I think if you look at the difference in emphasis between charismatic churches and conservative churches – and none of us would be leading the way we are if we didn’t believe that what we were doing was Spirit-filled ministry so the consequence of our understanding of Spirit-filled ministry plays out in church life that we are leading. So probably instead of using general descriptions about what categories – we ought to look at what consequences. So what is the consequence of a charismatic, Spirit-filled view? My immediate observation would be that there is more evident singing. You go to a charismatic church and there is more singing for hours – sometimes it seems the same song! We drove the other day (probably not a good idea as it was about 18:30) through Piccadilly Circus as the whole place is buzzing with everyone going to the theatre. We drove round one corner and we heard a crowd singing. It was the Argentineans getting ready for a match last night. What do people do when they are full of joy? They sing – it is a natural human expression and emotion. It is interesting looking through some of the songs you guys are singing and seeing some of them come from the charismatic stable. We say that singing is the natural overflow of the Presence of the Spirit. We understand that pleasure in God is first not our pleasure in God but His pleasure in us. The Spirit on Jesus says; “You are My Son – I delight in You”.

Instead of the wrath of God falling on me – the pleasure of God embraces me. I am His beloved one! So my response is – oh Lord! Thank You!

And I want to express my gratitude to Him in song! I want to do that as well with my brothers and sisters because on my own I am not a particularly good singer and they help me sing and express that joy in a way above and beyond my own. So personal transformation (and that all comes from the Holy Spirit) comes in part through singing but also in part through the reading and the conformity of the Word of God thus also in part through the preaching and conformity to the Word of God. But there is another aspect – personal transformation comes through my own personal contemplation out in the quiet and beauty of the country and I can behold the beauty and glory of God. That is 2 Corinthians 3:18. As we contemplate the Lord’s glory we are transformed from one glory to another. Creation reveals His glory on the one hand and in worship we encounter His glory and Presence as well as in the Word He comes to us in His full glory. So what I am saying is that we expect to see light completely transformed. If that is not happening then we are not ministering in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. I think that is common to us all so the drug addict can be delivered and set free. I am involved at the moment in a new church plant and it is a pleasure to see drug addicts coming in off the estate to getting converted in the last 3 months, of drugs, lives being changed. People are coming saying; “Who is this Jesus?”. So the Spirit changes us!

V.R: Thank you John. Hugh?

H.P: I am getting boring now saying that I agree with what is being said. But I would expect a Spirit-filled ministry to be full of Jesus. He is to be the One to whom the Spirit points and I am struck again and again how when people are filled with the Spirit in Acts how the next thing they are doing is speaking. And what they are speaking of is Jesus. The boldness comes through there – He is the content of the message and the ministry and I would expect people to be speaking of the Christ and living out the Christ – which is a phrase I know I have domesticated. There are loads of ways we have domesticated that, first of all we have horribly individualised it. Spirit is creating community. Secondly the radicalness of it all and John has touched on some of it – another one that has come across to me is the sheer generosity of those early New Testament communities which certainly humbles me and I know humbles many of our churches and would be a wonderful display if that kind of generosity was demonstrated in our communities.

Thank you very much.

Part 2 to follow!