Wednesday, May 21, 2008

An outpouring on outpourings

I guess many of us will have been looking with a mix of interest, curiosity, hope, bewilderment and maybe amusement at the events taking place in a conference centre in Lakeland, Florida, USA.

For a few of weeks now, nightly “Revival” meetings have been taking place there, led by Todd Bentley. A google or youtube search on “Florida Outpouring” will give you a flavour of what's been happening.

There are now reports of a “Dudley Outpouring” as well as others around the globe as leaders who have seen what’s been happening (normally on godtv.com or the God Channel on satellite) go to Florida and bring back what they have “caught”, and impart it to the folks at home.

So, what to make of this?

I’ve been asked for my reflections by a few folks, possibly because when the Toronto Blessing movement was at its height in the UK I was involved with a ministry (that I deeply appreciate and love) that sought to introduce people to what God might have been doing in that time. As I reflect on those times of prolonged sung worship, teaching, prayer and expectation there are a number of things I’m sure of, and some I’m less sure of.

Right off the bat, I’m unsure of the lasting effects. For some individuals there was a renewed sense of faith, a fresh wonder at God’s power, a deeper conviction of God’s love and concern for them as individuals, and perhaps an awakening of a sense of purpose and mission for their life. There were accounts of miracles, some I saw with my own eyes, and it’s hard to doubt that evidence, but I genuinely have no evidence in the long-term for any of them.

There were others though, who left the church, became more cynical, hated the underbelly of money-grabbing, showmanship, heresy, flakey teachings and practises and the hyper-emotionality of the whole thing.

I think God was doing something, and I’m convinced that often our responses to that were tainted by our own desires, lusts, longings and pre-conceived notions. And I find myself asking “How much of this has to be God for us to affirm it?” knowing that anything we’re involved with instantly becomes less than perfect.

Toronto spawned a movement that led to more conferences, more books, new songs, great excitement, and new subjects for us to argue over or chase after. I wonder if the first century Jesus followers had our access to transport and communications they would have chased around Corinth, Ephesus, Antioch seeking a blessing? Probably.

And so I look at what’s happening now with a set of questions and experiences, shaped by having done more reading and study, and having been a (very small) part of a previous movement. And what I see is just as mixed.

I see leaders who teach a real mix of good old-fashioned Pentecostalism, latter-rain teaching, some weird angelology (is that a word?), good stuff about following Jesus, and then times of no teaching at all. I see sung worship that is clearly well-prepared, and that folks respond to in ways that at time seem genuinely moving, and at other times seems emotionally controlling (how often have we misunderstood a well timed key-change for a move of God?).

In the middle of all of this, are church folks, tired of the humdrum, trained by the media to look out for the next big story, seeking more and more the outlandish, unusual and downright “channel 5 documentary” type of occurrence. Perhaps what God is doing is responding (sometimes despite what’s going on on the platform) to the reaching out of the faithful who are seeking to know and follow Him more.

But still, I guess I question the whole “next big thing” mentality. And perhaps that’s because I’ve come to agree with others who see that the kingdom might be more strongly established in the lives of individual believers through movements like this, but it actually extends through a series of very small actions.

The kingdom grows as we offer the guy next door who’s been gardening hard a glass of iced water, as we choose to send that ten pounds not to some rich preacher but to the Disaster’s Emergency Committee, invite the Big Issue seller to join us for a picnic in the nearby park, visit our friend in hospital, then share a few minutes with the woman in the next bed who we’ve not met before.. as we respond to the issue of a violent teen culture by joining the chaplaincy team in the local nick, and as we go through our wardrobes and give half of the clothes we own to the nearest charity shop.

I hate being presented with only two choices, so I’m not sure it has to be a choice between filling stadiums, or meeting one person's needs, so why does it often feel like one?

I’ve started writing this post twenty times, and it never reads quite how I want it to, it still doesn’t. So, please feel free to push me for clarity.

13 comments:

Geoff Colmer said...

Hi Jonathan! Great blog. Maggi Dawn has just posted on this and says some wise things too. I loved your question 'how often have we misunderstood a well timed key-change for a move of God?' I think that this is a profound issue in that we too easily confuse the immense power of music and the presence of God.

graham old said...

Thanks for the comment, Jonathan.

I think you are completely right to ask about lasting effects. In response to the post you commented on, someone brought up Wesley and the "revivals" or his time, presumably as analogous in some way. It strikes me that the difference is that England was remarkably different afterwards. Has much changed as a result of all of the 'new things' that we encounter every couple of years? If it has, it's lost on me.

'“How much of this has to be God for us to affirm it?” '

That's such a good question, but I'm struggling, I think, with how you've framed it. Do we need to affirm it at all? Don't we instead affirm what God actually does? So, if we see marriages saved - in the context of these 'outpourings' or not - praise God. If we see thousands of Christians transformed into practioners of the gospel of Peace, let's affirm till the cows come home. But, I'm not sure what it would even mean to affirm a particular style of "tent meeting".

I'm so with you on questionning the next big thing mentality. John Colwell suggests that it developed as a result of a move away from an expectation in an any-time-now return of Christ. That left a void with us needing to long for something exciting. Of course, there soon developed a way to merge the two expectations, with latter rain and suchlike.

I'm certainly happy for God to do something big and unexpected. However, it does puzzle me that it always seems to be the rich that it happens to. Interestingly, when I look back at events in the past that are meant to be similar, it often happened to people who didn't believe in such things. I guess that when God really wants to transform lives, he doesn't need our financial support, pre-booked stadiums or TV stations.

Peter Kirk said...

Jonathan, thanks for this thoughtful commentary. Of course Lakeland and Dudley are a mixture of God's work and human enthusiasm. Should we miss out on God's work because some people get hyped up about it?

As for the lack of lasting effects of past movements of this kind, are you sure that is the fault of the movement? Everyone was into Toronto for a year or two, but then most people and churches got cynical or just bored and moved on to the next big thing. So not surprisingly Toronto did not have the lasting effect it might have had. Is that the fault of the Toronto blessing, or of the people who led it and are still faithfully promoting it (and are right behind Todd Bentley)? Or is it the fault of those who abandoned it?

Yes, you are right that the problem is with the whole "next big thing" mentality which encourages us not to persevere with last year's big thing. The Wesleyan revival depended on Wesley's faithful preaching for more than 50 years, and no doubt it seemed to ebb and flow at times, but at least some people persevered. If we had persevered with Toronto, maybe we wouldn't have needed Lakeland. But since we have mostly turned our backs on the last big thing, what can God do except offer us the next one?

Jonathan said...

Peter, thanks for the comment.

I'm not entirely convinced that God wants us to chase after any kind of big thing, let alone persevere with the last (which would surely be an argument for us all becoming methodists to use your illustration..)

I guess I'd like to unpack some of the thinking behind comments like "But since we have mostly turned our backs on the last big thing, what can God do except offer us the next one?" The assumption that God wants to give us a big thing, and that of we ignore it he'll give us another one deserves investigation. It seems to place our response at the centre, rather than God, no?

Jonathan Hunt said...

Jonathan,

I am beaming from ear to ear with approval watching you negotiate this minefield.
It is nice to ear extreme caution from people who are not in the anti camp. Personally I am aware of a thing called the unpardonable sin which I am not going to risk committing by attributing it all to Satan.

I note that much of the defense against the critics takes the form of verification of miracles.

I am delighted if people are being delivered from all manner of afflictions and diseases. It just seems a little different from the new testament examples though, where the signs confirm the preaching of the Gospel which is always very much at the forefront, and people don't dare attend church unless they are those whom the LORD is adding.

I am seeing a lot of preaching of miracles and of promoting testimonies as the means of seeing more people receive miracles as their faith is built up.

I get the feeling from scripture that the apostles would use testimony of miracles to underline the reality and power of Jesus as Saviour, Son of God, and judge of all people and would not be defending their ministry except for the higher cause of the Gospel.

Anyway, you strike me as the kind of charismatic I can enjoy true Christian fellowship with.

Yours in Christ

Jonathan the Calvinistic crooner

Jonathan Hunt said...

Hi Jonathan,

Nice blog.
As a fairly staunch Calvinist, I have to recognize that even the revivals us Calvinists love to talk about, ended up with the spirit being quenched in all kinds of different ways.
My own malaise is the culture of sign - seeking that movements such as this and Toronto seem to engender. Rather than God-seeking and Gospel preaching, which is confirmed by signs and wonders.

I am quite perturbed by the emphasis on the miraculous and the focus on the veracity of these claims as proof of authenticity, when there is little evidence of conviction of sin return to holiness and joy of salvation and fellowship with God for its own sake irrespective of the miraculous and the manifestations. This is a danger in every move of the spirit though as our NATURAL inclination is to live by sight.

In the end I am not into judging movements and individuals at all, but I have to evaluate what I see against scripture to avoid error which as you rightly point out is always there where people are involved. People like me.

If my allegiance is to Christ and the Gospel and not to Todd Bentley and the revival then it is much easier to be objective and to avoid being partisan or a man pleaser.
I think this gets to the nub of your question “How much of this has to be God for us to affirm it?”
We don't need to affirm or reject it wholesale, we simply need to faithfully recognise all human activity as "mixed works" and quit being hung up about movements labels and personalities.

Yours in Christ

The Calvinistic Crooner
Jonathan Hunt

Anonymous said...

test

David said...

I think the thing that I find so difficult about this Lakeland 'event' is that I am supposed to make a judgement call. Is it thumbs up or thumbs down? And, to be honest, I don't think I can. Or maybe should. And why should I be rushed? Isn't patience one of the fruit of the spirit? And, in a way, what is it to do with me anyway?

You see, like people have said, there is a mix. There is always a mix. Just reading about the church at Corinth is enough to convince us of that! Watching Lakeland (most nights, I admit it!) makes me realise just how much Paul knew what he was talking about when he said in thessalonians'don't despise prophecy, hold onto the good and avoid evil'

But I do find this ridiculous insistence from all followers of this event that either you are for it or against it. My response 'time will tell' is not good enough for them. By one side I am being called a traitor for the cause (those for) and by other betraying God (those against).

One of my good friends, a well respected minister, yesterday rang me to ask for prayer. He is 'for' but is being viciously attacked by the 'against' crowd because he 'will split the church in the UK' by his words and actions. I want to say 'time will tell' but know what response I may get.

Meanwhile, the church we attend as a family has taken it on board wholesale and we have had 'impartation' meetings which result in many people falling to the floor. Myself, I feel empty. I feel further away from God and in some ways further away from my church friends and even my family who are 'for'.

So, as a husband and dad, I continue to ask God for discernment, try to patiently listen to both sides, show self control and watch the 'event' myself in the hope that I will be able to answer and help anyone else that, like me, is frankly confused by the whole thing.

I can say one thing for certain. For me, life was definitely less complicated pre-Lakeland.

Anonymous said...

I visited a friends church in London caught up in the Toronto Blessing. There was a real air of excitement and expectation that something great was going to happen. As a visitor, and one not familiar with alot of what was happening, I prayed that if this was what God wanted for me that I too would be caught up in it. I wasn't, but recalled the man by the pool of Siloam asking Jesus not to deal with his problem, but to carry him down to the pool the next time the water moved. Jesus response was to heal the man there and then. It was a wonderfull release to realise that what ever whas going on around me, Jesus dealt with me and my sin in his own way, there and then. I do now wonder if what I was witnessing was a modern day "Pool of Siloam", with people waiting for that moment when the water was stirred.

Bill F.

Jonathan said...

Bill, thanks for those thoughts. I agree that one of the things going on here is Jesus responding to people reaching out in faith. There's some rich reflection to be done on where that man's faith was - in the pool, or in Jesus.

David, Graham, you both ask why we might need to affirm something or not. In short, because people ask me very directly "Should i go to Lakeland?" and they genuinely mean it. In that moment, i am beng asked (and rightfully as one given and accepting pastoral charge) to guide people.

I agree that an ideal is to wait and see indeed, but i also recognise that sometimes the call is to be involved, and so it's a judgement call.

Yesterday i was leading some reflection on Deborah, Barak and jael. A few things struck me (we'll leave the discussion of violence in that passage for another time), one was Barak's search for a halfway point between what the prophetic voice was requesting and where hs own level of faith was. And the way that God worked with that, that Barak had less homour than he might, but that his name is still int he Hebrews 11 list of giants of faith.

Another thing that hit me, and may say something to us here, is in Deborah's song of the power of God. She lists those that took part in the victory, then questions those tribes that stayed home. "Where were you" she asks, they had missed it.

So, back to a dilemma, is there something to be missed here? Is there too much wacky stuff happening for us to even begin to consider God might be doing something?

Can we realistically wait for the fruits, or will we be like the jewish tribes that were content to let Deborah and Barak gather those they could, whilst they got on with regular life?

I'll be blunt. If it's God, I want it. If it's not, I want to avoid it and help others do so too. Hence the need to find good tools to appraise these "movements".

Jonathan said...

By the way Bill - been to Dudley yet?

Anonymous said...

As one of the scores of people who dropped out of church after the Toronto Blessing, this resonates with me.

To those of you who are sceptical, I'd suggest to you that people who are participating will be currently having a wonderful time, and that now isn't the time to reason with them. Simply be ready to care for them when their longer-term expectations aren't met.

In that practicing servanthood benefits the servant as much as the receipient, the inward-focus of these outpourings is a dead-end for the individuals themselves as much as the church.

graham old said...

'David, Graham, you both ask why we might need to affirm something or not. In short, because people ask me very directly "Should i go to Lakeland?" and they genuinely mean it.'

Maybe it's your role to teach them not to come to you expecting a direct yes or no to every question they ask. Or do you want to end up deciding what cars they buy as well? ;-)

Maybe your response to that question can be helping them answer John Colwell's two questions: What kind of God and So what? And if they really think that God's got a blessing for them that he will only give them if they travel half way across the world, get them to go back to question #1 again!

Finally, maybe they simply need to be taught that "Is it of God?" is not as straightforward a question as it sounds.