Vineyard Christian Fellowship-West

What about ‘Revival’ or ‘New Moves’ of God?

Brad Bailey - May 2008

 

Today there are many calls for revival or special moves of God.  Most reflect a hunger for a greater experience of God and many come from a sense of prophetic prompting.  What is our own sense of similar hunger or response to such potential?

 

Much can be said about the definition of revival and the distinction between ‘renewal.’ and ‘revival.’  Most notably the term ‘revival’ is understood to carry a greater implication of extensive and extended spiritual awakening that leads to moral and social transformation in the broader culture.  Such an understanding has given the leadership of the Vineyard movement reason to avoid associating any apparent move of God with the term ‘revival’ as such would only be appropriate if such broader social transformation were to unfold over time.  However, as both the terms ‘renewal’ and ‘revival’ are often used to refer to similar calls or claims of ‘special moves of God,’ the focus here will be on our perspective and principles for evaluating that general call or claim.

 

In many respects, our perspective lies in what God has shaped in us through our journey and the subsequent understanding of Scripture that we share as part of the Vineyard movement.  Our experience and subsequent theology provides some guiding principles. Let me first summarize these and then describe some of the principles that follow.

 

Our roots are that of a hunger for God in a spirit of humility, out of which the presence of God and the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit was experienced, encouraged, and thoughtfully understood in light of the Scriptures.  To remain true to such a spirit of hunger is to continue to seek to know the person of God more than the power of God… His face more than His hand.  To remain true to the spirit of humility is to come to God more desperate than demanding… more pursuing than presumptuous.  The roots of the Vineyard are not that of a pursuit of experience but rather a journey of those generally considered ‘evangelicals’ taking seriously the timeless call as disciples in regards to Kingdom ministry… and subsequently, rediscovering such a ministry.  It involved a respect for the Word and the Spirit.  It was a process of becoming “empowered evangelicals.” (For a more complete understanding of this perspective, one is encouraged to read Empowered Evangelicals by Rich Nathan and Ken Wilson.)

 

In this process came an emerging conviction to re-center ourselves in the understanding and ministry of the “Kingdom” which Jesus proclaimed and demonstrated.  We are rooted in an understanding that Jesus has come to inaugurate the breaking in of the Kingdom of heaven on earth in a way that…

 

·      comes with signs and wonders of the heavenly realm;

·      calls followers to join in ‘doing’ the stuff’ that Jesus did in terms of praying for the sick, delivering people from spiritual oppression, and ministering justice;

·      understands that all such ministry will only reflect ‘signs’ that point to the future culmination of the Kingdom reign that will come when Christ returns;

·      embraces God both sovereignly revealing signs of liberation from suffering as well as providing His presence and grace in the midst of suffering (the tension of the ‘Kingdom come’ yet not complete); and

·      pursues such ministry in an inclusive ‘naturally supernatural’ manner that all can share in just as Jesus set forth.

 

Out of such an experience and understanding, there are several principles that can help us navigate ministry with God.  In most respects these are understood as guiding principles rather than precise guidelines.  The following are some of these principles…

 

1.  The basic ministry of proclaiming the kingdom ‘reign and rule’ of God includes praying for the sick, delivering people from spiritual oppression, and setting forth justice, and is intended to be a relatively ‘normal’ part of the ministry that each follower of Christ can enter into as seen in the initial sending out of the first disciples as well as the ministry that followed Christ’s bodily departure.  Such ministry should not be considered optional, exceptional, or limited to one or a few centralized figures.

 

2.  All such ministry is best grounded in the normative ministry of Jesus rather than in a more allegorical or prophetic application of Scriptures which extrapolates beyond the clear meaning and context.

 

3.  While we emphasize that the ongoing Kingdom-oriented ministry of the Holy Spirit is to be a regular part of our lives, we also recognize that we are always dependent upon the sovereignty of God and as such we understand we may experience times of more or less outward signs.  Again, we can let the story of the first disciples give us a picture of both being faithful in their ongoing ministry encounters as well as having more accentuated experiences in certain times of gathered prayer.  (It is notable that after the initial experience of the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost the disciples never are found to have gathered in wait of a predetermined experience itself.  As becomes clear, any such drawing together was a part of their active and ongoing missional ministry.)

 

4.  When special seasons of renewal are sought, they should remain centered in a spirit of hunger and humility for God rather than a self-centered pursuit of an experience itself.

 

5.  All such renewal should be understood as part of the Spirit’s work of inner transformation of character (reflected in the ‘fruits’ of the Spirit) and empowering of ministry (reflected in the fruit of active and ongoing missional life).  We have discovered in our own movement’s history how pervasive our dysfunctional tendency is to substitute the priority of seeking lasting God-oriented fruit with simply personal experience.  While the presence of God is always transforming at some level, we do well to ask what difference God is ultimately trying to make in our lives that will last and bear fruit.

 

6.  We recognize that leadership of such renewal requires the integrity to call forth expectation without manipulation.  Vision has the power to release something in us… and as such leaders must be visionaries of faith at work.  However, we also recognize that the power of vision can draw upon both the supernatural work of faith which comes from God and the natural power of suggestion being spoken into our immature desires.  One cannot easily separate the dynamics of the supernatural (Divine) and natural (human) elements at hand but we should be thoughtful towards distinguishing them as much as possible.  Towards this end, we do well to cultivate the following:

 

We value recognizing and limiting the cultural tendency towards sensationalism… in which we are drawn towards the sensational over substantial… excitement over essence.  We do well to recognize that our entire culture is being shaped to respond to the newest and most dramatic rather than what bears the most ultimate meaning… whether in the news, selling of products, or spiritual life.  An emphasis on pursuing the ‘new work of God’ can merely reflect our neurotic need for the dramatic as a substitute for a deeper sense of the presence of God in everyday life.  Such an emphasis can tend to play into our aversion and avoidance of facing and finding God’s work in the reality of life which lies before us.  To over emphasize an ongoing pursuit to know and join ‘a new thing’ or a ‘new work’ of God does not reflect the revelation of Scripture which emphasizes that we already live in the one ongoing new season of the Kingdom.  We do well to be renewed in rediscovering the already present reality of the Kingdom more than deferring our hearts to ‘a new work of God’ that is just waiting to be discerned and discovered.

We value the ‘main and plain’ of God’s revelation more than an emphasis on prophetic revelation, ‘new teachings’ or hidden meanings.  As part of our tendency towards what is sensational, we can be drawn toward new ideas and teachings.  This tendency can manifest itself in placing a prophetic umbrella or understanding to what is happening.  There has been a common tendency in recent years for some to focus on prophecies that predict a coming harvest of souls and the need for the church to get ready.  While such a sovereign move of God would certainly be exciting… the more exciting truth is that God is at work every day and we do not need nor should we be waiting to participate.  In a similar fashion many have been given to believe prophetic visions that a special generation is at hand which will usher in the end times.  While this would again be exciting and one cannot deny the possibility… we believe that such an emphasis most likely reflects the tendency for nearly every generation to perceive themselves in a similar climatic fashion.  Again, the more certain and compelling reality is that we have been in the ‘end times’ ever since Christ landed behind enemy territory, declared the Kingdom of God was ‘at hand’, and brought the initial defeat of death and the kingdom of darkness.  In a similar fashion, many of the ‘prophetically’ presented visions are simply common truths which aren’t particularly new nor prophetic in terms of new revelation.  We do well to love the common dynamics of the Christ-centered community rather than needing to sensationalize them with new claims of prophetic meaning.

The same holds true for the more unusual manifestations that may be experienced as a result of the Holy Spirit’s ministry.  We believe that it is best to neither deny that such manifestation may be of God simply because they are not in Scripture nor to try and justify them through an inappropriate interpretation from Scripture.  As John Wimber once stated, “we cannot at any time endorse, encourage, offer theological justification or biblical proof-texting for any exotic practices that are extra-biblical.  Neither can these practices be presented as criteria for true spirituality or as a mark of true renewal.  Our position is that the renewing works of the Spirit are authenticated by that which is clearly stated in Scripture as works of the kingdom of God.  Though we understand that when the Kingdom is manifest among us there may be phenomena that we do not understand, it is our conviction that these manifestations should not be promoted, placed on stage, nor used as the basis for theologizing that leads to new teaching.” (December 13, 1995 public letter.)

We value expectation without presumption.  The initial followers of Christ were encouraged to test all things and hold onto what was true and good (1 Thess. 5:21 as well as 1 John 4:1-3 and 1 Cor. 14:29).  There was a spirit of process in discerning what God was doing rather than the presumption of absolute certainty.  We do well to maintain such a freedom and humility.  This implies not placing faith against reality.  While faith implies believing what we cannot yet see… it does not imply claiming all that will be as if it actually already is.  If one is not healed, we continue to seek in the present what will be to come rather than claim that what will be has already come to be.  We cannot and need not dismiss the current reality of sickness or any other hardship one faces.  We accept the tension of the kingdom come but not fully realized, and as such, we can embrace both faith and an honest assessment of temporal reality. 

 

We desire to avoid hype and exaggerated promotion of our ministries.  This can come in the form of skewing the reality of what is really at hand by presenting the exceptional as the normal, using presumptuous descriptions of what we have done or are doing, and the like.  This can also come in the form of presenting particular ministers or events as ‘having an anointing’ or favor in such a way that implies that other ministries or events are limited or lacking… or that one will be missing what God is doing if they do not come to the particular gathering.  While there is certainly a basis for recognizing that some may be more gifted in a particular spiritual manner… there is equal basis for noting that Jesus set forth a more inclusive ‘priesthood of believers’ marked by mutuality and humility of ministry.

 

7.  The nature of renewal should not equate spiritual experience with spiritual maturity.  As noted previously, we should value a strong desire to know God experientially in the many ways that God reveals Himself… but maintain the priority of the more ultimate pursuit to grow and bear fruit.  Jesus explained that his central command was to “love one another” and that such love and good deeds would itself be a signpost to the world that draws them towards the worship of God (John 15; 9-17).  He would exemplify his view of maturity by doing the servants job of washing his disciples feet and then calling them to do likewise.  As the Apostle Paul described, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23).

 

What is vital is to honestly reflect on our tendency to assess what we consider to be ‘spiritual’… or at least more spiritual.  As one of our team noted so well:

 

One of (our common) weaknesses is an addiction to what's flashy and dramatic.  In the context of worship services, prophecy and words of knowledge are considered much more spiritual than the less dramatic ways of serving God, like cleaning up the kitchen afterwards.

Focusing on the dramatic areas of the Christian life at the expense of the mundane is putting the cart before the horse.  If a person is not mature enough to live out the golden rule, to treat others the way they would want to be treated, (will they ultimately become mature) if they have prophetic dreams and heal people?

In Corinth, for example, the Corinthian Christians had specific Greek cultural expectations of what a spiritual teacher would do.  Paul was compared to the professional Greek philosophers and orators.  The Corinthians wanted Paul to be their rhetorically-gifted spiritual guru to teach them spiritual mysteries.  They wanted the flashy stuff, but instead he gave them the mundane basics of serving God and others.  In First Corinthians there's a whole chapter (ch. 13) on what love is.  That's boring and hard, not flashy and easy!  There's a whole chapter (ch. 12) on learning to live together as a body.  That's hard and mundane, not dramatic.

In Corinth, everyone was doing ‘super-spiritual’ things like speaking in tongues, having dreams and visions, and prophesying, but they were horribly immature. They were praising sexual immorality, and showing upper class favoritism. Corinth would have loved the flashiness of a prophetic seminar or the drama of a class on dreams.  What they needed instead, was Paul's reality check of the resounding gong and the clanging cymbal.

 

The point is not to renounce spiritual gifts and manifest power as some have done.  Paul is adamant that these are of great value and should be desired.  What is vital is that we who live in the most sensationalized age must hear the call to know what matters most and embrace such as our priority.  The greatest gift is love and the most central mark of spirituality is the simplicity of serving others.

 

8.  The ministry of renewal should not be confused with nor become a substitute for the ongoing life of the local church as a ‘missional community.’  This can happen when renewal-oriented gatherings supersede more relational, equipping, and missionally oriented gatherings in a spirit of superiority that leaves the latter deemed less significant.  This can also happen when new churches emphasize their vision to offer something new and more spiritual… and as such do not so much plant or birth something new as create a new context to gather those being raised in other communities.  While it is natural that some lives will make appropriate transitions from one church community to another for various reasons, the tendency to welcome those simply leaving the ‘normal’ for the ‘new’ and superior neither tends to reflect the spirit of the Kingdom nor bears well in the long run of fruitful ministry.    

 

The Vineyard movement’s own history bears the marks of being the ‘new thing’ that often drew from the ‘old thing’ in such a way that the essential life of the local church was sometimes hurt.  For this the early expansion of the Vineyard movement has had to acknowledge our immaturity and confess our failure to support the overall maturity of the local church as we should.  We have learned to enjoy renewal but not to confuse it with the active and ongoing communal life of the local church.

 

How are such principles to shape our pursuit and perspective toward what might be understood as renewal or revival?

 

The principles shared above reflect a desire to continue to experience and encourage the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit in such a way that the full and lasting potential is brought forth.  Our own journey reveals that it is not easy to separate the chaff from the grain of spiritual experience.  God has sovereignly worked through lives that were impure in many regards and through presentations that were offensive to many of the principles above.  I may not understand that.  I may not like that.  However, I cannot deny it.  God appears to minister even when the vessels are imperfect.  This does not mean that the imperfections do not have some level of consequences.  God may minister to those who seek renewal even when much of what is presented or presumed lacks maturity.  That immaturity may be sown into the fruit of the experience and bear consequences.  Some mixture of Spirit and flesh is unavoidable.  It is out of this understanding that we can find freedom to neither reject what God may be doing in the midst of something that reflects flaws… nor to accept all that may be presumed and presented.

 

More specifically, here are some closing thoughts for the various positions we may find ourselves in.

 

First, to those who find themselves cautiously or critically on the sidelines of the ministry and manifest gifts of the Holy Spirit, be encouraged to turn your heart towards the normative ministry of Jesus.  There you will find an invitation to “receive the Spirit” and simply to go out and minister to the sick and oppressed by the power of that Spirit.  You don’t need to deny your concerns for excesses and abuses, but neither do you need to have your life contained by them either.  You may be one who struggles with the lack of control that comes with the Spirit’s ministry.  It may seem safer to hold on tighter to the objective aspects of the Word and simply criticize the potential problems with the subjective nature of the Spirit.  We believe that while such a reaction may be understandable, it is neither an appropriate nor necessary approach for those who seek to know and follow after Jesus.  We believe that what the first followers of Jesus were entrusted with is the very ministry of the Kingdom with all the facets of Spirit’s ministry and gifts.  Come continue to learn from Jesus of his way of ministry.

 

Second, to those initially excited by the proposition of a new revival or new work of God, be encouraged to continue to set the sails of your heart high but keep your rudder in the water.  Consider the wisdom that may lie in the principles shared above.  Are the claims of a new work of God repeatedly emphasizing that which may play on the unhealthy need for the sensational?  Is that which is being framed as ‘new’ actually new or just framed as ‘new?’  Is there a tendency to overly focus on the spiritually dramatic and under emphasize the inner character formation of simple and sacrificial love reflected in the teachings of both Jesus and Paul?  Are you remaining rooted in the nature of community that can really know you day in and day out and speak into your life?  Such questions are not intended to quench what is of God but rather to help assess what may not be of God so that you will be able to walk wisely in ways which will last.

 

Finally, to those of us who share in the Vineyard journey, be encouraged that we never cease to live out the commission of our movement’s founding father John Wimber to ‘take the best and go’ forward with it.  Let us embrace the opportunity to draw redemptively from our journey and give ongoing life to the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  For some of us this means we must repent and rise above simply settling into comfort… or the cynicism which can be a poison to our spirits.  We must rise above becoming ‘safe and sound’ in the wrong way… realizing that we live before a God who is never going to be ‘safe and sound’ on our terms.  Let us not become armchair coaches but rather those who continue to enter the field as player-coaches.  Let us never retire from the field of the Spirit’s ongoing ministry at hand.

 

As the late John Wimber described, renewal is best understood in relationship to the greater commission God has given.  “I liken it to a rocket ship launched with a pre-determined flight plan and enough fuel to arrive.  If the Vineyard has run out of fuel, and needs a ‘booster rocket” and renewal will provide additional fuel to reach our destination, then I welcome it and humbly and gratefully receive it.  If however, the renewal is merely a flashy explosion in the sky, or if it causes a change in the trajectory of the rocket, then I must – out of obedience to God – bring correction to it so we do not go off course.” (Vineyard Reflections, September/October 1994)