Or the physical and emotional effects of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives
Pentecostal and charismatic Christians are no strangers to the idea of physical effects resulting from the Holy Spirit’s activity. They expect that the coming of the Spirit will normally be accompanied by some form of physical manifestation. For example, many of them believe that tongues, a form of prophetic speech, is a “sign gift’ which is given as evidence of baptism in the Spirit.
Recently, however, there has been a significant increase in the number of people who are reacting physically and emotionally to the presence of the Holy Spirit.
In Christian meetings in the last few years, more and more men and women have been laughing and weeping, shaking and falling, leaping and lying prostrate. We have also seen an oil-like substance appearing on people’s hands during worship.
Twenty-five years ago, these phenomena were almost unheard of outside the Pentecostal churches. However, they are now often reported – by both the Christian and the wider press – as occurring in churches of many different denominations.
In Britain, many of these phenomena began to occur at certain charismatic conferences held during the mid-80s. Many church leaders who attended from traditional denominations, saw these phenomena for the first time.
Then in 1994 news came from Toronto, Canada of an even greater outbreak of laughing, falling and other phenomena. Notable Pentecostal ministries such as that of Rodney Howard-Browne came to the fore, and the “new move of God’ took hold in the USA, Britain and many other nations.
While it would be wrong to describe the move of God in Britain in the mid-1990s as “revival’, it would be equally foolish to ignore the fact that many of the different elements of revival are taking place. We might not be experiencing mass conversions yet, but many churches are certainly seeing more conversions than for a very long time. And we are starting to hear reports of significant numbers of conversions in certain places. Scores of thousands of people have come to Christ across Europe through the Alpha Course, and the G12 Vision is producing early signs of a fruitful harvest.
So, if these phenomena are occurring when we are not in revival, what can we expect to happen when God visits us for a season in greater power and holiness?
These phenomena are happening today. We cannot ignore them. They break out in many services and we must know what to make of them. Are they biblical? Are they of God? We need answers to these burning questions so that we are not distracted by peripheral matters when God does visit us for a season in revival blessing.
We can all agree that if these physical and emotional effects are contrary to the Bible, they cannot be of God. And we do not want them if they are not of God. But if they are of God, then I do want them – or rather, I want what God is doing in, through and alongside them. Surely no Christian leader can ever afford to miss what God is doing in their day.
For many people, these phenomena are the “sticking point’. Some godly believers regard the laughter and weeping, the convulsing and collapsing as offensive. They reject them,and so reject all that is associated with them. They reject the current move of God’s Spirit.
Having examined the arguments presented by opponents of the present move, I suspect that they question the move simply because they cannot accept the phenomena. They find them embarrassing, distasteful, unseemly, culturally inappropriate, and rather frightening. Of course, this is usually hidden under thick undergrowth of theological objection.
Dangers of studying the phenomena
It seems to me that there are two main dangers which must be kept uppermost in our minds whenever we are studying or speaking about these phenomena.
The first – and main – danger is that we over-emphasise them. Indeed, merely by examining them in this book we are already over-emphasising them. We are giving them a higher profile than they deserve.
For many believers, the phenomena are so dramatic and so unusual that we can be sidetracked by them. It is as if we think that the phenomena are the essence of revival or the goal of what God is doing.
We rarely learn from the mistakes and lessons of history. This is exactly what happened with regard to the gifts of God’s Spirit, both at the turn of the century – after the birth of the Pentecostal movement – and again the 1970s, when Charismatic renewal was gathering pace.
Critics of the gifts sometimes forced those experiencing them onto the defensive. As a result, too much time was spent justifying the gifts rather than developing and using them constructively.
Most of the books written by supporters of the gifts in the 1970s concentrated on proving their validity rather than on demonstrating their purpose. Similarly, the critics could hardly stop talking and writing about the gifts in an attempt to discredit them.
Instead of getting on with God’s work, leaders and congregations prized their opinions more highly than their unity. They were divided because they concentrated on the phenomena of the gifts rather than on the function of the gifts.
Furthermore, those who received the gifts within the traditional denominations appeared reluctant to benefit from the counsel of leaders in Pentecostal denominations – who had more thanhalf-a-century’s experience to pass on.
Critics of the gifts sometimes forced those experiencing them onto the defensive
Equally, some leaders within Pentecostal churches viewed the sudden “fashion’ for the gifts in the traditional churches with a mixture of emotions – and did not give themselves as fully as, perhaps, was appropriate.
Like the gifts, the present phenomena can be endlessly defended and defined. But in doing that, we must guard against the tendency to become so preoccupied with our examinations and justifications that we miss their overall significance.
The second main danger follows on from the first. By focusing too much on the phenomena, it is possible to convey two mistaken ideas.
Firstly, there is always a temptation in every area of Christian life to under-emphasise God’s grace. Too many construe the phenomena as rewards for spirituality. They imply that – if we have not experienced “their’ phenomena – it must be because of some sin in our lives!
It was so with spiritual gifts. They are just tools to help us carry out Christ’s great commission more effectively. They are not given to entertain or thrill the saints and – especially – they never measure our spirituality. They are grace-gifts which are given to worthy and unworthy alike.
Similarly, the current phenomena should not be seen as rewards for repentance or righteousness; they are by-products of the presence and activity of God. His grace means that he works among the hot, the cold and the lukewarm – but he has an especially soft spot for sinners!
The second false impression is that the presence of the phenomena means we have revival. People glance at history and see that these phenomena occurred in revival, so they leap to the false conclusion that the phenomena signify revival.
My view is that we are not experiencing revival. Renewal, maybe; blessing, quite certainly; but full-blown revival, not yet.
However, I find the present move to be so beneficial, with so many hallmarks of the Holy Spirit, that it could well be the preparation for revival – the beginning of something greater.