Power surge. That is what several churches in the UK are reporting just now. Most prominent is Victory Church, Cwmbran, but there are also stories of ‘a dramatic move of the Holy Spirit’ in Runcorn, Leeds, Bath and Portsmouth. In 2008 former drug addict Todd Bentley hit the headlines with the Lakeland Outpouring in Florida. Scandal later resulted in the 32-year-old stepping down from ministry. Last year Bentley, who at the age of 13 sexually assaulted a minor, made news again when he was denied entry into the UK. The Home Office ruled that his presence was ‘not conducive to the public good’. All these outpourings came on the back of previous charismatic phenomena known as the Brownsville Revival, also in Florida, that started in 1995.
This was the same year that the Airport Church in Toronto was released from its membership of the Vineyard movement following the Toronto Blessing that started the previous year. Tension concerning the oversight of the revival was cited as the reason for the split. Some commentators see these events as part of a wider theological cycle that can be traced at least as far back as the Welsh revival of 1859. John Wesley first saw signs of revival in 1739 when there were reports of falling, crying out, shrieking and convulsions. What is noticeable in Wesley’s journals is that he did not concentrate on manifestations of the Spirit. Accounts were given in passing and the clear focus was on Christ and the Gospel. Whatever the leaders of today’s revival churches may do or teach, the contemporary world is fascinated with signs and wonders. Attempts at playing down the supernatural are thwarted by sensationalist media and, if the reports are to be believed, truth overplayed can be as damaging as truth underplayed. When it comes to the power of God, excess can harm pastors and congregations just as much as neglect. People who are entrusted with power need the character to handle it. This applies to political power, military power and the power of the Holy Ghost. Engaging with the gifts of the Spirit can be like someone waving around a Kalashnikov rifle. Be careful where you point it, or someone might get hurt.
Power without character is a dangerous cocktail. In the light of this, it is a mercy that some of our churches don’t see more power than we do. We simply couldn’t handle it. Imagine a dramatic healing were taking place in your church. At first all the praise would go to God. But the chances are that, before too long, the focus would shift to the people and the place where the miracle happened. ‘Well, we are a praying church you know,’ I can imagine someone saying. The implication is that we had something to do with what happened. Before long, as news spreads about the dramatic happening, people are likely to flock to the church. Egos are stroked, heads get bigger. The risk is that when singing ‘it’s all about you Jesus’ the heart is really saying ‘it’s all about me, Jesus’. This won’t happen if the people involved have the character of Jesus to handle the power. It we want to see more power, the best prayer might be to ask for more of the character or Christ. It’s less glamorous, but it would be safer and God might graciously trust us with more of his Holy Spirit.
Of course it’s entirely up to him to move or not move as he chooses. Our part is to make sure we can stand it. Given the number of times that Paul talks about power you might think he had gone power mad. But the power he referred to was God’s power and God developed in him the character to handle it. While we may not all see the same kinds of signs and wonders we can all work at having the kind of character to exercise it wisely. Alongside power, the other buzzword around today is mission. We are encouraged by Christian leaders to ‘think missionally’ and to become mission-shaped churches. The question to ask is what is the mission? To participate in the mission of God we are likely to come into contact with the power of the Spirit. This power may come in the preaching of the Gospel, whether or not it is accompanied by signs and wonders. And it is just as much a miracle to have our sins forgiven and adopted into God’s family as it is to be healed. In whatever form it takes, mission requires power. But without character our mission will be stunted and the power we receive may blow up in our faces. When I hear of a move of the Holy Spirit in some town or local church, I have a little shudder. Partly in excitement about the amazing journey they are setting out on with God, and partly in anticipation of what might happen if they are not equipped for the ride. James Catford is Group Chief Executive of Bible Society. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org