Saturday, 16 January 2010

Revival with a Smile

There have been numerous candidates for the phenomena of revival in the last hundred years or so; the 1904 Welsh revival and the 1949 Hebridean revival are accepted by most Christians as the genuine article. More recently there has been the Toronto Blessing, Pensacola, and charismatic renewal itself, all of which have caused controversy. But revival is always controversial at the time it happens, revival not only leads to growth and an influx of new life, but also challenges the world and the church.

I am always on the lookout for new candidates for revival, be they large movements or a small group in one location. There is the whole emerging church, of which fresh expressions is a denominational equivalent. I must write more on this sometime as I feel this does not have the hallmark of revival. So when I heard of Emerge Wales, I thought, “just another emerging church, pragmatic, artistic, into community transformation rather than revival”. However I was wrong. What I discovered was a largely underground and wild charismatic movement something along the lines of the Toronto Blessing, but less churchy.

I also found that it was not just in my native Wales, but also in pockets over England, Scotland and the USA. It has a flagship meeting called “Sloshfest”, a name guaranteed to raise the hackles of many in the Christian church; a meeting that draws people from around the UK although largely unnoticed by the wider church. More than that it was on this week in my part of South Wales for 3 days. And so I went to the evening meeting last night (Friday).

This is a movement difficult to pigeonhole. For the sake of having a name I have called them the “New Mystics”, the name of one of their groups, although “New Charismatics” might be better name, as that is their lineage. The original Charismatic renewal spread by word-of-mouth. The Toronto Blessing in 1994 had its spread accelerated through the then infant, but growing, Internet. The Emerging Church has added the phenomena of the blog to assist its spread. However the “New Mystics” use YouTube as the main vehicle of spread. This way their wildness and enthusiasm can be seen by all!

Now wildness is not new to the Christian Church. Not that long ago Matt Redman was singing “I will dance, I will sing, I’ll be mad for my King – and I will be, even more undignified than this”. I am not sure that generation of Christians ever achieved it. They managed to sing it without losing their reputation. But the New Mystics have achieved it with style; as one speaker said last night “once you have lost your reputation, you have nothing left to lose!” These people are determined to be mad for their King.

The meeting. The first surprise was how many had gathered, and that the bulk of them were young. This had all the appearance of something in its early stages that is growing – new and vibrant. The next surprise is that many were dressed as pirates – for worship! I guessed it must have been a theme of the conference. One thing was clear; they were determined to have fun! Before the meeting started some were dancing, some being prayed for, some were struggling to stand (remember the name? Sloshfest?). However all were smiling!

When the worship started everyone rushed to the front, to the dance floor. The songs were “in your face”, not the flowery poetry of contemporary Christian worship. Lots of repetitive hook lines and hook words “round, round, round, round …”. When we sang “Can’t go back to boring meetings, can’t go back to pop chart singing”, I knew this was something different. And I could see where they were coming from. And everyone was smiling; perhaps that is why they were singing these words, as the average Christian service is not known for its smiles.

Prayer time was more like a mosh pit, the prophecies were lost in the hysterical laughter of the speaker, and the person in charge for the night gave endless stories from his home life and shopping experiences, drawing out their spiritual significance for the gathered people. There was even water being thrown around. Critics of charismatic behaviour, revival and the Christian church could have a field day. But you had to smile.

The main speaker, John Scotland, struggled to control himself, or perhaps he wasn’t trying to! He read a Bible passage and successfully explained it, but frequently dropped into Beatles’ songs (he was from Liverpool), using them for prophetic effect. “Help I need somebody” took on a new meaning. He quickly ran out of steam so worship happened again. But we still smiled.

There was still some hint of normal church that the normal Christian would recognise. There was the offering and we were encouraged, over-encouraged at length, to give generously. I guess some things in church never change. There was less smiling at this point.

The leader of the meeting summarised the movement succinctly when he said he was after revival, but revival with a smile. They certainly got the smiles, but is it revival?

These New Mystics do not just meet in Sloshfest and the like, they go out on the streets and deliver the gospel with the same wildness, enthusiasm and smiles. And people are converted. Now that is the essence of the enthusiasts in my church growth models. Not just human enthusiasm, but passing on the faith to unbelievers, reproducing new Christian enthusiasts. On the evidence so far the New Mystics are doing this and I would expect to see revival-like growth.

I will leave it open for now as to whether it is spiritual revival. I am sure others will reach a negative conclusion, and much faster. But if they grow, and retain their current level of wildness, then one thing is for sure; they will shake the wider church, especially the contemporary charismatic and evangelical church to the core. It will no longer have the luxury of falling asleep and taking its time.

What about me? Noise, party dress, moshing is not my idea of church. But 24 hours on I am still smiling, and thinking a lot about Jesus.

Blogs

One things is clear - I have not got the hang of blogs yet! Keep thinking I have to write a full article, rather than brief thoughts. I never could be brief as a glance at any of my published papers will reveal. Thought i should add this apology for those who delve into the blog from the church growth modelling website and wondered if I had stopped. However another post is coming very soon