Thursday, 23 May 2013

A Second Visit to the Cwmbran Outpouring


It is now over a month since Victory Church in Cwmbran opened their doors five nights a week to share with other people the work that God has been doing in their church. After my first visit I asked two questions:

1) Does this outpouring fit the limited enthusiasm model of church growth?
2) Is this a candidate for a genuine revival?

For those not sure what the Cwmbran outpouring is, then see my previous post and visit the blog of David Pike, for a series of in depth accounts [1]. (Or you could go yourself! [2])

On Thursday  May 16th I made another visit to one of the special church services, full of expectation after my last visit, not because of what happened there, but because of what I had brought away with me. I must confess my motives were not primarily to address either of the two questions, but more a desire for another “touch from the King”. However I promised to return to both of these questions, so here goes.

I will address the second question first: Is this outpouring a genuine revival? This is the harder of the two questions to answer, as it is much easier to judge whether an event is a revival after some length of time has elapsed. The early stages of a revival often have too many conflicting signs. Think of the Welsh 1904/5 revival. Did the people in West Wales, at New Quay, or Blaenannerch realise they were in a revival? At New Quay it could have been argued that it was a very lively church youth group witnessing to Christ, but no more than is expected of the church. In Blaenannerch there was a remarkable convention, but perhaps no different to our modern day conventions such as Keswick, or Spring Harvest. What changed people’s views of these events was the 12 months that followed, the rapid growth of conversions, and their authenticity. Then in hindsight the work in West Wales clearly stood out as revival to many people, rather than just being the opinion of a few writers in the local West Wales papers at that time. For anyone not familiar with the early years of the Welsh revival I produced a timeline and analysis a few years back [3].

There are a number of signs of a genuine revival. One is that people’s lives are changed by God. I will only deal with this sign for now. From my visit on May 16th I will present two pieces of evidence.
  1. While queuing in the foyer, waiting for the doors to open, a number of the young men broke out in spontaneous singing.  As far as I could see these were local people. After a few songs, in which most of those waiting participated, one of the men introduced another who had just been converted. The convert gave a brief testimony, which included deliverance from drug addition. This was a clear sign of a changed life and his was typical of many such testimonies from this church.
  2. After the meeting was over two ladies, both members of the church, and Christians for some years, turned to me and asked me what I thought of the events at their church. They had both been worshipping God enthusiastically throughout. They struggled to explain how much their church, and they, had changed over the last month, but knew it was of God. Then one said, “I don’t understand it but I feel I have won the spiritual lottery!” I think only God can come up with a testimony like that!

 Chatting with others in the church their chief conversation was the change that God had worked in them, and those they knew, not the meeting or its style. Now there will be many who will criticise the style of the meetings, worship-band worship, spiritual gifts, dancing, etc. Apparently this style is relatively new to this church, though not new to many of the visitors for whom this is business as usual. However these aspects of church are largely a cultural wrapper and have to be distinguished from the contents. You could go to New Wine, a modern Pentecostal church, or a charismatic Anglican church and have exactly the same style – same wrapper, but not experience what is happening in Victory at Cwmbran – not the same content. You could strip away the charismatic wrapper at Victory and replace it with a traditional one, that indefinable something would still be there.

So what is it that is different? What is that indefinable something? I must admit I have racked my brains for the last week to find words to describe it. The best I can do is 1 Peter 1:8, “Joy unspeakable and full of glory”. It is this I see in the lives of the people there and that can be experienced by anyone who is genuinely seeking God. It is the only way I can explain my own experience. Ignore the cultural wrapper – look at the contents – look to God – and you will find that “indefinable something” that smacks of revival.

So should the outpouring divest itself of its charismatic wrapper? Perhaps a period from Welsh history can help. In the Methodist revival of the 18th century, the Welsh Calvinist Methodists were distinguished from the English Wesleyan ones not only in theology but also in their behaviour in worship, notably leaping and jumping. The Welsh Methodists were known as “Welsh Jumpers”, and their worship behaviour, which came to the fore in the Llangeitho revival of 1762-4, became a bit of a tourist attraction and brought much criticism from other Christians [4]. Even John Wesley remarked of them in his journal:

“for anyone has a mind to give out a verse of a hymn. They sing over and over with all their might, perhaps over thirty, yea forty times. Meanwhile the bodies of two or three, sometimes ten or twelve are violently agitated; and they leap up and down, in all many of postures, frequently for hours. …. So he (Satan) serves himself of their simplicity in order to wear them out, and to bring discredit on the work of God.” [5]

The response of Daniel Rowlands, the Welsh Methodist leader, serves to warn any who try to dismiss revival on the grounds of people’s cultural behaviour:

“You English blame us, the Welsh, and speak against us and say ‘Jumpers! Jumpers!’ But we, the Welsh, have something also to allege against you, and we most justly say of you “Sleepers! Sleepers!” [6] (Apologies to any English people reading this!)

Now the first question: Does this fit the limited enthusiasm model of church growth? (Hopefully that does not come as an anti-climax after what I have just said!)  Clearly the church has grown through conversion and is still growing. From the experience that night, as discussed above, the outpouring is definitely generating enthusiastic people!

But the enthusiasts in the model are more than enthusiastic people; their enthusiasm must be channelled into making converts. From the incident in the foyer there was one young man who had brought another to faith. One is hardly scientific proof, but I have heard of other cases, and there does not need to be many such cases for significant growth to result. As it turns out they have just had a baptismal service for over 60 people converted since the revival began [1]. So looking good.

But we need to go further, the effectiveness of enthusiasts is not just about how many converts they make but also how many fellow enthusiasts they make out of those converts, and out of existing Christians. Rapid accelerating reinforcing loop growth comes from enthusiasts reproducing themselves, making more enthusiasts. In the early stages, the renewal phase, most of the new enthusiasts come from existing Christians. It is only later that the balance tips to more enthusiasts coming from the new converts. Then growth explodes. Now it is too early to tell whether this will happen in the Cwmbran outpouring, but the renewal phase seems well underway with Christians not only getting a fresh experience of God, but having their expectations raised so that they can be used in the conversion of others.

Thus the challenge to any Christian who goes to this outpouring is: what are you going to do about this experience? Do you keep going back to get the experience again? Very understandable! Or do you turn that experience into practical steps to challenge others with the gospel? If your life is genuinely changed and you speak with the boldness that comes from the Holy Spirit, then you will see new converts, even new enthusiasts. Then you can be confident this is a genuine revival.

If you have not been to Victory church, would you go and find out for yourself if what I am saying stands up to scrutiny? Would you ignore the cultural wrapper and look to the contents? Would you go with that thirst for Jesus Christ that is the precursor for any revival? Would you take that outpouring back to your own church? If you have ever had the slightest desire for revival in your life, church and land, then there can be no better time than now to pray for an outpouring of the Spirit where you are.  




[3] http://www.churchmodel.org.uk/ see “popular documents”, right hand side below photo of Moriah chapel.

[4] Revival and its Fruit, Roberts E & Gruffydd RG. Evangelical Library of Wales, 1981.

[5] Revival and its Fruit, Roberts E & Gruffydd RG. Evangelical Library of Wales, 1981, p.24. Quoted from Wesley’s Journal August 1763.

[6] Revival and its Fruit, Roberts E & Gruffydd RG. Evangelical Library of Wales, 1981, p.35. Quoted from “A Memoir of the Rev Daniel Rowlands”, Owen J, 1840, pp. 85-86, available as a free ebook in Google books.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad that you had a follow-up visit. Pastor Richard has said that he won't call this a revival yet because a revival has lasting effects but it is definitely an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The changed lives testify to that.

    ReplyDelete