Thursday, 9 May 2013

Contagion in Cwmbran: A New "Welsh Outpouring"?


It would be a brave person to make the claim that there is a new Welsh Revival. Wales is known as the Land of Revivals, with at least 15 revivals between 1762 and 1862 [1], plus the beginnings of Methodism in 1735 and of course the famous one of 1904-5. The largest revival was that of 1859, but it is the 1904-5 revival, associated with Evan Roberts that comes to most people’s minds first. It is the best documented, played a large part in the start of Pentecostalism, and sadly is the last revival to hit this land. After this period of time, and with so many to compare with, it would be a very brave person indeed to claim there is a new revival in Wales.

Perhaps because of this reputation for revivals there has developed a large amount of cynicism about revival in the contemporary Welsh church, especially in evangelical and older charismatic circles. I have preached in churches where people have assured me that revivals never really happened; it was a social phenomenon where people had to join the churches of their employers to keep their jobs. Evangelical ministers, who have sought my modelling help in church growth, are happy to include any management technique, or church growth method, in the model, but shun any mention of an outpouring of the Spirit. The words of Duncan Campbell, preacher in the Hebridean revival 1949-53, are still true: “Revival is a sign spoken against” [2].

However in the last few weeks that “Sign Spoken Against” has become talked about in Wales again. On April 10th there started in Victory Church Cwmbran what has been described as the “Cwmbran Outpouring”, or even the “Wales Outpouring”. On that night, in a regular mid-week meeting of the church, a man who had been confined to a wheelchair for 10 years was dramatically healed. Such was the effect on the church that a considerable number of other healings followed. A key feature of this meeting had been seeking the presence of God. Since then the church has met most evenings to experience the presence and power of God and pass it on to others. Attendance at the meetings has mushroomed as word has got out, largely by word of mouth as far as I can see. A fuller story can be found at the church’s website [3] and the many online testimonies [4].

So two questions immediately came to my mind:

  1. Does the growth of the movement following the pattern of the Limited Enthusiasm model of church growth, with enthusiasts passing the contagion one to another? This is a question with my scientist’s hat on.
  2. Is this a real revival/outpouring where people are being transformed by God’s presence so that they in turn can transform others?  This is a question with my believer’s hat on. I wear more than one hat at the same time!

It was with the latter question largely in mind that I decided to visit Victory church in Cwmbran a week ago, Wednesday 1st May.

The “service” was a quite orthodox charismatic style meeting: A large amount of sung worship, very directed preaching, many testimonies of healings and conversions and prayer ministry. It was similar in style to the Bay of the Holy Spirit revival, except the speaker that night did not shout as much as Nathan Morris! The worship was very enthusiastic and the testimonies, read out second hand, were a real blessing and an indication that God is at work. All along the emphasis was the presence of God, and that clearly affected the whole meeting.

Interestingly there was no hype, no bringing people up to the stage to be healed. The meeting was not a show for spectators. They even tried to discourage people from falling over.  There were envelopes on each chair for an offering, but they got completely forgotten and no offering was taken. That must go down as a work of the Holy Spirit, given the obsession the Christian church usually has with money! I gather that “no offering” is their normal practice.

The numbers attending that night was so large they needed stewards on the car park. It needs to be remembered this is 5 nights a week, so this has attracted a considerable number of people very quickly, reminiscent of the 1904-5 revival. There was a good variety of all ages present, but a larger than average number in their 20s.

Staying around at the end I saw some very enthusiastic young people connected with the church pray together spontaneously. It was clear there has been a work of God going on for some time in this church, with many converted, some from tough backgrounds. Lives are being changed and enthusiasts made. This 4 week old outpouring is I think a specific phase of something quite profound going on between church and community. So the whole work of this church is a sign of a revival movement.

Neither is the work at Victory church in isolation. Their passion for church planting, discipleship and conversions from tough backgrounds is something they share with other movements, such as Destiny church in Scotland, with whom Victory have connections. Victory calls their churches “campuses”, a term also used by Mars Hill Seattle, who are perhaps the model for this style of church planting movement, and themselves a candidate for a revival. Thus the work at Victory, and this current outpouring, is a part of something much bigger.

So is the “Cwmbran Outpouring” a revival? I decided to compare my experience that evening with that of the Lewis revival, as told by Duncan Campbell [2]; so I listened to the tape of his talk again. One thing is clear, the Lewis revival came across as far more serious with a considerable amount of conviction of sin and weeping. In Victory that night the meeting was far more informal, people could chat with each other and even share a joke. A purist could easily dismiss Victory as a candidate for genuine revival.

But this is a very unfair comparison. Christianity in the Hebrides in 1949, and even now, has a far more serious culture. People do not even speak to each other in a church building. That was the culture in which their revival occurred. However our church culture has become very informal, for very understandable reasons. Christianity in the past developed a forced “Sunday seriousness”, which covered over a religious hypocrisy. It had a “don’t do that” mentality, but no joy; morality without a living experience of Jesus. Evan Roberts had accused the church leaders of “making religion too gloomy”. Something had to give; we had to become real and allow true emotions to show. But now we are informal to the point of being casual with God; and that is the context in which any outpouring will start. It will not change overnight, cultures take longer to change than people. Thus we cannot expect the same degree of “seriousness” in a contemporary outpouring as in past revivals, certainly not for the time being.

Another potential criticism is the amount of publicity attached to the outpouring. It could be accused of being a fad or craze, attracting people for its novelty value, rather than a spiritual contagion. Iain Murray, one of the most astute of the contemporary writers on revival, advises great care in the use of publicity in revival, due to the dangers of premature assessment and spiritual pride [5]. I am not sure there has been that much publicity in this case. Although it is present on the internet, most people are hearing by word of mouth, which would include Facebook and the like. As far as I can see the media has not shown any interest. Church does not have the same significance in political and media circles compared with the Hebrides in 1949 or Wales in 1904. That is a blessing! Changed lives not media hype is the only advertisement for God’s glory. Given the nature of the healings at the church it is difficult to see how they could keep it quiet in Christian circles. We certainly need to pray for wisdom for the leaders as they handle this.

So as for question 2, I have seen nothing so far to cast any doubt on the work at Victory being an outpouring of the Spirit. But I would add that the ongoing work at the church is just as much part of the revival as these meetings. And when the meetings cease I hope and pray that work, which aims to plant 50 churches in 10 years will continue with fresh zeal, because re-populating our land with the sort of churches that seek conversions and changed lives, through the presence of God, is the revival we need.

However one thing threw me in the meeting a week ago, unlike other people there that night I felt nothing! I enjoyed the meeting, I participated willingly, but compared to similar works I had experienced in the past, I had no sense of God’s presence. Yet I knew this was because of me, not the meeting! But, since then, I have thought about virtually nothing else but Jesus! It has taken me over a week to take all this in, that He has grabbed hold of my life and won’t let go! Would I go back? Absolutely – I would go anywhere Jesus is present. But I don’t need to GO anywhere – He is present where I am. I had no sense of that before I went to Victory, but I have since. Logic demands that Victory church is where I picked up this sense of His presence. I caught the divine contagion! The words of John Kilpatrick, of the Pensacola and Bay of the Holy Spirit revivals, come to mind: “Once you get used to the presence (of God) nothing else satisfies” [6]. I needed to go to Victory to be reminded of this, and be satisfied again.

A friend of mine said last Sunday that we have been waiting for the wind to change. My experience of Victory is that this move is more than a meeting, the wind is changing. I think it has been changing for some time and this outpouring is one step in that process. Should you go to the Cwmbran outpouring? Certainly! But if the wind is changing I think we will find that many such outpourings will be occurring and that God has something even bigger in store for us.

So what about my questions? I have not really done justice to question 2. I need to go back to the Bible to really test the authenticity of any claim to revival. And as for question 1, “is it following the models?”, that needs more time and data. I will defer both questions to future posts. For now I want to enjoy Jesus and sail with the wind!  

[1] Favoured with Frequent Revivals: Revivals in Wales 1762-1862, D. Geraint Jones, The Heath Christian Trust, 2001.

[2] He states that revival is a sign spoken against early in his talk on the events of the revival on the Isle of Lewis,
Campbell also refers to it in the preface of Arthur Wallis’ book on revival: In the Day of Thy Power, Christian Literature Crusade, 1956; who has a chapter called “A Sign Spoken Against”.

[3] Victory Church web site http://www.victorychurch.co.uk/ The regular updates and the sermons of pastor Richard Taylor are big help in understanding the spirit of the outpouring.


[5] Pentecost Today? Iain Murray, Banner of Truth, 1998, p168.

[6] I have heard him say this in a number of sermons. However I am quoting this from a contribution he made to the Lydia Stanley album, Above the Heavens. Quoted on the track: Let your Glory Cover Me (reprise).

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting. Interesting times for sure!

    Maybe I can post a link to my ebook on the aftermath of the Welsh Revival 1904 here?

    Thanks.

    http://www.dyfedwynroberts.org.uk/the-welsh-revival.php

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  2. Hi Dyfed

    Yes I noticed your book come out - an important study. Unlike other revivals in Wales the 1904 one was followed by decline which became the serious and persistent decline we still have. Understanding what happened will be a help to the contemporary church scene which sees many "moves of God", and decline at the same time!

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  3. Your blog has put Victory church on our list of places to go when we're in Wales this summer. We'd like to be there and catch that Divine contagion. I'm now watching on livestream when I get the chance and the time difference allows. Excellent review and analysis.

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  4. For an update see Are We In Revival? - Wales 2013.
    http://churchgrowthmodelling.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/are-we-in-revival-wales-2013.html

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