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] 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.

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 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).