Friday, March 18, 2011

Glorious Mess or Messy Glory?

I have no official role at Biola. I happen to be a pastor of a church that many Biola students and some faculty call home, and so I do my best to serve a College I love in any way I can, whether that means speaking at Chapel, doing bible study in the dorms, or drinking coffee at Common Grounds on Wednesdays. Last night, my role was leading Communion after the guest speaker had talked, while the Southlands band led worship. The context was Student Mission's Week, the College's annual catalyst for the Great Commission.

The guest speaker was a flamboyant, disarming, and likeable Kiwi from YWAM called Mark Parker.He spoke on 'true salvation.' I left last night feeling that what had taken place was significant in the broader scheme of Biola's journey, but would definitely need some processing.I suppose I feel partly responsible too, because after Mark finished preaching and began praying for students, I was by default left holding the microphone and hosting the remaining hour of a meeting, that I guess, would be about as 'charismatic' a meeting as any in the history of Biola.

In a packed gymnasium, students confessed their sins publicly, worshipped passionately, some wept or laughed, others were set free of demonic oppression. Some even spoke in tongues! This in many ways was a radical and remarkable step forward in the ministry of the Holy Spirit for a college which 100 years ago, publicly condemned the Azusa Street Revival down the road as a 'work of man.'

Last night felt like revival, which thrilled me, but I also left a little concerned at the same time. As a pastor and bible teacher, I have a great desire to journey with cautious conservatives towards a greater encounter with God, the Holy Spirit. I recognize that this is best done in reverence for the Scriptures and with sane humility. I felt that at times these elements were, shall we say, illusive, leaving what happened last night as fair game for conservative critics. Was it just emotionalism? What about the absence of biblical exposition? Was he trying to force people to fall down?

I do not want to leap to Mark's defense or point a criticising finger. I do not know him, but I am thankful for his courageous, in-your-face ministry, which is a little like triple-shot-espresso to the spiritually sleepy. God will often use people like this as a catalyst gift for a short time. We then have a responsibility to keep aflame what God has sparked. God seldom uses the same gift to maintain a flame as the gift he uses to create a spark.

R.T Kendall, successor to Martin Lloyd Jones, in writing about his journey from cautious conservativism to an openness to the Holy Spirit, said that
"the anointing almost always has a stigma attached to it." Using biblical prophets as his example, he noted that they almost always came with a certain 'yuck factor,'and I have found this to be true in most significant moves of God which I have experienced. God's life is often a bit messy, and our culture has tried to tame and sanitize God, making him into some benign therapeutic English country gentleman, who would never upset the apple cart. His love is more wild than that. We cannot tame Him. But in maintaining the flame of revival, we can tame ourselves, to make sure that our ministry and meetings are helping more than harming. I believe that people need to be shepherded through the unfamiliar with a lack of hype and a heap of wisdom.

I do believe that there is a Gospel-Centred sanity in Holy Spirit ministry which many have not experienced. If they did, it would cause them to be more open and less critical of the gift of the Third Person of the Trinity. He is not an optional extra. He is the absolutely vital, yet often missing element of our Gospel Mission.

So, was last night a glorious mess or some messy glory? In my view it was the latter.
My appeal though, is for zeal to be tempered by wisdom, and for the Biola community to channel the Spirit's ministry towards the Spirit's mission.


  1. Thanks Alan for sharing this event. In a Spirit and word journey, I think sometimes the experience comes first and then the revelation through the word, and other times the order is changed. I'm excited that I understand some of these students will be going to the nations and some are going into full time church positions, and some into the marketplace opening a wide potential for the Great Commandment and the Great Commission being fulfilled. Exciting time to be walking with God!

  2. absolutely Brent! Great to be journeying with you.

  3. When I was MUCH younger, during the time of the Charismatic Renewal (as it has come to be called) a wise older saint gave me this verse when we were discussing the reactions to things that happened as the Spirit moved and it got "messy":
    Prov 14:4
    4 Where no oxen are, the manger is clean,
    But much increase comes by the strength of the ox.
    The point was, if all you want is a "clean" barn, don't keep oxen -- if you want church to stay "neat and clean" then stay in control and forbid the ministry of the Holy Spirit. But the work of cleaning up some messes is far outweighed by the increases you will gain -- life, vitality, power, salvations, and miracles. The apostles had to deal with questions and sarcastic comments etc. in Acts 2. Then quite without regard for "how things should be done", the Holy Spirit filled a bunch of Romans in Cornelius' house ~ and even gave them the gift of tongues even before the sermon was finished, or before an altar call could be given, and even before any of the Romans might have been water baptised. The reaction back in Jerusalem was quite messy! Sometimes the Holy Spirit smashes all our boxes. I love your point that OUR follow-up need wisdom. My experience is that the Holy Spirit is surprising and does "more than we CAN ask or think".

  4. I'm a Biola student with a conservative Evangelical upbringing.

    I was uneasy for most of the time that Mark spoke. There were times where I was really frustrated with him, and other times where I was really energetic about what he was saying. I flip-flopped between whether I enjoyed his message, and whether I found it confusing.

    While I think I left Mark's message with a feeling of indecision, it was without a doubt the Holy Spirit that gave him the insight to open the microphone to the entire gymnasium for anyone to publicly confess their sins. I can attest that all the things Alan described up above happened, and I fervently believe it was by the Holy Spirit. I saw friends and acquaintances weeping, praying, and praising in ways I had never dreamed of seeing. Personally, a friend and I, who had driven each other away in bitterness, were reconciled by the Spirit's prompting in both of us, and we took communion together as fellow believers.

    While I'm definitely not the most charismatic Christian, I am entirely convinced that the Spirit was behind that Thursday night. Whether or not Biola chooses to respond to it remains to be seen.

    Grace and peace,

  5. Hi Allen!

    I'm also a Biola student who encountered God that night in a way like never before. A group of us have been praying for revival at Biola, only adding to the prayers that have been poured out over the years, and we believe this was just the beginning!

    Thank you so much for the prayerful response to the evening!

    We would be so blessed if you would continue to pray that we would gain wisdom and revelation to know how to facilitate the fire that has been kindled on our campus.


  6. Hey Ryan and Jamie, thankyou for these comments.
    so enouraging. wow. A spirit of Repenatance and reconciliation are definitely one of the signs of revival - lets pray for more of that.
    In every move of the Spirit we have to 'eat the meat and spit out the bones.'Paul says to 'hold fast what is good, reject what is evil. I think one of the gifts we have to ask for is discernment in these days, without being too quick to judge what makes us feel uncomfortable.
    God bless you both on your Word/Spirit journey. You might want to come check out Urban Renewal in May at Southalnds which explores this journey.

  7. Barbara, I love that verse. Thankyou for your thoughts. Alan