Barry Chant thinks the Pentecostal movements need to look at themselves, look to God, and remember what happened to the Methodists, once in great revival, but lately becoming sluggish, even if not actually dead.
The Australian Pentecostal movement today seems to me to be facing a similar problem to that of the Methodists a hundred years ago. Methodism had departed from its early Wesleyan roots and was becoming more respectable. It had ministry training colleges, buildings, schools and impressive publications… and there were those who cried for a return to the old ways and an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
William Taylor (1845-1934), the founder of what is now the Wesley Mission in Sydney, was convinced of the need for churches to emulate the methods of the apostles — apostolic methods will still produce apostolic results. Taylor’s passion was expressed in a sermon he preached in 1912, the one hundredth anniversary of the first Methodist meeting in Australia. Methodism’s only safety lay in its spirituality. And he pleaded with them — Back to Wesley! Back to the upper room! Rekindle the waning fires of the Church’s inner life! Give the Holy Ghost an opportunity!
It would pay them ‘a thousandfold’ to stop everything for a year and fall to their knees to ask God to ‘alter the atmosphere of the Church.’ He challenged the ministers, ‘Put fire in the pulpit, and you will soon get fire in the pew.’
‘Let the Church go to its knees and master the art of tarrying there, and then, ere this year closes, there shall come to our great Church the one thing, the only thing, that can permanently settle this question — a Pentecost, bursting upon us with all its original power.’
Another who cried for revival was John Watsford, the first Australian-born Methodist minister. He saw six causes for concern in 19th century Methodism:
Distraction from the all-important work of saving souls; too much reliance on special services and special agents; growing worldliness of the Church; modifying of grand old doctrines; neglect of the doctrine of entire sanctification; neglect of weekly class meetings.
The Pentecostal movement today faces similar challenges. I want to consider some contemporary issues – some which may prove to be controversial. If so, I hope they will stir us up to some useful thinking, praying, reflection and debate which will lead to a positive outcome.
Pentecostals have traditionally been Spirit-inspired, if a little wild at times, and ready to allow God to freely move in meetings. There is a danger that contemporary ideas could push the ministry of the Spirit into the background, presumably so as not to offend unbelievers, but this would be a mistake, since the growth of Pentecostal movements has been largely due to the revival atmosphere provided by bold preaching, daring to allow the Holy Spirit to minister, not being afraid to allow gifts and manifestations to flow, and not being concerned about the sensitivities of ‘seekers’.
After all, God is God, and if he comes on the scene we should surely expect that he is capable of doing all that Jesus did on earth, and more, so it would surely be more of a sign of his presence to allow healing, miracles and the manifestations of the Spirit to have full reign in meetings. Let go and let God!
Potentially the arrival of the ‘seeker-sensitive’ style of church ministry could see some Pentecostal churches opt for a ‘safer’ environment. However, it could be time to press in deeper, in prayer, in the Spirit, and in trusting the presence of God, with an expectation of amazing works at the hands of God.
What comes to mind is the great admonition to ‘Awake, thou that sleepest!’ Not that we’re actually sleeping or anything. That sound you hear could be groaning… in the Spirit … or not!