Over the years, we have had ebbs and flows of manifestations in this church. For many of us, these were first-time experiences. In order to bring some level of understanding to manifestations when the presence of the Lord is moving, the leadership of this church has developed the following outline that we follow. During services, if you are touched by a certain manifestation, we encourage you to yield to the Spirit and not resist what the Lord is doing, but press in to His presence.
"So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!"
The approach to the ways of the Spirit that we have taken since 1994 is based on criteria that was put forth by Jonathan Edwards during the Great Awakening in his writing called “Some Thoughts Concerning Revival”. There are three areas that a Christian must walk in to be led by the Spirit. It is our desire as a church to pursue and discern the ways of God. Some may only pursue, or others may only discern, but it is our intention to do both. We acknowledge within this structure that there is always a possibility for mixture, and that nothing is purely Spirit, for there is some element of flesh or emotions present whenever the Spirit of God moves.
1. In matters that the Bible gives concerning commands and instruction, as to the things we should do or pursue, it is the believer’s obligation to pursue those, for they are the ways of life. This is to be done in the context of a body of believers that walk out the ways of God in a way that the lost can see and respond to. This is also the environment in which we change and grow.
2. In matters that the Bible gives concerning commands and instruction as to the things we should not do or pursue, it is the believer’s obligation to not become entangled in them, for they are the ways of death. It is our obligation to shine the light of the gospel into those areas so that people may be saved and so that the kingdom of God advances. We are in the world but not of the world. Love is the primary tool of the kingdom.
3. In matters where the Bible is silent or at least offers little direct command or instruction on a matter, it is the responsibility of the body of believers to discern what the proper response should be. We cannot use the silence of scripture to argue either for or against a matter. In these areas of silence, the main guide we have in discernment is observing what fruit is being produced by or during the manifestations. At the time of the Great Awakening, to be slain in the Spirit or to have emotional outbreaks was nonexistent, and many rose up against the revival because of the manifestations. Edwards took the approach that he would not interfere with the manifestations so long as they were producing good fruit in the individual and in the church. Charles Chauncy, a leading minister in Boston, rose up against Edwards and wrote a thesis called “Reasonable Thoughts on the State of Religion in New England”. In this book, Chauncy developed what he called consensus theology, which said God would not do anything that would make people uncomfortable or display unusual behavior like what was being seen in the Great Awakening. Chauncy's voice of opposition spread through the Colonies and brought an end to the revival in most places. The theology that Chauncy developed ultimately became the foundation of the Unitarian sect that is with us today and embraces all things so that no one is uncomfortable. This theology denies that Christ’s death brings the only way for a man to be saved.
We have many things throughout church history that are not referenced at all in scripture, yet the church leaders developed either an acceptance or a rejection of the matter. The canonization of scripture is a clear example of this. The first-century church in their writings, and even Christ in His instruction gave no conclusive direction as to what writing should be Canonized in the New Testament or even that their should be a New Testament, but through prayer and being led by the Spirit, ultimately the scriptures of the New Testament and the Old Testament were accepted and embraced by the church universal. On the negative side, it was the expectation of the church in the first three centuries that signs, wonders, miracles, and deliverance were a normal part of reaching the lost and ministering to the saved. By the time of Constantine's assault on the church, these elements of ministry were removed, and the church was brought under the structural influence of Rome. Many of those structures we have with us to this day in the structures of classical churches and hierarchy. These are but two examples of the attempt to sort out a direction.
So for us, as we pursue Christ and do our best to be open to His moving and ways, we, too, must discern what is happening in our midst at any particular time. To this time of present manifestations, the following is offered as to where we are and where I see us going.
1. We do not see any place in scripture that addresses gold dust, feathers etc., and it seems that the scriptural basis for laugher and being slain in the Spirit are weak, at best. The leadership doesn't take the position that one of these manifestations must happen to an individual, but at the same time, we don't want to be in a position where we are quenching a manifestation or not giving acknowledgement to it during a meeting. We do not see an acknowledgement of what is happening as an overemphasis on the manifestation. As we have done and continue to do, the emphasis is on Christ and the moving of the Spirit, and whatever He wants to do or manifest is His responsibility, and our responsibility is to be open to it.
2. So we must look at the fruit that is being produced during the times of these manifestations both in the individual and in the church. Various testimonies have been given of people praying for or witnessing to other people and a particular manifestation appears, giving credence to what is being said. The testimonies from people being touched by the power of God have shown that good fruit is being produced over time.
3. During the move of the Spirit in our midst in 1994-1996, we saw the Lord move greatly and also had many people oppose what was going on. I ultimately listened to the opposition and started trying to rein in what some were calling the excesses to make the church services more presentable again. (I fully admit that both then and today, there is a mixture in any given meeting. But again, if we use mixture as a criterion for not doing something, then nothing would be happening in the church. Certainly, we are to be teaching and growing so the mixture becomes less, and I believe we are on that track.) As I quenched the Spirit and made the areas I was uncomfortable with the focus of my decision-making as opposed to focusing on Christ and His ways, the Spirit lifted, and the grace we had been under was removed. The result was four of the most painful years in the church’s history. We turned on each other with a critical spirit that was extremely destructive and left many people deeply wounded, including myself. At that time, as we began to cry out for forgiveness and mercy, I asked the Lord that if He would give me a chance again, I would do my best not to touch what He was doing.
4. So as we once again are experiencing a new measure of grace that is touching the lives of many people and drawing more in on a weekly basis, we must once again decide: do we not embrace this because it makes us uncomfortable, or do we walk in this tension and keep our eyes on Christ. The manifestations do not depend on a person’s spiritual condition because I have seen them happen to both the saved and the unsaved. They are a work of grace given as the Spirit moves. We can spend all our time worrying about the false and miss the true. I believe scripture is quite clear that when we set our hearts to following and loving Christ, He will not give us a stone, but when we try to make the kingdom fit into human understanding, we often are deceived by our own intellect. Just because the New Age has grabbed Biblical principles and filtered them through deceptive practices is no reason to move away from those Biblical principles. Interestingly enough, many of Chauncy's ideas were later adopted by Emerson and the metaphysical groups that are the foundations of today's New Age teachings. So, excesses that Chauncy sought to correct in the Great Awakening put him in a place of quenching the Spirit and opening the door to levels of deception that are still with us today. I don't want to be the cause of similar problems.
by Pastor Bob Muncy