I told you that we worshipped at Holy Trinity - Brompton (the borough of London where the church is located, here forward known as HTB) yesterday evening, and it is was a good experience. Lots of young people (about 850) crammed into this old Anglican sanctuary, singing praise songs, praying, and studying the Bible under the leadership of Senior Pastor, Nicky Gumble. Nicky has been the Senior Pastor at HTB about 18 months, after more than 17 years as an Associate Pastor on it's staff. During that time, he re-wrote, and masterminded an evangelistic outreach program called "Alpha", which is now being hailed across the world as being one of the few successful evangelistic tools available in a post-Christian, secular society. It's being used in virtually every denomination, and bunches of independent churches, all over the world as basically a 10-week study of the basics of Christian faith.
While my fellow BP's were really overwhelmed by the worship yesterday evening, I had in fact, experienced such worship myself on a number of occasions at places like Mars Hill Bible Church (Grand Rapids, MI), the midweek service at Granger (IN) Community Church, and even at the little ol' Life Center in Goshen, Indiana. Lots of healing of wounded and tired souls through the power of praising God, seeking God in prayer, and a few words from a preacher that seemed to capture some sort of truth people could hang on to (and, yeah, I know I was the guy preaching in Goshen, but I'm not a total dufus.... sometimes I can say something that makes God go, "hey, not bad kid".) So, I had been in that environment before, and it's always great, but at HTB there were some elements that, quite frankly, were a little bit different. People came forward, shaking, kneeling-down and popping back up, speaking or saying strange things......
folks, we had entered the "Charismatic Zone".
I should have not been surprised. Somewhere I had read that the last Senior Pastor at HTB, Sandy Miller, an Anglican Vicar, had apprenticed with John Wimber, who birthed the Vineyard Church. For those who are not acquainted with The Vineyard, back in the early seventies, a bunch of hippies who came out of the sixties Jesus Movement, kind of wanted to re-invent church, particularly in the areas of music and spiritual expression. Bored or dissatisfied with the kind of traditional, Western European, hymns-choir-creeds-liturgy-20-minute-sermon thing, these "Jesusfreaks" decided to bring pop music into the worship service. This early form of "Christian Rock", in fact evolved into what we now know as "Praise and Worship Music", which over the last 30 years in the USA has become the dominant musical expression in worship. To be honest, none of us probably would have heard of any of this, if in early 1980's a young pastor by the name of Bill Hybles, in a new church called Willow Creek Community Church, hadn't seen the potential in praise and worship music, and appropriated it for what became (largely because Hyble's business-like approach streamlined and made efficient virtually every major area of the church) the largest, most influential church in the world.
But The Vineyard, not only by influencing Willow Creek and also the Calvary Church movement, but in its own right began to grow. It's just that Willow Creek ended up revolutionizing the way worship was done in the west, more so than The Vineyard because while Hyble's approach was kind of mainstream, The Vineyard kind of took a different path. You see, Wimber believed that people shouldn't just express some of the more traditional forms of Charismatic worship, but that that they should, in fact, have a direct experience with God in worship (much thanks to Steve Clouse, an old friend who helped me understand this many years ago). So, while Willow Creek's worship looked polished, The Vineyard's worship kind of just "followed the Spirit", and allowed people to encounter the Spirit... mainly, but not exclusively through, the speaking of tongues.
Since Sandy Miller (HTB's last Senior Pastor, for those who have forgotten) was mentored by John Wimber, I should not have been surprised to witness the kind of charismatic worship I saw last night. I kinda thought the English would be too proper, or skeptical, of such a thing, but, I was apparently wrong.
All of this, to explain my experience today.
After worshipping at HTB Sunday night, we spent the entire (and man, I mean the ENTIRE) day there kind of sitting at the feet of its giants. Tory Baucam, the prof leading the trip, is good buddies and somehow affiliated with Sandy, Nicky, and the gang at HTB, and obviously has been profoundly impacted by them... hence the reason we had access to them all, despite their crazy schedules (Sandy, for example, had just returned from Uganda, and Nicky from Russia this past weekend..... the demand for Alpha is pulling these guys all over the world).
So, in the morning, we spent some time with a number of (mostly) very young people who study at HTB's Theological School (for the purpose of getting ordained in the Anglican church), and that was good fun. But, in the afternoon, we spent our time with Sandy Miller, and that, friends, is where I got stretched. You see, we spent a good hour or so listening to Sandy explain that the real power in HTB's ministry was the willingness on the church's part to be led by the Holy Spirit. He then proceeded to tell us the story of being appointed to Holy Trinity, which in the late seventies was an upper-class, high steeple, liturgical, very liberal, aging congregation. Disturbed by the lack of young people, Miller looked to John Wimber, who in Southern California, was pulling them in by the droves, and asked him to come and speak. Wimber then ushered into Miller's life, the ministry of the Spirit, which is kind of difficult to explain, and this blog is already very, very long.... but in a nutshell, it is a ministry that believes literally that the Holy Spirit can work today like it did in Jesus and the Apostles day. That means healing people (either in body or emotionally), speaking in tongues, the manifestation of other spiritual gifts (like preaching and teaching), and in "words of knowledge" (more on that later).
Anyhow, Miller talked about his own journey, which started with Wimber offering a "Word of Knowledge" (which basically works like this... somebody hears something they are supposed to say from God, like, "I don't know who this is for, but for someone with a colon problem, you need to make an appointment with a GI by Thursday"... and the listeners must discern whether or not this word is for them or not - Hey man, I couldn't make this up if I tried.) about a "young woman who was trying to conceive a child to keep trying". A young woman that night, who had been told she couldn't have kids, stood up, everyone prayed for her, and nine-months later she gave birth to a girl (or a boy.... I can't remember).
After that, Miller began to experiment, at Wimber's prompting and leading, with speaking in tongues during prayer, within a small group of couples who were asked to join the Millers in trying some experimental praying. Soon, Miller, who says that the way you speak in tongues, is to just do so, began to teach about this at this church, and then began to allow for it in worship. That's why when you worship there, occasionally the song you're singing will cease lyrically, and the music will continue while all many (most) of the people around you kind of sing whatever they want... some in their native language, and some in a language that's unintelligible, called glossilalia or "the language of the angels". Soon, many healings were claimed, with much personal testimony from Sandy about people who had been healed through his ministry. Also, the Spirit, in Miller's words, began to lead the church's ministry, improving the Alpha program, and ultimately drawing people to the church from all over the world.
And, quite frankly, you can't argue with HTB's results. Now I think they average over 4000 in worship, have planted 12 new churches all over London, have exported Alpha all over the world, and are the root of a renewal movement happening now in the English Anglican Church.
Anyhow, after an hour of info, we took a break, and Tory asked Sandy to lead us in a time of prayer... where Sandy introduced, at least me, anyhow, to speaking in tongues.
(Note to my brother: I know, right now, you are freaking out. Calm down. The guy leading this wasn't [all] crazy, and I'm still me. So keep reading.)
I came to Asbury because I wanted to experience new ideas. I wanted to see how other pastors did things, and find out what my own leadership style really was. Can't say I ever thought one of them would try to teach me to speak in tongues.... that was a little outside of my expectation, but hey, I've already had a professor who claims to have casted out many demons, so I guess at this point, nothing should surprise me.
Well, he invited us first to sing in tongues, and basically all he wanted us to do was focus on how good God was while listening to our neighbors and allowing ourselves to sing whatever came to our lips. I knew I was in trouble when I heard others singing praise song lyrics, or the name of Jesus over and over, or in some sort of something or another that I couldn't understand, and the only thing I could come up with was...
"Water-mel-on, Water-mel-on, Watermelon, Cantaloupe, Black Eyed Peas"... which was the chorus to a song on "Hank the Cowdog" audiobook we got for the kids. Not real spiritually stimulating stuff.
But I decided to keep trying.....
(part two tomorrow)