My Saturday evening story of Christian unity, that I wrote about yesterday, was connected with two ministries I partnered with for several days: CRM and the City of the Lord. The City of the Lord has centers in Tempe (Phoenix), Los Angeles, San Diego and Monterey Bay. My new friend Peter Poppleton leads the City of the Lord community in Tempe. (Photo of Peter at the right.) Their weekly events are characterized by charismatic praise & worship; i.e. by growth in and exercise of the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. The word “charism,”as most of you will know, means “gift.” The word “charismatic” signifies the use of a gift or gifts. The services at the City of the Lord often see the conversion of hearts, inner healing, physical healing, and words of prophecy, among other gifts that the Holy Spirit imparts within the community. The traditional seven marks (gifts) of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, knowledge, fortitude, understanding, piety, counsel and fear of the Lord) are actively sought and developed in this community through prayer and instruction. Likewise, other supernatural gifts (charisms) of the Holy Spirit such as prophecy, tongues, healing, and interpretation of tongues are sought and experienced as the Holy Spirit wills. There is no pressure on anyone to “perform” gifts or to demonstrate them. There is complete and joyful freedom to use them within clear and understood guidelines that result in obvious decorum.
While the designation “charismatic” does not formally fit my own ecclesial background, or present form of ministry, I have moved within the power of many of these gifts for over three decades. This movement in my personal life began during the revival of 1970 at Wheaton College. Sadly, some of the excesses of the charismatic movement that I saw in some Protestantism had a negative effect upon me for some years. I knew the gifts were real but I doubted many strange claims. I saw the excess but quite often I missed the blessings I now see so clearly.
In Phoenix I saw none of the excesses and all the blessings. Most of what I saw on Saturday and Sunday (January 17-18) was plainly the work of the Holy Spirit. The reason I know this is because what was done was powerfully centered in Jesus, centered in clear gospel proclamation and promoted the common good. It was done with proper care and deep regard for Scripture in every way. There was no confusion or “flesh” in the meetings that I attended. Further, the leaders were men and women of great soundness in mind and spirit. Their desire to see John 17:21 openly experienced was evident thus they do not create division over the gifts or their particular expressions of them.
I noted that I am not a “charismatic” by label but everything about this Catholic renewal movement resonates with me powerfully. I do not embrace these labels easily but I do not run from them when I see God working among his people as I saw at City of the Lord. If these expressions are “charismatic” then please apply the label if you’d like. But I see nothing in the label that explains my life except that I embrace the presence of all the gifts of the Spirit enumerated in the Bible thus I believe in grace gifts in the fullness of the Spirit, thus charisma. (I never could understand how anyone could read the Bible and then believe that these gifts were withdrawn from the church based upon rather strange arguments that are rooted in theory and scant few facts!)
Some years ago God began to “speak” to me in ways that I could not describe heard by reading the Bible (alone) and studying the text alone. These promptings or leadings (words forming in my mind consciously or otherwise) were always tested by the Scripture. I began to write some of them down to see if I thought God was saying something to me after prayer and deeper reflection. In the late 1990s I began to pay special attention to dreams after more study on this particular subject. Then God revealed my own future in ministry to me one evening just before I was to preach at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. (I told no soul until more than a decade later since I wanted to receive what I believed was from God and then see how he worked out what I believed that I saw and heard that memorable evening on the platform of that great church!) This Spirit-led impression (I do not know what else to call it) has been called a vision by some. I do not know precisely what it was. I do know that what I saw flashed before my mind and shocked me. Now more than seventeen years later everything I saw in a matter of seconds that night has come true. I later had several dreams (in my sleep) that filled in some missing parts of my awakening experience at Tenth.
What is the point I am making here? I believe God still speaks in various ways to his people. Many of us do not listen, perhaps out of fear. Others hear but do not handle the message discreetly. But God is not mute. Nor is he limited to my reading and studying the text of the Bible only. (Nothing he says contradicts the doctrine and teaching of the Scriptures.) The Bible is the Supreme Court but this does not limit the means and contexts in which God speaks and leads those who listen and follow. This truth was powerfully reinforced in me in the desert during my days in Tempe.