The Dark Sides Emerge

 Chapter 46

The terms “Dark sides” and “wild fire revival” are generally synonymous, but I prefer to call them dark sides. They usually, but not always, follow on the heels of genuine outpourings of the Holy Spirit.

The first great awakening, 1735 to 1742, involving Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, the Tenants, and many others, had its dark sides, yet no one denies it was the real thing. The second awakening, roughly 1798 to 1825 or 1835, depending on how Charles G. Finney is viewed, certainly had its dark sides, which can still be felt two hundred years later. The third, from 1857 to 1859 (and some say this one continued through the Civil War), was perhaps the cleanest of America’s awakenings, an assessment I accept. But this fourth awakening?1 

1 In Awakenings in America and the Jesus People Movement, I make the case that the JPM meets the criteria of a genuine awakening was anything but clean, and the dark sides of it continue. I wonder if we have yet to see the worst of it, and this is being written in 2014.

Let me clearly state that I do not delight, to any extent, in the presence of the dark sides. Neither can I close my eyes to them and pretend that they, or some aspects of them, are a continuation of the fourth awakening or even, as some suppose, a fifth awakening or “wave.”

It is difficult to know where to start describing events and how they yielded unwanted results, because the whole business is so complex. Perhaps I saw some of it while still pastor of Church of the Open Door, from which I resigned in 1980, due to my divorce and the events surrounding it. The Sunday morning services changed from a focus on teaching and preaching to music and more music. The “worship” was relegated only to when the praise and worship band was on stage.  

I think it is biblically correct to say that, when the Holy Spirit moves in power, there is no need for humans to add to it. Two or three are gathered, Jesus is present, and that is enough. With just two or three—wherever, whenever, or whoever—miracles might happen. 

As the awakening waned, the desire, or maybe the need to ratchet things up came imperceptively at first, then deliberately. I had no idea how much worse it would become. 

Some Necessary Background 

I had begun studies at San Francisco Law School in 1980, assuming that a divorced pastor had to change careers. I was right in the midst of law school, had already developed a substantial legal support business with a partner,2 

2 This was Terry Cuddy, who spent eighteen years in a federal prison for bank robbery, was pardoned by Jerry Brown during Brown’s first governorship of California, who then proceeded to obtain a license as a private investigator. It was a real Humphrey Bogart kind of operation. I wrote a book about thirty-three of our adventures titled, Serving in Marin (not published yet, but on the schedule). and was ready to get my license as a private investigator, when an old friend, Prince Altom, pastor of what was then called Corte Madera Community Church, invited me to join him. I set the legal business aside to go back into the ministry. The American Baptist Churches of America, the oldest Baptist body in the USA, understood that it is possible to be restored to ministry, and they took a chance on me. In 1984, I began reviving and reorganizing the First Baptist Church of Mill Valley. After ten months we reopened the closed doors of the church under the new name of Miller Avenue Baptist Church. Thirty years later I am still pleased to preach the Gospel to non-believers and the Scripture to believers. 

The Church Growth Courses 

In 1987 the American Baptists asked me to attend a church growth program at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena. My brother Bruce was a cop in Pasadena (later the chief of police there), and I stayed with him in his home in Glendale, while I attended what I see now as something rather dangerous.3 

3 I realize there are those who will disagree with me on this point, but I must report what I thought both then and now.

The beginning and the advanced church growth meetings were held one year apart, each lasting five days. There I heard John Wimber teach about signs and wonders, and I was absolutely appalled to hear his instructions on how to manipulate a congregation using music, lighting, and other effects, to get people to where they felt the Holy Spirit was visiting them. I also had opportunity to talk with C. Peter Wagner and Charles Kraft, among others, while at Fuller. 

Church growth and church planting was what it was all about. And I do not blame anyone for desiring those things. The JPM was long gone, but the memories of the experiences of it were still fresh in the minds of many. Would we love to see those days again? Any Christian would answer immediately and loudly, YES! 

Human engineering, meaning applied psychology and sociology, was what I was hearing at Fuller. How to get people excited? How to fill the pews? How to meet human needs? On and on they propounded, with apparently little or no idea that a genuine awakening depends on the moving of the Spirit of God. The ideas expressed were all motivated by the notion that proper means could make awakening happen. I saw the error then, and I had not begun to even consider Reformed theology. 

The Emerging Church or the “seeker-friendly” church developed along the lines I saw and heard at Fuller. Meeting needs, reaching people where they are, targeting specific groups, blending into the culture, and becoming as inoffensive as possible was the litany for church growth and church planting. Cultic in terms of recruitment? Yes, I believe so. Full disclosure? No, not even close. If the Gospel, that offending Gospel that calls attention to our lost and eternally dangerous condition, is not presented, then you can expect the full flowering of a toxic, cultic mentality. 

Next came the Toronto Vineyard happening with Rodney Howard-Browne from South Africa. The Laughing Revival, the Toronto Blessing—such a big splash and magnet, drawing local pastors who ran up to Toronto to get the “anointing.” The anointing, the anointing, the anointing—this was it. Power to command even God’s blessing! More, more, and more. 

Then it spread like wild fire and landed where I could observe it, at Bethel Church in Redding, California. I went there to see it for myself. Enough has been written about that and about the Kansas City Prophets, International House of Prayer, and MorningStar in North Carolina. I suppose I would have succumbed to the pull if I had not experienced the Jesus People awakening and learned something of the other awakenings in America’s history. Moving and grooving to the beat, dancing and swaying “in the spirit,” talking to angels, even to Jesus. Frankly, it is not that much different from shamanistic rituals, Santerían bembes, or Wiccan journeys.4 

4 Released by Earthen Vessel Publishing in 2014 was The Soul Journey: How Shamanism, Santeria, Wicca, and Charisma Are Connected. The connection is the trance state or altered states of consciousness, upon which all of these pagan, neopagan, and even Christian-oriented practices or religions depend.

Spiritual Battles 

It is not surprising that the devil should show up. We see this in the Book of Acts. Jesus warned of it. Paul experienced it. John in Revelation predicted it. In a sense, it is business as usual. The enemy rushes to the holy fire to put it out or pervert it. I have in my mind the backfire, set in the direction of a fire out of control. Whatever metaphor is employed, the picture is one of confusion, deception, and error. 

Our God is a sovereign God, and He will do what He will do and allow what He will allow. The enemy is essentially powerless and can only go so far. Christians may pray, preach, and plan for revival and awakening, while at the same time recognize that the mighty wind of the Spirit moves where He will. 

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