Discovering the Power of the Kingdom

Desiring God 1991 Conference for Pastors

Spiritual Gifts and the Sovereignty of God

I’m delighted to be here with you. I’m slightly self-conscious because I’ve been asked to talk about myself. When you talk about yourself, you have to think about yourself, and when you think about yourself, you become self-conscious. So that’s appropriate, right? But my genuine prayer is, as I share my own pilgrimage with you today, that there’ll be some points in which you can perhaps identify with things that I’ve gone through, and that there will be points at which what I’ve experienced and the way that I’ve reflected on it may bring some challenge to you. My ultimate desire — and I know that all of us would share in this — is not that my life would be set up as a model or anything very special, but that Jesus Christ would be seen as very special. I know that’s the desire of our hearts.

One of the things that our Lord promises is that when the Holy Spirit comes, he will bear witness to Jesus. So if we’re simply bearing witness to ourselves or our own experience, then that certainly is not the ultimate reference point. I think that’s probably a disclaimer because, again, I don’t mind doing this. If I did, I wouldn’t have come. But at the same time, I know the limitations of it and I know the desire that I have that we really see Jesus today and love him more and be more in touch with him.

The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit

I think I want to begin by reading some quotes from A.W. Tozer. I’m going to talk about the Holy Spirit this morning. I am going to talk about my experience, but I want to begin with some of my favorite quotes. You just need to listen to this. This is hot stuff. For solid mainline evangelicals, this is hot stuff. A.W. Tozer writes:

The doctrine of the Spirit is buried dynamite. Its power awaits discovery and use by the church. The Holy Spirit cares not at all whether we write him into our credenda in the back of our hymnal. He waits for our emphasis. When he gets into the thinking of the teachers, he will get into the expectation of the hearers. When the Holy Spirit ceases to be incidental and again becomes fundamental, the power of the Spirit will be asserted once more among the people called Christians.

Personal experience must always be first in real life. The most important thing is that we experience reality by the shortest and most direct method. Knowledge by description may lead on to knowledge by acquaintance — may lead on, I say, but does not necessarily do so. Thus we dare not conclude that because we learn about the Spirit, we, for that reason, actually know him. Knowing him only comes by a personal encounter with the Holy Spirit himself.

How shall we think of the Spirit? He is a person endowed with every quality of personality such as emotion, intellect, and will. He knows, he wills, he loves, he feels affection, antipathy, and compassion. He thinks, sees, hears, and speaks, and performs any act of which personality is capable. One quality belonging to the Holy Spirit, of great interest and importance to every seeking heart, is penetrability. He can penetrate matter such as the human body. He can penetrate the mind. He can penetrate another spirit, such as the human spirit. He can achieve complete penetration of and actual intermingling with the human spirit. He can invade the human heart and make room for himself without expelling anything essentially human. The integrity of the human personality remains unimpaired. Only moral evil is forced to withdraw.

For example, we place a piece of iron in a fire and blow up the coals. First, we have two distinct substances, iron and fire. When we insert the iron in the fire, we achieve the penetration of the fire by the iron. Soon the fire begins to penetrate the iron, and we have not only the iron in the fire, but the fire in the iron as well. Thus the Spirit penetrates and fills our personalities, and we are experientially one with God.

Christ taught not the coming of the Holy Spirit and power, but the coming of the Holy Spirit as power. The power and the spirit are the same. Our Lord, before his ascension, said to his disciples, “Tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.” That word “until” is a time word. It indicates a point in relation to which everything is either before or after. So the experience of those disciples could be stated like this. Up to that point, they had not received the power. At that point, they did receive the power. After that point, they had received the power. Acts 1:8 says, “You shall receive power . . .” By those words, our Lord raised the expectation of his disciples and taught them to look forward to the coming of a supernatural potency into their natures from a source outside of themselves.

It was to be something previously unknown to them, but suddenly to come upon them from another world. It was to be nothing less than God himself entering into them. This was and is a unique afflatus, an enduement of supernatural energy affecting every department of the believers’ life and remaining with him forever. It is spiritual power. It is the kind of power that God is. At its purest, it is an unmediated force directly applied by the Spirit of God to the spirit of man. I want here boldly to assert that it is my happy belief that every Christian can have a copious outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a measure far beyond that received at conversion, and I might also say, far beyond that enjoyed by the rank and file of Orthodox believers today.

Our Need for Revival

Now here’s a footnote from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

Revival can only happen to a man who has life. It means revivifying. The Church has lost her power and is given that power again. He gave power at the beginning . . . That is revival. And God, I say again, has kept his Church alive and going by this succession of revivals throughout the centuries. To me, there is nothing that is more urgently important than this.

Do you believe in revival? Are you praying for revival? What are you trusting? Are you trusting in the power of God to pour out his Spirit upon us again, to revive us, to baptize us anew and afresh with his most blessed Holy Spirit? The Church needs another Pentecost. Every revival is a repetition of Pentecost, and it is the greatest need of the Christian Church at this present hour. Oh, may God open the eyes of our understanding on this vital matter so that we may look to him and wait upon him until, in his infinite mercy and compassion, he once more sends down from on high the power of the Holy Spirit upon us.

Theology Through Personal Experience

I want to relate my experience of what Tozer and Martyn Lloyd-Jones described, so let me talk about myself with your forbearance. I was born in California in 1937 into a family of farmers and teachers, which means we were conservative Republicans. Now, in Minnesota you would be liberal Democrats, but in California you’re conservative Republicans when you’re farmers and teachers.

I was raised by my father who basically embraced what I would describe as a Newtonian worldview. He is an engineer. He left the farm and went to college. He’s the transitional person from an agrarian world to industrialized modern life for us, technological life. My dad went to Harvard. He raised me with this philosophy of life as an engineer: a place for everything and everything in its place. The early conflicts that I had with my dad had to do with leaving my shoes on the living room floor, hanging coat hangers on the door so that when you slammed the door there was a dent in the door, and cutting off the wrong end of the butter. I never knew which was the right end. So part of my perception of reality from my family was this myth of the ordered universe, and it was simply our job to discern that order and to order our lives and the reality around us in relation to that.

Now, while my dad was a Newtonian, my mother was a social Darwinist. She didn’t know it in those terms, but my mother believed in progress. While my dad taught me that there was a place for everything and everything was to be in its place, my mom taught me to leave the world a little better than I found it. She believed in progress. So I was basically raised to put everything together and to improve everything. There’s a certain tension in those competing worldviews, but that was given to me by my family. That was my perception of reality — order and progress, two great American myths.

When I was 15 years of age at the ministry of Young Life — which I’m sure some of you are familiar with because I think they’ve been in the Twin Cities for a long time — I became a Christian at a weekend snow camp in the San Bernardino Mountains in southern California. The evangelist for the weekend was Jim Rayburn, the founder of Young Life, and he was a very persuasive evangelist. I had a conversion experience. My family background was religiously confused. There was a slight dosage of Christian Science mixed into liberal Methodism. So my conversion was really an awakening which God brought to me of who Jesus Christ is and what he had done for me.

Jim Rayburn preached very passionately and persuasively on a Saturday night with 500 kids sitting in this room about Jesus going to the cross and dying for us. I’ll never forget the hook. For those of you who are evangelists, here’s the hook. Jim said that night that there were two kinds of people at the cross when Jesus died. There was the multitude who cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” who said, in effect, “Stay out of our lives and stay on the cross, Jesus.” Then there was that small group, including the women gathered there, the beloved apostle John, and one of the dying thieves who said, in effect, “Lord, remember me.” They came not to mock him but to pray.

Then Jim said, “There’s an invisible line that runs through this room. You’re either in the crowd that says, ‘Crucify him, crucify him!’ or you’re in the crowd that has come to kneel and pray.” He said, “There’s no fence to sit on because there’s no fence. You’re in one group or the other.” Well, I knew that I’d never come to the cross to kneel and pray, but when I saw the love of Jesus for me and the tremendous need that I had in my life — and I was very much aware of that — I did. I accepted Christ that weekend about 10 times. I will say — and I mean this with all of my heart — I did not accept him, but he accepted me. It was only by his grace and mercy and by the ministry of the Holy Spirit that I was born again, but I was really born again that weekend.

An Evangelical Interruption

Now, let me tell you the problem with that. I’ll describe my conversion to you now as an evangelical interruption that really didn’t relate to my overall perception of reality. There was a place for everything, everything in his place, and I remembered I should leave the world a little better than I found it. I had a relationship with Jesus and began to grow in my faith and I was nurtured in my faith. There was a strong dose of the Navigators in Young Life in those days. We learned our “B” Rations, and we went through the TMS and began to learn Scripture. We were taught to share our faith, and we were discipled and built up. At the same time, my overall perception of reality continued to be that which was given by my parents rather than that which is established from the Scriptures. Reflecting back on that, what I realized — and I think much of the evangelical church has done this — is that I had done exactly what Francis Schaeffer accused the Neo-orthodoxy of doing, that is, that I had kicked faith into an upper story.

But rather than doing that theologically, because I believed in creation and I believe that God is the God of history and I believe that the Bible is the Word of God, was that I did it experientially. So I could maintain a life of piety and feel close to the Lord and seek to serve him in the upper story, if you will, that never really fundamentally challenged my overall perception of reality which had been given to me by my family and by the culture and by the operative assumptions of the world that I grew up in. Even after leaving the anemia of liberalism and finding myself solidly planted in a very evangelical Presbyterian church, my overall experience was that many of the assumptions of the culture were not only obviously supported and reinforced by the culture itself but also by the church.

A Life of Order and Progress

Now, because of my father being an engineer and teaching me to get everything together and that there was a place for everything and everything needed to be in its place, it was very clear that I should become a Presbyterian because if there’s one thing that the Presbyterians are preoccupied with it’s order. I don’t know if Wayne will want to say anything about a classic text in 1 Corinthians 14 or not in light of all of these other things. But that text, delivered from its context by the Presbyterians, from their point of view, thank God, has become the banner of Presbyterianism.

In the older days and among some smaller groups of Presbyterians, order is to be thought of theologically. In the larger mainstream of Presbyterianism today, it’s thought not in terms of theology but in terms of polity, and polity is the orthodoxy that holds these various theological traditions together within the main body of Presbyterians in this country.

Having grown up in a family that was preoccupied (at least in part) with order, it was very normal and very expected that I would be preoccupied with that, and what a better place to live out a life of order and ordering life than in the Presbyterian Church. So my education, my experience in the church up until a certain point was really about the power of the mind and the power of reason to control reality, and really not so much in my education, which was a little more classical because in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but certainly it has been blown large today with regard to all of the management tools that have been entrusted to the clergy. There is time management and conflict management and managerial skills to operate the modern church, and all of this in terms of ordering people and ordering the life of the church. So this was my inheritance out of my family, and it became very compatible for me in terms of my experience in the church.

Encountering the Troubles of a Generation

In 1963, I was called to the staff of Hollywood Presbyterian Church, which at that time was the largest church in the northern denomination (Presbyterian Church USA) to work with college students. I inherited a very dynamic college ministry, which actually had been mothered, not fathered, but mothered by a woman from Minneapolis, Henrietta Mears, who had come as a chemistry teacher to Hollywood many years before and who had built a Sunday school there and taught the college class for probably 30 years before she went to be with the Lord.

She was one of the most remarkable people that I’ve ever met, and she was an incredible force for God in the church today. I’m not going to speak about women in ministry, so I won’t get off on Henrietta Mears. But as you read around, you need to read about her life and the decisive influence that Henrietta Mears had on Billy Graham and Bill Bright, the foundation of Campus Crusade for Christ. The Four Spiritual Laws came right out of Miss Mears’ teaching. Bill Bright put it into booklet form. But those of you who’ve ever used the Four Laws or seen them, Miss Mears was a chemistry teacher before she became a Christian educator. She would invite students to go into the laboratory of faith. She would say just as there are natural laws in the universe, so there are spiritual laws. That was vintage Henrietta Mears. That tract probably has circulated more than any other single track in the history of the church. That’s my guess. I don’t know if that’s true or not.

But I came to Hollywood in 1963, inheriting the ministry that she had with college students. In the later 1960s, of course, the culture began to change very dramatically. God literally dragged me out of this large established Presbyterian Church onto the streets of Hollywood, where I began to encounter a whole different world, the so-called counterculture. As we know, the Vietnam War was becoming very troublesome in our country. It was terribly divisive. There were a lot of riots, there was a lot of pain, and a generation was dropping out. A lot of that generation either landed on the streets of Hollywood or passed through Hollywood as they were circulating around the country.

I was preaching in the church on a Sunday morning. After the service, a young woman waited for me. The mascara was running down her cheeks, and obviously, I needed to talk with her. We sat down together, and I asked her what I could do for her. She said, “I’m pregnant. I’ve been up on the Sunset Strip for the last several years. I don’t know who the father of my child is. My mother threw me out when I was in junior high school. I found my way to this church this morning. I haven’t been in church for ages. I came to the largest church in town to get lost in the crowd, but something that you said touched me today. I couldn’t possibly become a Christian because I’m too bad.” I knew she was ready. So we talked for about 20 minutes. We prayed and she received Christ, and Cheryl and I became friends.

The next Sunday morning, she came back to the church. I taught the college class. There was a patio and then there was a chapel on the other side, and the chapel housed the most prestigious, powerful adult Bible class in the church. Probably half of the people in that class were elders. After I taught the college class, I went out on the patio, and the college students were beginning to stream out onto the patio as well as the folks from this Bible class.

I was standing at one end of the patio, and Cheryl, my first hippie convert, spotted me from the other side of the patio. She had just shown up. She let out a shriek and came running across the patio, threw her arms around me, and gave me a big kiss right on the lips. I was single at the time and protected my reputation carefully, and she was destroying it now, and I knew that things would not be the same again. And it was true. The Lord just took me out onto the streets of Hollywood, and I became involved in all of the pain and travail that was going on at that point.

Is Whirl King?

Now, I’m not going to say anything more about that. But the reason that I bring that up to you is because my worldview — “a place for everything and everything in its place” and “leave the world a little better than you found it” — began to fall apart in the next several years. It fell apart on the streets of Hollywood because I couldn’t find a place for everything and I couldn’t get everything into its place. The anger and the pain was so severe that I couldn’t leave the world a little better than I found it.

This was the beginning of my worldview crisis. My busy life of ordering and improving and progressing was just no longer tenable for me. As a matter of fact, I got to the point of burnout where I began to have physical symptoms of the stress that I was under. The doctor that I finally went to, because my heart was acting strangely, sent me away for a complete rest at a critical point in all of this. So my body was reflecting the pain and the turmoil that I was in.

I want to read a quote to you because this will express what was happening. This is from Carl Becker, who gave some lectures at Yale in 1932. He says:

It has taken eight centuries to replace the conception of existence as divinely composed and purposeful drama by the conception of existence as a blindly running flux of disintegrating energy. But there are signs that the substitution is now fully accomplished. If we wish to reduce eight centuries of intellectual history to an epigram, we could not do better than to borrow the words of Aristophanes, “Whirl is king, having deposed Zeus.”

What I found on the streets of Hollywood was that whirl was king. If you don’t believe it, get on the plane, go to Hollywood right now, walk up and down Hollywood Boulevard, and you’ll believe it. Becker goes on. He says:

What is man that the electron should be mindful of ? Man is but a foundling in the cosmos abandoned by the forces that created him. Unparented, unassisted, and undirected by a mission or benevolent authority, he must fend for himself, and with the aid of his own limited intelligence, find his way about in an indifferent universe.”

What I experienced on the streets of Hollywood was much of what Becker says here, “Whirl is king, having deposed Zeus.” That began to crack into the way that I operated.

A Stirring Sense of Need

That time passed, however, and I left the staff of the church and began to teach at Claremont Men’s College, which is now Claremont McKenna College. It’s a secular liberal arts college in the Southern California area, a very fine, small college. One of the complexities of Claremont College is that there are five colleges that are clustered together and a graduate school and the Methodist Seminary in Southern California. I began to teach at Claremont Men’s College part time, and I did that for 10 years.

What I was really interested in doing, after all of this confusion and chaos and all the things that I’d experienced on the streets of Hollywood, was trying to put my world back together. There’s nothing more delightful than an academic environment to do that in. I could find a place for everything and start getting everything back into its place, and I could leave the world a little better than I found it. So I began to try to reassemble my life.

There was a young man who was in graduate school. He was getting his PhD in English, and he became interested in me because, as the token evangelical teaching in the religion department at Claremont Men’s College, I was somewhat notorious. So Steve became interested in me. In the mid 1970s, he was the last of the 1960s hippies that I had seen. He had long hair and a long beard. He never changed his clothes, and he wore sandals. He found me and began to become my friend. We enjoyed each other. He was from Yakima, Washington. He had become a Christian through the Jesus Movement in the 1960s. So we had some common interests, and we began to talk together and get to know each other.

In the course of our relationship, one day Steve said to me, “You know, Don, he said, there’s something missing in your life.” I said, “Oh, really? What is it?” He said, “You need the power of the Holy Spirit in your life.” So I said, “Well, we all do, don’t we?” He said, “Yeah, but you especially do.” So I quickly changed the subject.

Now, the reason that I quickly changed the subject is because when I came to Hollywood Presbyterian Church in 1963, there was a little charismatic fringe group in that church. They had pursued me for a brief period of time. They wanted me to come to these prayer meetings. I actually ended up going to one. It was one of the worst experiences of my life. It was one of the strangest things that I’ve ever experienced. These people sat around holding hands, praying “banana” backwards. I was glad that I was near the door and I slipped out as soon as I could from this very strange thing.

So when Steve said, “You need the power of the Holy Spirit in your life,” I thought, “Hmm,” and my early warning defense system went on, and I began to wonder about him. I said the right things to him. But every now and then he would remind me of that. I really liked him a lot. I liked the way his mind worked. I liked the kind of person that he was, and we had a fun time talking together and being together. So I kind of tolerated this other part of Steve and his concern for me.

The Moment of Decision

That takes me to one evening at our home in Glendale. We had Steve over for dinner. Before the evening ended, Steve said, “Don, would you mind if I read some verses from the Book of Acts to you?” By this time, I thought, “Well, I know what’s coming, but that’s all right.” I said, “Sure, go ahead.” He read from Acts Chapter 2 about the day of Pentecost, and Acts Chapter 8 about the coming of the Spirit to the Samaritans, and Acts Chapter 10 about Cornelius’s conversion, and Paul’s meeting with the followers of John in Ephesus. He read these passages to me, and I listened politely. Then that brought the evening to an end.

I got up the next morning and went out to study and to begin to have my devotional time, which I tried to do fairly regularly and pray a little bit. As I did that, I began to have some very strange physical sensations. My extremities began to tingle. I felt a tingling in my fingers and in my toes. It was strange. As I sat there feeling this, my pulse rate began to speed up. My first thought was, “What was in the spaghetti sauce?” As I sat there and began to have more and more physical sensations, my mind went back to the previous evening and what Steve had said to me in these passages that he’d read from the Book of Acts. I thought at that moment, “Could it be? Could it be?”

Now, Dale Bruner, who teaches theology at Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington, is an old and dear friend of mine. Dale’s book, A Theology of the Holy Spirit, was based on his doctoral dissertation at Hamburg University. Dale had been my teacher in my understanding of the Holy Spirit. That book is a critique of Pentecostal theology and an assertion that there’s one reality, one event, so to speak. Actually, Dale would identify it now with baptism, not with conversion. This whole idea of a second experience was theologically suspect.

I believed what Dale had taught and written, so I was theologically defended against what Steve had been sharing with me. I was also culturally defended against it because of my preoccupation with control and order. Yet, here I was sitting here in my study beginning to have these very strange physical sensations. I began to pray, and I said, “Lord, could this possibly be you? Is it possible that you want to do something in my life more than you’ve done? Is it possible that there’s something for me to experience beyond what I’ve experienced of you?”

I knew at that point that I had a decision to make. The decision was either to go with it and say, “Okay, God, if it’s you, you can do anything you want to. I’ll give you permission for that,” or to say, “This is crazy. This is weird. This is emotionalism. Something is strange here, or even demonic. I need to shut it down and get out of here and go take a walk or something, and just disassociate myself from whatever is going on.” I sat there and I knew that I had to make that decision. So I thought with Gamaliel, “If this is from God, go for it. If it’s not, it’s not going to make any difference anyway.”

A Spring of Inexpressible Joy

As I sat there and the sensations continued to become stronger and stronger, I remembered a little place where I used to go and pray as a new Christian on the other side of the town where we were living in Glendale, California, up on a fire break. I thought, “Maybe I’ll go over there. I think I’ll go over there.” So I got in my car, drove across town, walked up on the fire break, and found myself up in the hills and sat down. I took my Bible with me, and just sat there and prayed.

As I sat there and prayed, tremendous joy began to explode inside of me. I began to laugh, I began to cry, and I began to praise God. It was just coming out of me. All I can tell you is — and I have to bear witness to this — is that there was incredible joy that was being released in me. I was so happy that there was only sagebrush and bunnies around me, because in that setting, I was able to just kind of let this out. All that I had, the desire that I had in my heart at this time, was just to praise Jesus, just to give him praise and to express this right out of the very center of my being. I experienced such an overwhelming sense of joy that was just flooding out of me.

As I was praising him and worshiping him, and that’s really what was going on, there came a point in which English was no longer adequate to express my joy. My experience was, at that point, as if God said, “I’ve given you so much joy that the structure of the language cannot express it, so I’ll just give you a little gift to help you express this joy.” Out of me came this babble of incoherent syllables, and it was just an incredible release of energy and joy and glossolalia.

I sat there in my rational mind thinking, “This is one of the stupidest things that I’ve ever experienced in my whole life. I can’t believe this is happening to me. This does not happen. I know it doesn’t happen because I’ve read the books that say it doesn’t happen, and so I know this doesn’t happen, and this is really stupid. This is the stupidest thing that’s ever happened to me.” My mind was saying that while this incredible (to use drug language) rush was going on.

It lasted for about a half an hour probably. Then little by little it began to dissipate, and I walked down out of the hills. But let me tell you, bottom line, one of the consequences of that experience. I walked down out of the hills, and I remember saying it out loud as I walked down that fire break, “The whole thing is true.” As much as I know anything about anything about anything, that’s what I have to say to you today.

The Spirit Bears Witness

When Paul says that the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirits, more than I knew anything and more than I knew myself, I knew that it was all true. I also knew that my perception of reality now had been fundamentally challenged by God. Let me say, I’m a Calvinist. Nobody laid hands on me. Nobody told me to pray “banana” backwards. Nobody told me to repent and fast and wait upon God and do this and this and this and this and this.

It was not a time of any serious perceptible spiritual need in my life. My marriage wasn’t in trouble. It was in trouble later, not then. It got in trouble because I went home and told my wife what had happened to me. All I can say to you is that this experience of the release of tremendous joy and power in my life came simply because God sovereignly intersected my life at a point of his choosing and, I think, gave me the grace to say, “Okay, Lord, if this is you, then go for it.”

I didn’t know what to do with the experience, and I didn’t know why God had done this to me. I wasn’t charismatic. I had no interest in them. I was afraid of them. I thought they were weird and emotionally troubled people. Theologically, I was far from any Arminian theology or any Wesleyan theology and what have you. The only thing that I could figure out at the time was that, because the Lord had given me a fairly wide ministry with a lot of different Christians, that this was like a calling card to the charismatics. Maybe if God wanted me to ever minister in that world and they said, “Do you?” and I could say, “I do.”

Marital Crisis and Worship Reform

Now, I have to make a leap here into the 1980s. I became the pastor, much to my surprise, of a Presbyterian church in the San Diego area, in La Jolla, California, in the early 1980s. It was Mount Soledad Presbyterian Church. It was a little church that was literally dying. They had five families, and they were within two months of closing the doors when I began to preach there on Sundays. I was doing other things, but I filled in for the pastor who had gone on vacation. One thing led to another, and I inherited the church, and God began to grow this church. Things began to turn around, and it became a very fun and exciting place for ministry. But in 1983, my wife and I did go into a crisis in our marriage, and a lot of things that had been denied and suppressed and not dealt with had to be dealt with. I was in a lot of emotional pain.

Had a friend who kept telling me about John Wimber, this guy who was teaching this class on signs and wonders and church growth at Fuller Seminary, and it had become the most popular class in the seminary, and I had to go hear John. Well, I never did. I never got up to Fuller to do that. The class met on Monday nights. But I found myself in the LA area on a Sunday, and I decided that I would check his church out on Sunday evening. They were meeting in a high school gymnasium in Anaheim Hills called Canyon High School. The service began at 6:00 p.m. I worked my time out to get there. I got there just about 6:00 and saw people literally running toward the gymnasium. So I parked and wandered in.

Here were a couple thousand people crammed into this gym. There was a little worship band on the platform. I went and sat up in the bleachers, and found a spot to sit. John got up and began to just lead worship music. They just sang one song after another. There was no overhead projector. There were no lyric sheets. Everybody seemed to know them. They were simple. They were easy to sing with. I sat there with a lot of emotional pain inside watching these 2,000 people. Most of them were seated. Some stood, some knelt, some were crying. Clearly, they were there to be in the presence of the Lord. And I was intrigued by that, and I was touched by that. Although I didn’t know any of the music, I began to be able to sing a little bit with them.

John got up to speak. He had overalls on, and he’d been playing the keyboards, and he was somewhat overweight and looked like he came from Iowa. He looked like he should have his pitchfork somewhere. I thought, “Where’s his pitchfork?” Now, because I had some sense of the origins of the Vineyard movement in Calvary Chapel, I expected John to probably talk about the scarlet woman or the Ten Kings or some apocalyptic, end-of-the-world message from the Book of Revelation. That’s what I thought probably would be going on that night.

Well, it turned out he didn’t. He talked about George Ladd and the New Testament eschatology. Taught from Galatians, and I felt very comfortable with the teaching. He was speaking my language. I couldn’t imagine how anybody else around me was really understanding what he was saying because the average age was about 19 in the room. But John’s message probably was, in part, for me that night. Then after he taught, he had some prophetic words about people who God wanted to minister to and a lot of people were prayed for and what have you. I walked out into the California night in my pain, saying to myself, “I don’t know really what worship is, but whatever worship is, this is worship here and it’s state of the art.”

A New Dimension of Ministry

That was the beginning of a whole transformation, not only for me in the middle 1980s, but also for this little Presbyterian church. I realized that what happened on the hillside of Glendale in the mid 1970s wasn’t to give me a calling card to charismatics, but it was to bring the power and the joy of the Spirit of God into my life and open me up to the gifts that I had denied in such a way that in God’s time and in God’s place, which was now 1983, I would begin to be equipped for a kind of ministry that would be absolutely and radically different from that which I had participated in and experienced heretofore.

My contact with John then, which became very personal and intimate and wonderful for me through this period of pain and very healing, began to bring me into a whole new dimension of ministry. The need for and the necessity for the power of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit — all the gifts of the Holy Spirit — became functional to me and for me rather than abstract and theological and debatable.

I began to see that the ministry that God wanted for his church today was the ministry of Jesus. If Jesus needed the power of the Holy Spirit for his ministry, the Church needs the power of the Holy Spirit for his ministry today. What Jesus intended for his Church was that we would be involved in, what I would call, kingdom ministry, overcoming the kingdom of darkness by seeing the kingdom of God manifested in the life of the Church today. That was the critical point. That was the critical turning point for me.

Prayer and Healing

In our little Presbyterian church in the summer of that year when I was going through so many changes and so much pain in my own life, I’d heard John mention a man by the name of Francis MacNutt. Francis was a former Dominican priest who had married, but he had been a major force in the charismatic renewal in the Catholic Church. Somebody told me that Francis and his wife, Judith, were going to be at a Methodist renewal conference in downtown San Diego at the end of that summer. Because I heard John talk about Francis, I wanted to see him and his wife and hear them, so I went to this conference. I was very deeply touched by both of them and their ministry.

They vacationed in La Jolla the next week where our little church was. Through a friend, I was able to get in touch with Francis. We got on the phone together and I said, “You don’t know me. I’m in this little Presbyterian church. Would you be open to coming up here Sunday and ministering to our church?” He said that he would, and he did. He came up for the Sunday evening service. We announced it Sunday morning. The service was Sunday evening. There were probably about 350 people there, which was spectacular attendance for our evening service.

We had some worship. Francis got up and talked very simply about Jesus’s healing ministry from Mark’s Gospel. Then he said, “Let’s pray for some people and see if this is going on today or not.” So he identified an area of sickness that would be good to pray for, that he felt gifted to pray for, and asked for a couple volunteers. A couple people volunteered. They came up and they talked about their disability. I’ll never forget Francis saying, “Now come over here, Don, and watch this.” He said, “Nothing is happening.” Then he said, “We’re going to pray and something will happen.” I stood there watching, and Francis was right. He began to pray, and something began to happen. Both of these two men experienced significant healing in probably three or four minutes of Francis praying for them, and they were able to identify that symptomatically to the rest of the church.

Well, the service started at 6:30 p.m., and it went on until after 11:00 p.m. that night. Francis just invited people to come to the platform to be prayed for. He just laid his hands on people and prayed for them. He prayed for their healing. I was leaning against the piano on the other side of the platform, and I was watching this. Francis is a very imposing person. He has chiseled features, gray hair, and penetrating eyes. He’s kind of hunched over just a little bit. He’s a marvelous looking man as well as a marvelous person. He’s become a very dear friend of mine.

I watched Francis laying hands on people and praying for them, and all these people gathered around him, and it was just very, very quiet. I was leaning against the piano as I was watching this, and I thought to myself, “This reminds me of something. What is it? What is it? What is it? What is it? Oh, yeah, the Gospels!” It was as if I could see Jesus ministering to all these hurting people. Now, I share this with you because it was one thing to go to Anaheim or to watch John Wimber, or whatever, and to read books. It’s another thing to have somebody come to your church, to your people, and pray for them. That was the beginning of the beginning for this congregation in terms of the turn.

What Is Your Vision for Ministry?

Now, I have to leave this behind because I have to just share one thing. Then we want to have some questions. You see, here was the issue that was being forced to me — that is, Don, what is your agenda for ministry? What do you want to see happen in your ministry? What do you want to see happen in the church? The question, which was being pressed upon me, was, is it your agenda for ministry and the church to let it be accommodated to the modern, scientific worldview? Is that your agenda for ministry? Is your agenda for ministry to order the church, having everything decently and in order? Is your agenda for ministry to help people to progress? You can call it sanctification, you can bless it with a theological word. But is it just to build a bigger church, a better church and have happier people and more success? Is progress your vision for ministry? What’s your vision for ministry?

This was being forced and pressed in upon me. The question is, do you want Jesus’s agenda for ministry, or do you want some other agenda, or your own agenda? Then the question is, what’s Jesus’s agenda for ministry? I want to read it to you from Luke Chapter 4 when Jesus goes into the synagogue at Nazareth and takes the Isaiah scroll and reads. He says:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:18–19).

That’s the Jubilee year. Now, what I would assert to you this morning is that Luke actually edits this encounter in the synagogue in Nazareth into his Gospel, into the structure right here, though it is fairly Markan. He edits this in as the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry, and this stands in the Gospel as Peter’s sermon on Pentecost stands in the Book of Acts. It’s the scriptural, in a sense, thesis for the ministry of Jesus, and the ministry of Jesus as it’s narrated by Luke as it unfolds is a commentary on this text. So the text is given to us largely from Isaiah 61. The text is given to us, and then the narration of Jesus’s ministry is the commentary. Look at what’s given here.

It says, ““The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he anointed me . . .” (Luke 6:18). First of all, Jesus has been anointed for ministry. But why the power? Why the anointing? Why does Jesus need the anointing? Why do we need the anointing? Why did he say to the disciples, “Wait until you’re endued with power from on high”? Why did he promise them, “You should receive power”? Why the anointing power of the Holy Spirit? The answer is, first, because he anointed him first to preach the gospel to the poor, to evangelize the poor; second, to proclaim release to the captives, to set those who are in bondage free to bring release to the captives; third, to bring recovery of sight to the blind (restoration); fourth, to free those who are downtrodden (liberation).

Jesus’s Kingdom Ministry

That’s Jesus’ agenda for ministry. That’s kingdom ministry. That’s the Kingdom of God coming against the kingdom of Satan. That’s the Kingdom of God coming against the kingdom of darkness. That’s the power of the Holy Spirit coming against the power of the evil one, battling it out in the wilderness, and the power of the Holy Spirit coming against all this demonic infestation and attachment as Jesus moves out in his public ministry. So the Spirit of God comes upon our Lord. He’s anointed to do certain things, to reestablish God’s kingdom rule right now, his authority in people’s lives over and against all of the bondages and hurts and wounds and the power of darkness that has kept them from knowing the life of God, the salvation of God, and the liberation of God in their lives.

Preaching Good News to the Poor

The anointing power of the Holy Spirit is not so that you can sit on a hillside in Glendale and have all kinds of wonderful spiritual and emotional thrills and babble away in tongues and prove that these gifts are for today. The anointing power of the Holy Spirit is for the sake of kingdom ministry, and kingdom ministry then is to evangelize the poor. Why are the poor unevangelized? Because the church is impotent, the church can only go to lookalikes, the church can only go to those who think and act and talk like us, or who are a part of our sociological cut because we don’t know the power of the Holy Spirit.

When the power of the Holy Spirit comes, the poor, the dispossessed, the homeless, the downtrodden, and the broken will be evangelized, only then. Because it’s only in the power of the Holy Spirit that we can confront addiction and crime and violence and gang violence and all the things that are on the streets, and a generation of people who’ve been sexually and physically and verbally abused and who are broken and who cannot be patched together by medication or by psychiatric care. Even if they could, we can’t afford it. So we’d better have the Spirit of God if we’re going to minister to the poor. This is the evangelization of the poor. If the poor are to be evangelized, it will be out of the anointing power of the Holy Spirit. That’s number one.

Setting the Captives Free

Second, the power of the Holy Spirit comes to set the captives free, deliverance. Jesus has come to release the captives, to proclaim this good news that what held you in bondage now will have to go, before the authority and the power of the Lord Jesus Christ.

One of my best and dearest friends was a cocaine addict for 12 years, and I rode the rollercoaster of his addiction with him for about two years. I can’t tell you the story. I don’t have the time for the story, but let me tell you that I and a psychologist friend of mine finally got together with my friend Tommy one night in the midst of the despair of his addiction to cocaine, and we began to pray for him. As we prayed for him, eight demons came out of him.

If he were here today, he’d stand on the platform and say to you, “That night, the compulsive addiction to cocaine was broken. I woke up the next morning for the first time in years with no desire for that drug.” Let me tell you, the cure rate for addiction to cocaine is almost zip. Jesus can do what nobody else can. He’s come to expel the powers of darkness and to drive them out of people. And that’s deliverance.

Healing the Sick

And he’s come to heal the sick. He’s come to heal the sick. It’s that simple. There is recovery of sight to the blind. There are a lot of blind eyes that pop open, literally and physically, in Jesus’s ministry. Luke said it. He summarized it in that way. Of course, you can talk about spiritual blindness and spiritual oppression if you want to, but there’s a lot of physical stuff, partly because we accept a Hebraic understanding of human nature. To heal the soul is to begin to heal the body as well. Many people whose bodies have been healed have found their souls healed. Jesus has come to do that, and he’s come to minister to the sick. That’s kingdom ministry. Hans Küng says that where the kingdom is being manifest, creation is being restored. That’s the ministry of Jesus. He is overcoming what Satan has stolen and corrupted and destroyed, and that which stands under the wrath of God now is being restored by the ministry of Jesus. I could illustrate that substantially for you this morning.

One of the elders in our church had a cancerous tumor in her neck. The surgeon lived next door to her. The operation was set for the next day. She asked for prayer the night before the surgery, so the elders came and laid hands on her and prayed for her. She woke up the next morning, and the tumor was gone. There was no surgery. That doesn’t happen every time. I’ve had funerals for people that we prayed for regarding healing from cancer. We live in the tension of the kingdom come and coming, and we have to minister in that/tension. But just because people aren’t healed doesn’t mean that they can’t be healed.

The question isn’t, are people being healed? The question is, are we praying for people to be healed? Are we participating in the kingdom ministry of Jesus to bring recovery of sight to the blind? And then there is justice, to lift the oppression off of people. That has a whole social context, and I don’t have the time to talk about that now.

So the question is, why the power? The answer is that we need the power of the Holy Spirit to carry out the ministry of Jesus, his agenda for ministry. If his agenda becomes our agenda, we ask, “How on earth do you evangelize the poor? How do you deliver people from demons and oppression? How do you heal the sick? How do you bring God’s order and God’s justice into all the disorder of this broken world?” Once we embrace that agenda, if we really embrace it from our hearts, we’ll be on our knees crying out for the power of God because it’s only through the power of God, I believe, that agenda will be carried out by the church today. That’s where I’m going to end. Are there any questions?

Questions and Answers

I can relate to what you’re saying at the end because in my church we’re getting some of the poor and depressed. As I get to know some of these people, they’re messed up in big ways. Now, in Isaiah, he also says, “My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge” (Isaiah 5:3). Now, all of these people are only going to be saved by the grace of God and by the work of the Holy Spirit — that is, to be regenerated — and also, some of these other things will be broken.

Now, do you pursue a dual track? Because on the one hand, they only need the power of God, but on the other hand, when I talk to them, I see that a lot of their ideas are just flat out wrong. Their marriage is based on a wrong understanding of what will make security and what will make them satisfied. Because of their lack of knowledge, they go into exile. So do you propose in your church a dual track of praying for relief from power, but also through teaching and counseling and instruction, that kind of thing? Are you advocating power without knowledge? Or where does knowledge come into ministry?

Again, if you go back to the text in Luke Chapter 4, Jesus has come to proclaim good news, and that good news is the gospel, but that good news is the whole of the Word of God. So there’s a message to be proclaimed and a ministry to be carried out. The problem is that we’ve had way too much message and way too little ministry. So in a sense, my stress on the ministry side this morning is to try to bring balance.

But absolutely. The truth has to dispel error as well as the power dispelling demons. We need to have the mind of Christ, and we need to speak the truth in love and grow up into Christ. So we have a tremendous, in a sense, re-parenting and educational task with most people, not just with the poor. And that’s for most people today. The family structure, the family system has broken down. The nominal Christian ethics of our culture, which were based in a series of revivals, were finally blown away by the 1960s. We cannot assume anything about any ethical absolutes in people today. This is for the whole church, not simply for the poor. But they are perhaps the most extreme examples of that because they’re so dysfunctional in terms of being able to operate within what we call more of a normal life in this world.

Help me to understand the message of the Book of Acts. Are you saying that in the Book of Acts, Luke intends the church to understand that, in the same way that Jesus was anointed for ministry in the Gospel of Luke, so the church is to be anointed for a Jesus-like ministry, a kingdom ministry by the Spirit? Are we to understand the instances of the Holy Spirit coming in the Book of Luke — the passage that your friend, Steve, read to you — as teaching that we have the Spirit? God has given all we need to us and we believe it. Is our path to believe what God has done and to live it out by faith, or are we to seek more?

I think I know what you’re saying. Because prior to my own experience of the empowering of the Holy Spirit in my life, which I described to you, I would’ve said we all received this. We just have to believe it and act as if it’s so. It’s kind of like some faith evangelists, who say, “Claim your healing and throw away your glasses. Don’t worry about your eyes. Just believe you’re healed because we said you were healed in Jesus’s name. So get out of the wheelchair, come on down the aisle. It doesn’t matter whether you can walk or not. Just claim it. Name it and claim it.” Then that’s pretty much the theology of the evangelical church about the Holy Spirit.

What I’m saying is, no, absolutely not. He says, “Wait in Jerusalem until you’re endowed with power from on high.” The Holy Spirit, as Tozer says, is power, and you know whether you have the power or not. Now, I don’t believe that there’s a once-for-all filling that keeps you forever and ever and ever. I think there are many fillings. As someone said, “I’ve been filled with the Holy Spirit, but I leak.” So we need to be filled and refilled day by day, moment by moment, ministry opportunity by ministry opportunity. But you’ll know whether you’ve been filled or not. It’s not a matter of doctrine. It’s a matter of experience. Because if it were a matter of doctrine, then there would be no history of revival because the church would always be revived, right? There would be no history of the falling of the Holy Spirit upon God’s people and the incredible consequences of that. So both the Book of Acts and the history of the Church bear witness to the reality of the experience of the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Are there steps to wait for that to happen?

Yes, why not? See, on the one hand, I believe it’s really the sovereign grace of God. On the other hand, Jesus did say, “Wait in Jerusalem,” so that’s something you can do. You can wait. Scripture also says, “Those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength” (Isaiaih 40:31). There are a bunch of verses about that. Scripture also says, “Be still and know that I’m God” (Psalm 46:10). They also prayed. I think we can pray. I think that’s very legitimate. I think you have not because you ask not (James 4:3). So that’s an encouragement to pray. But waiting and praying doesn’t guarantee anything. I didn’t wait and I didn’t pray. The Holy Spirit came and just showed up and knocked me right off my theological horse, and I went blind into Damascus.

On the other hand, I know many people who have been empowered by the Holy Spirit. They’ve received the gift of tongues. They’ve moved into a whole new dimension of ministry because people have laid hands on them and prayed for them. It happened in the Book of Acts. It happens in the church today. Why not? But what I want to say is that — I’m now asserting my theological position — there’s no particular gift that’s the sign of being filled with the Holy Spirit or empowered by the Holy Spirit. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, “The infallible sign of being filled with the Holy Spirit is shining faces.” That’s a pretty subjective answer, isn’t it? Go around measuring shining faces.

But power is power. I used to do this as a kid, though I didn’t continue to do it. I would take bobby pins and I’d stick them in the plugs in the wall. One day I made contact. I never did that again. The disciples didn’t sit around and say, “We have a theology of power, now let’s go act like we have it.” They waited until the power of the Holy Spirit came upon them. Then they were released, and they acted like mad men. Some of the people thought they were drunk. There’s a real reason for that. When Paul says, “Don’t be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18), the coming of the Holy Spirit is an overpowering of us in many respects — overpowering our minds, overpowering our control, overpowering our emotions, overpowering our defenses, and overpowering our unbelief. He is overpowering us and releasing us then into the ministry that God wants us to have. It doesn’t happen all at once.

The definition of the gospel, especially in light of 1 Corinthians 15:3–4 as Paul describes the gospel, is the death and resurrection of Jesus, and he doesn’t go into the other aspects of kingdom ministry. I’m interested in your definition of the gospel and how it relates to kingdom ministry.

Well, you’re absolutely right. First Corinthians 15:3–4 is Paul’s kerygmatic summary. It’s not really Paul’s though because it lies deeper in the history of the Church. He says, “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures . . .”

What I would say is that the resurrection appearances of our Lord in his glory are the seal of his triumph, of his conquest of sin, Satan, and death. But what we believe is that on the cross, when Jesus died, he not only cleansed us from our sins as the perfect sacrifice for sin, but religion also died at Calvary. All of the works of the law, all the demands of the law were taken by our Lord. Satan was defeated at Calvary. The principalities and powers of darkness were overcome. When Jesus died, the wrath of God was lifted from us. In other words, all of the bondage and brokenness that we experience in our fallen state is dealt with decisively before God in the atoning death of Jesus. It’s about the change that goes on in God himself — if I can put it that radically — but also the immediate change in our relationship with him and the whole cosmic context in which we live.

When you probe into what Paul means by “Christ crucified” and what the meaning of his death and resurrection is — where he overcomes death, where he vacates the grave and is now the risen, reigning triumphant Lord over all things — you see that’s the critical thing. The Spirit mediates that resurrection life to us. But it’s the mediation of Christ’s triumph and his reign and his glory to us that comes through the Holy Spirit.

(Ph.D.) is pastor emeritus and founder of Coast Vineyard in La Jolla, California.