So apparently in early April, revival broke out in Lakeland Florida, showing up in Ignited Church via the ministry of Todd Bentley. I just found out last week. It’s funny; 10 years ago I would have known about this probably hours after the first sparks. ‘Cause you see, I was a card-carrying Pentecostal from 1989-1995 or so, in A/G land and an indie church. I (along with my family) had a life-changing encounter with God the Holy Spirit and that was our spiritual home – a wonderful, wacky, exuberant and turbulent home, as it turned out.
In the mid-1990s we opted for considerably more staid waters in the conservative Reformed PCA world, a connection forged not by a doctrinaire conversion but via relationship – I went to an arts camp sponsored by the church and the multitalented Irby family (I’m sure more of ’em have websites, but this is the one I know off the top of my head, from my best friend and singer-songwriter, Seth). It turned out my parents were ultimately unable to make the transition long haul – they could go from pragmatic Southern Baptists to ecstatic Praise-the-Lord-ers, but not to a church whose crowning glory was some 400-year-old theology, it seems. They lasted maybe a year in the Presbyterian Church and then bowed out. (These days? They’re IHOP-ers!) Me? I ate it up. Not the dogma per se, but being in an environment that encouraged (to some degree, at least) the life of the mind, and didn’t get bothered by drinking, smoking and rock-and-roll. And oh yes, I got into Reformed too – at my peak, I was probably a 3.5 Calvinist. 🙂
So what does this have to do with the present ‘outpouring’ in Lakeland? Well, everything. After a couple of years at Harvester (for that was the name of the church), I became an assistant worship leader. This was more a testament to their utter desperation than my musical ability, poor things. But I was passionate about church music, and opinionated. The root of my passion would ultimately drive me out of the PCA, and (to the best of my ability) out of denominated Christianity ever since. Namely, I missed the music. The music from my two previous Pentecostal churches – that hand-clapping, feet-stomping, exultant music where you sang out to God like your life depended on it. The hourlong worship times that left you spent like…well, I wouldn’t have known about that at the time. But it wasn’t just Spirit-filled nostalgia; I even missed some of the Baptist hymns. And – don’t pigeonhole me – I really liked some of the songs and hymns we sung at Harvester; I just wished we sang them with more immediacy, like God might’ve actually been there.
So I started working on this song book – this big honkin’ songbook, which I still have. I’m sure portions of it are totally illegal (the CCLI is gonna be busting down my door any minute), but I took about a dozen, maybe 20, hymnals and songbooks, and copied out every song I ever liked. Baptist, Pentecostal, Messianic Jewish…and Vineyard. I then, by hand with a copier, formatted each page (from tiny hymnals to oversized contemporary worship songbooks) to a uniform size and spiral-bound them. 350 songs in all. And we started using it.
Within six months, I was gone. I used to tell this story about how I was kicked out, but I don’t think that’s the most accurate way to put it (my sincere apologies to any friends from Harvester who ever felt vilified by that telling of its ending). The deepest truth is, I wanted out. And while the main reason I made my exit in ’99 is because I was exploring post-denominational forms of house church, an important sub-reason (that usually gets left out of my telling, for the two of you who pay rapt attention to my autobiography on this here blog) is that I was enjoying something of a “absence makes the heart grow fonder” romance with the charismatic stream.
Ah, the charismatics. Or “third wave,” “prophetic,” “apostolic,” & “renewal,” if you will. By comparison to their Pentecostal first cousins, charismatics were so cool and laid back. They didn’t insist that everyone had to speak in tongues to be ‘filled with the Spirit’ (even though I did and–gasp!–do practice glossolalia, on an almost daily basis, I was never comfortable making this the ‘secret ingredient’ for others), and they were more willing to integrate with the insights of whatever ecclesiology/theology they were buzzing around, be that mainline (in the early days) or evangelical or (even) Reformed. Probably around this time I fancied myself a Reformed Charismatic, like the Church Formerly Known As People of Destiny or maybe Sam Storms.
But the main reason I started flirting with the charismatic world again after all these years wasn’t just for the gifts, or the integration. It was for the music. “God is speaking through the music,” Kevin Prosch crooned, and I was tuning in. Rewind to my assistant worship leader days, just starting on my song book. I got reacquainted with an Assemblies of God friend, now the worship leader at my old church. Like one fiend to another he handed me, somewhat sheepishly, the Revival in Brownsville tape (yes, we still had tapes in the last quarter of the ’90s), and – better still – the Vineyard’s Winds of Worship CDs. Even though I started sneaking grunge and other ‘90s alternative music a few years previous (as a recovering homeschooled fundie, this was kind of a big deal), I was still blown away by the sounds of Lindell Cooley (whom I originally thought was a black man, only to see him in person at Brownsville to discover his white-ness, much to my disappointment), David Ruis, and Brian Doerksen.
By then, my semi(re)baptism into charismatic life was complete. Man, 1999 was busy. I had taken the year off from college to prepare for Y2K (worth at least a few blog posts in and of itself!), worked full-time at a carpet mill, then later waited tables at Rio Bravo, all the while experimenting big-time…spiritually. I was in what would be my last year at the Presbyterian church, courting the house church that would be home for seven years, but I also inhabited this sort of space that was created by these two gravitational pulls, this Holy Spirit vacuum, if you will.
What did I do? I went to Blood-N-Fire with my girlfriend, Vineyard Sunday night (now Trinity Vineyard) with my friend Michelle, and Northgate Church of Atlanta with my then-new friends the Delongs and McConnells, easily the most charismatic people (in all the best ways) I’d ever met. I also discovered Enter the Worship Circle and the music (and writings) of Morningstar, which resonated with me.
So for those of you too cowardly to attend yourselves–grin–what went on at these revivals? People preached-about ‘salvation’ to be sure, but also about Christians operating in higher levels of the Spirit, in the ‘glory realm,’ manifesting signs and wonders, being a great end-times force to be reckoned with, apparently. But you didn’t go to most of these meetings for the preaching. You came for (yes) the music, and to receive an impartation of whatever it was the speaker (usually a guest-speaker from out of town) seemed to have. Once at Northgate a prince from Ghana even spoke!
Much of the time, there seemed to be more talk about stupendous signs and wonders than actual manifestation. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t add that, about five times in 1999 in different settings, I personally witnessed some ‘gold dust’ or ‘glory dust’ manifestations: People’s teeth turning to gold, gold powder and oil emanating from people’s hands and arms and forehead while praying or singing, and sometimes, gold dust manifesting from thin air (see this golden oldie post for more on that).
And that was that, nearly 10 years ago. As soon as 1999 faded from view and I returned to school, my dreams of civilization’s unraveling dashed, I wasn’t consistently involved in any one church–charismatic or no–for about 18 months. What has my forlorn lover been up to in the intervening decade? That’s what we intend to explore next time!