Renewal is happening NOW!

When we recite the Apostles’ Creed, we say the words, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” It’s a fine idea to believe in the Holy Spirit, and, of course, it is essential to proper Christian doctrine. But what are the practical implications of this affirmation? What does the Holy Spirit do in the life of the believer? John Wesley once said that one could be as orthodox as the devil, and just as lacking in the true religion of the heart. An encounter with the Holy Spirit is, I believe, the key to the religion of the heart that was so crucial to Wesley’s theology.

As I walk alongside other United Methodists, as well as Christians of many other stripes, I don’t often see a great deal of emphasis on the power and work of the Holy Spirit. Too often, God seems to function as a construct that gives weight to our ethical principles, but we do not see God as an agent who actually works in our lives.

Perhaps this is why I am so drawn to the work of Aldersgate Renewal Ministries. This is a renewal movement within the UMC that is often identified as charismatic. Yes, I know the term “charismatic” carries a lot of baggage, but it simply refers to a way of being Christian that involves a strong sense of divine agency and the belief that God gives gifts to the church. Paul talks about these gifts in 1 Cor 12:4-11:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

I just returned from three days at the ARM annual conference on Spirit-filled living. It was three days where Christian brothers and sisters came together simply to worship God and learn from one another about the ways in which the Holy Spirit can work in our lives for the good.

ARM 2015

One of the highlights of the conference was a sermon delivered by Cuban bishop Ricardo Pereira. He is a powerful, compelling, and Spirit-filled preacher. I’ve written before about the Cuban Methodist revival, which I was privileged to see first hand last January. It was great for folks at the conference to get a glimpse of what is happening there.

Pereira 2

Bishop Ricardo Pereira, along with Rev. Jacquie Leveron, who translated for him.

There were a number of very fine breakout sessions, including one by my friend and colleague Peter Bellini that related to his book Truth Therapy. My wife Harriet and I presented together in a couple of sessions on the love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit in raising a child with disabilities. Later, I presented by myself on reading the Bible for growth in the faith in anticipation of a book I’m writing on this topic. You can see a list of all the conference speakers by clicking here.

My older son, Luke, attended a concurrent meeting for teens called the Gate. He’s a pretty shy kid, so I wasn’t sure how he’d like it, but he LOVED it and can’t wait to go back next year. (THANK YOU, Gate folks!).

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: Aldersgate Renewal Ministries is the most important thing going in the UMC today. The Holy Spirit is the driver of all true renewal in the church, and ARM is helping us to recover pneumatological aspects of our tradition that have been lost to modernity, including signs and wonders, a full-bodied concept of conversion, prophecy, and words of knowledge and wisdom.

I know many people who are praying for renewal in the UMC and beyond, and we should continue to do this. But what we need also to understand is that renewal is happening now. You just have to know where to look for it. And in the UMC it’s happening through Aldersgate Renewal Ministries. Thanks be to God.

12 thoughts on “Renewal is happening NOW!

  1. ARM 2015 was truly a blessing. There was such a fresh and powerful move of the Spirit that swept through every session. People were truly touched and transformed by the living God in intimate and meaningful ways. I wish my whole UM family could have been there to experience it. There is no substitute for the manifest presence of God. I believe it is the only hope for what our church is facing in these days.

  2. I think it’s great that so many people had positive experiences at ARM. That said, I grew up in southeastern Kentucky surrounded by Pentecostal and Charismatic churches, where speaking in tounges was common and on rare occasions even snake handling. I never attended these services but was surrounded by them. There’s a big emphasis on sin that can block the working of the Spirit so that those who don’t get miracles are themselves blamed. Speaking in Tounges and other signs can be seen as a test of who’s a real or better Christian. Emotionalism can rule and set people up for manipulation. Pat Robertson, the 700 Club, and the Rapture are all seen as legitimate, Biblical literalism is the rule, evolution is suspect and avoiding the World is paramount. When I read 1 Cor 12:4-11, it seems to me that Paul was to trying rein in all this behavior rather than encourage it. Most Charismatics I’ve personally known are very kind and generous people, and while open to the Spirit aren’t always open to much else. If ARM can facilitate the positives of Charismatics without also bringing in what I described as negatives, then that is a good thing.

    • They absolutely are bringing in a balanced, biblical theology and practice of what we call “Charismatic.” In actuality, it is proper trinitarian theology and practice that seeks after the fullness of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You kind of have to be there to really get it. I came in as a fairly strong skeptic who was seeking truth. I knew that traditionalism and churchianity was not truth, nor was some of the way out-there showmanship confusion of the more wild versions of the Charismatic movement. The teaching and experiences I have had at the ARM conferences has resonated deeply within my soul, touching that place where I thirst for more of God. It has also resonated deeply with the Spirit of Truth residing in me and with what I know of Scriptural doctrine and theology. Sure, there are always going to be people in the crowd who are chasing the next big experience and seeking after the gift rather than the Giver, but for the leaders’ part, they encourage seeking God, not an experience. But, we come fully expecting signs and wonders to accompany our worship and for God’s presence to meet us at our point of need with healing in His wings…and our expectations are always exceeded in the most beautiful way – right in line with the character of the God of abundance. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Renewal is happening NOW! | David F. Watson | John Meunier

  4. I wanted to go to ARM this year and couldn’t. A couple of my friends were preaching there: Harvey Brown, Tim Johnson and Tyler Best (Tyler preached to the teens). Thanks for the good report!

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