The Fire and The Altar

I’ve been doing a lot of study of the history of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement lately. As I look at the current state of the church I feel a real burden to do something about it, and I know God is calling us forward into that, but it hasn’t taken shape yet. It’s in the preparation stages. Part of that preparation for me has been examining what has happened in the past 100 years. How did we get here?

Revival dynamics are often talked about in terms of wine skins. The Holy Spirit moving in the revival is the new wine and the church context in which He moves is the wineskin. When he pours out His power, he inevitably breaks the old wineskin, and forges a new one, so the parabolic understanding goes. In this way both are preserved. The old wineskin (denomination) keeps doing the good work it has been doing, and the new wineskin pioneers a new era of the Church. Now, I’m not ready to discard this paradigm yet, as it does have a scriptural warrant, and has proven itself in history over and over. However, perhaps we need a broader understanding. Is it possible for an established group to “move with the cloud” and stay with the glory of God? I think so. I just think it’s difficult. I think that what ultimately happens is that in order to keep moving with the cloud, you have to keep being willing to being broken. In other words, the inner wine skin of a people can continually be renewed and God keeps pouring out.

I would like to propose another model of revival – that of the fire and the altar. The fire is power. This is the person, people, or outpouring that are providing the power for the revival. The altar is context in which they function-a church or church movement. Many of us have been to churches where there is an altar but no fire. This huge spiritual edifice has been built replete with programs, a fancy building, etc, but there is no passion in the people, and the power in the ministry is limited. This is a portrait of the church in the in between years. People build the altars.

Every so often, however, someone comes along with the fire of God. This fire usually does not fit well in any box. It may be in the form of a person with a gifting that is literally larger than life, such as Lonnie Frisbee, Paul Cain, or William Branham, or it may be in the form of an expression such as holy laughter or speaking in tongues. The fire by itself is powerful but limited in reach. Paul Cain, for example, has done a lot of meetings since he dissociated from the Vineyard, but in those few years where the fire of his gifting were offered on the altar of the worldwide Vineyard ministry, he did more to change the world than in all the years since. It is when the fire is offered on the altar that generation shaping power is released.

Notice the same pattern with the Brownsville Revival. When God showed up at Brownsville, it did more than create a lot of excitement in the small city of Pensacola. Because the Brownsville fire was on the altar of the Assemblies of God, it changed the course of history. Assemblies pastors and young men from around the globe were stirred up because the two were yoked together. Those hundreds of thousands of visitors, where do you think they came from? It was a lot of people visiting from the Assemblies of God (among others).

What am I getting at? Can I propose that the goal is to keep the fire burning on the altar? As I read about revival my heart gets grieved because I can’t stand to look at the end from the beginning. Most people who pursue revival just look at the beginning. It will be awesome, we’ll get a hold of God, miracles, salvations, etc, etc. When God shows up, hold on for the ride of your life. Everything that can be shaken will be shaken, and if the history of revival is any indicator, that’s a lot. Pretty much they don’t have happy endings. The happy ending is that God changes the church and thereby the world. The rest of the story is Judas’ in the camp, the lost friends, and most of all the missed opportunity. I’m not very excited about starting something that is going to end with “What could have been?” I want to be like Paul Yonggi Cho who when asked when the revival which started his church would end could confidently say “It won’t, because a group of men and I have covenanted together to keep the revival fire as long as we’re alive” (paraphrase). I’ve spent 15 years of my life preparing for it, and I don’t intend to lose it in 1. I don’t want to be like the 90+ year old man who survived the welsh revival only to say “I would trade every day from this day to that for one day in the revival.”

That’s the thing about revival. When God shows up it suddenly makes everything else look irrelevant. I want to build a holy altar ( a church ) and offer holy fire ( anointed ministry ) on it. Without a church it’s just a curiosity, without the fire, it’s just a structure, but together, you can reshape the future. If the fire comes in a package that we don’t like, I think it’s better to take it and try to tame it, than to let is pass you by and let the altar get cold.

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