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Recognizing the Signs of the Times
Darkness is increasing. Churches that cannot adapt to the accompanying changes will not survive the coming times, concludes an Argentinean revivalist as he examines the trends of this age.

The stress of cultural upheavals as a result of technology, and more fundamentally, due to a shift in values, could cause us to hide in the shelter of the known. But chaos also provides and ideal environment for making valuable changes. Through a diachronic (dia meaning "through" and chronos meaning "time") reading or reality, Dr. Carlos Mraida projects trends that can help the Church adopt new strategies for more effective action.

Look around, Church! The harvest is ripe! Workers are urgently needed! We need to take Bible college students to where the people are so they can feel, tell and deliver. We need to ground workers in God's Word, and train and equip them under God's anointing with the gifts of the Spirit. While preparation is necessary, outdated rationalistic methods won't work in the future. I can attest to that.

Her talon-like fingernails glided across my face …

I had just accepted the position of pastor at our Baptist church, and was sitting in my office one day with my BA, MA and ThD degrees in Theology lined up on the wall behind me, when in strode a priestess of the Afro-Brazilian religion, Macumba—much like VooDoo. Her talon-like fingernails glided across my face and then she fell to the floor writhing and shouting. I didn't know what to do! In desperation I grabbed the phone and called a friend who was the only one I knew at the time attending Carlos Anacondia's crusades where deliverance is routinely practiced. This brother had no formal education, but he knew how to minister, and the person was set free.

A week later a skinny little 16 year-old girl, less than five feet tall, came to see another pastor at our church. He has more degrees than I do. I was working with someone in my office when suddenly my door flew open. Without knocking he burst in wide-eyed. Apparently this little girl was throwing his desk in the air and destroying ventilation equipment. Why didn't we know what to do?

Reality and church culture

A diachronic reading taken now shows us a world in profound confusion and in the throes of change. During the 16th and 17th centuries a cultural movement called modernism arose, which produced the culture of humanism. North American culture is the ultimate expression of modernism. Modernism accepts that rationality governs human behaviour and that humanity is directed forward by reason. This worldview explains reality from a purely rational perspective through logic, and scientific and empirical evidence.

… God's Word without spiritual experience is dead.

In today's world where quantum mechanics contradicts the concept that the only way to explain reality is through logic, we see the decline of modernism. We have entered the post-modern era. Whereas modernism elevated conceptual thinking, post-modernism emphasizes experience, and with it have come spectacular cultural changes—political and moral norms are falling at incredible rates; structures and ideologies are crumbling.

The post-modern worldview carries profound implications for pastoral and church ministries:

• For example, when we taught on the power of God in the past, we resorted to using biblical texts because power wasn't to be found in our lives. Our emphasis on theology, however, to the exclusion of experience, has resulted in empty churches filled with pride in their doctrine, and in Christians who know a great deal but do very little. Latin American theologians call them "onion Christians"—ones with huge heads, no body, and little life. We have therefore demonstrated that God's Word without spiritual experience is dead.

• Conversely, spiritual experience without God's Word does not have content. Today, with God's Spirit moving in the earth, churches that constantly live in renewal (operate in God's power to impact the world, experience salvations through Christ, are filled with the Spirit, and flow in God's anointing) also need to be grounded in healthy and sound doctrine. We need to study and preach the entire counsel of God, but the Word must be accompanied by signs that confirm it. God's Word teaches a balance and integration of both.

Post-modernism speaks to the wise: develop your ministries accordingly, teach and preach the Word, and remember, times of revival are also times of resurgence of the works of darkness. The demonized are no longer just in the streets. Works of darkness manifest in the Church. The devil is a perfect imitator of the works of the Spirit, and unless the Church is standing firm on God's Word in order to judge those works, confusion can set in.

Unified ministry

The age of reason that brought modernism to our churches, also introduced division: one church was premillennial, another was amillennial, and so on. But with the decline of modernism, there has been a dethroning of exclusive rationality and of concept as king. Closed systems are disintegrating as minds are opening. Rigid ideals which kept social groups isolated are losing their seduction. Hard ideologies are dying throughout the world.

Throughout the world ministries that began in the Spirit are deteriorating under God's judgment if they fostered division through pastors who used their pulpits and books to criticize fellow believers in Christ. Division is a work of the flesh instigated by the enemy, and cannot prosper in a day when God's purpose is unity in the Spirit.

We therefore need discernment both to keep from embracing ideologies that we think are of God but actually are not, and to keep from missing out on the things of God. Historically speaking, the primary enemy of any revival was the one whom God used most in a previous revival. Why? Because our human nature tends to believe that the Spirit only moves in the way He did with us. We try to discern, analyze and understand each new spiritual reality strictly according to rational criteria. We treat our experiences as if they represented a framework within which God moves, and as if they were on par with the cannon of Scripture. Whatever doesn't fit that framework, we reject. Yet God is continually bringing new waves of the Spirit that we can only recognize by discernment rather than by reason or former experience.

Discernment is easy. It involves a simple prayer: "Holy Spirit, Jesus promised that you would teach me all things, that you would guide me into all truth, and that you would tell me of things to come. Tell me now: is this new move of you or not? If it's of you, I want it."

… wherever the Church seeks to flow in His purposes, there is growth.

As the Church moves into post-denominational Christianity where concept no longer reigns, a new expression of unity in the Body of Christ will explode denominational barriers. Leaders who discern the times will renounce denominational pride and arrogance and cease to believe that their church or denomination is the kingdom of God. They will seek to place themselves and their churches within the move of God's Spirit.

Revival again

We are in the last days, and signs of an imminent worldwide spiritual revival are increasing. In Latin America, priest Franz Daemen, the Executive Secretary of Ecumenism of the Bolivian Episcopal Conference, declared that every hour 400 Catholics are joining what he calls the Evangelical "cults." Every hour in Latin America, a church of 400 is born. As God's Spirit is poured out in the earth, wherever the Church seeks to flow in His purposes, there is growth.

But with revival come new challenges.

• The increase in the works of darkness, and the great growth of occultism, especially as expressed through the different forms of the New Age movement, will pose a growing challenge to the Church. Spiritual warfare will become increasingly significant. Only churches that are willing to be renewed constantly in the power of the Spirit will be able to weather the spiritual onslaught of darkness, and triumph. Churches that are closed to the move of the Spirit will decline. While such churches existed under normal conditions, in the times of the great change that are coming, churches devoid of God's power will be unable to survive because the depth of spiritual experience will exceed their ability to withstand.

• During the '60s and '70s the Church was challenged to defend her faith. However, in the coming years we will be living in a spiritualized world. The challenge will be a confrontation of spiritual powers. Preaching of the Word will only have value if it's accompanied by demonstrations of God's power.

• God is calling His Church to worship Him in spirit, soul and body. As a result, the Church's mission will become a dynamically spiritual one. This has many implications. For example, there needs to be consistent growth of spirituality in our churches. People are tired of dead sermons churned out at the desk—ones that reflect the mundane and are summarized by little morals to the story. Our congregations hunger to see God's power substantiate preaching. People are also tired of cold meetings that amputate humanity and stifle worship in the fullness of the Spirit. For years we have hung up our bodies and emotions on coat racks at the church door. Only our minds were allowed to enter into worship.

• Some leaders continue in bondage to the Evangelical culture of a century ago. Even though they haven't caught up to the spiritual level of their congregants, the people are already moving ahead because they don't have yesterday's needs. The human being of today has a tremendous hunger for God. If our churches are not up to the challenge of satisfying that hunger, people will look elsewhere to meet their needs.

Growing urbanization and apostolic ministry

From now until the Lord comes, we will live in a world of cities. However, our missiological and ecclesiastical structures are antiquated. They respond to rural models of the last century. Take, for example, pastoral visitation. How does this model fit the structure of the city super-church with more than 2,500 members? Pastors shouldering the responsibility of visitation in these churches feel dissipated. The trend now is toward sharing ministry responsibility with ministry teams.

I don't measure up to the shoelaces of the men who taught me …

The rural model also espouses the centrality of the church building. We set service times and expect people to come. But Jesus didn't say, "Bring the people of the world into your building." He said, "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel."

With today's advances in communications, another rural relic approaching extinction is the Bible college or seminary where students must live in residence. Also, Bible colleges often specialize in a near atrophied curriculum: Introduction to the Bible, Introduction to the Old Testament I & II, Introduction to Philosophy, and so on. We incarcerate students in a seminary for four or five years of their lives "introducing" them to head knowledge when they want to be on the mission field.

I thank God for all the training and education I received at the seminary, but we're living in different times. I don't measure up to the shoelaces of the men who taught me, but the move of God in the earth is growing. In the world and times ahead we will need to work in unity through apostolic networks of men and women who are raised up by God to help equip the saints and lend support to pastors, ministering to them and praying for them. God is raising them up and giving them a burden for unity of the Body. Their ministries are a blessing to all churches and denominations. Leaders who discern the times are not intimidated by the stature of these servants of God who minister God's love cross-denominationally

This article was adapted from Dr. Carlos Mraida's seminar on Discerning the Times at the Conquering Your City for God conference, Florence, Kentucky, April 1997.

Dr. Carlos Mraida pastors the Del Centro Evangelical Baptist Church, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
A teacher and writer, he is also the executive coordinator of the Evangelical Pastoral Council of Buenos Aires.

Related article

Freedom Through Discernment

Originally published in Spread the Fire, August 1997.




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