Wednesday, August 30, 2017

On the Church's failure in hurricane Harvey

Image result for hurricane harvey 2017

The response of the Church as a whole to Hurricane Harvey has been for me disappointing but not unexpected. In this I do not refer to the multiple and sometimes heroic relief efforts organized and financed by many churches and Christian NGOs. Rather, my disappointment comes from the fact that the churches could not come into prayer agreement to dissipate or redirect Harvey.

Praying for a change of course of such a large storm demands multiple churches to agrees in prayer. There are of course many impediments to this. The terrible influence of cessationism, the theory that the gifts of the Spirit ended with the age of the Apostles, still lingers among many churches. These cessationist influenced churches barely pray for healing, and some still don’t, so they would find praying as Jesus did to still a storm merely a cultic heresy. No matter the scriptural promise to do “greater works” (John 14:12). The recent work by John MacArthur, Strange Fire has unfortunately re- popularized this attitude.[1]

There have been many accounts of effective praying against storms in the lives of Celtic saints, and other heroes and saints in Church history.[2]  But Protestants of every variety, including Pentecostals would tend to discount such stories. But even among Pentecostal, charismatic, and Spirit-filled believers of every stripe, many are reluctant to go to the faith level needed to pray against a threatening hurricane.

Sadly, this is forty years since Mrs. Agnes Sanford wrote her classic work on speaking and commanding natural events such as storms and earthquakes – the very way that Jesus stilled a storm on the Sea of Galilee (Matt. 23-28). That work was, Creation Waits, first appeared in 1978.[3]  This is very late in the history of the Church. That is, although changing the course of storms and other natural events was sporadically described, a theology of how that is done did not appear until Mrs. Sanford’s book in 1979. Unfortunately, there are many tradition minded Christians who believe that if something was not written about or defined in the Early Church, it can’t be orthodox or true.

In Creation Waits Mrs. Sanford described her call to pray over nature, such as storms, forest fires, and even over the San Andreas Fault.  Her prayer for it was that this fault line would release its energies in small frequent tremors rather than the “big one” that was, and is, feared.[4] In fact, while she lived in California and did that ministry there were no major earthquakes in that state. 

Mrs. Sanford mentioned in passing that praying for hurricanes to re-route was easy. But also mentioned that as the Church learned this, or rather awakened to its God given authority over nature, it would have to learn the discipline of praying in “one accord” in order for these prayers to be effective. For instance, a prayer by one church group for a sunny day for their church picnic would not be in accord with a prayer for rain to water the thirsty crops in the same area by another church.

In this context we should recall TV evangelist Pat Robinson’s famous prayer against hurricane Gloria in 1985. That hurricane was aimed straight at Virginia Beach where it was primed to wreak havoc on the Virginia coast, and Robinson’s Regent University. In fact, Gloria mysterious altered course, skirted the coast, weakened and finally made landfall in Long Island. Few believed that Robinson’s prayer had anything to do with that change of course. But I believe (we will know for sure in heaven) that it was indeed because of Robinson's prayer that Gloria changed course and weakened. This is not to say that Robinson was a super prayer, but rather that he had a live TV following of hundreds of thousands who agreed with him as he prayed.

Now, on the hurricane Harvey problem. As it approached the coast I reposted my older blog about praying against tornadoes, and suggested that churches in Texan unite in “concerts of prayer” to command Harvey to quickly pass into the interior of Texas and Oklahoma, which are still in drought or semi-drought. My postings are not especially influential in that region (strangely, I am more popular in Russia. Why?). In any case I noted a whole bevy of Christians on Facebook asking for prayers to dissipate Harvey, or send it back to sea (a disaster), etc.  There was no unity or a single person of authority to say, “We will pray in this way against Harvey…”

Here I am reminded of the prayer requested by General George Patton of his chaplain during the Battle of the Bulge (December 1945). (This is nicely shown in the movie “Patton,” starring George Scott.) The problem was that a huge weather front of fog, rain and thick clouds hovered over the battle area and prevented the Allies from using their great air superiority and ground attack aircraft to blunt the Nazi advance. The chaplain composed a prayer requesting God to clear the sky. This prayer was quickly printed on a small cards and distributed to the troops of the Third Army, and most likely agreed with by thousands. Likely, many atheists and agnostics sneered in unbelief, but that is not an active counter-prayer.  The sky cleared, and the rest is history…

Image result for James Hugh O'Neill

Image result for prayer card Patton's weather prayer

Brigadier General James Hugh O'Neill, chaplain for the Third Army under General Patton, who composed the weather prayer. 
He was a Catholic priest  with many years service as n Army chaplain

Here is that prayer:
"Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies, and establish Thy justice among men and nations. Amen.[5]
It is too late to do anything with Harvey. We should, of course, continue to pray for the safety and quick recovery of its victims. And also pray that the churches involved have a special grace of wisdom and coordination on how to help in the relief effort.

So what do we do for the next one?  Let me suggest that Spirit-filled Christians agree to have a leader of national reputation, perhaps Jack Hayford or some such person, as designated “prayer leader” in times of threatened national disaster and have him or her then issue a prayer we can all agree with.

[1]John MacArthur Strange Fire (Nashville: Thomas Nelson: 2013).  I am one of several Pentecostal and charismatic authors who soundly critiqued MacArthur’s views , and these were gathered in splendid anthology edited by my friend, Robert Graves, Stranger to Fire; When Tradition Trumps Scripture (Canton: Empowered Life, 2016). See also the major article in Pneuma Review on this by the distinguished Pentecostal scholar, Craig S. Keener, “John MacArthur’s Strange Fire,” Pneuma Review. Posted Nov. 13, 2015.
[2] I give a brief account of some Celtic saints doing this in my blog posting, "Is Calming Tornadoes a Christian Ministry?” Anglican Pentecostal. Posted June 1, 2013.
[3] (Plainfield: Logos International, 1978)
[4] I stress the point in my work Agnes Sanford and her Companions (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2015), that she was a pioneer in many areas of Christian life.
[5] From Wikipedia, at the site for Chaplin James Hugh O’Neill, the Catholic chaplain who wrote the prayer.


The noted Pentecostal scholar Dr. Jon Ruthven wrote a very positive review of my book, Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal. You can access it HERE.

The book may be purchased on Amazon, either print or inexpensive Kindle HERE 

Just released is my first book of  plays. Pentecostal (and Anglican) Plays (and Postscripts). It includes two plays and their postscripts.

The play, “One Day at St. John’s” depicts what everyday life can be like in a church that practices the gifts of the Spirit and the healing/exorcism ministry as normal. Among the events that occur in the course of the play are the healing of a waitress who was scalded with hot coffee, an exorcism (led by a layman) and the “laying of a ghost” to rest.

Pentecostal (and Anglican) Plays (and Postscripts) can be purchased HERE at Amazon.

The second play, “Joseph ben Jacob,” explores Joseph, husband of Mary, as the dream interpreter, master carpenter, and father of Mary’s other children. It helps explain why Joseph was able to discern correctly his dream about Mary’s first-born.

The postscripts examine the controversial aspects of the plays and focus on two false early gospels which distorted the meaning of the true Gospels. The “Proto-Gospel of James” claimed that Mary was “every virgin” and never had other children, and the “Gospel of Nicodemus” cancelled the true meaning of Jesus’ “descent into Hell” and his ministry there as described in 1 Peter 3 & 4

Watching God Work: The Stuff of Miracles by [DeArteaga, Carolyn Koontz]

My wife has written a funny and inspiring story of how she transited from a cessionist and Baptist to a Spirit-filled Believer. The book has many stories of our three decades of ministry together.  It may be purchased HERE.