Prophecy, the Church, and the Presence of God: Some Thoughts from Terry Virgo’s 2015 Donald Gee Lecture

Shhh, don’t tell anyone, but I defected to the AoG last night (for one night only mind you)! Mattersey Hall, the AoG Bible college, held its annual Donald Gee Lecture last night, with Terry Virgo, the founder of NewFrontiers as the speaker, so I went down to Nottinghamshire for the evening to be there. And I’m really glad I did. It was a fantastic night which left me encouraged by what God has done, and excited about what He's going to do.

Terry Virgo spoke on his life and ministry and the history of NewFrontiers. Now, here in England, NewFrontiers is well-known as dynamic, growing movement of Spirit-filled, Bible-based, gospel-preaching churches. And, until more recently transitioning to a new generation of leadership, Terry Virgo’s own ministry has been almost synonymous with the movement. So many of those churches were either planted by him or greatly impacted by him. So, in that context, it was really encouraging to hear that Terry got saved through the witness of his sister (who herself had only just got saved at a Billy Graham crusade in London). Who knows how God will use the person the brand new convert has just led to the Lord!

Another thing that really struck me in Terry’s story was the recurring significance of prophecy (so much so that I asked him about it in the Q&A after the lecture). As Terry said, the baptism in the Spirit changed everything for him. But after that, prophecy seems to have been of key importance at many significant junctures in his life and the life of NewFrontiers. It was after hearing 2 prophecies in a Pentecostal meeting in Brighton he happened to attend one Sunday that he gave up his job in London with its daily commute. When he later started studying at Bible college in London, he attended Westminster Chapel to hear Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Sunday evenings, but went to a little, newly begun Pentecostal church in the mornings. There he was struck by the manifestation of the presence of God (which was unlike anything he’d experienced in his rather formal Baptist church back home) and one of the ways which he pointed out last night that that presence was so clearly manifest in those meetings was through prophecy.

Later, after several difficult years in his first pastorate, God sent along a prophet one Sunday to preach, and he ended up prophesying which led to a complete change and an end to the difficulties in the church. The various churches Terry helped and worked with came together as a united movement – NewFrontiers – through prophecy, and their strategy for mission into Europe (by spreading out across the UK first to provide a solid base) came through a prophetic vision. The decision to stop the Stoneleigh Bible weeks, even though they had an attendance of 30,000 was because of two prophecies.

So prophecy was clearly important at significant moments. When I asked Terry about it, he did point out that this was fifty years of history in an hour’s lecture, so it could perhaps give the misleading impression that prophecy was coming thick and fast all the time. He was quite frank in saying that he didn’t think that they were a hugely prophetic movement, but that yes, prophecy had helped immensely in making key decisions. He pointed out too that prophecy often confirmed what people had already been beginning to feel was the right move. He said that prophecy isn’t always so inspiring in the local churches, but in that case they’d love to see the level of prophecy raised.

Another thing that struck me was how Terry spoke of the vision of God’s Glorious Church (which is one of the reasons why I think the Apostolic Church is in some ways closer theologically to NewFrontiers than any other movement). Terry spoke of the baptism of the Holy Spirit as being like God knocking over the first domino, which eventually led to the vision of the Glorious Church – not just the local church, but the Body of Christ – and the realisation of God’s great love for His Church. Terry Virgo talks about this Glorious Vision in almost the same terms as D.P. Williams and the early Apostolics. D.P. Williams even writes about that same progression from realising that the baptism in the Holy Spirit was for today to the vision of God’s Eternal Purpose for the Church. It really exciting to hear Terry talk about it.

One last observation is the emphasis Terry put on the presence of God. Both throughout his lecture and then again at the end of the Question and Answer session he came back to the importance of God’s presence in the church. His experience of completely open worship with no set ending time, just continuing on in the powerful presence of God, on those Sunday mornings while he was at Bible College made a lasting impact on his view of the church and worship, and he told us of the difficulty when he first tried to introduce 5 minutes of open worship into the services in his first pastorate. But at the end of the evening, Terry came back to that theme, and warned us of the danger of looking too much to the business world and losing our ethos. We need to seek God’s presence and not be ashamed of it when others come into our meetings. Our eyes need to be on the Lord, and not on the clock!

Anyway, those are just a few observations from last night’s Donald Gee Lecture with Terry Virgo. Hope they give you something to think and pray about.

(Now, I’m just hoping that last night’s other event, The Future of the Church – a discussion with Simon Chan, Ephraim Radner, Thomas Rausch and Fred Sanders – is going to be online at some stage in the not too distant future – a 3am start in the UK was, alas, just a wee bit too late to stay up for the Livestream.)