My Testimony & Why the Spirit is Dying to Emerge in the Presbyterian Church

[This post has been modified from its original publication to clarify the author’s intent.]

I was baptized on November 02, 1975 at the First Presbyterian Church (FPC) of San Fernando, but I got saved while at The Vineyard in 1997. It seems so strange to me to write an account of me getting saved. Especially now, being a Presbyterian, I witness this world within a reformed understanding. I have wrestled for the last two years if I am or not a Presbyterian. I just cannot shake these evangelical feelings in my life.

It was there at the Vineyard that I found a deep place for God’s love. At the Vineyard I discovered that the Spirit really did all that crazy shit you hear about from that guy’s cousins friend that served in Africa as a missionary. I witnessed the genuine moving of the Spirit amongst an honest and real people that expected the Spirit to arrive everyday and do powerful, crazy miracles in their lives.

My first experience with the Vineyard was at a Christmas Eve service. I go to this service and sit in a row of chairs, not in the back and not quite in the front. The pastor delivers the sermon. I have not idea what that sermon was about. I do remember that as we were all praying after the sermon and a woman right behind me started to speak in tongues! Seriously, I just about shite myself.

She spoke in tongues in a loud and authoritative manner. Then a man across the room near the front spoke up from the congregation and began to interrupt this outpouring of the Spirit. He prophesied a large movement of people claiming Jesus as Lord and Savior. He said that God was going to increase the flock. God had great plans for this little congregation.

Right there I was sold. I wanted to be a part of this Spirit thing. I seriously felt something tugging at my heart. It would be several weeks until I acted on that tug on my heart.
My twin brother was involved in an accident, a head on collision, on PCH. I was dating the daughter of some long time lay leaders of the Vineyard. Another brother came and told me about what had happened and drove us to the hospital. I was told he was airlifted to UCLA medical center and was not able to walk. That he may be paralyzed.

Through tears I prayed on the way to the hospital that if God healed my brother that I would believe and serve God always. I arrived to find my brother with a saline bag in the hood part of his hoodie outside with family smoking cigarettes. He still had all the tape on his arms from the lines they had in him. He broke his back in the accident. He still has those broken vertebrates in his back today.

I went home that night and could not sleep. I felt God speaking to me saying, “Í did my part, now it is your turn.” I tried to ignore the voice. Out of exhaustion I prayed some prayer. I am not even sure what kind of prayer it was. I remember just saying Lord here is my life; do with it what you will.

Well God did something in me. I went along with my business. I remember one day, perhaps two weeks after I prayed that prayer, going to the girl’s house I was dating and her mom answered the door. She stared at me. She smiled and said, “Something is different about you. Did you give your life to Jesus?” I had told no one about that night. I laughed and asked her what I was to do next.

They bought me a Bible and I read it a lot. I went to Bible study at their house. I got involved in the church. I used to evangelize to everyone. I would go to Venice Beach with a buddy that was not a Christian and drink beers. Then on the way home I would evangelize people.

If is saw a street preacher surrounded by people, I would go over there and try to help out. This went on for months. During this time I began to question the teachings I was exposed to. They seemed to me that if I questioned anything I did not believe enough.

Then one time we were in the backyard of one of the older guys at the church I hung out with. Everyone was hanging out and this guy says to me, “I am going to teach you how to speak in tongues.” So he grabs my hands and starts praying out loud. “El Shaddai! Sabba da da dei. Sabba da da dei. Sabba da da dei. Come Holy Spirit Come! We welcome you Holy Spirit. Bless us Lord. Sabba dabba dabba. Sabba dabba dabba. Sabba dabba dabba. Sabba dabba dabba.” He starts to say this pray faster and faster. Now he seems to be hyperventilating. He says, “you pray now Ryan.” So I start to do the prayer. “El Shaddai! Sabba da da dei. Sabba da da dei. Sabba da da dei. Come Holy Spirit Come! We welcome you Holy Spirit. Bless us Lord. Sabba dabba dabba. Sabba dabba dabba. Sabba dabba dabba. Sabba dabba dabba.” Deep inside I knew I was faking it. Shit I felt like a dumb ass. Then a few other peope started to do it. “El Shaddai! Sabba da da dei. Sabba da da dei. Sabba da da dei. Come Holy Spirit Come! We welcome you Holy Spirit. Bless us Lord. Sabba dabba dabba. Sabba dabba dabba. Sabba dabba dabba. Sabba dabba dabba.” Now people are excited. People are cheering us on. They original guy hugs me and says, “The Spirit has anointed you.”

I left there feeling weird. I just faked the Spirit. This in combination with my growing suspicion inspired me to leave. I missed this church a lot. This day I miss some aspects of that church. They gave me some great gifts.

After floating around between TBN (my television homeland) and drunken oblivion at TGI Friday’s I discovered a string of churches. I first joined an evangelical Spanish speaking church. Then it was FPC Canoga Park. Then there was Calvary. There was the young hipster church in South County. Then nothing…the Spirit sort of left me.

I went to university and became a Religious Studies major. I was in a class and this guy said, “I am going to be a minister.” I thought he was being arrogant. I tried to ignore him.

I wanted to be a part of a community of believers, folks that really sought God and wrestled with the real shiftiness of being human. The shame, guilt, and remorse of it all be dammed. I did not want to be put into a box, no matter how glorious or divine it was. I wanted to question doctrine. I wanted to explore life in grace and forgiveness. I wanted to heal.

One day I was praying and that hopeful preacher guy came to mind. I felt God moving my heart to speak to this guy. I felt the Spirit telling me to say to this guy, “God wants me to talk to you because you can help me grow.” I thought God was full of shite.
So I went to this class with the hopeful preacher guy and told him that God wanted me to talk to him and why. He invited me to college group at the FPC Granada Hills. That was the spring of 2002. It was here that God fashioned my call to become a missionary and then a seminarian.

I have been undercare of the CPM of San Fernando Presbytery since mid 2006 and undercare of FPC Granada Hills since early 2002. This is generally where I begin my story, with the Presbyterian pedigree.

I have been watching this documentary, Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher. My friend Brian sent it to me to watch. We share the similarity of being evangelical and becoming Presbyterian. I believe I have watched this film about 18 times. I have studied it and been moved by it. Mostly I am becoming convicted by it.
I watch this film and wonder, “Why can’t the Holy Spirit move like that in the Presbyterian Church today?” Is there a prohibition on the Spirit moving in our congregations? WTF am I afraid of?

Today is Pentecost Sunday. Hundreds of sermons are being preached today about the Holy Spirit. Thousands of people hear these sermons on Acts 4:18-21, 23-33. Some will get their weekly or monthly dose of Spirit and go on relatively unchanged. Some will be deeply moved and a seed planted as they go out into the world to be the living reminder of Gods grace in this world, to be Gods hands and legs.

It seems that the PCUSA is cool with the Spirit, as long as it stays on the calendar and does not mess with anything else. The Spirit can stay if it is decent and orderly. The Spirit is allowed to play with the Trinity and to be present in the worship of the Lord Jesus Christ, just as long as it stays in the inspired words of the preacher or sprinkled upon the hearts of the assembly.

Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer all in a box. Ready to be consumed. Ready to be spoken of. Ready to be controlled. We even have a prize for the little ones (time for the young ones or some other aptly titled moment to young disciples) that comes with our God in a box.

I am not some far fetched evangelical refugee. I am a Christian in a Presbyterian harbor seeking to be transformed by the Spirit. That would describe many of us.  Where in the Book of Order does it say that I cannot be radically filled with the Spirit as I serve God?

When will I stop being timid and expect the Spirit to be present in worship? In heart? In mind? In all that I do? I feel the Spirit moving again, a little.  I am confused about my present spiritual identity.

There is so much potential in the denomination today. We got some brilliant, creative, and blessed folks on leadership and training to be in leadership. There are numerous folks in the pews that are open for new ways to be church. They are no longer satisfied with three points and a conclusion.

I want to open the box and see what God will do. I do not have to be so decent and orderly. I can be Presbyterian and evangelical, evangelical and progressive, progressive and traditional. I can still be educated and moved in the Spirit in emotional ways.  I fear that I have become distant from my emotions.  I fear that if I believe in tongues of fire, miracle healings, and Spirit induced dancing that I am not Presbyterian.

Looking out at the political and social climate surrounding this denomination you may see hope beyond understanding. There is something that is happening that I am trying to wrap my head around. I can feel the energy, the emotion, the Spirit. I get so excited when I think of what God is doing and calling us to do that I get the Disneyland belly. I just wonder if there is a place for me at the Presbyterian table. Can one be Presbyterian and hunger for the unashamed, rebel-rousing Spirit-filled proclamations outside of the decent and orderly worship? I think so. It makes sense to me.

14 thoughts on “My Testimony & Why the Spirit is Dying to Emerge in the Presbyterian Church

  1. Timothy Blodgett says:

    I think there are more of the churches you are describing out there than you realize. And if the Holy Spirit really has the power you write about then nothing we could do would stop it anyways, which, by the way, is exactly what is happening out here right now.

  2. Agree with you, Ryan. As a fellow traveler (aka Presbyterian – even a minister in it) I wonder aloud if and how the Spirit can/will/is present in our church. I’m of the opinion that it is harder for us but that it makes more interesting. Sort of like “the first shall be last..”

    Good post!

  3. ” I just faked the Spirit.”

    Lol it’s rare to hear a guy say something like this…

    Seriously though, I never have believed that people aren’t faking with the tongues thing. But that’s my problem, I’m jaded.

    I personally like the reserved nature of the Presbyterian Worship. I think in some cases it shows respect. Sometimes I feel like when people make a show of it they just want to impress others with their fervor. I was sad though, when the Ugandan orphan’s choir came to sing for us and we were all sitting in the chairs not dancing or anything. But I wasn’t going to jump up and be the only one either. I should’ve. I was too worried what the other people would think, which is just as bad. But, we don’t have to be speaking in tongues and jumping around to have the spirit move in us. It can come quietly and personally just as well.

  4. nice, ryan.

    I think that the spirit is moving already, man, and as another said, we can’t stop it, now can we? Many congregations are waking up to the spirit as well… but I think it is important to remember that the spirit moves in more ways than the “pentacostal” variety. Even that limits the spirit.

  5. To all, I have modified the original post to clarify my intention. I do think the Spirit is moving and that we cannot stop it. I am not saying that the spirit is not present in Presbyterian worship right now.
    I was just wondering if there is room for or a better way to be filled with the Spirit.
    Thank you for your comments.

  6. Timothy Blodgett says:

    I don’t think making that revision changes the overall feel I get from the post. From you and other Presbymergent (as well the Layman, TAMFS, Witherspoon Society and others) I get this very negative vibe that makes a generalized, if not stereotyped, depiction of what the PCUSA is. Dying and unconcerned. I think there are places that are exactly like you describe, if for no other reason than I trust that you have seen them, but I do not think this speaks to the larger reality of the church today and the dynamic ways the church is changing. I think it reflects an all or nothing mentality. Either we are entirely spirit-led and emergent or we are not enough of either to matter. (The left and right of our denomination has a similar mentality.) I just don’t think the church is that black and white. The spirit is moving. Changes are happening, sometimes slower than we would like, but such is the messiness and brokenness of life. On the other hand there is something very real about that. We always continue to grow as Christians and so do churches.

    I really appreciate reading your testimony. I have heard parts of it before, but every time i hear or read it there are new elements. I never doubted your call, although you scared me a little that first day we met. I miss you man.

  7. some guy says:

    wow, so here broke his back, brought you to the lord, i bet he is a man among men, (for the record, it was lumbar that broke the second if it matters,) oh i bet your brother is sooooo cool, not only did he walk that night, he is now the good lords gift to women!!! so i’ve heard. some guy

  8. Tim,
    I can’t the negative vibe you get from this post or other “affinity groups”. I do not doubt that the church is as dynamic as creation. I see the world and the church from the eyes I was given. I do not have you eyes or any other. I challenge you to put yourself out there. It is easy to critique others absent of vulnerability. Where do you stand? What concerns you? What are your hopes for the churches future?

    What makes you go become a pastor? I miss you too and appreciate your commentary. It is nice to have folks in your life that will tell you what they think and not bull shit you.

    @some guy,
    My brother is something alright! God’s gift to women…I am not too sure about that. I do know he is full of it most of the time. For a reformed D&D playing vegan he is not so uncool.

  9. Thanks for the testimony. When I finally got around to my CPE when I was unemployed the idea of testimony became very important to me again. I had suppressed, sanitized it and pushed it down into my very formal “Statement of Faith.” When something snapped I was reminded by people wiser than me that all those things that have formed my faith have never really left me. I might just be afraid of acknowledging their power in my life.

    I grew up in a faith healing, spirit filled, tent evangelizing movement. I spent a summer evangelizing with Teen Missions (where I met Carol). I went to Moody Bible Institute for my undergrad and studied to be a missionary. All of this I couldn’t reconcile with my newfound Presbyterian faith. I would deny its power over my life and became embarrassed that I was not Presbyterian enough. Now, I am no longer willing to apologize to anyone for my faith history. Does this mean that I may find it hard to find a traditional Presbyterian job? So be it. Do I still believe all of the childish things of my youth. No. But I am learning to regret them less and less and celebrate their unique character forming power. I realize that what I am experiencing is a rare gift. It is acceptance. I am beginning to accept myself in the same way the Spirit has already accepted me.

    I believe that whether you fit as a Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Buddhist or atheist will matter less in the end than if you fit in that naked coat that was provided for you at birth. As your unique and special testimony amplifies I know that you are already being moved by the Spirit of God. Sorry bout the rant, but like I said testimonies move me.

  10. Sabba dabba doo!

    I think that at some point, we’re going to have to call our Pentecostal brethren on their whole “tongues are the gift above all other gifts thing.”

    Do we need to be fired up? Yup. Do we need to have a powerful sense of God’s presence? Sure. But I want a church that truly madly deeply shows me the Most Excellent Way.

    Perhaps we could be that church.

  11. David,
    I am with you on the gift above all other gifts. In the Kingdom there is no better than among the flock. If there is I am screwed.

    I hope we will become that church. I think we are going that way.

  12. Pingback: Are we asking the right Questions? «

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