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reprinted from the Mrch 2002 edition of Essentials  

Argentina comes to Melbourne

  I couldn't quite believe what I was hearing. The man in the coffin had been in his mid thirties, his widow and children sitting at the front were an agonising picture of grief as the minister announced that his faith in God was shaken by this death and that he didn't know what to say to console us. These were not, as you may suspect, the words of one of my clever Liberal friends trying to identify with the bereaved through some mistaken notion of Incarnational theology. The speaker was a Charismatic Pastor who through his regular healing ministry some months past had led the man in the coffin to Christ, and had seen God answer prayer by remitting the illness until this husband and father could get the affairs of his young family in order. The man had died well, sad, yet full of hope for eternal life, witnessing to his wider family and knowing the presence of Christ. Yet the funeral service finished with hope barely sucking breath above the waves of sorrow because God had not completely healed this man for this life. For me this scene illustrated the powerful ironies and subtle dangers which exist in Charismatic practice in Melbourne today. Mike Flynn ministers in the outer east of Melbourne in Upper Beaconsfield, and will continue his reflections in the next edition of Essentials.
  Our Bishop tells me that the Southern Region of the Melbourne Anglican Diocese has a strong Charismatic influence and I suspect the reason is the large number of Pentecostal churches which have grown up on this side of the city. As has been demonstrated elsewhere, cheaper housing, high levels of industry and the emotional appeals of Pentecostalism often go together. The Pentecostal churches then influence the rest of the Christian population of South-Eastern Melbourne through the local Pastors' networks (influenced in turn by the Melbourne Pastors' network), evangelistic campaigns, prayer ministries, theological colleges like Harvest (Dandenong) and Tabor (Ringwood, Berwick), as well as other teaching materials and seminars.  
  One of the things I have learnt in living with these issues is that the common Evangelical response to Charismatic ideas - namely to teach the word of God well - is not enough. We are obviously called to live that word and show with our lives that it makes sense and opens the way to a clear and passionate experience of God. The apostle Paul was right to teach us that the way forward in this area is to learn to love those parishioners who are committed to unhelpful and even dangerous Charismatic ideas and then to encourage the life of the Spirit in them by teaching and modelling the life of the cross. The aim, through God's word, is to practise love, teach love and produce love, for there will lie our truest and deepest experience of God's presence, favour and help.For me it is a pressing pastoral need to think through the claims and counter claims of spiritual experience, authority and promise which are promoted by Charismatic Christians.  
  In this first article, one of the current issues within Charismatic circles that I have encountered in my ministry is dealt with, namely the Argentine revival.  
  Revival in Melbourne?  
  During 2000 the Argentine evangelist Carlos Anacondia was brought to Berwick (Melbourne) by the Casey Pastors' network to conduct a week long mission. The more Pentecostal churches in the network were able to point to the recommendations of church growth luminary Peter Wagner who, as editor of the book The rising Revival1, commended the revival in Argentina as a genuine work of God which could be replicated in other parts of the world. Initially the vision for the mission was cast large and was set to cost well over $120,000 with support coming from the local churches. Financial reality set in a few weeks before the event and the budget was reduced to around $37,000. Fervour was high before and during the week but results were low at the end. I heard of one verified healing and one member of the network told me there were no converts but around eighty recommitments as most of those who attended the rallies were already members of existing churches. Anecdotally, the reaction amongst local Christians was mixed while the reaction amongst secular people with whom I work ranged from amusement to horror. The event was interpreted as yet more evidence for not becoming a Christian.  
  Peter Wagner in the editor's preface to The rising Revival states his method:  
  • "My own inclination is to accept revival reports more or less at face value without subjecting them to critical evaluation."2
  He then goes on to tell of reports of gold dust and jewels raining down upon revival meetings full of the desperate poor. No wonder these 'fiesta evangelism' meetings are well attended! Pablo Deiros who works for a Baptist church in Buenos Aries agrees with this method:  
  • "Only those who are inattentive... prejudiced, preoccupied with the negative, chained to their institutional commitments, cannot see that there is a special grace of God in Argentina... I do not want to waste my time debating or analysing it, but rather living it."3
  This is an oft repeated theme in Charismatic spirituality: the suppression of critical reason on the grounds that reason is somehow against faith4 or, on the grounds of the more practical sentiment of the working poor and post-modern yuppie, that it is better to enjoy the moment without thinking through the consequences. Even so, people have written accounts of the revival in order to appeal to our reason. Contributors to The Rising Revival offer us statistics to prove that their cause has the blessing of God - but the figures scattered throughout the book are contradictory. Some claim 10% of Argentinians are now Protestant Christians, some other figures add up to 8%, while still others are well above these.  
  The CIA fact book for 2000 states that out of an Argentinian population of nearly 37 million, 92% are nominally Roman Catholic (less than 20% practising), 2% Protestant, 2% Jewish, 4% other. These figures are confirmed by Australian Church Missionary Society workers in Argentina.  
  Experience on the ground in ArgentinaPeter Blowes of Corrientes wrote to me last year saying: "Marcello Laffitte (Editor of the Argentine Interdenominational Newspaper, and one of the early supporters of all this type of thing [ie the Argentine Revival]) changed his mind a lot on the matter. He asks two questions as he visits cities in Argentina (and he visits a lot of cities). Q1. How many people live in this city? Q.2. How many would be in an 'Evangelical' ('evangelical' in Argentina is the term which includes all Protestants and has Pentecostals) church on Sunday? He has yet to find a city in Argentina which has more than 3% in Protestant churches, and many have more like 1%!!! That in my opinion is the most reliable statistic I know in Argentina, and it is confirmed by my own experience. At the same time, many have 'passed through', and out the back door. There is a statistic which suggests that 80% of new converts leave 'evangelical' churches within two years. Again, my personal observation would confirm that, with some exceptions. It's that 80% which makes a lot of difference to the reported statistics."  
  Michael Collie, based in Buenos Aires, concurs:  
  "Regarding the numbers, I think it is a simple matter of statistical methodology. Decision forms are one thing; collect them if you will. Active church members are another. Months after the night mentioned above, my colleague told me that a number of the 'converts' were Anacondia 'fans' who go to every event where he ministers. Some were already members of neighbouring churches. Others are being discipled and incorporated into his church."  
  I had a chance to speak with Chris Mulherin while he was on furlough from his work as a CMS missionary on tertiary campuses in Tucuman. In his gentle way he expressed frustration with the exaggerations which mark many of the Protestant claims for revival and miracle in Argentina. He noted that in a country where 36% of the population live below the poverty line many converts were bought and duped5 by the promise of prosperity, and that the Latin personality could be as emotional about their new religion as about their soccer, but then just as quickly lay their emotional commitment aside! Much of the Latin soul was still wedded to syncretistic Roman Catholicism and that a Pentecostal revival was really a revival of these older Catholic traditions in a fresh guise, and that none of these things were producing converts within the university population where Chris works.  
  The recent economic and political collapse of Argentina suggests to me that unreality is a national problem which has been sadly mirrored in the church.  
  But this is not the only factor influencing the Charismatic movement in my part of Melbourne.  

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1 The rising Revival - Accounts of the Argentine Revival , edited by C. Peter Wagner & Pablo Ducos (Renewal Books; Ventura, Ca.: 1998).

2 Rising revival p9

3 Rising revival p54


5 Victorian short term missionary to Argentina, Scott Harrower, recently spoke of the 'Christian piranhas' of Argentina who promise the poor healing, peace or wealth if they give the evangelists all their money.