This past week I attended what is called Mark T. Barclay’s National Holy Spirit Conference. Apparently, it is held every year in Midland, MI—the home of Mark Barclay Ministries. Since this blog is all about the Theology of Mark T. Barclay, I want to take time in this article to report what I witnessed and experienced.
Before I deliver my field report on this “Holy Spirit” conference, let me be very transparent concerning my background so that you will understand the perspective from which I experienced this series of meetings. Perspective is so critical when it comes to interpreting and reporting what one has observed. Show a city-slicker a picture of a cow calving with the help of a ranch hand and they may state, “That farmer looked like he was pushing something into the cow.” A farmer or a vet would have the more precise interpretation of the same photo: “That farmer was helping to deliver the calf. He was pulling.”
I have had the privilege of worshipping and serving among many different denominations in the Kingdom of God. I was brought up in many different denominations, not because my parents were church hoppers, but because we moved around due to my father’s career. I’ve been among the Methodists (black and white), the Baptists (black, white, African, South American, and Eastern European), the Catholics (American, Central American, South American, and Eastern European), Covenant, Presbyterian, Church of God in Christ, Assemblies of God, Church of God, Church of God Prophecy, Apostolic Faith Mission (Southern Africa), countless non-denominations, etc., etc. I share all of this to say, I’ve been able to see how so many members of the Body of Christ serve and worship Jesus Christ based on where they are at culturally, geographically, doctrinally, and denominationally. I have never agreed with everything I have seen, but I have always found the hearts of the people to be sincere and desirous to please the God of the Bible. Certainly, every church has its problems, and those problems are the people that call that church, “Home,” but I have found Peter’s sermon ringing true everywhere I have travelled, ministered, and served: “But in every nation he that feareth him [God], and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:35).
Allow me to be the interpreter of what I observed at Mark T. Barclay’s 2015 National Holy Spirit Conference.
Upon arriving to the ministry headquarters of Mark Barclay Ministries, you can’t help but spot a big silhouette statue of a bird (I later gathered it was a dove). And by large I mean it’s every bit of 15 or 20 feet tall. As it turns out, it’s the same silhouette Barclay uses for his ministry logo. The headquarters appears to be on a quaint acreage with very modest buildings out in the middle of nowhere Midland (but about 500 yards from an Islamic Community Center—go figure!).
There are door greeters everywhere, dressed in black suits and ties (don’t know if this is a uniform or Michigan winter attire), opening car doors, opening building doors, shaking hands, and handing out the bulletin. You are instantly struck with the thought, “This is a well-oiled machine.” Mark T. Barclay’s Marine background is evident everywhere. The church has an air of precision and organization.
Don’t rub the soul of the heathen. Preach the Gospel.
-Mark T. Barclay
Upon entering the sanctuary you are greeted with a large color-changing backdrop behind the main platform area. The sanctuary sports a modern décor, but you don’t get the dancehall/clubbing vibe so many modern churches achieve. The lights were low when I entered the sanctuary for the Wednesday night service, which I found to be odd until I realized that here, 35 minutes before service, a few hundred saints were gathered at the platform praying. I later heard someone call it pre-service prayer. This apparently goes on before every service. I was a bit shocked. I must admit, in all my travels, I don’t see this kind of corporate praying anywhere in America. I usually have to go to Africa to find so many saints praying all at once. Multiple individuals led the prayer, one at a time, each taking about 5 to 10 minutes to exhort and lead the people. Over several nights, I observed men and women of numerous ethnicities were used to lead during this pre-service prayer time. I continued to notice the racial diversity throughout the conference. I must admit that the sight of that much prayer was very encouraging to me.
Moving right along . . .knowing in advance that Mark T. Barclay aligns himself somewhere along the Charismatic/Pentecostal/Word of Faith spectrum, I fully expected to see demonstrations and manifestations of the Holy Spirit. I was not disappointed. Here are some of the manifestations I observed and Scripture references, if any, to correspond:
- TONGUES– Plenty of praying in tongues (Mark 16:17; Acts 2:4, 10:46, 19:6; 1 Corinthians 12:10, 1 Corinthians 14:2). This was referred to in the conference as, “praying in the Holy Ghost” (Jude 20) and, “prayer language.” There is no Bible reference for that terminology, though Charismatics use the term often. Then again, the Bible doesn’t use the term “altar call,” or “rapture,” but those concepts are well established in Scripture. (Here’s a link to a Bible study about tongues to help you understand how Charismatics view tongues. Plus the author/pastor of these lessons has some affiliation with Barclay: http://podschool.org/free-bible-lessons/new-tongues/ )
- SINGING IN THE SPIRIT– At one point during the worship time on Wednesday night, a woman came forth out of the choir, and taking a microphone, began to sing in tongues for a few moments (1 Corinthians 14:15), and then proceeded to sing in English, what I must assume was the interpretation (1 Corinthians 14:15). The English lyrics were quite beautiful and sang the praises of Jesus Christ. I must admit, I haven’t ever seen this before in the churches I have travelled to.
- PROPHECY-Mark T. Barclay, at one point near the end of a worship time, quieted down the congregation and said, “Hear the Word of the Lord,” which I took to mean, “I’m about to prophecy.” Though I didn’t think to write down the essence of the prophecy (being hyper-critical in a service is exhausting), I don’t recall him saying anything that made me want to jump up and cry, “False Prophet!” I recall a simple call to holiness and perseverance in the last days (1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Corinthians 14:3).
- LAYING ON OF HANDS– Clearly, this is scriptural and doctrinal (Hebrews 6:2), and there was a lot of this for several days of meetings. There were prayer lines (as they are called in Charismatic circles) for healing, widows, young ladies, ladies in general, fulltime ministers, impartation (Romans 1:11), and in the most unusual prayer line I’ve ever seen, a prayer tunnel for the whole church. I’ve never seen a prayer tunnel (maybe more like a prayer gauntlet) before going to Mark T. Barclay’s. Barclay had about 40 ministers line up in the altar area and create two lines facing each other, 20 ministers being on each side. At this point, Mark T. Barclay invited anyone who wanted hands laid on them to line up and walk through the prayer line, and as they walked, each of the 40 or so ministers could lay a hand on them and pray for them. At this point, hundreds of people lined up around the perimeter of the sanctuary to walk through this line (tunnel, gauntlet). Interesting. I can’t find a prayer gauntlet in the Bible, but I guess it’s a quick way to practice the doctrine of laying on of hands for nearly a thousand people.
QUOTES OF INTEREST
This being a Holy Spirit Conference and my knowing how Charismatics operate, I knew beforehand that the emphasis was going to be on allowing the Holy Spirit to move. Consequently, there was not a lot of Bible exposition or preaching, though exhortation took place constantly. Below are some statements Mark T. Barclay made that caught my ear:
- “We are a church that doesn’t vote.” –This helps to locate his style of church governments. With this statement, it’s certainly not going to be a congregational style of governance. By his strong leading style, I would venture to say Living Word International Church operates by an executive form of church government.
- “Don’t worship the faucet,” and “Stop the hero worship.” –These statements were made in reference to some of the preacher worship that currently infects the American Church.
- “It is the duty of the Church to get people born again.” –I’m a soul winner, and I always like hearing an emphasis put on evangelism. Evangelism will always trump any popular social cause churches decide to focus on. Just preach the Gospel and win the lost.
- “I’m sure I’ve preached something in 40 years that I don’t agree with, but I didn’t keep preaching it.” –This quote assured me that Mark T. Barclay is open to being wrong about things he may have preached. No preacher has perfect doctrine. Paul said, “We know in part,” (1 Corinthians 13:9).
- “Don’t be product minded. Obey God!” –This quote was in reference to the popularity among churches today to grow their church no matter the cost. Barclay did teach about Philip obeying God by leaving the raging revival in Samaria to stand in the desert alone and await one chariot carrying the Ethiopian Eunuch.
- “Mammon is a lord.”
- “Don’t rub the soul of the heathen. Preach the Gospel.”
- “The demonstrations of Jesus in your church are God’s endorsement of you and your church.”
- The overall tone of the numerous exhortations and one service of teaching was that of, “repent and save yourself from this wicked generation” (Acts 2:40).
During the several services I attended, I observed other traditional church ordinances carried out.
- Barclay ordained a young preacher (I believe age 20 and apparently from family of preachers.)
- Barclay ordained an older military chaplain (I believe he held the rank of major). It was noted that this colonel was being ordained through Mark T. Barclay due to his affiliation with Barclay.
- Offerings were received, as I would expect. I only witnessed one offering per service, so I don’t think we can accuse Barclay of being money hungry. The conference budget, which was said to be about $30,000.00, was met by the second night of offerings. The only unusual offering I saw was the last night, when, without a budget to give towards, a minister stood up and encouraged the people to give an “honor” offering to Mark T. Barclay. The text used to promote the offering was concerning the Shunammite woman of 2 Kings 4. As it was taught, she honored the prophet by building an addition on to her house and it resulted in her being blessed with a son. In essence, she sowed a room and reaped a son. I don’t recall there being any pressure to give, nor any promises of “miracle debt cancellation” goofiness. But, can you really sow a room and reap a son? I don’t know, but the Shunammite woman did.
It is the duty of the Church to get people born again.
-Mark T. Barclay
To briefly conclude, for a Charismatic styled Holy Spirit conference, I didn’t see any of that far fringed Charismatic goofiness that makes hard-lined orthodox believers really nervous. (Though I was once at an Episcopal wedding with a Charismatic friend of mine and they freaked out when the altar boys came down the aisle in robes with candles followed by the decked out priest swinging the smoking incense ball. Then on the other hand, Africans aren’t freaked out when a demon manifests in one of their services, but a Southern Baptist will run for the hills). As an avid student of the Bible, I could at least pin one or two verses on everything they were doing in the services. And best of all, the name of Jesus was exalted and worshipped and deferred to. What else could you want out of a church conference?