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Angela Tilby: Soul Survivor proves point of institutional Church

19 April 2024

Soul Survivor

A Soul Survivor event at Strafford Showground in 2019 

A Soul Survivor event at Strafford Showground in 2019 

I HAVE now watched Matt and Beth Redman’s YouTube video describing their relationship with Mike Pilavachi during their years at Soul Survivor (News, 12 April). This youth-focused mission grew from New Wine, one of several ministries with origins at St Andrew’s, Chorleywood. Soul Survivor illustrates the way in which Evangelical/Charismatic life operates in the C of E through links that are more associational and personal than institutional. Everyone knows everyone else, and the appeal is of a loving, warm, and Spirit-filled alternative family — and this is where problems can lie.

Mr Redman, initially warmly welcomed by Mr Pilavachi, was one of a number of young men who found themselves pressured to take part in weird wrestling games with him — an extraordinary request, as Mr Redman had previously suffered serious sexual abuse. He was further confused by Mr Pilavachi’s behaviour: on-stage brilliance, followed by silence and sulks. There was a trip abroad when Mr Pilavachi spoke to Mr Redman only with “Yes” and “No.”

Meanwhile, thousands of young people, some of them vulnerable, were being drawn in by Mr Pilavachi’s magnetism. Mr Redman still wants to believe that God was working through Soul Survivor; after all, he witnessed the signs and wonders and conversions, and believes that the Spirit was indeed moving mightily during Soul Survivor festivals.

There is no easy explanation of how a manipulative leader can still draw people to a genuine faith. Perhaps, when God is working, evil launches a counter-offensive. But I also suspect that there is something wrong with the model on which Soul Survivor was based.

Its associational nature meant that it trusted itself and other shadowy organisations of renewal, not “inherited” church, which many Charismatic Evangelicals despise. Apparent manifestations of the Spirit are enough to confirm God’s approval. Yet scripture would suggest (read Acts) that genuine evangelism is not a festival, but a struggle: an argument with pagan culture and, finally, an invitation to martyrdom. When Mr Pilavachi was finally ordained, it seemed more in acknowledgment of his evangelistic success than as a result of any normal discernment process.

If there are any green shoots of new life for the C of E in this sad story, it is the hope that at least some of those harmed by Soul Survivor might find richer soil, where the life of the Spirit is manifested in sane structures, accountability, and what the Prayer Book describes as the Spirit’s gift: “a right judgement in all things”. The institutional Church might not hug you close, but at least it has mechanisms for reporting when the hugs turn abusive. If Charismatics do not trust the institution, they should at least have the humility to apply the same distrust to themselves. Meanwhile, one can only hope that Matt Redman continues to enrich us with his music and his ten thousand reasons to bless the Lord.

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