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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

It Happened in College Chapel

By Robert Bayley
Sept. 8, 2013

It was the opening chapel of the fall semester at Vanguard University, although it was known as Southern California College when I entered as a freshman.

As that first chapel began I sensed something happening in me that was to be repeated many times in chapel services over the next five years. A deep plowing of the Holy Spirit during times of worship through music was followed by an equally deep plowing of the preaching of the Word. These experiences frequently sent us to the altar benches that lined the front of the college chapel.

As I left that first chapel I still remember feeling overwhelmed by an awareness that I was in the right place, that my choice of a Christian college was the right choice, and that the unknown future was going to be marked by God working in my life.

I was born and raised, baptized and confirmed a Presbyterian. As a teenager I wandered into cults and the occult until the summer before my senior year in high school. That’s when I had a powerful conversion experience in my grandmother’s Pilgrim Holiness church.

Then I began to hear about something more — the baptism in the Holy Spirit. While riding a public bus, six months after my conversion, and on my way to a Pentecostal revival meeting in a Los Angeles movie theater, I experienced the releasing and empowering work of the Holy Spirit accompanied by speaking in tongues. 

When I graduated from high school, I knew I wanted to attend a Christian college, and applied to two. I had decided that whichever one accepted me first would be the college of my choice. In the providence of God it was Southern California College in Costa Mesa, Calif. It was at SCC that the person and pastor I have been over the years and who I am to this day was formed — not in a local church, but in the daily chapel of an Assemblies of God institution of higher education.

I learned that the Holy Spirit I knew only through references in the creeds is alive and well and desiring to move and work within my life, forming me as a Christian man.

Countless times of experiencing this movement of the Holy Spirit in our gathered worship, and thus within my own life as well, conditioned me to a lifelong openness to and desire for all that the Holy Spirit wants to do in and through me. A lifelong experiencing of what in the Greek is a continuous tense: “Be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). It happened in college chapel.

I learned a new model for church. Not a building, but a gathered people of God. In this instance it was students, faculty and staff, united in our desire to hear from God, to experience an encounter with the Lord, and to know the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit did deep works of healing, freeing, calling, clarifying and empowering in our lives as together we worshipped,  listened, and prayed for one another, so that Acts 4:31 was ours to experience: “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”  It happened in college chapel.

I learned that I can trust the Bible as the Word of God and entrust my own existence to it. Not because speakers told us we could know this, but because those who spoke did so with a genuine anointing of the Holy Spirit in and through their lives. When they spoke, the Scriptures they used became “alive and powerful and sharper than a two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). It happened in college chapel.

Finally I learned that the Triune God has a personal interest and investment in my life, a purpose in His kingdom and in the world, a calling in and on my life. I learned that I mattered to God and to the world, that Jeremiah 29:11 was not just for his time and place but for my time and place, too: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to give you hope and a future.’”  It happened in college chapel.

By the time I graduated I had been preaching regularly in Assemblies of God churches. After five years as a schoolteacher and preaching on Sundays, I found my way to seminary in preparation for pastoral ministry.

It was during my three years of graduate school at Princeton Theological Seminary that I began to appreciate as never before what had actually happened in and to me in those countless encounters with the Triune God through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in college chapel.

While I value much of what I received at Princeton, at its core I could not embrace the way in which the Bible was handled. Not as the inspired and trustworthy Word of God, but as human documents subject to historical, source, textual, and form criticism that rendered it powerless.

A number of times when confronted with an intellectually tempting position regarding Scripture, I found something deep within reminding me, causing me to actually experience again what occurred in my life at college. Those experiences kept me related to the Bible as the trustworthy Word of God working in my life during those days of stimulating inquiry. And yes, it was because of what happened in college chapel.

Until the day Jesus transitions me into His eternal presence and I see Him face to face, the One whom not seeing I have loved all these years (1 Peter 1:8) — and yes, a love cultivated by the Holy Spirit in college chapel — I will remain deeply grateful for the sovereign hand of God placing me in the community of faith called Southern California College.

Now as a new generation prepares to serve God at Vanguard University, where a growing number of students are meeting late at night every Wednesday just to worship, praise and seek the Lord, my prayer is that all Assemblies of God institutions of higher education will intentionally seek to protect and cultivate the unique Pentecostal/charismatic dynamics that brought them into existence. That academic pursuits will not crowd out the one place where faculty, staff and students, regardless of majors or positions, can gather together to experience the living Lord Jesus Christ and be influenced and molded by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit for service and witness in the world.  

The trustworthy Word of God at the top of the Pentecostal Evangel cover for so many decades remains true, not just for local churches and missionaries, but for all that the Assemblies of God gives its hand to, including (and perhaps especially) its institutions of higher education where the next generation of leaders is being formed: “Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord” (Zechariah 4:6).

It happened for me in college chapel.

ROBERT BAYLEY, twice a graduate of Vanguard University, where he has also served as an adjunct professor of religion, recently retired as senior pastor of John Knox Presbyterian Church in Seattle. 

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