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Holy Spirit’s Power Working in CRC, says Pastor

June 19, 2013

Rev. Ren Vandesteeg, who once left the CRC over his charismatic beliefs, continues to marvel over the ways in which the Holy Spirit worked at a prayer conference held in mid-March at Camp Geneva in Holland, Mich.

He attended the conference — titled “Growing the Church in the Power of the Holy Spirit,” based on a book by the same name — without many expectations and so he wasn’t prepared for what happened. Almost from the start, it hit Vandesteeg, a retired Christian Reformed Church military chaplain, what he was experiencing.

“It was like a spiritual bomb going off. I cried like a baby thinking God is moving in my denomination in the way in which I had a vision of 40 years ago," said Vandesteeg, who once left the CRC because of tension over his charismatic views.

"The electrical power of the Holy Spirit was pervasive. I couldn't talk. It was too good to be true."

He says it took him several weeks to sort through the experience and be able to put into words all that he encountered.

More than 160 people, most of them pastors and church leaders in the CRC and the Reformed Church in America, attended the conference.

Many of them, like Vandesteeg, were deeply touched by the conference and continue to meet in small groups to keep the spirit that they encountered alive, says Pastor Mary Sterenberg, prayer coordinator for the Great Lakes Region of Christian Reformed Home Missions and one of the coordinators of the conference.

In preparation for the conference, says Sterenberg, a group of RCA and CRC prayer leaders and pastors prayed together for over two years and continue to do so.

“We prayed that God would ‘fill the containers that we had’. We had a meeting room (at the conference) that would accommodate 150-200 people, and it was filled, as well was every room and cabin we reserved at Camp Geneva. We saw this as answer to our specific prayers.”

Participants spent time in teaching sessions, small groups, corporate worship, confession, and prayer.

Besides agencies of the CRC and RCA, the March conference was put on by Presbyterian Reformed Ministries International (PRMI), the group through which Vandesteeg learned of the conference.

For Vandesteeg, the conference ended up having a special and healing purpose.

Some 40 years ago, he left the CRC for a period of time because his charismatic beliefs ran into conflict with those held by others in the CRC. After leaving, he helped to pastor a non-denominational church that is now one of the largest in Grand Rapids, Mich.

But he eventually sought approval to rejoin the CRC, drawn back to the denomination that has helped shape him in so many ways.

When he was reinstated in the CRC, he signed on as a U.S. Air Force chaplain, rising to the rank of colonel. He retired a few years ago and serves at a Protestant church at an Air Force retirement community in San Antonio, Texas.

Working at the church as one of the pastors, he assumed that he would remain in retirement on the periphery of the CRC.

But then after hearing about the conference from PRMI, he registered, wondering if he might run into people he knew in the CRC. As it turned out, he did.

“I saw people in my church opening their hearts to the Holy Spirit. It was so dynamic.”

Given the power of the experience, he simply sat in the back and took it in, at times hardly able to believe how open the church was to the leading of the spirit.

As he sat there, he thought of how the CRC has always had a strong biblical Reformed theology. It is a scholarly theology that has defined much of his ministry.

He says he now hopes that the conference proves to be a significant event in the ongoing, Spirit-led and empowered prayer and worship life of the CRC, helping to unite the rich intellectual gifts of the church with those of the heart.

“I am so grateful to see God the Holy Spirit at work in our beloved denomination in new and fresh ways,” he says.

“This in no way implies that the CRC didn’t follow God earlier. It did, and it has impacted the lives of hundreds of thousands of people by God’s power.”

Given the success of the conference, says Sterenberg, they are determining what to do next. The testimony of people such as Vandesteeg has especially encouraged them to move ahead.

At this point, plans are being made to hold Growing the Church in the Power of the Holy Spirit conferences in Guelph Ontario, and Edmonton Alberta in November 2013.