Brian Stiller



Global Ambassador @ WEA

Brian Stiller



Global Ambassador @ WEA

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Elim Lodge Sept 2022

September 30, 2022 Articles

I want to frame this presentation by first noting which is obvious, which is that generations shape and mold those that follow. The last verse of the Old Testament and one of the earlier in Luke’s Gospel, are these adjoining ideas:

I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents;”
And he (John the Baptist) will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

If you reviewed Matthew’s outline of the paternity of Jesus, you would notice there is continuity, passing along from generation to generation with its essence rooted in the notion of an eternal transition from one generation to the next.

Keeping in mind how the Scriptures connect the two testaments by way of generational influence, now I want to introduce you to a medical term my brother Cal would want you to consider. One which figures into my speech, my life and your mission.

That word is epigenetics, the study of how behavior and environment can cause changes that affects the way our genes operate. They do not change your DNA sequence, but they can change how your body reads a DNA sequence. Lifestyle can infect how our body reads our DNA. Epigenetic changes are influenced by our environment and can contribute to factors such as cancer and auto immune disorders and can also influence mental disorders both positively and negatively. Common sense says this should not be surprising. It simply is a reminder that what we experience can profoundly impact who we are and who we are becoming and thus influence the coming generations.

I’ll return to that in a moment as we consider the power of generational influence in the growing up of God’s people.

The Stiller family
Our Stiller family began its paternal life on this continent with my dad’s birth in Winnipeg at the turn of the 20th Century. Dad was raised with his brother Henning in a Swedish community on a farm near Minnedosa, 50 km north of Brandon. Mom’s parents met in Regina where she and auntie Irene were born. Mom and dad met in Marchwell Saskatchewan near Yorkton and were married, and soon after dad’s brother Henning and mom’s sister Irene were married. This was followed by the suicide-death of mom’s mother. She had been widowed and had remarried a schoolteacher who also pastored a church in Marchwell. Our family began with David born in Yorkton, Ruthi in Regina, Cal, and I in Naicam, Joni in Tisdale and Gordon, who died at birth, here in Saskatoon.

We lived as one larger family, the two Stiller families both with five kids, dad who in 1948 became superintendent of the Saskatchewan PAOC (he had pastored in Regina, Preeceville, Naicam and Tisdale) and Uncle Henning who pastored in Kelvington, Star City, Parkside and Melville. Our lives were intertwined, raised, loved, and disciplined by whichever of the four parents happened to be handy.

We were early interlockers with his newly birthed Christian movement called Pentecostals. It was into that world my life was nurtured and shaped and from that world, my life emerged.

My recounting of childhood is not to cruise down memory lane, but in recounting this biblical theme of inheritance as noted by both Malachi and Luke, I want to note ways in which many of you, this province, this church, and the broader evangelical community, had epigenetic influence, bringing to these two Stiller families, ingredients of life and faith, style and character, truth and ethics, industry and entrepreneurial instincts, bred by a farm community who in the dead of winter looked out at frozen fields to see Durham wheat, gold and waving in the breeze, holding its breath for a upcoming harvest.

My brother Dave and I have been tracking our genealogical history. I have traveled to Sweden and found the branch that connects us today. I’m fascinated by this heritage, but of course I face internal conflict when the Swedes play the Canadians for the world hockey cup.

Genetics matter
The epigenetic influence of this community has been critical in shaping the lives of many of us. My inheritance comes from this place, this church, this people, this church community, and this evangelical world. I’d like you to see your legacy, the influence you have had and continue to have on and the values and vision you have and continue to bring to the world. In this age of conflicting views, often leaving families divided and churches broken, my appeal is that we see our calling and mission from a higher vantage point, seeing the contours of our knowing that what we see day by day, is not the end of the world. When we see further than today, we visualize the arc of history, shaped by the Spirit and by our choices within the communities we live. It matters we see beyond the immediate, so our eyes are pulled into the longer and wider prophetic vision. And when our seeing is shaped by that longer seeing, it enables us to place the importance of what we believe and do in the shaping and influencing of others. Let it never be misunderstood — we inevitably leave a legacy; it just depends on what that legacy is.

In trying to unwrap one’s history of course I’m plagued by faulty memories, the instinct for self-preservation, a bias and flat out misunderstanding of people and events. Even so, the accumulation of often repeated stories does sharpen what is recalled and helps in securing hopefully, a truer reading of what has gone on.

With that understood, I’d like to provide you with what I recall as seminal to my growing up here in this city, in this province and discerning from my life experience, the impact of the witness of this church, this denomination, its mission and its calling.

Our church was Pentecostal
The Pentecostal message broke early in the 20th century and introduced our parents as early inductees into its ethos, message, lifestyle, and inevitably, its “does” and “don’ts”. It was a new way of understanding the holy trinity which was the root cause of this soon-to-become global movement. The Holy Spirit, for centuries, had been partially hidden under the shadow of the Father and Son, but was becoming understood in new and life-changing ways. As is often the case with the beachhead of new movements, we tended to be fanatical. Sociologically and theologically, we were the rump side of the evangelical and Protestant church life. “Holy Rollers” was a favorite term. Elim, across the street from Cairns Field, was the “Jesus Saves corner.” In this province, we had about 50 Pentecostal churches, but in the 1940s a new message, called the Latter Rain, brought enormous discord, In 1947, 2 leaders of Bethel Bible Institute were removed, they moved to North Battelford, and formed the Sharon group. To a small and often discredited church community, this was a blow to our small vessel of dignity and caused us to go further into a more narrow and restricted theology and socially created a prairie style fundamentalism both in personal and church life.

Dad, Pastor in Tisdale, was elected district superintendent in 1948 and we moved to Saskatoon where with the new principal of Bethel, Bob Argue, they worked to restore the school. Dad traversed this province, worked to unite churches, calm theological discord, and lift pastors who were undermined and overburdened with this fractious heresy.

I with my siblings, watched mom and dad bring love and healing to many a pastor and spouse, giving us front row seats in the sagas of bring healing and life to a dispirited and troubled community.

Elim Tabernacle was home. Sunday school, Sunday morning service, sometimes to Asquith or Radisson for an afternoon service, then Sunday night service. Friday night was Christ Ambassadors and Wednesday night it was often to the prayer meeting. This was family. Along with Elim’s families included The Ashtons. The Phillips. The Hoags. Willard and Mrs. English. The Fords. The Nygaards. The Halliwells. The Ashtons, The Shultzes, The Leys. The Belezanys. The Schindels. The Argues. And of course, after service lunch was always a weekly highlight.

But also, our church home was part of a wider community called Evangelicals. In the late 1940s, a new movement broke out called Youth for Christ, it was first staffed by Billy Graham and in Saskatoon, surprise of surprises, Bob Argue, principal of Bethel Bible Institute, became its leader. This was critical for me, and quite unusual for Pentecostals. While as Pentecostals, being on the bottom of the evangelical pile, YFC rallies, popular among Evangelicals, gave us a common denominator, a way we could link with those from other churches. What was unusual was that a Pentecostal was given such a high-profile role. This matter greatly to me. First nothing kept me from attending these rallies, usually held at the Apostolic Church on Avenue G and 19th St. I loved everything about it. The music. The movies. The preaching. And when dad’s closest friend Bob Argue, was made director, I was so proud. Also, while always Pentecostal in faith and allegiance, this wider evangelistic appeal, so suited what, as a young boy, I felt God was doing in my life. This became a prime shaper of my vision and provided the framework of ministry for my entire life.

There are factors at work here. One, this underrated and often ignored group of Christians called Pentecostals, was now leading and none was as good as Bob Argue. Second by implication, what we believed no longer could be counted as crazy or heretical. This brought a new sense of dignity to a church which only years earlier had been divided. Third, it became a source of seeing the wider church of Christ in which KI felt I had a legitimate place, but a broader church community in which I felt very much at home.

I should also note that Bethel Bible Institute and Elim Church were inseparable. It was the only church that students would attend which then brought to Elim the enthusiasm and energy of its students and teachers including gifted musicians, preachers and those able to work with us children and teenagers. Secondly dinner at Bethel was a special treat, with David and Judy Argue.

In recounting this journey, let me put this in context. This fledging mostly rural bound church community, while simple, uneducated, poor and unsophisticated, had found in its faith not only that which was biblical and therefore understandable, but within our pentecostal world, a faith that was transforming both to personal family and community. Its love for worship and meeting made sense, especially in an age where meeting together was not as often as we might have wanted, out here on the prairies with living on the farm, working long hours and travel not always that simple. Just ask a few of us who have travelled those gumbo roads and you will know very well.

Music, coming out of the Methodist tradition, caught on, as guitars and pianos gave rhythm and energy to enthusiastic worship. I learned to love music in my early years, listening to the quartets and trios from Bethel and Elim, music powerful in words and melody and therefore memorable. Music you could sing the next day. Television, the “Devil’s box” was suspect. The first time we had a tv in our house was when dad rented it the day John Diefenbaker won the federal election. And movies? We knew for certain if we ever went, Jesus would return that moment. My first time was when our class went to the theatre to watch the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. When my buddies had birthdays and they first went to an afternoon movie, I’d be sitting on our fence, waiting for them to return so I could then join them for the eating time of the party.

Yes, our prohibitions were somewhat disingenuous, and our services as times were over emotional, even so, the love to know God and to live out his life was the heart of our church and ministries.

Living Waters Camp was an annual must for me. Imagine having a summer camp at the saltiness lake in the province. Only pentecostals could celebrate summer vacation at a lake dense with salt and call it Living Waters camp. Optimism was our second name.

Why was this so critical? What made this a highlight and focus? I think 3 reasons. First, it was community. We loved being together. Sleeping on urine-stained mattresses, in bunk beds that defied you’re getting out in the middle of the night wasn’t enough to deter us from being together. Sports only added to us having fun. Together.

But also, we had time to hear from the Word. As a kid, I loved to hear sermons, and I got at least 3 a day. I learned then to take notes and watch who to me were the best preachers in the world. Hunger for understanding God’s will for our lives gnawed at our spiritual innards. This combined with after service prayer meetings, rounded off a day well spent.

But there was another reason for our development. We were inspired. Life was tough. While there were unbounding opportunities for us as young people, we all worked. We got jobs when young. Farming was not easy. However the daily grind of life was offset by this emerging realization that God was in us all. The Spirit was not reserved for the clergy. Gifting by God was not seconded only to those who had graduated from Bible college. Each of us were indwelt. He was actually in us, empowering and gifting us with spiritual gifts to bring glory and praise to God. When we were sick, it wasn’t just the pastor who could pray. The elders were also commissioned. They too had the word to pray for healing. This inspired us and camp meeting was a moment in time, in which all of life stopped for a few days. We could focus on the life God had brought us in Christ. Music, togetherness, great preaching, socializing all mixed together, brought us this swirl of joy and enthusiasm informed by the notion that life need not be trapped in cycles of seasons, vocations, drudgery and hardship. Goodness’ sake, we were his and he was in us.

I consider it an enormous privilege to be here, in this church, Christian community and province when this movement began in circling the globe. I was in a place, with this people and family. You gave me opportunity to see and experience this new understanding of the Holy Spirit. I count myself so enriched by having been placed here in that moment. I learned among people who allow their life to be a vehicle used by his Spirit to transmit to the wider world within a new understanding of gifting, calling and empowerment.

The mission
Clearly this pentecostal world loved world missions. Mission conference was one never to be missed. I loved the stories, the artifacts – snakeskins to drums. Ernie Francis, from Kenya, filled us with stories of missions, as did Cathy Simpson and Clare Scratch. I learned of the Mau Mau uprisings in East Africa. I learned of the take-over in China by Chairman Mau. I. watched and listened to nationals telling their stories. It took me out of my self-constrained world of living here and gave me a sense of the world. Missions was a natural as breathing. Telling the world of Jesus seemed to make so much sense. Jesus said we should do it and living here formed by the modesty of our lifestyle, going to the world was like breathing.

Being pentecostal
Enthusiastic faith was catching fire in the world, and the Pentecostal community was at the epi centre of this global movement. It matters today that we ask this question: Why was this new and dynamic Spirit encounter so influential in the rapid growth of churches? To begin, we view the historical context; how the church understood the Spirit. From that, three questions emerge: What triggered this major spiritual revolution? What did it produce? Where has it taken us?

How was the Spirit understood?
I noted earlier that the church’s understanding of the Spirit was eclipsed by an overwhelming focus on the Father and Son. Over its 1900-year history the church had not been particularly good at grasping the person, nature, and gifts of the third person of the Trinity. There were occasional outbreaks of Spirit-consciousness, but official reception was marked by a distinct lack of continuity and by a preference for Christology.
To be sure, the Father was understood, for we all have fathers. Jesus, God in the flesh, too was understood: four portraits in the New Testament help us visualize him sailing, or healing, or comforting the broken heart of a father who has just lost his daughter. But the Holy Spirit? For many the Spirit was mysterious, a mere shadow in (or even “the forgotten member of”) the Trinity. This “forgetfulness” of the Spirit in the traditional church was quite at odds with what began to unfold in the twentieth century.
But the Spirit more often lived on the fringes of the mystical, a topic many even today consider spooky and threatening. From time to time there were Spirit-driven revivals – some very extensive. None, however, proved to be lasting.
Pneumatology (the theology of the Holy Spirit) was slow to emerge. As Emil Brunner noted, that “the Holy Spirit has always been more or less the stepchild of theology and the dynamism of the Spirit a bugbear for theologians.”
The Reformation in the early 1500s opened a window onto the Spirit. Both Martin Luther and John Calvin pointed to the necessity of the Spirit as an illuminator of the biblical text. The English Puritans pointed towards His centrality in conversion and in faithful living. John Wesley (and the Moravians) also evidently exercised belief in the work of the Spirit, but each was cautious about “tongues speaking” because of the unease it created. Dwight L. Moody, while not part of the Pentecostal upsurge, was an important model for the influence of the Holy Spirit on the life of this effective minister. Each of these traditions, however, corralled the Spirit within the limitations of their commitments to one or another vision of a stable society.
As the nineteenth century came to a close, however, a new interest was brewing, a willingness to explore a fresh and more vigorous engagement with the Spirit in life, witness and human reformation. Its emphasis was that, in following Jesus, the believer would progress from the experience of conversion to a second work of grace, called “sanctification” or “being filled with the Spirit.” It was a Wesleyan theme yet disconnected from “speaking in tongues” (as we would later preach). The emphasis was on the power of the Holy Spirit to assist one in a sanctified daily walk, and to experience the joy of Christ. (BTW, this message was key to the Suttara Twins preaching at the revival reported here in Saskatoon in the early 1970s.)

Had gifts ceased?
This understanding of the Spirit resulted in teaching that served to keep people from considering the Spirit’s gifts to his people. A blockage was “cessationism”, which argued that gifts ceased after the contents of the Bible had reached final definition (around the fifth century). Spirit gifts, according to this teaching, were solely for the foundation and expansion of the early church, as a way of providing authenticity to the message of the Apostles. The Bible now gave a fixed record against which ideas could be compared, measured and/or refuted. So, these teachers asserted, with the New Testament in place, and with church bodies in agreement, Charismatic gifts were no longer needed as a means of guidance. Further, while the power gifts of healing and exorcism were important in the launch of the church, after the apostles they were more associated with mystics and “cults.”
The emerging interest in the Spirit after Keswick, therefore, ran right into the rising concern of “Cessationsts” B. B. Warfield a leading theologian and influencer among Evangelicals, made it clear in his book Counterfeit Miracles that gifts of the Spirit were just for the apostolic age. There was no theology written understanding the Holy Spirit. A few evangelists would publish their sermons, but no one had done anything serious on the matter. Berkhof, a major theological text studied in Pentecostal seminaries, said nothing about the work of the Holy Spirit in enabling the church for public witness.
The church of the twentieth century, however, pushed back. Even with naysayers and those biblical concerns and questions which some raised, the gradual maturing and explosive nature of the Pentecostal message transformed the global church, ushering in a more vibrant life and witness tied to the Spirit’s outpouring. For these to be born, it would take a sustained series of events to establish major global mission endeavors and in time grow a tree from which the wider influence of this new Spirit awareness would bear fruit.

Three factors at play
This upsurge did not happen in a vacuum. It was born into a wider Protestant world where various elements fostered its advent. It was only later that what might be called the “sacramental” traditions were touched by its overflow.

First, an important factor that nurtured this Spirit outbreak was the Protestant world itself was still predominantly Evangelical. Their beliefs were shaped by an Evangelical theology sprung from Wesleyan/Methodist revivalists. They had an absorbing interest in the Spirit along with many of their Evangelical associates, who sowed hunger for a deeper life and a manifest desire for empowerment for service in a world that seemed to be trending away from Gospel values.
A second factor assisting the breaking free of this pent-up desire to know the Spirit was, surprisingly, a growing rationalism in viewing Scripture (also known as “Higher Criticism”). From the 1870s in particular it inevitably influencing mainline Protestant churches. Its damaging result was a diminishing of trust in the Bible, shifting emphasis from a personal need of salvation to that of social transformation. Jesus was seen as a way to salvation, not the way. Eternal paradise was not for those “saved” but in a doctrine referred to as universalism, for all: after all, a loving and all-powerful God could not be conceived of as not wanting to redeem all of creation. This was a theological dustup of no small proportion, a cerebral approach among scholars and clergy that added salt to the broad popular thirst for a Spirit-enabled faith. The more this rationalistic approach became evident among theologians, the more intense became the search for a faith that was felt and a spiritual life that touched the life of the believer.
But there was also a third factor at play. Evangelicals concluded that the Bible was to be trusted, indeed needed to be trusted “in its original texts” as inspired. Proving the Bible was infallible and inerrant seemed essential to convincing people of the Gospel in a rationalistic age. Belief was what mattered: in time, this made doctrine rather than experience, the defining boundaries of Evangelical orthodoxy.
These three factors helped foster an interest in and affection for the mystery and workings of the Spirit. The increasingly rational approach that framed both mainline Protestants and Evangelicals created a gap between their thought leaders and the people in the pew. The old banks could not contain the growing waters of restless souls. These restive hearts – looking for an inner and life-changing encounter – began spilling out and forming new rivers of faith.

Into this age came a new understanding of the personal gifts and anointing of the third person of Trinity, The Holy Spirit. For sure, excesses accompanied this outpouring. But it did bring a new understanding into the church so that today, across the church, both Evangelicals, Catholic Orthodox, there is a new view at play.

In giving you this brief history, it is to locate who we were and to point out what is central and critical for me and for the global influence of the door opener of the Holy Spirit to the wider church. However, during that emerged a heresy, here in this province. Its extremes, focused on the ministry gifts of the church, gave unintended power to those with certain gifts and heightened peoples’ desire to know more of God. This movement has in part contributed to what we today know as health and wealth theology. How we responded to this moment is critical. For what it did to the wider pentecostal movement was to lay the groundwork for a more biblical understanding which in time gave way to the broader charismatic movement which now embraces the world. How our leaders handled his schism was critical. It may have pushed them to be more cautious in what was believed, but it set guard rails which has kept this movement in a place where it would in time serve the body of chorist worldwide.

Let me finish with a story that pulls together the power of generational influence, and the shaping of my life by people whose inner life so radiated, that my young was forever changed by my encounter.

It began Sunday morning at Elim. A missionary was speaking that morning. He walked to the pulpit and instantly I discounted what he had to say. Working at Caswell Men’s Wear, I had certain view of haberdashery apparel and Henry Koopman didn’t measure up. Then he began to speak, and his rough Dutch accent only increased my disinterest. So, home for dinner, and you guessed it, Henry and Florence Koopman were having Sunday dinner at our home. At the end of dinner dad said, “Brian, I want you to take the car and drive the Koopmans to their appointments. I had just turned 16 and with my driver’s license I had other ideas of how the afternoon was to be spent. But dad had other plans. That afternoon, as we went to their meetings, I saw another side of this couple. Henry had had a small farm out by Asquith and wanted to go as a missionary to Africa. But he had nothing to offer our church, so he sold his farm and going on his own, bought a one-way ticket to Africa. He met Florence Fleming (her brother was pastor at Melville) and they married. Soon our church brought them into our missionary family. That night after church, I drove them up Ave A to Bethel where they were staying. As I stopped to let them out, he asked, “Brian would you take me down and few blocks and drop me off?” I did, then drove around the corner to see what in the world he was up to. He had seen someone drunk, holding on to a telephone pole and wanted to see if he could help. When I got home that night, I knew my calling. Their simple, undecorated, and seemingly modest talents profoundly challenged me to see deeper and to think higher than my teenage ego had previously allowed. This church was the epigenetic influence which marked my life, highlighted the person of Jesus, opened my heart to the world, instructed me in ways of the Spirit and pushed me out of my comfort zones to risk in serving him these past 60 years.