Monday, November 30, 2009

Dr Lloyd-Jones on the Baptism of the Spirit and Tongues

A quick quote from Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I'm reading his chapter on the gift of tongues and he has a rather persuasive argument (everything Dr Lloyd-Jones says is rather persuasive) that I'm not used to in my charismatic experience. He is arguing that Christians cannot speak in tongues at will. At first when I read it I didn't agree but I'm increasingly beginning to see the logic. Hopefully will post some more quotes and thoughts soon.

For now - here's his opening statement in the sermon;

"Let me say again that one of my main objects in this whole series of sermons is to safeguard the doctrine of the baptism with the Holy Spirit. There is a tendency on the part of some, because they dislike the gifts and the manifestations and the excesses to throw out the doctrine of the baptism of the Spirit with it. Let me underline this important fact - you must differentiate between the two. It is possible for a man to be baptized with the Holy Spirit without ever speaking in tongues".

I wish this critically important statement could have been taken to heart in my church history. It would have saved a lot of pain and heartache and upset. For this is definately my observation - that doctrine has been changed BECAUSE of dislike of excess and manifestations. And I just cannot fathom why that should happen. Paul the apostle never once commanded the Corinthians to STOP using the gifts of the Spirit and they were most guilty of excess. He commanded right use - and that surely should be our practice too.

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Prophecy is NOT an Optional Extra!!

I am still very much thinking through the activity of the Holy Spirit - His baptism, His gifts and His awesome manifest Presence in our day to day lives. This of course was prompted by Stanley Jebb's recent two posts promoting the cessationist position. It is very easy to take an "anti" stance and criticise and miss teaching and discussing the genuine and the right. When I was growing up in New Covenant Church in Dunstable, one of the things I despised and hated the most as the church progressively became cessationist was the extremely negative pastor/teachers who were talked about - as they were also anti-charismatic. John MacArthur, Peter Masters and Alan Morrison (three teachers who are agressively anti-charismatic) were the main offenders. I have learned with time that not everything is bad about those men - and have actually enjoyed some email contact with Alan Morrison.

However I do not want to become the "charismatic" version of MacArthur, Masters or Morrison and angrily attack any cessationist who questions whether the Person and gifts of the Holy Spirit should be expected and enjoyed in church today! So over the last 24 hours I have been thinking about Stanley Jebb's statement;

"... expecting prophecy and elevating it above the Word of God and calling silly remarks 'prophecy'".

I couldn't agree more that there is an abundance of "silly" prophecies. I agree that some Christians and churches have been guilty of taking the prophetic more seriously than the Word of God. I have heard a multitude of examples of this in my charismatic experience. But does the existance of the counterfeit mean that the Holy Spirit is not giving genuine prophecies to the church via His prophets? Because of all these thoughts I am spending a lot of time reading Dr Martyn Ll0yd-Jones. Of course I have a multitude of charismatic teachers and books that I could draw on (such as Terry Virgo, Ern Baxter and so on) - but Dr Ll0yd-Jones could never be accused of being anything but "orthodox" and excessively careful in his teaching.

In his monumental series on Romans - Dr Ll0yd-Jones came to Romans 12:6 ("if prophecy let us prophesy") and spent some considerable time actually preaching on the gift of prophecy. His teaching is probably the most useful and sound teaching I have read on the charismatic gifts - so here are some sections.

Dr Ll0yd-Jones was concerned that the charismatic gifts NEVER became seperated from the baptism of the Holy Spirit (something that the Third Wave teaching - particularly Jeff Purswell and John Wimber - have done wrongly I feel). So the Doctor commenced his series on prophecy by saying;

"I am one of those who believes that the baptism with the Holy Spirit is something distinct and seperate from regeneration, and I am deeply concerned lest that great doctrine should get into disrepute because of muddled, unscriptural teaching with regard to speaking in tongues ... I say again that my position is that I believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a seperate, distinct unique experience. It may be accompanied by remarkable gifts; it may simply manifest the "regular" gifts in a heightened degree. It is NOT for us to say that none of these things can happen. Anything is possible in the sovereignity of the Spirit".

I think Dr Ll0yd-Jones concern was right and prophetic. From what I have seen of those former charismatics who have turned to functional cessationism - they have done so because of their distaste for excess and fanaticism not because of a doctrinal conviction. So Lloyd-Jones begins with the baptism of the Holy Spirit and then goes on to address the gifts themselves with a note to cessationists;

"I find it is almost laughable that people should say they do not see any evidence of the gifts today ... One of the greatest danagers it always seems to me is to interpret the Scriptures in the light of our experience instead of testing our experience by the teaching of Scripture".

Our argument cannot be the bad or the counterfeit! Any even basic knowledge of church history will show that the counterfeit will always appear around the genuine! It doesn't mean the genuine isn't around or wrong. It just means the devil is trying to muddy the waters and confuse and put off Christians from the genuine! So then Dr Ll0yd-Jones moved on to define prophecy;

"What is this gift of prophecy? ... Well I would define it as a direct inspiration from the Holy Spirit. What for? It's purpose is to give a word from God or the word of God to the church ... prophecy is the inspired delivery of warning, exhortation, instruction, judging and making manifest the secrets of the heart".

One tactic that cessationists sometimes adopt is to call prophecy "preaching". I suspect they do this because any honest cessationist struggles to find Scriptures that clearly show that the gifts of the Spirit have stopped. Therefore to call prophecy "preaching" somewhat solves the issue - it is however dishonest to the Word of God. Dr Ll0yd-Jones comments on this distinction;

"What is the difference between prophecy on the one hand and preaching and teaching on the other? Because there is a difference. I would say the difference can be put into one word - immediacy. This means that a word is given to people and comes to them".

Immediacy! Anyone who has experienced the Holy Spirit impart a prophecy knows that it comes "suddenly from heaven". You can be sitting in church and not even particularly feeling "spiritual" or "close to God". But then SUDDENLY a word begins burning in your heart. Some experienced and wise prophets in the church today such as Terry Virgo or Greg Haslam or John Groves will say that they do not even know the entire word when they step up to give it - the Holy Spirit imparts it as they in faith open their mouths.

Whereas of course preaching and teaching are not and should not be immediate. Dr Lloyd-Jones says;

"A preacher and a teacher is a man who takes time to study; he takes time to think, to prepare, he arranges his material and gives it order and system. A preacher and a teacher should not enter into a pulpit without any preparation, and trust to the inspiration of the moment. That is not preaching and teaching, but that is prophecy".

I know some of my preacher/teacher friends such as Pete Day have said that sometimes they have felt led to give "immediate" and inspired sermons with little or no preparation - does Dr Ll0yd-Jones allow for and see this?

"Now a difficulty arises in this way; a preacher and teacher may also be a prophet. I have no doubt at all about all this. I say it again to the glory of God, I think I know just a little about this. I think I know something of what it is to be preaching or teaching and suddenly find myself prophesying".

So it is this word "immediacy" that is key to the whole element of the gift of prophecy. This is (I think) what "cautious" reformed evangelicals don't like about the whole matter. Immediacy means that there may be mistakes. Immediacy means that there cannot be any preparation or proof-reading - whereas sermons can be prepared, proof-read and checked. Immediacy means an element of risk! But if the Holy Spirit is truly in control of His church then what actually IS the risk?!

I love Dr Ll0yd-Jones conclusion. He sees a New Testament church as it should be;

"So I would sum it up like this. The picture we have of the early church is of a body of people who believed the gospel, who were filled with the Holy Spirit and who received the gifts. They were an active body and they actively manifested the gifts. There was order certainly and control, but the great thing was the life that was in all the parts. It had to be controlled because of excesses but the control did not mean that the members were silent, and that only one man or a number of men were doing things. No, no it was a pneumatic church, a pneumatic body with the life of the Spirit showing itself in varying ways in each member so that everyone took part in the life of the church".

My early memories of life in my home church was certainly of having godly leadership - but life was there. You never knew who of the members may speak up and contribute and take part. My later memories before I left the church was of a silent church with only the elders speaking at all during the Sunday service. Control there may have been - but life? I'm not so sure.

As my title of this blog states - prophecy is NOT an optional extra! I have yet to see the promise of 1 Corinthians 14 fulfilled - that unbelievers will come into the gathered congregation and hear "prophesying" and will fall down and confess Christ as Lord. I have now taken two of my then non-Christian friends to the "Together on a Mission" Newfrontiers conference in Brighton deliberately to test this Scripture out. There both heard prophesying, tongues and manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Far from being "freaked out" they were both intrigued and one now is a Christian himself. This is the birthright of the lost! To hear the life of the Spirit in the church!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Cessationism = Careful or Quenching?

Any who step across the portals of this blog will know I do not have a high opinion of the cessationist position. I have no shame in stating I passionately believe that all gifts of the Holy Spirit are given and distributed "as He will" today and are for the building up and edifying of the risen Lord's church. It was useful to be reminded by Stanley Jebb's recent blog post however that some cessationists don't like the claim that they are skeptical and guilty of quenching the Spirit;

"Christians who hold to a cessationist position are not skeptics nor unbelievers but are generally concerned conservative or reformed evangelical Christians who hold certain views about miracles, signs and wonders".

Traditionally the expectation has been on charismatic Christians to explain why they believe gifts should and do happen today. I think the environment has now changed - thanks to theologians such as D A Carson and Wayne Grudem and my favourite - Gordon Fee - along with others who have argued rationally and intellectually that there is NO Biblical statement that suggests the gifts of the Holy Spirit have passed away or ceased. Therefore I believe that that it is now upto cessationists to prove themselves.

If Stanley Jebb is correct in stating that cessationists are neither skeptics nor unbelievers but simply "concerned" Christians who hold to the supremacy of the Word of God then they need to argue consistently from Scripture - and not resort to scaremongering or citing examples of excess such as the "tortilla lady" that so upset John MacArthur. Cessationists claim to stand for orthodoxy. Stanley Jebb calls cessationists; "Concerned conservative or reformed evangelical Christians" - so the question we are left with is; "Is orthodoxy enough?".

Dr Martyn Ll0yd-Jones would think not;

"It is becoming clear to everybody - at least it should be - that the Christian church today is failing and failing lamentably. It is not enough even to be orthodox ... people want a word of authority ... We need authority and we need authentication. It is not enough merely that we state these things and demonstrate them and put them logically. Is it not clear that we are living in an age when we need some special authentication - in other words we need revival".

During the sermon Dr Lloyd-Jones then goes on to speak about cessationism. He begins by working carefully through the New Testament passages that demonstrate the gifts of the Spirit never ceased and summarises;

"It is perfectly clear in the New Testament times, the gospel was authenticated in this way by signs, wonders and miracles of various characters and descriptions. And you cannot begin to understand the New Testament, the epistles as well as the book of Acts without holding that fact in your mind".

One of the things that really irks me about cessationism is that they have divorced signs and wonders and gifts of the Spirit from the gospel - the spreading flame. The New Testament shows clearly that unbelievers are to come into the midst of believers "standing and prophesying" and the result is that they will be convicted, will fall down and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Spiritual gifts should impress and attract the world!

To distort the Word of God to claim these have ceased has stunted and robbed unbelievers of a means by which God intended to reveal Himself to them.

Let us be clear! 1 Corinthians 14:24 does NOT state (in this instance) that unbelievers come in and hear the "preaching". It speaks of them coming in and hearing the "prophesying" - the inspired, instant, Spirit-inspired utterances of the gathered church! Orthodoxy? What is "cautious" orthodoxy doing to save the lost masses in London, Birmingham, Bombay, Calcutta and of course China? Caution? Dr Lloyd-Jones summarises this cessationist argument as;

"We have got the truth so you do not need anything miraculous or supernatural".

His answer?

"The Scriptures never anywhere say that these things were only temporary - never! There is no such statement anywhere! "

This post is not the place for a careful work through of the Scriptures cessationists like to use to claim the charismatic gifts have ceased (such as 1 Corinthians 13). My question is - are cessationists justified in claiming they are not trying to quench the Spirit but are rather "cautious" orthodox evangelicals. We must state the obvious - I don't believe ANY Christian would deliberately (at least I hope not) quench the Holy Spirit. Sadly they do. But I think the jury must remain out. All I see still of cessationist arguments are a people who are gripped by a spirit of self-control. They do not like being subject to the Holy Spirit and His designs and plans for advancing His church.

My personal experience and childhood is vastly different. I remember a glorious childhood growing up in a charismatic (yet never out of control) church. I remember what seemed like hours of heavenly worship standing with my parents watching and learning as they seemed "lost in wonder, love and praise". Sometimes someone would speak out in a strange tongue - and it didn't seem odd. It seemed fascinating. I remember even some of the elders bringing carefully weighed prophecies (rarely "silly remarks" that I remember as Stanley Jebb claims) that lifted even our hearts as children to God.

Then I remember the environment changing very definately. People eager to share prophecies would go up to the platform and speak with the elders and be sent down to their seats without being allowed to share (we would call it the "walk of shame"). Choruses and love songs were sung less and less and painfully tuneless hymns were sung more and more. Non-Christian friends of the family who would visit with us would ask; "Why have you lot become so miserable?".

Caution is okay - but it is a fine balance to walk before caution becomes quenching of the Holy Spirit. Let Dr Lloyd-Jones have the last word;

"This to me is one of the most urgent matters at this hour. With the church as she is and the world as it is, the greatest need today is the power of God through His Spirit in the church that we may testify not only to the power of the Spirit but to the glory and praise of the one and only Saviour - Jesus Christ our Lord".

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

This is for ME!!!

My favourite song of the moment is a beautiful song recently written by Lex Loizides and the chorus goes;

"This is for me - this blood of Christ - washing all my stains, breaking all my chains;
This is for me - this death He died, taking all my sins and giving me a chance to live again".

Christian's aren't traditionally very good at what they see as "selfishness" in the Christian life. But there is a massive element of the good things God has for us that we will and do miss out as legalistic Christians if we cling to pious "humility" and not enjoy all He has for us. I've been thinking and writing a lot about the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the Charismatic Movement these last few posts - this was sparked by Stanley Jebb's recent blog (who again has written a post on cessationism not arguing from Scripture but from bad examples of excess).

My concern is that the baptism of the Holy Spirit has so become masked in debate that we have forgotten the pleasures that God has for us in this empowerment from on high. I want to quote some passages from church history (taken from Dr Martyn Ll0yd-Jones; "Joy Unspeakable") that reflect what happens to people in this encounter with God. Stanley Jebb cites excess as a reason as to why the genuine can't exist. Here are accounts of the genuine. Dr Lloyd-Jones explains why quoting from the past is of use;

"I want to show you that this is something which has been taught and recognised in the Christian church throughout the centuries and by men belonging to various and varied theological schools. This is what to me is so interesting and glorious about all of this. That it cuts right across the various theological distinctions such as Arminianism and Calvinism and so on".

Dr Ll0yd-Jones first quotes John Owen;

"When He so sheds abroad the love of God in our hearts and so fills them with gladness by an immediate act and operation ... then doth the soul even from hence raise itself to a consideration of the love of God ... filling it (the soul) with gladness, exultations and sometimes with unspeakable raptures of the mind".

He then quotes Thomas Goodwin;

"There is a light that cometh and overpowereth a man's soul and assureth him that God is his and he is God's and that God loveth him from everlasting ... it is a light beyond the light of ordinary faith".

He then quotes another Puritan - John Flavel;

"His thoughts (speaking of himself) began to swell and rise higher and higher till at last they became an overwhelming flood. Such the ravishing tastes of heavenly joys, and such the full assurance of his interest therein that he utterly lost all sight and sense of the world ... still the joy of the Lord overflowed him and he seemed to be an inhabitant of the other world, he many years after called that day one of the days of heaven".

There was a wonderful song sang at Stoneleigh Bible Week during the Toronto blessing years called; "Days of heaven". I never really understood it but I think reading this I do. The sealing or baptism of the Spirit is a foretaste of heaven - so much so that it is as if heaven has come to earth!

And finally Dr Ll0yd-Jones quoted from one of my heroes - Jonathan Edwards;

"As I rode out into the woods ... I had a view that was for me extraordinary, of the glory of the Son of God ... which continued as near as I can judge about an hour; such as to keep me in a greater part of the time in a flood of tears and weeping aloud. I felt an ardency of soul to be full of Christ alone, to love Him with a holy and pure love, to trust in Him, to live upon Him".

Charles Simeon states; "To many, alas the sealing of the Spirit (or baptism of the Spirit) is mere foolishness but those who account it so speak evil of things they do not understand. Let us seek to experience it ourselves instead of censuring those who do".

I think that is suitably wise advice and a rebuke to those who seem to perpetuate a ministry of being "against everything". Yes there is error and yes there is excess. Yes people make mistakes and yes people fail. But that DOES NOT and CANNOT excuse abandoning and ignoring the very good gifts of God. They are real and they are genuine and free by grace. When was the last time you or I really enjoyed God? If you have to think then it's been a while and too long - particularly when it is His will and good pleasure to bless DAILY!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Empowerment from on High!!

Reading "Joy Unspeakable" (Dr Lloyd-Jones's sermons on John 1:26, 33) is making me think much about the baptism of the Holy Spirit along with a consideration of the past and my childhood growing up in the charismatic movement. David Rolles - a fellow ex-New Covenant Church member - made mention of a small booklet that was circulated widely at that time. We never realised it but it was quite famous among charismatic churches. Terry Virgo told a group of us at Stoneleigh that many churches used the booklet to great effect. It was called; "The Baptism in the Holy Spirit". I still have a treasured copy and quote it here - it defines the baptism of the Spirit as:

"The Baptism in the Holy Spirit is enduement with power from on high (Luke 24:49), it is the fulfillment of the promise of the Father (Acts 1:4, 5) and the Son (Acts 1:8). It is the provision of power for service, for we cannot serve in our own strength (Zech 4:6). It is a definite experience so that we should know whether we have had it or not (Acts 19:2). However it is not a once-for-all experience, in that we need to go on being filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4, 4:8, 31; 13:9, Eph 5:18).

One of the loveliest results of this experience is a deeper love for the Lord and for one another, and the coming of the Holy Spirit upon believers results in greater unity among believers".

As believers have fought, argued and lost the element to this empowerment from on high - so the life of the charismatic movement has ebbed and dwindled. One of the most exciting books Terry Virgo has ever brought out was called; "The Tide is Turning". Mark Heath reviewed this book a while back and summarised it excellent;

"Essentially the title can be thought of as a prophecy that the decline of the church is slowing and a new wave of vibrant biblical Christianity is coming".

Do we need a new approach or a new tactic to achieve this turning of the tide? Of course there is nothing wrong with being culturally relevant. God surely gets no glory by the church stubbornly remaining out of date. But I fail to see that the Bible gives any other option for the turning of the tide other than empowerment from on high. And of course the folly of the church is that it is HERE, it is AVAILABLE, and it is FREE BY GRACE!!

As the early booklet on the "Baptism of the Holy Spirit" noted - one of the most precious effects of this empowerment from on high is a greater and deeper love for the Lord Jesus. It is here that I bring together two insights - one from Dr Ern Baxter and one from Dr Martyn Ll0yd-Jones who both have the same insight. Dr Ll0yd-Jones wrote in "Joy Unspeakable";

"We have seen that it was only after the apostles had been baptized with the Holy Spirit that they really came to understand the meaning of what had happened to their Lord and Master".

In his monumental sermon on the "Robe of the Ephod" - Dr Ern Baxter drew attention to the golden bells that surrounded the high priest's robe. He said;

"As the high priest moved around in the Holy of Holies offering his sacrifice, the people could hear the golden bells on the hem of his robe and they knew that their sacrifice had been accepted. They knew the high priest was alive ... When the disciples gathered together in the Upper Room on the day of Pentecost, they heard a sound from heaven.

What happened? They heard the bells of the High Priest in heaven offering His acceptable sacrifice in the Presence of God ... I believe that the reason why the baptism of the Holy Spirit and indeed the whole matter of the Holy Spirit has been so fiercely contested is because the Holy Spirit is the communication of God to men concerning the work of Jesus Christ in God's Presence.

Every child of God has the right to the evidence of the golden bells of the baptism of the Holy Spirit in his life to give him experiential knowledge in his own experience that Jesus Christ is alive and well in the Presence of God and He accomplished the work He was sent to do".

What is that work? One of the most glorious verses in the whole Bible (if that's possible) - 2 Corinthians 5:19:

"That God was in Christ reconciling the world (not just the church!) to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them".

We gain nothing by exalting one part of Christ's redemptive work above another. It is all gloriously intertwined like a golden thread running through a robe. The work that Christ did on the Cross has been accomplished once and for all - our sins are gone - never to return! But God did not expect us to take this on face value alone. He has sent empowerment from on high - He has poured out His Holy Spirit to baptise believers with experiential knowledge that we can hear the bells of heaven ringing in our hearts. See a down-trodden, depressed, faithless, negative, legalistic church? Rest assured that it's one and only need is a baptism of power from on high.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Don't Forget the Past!!

One of the most impacting sermons I've ever heard (and there are a few!) was by David Holden at Stoneleigh Bible Week 2000. He preached on the past, present and future and showed how each must be held responsibly in tension. He warned against living sentimentally in the past but not forgetting it. This sermon was even more impacting because a large group of us had come to Stoneleigh for the first time fresh from the dramatic changes at our home church in Dunstable. The eldership was relentlessly taking the church where they wanted it to go - into conservative reformed evangelicalism with no room for the Holy Spirit.

One of the most upsetting and concerning things to me was a decision the eldership made to erase the entire audio ministry of the church prior to 1991. Essentially everything that had a hint of the charismatic movement about it. I suggested to them (perhaps not very sensitively) that this reminded me of Nazi Germany and moves made to erase the past there. It didn't go down well! But it didn't change the decision. I decided then and there that I would devote my life to refusing to allow the past to be forgotten.

Much of my flat (and my extended library in my friend Pete Day's office) reflects this - books, magazines, audio tapes and now CD's - that speak of the great things that God has done in the past. Heeding Dave Holden's warning I don't want this to be a sentimental memory but an impetus to expect even greater things for the future. I don't want to go "back" to the charismatic days of Dunstable and the Anglia and Dales Bible Weeks (awesome though they were). I want so much more - I want everything the Bible promises! Promises of the nations flowing to Zion! Promises of Zion being a light to the world! Promises of the latter house being FAR greater than the former!

One of the framed pictures in my home is posted below - it reminds me not to forget how God can use great men and women to great purpose;

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Small Word with a BIG Impact

I am re-reading Dr Martyn Ll0yd-Jones' marvellous "Joy Unspeakable" at the moment - his sermons on John 1:26, 33 covering the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Stanley Jebb's recent post got me re-visiting those past years and it was the change of direction on the baptism of the Holy Spirit that marked the church's progression to functional cessationism and reformed evangelicalism. So I was stirred to re-visit Dr Lloyd-Jones amazing sermons and why this topic is so important.

I read one quote on the bus this morning that just completely seized me. Goosebumps ran up and down me. My hair stood on end ... oh wait, it was my hair gel. But I hope the point is clear. Before I write what I read - I want to post a couple of more general quotes on Dr Lloyd-Jones and the vital relationship between the baptism of the Spirit and the health of the church.

"We are living, let us remind ourselves in an age hopelessly below the New Testament pattern - content with a neat little religion. We need the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We have already seen that this is not something that takes place at conversion, it is something that happens to us and is clear and unmistakable".

We are entitled to ask "why?". Why will the baptism of the Holy Spirit change the church? Dr Ll0yd-Jones briefly summarises the "purpose" of this inheritance from on high;

"The purpose - the main function of the baptism with the Holy Spirit is to witness, to enable God's people to witness in such a manner that it becomes a phenomenon and people are arrested and are attracted".

We want to get the world to come to the church? Of COURSE we do! We don't need huge evangelistic campaigns or clever tactics or techniques. Yes they may work and may add some lost to the church. But to see the millions pour into the church that we long for - there is ONE NEED. And here I come to the quote that stopped me short on the bus.

Dr Lloyd-Jones was quoting Blaise Pascal and an entry in his diary. Here it is;

"This day of Grace - 1654.
From about half past ten at night to about half after midnight;


That word just sums it all up! Our every need! The need of the hour! The need of the Church! The need of every Christian! If the fire of God would visit His Church - if the Holy Spirit would fall upon His people then all would change. We would see that our petty arguments, disagreements and our legalistic traditions of men are NOTHING. God in His revealed manifest Presence - oh how I long for it! I found myself praying that I would enter the same in my diary. "Fire". Fire visited me. Fire came upon me. The fire of God changed my life and the world began to sit up and take notice!


Sunday, November 15, 2009

What IS the Church's Problem with Failure and Excess?

I want to ask a question - and it's been on my mind for years. Yesterday's blog post has simply sparked it off - for those who haven't read it, I responded to a post that stated a whole church was taken out of the charismatic movement because of moral failure. In my 30 years of church life I have watched aghast as church pastors have publicly destroyed people's lives with little or no obvious compassion - simply because of failure. Why is this? Surely it may be a bit simplistic - but shouldn't the church be the "safest place on earth"? Or to put it another way; "The happiest place on earth"?

But this isn't an unusal situation. This of course happened in the New Testament. John 8:3 follows the well-known account when the teachers of the Law dragged a woman caught in prostitution to Him. They quoted the Law to Him to see His reaction. But what caught my attention was the verse after this;

"They began to go out one by one beginning with the older ones".

What does this mean? Does it mean that the older ones were convicted first that they were not without sin and so left first? Or does it mean that the older ones left first because they were outraged and frustrated that Jesus would not apply the letter of the Law to this hideous, sinful and disgusting woman? I wonder ... The commentaries I checked said this;

"The older ones either had more sins for which they were answerable or else had more sense than to make an impossible profession of righteousness".

Would anything change in the church today? I can honestly say that I have seen churches metaphorically "drag people before Jesus and demand they be stoned". Do we not all know that we sin? So surely why is it that Rob Rufus has to say of the church;

"If you are bleeding - don't swim with the sharks".

Tragically this isn't just theory. Why else do so many Christians persist in struggling secretly with sin terrified that they may be found out? Have we ever considered that very few people jump straight to the "big" sins? Few Christians will fall into moral failure - adultery or homosexual practice. It all begins with thoughts and temptations and how sad - if the church was really that safe then maybe this could be dealt with. But it isn't.

Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones had a great deal to say about the "fear of excess". Moral failure was the first thing mentioned that dragged my home church into functional cessationism. Fear of excess was the other. The Toronto Blessing was something that was made to be terrifying to us. We were shown video after video of people howling and cackling with laughter and it genuinely scared us. "This" is what may happen if you stay charismatic - we were told.

Here is what Dr Martyn Ll0yd-Jones had to say;

"Certain people by nature are afraid of the supernatural, of the unusual, of disorder, so concerned about discipline and decorum and control, that you become guilty of what the Scripture calls "quenching the Spirit"; and there is no question in my mind that there has been a great deal of this"

I have little hesitation in saying that many "anti-charismatics" seem to fall into this category. I don't know whether they mean to. But the fear of excess seems to drive this. And again I wonder why. What's so scary about going over the top? The world does it all the time through drugs, alcohol and so on. You pay good money to do that. Why is the church so scared of it?

"People are so afraid of what they call enthusiasm and some are so afraid of fanaticism that in order to avoid those they go right over to the other side without facing what is offered in the New Testament".

Dr Martyn Ll0yd-Jones sums the problem up exactly. How I long, wish, agonise and regret that my home church couldn't have simply sat back and said; "Well there is some excess here and there - but we don't have to go that way. We have the Word of God, yet we see that we can have the life without going crazy!". Sadly Dr Ern Baxter pleaded exactly this in his last visit to Dunstable in a sermon called; "The Spirit and the Word". Dr Lloyd-Jones goes on (and here is my favourite quote that I often cite);

"Look at the New Testament Christian, look at the New Testament church and you see it vibrant with spiritual life, and of course it is always life that tends to lead to excesses. There is no problem of discipline in a graveyard; there is no problem very much in a formal church. The problems arise when there is life".

Vibrant with spiritual life! So if we are to take Dr Lloyd-Jones counsel to heart then we could almost say that if you can't remember when there was a loving discipline of a church member for doing something crazy, then your church may be pretty formal. But if you cannot remember the last time something untoward happened in a church service - you must ask, does my church resemble something of a graveyard where you know exactly what will happen?

"Problems are created by life and by vigour and the problems of the early church were spiritual problems, problems arising because of the danger of going to excess in the spiritual realms".

Oh that we would have these problems again! Of course I don't mean we should hunger for excess and failure. But I DO mean that I think formality, deadness and legalism is a more deadly problem at present that excess. These quotes of Dr Ll0yd-Jones were from my favourite book; "Joy Unspeakable" and Terry Virgo wrote a commendation on this edition. He said;

"This is no age to advocate restraint; the church today does not need to be restrained but to be aroused, to be awakened and to be filled with the Spirit of glory".

Do it again Lord. Bring life back to Your church!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Charismatic Baby in a Bath of Excess

I consider myself fortunate to have been in a rather unique position in my church experience. Many grow up in one denomination or another and know little else. My experience (and that of some of my blogging friends) is slightly different.

1. I grew up in a reformed charismatic church called "New Covenant Church".

2. I then watched it change into a cessationist reformed church called "West Street Baptist Church".

3. I went to back into charismatic circles in the "Newfrontiers" family (again reformed and charismatic).

4. I spent 2 years in reformed evangelicalism in "Sovereign Grace Ministries".

5. I am now happily back in charismatic circles particularly enjoying fellowship with Rob and Glenda Rufus's church in Hong Kong called "City Church International" that has taught me about the grace of God for the first time.

So why is this so fortunate? I have experienced both charismatic and cessationist life. My former senior pastor Dr Stanley Jebb wrote a post yesterday called; "Why I Left the Charismatic Movement". The reasons were no secret but this is the first time he has really written them down. Let me say that Dr Jebb is a man I hold in the absolute highest esteem. I possess several hundred audio tapes of his ministry (both pre and post charismatic) and love listening to them still. I love his insight into the Word of God and his relationship with God. My respect for him is unchanged over his decision. It doesn't mean I agree with it.

So there's a reason why I see no need to leave the charismatic movement.

Dr Jebb's main reason is this;

"One of which is the number of charismatic leaders that have fallen morally. Yes I know that Reformed and Evangelical leaders have fallen also. But there is this difference: charismatics claim to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Furthermore they claim to manifest spiritual gifts such as prophecy which can reveal what is in a person's heart".

This premise would work only if reformed and evangelical leaders do NOT claim to be filled with the Holy Spirit (and they do - only they argue they get it "all" at conversion). Secondly this premise would only work if it could be proved that being filled with the Holy Spirit eradicated sin - such as the Holiness movement used to teach. And it doesn't. Being filled with the Holy Spirit is the most glorious and wonderful encounter with God - if anything it exposes brings an added degree of spiritual warfare and temptation.

Was the charismatic movement perfect? No - far from it. There was excess and moral falls. But any church historian worth their salt knows that this is always the case when God by His Spirit is at work. The devil doesn't want the church alive or full of life. Dr Jebb tried to bring a word of balance by saying;

"Many churches and ministers who are sound in doctrine, orthodox in theology also give the appearance of being lifeless if not dead".

With that I do agree. I suggest the devil is not particularly bothered by lifeless and dead-looking churches because they are unnoticable to the community around them. Such churches fill every stereotype the world expects - dull and dreary hymns in dusty pews with long monotonous preaching. But when the Holy Spirit brings life to His church then things happen! The world notices! For example I remember as a child at church;

1. Doing a "March For Jesus" through our home town along crowded streets.

2. Holding a prayer meeting for rain up the hills around our town during a drought - with the result that rain did come.

3. Praying for the closure of a night club in our town that caused increased crime - with the result (I believe) that it closed.

4. Praying for the capture of a serial rapist around our town (known as "The Fox") - with the result that he was captured and arrested by a policeman who attended our church (among others).

And those are just the examples of life I remember! I am not trying to say that the moral fall of charismatic leaders is not and was not serious. It is always heart-breaking and I am sure particularly for Dr Jebb who knew many of them personally. But I do not and will not agree that the counterfeit actions and temptations of the devil is worth throwing the life and power of God out.

There is much more I could have said about Dr Jebb's dismission of spiritual gifts but I think that is unncecessary. Most will know my attitude towards spiritual gifts - that yes there may be a degree of "pretended" revelations. But my life has been changed by prophecies that "exposed the secrets of my heart" (not to condemn and reveal 'sin' as Dr Jebb suggests) but to "exhort, edify and encourage" (as 1 Corinthians suggests). I am eternally grateful for the spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit and suggest that instead of seeking;

" ... earnest, fervent, believing-prayer ... (instead of) ... pseudo-gifts, carnal excitement and pretended revelations"

We should see earnest, fervent, believing prayer AND the genuine powerful spiritual gifts, the excitement and thrill of the Presence of God and genuine, real revelations from the Word of God. Why have to choose one or the other when both is freely available?