Friday, March 24, 2006

Ern Baxter - An Autobiographical Sketch 2.

Yesterday I began sharing some extracts from Ern's autobiographical sketch that he includes in his superb book on shepherding called, "The Chief Shepherd and His Sheep". It was very stirring for me to re-transcribe the material from his "Trossachs Experience" where a man came to his house, and commissioned him and they went together to a large conference where he received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I saw the importance of small groups and remembered the concept of "Sovereign Surprises" - how we never know when God may "break out" into our lives and change the course of our stories. Today I wanted to move on and address the dilemma that Ern's Trossachs Experience put him in. It was a dilemma that was to keep him for the rest of his life.

Word and Spirit.

"My desire to walk in this balance put me in a dilemma. I was eager to embrace both sound Biblical teaching and the gift and gifts of the Holy Spirit. However the doctrinal side of me was unacceptable to the Pentecostals, and the pentecostal side of me was unacceptable to the Evangelicals. Most churches were seperated from one another according to emphasis and this segregation was dramatic and complete, a divorce that allowed for no toleration of one by the other. To try and embrace both emphases was to forfeit one's acceptance by either. In retrospect I realise that many good men involved in maintaining this tension faced the same dilemma. Consequently some chose to play down their pentecostal experiences in order to be acceptable to evangelical Christians, and some who made this choice became prominent in evangelical circles. (I would question whether or not this is still going on today).

As I was experiencing the ministry of the Holy Spirit, my call to serve God became very clear. I "knew" God wanted me to preach, and considering my providential circumstances - my exposure to two emphases that were mutually exclusive to much of the body of Christ - the working out of this call was to prove difficult. Unlike those who were yielding to the pressure to choose one or the other, I foudn myself compelled by conviction to embrace what I saw to be the whole counsel of God.

For a time I was able to move in a relatively small circle of like-minded men who discipled me in the Scriptures and the Spirit. All was well. But as my abilities in God's service developed it became apparant that I was being called to a larger sphere of activity. Some Pentecostal leaders approached me about ministering among them and I candidly shared my doctrinal convictions, affirming that these might hinder my usefulness and could eventually precipitate problems. The leaders felt certain that my views would not hinder me, but that on the contrary my contribution would be a blessing. I would also be able to broaden my sphere of usefulness. I relented, accepting their offer and became the pastor of a country church. Indeed I did experience blessing, and the church grew, however my original protestations proved prophetic. An unpleasant confrontation developed and my associations with the Pentecostal denominations were severed.

At that time, God put into my heart the Scripture that says, "If thou wilt walk in My ways and if thou wilt keep My charge ... I will give thee places to walk among these that stand by" (Zech 3:7 KJV). This assurance helped me to handle the pain of what I felt to be a severe and unfair handling of my life and service for God by the Pentecostal leaders. (Since then I have had fruitful and pleasant relationships with many "official" Pentecostal leaders).

I realised that God was challenging me to make a choice. Since the Pentecostals no longer desired my service, I could surpress my charismatic experience as others had done and go into other denominations or I could stay true to my convictions and trust God for the outcome. I came close to yielding to the temptation to hide my charismatic light under a bushel and going into the denominations where I would find "respectability" and "security". Yet the challenge persisted: could I trust God and embrace His whole counsel? I considered the possible isolation and loneliness that such a course could produce. However it quickly became clear that such possibilities were no argument for evading the will of God. Loneliness and isolation were a small price to pay for a clear conscience.

The whole counsel of God as I saw it, was like a whole pie cut into sections. One section was water baptism, one was the baptism of the Holy Spirit, one the authority of the Word, one the deity of Christ and so on. Unfortunately the body of Christ was so divided that Christians were being forced to choose certain pieces of the pie and by default, to lose the rest of the pie in the process. I did not want to be forced into taking just a piece and missing all the other good things. I therefore decided to trust God and preach to whomever would have me. I chose the whole counsel of God".

I think again we can learn some relevent truths from Ern's account.

1. Hiding charismatic light will still provide "respectability" and "security". Despite the century we have had of Pentecostal and charismatic experience, I believe that there is still a certain "respectability" and "security" that one can gain by downgrading charismatic life and seeking solace in the Reformed Evangelical circles. The tendancy of the Charismatic Movement to not provide careful scholarship and theology for what we believe is valid Christian biblical experience has often forced this temptation and Christian leaders, pastors and churches are still being tempted to make this choice. Yet as Ern said, what price for a clear conscience? It is interesting that at the end of his life in 1991 when he stood in the pulpit of New Covenant Church, Dunstable he could say (somewhat like Paul) with a clear conscience, "For sixty years I have enjoyed and relished charismatic life and I wouldn't change that for ... anything".

2. The divorce between Word and Spirit is still as strong and difficult.
While we have many groups of churches and leaders to be grateful for in attempting to re-marry these two dimensions, I still see time after time the choice between Word and Spirit made - and sometimes it is quite unconsious! Sometimes it is just a "drift" due to theological preferences. We have much to be grateful for to Ern Baxter himself, to Dr R T Kendall, to Dr Sam Storms and to Newfrontiers as well as Ministries without Borders (formerly CMI) for being just some key people to stand as fast as they can in marrying these two - Reformed Doctrine and Charismatic Experience.

3. Obedience to God often entails Loneliness.
I am profoundly challenged by this truth. At what price do we seek friendship with all, unity with all? While unity around the gospel when it happens genuinely is a marvellous thing, church history often shows that obedience to God and true commitment to His Word entails being forced to walk alone for a time. Ern Baxter made that decision even though it meant leaving a large successful Pentecostal ministry. Yet he did it because he had a vision for his life - and that vision grasped and consumed him. I wonder - do we have a vision that will carry us through the loneliness and the solitude? Jesus Christ Himself had a vision that carried Him through Gethsemane and Calvary; "For the joy set before Him ... He endured". I suppose one could argue that Jesus Himself was a Christian hedonist!

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is an absolutely great thing and an exciting new development that you are doing, by sharing with us your readers sections of Ern's life history and then expounding what we can learn from it. Thank you so much for doing this. I found the Trossachs account absolutely fascinating, and there was indeed so much to learn from it.

We can see your passion and your heart for waiting for that "breaking out" moment and share it. Yes indeed - who knows when God may come!? And the vitality of small groups. I particularly found the Word and Spirit tension so contemporary. All over the earth you can see churches and movements sliding towards one or the other. So it will be good to hear more as to how Ern managed to hold the tension as carefully as he did.

Thank you again - this is key and unique stuff!

Dr S A J Burgess

thebluefish said...

I have a suspicion that the classic word vs. spirit thing is massively overblown.
most of it comes from stylistic differences in worship style, which aren't word/spirit issues....

Which isn't to say it doesn't happen. but all the Christians I know who are big on the Word are serious about the Holy Spirit...

They might think certain gifts have ceased (which is an error on their part, i think). But they're deeply aware of the Spirit's quiet work in character change and relationships which is the major territory of grieving or being filled with the spirit....

And most Word people are Calvinists who know that the Spirit's call is central to people being saved... their big view of God has a big view of the Spirit's work.

The bigger issue I find more often is the number of Christians who are big on contemporary revelation and manifestations who neglect serious focus on God's word... with a regular drift to closing the Bible rather than keeping it open and letting God speak there... and that leads to a smaller view of God, to a me-centredness rather than a God-centredness.

I guess I'm saying there are issues of Spirit-neglect and Spirit-grieving that go on... but there are also big issues of Word-neglect.

There are thankfully many examples, where albeit imperfectly, both are pursued. I find that in my ministry with students, in newfrontiers and several other places.

Dr S J said...

Yes that's an interesting and fair point. Does "Spirit" really boil down to views on the gifts of the Spirit only? That may be true generally but I would see it as also encompassing one's views on the reception of the Spirit, the broader work of the Spirit. I do think that there are discrepancies involved in the split between Word and Spirit.

But I really appreciate this reminder that - does it really just come down to a question of singing in worship? So Word people like hymns and Spirit people like choruses? And the more Word-like you are sliding, the more hymns you sing and vice versa?

Maybe a discussion about what we mean by Word and Spirit would be useful - a bit more understanding. Is it blown up and exaggerated? Is a divorce too strong language? Or is there actually a real dilemma to hold?

ABPWD said...

I disagree. I think the divorce between Word and Spirit couldn't actually be stronger. I believe that on the Word side, yes they may 'respect' the Spirit as God, or be 'serious' about Him, as our brother Bluefish said, but there is a big difference between respecting Him and being serious about Him - and allowing Him free reign in times of corporate worship, allowing Him to speak, to minister, to touch, to change lives. In short - are we serious about the Spirit or are we allowing Him to be Lord? To me this is touching on the post that Dan put on about Pioneers and Settlers. There is a difference!

And I don't think that realising that divorce like Dr Kendall, Dr Storms and others have done is to be accused of schism or divisness. I think it is simply realism. We see the situation and we attempt to respond to it. As soon as the issue is downgraded to simply about the "gifts" - then yes, what is the problem? Let's agree to disagree. But I think I and others may feel quite strongly that there is more to the situation that this.

Just my opinion thrown forth!

Sheila said...

In this whole discussion of word vs. spirit, which "side" do we lean towards - in reading of Ern Baxter's "pie", I am reminded of...

...the bones of Joseph.

Joseph said, "When you leave this place, take my bones with you."

In any move of God, and in fact in most doctrinal streams of Christianity (going all the way back to the early church, through the Reformation, Puritan theology, the birth of Wesley's Methodism, the Moravian emphasis on missions,all the way through the Charismatic movement - leaving out a WHOLE LOT for lack of time/space)

In any move of God or Christian doctrinal persuasion, when the "flesh" finally decays, you are left with the bones...the bones of Joseph! THESE are what you take WITH you into the next thing, no matter what. Never leave them behind, and never be ashamed of clinging to them.

As the church moves from its former places into new frontiers, it is incumbent upon us to gather up the bones of truth from the past, and carry them with us. To me, the bones of Joseph as it relates to the charismatic life are things like deliverance from demon spirits, the gifts of the Spirit, and "ramah" revelation. I never saw the charismatics I grew up under, *disregarding* or at all even downplaying the importance of the Word of God...they simply interpreted some passages of Scripture quite differently than their traditional brethren....applying scripture more "prophetically/poetically". I've since noticed a good return to more careful exegesis. Nevertheless, I count that "quickening" NOW kind of Biblical interpretation...the "ramah" if you will...when carefully taught - I count it one of the bones of Joseph.

There are other bones, but I'm out of time, and I do think Ern Baxter seems to me to have been faithful to discern the flesh, let it "die out" (every fresh move of God is full of flesh), and then carry "the bones" onward - even though it cost him.

thebluefish said...

Good points - i agree some discussion on what Word people and Spirit people actually are - or perhaps since we want to avoid splitting them:
what does it look like to be essentially big on both Word and Spirit...

That might also let us see past some of the merely cultural aspects... and into some of the real issues.

I remember the pastor of the Toronto-blessing church I was a member of at Uni commenting that the local FIEC church was anti-The Spirit... however both having been to that church and knowing many of its members that was patently untrue.

The FIEC church in question was Calvinist compared to our Arminianism - which makes it bigger on the Spirit for a start!

Its fair that they were low on the work of the Spirit in worship times...

But they were definitely big on the Spirit's work in them in character, and relationships between one another (all the stuff that you see in Ephesians 4-6)... which we were probably lacking in.

ollie said...

Yes I think I would agree. I get to travel quite a bit and I have been to churches that would be proudly and avidly 'charismatic'. I have been to churches like the Metropolitan Tabernacle that are proudly and avidly of the Word of God and totally anti-charismatic. I get to go to John MacArthur's church in California next month and I guess that would fall into the same category as the Met Tab - Word, but totally anti-charismatic. I am not saying that they don't have the respect for the Spirit because of His Divinity, like Bluefish said, but I doubt HUGELY that MacArthur is going to sit down and allow the Spirit to guide the meeting! Or to allow the Spirit to minister through the laying on of his hands!

Interestingly enough I have been to a few 'Word and Spirit' churches - churches that are striving to hold the tension, places like Westminster Chapel when Kendall was there, and I felt that they are perpetually frustrated and perpetually cautious. Trying not to tip the balance either way. That's not the case in Newfrontiers I know - look at Stoneleigh!

But I do agree that there are marked differences between these churches. I think the key is the Lordship of the Spirit - what He is and is not allowed to do in meetings.

Baxter's Boy said...

I like that.

What does it mean to be BIG on Word and Spirit.

Yes - lets get into that. So often our discussion skates around the peripheries. Our ecclesiology if you will. Because we maybe afraid of offending people maybe?

Well ... for the record! This is an offence-free zone. All opinions welcome - provided you back them up with Scripture and logic. Let's dive in! I am enjoying discussion, it is so stimulating and making me think big time.

PS: I understand maybe where the Toronto guy was coming from in his comments, but I don't get how ANY professing evangelical pastor can be 'anti-the Spirit'. That's silly talk! I've been in an FIEC church most of my life, and sure they are anti-charismatic. But not anti-the Spirit.

Annette Walker said...

I think that from my perspective as a charismatic born and bred, I would argue that most of the charismatics I have come into contact with take the Word VERY seriously. That in and of itself is why we pursue charismatic experience in it's fulness!! And by the way I don't think the Charismatic Movement brought that fulness. Yes it restored certain gifts, but I think we are meant to see a revival, a restoration of the gift of healing for example. I truly and earnestly believe that it could be God's will to restore healing gifts of the weight and glory that people such as William Branham or Kathryn Kuhlman or Aimee Semple MacPherson had ... BUT ... they will come under the restored concept of church leadership as seen in the Ephesians 4 ministries. Hence the temptation to advance out of their calling and preach and teach or to get proud will be tempered by that God-breathed leadership.

I really believe that!

What am I saying ... I am losing my train of thought. So yes - I see it as Word first AND Spirit. Why Word first? Because the Word says thus and so, so we believe that the Spirit has been poured out on the church and has made gifts available to men for our equipping to bring us to maturity - which the church is so far from!! Evidenced by that angry person who was shouting at Dan for just revelling in the glory of God! How immature was that - and, as another lady put it - exactly the ANTITHESIS of grace!

So I am arguing that I would be hesitant to see ALL charismatics as being dismissive of the Word of God and the greats of church history and the creeds, and the Reformers and the Puritans and people like that. A lot of work has been put in by people like Donald Gee and J Rodman Williams to show that this - all this 'Word' stuff - actually backs up what we believe as charismatics!

I hope that ramble makes sense. I realise that a few have shared in this fascinating discussion that we shouldnt see the Word people as dismissive and anti-the Spirit. Well I am suggesting that just so we shouldnt see the Spirit people as dismissive and anti the Word. That's the charismatics I come into contact with anyway!

And that is the attitude I get on this website I think for starters! Anyone can tell Dan is a raving charismatic - but for goodness sake! He is quoting John Owen all the time, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones and C H Spurgeon! So yes - is that okay to argue? Not all charismatics are anti=Word like perhaps Ern Baxter experienced!

Sorry for the ramble.

PS: I am a pastors wife in the USA, so hope it's okay for women to join in these discussions! I see a few anyway so thought I would throw in my two-pennyworth!!

Sheila said...

Well, Dan, we'll have NO silly talk here. Nope. None.

And hi, Annette! I, too, am a pastor's wife. You know....a woman with a name. I even have hobbies and interests that have nothing to do with our church, but don't tell the members...they would disapprove. ;-))

I do agree w/ Ollie in that, the churches I am aquainted with in my sphere that try to "balance" Word and Spirit end up frustrated and "cautious". Not only that, but they end up violating the greatest commandment...well, the second part, which is like unto it. These churches end up deeply hurting, and alienating *people* - Christian brothers and sisters - in their efforts to obtain or sustain their version of balance.

The Word is needed - necessary, vital - as the plumb line. It is the standard by which everything is examined. Think of the apostle Paul! He (by direct inspiration of the Holy Ghost) WROTE a good portion of the "Word". But he wrote it in direct response to the overflowing LIFE and even wretched humanity that the early church exhibited.

But at least the Spirit was being poured out, and life was lived with a sort of "we're figuring this out as we go" abandonment....being quite secure in grace. Thus, the Word was employed to bring clarity, correction, and order to all the wild, crazy, fleshly, heavenly, miraculous and amazing "goings on".

The point? I think you simply cannot bring order to a funeral wake! It isn't necessary (under normal circumstances - it might be quite necessary here where *I* live!) to teach about modesty at a funeral. You won't need to exhort the pall bearers not to burst out in uncontrolled tongues. When there is no fellowship, no LIFE, no "mixing it up with the pagans" in joyful lifestyle evangelism, there is no need to remind anyone NOT to be getting drunk at love feasts.

Erego...(is that how you spell it?) sometimes - not always - this whole Word/Spirit "tension" is a moot point. Some are trying to bring order to a wake. Others are obsessing over fears that the dead might get out of control.

Let's get a little crazy...let's ask GOD to show up in our churches. THEN - when He surprises us, and things begin to happen, the "joint is jumping", let's boldly turn to the Word and church history, and YES, in some cases lets even consult tradition, to guide us. But for pity's sake, let's have some LIFE to preach to!

Let's bring order ("Word") to the PARTY!

jul said...

Sheila, you made me laugh with your excellent funeral analogy. I think you've hit the nail on the head. It's good to know there are pastor's wives like you, since I may very well end up being one someday and so far I haven't met too many I could honestly say I want to be like ( or could be like if I wanted to). Since I'm part of one of those churches who are cautiously trying to balance the two, I think the biggest problem I'm seeing is the tendency to bring order to the Spirit himself, as if he needs 'regulating'. While enjoy good preaching as much as anything, I am not at all comfortable with men trying to tone down God himself.

Sheila said...

Thank you, Jul...really! I always tell others that my sense of humor is my coping mechanism...my personal alternative to prescription drugs. I shan't quit "using" laughter. Those who think God is lacking humor have never studied the platypus - - or spent one Sunday in my church. ;-))) I agree with you - you can't tone down God. He's a wild man, quite out of our control when He wants to be. I cite as my evidence both tornadoes and flaming red hair (when its natural!).

If God has in your future the enviable (??) post of pastor's wife, I'd advise you NOW to continue to develop passionate interests that are varied and bring you joy. I veer wildly between wanting to grow my own lettuce, an intense interest in wining and dining my husband, and fighting my addiction to lattes and Bible commentaries.

This blog is my new place to come and relax. I've told my husband all about it, but alas for him, he's too busy for us right now. ;-) More's the pity, because by the time he makes it by here, I shall have thorougly out-distanced him in discussing the deep things of God. (perky little *sniff*) His loss, eh? (He really is a busy, precious man of God!)

Oh dear. If too many of us girls get going on Dan's blog....well....(terrified **squeak**)...there's no telling what he'll do. I'm thinking he'll whomp us.

Baxter's Boy said...

:) I have an extremely healthy respect for women ... so fear not ladies. You are my VIP guests! I grew up with seven sisters keeping me well under control so you are in good hands!

Get going! I love reading what you come up with and have to say - I think you've got quite a lot to teach some of us men!

ollie said...

Yes, a comment that Jul has made there is absolutely key: "A tendancy to bring order to the Spirit, as if He needs regulating" - such utter blasphemy almost! How dare we! I remember hearing one of the elders at my church I grew up in that was anti-charismatic speaking that cessationist mantra; "Well we must do everything decently and in order mustn't we". There was NEVER any chance of disorder in my church!! Never! The worst thing that could happen was for the organist to hit a wrong note!

Sheila has a good point - this blog is rapidly turning into the place where I come to relax and to feel safe!! Because I know that my views are welcome here! I know that my views maybe even matter, and that more importantly there are people I have never met who challenge me and stimulate me!

Yes yes YES I would second Dan's endorsement of women - you have got so much to teach us and also it is my contention that women are the most potentially powerfully prophetic people I've met so I always wonder if the women I meet who are open to the Spirit will have a word for me! So keep talking ladies! We love you and appreciate you!!

thebluefish said...

Whether in ministry of the Word, or the Spirit it is not God who needs regulating. God is a God of order. What requires regulating is us... we're the ones who are prone to disorderliness...

michaelaj said...

So why then do we speak of such things? You are absolutely right - but surely to say that the Spirit needs regulating is just an attempt to cover up our own proneness to either legalism or license.

Baxter's Boy said...

I think it is always our proneness to one or the other that will end up quenching the Spirit. What I cannot understand is how there is a wrong perception that to obey the Word and stay within it's precepts and commands is somehow to quench the Spirit - how can it!? The Spirit inspired the Word! To me, a careful reading of some of what went on in the book of Acts is pretty exciting stuff! So I do think that our danger is to actually limit the Spirit.

Or otherwise fly to the other extreme and start doing things that the Spirit hasn't advocated. This seems to me to be constantly human behaviour! One extreme or the other. Corinthian license or Galatian legalism. Why oh why can't we just stay within the glorious confines of the gospel as found in Romans?! Which INCLUDES chapter 12!! :)

ScottyB said...

By the way, I noticed that a number of people are enjoying this blog as a "safe place" and a place of freedom to chat and express views. I think that is so great and amazing!! And I hope that continues! But I sense from the flow of blog entries that Dan wouldn't be very happy with us becoming content and settling and building here 3 tabernacles!! ;)

I still remember the blog of Pioneers!!

Anonymous said...

I think God's heart for His glorious amazing beautiful Bride is FAR FAR greater than we can possibly imagine. Why do we speak of such things michaelaj asked? Because our human error - our human sin constantly reduces and marginalises the Spirit's work to suit our comfort zone.

And its about us again isnt it. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that particular work of the Spirit - or that - or that. And I don't just mean the gift of tongues. I mean any ANY work of the Spirit, anything that He wants to do or send us or take us. So we reduce Him to our level of comfort and marginalise His work.

If we are truly to investigate and discover what is real SPIRIT and WORD - then we must be prepared to allow God be God and have His way, and allow His Word to become "unleashed" as Spurgeon called it. If God speaks, are we prepared to take our precious only sons up the mountain and sacrifice them just because He said?

That to me is radical Pioneering Scott!

Dr S A J Burgess

Don said...

I am having the most wonderful time reading these comments!