Ern Baxter - An Autobiographical Sketch 4.
I am really glad that this series of sketches seem to be useful and are raising important discussions about God and His glory. It has reminded me that we cannot take this issue of "Word and Spirit" for granted, that again, like grace, it is a constant that we have to pursue and not just rest on our laurels. We must constantly strive to be people of the Word but welcoming the Spirit with all our hearts. Today's extract considers why movements of such power and anointing as the Healing and Latter Rain movements could ebb. It's negative - but needs to be heard and learnt so we do not make the same mistakes again.
Why the Ebb?
"At the height of the excitement, a couple of questions becamne the whispered fear of many who had joyfully experienced the Pentecostal Movement. Why did there seem to be a decline in the charismatic activity of the Holy Spirit in the Pentecostal Movement? Would the same happen again in the Healing and the Latter Rain Movements? Many people hungering for more of the pie wanted to keep this piece. No one who has known such moves of God wants to lose the exciting times when God manifests His Presence in such a vivid manner.
My own fears were realised as I saw both of these movements begin to experience problems. In my view, they had not become grounded in the great objective principles of the Bible and were falling prey to the error of those who practice subjective Christianity that is not disciplined by the Word. My concern led me to challenge one leader to get the movement back under the disciplines of the Word before the movement became dissapated by error. He indulged me my comments but obviously considered them an intrusion. Who could think God would insist on biblical disciplines when He was visiting His people with such magnificent signs and wonders? Certainly these disciplines were important but not all that important. What mattered was that God was moving and His moving was an obvious endorsement of the way things were. Doctrines could be worried about later.
Two years later, as I lunched with the same leader, he lamented that both movements had skyrocketed and were now plummeting. A variety of behavioural and operational irregularities were surfacing, and when those involved were confronted, the following attitude appeared, "Who could question men whom God had so anointed?". It is sad to see the ebb of a movement of God but I believe that until we learn the lessons that God is teaching us and has taught us through past moves of the Spirit, we will continue to grieve the Holy Spirit and see movements suffer the same fate. The gifts of the Spirit must not be divorced from the Word or the Spirit!
The Healing Movement quietened down and I left the Branham ministry in disillusionment, questioning everything to do with the supernatural. Undoubtedly I had seen the supernatural and it was real, but I had at the same time seen uncorrected sin, corruption and unsound doctrine. It seemed like a modern replay of Corinthianism, which like other errors perenially plagues the church. The existence together of spiritual gifts and sin can cause great disillusionment for the naive in Christ. I had seen numerous supernatural manifestations, not the maudlin push-em-down-if-they-don't fall ones but real manifestations that I was convinced were absolutely authentic. However I had also seen gross irregularites in the midst of these impressive charismatic events".
1. Strange Fire. As I typed Ern's words about his fears of error in both movements, my mind kept going back again and again to his final sermon in the "Priestly Clothing" series - "Strange Fire". "Who could think God would insist on biblical disciplines when He was visiting His people with such magnificent signs and wonders?" Even if your heart fails you at reading the complete transcript of the entire series, I urge you to go to Mark's website and read that sermon. Because to me, that is exactly the error that Nadab and Abihu (Aaron's sons) made. God had come down! He was visiting His people in unprecedented power and glory! They hadn't seen anything like this in Egypt! And so the disciplines of God seemed somewhat unimportant and they (according to the Scriptures) consumed wine and went into the Presence of God with strange fire and died for their troubles.
If it could happen to two priests in Exodus, then it is my conviction that it has happened down again and again through the ages - that there is some tendency within us, that when God starts to move - we think that He has let His laws drop. He hasn't! And He never will! We are His People! The People of God! And we are His trophy - a display to the principalities and powers, and if we break His commands, He will not 'wink at our errors'. He will have to move because He is primarily God and He is holy.
2. The Manifestations Were Real. Note Ern Baxter's complete disillusionment with the Movements - this is understandable. In my meagre experience, I have seen two men of God that I hugely respect turn their backs completely on anything charismatic because of error. I don't understand their pragmatic changes in theology, but I do understand the disillusionment. I am heartened that throughout his ministry, Ern never once called the signs and wonders that he saw with Branham diabolical. They were genuine. But the character was lacking to go along with the charismata. I can do no better than finish with Ern's own words;
"It is sad to see the ebb of a movement of God but I believe that until we learn the lessons that God is teaching us and has taught us through past moves of the Spirit, we will continue to grieve the Holy Spirit and see movements suffer the same fate. The gifts of the Spirit must not be divorced from the Word or the Spirit!"