Monday, March 27, 2006

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!"


Sheila said...

Those unfamiliar with history are doomed to repeat the mistakes of it. I really could wish the information in your blog could be read by charismatic leaders everywhere, Dan. Because I'm seeing the same problems re-assert themselves - - in a grand attempt to have the excitement of a "move of the Spirit", there has clearly been (in my very own ministry circles!) the idea that subtly states, "Who could think that God would insist on Biblical disciplines, when WE ARE INSISTING on signs and wonders??"

The signs and wonders are not truly occuring...or if they are, they are sporadic at best. But somehow, just the quote unquote "HUNGER" for the supernatural excuses all manner of flesh and sin in God's people. So long as they are waving their banners, speaking in tongues, banging the floor in importunate prayer for "God to visit this city and this church"....they are "on fire" believers.

Not so. SO not so.

And again, I've seen this quite recently, in churches with whom my church affiliates. This mindset has nearly ruined several families that attend these churches. I am amazed at how well Ern himself summed it up.

"He being dead yet speaketh"...

Anonymous said...

"I really could wish the information in your blog could be read by charismatic leaders everywhere, Dan". I don't think Sheila could have said anything more important than this. It is my prayer that the words of this blog grow and grow in awareness, because they are indeed VITAL. They are the words of a wise man of God who lived through movement after movement of God and saw each crumble, ebb and dwindle because of foolish error that could have so easily been prevented, had the leaders of these movements paid careful attention to the Word of God that was probably sitting on their desks.

You must carry on this work Dan, despite all the criticism you may get, despite all the foolish legalistic angry men who purport to be "in grace" yet seek to judge and tear apart your life. You must carry this on because as Sheila said - we MUST LEARN!

I feel a holy urgency in my spirit that should God be gracious enough to move again on His church in revival that we cannot make the same mistakes again! We must read these things and learn.

Thank you for this most key and important entry. And thank you too Sheila for reminding us that while Ern Baxter may be in glory, he MUST continue to speak through the ministry of this website.

Dr S A J Burgess

ollie said...

Yere I would echo what both of these guys have said. I learnt so much from this blog about the importance of being absolutely devoted to the Word of God. Dan - you quoting the Strange Fire that Nadab and Abihu brought shows that this isn't something just that happens in church history. We MUST learn - we must remember!

jul said...

And once again, thank-you Ern,Dan and you commenters for you very wise words. I know God has had my husband and I in a time of preperation for some time now, but these last few months have been very exciting (though it wouldn't look like it to most people) for me to see how God is supernaturally bringing people into our lives who are planting these kinds of seeds in us by the Spirit. I got goosebumps as I read this post, I sense God's gracious teaching here. I truly believe that he is going to allow us to be involved in this kind of move of his Spirit someday and he's getting us ready. And I hope that you will all experience the same move of God in all our different countries. I wonder how many countries are represented here? I'm Canadian, there are some British and some American...anyone else around? God has definately got something up his sleeve, and just think how immense that sleeve happens to be!

SJ said...

I think that is the echo of all our hearts ... something that is God putting here. A longing to see Him move, a longing to see Him come. God is so much more than just a historical event. He is alive NOW, He is involved in our lives NOW, He is more than capable of breaking out NOW. Hallelujah! And as Jul has mentioned this is so much more than just an American thing, or a British thing. Jul and all - I'm from Australia!

I'm involved in some churches that were related to Howard Carter, one of Ern Baxter's spiritual sons. We are striving to get this tension of Word and Spirit right that we have been discussing. And it is just great to hear Ern speak again - I guess he's sort of a spiritual great grandfather to us back here in Australia.

michaelaj said...

Great stuff. As 1 Corinthians 10 says - these things happen for our instruction and church history is no exception. Anyone who neglects church history is setting themselves up to repeat the same mistakes again and again.

James B said...

Interesting ... stimulating ... and very very exciting stuff being discussed here guys! :) I'm a newcomer to this blog but I have heard much of Ern Baxter.

This is like a bit of a treasure trove - I'm so excited I don't quite know where to go!! :)

One question - who is Baxters Boy, what does he do, and what is his history?! I'd like to know a bit more about our modern day Luke the scribe!

Sheila said...

Oddly enough, James, our modern day scribe, like the "Luke of yore" is in the medical profession.

But I'll let him introduce himself.

Baxter's Boy said...

Indeed I am a nurse. I am on night shifts all this week - hence the latest posting at 4:23am, although I was severely tempted to begin a 4:23 o'clock club ;)

Welcome to the mad world of "Life on Wings". It's great to have you!

As to where to go, there is an "Archive" link which I recommend you begin at. It's got the most important stuff there. The rest is just my ramblings mostly.

Who am I? A fan of Ern Baxter's obviously!

My history is a long one, but I realised recently that like Ern Baxter I am hugely blessed to have had an intensely varied church and theologial history. I was birthed into charismatic life (yes I was AT the Dales Bible Week 1977 inside my mum!). It was an amazing church - almost perfectly balanced in Word and Spirit. I experienced anti-charismatic cessationist life for a while when the same church did an 180 degree turn on the things of the Spirit. I then went to university and joined a charismatic church and began to learn about "Newfrontiers" and went to Stoneleigh Bible Week for the first time.

I then had a brief soiree in practicing cessationist life but it most definately wasn't for me and I am now safely back in Newfrontiers.

So that is church life. The rest of my history is a much longer affair and is for another day! Hope that answers a few questions James!

james b said...

Thanks for that Dan, that is great to read. You are right - you ARE blessed with the colourful diversity of your church background. Wow! Charismatic - Cessationism - Charismatic - back to cessationism again and to end up in Newfrontiers. Very interesting. I will look forward to hoping for a fuller history soon.

stewart potts said...

I'm assuming that your "brief soiree in practicing cessantionist life" is a reference to those who you don't like to mention, (but often do - sadly IMHO, negatively). As someone who is aware of and been blessed by them, i can't understand this comment - it isn't my experience when i have been amongst them. Please explain? It might be helpful to tease out what you mean by "charismatic" - are you simply talking gifts or what?

dan said...

Sorry I don't know what "IMHO" means but I wasn't referring to SGM actually. SGM aren't practicing cessationist as you know, and the church I was in pursued the gifts of the Spirit actively (and still do to my knowledge). We had regular contributions while I was there, it wasn't always the prophetic but often highly appropriate Scriptures, exhortations or prayers during the Sunday morning.

As to my use of the term "charismatic" - no, I don't mean just the gifts of the Spirit. I use the term in a broader sense to encompass an experiential reception of the Holy Spirit - both baptism and filling, worship that isn't just led from the front but allows participation by the congregation, as well as the gifts of the Spirit. Related to my view of charismatic life would be an inclusion of spiritual warfare with prayer intercession also and finally I would include as quite important a Restorationist positive view of the end times. This isn't true of all charismatic churches by any stretch of the imagination - but you asked what I meant by "charismatic".

I really don't see why you are saddened by any negative comments that I make. I'm sorry if you are - but SGM aren't perfect and I am sure never pretend to be. I do my utmost to never make any comments that I do 'just for the sake of it' and always try to make sure it is a well explained opinion. And it is simply that - my opinion - of which we all have a right to.

I am glad that you are blessed by SGM. It is just unfortunate that I wasn't in the main. There are elements now that I can look back on and appreciate.

Your comments have never been particularly positive, so its obvious that what I write doesn't really help you, bless you or interest you. Maybe you should find other blogs to read because I really don't want to be responsible for causing you problems.

Scotty said...

Yes I think there's an important concept here. I don't think character assasination has ever taken place on this blog. Dan has particular opinions, to which he is entitled - and to all intents and purposes has backed it up with experience or reasoned arguments as possible. Let us not forget that it was John MacArthur himself who addressed this topic of "negative comments" at the Shepherds Conference (at which Mahaney was present) and said that to be in public ministry was to open oneself up to assessment and at times negative comments.

So I think I would support Dan's comment. This is indeed a free world - and particularly the internet is a free medium without policing (whatever some fervent Christians may think) and it is a medium on which opinions can be stated without fear. Just so - there is also freedom to choose which blogs to go onto so if Stewart or anyone else has a consistent problem with this blog ... then Dan's right - stay on more pro-SGM blogs! The bigger context is that this blog isn't about SGM anyway. If it crops up, it is only as an example or because of an issue of interest.

Thats my opinion for what it's worth!

Ollie said...

A little confused here. I don't understand why it is so "sad" that negative comments are being made about SGM. What warrants SGM immunity from the Scriptural text to "Prove all things"? Just because they are the flavour of the month and everybody seems to love C J Mahaney, I really don't see why it is such a sad thing if they are criticised on points of practice where Dan or myself or anyone disagrees with them!

When Newfrontiers or the Vineyard have been criticised or questioned for areas of their practice noone that I knew of or read of was "saddened" or shocked by it!

This is reality. As long as our love for each other is assured in the Gospel and I am sure that it is, then there is nothing wrong with disagreeing. I'm sure Phil Johnson said that debate is actually quite healthy. For goodness sake - the TG4 blokes make a big thing of staying united DESPITE disagreeing! So they seem quite clear that they disagree about charismatic stuff most probably.

I really don't see the big deal or the drama, and I don't think there's anything to apologise for. This is Dan's blog and it's Dan's point of view.

Anonymous said...

Intrigued by your mention in a comment above about spiritual warfare. I'd love to hear you elaborate on what you mean, as it is a particualrly hot topic in some churches around where i live.

Cheers, Mark K

Baxter's Boy said...

Hi Mark, well my reference to spiritual warfare again encompasses quite a broad range of opinions even in charismatic circles. My feeling from my experience in cessationist churches is that they tend to keep it at a distance. (i.e Christ bound the Strongman at the Cross - which He did of course). Then there are two more popular views that I tend to move between. One was expressed by Dr Ern Baxter in his ministry at the Dales Bible Week 1977. He distinguished between "legal" binding which happened at the Cross and "experiential" binding, which is our responsibility. There was some dramatic practical "binding of the Strongman of Great Britain" at the end of the Bible Week.

Baxter's teaching is quite persuasive. On the other hand, David Devenish is also good - his book "Demolishing Spiritual Strongholds" is excellent and well worth buying. He's somewhat more conservative than Baxter. I would be interested in his view on Baxter, as I think he was at the Dales Bible Week. But he greatly believes that strongholds should be taken charge of, but that is done by the preaching of the gospel - active declaration.

So there's a brief sketch for you. Three positions. And as I said, I tend to drift between Baxter and Devenish - more Baxter though. Do come back to me if you want.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, but could you elaborate on "experiential binding" as it would be a term I'm unfamiliar with. Also, what would your position be on territorial spirits and spiritual mapping?

Mark K

Baxter's Boy said...

Yere I will try. To the best of my understanding, Ern Baxter saw "experiential binding" as the corporate people of God actually coming against the corporate powers of darkness in prayer and intercession and declaring the ground on which they stood was the Lord's. "Legal binding" of course was what was done at Calvary - that great historical event.

Territorial spirits - I guess you are thinking of verses like the Prince of Persia and Michael the archangel responding to Daniel's prayer. This aspect was quite tied in with the "experiential binding" that Ern held to. It would be a territorial spirit that they would be coming against - in the case of the Dales Bible Week 1977 - it was the Prince of Great Britain.

Sam Storms has written a useful article about territorial spirits that I do recommend:

You also asked about spiritual mapping. I've seen the two videos linked to work with George Ortiz and the amazing things going on in Argentina - I guess you mean that? My knowledge of it and what goes on is quite limited, but there is no doubt that God is greatly blessing what is happening where it is being practiced and thousands are coming to the Lord in power.

Hope that helps.