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?

24 comments:

janelle said...

AMEN!!!!

Dan Bowen said...

Thanks Janelle!! :) Boy, how I'd love to come visit you guys at Metro, I suspect we wouldn't find any "pseudo-gifts, carnal excitement, or pretended revelation" there!

Let's keep reminding ourselves - there are people and churches in the earth that are maturely and sensibly combining the life and power of God with the doctrine, theology and life of the Word.

David Rolles said...

We were at West St in the mid-80s when Stanley Jebb did a u-turn on matters charismatic, but we and others were deemed to be wrong, because we couldn't go with that... I remember clearly 3 of the answers to prayer that you mention. Ot was amazing to see in the papers a photo of 'the fox' safely in handcuffs in between the 2 police officers in the church!

So I was very interested to read Stanley's explanation in his recent blog. Strange (and sad) argument, though, that because of some abuses and personal failures, that whole charismatic dimension had to be rejected. This from a pastor whose litle book on the baptism in the spirit had been significant and influential for many leaders and others in the previous decades or two.

Dan Bowen said...

Hi David - thanks for the comment and recollection.

To my mind, the important thing that Stanley always taught us that I remember well is; "The unexamined opinion is hardly worth holding".

So this is nothing personal against Stanley - I'm simply examining his opinion and finding it wanting. It seems a pragmatic decision that affected and changed (permamently) a whole church.

And that little book on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit is still safely in my library, and one that I refer to frequently!

jul said...

Dan, I read that post earlier when I saw it on your sidebar...I thought it was a poor argument for abandoning the charismatic altogether. It's funny, but I'm often turned off the charismatic world because of so much legalism, how much the whole thing seems to depend on old covenant type formulas for getting God to move or bless etc...and I think those legalistic teaching are also responsible for much of the 'moral failures' as well. Yet we don't see pastors standing up and talking about the mixture of law into the new covenant as being responsible for people 'failing' or being in bondage to sin! This kind of legalism is pervasive in charismatic and non-charismatic churches alike, and the fruit is evident in both kinds of churches who are mixing law in. I grant that perhaps charismatics may sin with a more dramatic flair at times, but sin is sin is sin, no matter what kind it is. I don't think it's fair to say that charismatic leaders fall into sin any more than any other Christian in the world, particularly Christians who have been enslaved again by a yoke of law.

All that to say, of course it's wrong to write off the Holy Spirit and his active dynamic working in the church and our personal lives! How crazy is that! And to me, there is no excuse in the world that can justify it, regardless of our personal tastes/preferences or inconvenient and embarassing 'failures'. Don't blame that stuff on the Holy Spirit! How about blamig it on false teaching such as legalism????

Marshall said...

Dan,

Like you I have been in several different charismatic and not-so-charismatic churches. I started out in a Baptist Church, but as a teen I joined a charismatic mega-church. Janelle's senior pastor at Metro actually used to be a pastor there at the same time I attended.

When I went to college I joined a church in the "Shepherding Movement" under Charles Simpson's ministry. From there I went to Sovereign Grace Ministries where I have been for over 20 years. SGM has gone from being openly charismatic to being just non-cessationist in its official doctrine. Many SGM churches now seem to have very few visible signs of the spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues.

Like you also, I have many chilhood memories of my father praying in time of need, then seeing God clearly answer his prayers. That left a deep impression on me so that I could not abandon God when life got dark. Also, God used those experiences to keep me from following the crowd into dullness when I found myself in less charismatic fellowships. We all need regular experiences of a joyful, living relationship with God. I believe that spiritual gifts can be one significant way God brings about these experiences. We should not reject spiritual gifts even though there are abuses.

Dan Bowen said...

Marshall,

You raise an excellent point. I've watched SGM for many years now and listened to most of the top teaching coming from Covenant Life Church and I see C J Mahaney walking a similar path to my home church and pastor.

Something frightened/scared/repulsed Mahaney (I think) possibly during the Toronto years of 94-96 and it seems the gradual but definite march towards cessationism begun, as well as the embracing of conservative reformed evangelicalism.

My 2 years in SGM here in England saw a similar lack of spiritual gifts to you - there was less than 5 prophecies given in church, and absolutely no tongues or interpretations. The care group I attended went through a period where we did enjoy the Presence of God, until open worship was stopped.

And unless I'm missing something - this switch again was made because of the fear of excess and abuse seen in charismatic circles. The paralells here are remarkable.

One caveat - I do believe there are key churches in SGM such as Metro as you have mentioned that still very much seek and pursue the Presence of God in active manifestation for which I'm so grateful to God.

I never grow tired of re-quoting Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones (ironically a hero of both Stanley Jebb and C J Mahaney) who said;

"You will never have problems of excess or abuse in a graveyard".

We want life?? Then there will be excess and abuse but this just needs to be gently handled through application of the Word of God. We want no excess or abuse?? The graveyard it is.

A former NCC-er said...

Hello,

I find this blog very emotional, for I too am a former New Covenant church member. I, my wife and family also felt we had no option but to leave the church when Stanley Jebb took the church out of life and power and into hymns and doctrine. We pleaded with our housegroup leader - why couldn't we have both? Why did it matter what "other" men and churches were doing? We were marrying "Word and Spirit" as dear Bro Ern used to teach us. We (as you write Daniel) didn't have to throw the baby out with the bathwater!

But our pleas fell on death ears, nothing changed only got worse and so we had to go.

This is the first time I think I have ever seen something in print about this change - Stanley's article was sad, although as you write - nothing new. Your response was excellent and an encouragement - and something we resound "Amen!" to.

New Covenant Church was a special, wonderful time with the Pilgrim school, the All-Age Bible School, the Ministry Training Institute, the LTC - SO much fruit that came out of the Charismatic Movement that was good! The Anglia and Dales Bible Weeks! Ah - who can forget going away for a week to hear Ern Baxter, Charles Simpson (did he go? I forget) and Bob Mumford as well as our own Stanley, Terry Virgo and Bryn Jones.

I'm so glad that one such as yourself - who was a child of the charismatic movement hasn't forgotten those days, and hasn't departed from believing what you were taught.

Keep at it!

PS: We keep in touch with a few other ex-New Covenant Church folk, I will be directing them to this blog.

Do you have an email address Daniel? It would be good to correspond further!

janelle said...

Dan,

Wow, it would AWESOME for you to visit sometime. It would be awesome just to meet you and talk face to face. Someday we will...whether here or in heaven. :-)

While I will remain silent regarding this trend people see within SGM (though my natural inclination is to defend it, but I don't know how helpful that will be) I WILL say that Mr. Mahaney remains extremely charismatic...among the circles he is in, he is affectionately introduced as "the one who speaks in tongues." And yes, Metro is known throughout SGM as probably the most charismatic church in the whole movement. I wish that wasn't so...I long and pray that every church within SGM could experience a resurgence of the spiritual gifts. Just last Sunday we had three prophetic words and a tongue and interpretation. It's so encouraging and uplifting...and I couldn't imagine being anywhere that the activity of said gifts wasn't pursued. It's such a part of my life, it would be like suddenly not worshiping by singing and instead saying "Singing is not for today." Whose ever heard of such a thing? We wouldn't take such a teaching seriously.

Dan Bowen said...

Janelle,

I'm really encouraged to hear you say that! You know me well enough by now to know that a differing perspective is always welcome here - and none more welcome than this.

As an SGM-outsider, I freely admit that my perspective is not as good as yours - so it's great to hear that Mahaney hasn't abandoned charismatic life at all ... and your description of Metro made me ache to come visit!

I know within the next few years my finances will improve, and a tour of the east coast of the USA/Canada (yourselves, Lydia and Julie) will be top of the list!

As long as SGM and other church movements have people who are on fire for God, passionate for His Presence, then life will surely remain. And that is a good thing!

One note - I neglected to comment on Julie's earlier comments about grace/legalism. She makes an excellent point. The Charismatic Movement and churches are slated for being "prone to sin". I don't think that's inaccurate, we are all prone to sin.

The reason why charismatics seem to attract that label is because I would suggest that we are more OPEN to share those issues. Legalistic churches do not and will not share so openly. And I can state with absolute confidence that the two legalistic churches I have attended in my life were EXACTLY that.

Openness and honesty regarding sin was not welcome. So I have no hestitation in stating that reformed evangelical churches are no "holier" than charismatic churches. Sin is still going on. It's just hidden and unchallenged.

So my message to reformed evangelicals? Stop being so proud. You have secret sin in your life too.

janelle said...

And to that, Dan, I once again heartily say "AMEN." :-)

jul said...

I agree with you on the sin in churches thing for sure Dan. And also with Dan, I'm glad to hear about your church being more 'charismatic' Janelle! I think, and this is only a guess, that within SGM the charismatic element has become a little obscured partly due to the fact that the reformed emphasis is attracting people who have little or no experience with charismatic things. But I think maybe it is that element that attracts some of those people as well...

janelle said...

Jul, that might be true. One of the things I love about SGM is that we prove you can be both reformed and charismatic, that those two terms are by no means exclusive. But I think you are right. Being drawn to our churches because you are reformed, it can be a bit of a shock to some who haven't had any charismatic experience.

I think, also, the emphasis on the Third Wave position has something to do with it as well. Thankfully all of Metro's pastors still believe in subsequence, and my theory is that that is why we still actively pursue the gifts like we do. I remember a couple years back my dad had all of us kids (spouses included) read up on subsequent/Third wave theology and took us through why he believed it vital that we remain subsequent in our doctrine as a family. Part of the reason was that the Third Wave position lends itself to becoming lazy, so to speak, in the pursuit of the gifts personally. Anyways, just a thought.

Anonymous said...

So I take it from this posting, you're not actually currently involved in a local church? I find this worrying and something many of your heroes would not be pleased about!

janelle said...

Seriously? Wow, anonymous. WOW. Yes, the local church is important, but please, don't judge someone just because they are in between churches. Or actually taking the time to pray and see what God's will is in where they should be.

janelle said...

Dan, feel free to delete that last comment by me if it was ungracious. Re-reading it I'm thinking that I was.

Dan Bowen said...

Anonymous,

You don't get gracious responses because anonymity deserves none or little. You are also mistaken.

I do indeed attend a local church, but I deliberately do not and have not and will not state where that is.

The SGM leadership in Bristol threatened to write to whatever church they heard I was attending and "expose" sins they accused me of. Therefore I think I reserve the right to keep that part of my life private.

Until at least the SGM leadership admit that they were wrong to accuse me, and promise they will carry through no such threats.

I hope that settles the matter - but I suspect that it won't.

I suggest that you hear the words of Jesus Christ; "He who is without sin cast the first stone" and furthermore follow the example of Scripture and "be the first to leave".

Anonymous said...

That's fine by me, your reasoning sounds good to me :)

Dan Bowen said...

Thank you :) Sorry if I came across as touchy, I get accused of not going to church by my parents frequently - it's a bit of a "sore" point.

Nick Cameron said...

Hi Dan!
Haven't been on the blogging world for some time, but have to say that I loved reading some of the great things that happened in Dunstable that I remember and the answers to prayer.
The days of singing 'I am a new creation' and when it hit the line 'a lightness in my spirit' you actually felt it for real.

Thanks for posting this lovely!
Nick x

(also an ex NCC-er!)

David Rolles said...

Dan, I read your last post with sadness - it doesn't sound like SGM Bristol are really behaving in line with the 'Grace' part of their name! Thankfully from what I know of Bristol it has many other churches....

Dan Bowen said...

David,

There are many good things about SGM Bristol, some very earnest and loyal people.

However sadly I don't think I can honestly say "Grace" is one of their best qualities. Trouble is I think if you adopt such a name for yourself, then you are judged by a far greater standard. People expect a "Grace" church to be truly full of "grace"!

You are right, there are some marvellous churches I was very blessed to be able to enjoy in my remaining time in Bristol. However 2 years ago I actually moved up to Birmingham where I used to live and have lived here happily ever since! :) With an awesome church too!

David Rolles said...

Glad to hear that you're happily (re)settled in Birmingham.

We've just changed our church name to 'LifeChurch Manchester' - but are aware of the need to live up to our name!

Dan Bowen said...

I do increasingly think that the name of a church or group of churches is incredibly significant. Terry Virgo once prayed at a conference; "Let our doctrines adorn our name".

The name of the group is what outsiders see and the standard by which they will judge that group on.

Take for example our home church in Dunstable. When it moved into the Charismatic Movement, it became; "New Covenant Church". That name change reflected the life of the New Covenant that was going in inside it.

But Stanley Jebb understood well that when the church left the charismatic movement, the name had to change. He didn't want those associations (just as he didn't want the audio tape library remaining and ordered it erased!). So the church became "West Street Baptist Church".

Other groups have changed too. Sovereign Grace Ministries used to be "People of Destiny International" and then "PDI". The name change was deliberate and with intent.

Newfrontiers used to be "Coastlands" and then "NFI". Newfrontiers now speaks to me of a continous, relentless advance - pioneering!

I could go on and on but I think the point is clear. Like you, I pray that your church in Manchester does indeed reflect and show off the life of the Spirit of God!