I realised when logging onto this blog that first and foremost it has been too long since I took pen to paper (because I had forgotten the password). And I was staggered at how long my personal "dark night of the soul" had stretched to. I have been through two years of intense personal difficulty and professional difficulty - this has had an inevitable impact on my personal life and health.
For the last few months I have been experiencing chest pain and high blood pressure. My cardiologist explained why. The body's "fight or flight" mechanism releases adrenaline into your body to enable you to respond appropriately to what is worrying you. However if you are facing "chronic stressors" as I was at work through initially bullying and then professional questioning - and there is no let-up, then the adrenaline begins to convert and change and this leads to blocking of coronary arteries (as is the case with me).
There have been other horrid symptoms too but that is for another time and another testimony. What I CAN testify to is that while God has seemed remarkably absent, I am here, I am alive and I still fervently believe in Him - so it must be due to "grace that has brought us safe thus far".
I would not say I am "back to normal" with belief and relationships with God, and certainly not normal relationships with His church (thanks to SGM and my experiences there). But I am getting there! And as John Piper said - if you are even facing in the right direction, that is testament to grace. I thought my first blog would be a testimony to what I have experienced. But John Macarthur intervened - by organising his "Strange Fire" conference
Background with Macarthur:
I should explain my history with John Macarthur. I was baptised in the Holy Spirit in 1999 just after going away to university in Birmingham UK. A leading pastor called Nick Cuthbert (who at the time led Riverside Church) preached on this subject and asked; "Have you received?". Although I had accepted fully the gospel 10 years earlier, I concluded I had no encounter or experience of the Holy Spirit and my faith was mainly cerebral and legalistic. I was supremely blessed (although didn't fall over), my relationship with God soared, my quiet times became alive, my experience of "sins forgiven and conscience cleansed" was awesome. Unfortunately (my timing always sucked) I went home to my church where I grew up - and almost at the same point my senior pastor Dr Stanley Jebb released a "booklet" announcing that although he had always taught the baptism of the Holy Spirit as I had heard it in Birmingham - he had now changed his mind and taught it was "all received at conversion".
I therefore had three years while at university to examine and come to terms with what I had experienced against what I read in the Word of God - and of course had plenty of teachers of the Bible to help and aid me. Notably Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Terry Virgo (who most key - made the link between the ascended Christ and His gift of the baptism of the Holy Spirit) and so on. John Macarthur - his book "Charismatic Chaos" was circulated widely by Stanley Jebb and his elders as "proof" of the dangers of the charismatic movement which he was dragging my church from. Hence I read the book several times.
But I must confess - the "excesses" which Macarthur ranted against, intrigued me all the more into what God in His divine sovereignity could do in His church. Accounts of prophecies from respected Dr Jack Hayford, for example.
So really I have John Macarthur and his rantings and "anti-everything" theology for increasing my interest into the Holy Spirit, His Person, His actions and His behaviour and moving across the scope of church history!
Leaving "Charismatic Chaos" aside, I have watched as an observer seeing the "Reformed/Charismatic" dichotomy gain some degree of notoriety in the Christian church. Most mainly I have to note - thanks to C J Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries in the USA. In 2005 I wrote a post commenting on C J Mahaney being invited to speak at John Macarthur's church. Many were excited by this and thought that Mahaney was bridging gaps between a vehement anti-charismatic and reformed/charismatic circles. Indeed one SGM pastor suggested to people close to me that; "Oh I think John Macarthur is mellowing".
I suggest "Strange Fire" suggests this SGM pastor was deluded.
I am further strengthened in that belief by my suggestion back in 2005 that C J Mahaney and SGM were downgrading the importance of the Holy Spirit in their circles - in part due to a desire to be well thought of by reformed evangelical "big dogs" such as Macarthur himself or R C Sproul. It seems thanks to posts by SGM such as the removal of and belief in the "apostolic team" and the baptism in the Holy Spirit - that suggestion was proved right. I don't claim it to be prophecy by the way! Just a hunch.
"Strange Fire" conference:
So the conference itself is mid-stream and I am unsurprised or persuaded by what is coming out. My following of the conference has been mainly due to Twitter, the live-stream (when at home) or Tim Challies usual remarkable summaries.
A response to the conference requires a seperate post - but the main statement by John Macarthur that has particularly grieved me is concerning worship. Now it should be stated that there is a whole host of Macarthur "spin doctors" who rush to "clarify" Macarthur's statements while he speaks and say "of course he didn't mean that". But Adrian Warnock was quite right to note that Macarthur himself gave no "clarifications of the kind. So what did Macarthur actually say about "worship"?
"The charismatic movement continually dishonors God in its false forms of worship".
His following comments go on to show that (admirably) Macarthur believes what he says. The charismatic movement has NOTHING to add to the corporate worship of the church and anything beneficial added is in spite of the charismatic movement - not because of it. I find this comment utterly incomprehensible.
I remember having a heated discussion with on of the elders of my home church in Dunstable UK after Stanley Jebb had left. He (like the rest of the elders) had followed Dr Jebb suit on cessationist beliefs. But he conceded that one vital thing that the charismatic movement HAD contributed to the life of the church universal - was worship. He admitted that many of the charismatic songs were biblically-based and a wonderful addition to church history. I remember many of them today;
"Jesus we enthrone You, we proclaim You as King - standing here in the midst of us we raise You up in our praise".
And to recent song-writers, many of whom come from unashamedly charismatic backgrounds and churches - such as Stuart Townend writing "In Christ Alone" or "The Power of the Cross" - all it seem fall under John Macarthur's axe.
Charismatics! We have grown flabby! We have taken for granted the experience of the Spirit that our forefathers fought. It seems that Macarthur is fighting again to condemn all - and that must be addressed in a later post. The reformed/charismatic tension has grown lazy and we have begun to focus on mission instead of continuing seeking of the Spirit in our gatherings. "Mission" has become the watchword! Yet does not John Piper state;
"Mission exists - because worship does not"?
I am grateful to Macarthur - he has awakened my fighting spirit. Time to think, engage and argue once again!