Here is the second part in my series on how I became a “reformed charismatic” (read the first part here). It really seems to be personal story telling time in the blogging world at the moment. Today’s installment covers from when I was about 12 to 18. I am particularly conscious as I write this that many of my friends look back on this time with mixed opinions and the internet is not the place for a full discussion of all the issues, so I will simply give the basic details and how I felt about it at the time.
After Ern Baxter died, the church I attended slowly but surely became less and less charismatic. More hymns were sung and fewer choruses. The charismatic gifts were seen less and less. We no longer attended Bible weeks. This was largely due to the pastor’s growing concerns about the direction that the charismatic movement was headed in. It lacked commitment to Scripture, had antinomian tendencies, left false prophecy unchallenged and there were even a number of tragic cases of gross immorality amongst leaders. “Open to the Spirit” increasingly meant “open to anything whatsoever”.
By 1994, my church had lost any resemblance whatsoever to a charismatic church, and with the onset of the “Toronto Blessing” began to actively criticise the movement. Dr. Jebb had earlier written a booklet defending a basically Pentecostal doctrine of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, which in his typical style was argued with hundreds of biblical references. He now wrote a second booklet arguing against his position in the first. It was in a difficult time for the church, with many people leaving, including the families of quite a few of my friends. Many though were persuaded that the charismatic movement had gone off the rails and we were best staying out of it. Others stayed simply out of love and loyalty to their spiritual family and home, not knowing quite what to make of the change in direction.
The big problem, we were told, was that the charismatics are after “experience” which is subjective, not objective. We should be content with the objective Word of God and remember that worship is not about enjoying yourself but honouring God. It seemed to make sense to me at the time, but it was not until a few years later, when I started reading John Piper, that the whole idea of honouring God by enduring boring worship was blown away (not of course that it was put quite like that, but that was the general impression I got).
I was now on the verge of starting university, and was encouraged to read books such as “Charismatic Chaos” by John MacArthur and “Christianity in Crisis” by Hank Hanegraaf. These confirmed to me that the charismatic movement was irretrievably lost in a mess of muddled thinking, and that I would do well to avoid it. I was also beginning to read more of the Puritans and Reformers who had a cessationist stance whenever they touched on these issues.
About this time I started going on yearly missions with UBM, where I found many evangelicals with a love for the Word and a heart for evangelism, but I quickly discovered that charismatics were viewed with extreme disapproval. So at this stage in my life all the people I looked up to in the faith were noncharismatic in practise and teaching, and I was regularly hearing anti-charismatic anecdotes which bolstered a growing prejudice against them.
Despite all this going on, these were years of significant spiritual growth for me. I was baptised, and got about as fully involved in church life as I possibly could. I loved the youth groups especially, and the atmosphere of controversy over the charismatic movement and particularly contemporary Christian worship music (which was viewed with extreme disapproval) did at least serve to get me thinking and studying the Bible for myself.
So I was in a fairly settled position. I believed that the charismatic gifts were still valid for today, but that most churches who tried to use them were seriously deficient in other areas. In fact, I do not ever remember hearing a cessationist argument in church, except for one sermon on why there were no longer apostles today. I had been warned of the excesses of charismatic practise, but had not rejected charismatic theology. Perhaps I would have left it at that, content with a noncharismatic evangelicalism, but there were still issues for me to think through, and some of these came to the forefront while I was at university (which will be the subject of part 3).