The time has come for my final post in my “reformed charismatic” story series, which covers the six years since leaving university (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). I know that I have said little about the “reformed” part of my theology – this is mainly because I have grown up believing in the doctrines of grace and have never found Arminian arguments persuasive. I have debated on the subject at various times, but it has usually served to further confirm me in my Calvinist interpretation of Scripture.
Rediscovering Word and Spirit
After leaving university, I got a job as a computer programmer back in Dunstable, where I had grown up. I got married and we bought a house in Luton, and returned to the church I had grown up attending. It was a time of transition for the church. Dr Jebb anounced his intention to retire from the pastorate, which he did after a year. The following year or so was spent searching for a new pastor, and eventually Mark Lawrence, from another FIEC church was appointed. His arrival brought many changes and some much needed fresh impetus to some structures that had stagnated during the “interregnum period”. But it was clear that the ghost of charismatic past had been decisively exorcised.
Shortly after moving to the area, my wife had begun the process of attempting to join the church, which involved working through various courses (West Street had the longest and most thorough new members course I have ever come accross). Unfortunately, she questioned some of the teaching (about head covering and spiritual gifts) which resulted in something of an impasse. So we were in the awkward position of myself being heavily involved in the church, leading a youth group, playing in the worship group and even teaching part time in the Christian school, while my wife was initially not even allowed to join me at housegroup because she had not yet come into membership. Without a pastor, no one knew exactly what should be done about her and being cast in the role of “problem person” made her wonder whether she really did want to join after all.
My interest in reading theology was growing, and it helped that I worked right next to an excellent Christian bookshop. It was there that I bought my first commentary – The Message of Matthew by Michael Green with the intention of reading it alongside the Robert Murray M’Cheyne reading plan that I do most years. Six years on I have bought about 100 more commentaries of which I have read about half. My desire to recieve some theological training at the church was not to be realised though, as Dr Jebb’s retirement meant the closure of the “Ministry Training Institute” – a Bible college he ran. Nevertheless in my lunch hours I would listen to the taped lectures from previous years.
It was during these 3 years in Luton that I felt that I would really like to go on a Bible week again, like the ones I had attended as a child. I assumed that nothing comparable existed. I was particularly skeptical about the Stoneleigh Bible week, but after listening their 1998 live worship CD, Beautiful Saviour, I figured that they must be doing something right for such Christ exalting songs to be coming from their movement. So in 1999 I went with a small group from our church. I warned my wife that though the worship might be good, we should beware of false teaching. Over the course of the week, all of my prejudice was blown away. After hearing Dave Holden, Terry Virgo, John Hosier, Greg Haslam, and Simon Pettit, I no longer believed that it was impossible to be a charismatic and retain an evangelical loyalty to the Bible.
We had to evacuate our tents due to flooding, but nothing could dampen our spirits that year. Our visit led to something of a renewal in the youth work (late teens and early twenties) I was leading at the church, and it was one of the most exciting and rewarding periods of my life to see God at work in their lives in a significant way. At the same time, a number of my close friends were experiencing similar renewal and giving themselves to the Word and prayer. Out of this flowed “Full Faith”, our own slightly tongue in cheek ‘church’ where we could preach sermons we had composed to one another.
The New Frontiers Years
We returned each year to Stoneleigh, and the final Bible week in 2001 coincided with a period of seeking God about where our future should be. The theme of the whole week was “Let’s Go”, and there was much encouragement to be willing to move on to new places to serve God. Later that year I found a job in Southampton and we moved house. We had both lived there before, but we were in a different part of the city now and so had an opportunity to try out some churches.
KCC, a New Frontiers church in Hedge End was first on our list to try, and ended up being the only one we tried. I was particularly impressed with the “Word Plus” course they ran in the evenings (although the name of the course amused me since I had recently heard some sermons warning against the ‘Gospel Plus’ heretics in Colosse who were considered to have great similarities with the charismatics). We found it to be a warm and welcoming church, and it very much feels like home for us now. Ironically, at this stage of my “reformed charismatic” journey I find myself in a church where not all on the eldership are Calvinists. But I have not heard “beligerent Arminianism” (to quote the classic introduction to Christian Hymns) being preached, so I will for now put up with those who “think otherwise”, trusting God to “make it clear to them” (Phil 3:5)!