In the autumn of 1969 I became a Christian, I was raised in a Christian home and attended the Gospel Standard Strict Baptist Chapel. At the time I became a Christian I had been involved in left wing politics for some time, and I was considering stopping going to chapel but one day I was forced to listen to the sermon (I used to take a book to chapel to read but was unable to read it, on this occasion) and as I listened I realised that the preacher had something that I did not have. I began to attend every service I could and before long I was seeking an assurance that I was amongst god’s elect. This was because in the circles I was raised in evangelism was taught to be a denial of the sovereignty of God, we were taught that we needed god to reveal himself to us. Sermons were largely of an experiential nature, and they tended to be very introspective and sobering. The view of God as exalted and sovereign was distorted because of an almost fatalistic view of predestination. Salvation is wholly of God’s grace, and the whole initiative of salvation comes from God facts which I still agree with but this was distorted in such a way that evangelism was not allowed and consequently the invitation to believe was never extended. The preaching of the apostles was not to serve as an example for today’s ministry. The result was an emphasis on experience and the plight of man that lead many into spiritual depression because the marks of election were all thought to be found in spiritual experience. The doctrine of election became a sombre reality and something you wished to know whether you were included in. The way election was preached fostered doubt whereas the biblical teaching about predestination fosters belief, assurance and joy.
Soon after my baptism a few of the other young people at the chapel questioned me about how I could accept the articles of faith,surrounding evangelism and the free offer of the gospel. I began to think more deeply and the more I thought the more uncomfortable I became with what I had been taught. At the same time I began to read non-strict baptist authors like C.H.Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, J I Packer, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John stott and Francis Schaeffer. As I became acquainted with a more Biblical Reformed position I began to see the problems with what I had believed. I began to realise that a lot of what I had accepted was based on spiritual experience and not the word of God.
In 1974 I left the Gospel Standard Strict Baptists and went to be a helper at the English branch of L’abri in Greatham, Hants., here I was able to get my theology and worldview clarified. But it was also here that my very negative view of the Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement was to be challenged. I had developed a fear of experience in spirituality in case I was mislead again. This made me very harsh in my criticisms of Pentecostals and charismatics, this was challenged by one of the staff workers, who challenged me to be gain more knowledge of what these movements were really saying. This person himself was opposed to charismatic teaching but felt I went too far. I remember that on my next day off, I caught the train into Guildford and went to the Christian bookshop to purchase some books by Pentecostal/Charismatic authors. When I started to read these books the first thing that struck me was how orthodox in their theology they were. I still did not know how to handle their teaching about the baptism of the Holy Spirit or the use of the gifts of the Spirit for today.
In 1975 I moved to France to help lead the work of French L’Abri, here I was to encounter an Australian lady who was a very good thinker she told me that if the intellectual concepts that I believed were coupled with the empowering of the Holy Spirit and the use of spiritual gifts the church would be enriched. I could not comprehend at the time what she was saying. but I continued to think about these things. Then on one of my vacations I went to spend a couple of days with a Christian Philosopher friend and his Christian artist wife, while I was there they had a homegroup from their church meet in their home. it was at this homegroup meeting that I first encountered the gift of tongues. This gave me a lot to think about because in every other setting I had been able to question how intellectually able people were but here I was in a situation where I found that those leading this group had taught me so much over a period of years. soon after this one of my colleagues at Swiss L’Abri mentioned to me that he had been reading a book by Michael Green called “I believe in the Holy Spirit” he asked me to read it because it challenged our understanding of spiritual gifts for today. as I read this book I began to realise that my cessationist theology had been wrong. Now I began to move gently towards a more charismatic position. What I need to emphasise at his point is that I was checking out everything against the word of God. The more I looked at scripture i realised that my cessationism was very similar to my hyper- Calvinism both rejected the current working of God in the same way today as he had worked in New testament days, and both theologies had imported categories that were foreign to the scriptures. This made me begin to think through very carefully my theological position.
In 1980 I started studying at London Bible College (London School of Theology) and became the student pastor of Stanmore Baptist Church, both college and the church forced me to think more deeply about the issues of the gifts of the Spirit. Both at church and college we had people ranging from strongly non-charismatic to those who were quite extreme in their charismatic ideas. This forced me more and more into seeing what the Bible has to say. It was not long before I realised that my former cessationist views had been based on a false interpretation of Scrip[ture. I now moved to an acceptance of the gifts of the Holy Spirit because of the authority of the Word of God in Scripture. Since then I have tried to articulate a theology of Word and Spirit. Both as a Pastor and an elder I have firmly stood on the word of God in regard to the work of the Holy Spirit.
I have wrestled with a number of theological issues but have never been satisfied with anything less than a biblically based Reformed Theology and worldview, which does justice to the teaching of the whole of scripture. I have ben tempted by some Arminian theologies, but I always come back to the fact that God is Sovereign over all things. When I studied for my masters degree at Nazarene Theological College I wrote my dissertation on the development of the doctrine of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the title of which is “from Purity to Power” that is also online on my blog.
Currently I am working on several issues concerning the development of a theology of word and Spirit. Although Francis Schaeffer would not have agreed with all that I have said in this short essay, one of his book titles sums it all up for me, He(God) is there, and He is not silent.
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