Archive for the ‘charismatic’ Tag

Guest ‘Week’ Part 6: UNITING CHURCH

And finally… Unity is not always a word that springs to mind on this website, particularly given some of the recent discussion! In the Co-Mission Initiative the question is often which will happen first – will be abandon Anglicanism or will they throw us out?? With all this in mind, it’s a privilege to end Guest ‘Week’ with an article by my brother-in-law Simon recognising the existence and importance of UNITY in the modern church. It’s not an article I could have written and I’m therefore delighted to post it and think on it. (And apparently there is Part 2 coming soon!)

A seismic change has occurred in the church in Britain over the last thirty years, in particular. You might not have noticed it. It may have crept past you. But I think it might just be the most significant work of God we have seen since the Reformation. 

Sixty years ago, if you went into a Baptist church, the preacher would probably be preaching hell, spiritual gifts had died out 200 years after Christ and adult baptism instead of infant baptism was the most important theme. Anglican churches were sprinkling water on children’s heads and spreading incense and talking about being nice to each other. Pentecostal churches were using lots of spiritual gifts and many were saying if you didn’t speak in tongues, you weren’t a true believer. In many of these churches, sermons would contain put downs to other denominations of Christianity. The vicar (or whatever) would subtly throw in a cuss to another church, “we’re not like that other church round the corner,” and Christian identity was formed not only by what you were but also by what you were not. Your identity existed yes, in Christ, but also in your denomination, what your exact doctrine was, who your pastor (or whatever) was and how you worshipped.  

I’ve spent some time in Italy and found that things, for the most part, are still like this over there, although there are some signs of change. Apart from the Catholic Church there are four main evangelical churches, with four completely opposing sets of doctrine, some of whom do not even recognise each others’ existence as Christian churches. In Siena the four churches would regularly preach against each other: the church which practised spiritual gifts was allegedly demonic; the one which didn’t was apparently missing the Holy Spirit (they might have had the other two prongs of the Godhead). The Valdeseans were “almost Catholic” (a massive insult) and the Pentecostals wore hankies on their heads so were too strict. This made it somewhat uncomfortable for me as I liked to regularly visit all four. I kept all the negative things they said about each other in a little book and made sure I never repeated them when I visited the other churches!  

The seismic shift, which I hope will spread even to Italy from our country is this: we’re losing our denominational boundaries.

It’s not complete yet, and there are still churches opposed to each other. There are still major disputes in the church. But ask yourself this… can you recognise a Baptist/Anglican/Charismatic/Methodist church any more? There are Baptist churches which practise spiritual gifts, Anglican churches that baptise, Methodist churches that preach a powerful gospel and Charismatic churches that don’t mind if you don’t speak in tongues and would actually quite like things to be done a bit more formally and efficiently!  

I frequent an Anglican church that baptises adults, believes in spiritual gifts and preaches the gospel every week from the Bible. Unthinkable even twenty years ago! (I was taught to mistrust churches with pews and spires when I became a Christian in a school hall church).

A lot of credit has to be given to the Alpha course and other cross-church initiatives which, I believe, are doing the work of God and unifying his church. A post-modern belief that knowing God is more important than knowing things about him, that loving people is more important than understanding and that there is no invalid way of worshipping God, is the packaging for the new consensus. And it seems that perhaps people are finally beginning to see that God is big enough and broad enough to meet all kinds of worshippers exactly where they are, as long as they worship with their hearts. 

Its hard to overstate the extent of this change in just a couple of decades. The rise of the non-denominational Christian is a 21st Century thing; the believer who would rather not subscribe to an exacting set of beliefs or doctrines; who would rather not be an Episcopalian or a Lutheran, but who wants to be counted as a Jesus follower, a God-botherer, a disciple no matter where he worships and serves. This Christian knows that some believers might find one day more holy that another or find some food unclean (1 Corinthians 11), but knows he has freedom in Christ to worship without those burdens.

Inside churches things are changing too: There are very few people these days, who would condemn the use of spiritual gifts and healing. At the same time, there are very few churches now who madly try to invoke the Holy Spirit every meeting and force people to speak in tongues or fall over.

The vast majority of churches follow the doctrine of adult baptism by immersion and christening kids seems to be dying out.

Most churches believe in the truth of God-inspired scripture. There seems to be an agreement across churches on all kinds of things that once divided them. Of course this is not the reality for all churches, there are still disagreements on some non-crucial aspects of the faith, such as what to do believe about homosexuality, but looking at the broader picture of what is happening across the country, its hard not to be impressed by the similarity of Christian doctrine across the country compared to sixty years ago. A new national consensus about key doctrines of faith seems to be forming. And this can only be good news, because there is only one church, one body and one baptism. We haven’t yet seen true unity across the British church, but God has done a pretty huge work in us and broken down a great number of barriers, to enable his Church to be more like what he intended it to be. The future of the Church is service.

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GOOD CHURCH, BAD CHURCH

Posted 5/1/09

Never ever underestimate the blessing of a good church. CCB is not perfect. No perfect church will be seen this side of the New Creation. But it offers clear Bible-based teaching; it upholds faithful and unadulterated doctrine, for instance regarding penal substitution or justification by grace alone, accessed by faith alone; it acts on a longing for the lost of Balham and the world; and the community it brings together works lovingly for one another’s growth and good. The churches I visited over the festive period put this into stark contrast.

I don’t wish to be too harsh. It is good indeed that anyone would see fit to give up time and resources in order that Christ be praised and His followers be encouraged. It is even better that they do so when so much of our world deems such a use of time as foolishness indeed. And yet… how much better if they could do so without wasteful diversions; and not under the yoke of misled incomprehension. I have sat through a sermon based, not on a biblical passage, but on the song ‘Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer’. Even worse, having heard this red nose equated with the sin that makes us, too, ‘a misfit’, I have then heard that God ‘doesn’t mind our red nose (eg sin!)’ but ‘loves it’ and will ‘use it’! I have then delved back into the charismatic ranks where I wanted to learn good lessons, still believing that we are probably too shut off from fruits of the Spirit and joyful abandon. Instead I witnessed a church with no Bibles to be found or opened at the front, with our sin glossed over, the cross neglected and rather the Spirit proposed as that thing we seek – an elusive ‘sometimes near’ resource which we can grasp, given greater awareness and training, in order that we may be fulfilled.

How great then to return to Co-Mission. We are not ‘better’ Christians; my last post should make that abundantly clear. However, we are better taught, via a strict set-up of accountability, to the Bible and the scrutiny of those who know it well. This makes it far more likely that we will mature, by God’s grace, via the agency of those who diligently take responsibility for us within our congregations. To be at the Factory on Sunday was to be reminded of everything I’ve missed over the past chaotic month – to be reminded we’re a part of something growing and alive, to be told again of grace, true joy and of the cross… to have the Bible explained at the time I most needed to hear it. So yes, thank you God for good churches.

THE LURE OF THE EXPERIENCE

Posted 2/3/07

The following story may be embellished somewhat, but is based on truth. There was once a man who came to CCB. He witnessed a powerful sermon, on a powerful passage, preceded by powerful testimony, leading to powerful prayer. When asked of his opinion, he replied that he preferred a livelier style of music. The person in question was quite clearly missing the point. He wasn’t me, but at times in my life it could quite conceivably have been. Many is the church I’ve judged on the standard of its worship. And many are the churches that have built their services, and the bulk of their outreach, upon the bedrock of lustily rendered songs.

I think of one church in particular. Ever single week, at the same point, the musicians, at the end of a particularly well performed number, would move smoothly into the repeated playing of two emotive chords. The congregation would instantly respond with a notable upgrade of ‘spiritual electricity’ around the room and would begin praying loudly, often in song, often in tongues. The worship leader himself would lead the way, singing ever more passionately in a combination of tongues and English. All concerned would feel the touch of the Lord. Were they wrong? Of course I would never dare to judge. It may well be that such a scenario led them to a greater appreciation and understanding of their loving heavenly father. However, it is dangerous to base your experience of God upon such manipulated tactics or, indeed, upon the addictive buzz of the Holy Spirit above all else.

It is only recently that, led by Perks, I have learned a little of why some regard the Alpha course with reservations. It stands charged of leading people to God via an experiential revelation – a conversion based primarily not on a biblical awareness of sin and subsequent repentance – but upon a sensual thrill. One testimony writes that ‘the “Holy Spirit” weekend convinced me of the reality of God as somebody personal to me. There was a time of prayer and in the background, a young lady sang with a perfect voice about Jesus. At that moment I sensed Jesus listening to me’. Salvation here, it could be said, is found through experience and feeling rather than through the doctrinal understanding required to make an informed commitment. (Although I remain sympathetic to the idea that this is preferable to no salvation at all…)

On a similar theme, the church in which I grew up brought somewhat into the ‘Toronto Blessing’ to the extent that, for a while, no service was complete unless it left someone lying on the floor. I’m sure the blessing was real and brought people into the church, but for me it marked the beginning of a long spiritual decline as I felt a failure for not speaking in tongues or crashing to the floor. A friend of mine left his church after taking offence at a leader pushing hard down on his head whilst praying over him during this time. Such tactics are also endemic to the Christian camps I attended as a child and teenager – powerful emotive meetings leaving those present high and enthused, but not necessarily any the wiser.

Now I repeat that I am not necessarily criticising the use of experience in building our Christian profiles. The things I have seen and witnessed that can not be easily explained from human perspective form a part of my faith, and reassure me greatly. I have been greatly encouraged by witnessing healing or the expulsion of demons. However, faith is less likely to endure if based only on experience. Moreover, if it forms the basis of our evangelism, we leave ourselves open to the Dawkins argument that we engage merely in tactics of mass persuasion and hysteria. The Toronto Blessing will come and go, but the Bible endures. Our faith then must be based on an understanding of the Bible, and we must be prepared to back up our faith on a biblical basis when engaging with others. I am a stronger Christian than I was before joining CCB because then I was looking for a good feeling, whereas now I am receiving good Bible-based teaching. I’d go as far as to state that we can’t truly know God if not through the Bible. To try and do so through impressive worship sessions instead would be to smell the food but to never eat it. Manifestations of the Holy Spirit are a powerful tool – the example of Acts shows us that – but they are not a substitute for God’s word.

PS: For all that – CCB could perhaps take the strait-jacket off a little… We may currently win the award for ‘the church in a school hall least likely to clap their hands’!!