Hopefully, the sales of Evangelical Times have not dipped calamitously since last month’s Guest Column! If you are still there, I want to pursue a couple of lines of inquiry.
Last month I described something of my journey to date. Since moving from the world of the Reformed Charismatic, I have been honoured to become friends with others who have trodden a similar path; or with those who, while not having been there themselves, understand the steps I’ve taken.
I’m sorry if people like myself seem too picky or critical; or maybe a tad obsessive and over the top, but there are a few things that worry us in our new-found home among Reformed Evangelical churches.
I begin with this. Have you ever wondered if Reformed Evangelicals can be a little herd-like? That we can be too ‘follow-my-leader’ and not do straightforward thinking for ourselves?
We thank God for great men of God living and dead and owe a huge debt to them. But, in the end, I must own my own convictions. I must be sufficiently persuaded about my own conclusions, reached from my reading of the Bible and from personal observations and experience, out of my own walk with the Lord.
Like ships at sea, we always need corrections to steer to the desired haven; we are always learning from others. ‘As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend’ (Proverbs 27:17). Yet, when all is said and done, we have to stand by our convictions. No one else can do it for us.
For example, I do not want my children to parrot what I say, simply because I am their father. I will not be there one day. They must be able to think for themselves and go where the evidence leads them. If their convictions are only skin deep, they will soon drop away when trial and tribulation come.
If there is one thing I have learnt from some extended periods of illness, none of us in the ministry are indispensable. The church I have had the privilege of pastoring for nearly 15 years has had to cope with my absences and still stand by its own convictions. (They have done admirably well.)
We must all be able to cope with pressures, frowning providences, opposing views, criticism, misrepresentations, and still be able to stand at the end of it all. For the Lord has a way of testing our convictions. If they are not for real, they will soon fall away. Alone before God, the herd mentality is no help to us.
Do we need to be reminded that our heritage is littered with examples of those who stood alone — the Luthers, the Calvins, those who suffered in the Great Ejection?
What comes through is their sheer courage. They were individuals; they did not just ‘follow-their-leader’. They followed their Master. That meant going outside the camp, bearing Christ’s reproach (Hebrews 13:13). Will we do likewise?
At times, I have to admit, I have been disappointed since ‘crossing the floor of the House’. We have the heritage and history. We have the most excellent doctrine and best stocked libraries, yet so often something seems missing.
The fire is not there; the courage is deserting us. The old paths have to be contended for in every generation, and there is sometimes reluctance to do this. Our ‘non-conformity’ can become, in political terms, a mere rush to the centre, an appeal to evangelical ‘middle England’.
The latest new movement, new book, new idea; the latest import from the Charismatic world: we can too easily follow the herd into non-critical acceptance. The fear of what other people might say about our ‘non-conformity’, what other leaders might think can paralyse us — and the herd wins out.
It takes persevering commitment to hold our ground, doesn’t it? We are the church militant in a hostile world. It is so, so easy to compromise.
The weariness of the battle; its toll on body and mind; the all-too-fleeting experiences of ‘plains of ease’: all can make the Delectable Mountains of happy church life seem so distant.
To their credit, some branches of the Reformed Charismatic church are stirred by their vision of a fully effective, radical church; they really believe in it. What they have in their mind’s eye is often out of biblical kilter, and their chosen means of getting there often lacks biblical warrant, but I know at first hand that not a few are prepared to forsake comfort and ease and ‘stand alone’ to accomplish their vision. Dare we do less?
The words to Joshua should ring in our ears: ‘Be strong and of good courage’ (Joshua 1:6). For we do not want our heritage to be lost to the next generation through lack of conviction — do we?
The author is pastor of Crich Baptist Church, Derbyshire