I have a confession to make. There was a time in my Christian life when I did not read Evangelical Times!
I know this is a shocking admission. But please don’t turn the page in horror, or send a strongly worded letter to the editor. As you can see, things have changed. My ‘pre-enlightenment’ period was some 20 or more years ago. There have been some big changes since then. Some of you know about them. For those of you who don’t know me, I follow a strict ‘no spoilers’ policy: you will have to read on a bit further to find out what happened.
Now, to be absolutely accurate, I was not totally ignorant of the existence of the Evangelical Times. I can recall back then catching a glimpse of one once. Someone pressed a rather dog-eared copy into my hand.
At the time, I can recall being a bit puzzled. What constituency of the Christian church did Evangelical Times hail from? Who were the people who read it? Weren’t they — well let’s be honest — a little old-fashioned? We were, after all, then in the mid-1990s, with a bright, positive future, forging ahead confidently to new things that lay ahead, weren’t we?
And yet, having perused, to some extent, the contents of the copy I was given, there were things that rang true. Somewhere in me it stirred up a sense of unease that was already bubbling away beneath the surface, about the true nature of the spiritual life.
There was something about the sense of history the newspaper conveyed and its continuity with great preachers and servants of God from the past that struck a chord. It said something to me, but I was not quite sure what.
Anyway, the moment passed in a flash and the issues that it had raised somewhere in my dull mind were duly filed, in that part of my consciousness marked, ‘Need to revisit this sometime … but not sure when’. And that, I am afraid to admit, is as far as it all went. ‘So’, you might say, ‘don’t keep us in suspense. Where were you when this all happened?’
Welcome then to the world of a ‘30-something’, mid 1990s, mild Charismatic!
I had a busy and stimulating life. My wife and I were part of the church constituency that today would be called the Reformed Charismatic wing.
I knew some godly and mature people and learned a lot from them. Pastoral work, evangelism, open air preaching, pulpit ministry and schools work were some of the areas I was involved in. Some generous people supported me during that time (what a disappointment I have turned out for many of them!).
We preached the gospel and did some serious outreach. Volumes of Dr Lloyd-Jones graced our bookshelves. The sermons of Spurgeon were held in high regard. Banner of Truth and Evangelical Press books were happily stocked at the bookshop attached to the church. I owned a fair few of these titles. It was not all bad, you see.
But today I am writing in the ‘Guest Column’ of Evangelical Times. What is more I am very happy to be doing so. In fact I am very relieved to be. For all the sterling qualities I saw back then in the Charismatic movement, I came to see that it was riddled with fatal flaws of judgement.
The theology, practice, ‘experiences’, ‘gifts’, ‘anointed men of God’ did not meet the Bible’s criteria. The glory of God was obscured, at times lost, and Christ’s wonderful person took second place behind the traditions of men (Mark 7:8).
The gradual process of waking up morphed into being ‘instantly wide awake’, courtesy of the neuralgic shock-wave to my system brought by the so-called ‘Toronto Blessing’, touted by many to be a ‘move of the Sprit’.
It was time to leave. Painful and sad it was, but it had to be. And I was welcomed by new and generous friends into the Reformed (sans Charismatic) world.
So home sweet home? Yes! I am profoundly grateful to God that I am where I am now. No regrets at all. I have many good friends and have learned much from so many. Thank God for the place I now am. And yet, as an outsider who has come in out of the cold, I have some thoughts to share (more than three months’ worth of Guest Column to be sure!).
But I go back to the first fleeting impression Evangelical Times made on me and what it stirred somewhere inside: that vision; that hope; that expectation!
I am left at times puzzled; I have to admit it, even disappointed. We do not always seem to treasure what we have. I feel we experiment a little too confidently and carelessly. It is true we have got the heritage at our fingertips. But I am not sure we always ‘get it’.
I believe God has given us so much in our doctrine and history. Yet sometimes I fear we honour this rich heritage with our lips, but our hearts are far from it (Matthew 15:8). That is sad to have to say, isn’t it? So my appeal in this column today and over the next couple of months is quite simple. Don’t squander our heritage and faith!
The author is pastor of Crich Baptist Church, Derbyshire