Tony Bickley’s testimony (2)
Having come to faith in Jesus Christ, believing on him in my heart (see December 2011 ET), I was enabled, along with my wife, to confess Christ with my mouth, at a Billy Graham rally in Birmingham.
That day, 4 July 1984, was significant in more than one way. For millions of Americans, 4 July represents independence from a former colonial power. For us, it meant deliverance from a far more fearful tyranny. It was the greatest day of my life!
There is no better day for a man than when he becomes a Christian. And, from our human perspective, it was rendered even better when two people who love each other as man and wife joined to the Lord on that same day!
We are told there is joy in the presence of the angels of God in heaven at such times (Luke 15); and none more joyous than the Lord himself, rejoicing over us with exceeding joy.
But, though I was saved, some of my old habits died hard. It would be another two months before I completely abandoned drugs. Stung by the sentence in God’s Word that said ‘Ye cannot serve God and mammon’, I determined to stop once and for all. This was a massive turn-around in our lives, and it meant losing all the friends we once had.
The Billy Graham rallies were certainly used in the salvation of sinners, and Liz and I are living testimonies to that fact, but their great weakness lay in ‘follow-up’ work.
Many folk who had professed conversion there were recommended to most unsuitable churches. We found ourselves in a small and extremely Charismatic house fellowship. Many typically ‘Toronto’ elements were at work there, such as bouts of laughter and rolling about on the floor, long before the ‘Toronto Blessing’ was ever heard of.
Within weeks I was ‘baptised in the Spirit’. I soon ‘spoke in tongues’ and progressed to ‘prophecy’, ‘visions’ and ‘words of knowledge’. I laid hands on the sick, commanding their healing. But I was presumptuous and demanding. I was badly taught and badly behaved, thinking I could tell God what he ought to do. I offer no excuse for these things.
But along with these distracting and destructive errors came a full and purposeful desire to read and know the Word of God. And it was this Spirit-planted longing which would eventually bring me through to where I stand today.
After about a year, I began to discern the unbiblical nature of some of the church’s notions and practices. When I dared to question these things, I was met with anger and arrogance. ‘I am the prophet’, declared the leader, ‘you have to listen to me and not try and understand these things for yourself’.
Alarm bells now rang in our ears and we abandoned this very wayward form of Christianity. But still clinging to Charismatic concepts respecting the person and work of the Holy Spirit, we sought refuge in a more conventional Pentecostal church.
Here I became poised to take on a responsible position. Even then, Liz and I felt that we just didn’t have the experiences of New Testament times. We looked into the Scriptures and came to the conclusion that we needed a fresh anointing, involving a baptism in the Holy Ghost with fire this time!
So we began to pray earnestly for the increased presence and power of God. What we got was astonishing and completely unlooked for.
All the while we had assumed that our problem was one of ‘faith’, and not of ‘truth’. Then we read Romans 9 together, and God spoke into our ignorance the life-changing revelations of sovereign grace.
It was almost like being saved all over again! Our whole world was turned upside down. Much of our previous practice was shown to have a great deal of ‘wood, hay and stubble’ in it.
Now, by God’s grace kept from preaching error upon the Lord’s Day, my first ever Sunday sermon was from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: ‘By grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast’ (2:8-9).
We eventually left the Pentecostal church, even though (much to my wife’s frustration!) I spent months trying to reconcile Reformed doctrine with Pentecostal beliefs about the spiritual gifts.
But, try as I might, all my reasonings fell apart in the light of God’s Word. One day I read Paul’s words to Timothy about the sufficiency of Scripture. It was like a Damascus road encounter to me!
I now realised that extrabiblical revelation was to no purpose. All I needed was to be found in the pages of Holy Scripture. I finally understood that the Bible was enough; the experience was liberating to my spirit.
My mind could now be completely bound by the Word of God, and every part of my life directed by its light, rather than by feelings, impressions, delusions, imaginations, and the thoughts of others.
The down-side of all this (if down-side it can be called) was that all opportunities to preach vanished. But this was under the overruling hand of God, since I needed several years of intensive learning to prepare me to rightly ‘divide’ the Word of God.
I would need to prove the truth of Scripture through the life of faith, both in its joys and sorrows. Walking by grace meant a period of severe testing, and upwards of a year of spiritual depression, to be lifted only by the Word of God applied with power.
The Word finally delivered me, when I went to hear a man whose ministry stamped with force on my spirit the great truths of justification, sanctification and glorification. Once again, it was the Bible which came to my rescue.
I now enjoyed blessed assurance, with a stronger, all-round understanding of God’s grace and love towards me. I learned how to wait upon him and obtain much needed patience in his service.
It would be several years before the Lord would raise me up to my present pastoral ministry in Brighton, but I praise him for his wisdom. He knew I wasn’t then ready to serve him in pastoral ministry, and I thank him for the way he has led me.
He has chosen my path, so that my past experiences may be applied to help others in the location he has set me and in the dire days in which we live.
We face a crumbling society, constantly turning to chemical influences to get by. I have been inside all of this. Not only was I part of that society, I was completely committed to the whole drink and drugs culture of our time.
We also face a crumbling Christianity which rests on feelings, imaginations and a ‘worship’ content and style designed to excite and gratify the flesh rather than glorify God and edify his people. I was once part of that ethos and loved it, until the Lord taught me differently.
God has graciously shown me that he alone can change these things. We may bitterly complain about situations, but we should pray for and show love to those still imprisoned in their sin. May my story be an encouragement to many!
The Lord has taken this poor wretch and made him pastor of Ebenezer Reformed Baptist Church in Brighton! He truly takes the foolish things of this world to confound the things which are wise.
I have a long way to go to be like Jesus. It is a journey that will not end until his return, or until death takes me to be with him. But by his grace and through his love I stand in the way, holding fast his truth, with his eternal life within this mortal body.
One day I will enter heaven, because God has loved me, and for no other reason. By his Spirit and through his Son, he has saved, called, and continues to draw me closer and closer to my heavenly Father.
This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the Gospel Advocate