Life : 1996

1) A view into the history of the Church

In 1996, God brought me to discover the riches of the Reformed and Calvinistic teachings. It started by me reading a book by Ray Comfort on evangelism. The book was called, “The Ultimate Deception”. Ray is an Assembly of God pastor in the States and in his books he talks about how modern day evangelism is so different from how evangelism was in the past. This was probably the first serious book I read that proved challenging to me intellectually. He quoted much from Christian leaders of the past like Martin Luther, John Wesley and Charles Finney. This was a book that attacked the shallow message of much of modern day evangelism message and methods. It brought me to think carefully about what I’ve always heard as evangelism. Ray’s motive wasn’t to attack other people’s ministries but to see things done in a biblical way for the sake of the growth of the Church and glory of Christ. Because Ray referred so much to Christians of the past as wise authorities, from that day on I started to find writings by past Christian leaders on evangelism. I searched bookstores in Singapore, but found little as these kinds of books don’t sell. I started to search the Net and it was through searching the Net that I encountered many writings on the Reformed Faith, the 5 points of Calvinism and the Sovereignty of God. From then on, I became interested in Reformed Theology. As most who eventually come to embrace Reformed Theology, I struggled first with the 5 points. I read many articles from both sides and started to buy books by Reformed theologians. Eventually I became a 5 pointer – though I’m not one now!

2) Enlightened by Reformed Theology

The journey had just begun. I started to realize that there was so much I was missing out in my Christian life. I was never taught such good in-depth biblical teachings before in all the charismatic Churches I went to. I was definitely fascinated by charismatic ministries and books and the emphasis on the wonderful miracles and spiritual gifts of the Spirit. But as I started to read more into teachings of past Christians, I realized how shallow the teachings were that I received before – compared to what I was starting to learn in the Reformed faith. God used this to open my eyes up to the fact that there is more to Christianity than what I had experienced in 1995. I was certainly blessed greatly by charismatism. I thought that non-charismatic Churches were dead and didn’t have what charismatic Churches had. But now I realize that I too didn’t have a lot of what many conservative evangelicals Churches (particularly Reformed Churches) have – and that is good expository preaching and in-depth teachings of the Word of God. So throughout the year, I continued on my journey into learning from the Reformed tradition. I had a particular interest in the godly Puritans and their teachings, especially in areas of evangelism, Lordship salvation and assurance. Through their writings and many modern Reformed authors who quoted them, I became an advocate of Lordship Salvation – John MacArthur and Puritan style. (Now I don’t really read much of the Puritans as I find them legalistic in many areas, particularly on assurance. I’m also against quite a lot of Lordship teachings nowadays).

3) Disappointment with Charismatism

Because most Reformed authors were cessationists (Christians who don’t believe that the “sign gifts” – e.g. tongues, healing and prophecy – continue today but believe they have ceased), I became somewhat influenced by their cessationistic and anti-charismatic teachings. I gradually became more and more concerned about the lack of respect for God’s Word in charismatic settings. It wasn’t that they didn’t agree with God’s Word – they did. But what came from the pulpit weren’t teachings that dug into the wisdom of the Word. I heard mainly picking a few verses here and there and then telling of stories. And most of the time, the preacher would take the verse out of context. Or if he didn’t take it out of context, he didn’t give substantial exposition of the passage to convince me of what the Word says. I found little depth in the teaching and preaching in charismatic Churches. Worship, experience, ministry time, signs and wonders, stories all took precedence over the Word. Seldom would I hear, “I loved the preaching today. It just opened up the Bible in a way I never saw it before and I have learnt so much from it. My faith in God is becoming stronger.” Instead I would hear, “The worship was so great. God was really here today – so many people fell under the power and started laughing.” And along with all these, I started to see many of my charismatic friends who lived more by sight than faith in God. They wanted signs and wonders and constantly sought it. They would thirst after the miraculous rather than understanding God and His Word better. And the emotional worship would produce people who would dance and sing with their hearts, yet after all the hype is gone and the service is over, there wouldn’t be many fruits remaining.

Meanwhile, I was learning so many important truths from the Reformed faith that changed my life. However, I continued to stay in my Pentecostal Church and enjoyed the worship but didn’t get much from the preaching and teaching. Slowly I became more and more disappointed in the thirst after experience and lack of biblical preaching and teaching. This was during the time when the “Toronto-Blessing” type revival was hitting the Churches in Singapore. I started to agree with anti-charismatic authors like John MacArthur and his book “Charismatic Chaos”. When I confronted some of my charismatic friends about my concerns about charismatism and interest in Reformed Theology, no one seemed to be able to go to the Word to show me that I was wrong. No one offered to study with me the Word to help me understand that what they were practicing was biblical. This was basically because a lot of them had an anti-intellectual outlook – “You’re quenching the Spirit”, “Don’t try to use your mind”, “Tongues is the evidence of the baptism of the Spirit. Don’t tell me about interpretative methods. It’s all in Acts – just believe it”, “Don’t be such a Pharisee”, “God told me this – I don’t care what you think the Bible says!” I came to a stage where I felt I had to leave my Pentecostal Church. There was too much focus on experience and manifestations, and little emphasis on the Word of God. I knew that in the long term, I wouldn’t be able to grow as a Christian without the Word of God being preached faithfully. From my reading of Reformed Theology, I understood the importance of God’s Word. So I felt I needed to find a Church that had better respect for God’s Word. I left the Pentecostal Church, which I had spent more than 2 years in and in which God changed me, by the end of the year.

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3 Comments

  1. My experiences are similar to yours.
    I was at Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship for about a year (Around 2008-2009). I learned a lot that I never heard from my evangelical tradition. I was so excited to learn more about miracles, inner-healing and to feel God’s presence. I learned a lot from going there and I will always be thankful for what I have learned and experienced there. However, I never received tongues, falling/shaking or a bodily manifestation of God.
    At first when I attended I ignored all the biblical inconsistencies because I thought that they had a reason for doing the things that they did. But later I started to ask questions but nobody gave me answers of if they did they took a very small verse in the bible to prove what they did. When I kept asking questions I was told that “you think too much, sometimes you just have to believe.” When I asked someone about whether certain manifestations were of God they would always say “of course, because I felt so much love and good emotions.” Thus they would relate everything back to experience rather than test it with the bible. Thus I eventually left because it seemed that no body was willing to answer any hard questions. But I still hold on to what is good and ignore the bad.

    1. Mathias, yes, I think it’s good to hold to the good rather than throw out everything. My thinking now regarding all this is probably different from what’s written above. I’ve come a long way. I’m very open to Toronto-blessing type manifestations, though I know that shouldn’t be the most important thing or the focus. If you haven’t heard of him, do check out Andrew Wommack and listen to all his free teachings which are really solid. I think he’s one of the most balanced teachers who focuses on teaching the Word, yet also moves in God’s power. He wouldn’t be against the manifestations, yet he knows that should never be the focus.

  2. Mathias jerked my chain so as to alert me to this site. I’ve poked around at it. I grew up in some Pentecostal-Full Gospel churches (and walked into and out of some Charismatic ones). After moving to a more traditional eschatology (A-MIL/POST-MIL mix) rather than the newer sci-fi (pre-mil/ dispensational) version found in the younger though very vocal politicalized denominations I’ve felt the tension between churches that desired the working of Jesus in their mist who held a genocidal eschatology verses that of the older churches who did not but who packaged it all behind a big dose of formality. After looking I heard about Sovereign Grace Churches who are at least on paper Reformed in teaching but Charismatic in practise. I never thougth such a chimera could exist. I have yet to see how that all filters into behavior on the ground.

    While I on one hand want to say that there is a lack of good solid teaching on Divine Healing within the churches on the other hand many of those in the past who had functioned in it had written on the matter and most of these books can be found. I would rather go with the early and the few rather than the later and the many (the later ones tend to quote from the early pioneers). And in theory, all of them are quoting from the Bible. We have heard what they say… what does the Bible say on this matter?

    Many want to go out and perform great signs and wonders and heal who are in fact wanting some sort of personal recognition for it. THEY want to be known. THEY want to be famous. What are the motives of the heart that are attached to it? Ask some of the televangelists and the youth who aren’t really sure what conversion is but who want to raise the dead.

    I see three issues. 1. A seeking after the gifts but a contempt for the giver of them. http://www.pilgrimcamp.org/HRW0006.html. So we have those with an obsession with speaking in tongues but who are not willing to bridle their tongue. We have those who want to manifest Holy Laughter but who care little about the absense of the holiness and transformation of God in their lives. These want their own kingdom. These want to go to God with their plans and then demand of God to “bless it in Jesus’ name [or else!].” That’s the cart before the horse. He must increase and we decrease. That is the only way God can work through us. That is the kingdom of God… when the King has us and can reign through as as He pleases!

    2. There is a lack of functioning of the Body of Christ. I see pastor-centric churches where the existance of the meeting depends on a pastor being present and the main focus of the meeting revolves around the sermon (lecture). With one mouth functioning week after week and the others being forced to be ears does not: allow the LORD to work through His body when the church comes together… nor does it allow people to meet Him. People meet a service, a ritual and a very predicatable one. Charismatics while being often anti-ritual go to the other extreme by filling up their gathering with activity and excitement and entertainment but unless the people can meet together with the LORD which ought to be the focus then the entire endeavor is a poor substitute.

    Some wish to revisit Peter’s Acts 2 quotation of the then fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy so as to give themselves assurance that they are now living in the last days of the Old Covenant. They are happy to receive any vision or hear any prophecy irregardless of its content or legitimacy.

    I have a suspicion that one reason why the kingdom of God is not known in the churches in a big way is merely because the people do not want all of it… or all of Him. The gifts just as the fruits are the attributes and the workings of God. You cannot have the one without the other.

    And as a footnote I should just mention that amongst the “revivals” of the past the visitation of God was first experienced as Judgement Day (not as a circus). People called out to God for mercy. People repented deeply. And people CONSECRATED themselves to God. They became DEPENDANT upon Him.

    It used to be that the teaching in the Pentecostal Churches was one of three works of grace 1. Repentance (deep and pungent) followed by 2. Consecration which were considered as prerequesites to 3. Holy Spirit Baptism. Later with perhaps the influence of William Durham and the Word of Faith/New Thought people Consecration/Sanctification was something assumed (imputed like justification by faith) but was not sought as something to be imparted. So then it was just 1. Repentence/Conversion followed by 3. Holy Spirit Baptism with speaking in tongues. Later as we now see amongst the Third Wave Charismatics conversion consists of a trite Decision for Jesus with no instruction ateaching as to what Christianity teaches or to what Jesus demands (“you cannot be My disciple unless…”) and immediately the person is told to seek visions and heal. To me that sounds more like (#3 without parts 1 and 2).

    We are seeing the fruit of all of this. Maybe Jesus would accompany us on our evangelistic plans and charismatic goals if all of those things were indeed His?

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