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.