With the launch of New Bridge Church last month, many have wondered how I, as a Baptist minister, arrived at the place of leading our church into a journey that included the validating of the active status of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Granted, this belief is not the norm for those who have been Baptists their entire Christian lives. I was not surprised by the spectrum of responses which came my way over the last two years. As God allows, I will share more of my story whenever it makes sense to do so. For those of you who follow this blog and the wider circle of Transforming Truth’s ministry, I wanted to share in writing some of the eighteen year journey that took me from preaching against the gifts of the Holy Spirit to, not only teaching the scriptural validity of those gifts, but personally operating in some of them. Let’s start today with the beginning of this pilgrimage. It is too much information for one blog-post, so please check back in for the rest of the story later this week. – Jeff
In 1994, I experienced Him, the Holy Spirit, but didn’t know it was Him when I was saved. I was 100% ignorant of the Holy Spirit when I was converted from a decadent life of addiction and despair into a life of light, freedom and love. Jesus Christ ascended to throne of my life on Thursday morning, August 4, 1994, and I was radically delivered from my chains. My theology at that time could have been summarized as: 1) I was afraid of the Father, 2) I was rescued by the Son, and 3) Holy Spirit…uhhh….hmmmmm…who?
From 1994-1997, as I was becoming grounded in the Christian life, I was taught by loving, committed and well-intending people. Without exception, they taught me that the Holy Spirit was, indeed, God, but that He is, in our day, somewhat of a silent partner with the Father and the Son in the Godhead. The theology first presented to me about the Holy Spirit stated that He took up residence in each converted sinner when they accepted Christ as Lord (which is 100% accurate). Beyond that, regarding His present-day activity, I was taught to believe He “retired” from the supernatural and miraculous workings seen all throughout the book of Acts and detailed in the epistles. They taught that those works were simply to draw attention to the verbal message of the early Church and that, when the apostles all died and the writings which would comprise the bible were completed, the Holy Spirit ceased to impart the miraculous and supernatural gifts to Christians.This is the doctrine of cessaitonism. I believed this teaching with scarcely a second thought, never examining it for myself during those years. I respected and trusted those who were teaching me and what they shared about this issue seemed to make sense. Other than my conversion in 1994, I had not really experienced anything that I would deem supernatural, so my theology and personal experience matched each other, and that left me as a fairly confident cessationist. God, however, was not content to leave me that way because both my theology concerning the gifts and my personal experience with the gifts would be changed by Him in a somewhat unconventional manner.
During my objective studies in the Scriptures in 1997-1998, I became aware that the reasons for my belief that the gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased were not actually supported by the clear teaching of Scripture. I could create a biblical case for the ceasing of the gifts, but I had to import and export secluded verses from various places, and then present them together in order to support my belief. Interestingly, I did not have to exercise this type of “scriptural cherry-picking” with anything else I believed as a Christian. It was only on this issue of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that I had to perform hermeneutical gymnastics. The most forthright passages of Scripture concerning the gifts of the Spirit had to be redefined to match my theology. Ultimately, I had to also add in the human observations from Church history to support my position that the supernatural gifts had vanished. What made me all the more uncomfortable was the realization that, were it not for one short handful of verses, no Christian at all would ever be a cessationist. The heavy doctrine of cessationism hangs on the tiny nail of 1st Corinthians 13:8-10. To be a cessationist, I had to enlarge those three verses to the point where they obscured everything else that the bible says about the gifts. I struggled greatly with whether or not I had believed error from man while ignoring the plain teaching of God’s Word. Most of what I believed about the ceasing of the gifts was taught to me by man, based on historical observations on the diminishing role of the gifts, and anchored in my lack of personal experience with the gifts. This troubled me. Had I preached ignorantly on this issue when declaring that the gifts of the Holy spirit had ceased? Had I arrogantly scorned those Christians who believed in and practiced the gifts? I became disillusioned about this issue. Around 1999-2000, I started asking objective questions about why people believed the gifts had stopped, and I continually received the same circular answers which side-stepped the plainest interpretation of the Scripture on this issue. God, it seemed, was placing me in a crucible on this issue. I wanted to know if there were solid theologians out there who regarded the clear authority of Scripture, who also validated the gifts were active today. Most of the charismatics I was familiar with were extreme and, if they represented what it meant to believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, then I was very reluctant to go public with my changing views. I was not like them, I proudly told myself, and I did not wish to be lumped in with them. I wanted to live with a strong commitment to the objectivity of God’s Word while also operating in the power and gifts of God the Spirit. The Apostle Paul stated that his ministry required both Word and Spirit (1 Cor. 2:;4; 1 Cor. 4:20; 1 Thess. 1:5; Romans 15:18-19). Did I need less than Paul to serve Christ? Inwardly, I knew that something was missing. I kept pressing further into the matter.
Eventually, in the year 2000, I concluded theologically, once and for all, that I could not continue on as a cessaitonist, because, to do so, I had to force the Scriptures to support what I had been taught by man, instead of forming my convictions from the Scriptures alone. How could I be so dogmatic about the Scriptures framing up my convictions in every other area of theology, yet move from that approach to formulating my convictions when it came to the Person and work of the Holy Spirit? The inconsistency of cessationism is what had unnerved me the most, and I believed that I would have to compromise my integrity to continue to promote cessaitonism as a sound scriptural teaching. This was scary for me as a junior pastoral staff member at a Baptist church. I felt like I was doing something wrong. Guilt crept in for betraying my denomination and those who had poured into me. My mind and heart were convinced, but I still did not tell anyone about my theological shift. Embarrassingly, I was afraid of what man would say and do if I “came out of the closet” with my convictions that the gifts continue on and had never ceased. It was also during this season that I became acquainted with the knowledge that there were sound theologians who also affirmed the continuation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. When I learned that men like John Piper, Sam Storms, D.A. Carson, Wayne Grudem and R.T. Kendall all believed in the active status of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, I was both relieved encouraged. Maybe I was not a lunatic maverick after all. When I learned that Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones changed his position on the issue of the gifts later in his life, my heart was filled and my head was swimming! I had found, in these theologians’ views, the truth that one did not have to abandon his bible in order to embrace the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Yet I was still not courageous enough to out myself. I am not proud to admit that I intentionally kept my beliefs completely to myself. I still had not experienced personally any of those supernatural gifts, so I did not feel like it was a practical dilemma for me to keep my views to myself. My privately held beliefs did not have to become public, did they? I had a fair sense of peace about remaining in secret about what I believed, as I continued my profitable work as an Associate Pastor at the church where I continued to serve.
But all of that would change in late 2002 and early 2003.
My next blog will pick up the story there.
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