CONSERVATIVES AND CHARISMATICS
Nothing tears at my heart quite like the conflicts which exist between two main groups of the Church. Both are fundamental, Bible-believing and evangelical. Both believe in the necessity of being born again in order to become children of God. And yet, despite these and other strong links, they remain separated because of different views on certain doctrinal issues. I'm speaking of the “Charismatic” and the “Conservative” Church camps. I have personal and scriptural reasons which give me a strong desire to see these two “stones” of the Church's foundation come closer together. Surely there are others who must feel the same way.
There are several issues which the leaders on both sides could likely cite that keep them apart. However, I think all differences fade in comparison to two in particular: The most outstanding distinguishing mark of the CMs is known as baptism in the Holy Spirit, and on the CS side is eternal security. In general, Charismatics lean toward Arminianism and Conservatives lean towards Calvinism. (For brevity sake, I'll use the acronyms CM for Charismatics and CS for Conservatives.)
To the CM, baptism in the Holy Spirit refers to an outpouring of the Spirit upon one who is already a Christian. They base this on an incident which occurred on the day of Pentecost (& repeated on other occasions) involving certain groups of Jesus' disciples and other followers. (Ex: Acts 2:1-4.) The purpose then (and now, according to CMs) was for believers in Jesus to be endued with power for Christian service, the power being initially manifested by speaking in tongues and receiving other gifts such as healing, miracles, etc.
To the CS, eternal security refers to the permanence of salvation once one is born again. (Ex: John 10:28&29.) CSs rest on the conviction that God is absolutely faithful in His determination to save someone forever once He sets out to do it, and will not be frustrated regardless of a believer's conduct post-regeneration. This does not mean CSs believe that a saved person is not responsible to pursue God and His righteousness, and be involved in the development of holy character and participation in Christian service. However, the central thrust of this position is that it is God who maintains a Christian's eternal destiny of heaven, not the believer's actions after being saved.
Much more could be said about each of the above doctrines but this briefly summarizes the main aspects of the positions held by each group that I want to discuss.
But the CMs and the CSs don't just adhere to that which reflects their own positive stands. They just as vehemently oppose where the other shines! In other words, CMs strongly reject eternal security and CSs equally refuse to accept baptism in the Holy Spirit as a distinctly-separate blessing available to Christians subsequent to the new birth.
Since these two groups are so ardent in their beliefs, admittedly it makes one wonder if it is even possible to bring them together. But I just can't accept the old saying that 'never-the-twain-shall-meet' applies here. My reason? I have watched both these groups quite a bit over the years and have seen what appears to be sincere love for God demonstrated by many from both sides of the aisle. This fact alone motivates me to continue my effort to see the gap bridged between these two positions. I'm persuaded that the whole Christian world would rock from the burst of their 'spiritual fusion' if it were possible for them to come together based on rock-solid truth.
Let's be honest, never has this nation, indeed the world, had a greater need for revival. I will even go so far as to say that the CMs and CSs meeting on common ground could be the catalyst leading to God's end-time harvest. (It may not happen until during the Tribulation, but then, that’s a whole other story.)
I believe that the Scriptures reveal some merit to both sides of the CM-CS Conflict and that the truth lies somewhere in the middle of the confusion. There's also another reason I desire to see a CM-CS bond: I consider myself a Holy-Spirit-baptized, eternally-secure-believing Christian! But I can almost hear both sides screaming "That's impossible! That's impossible!" Hopefully, Spirit baptism as discussed further on in the book will help resolve some of the misunderstandings. (But first, there is something else which needs to be said here.)
No one knows more about division and unbalance than the devil; he's the master deceiver in these departments. Before an honest attempt can be made to reconcile major differences in the Church, both sides of an argument or disagreement must agree that all Christians first need to declare war against the spiritual power behind deception and move out believing we can win the battle. Jesus did. So can the Church. We have the same ammo Jesus used.
How did Jesus win against the devil's temptations? Typically, it was by the use of Scriptures, not by the use of His supernatural power as God. And just think, He did it with the Old Testament! The NT wasn’t yet here. We must fight the devil exactly the same way. The Word of God, correctly understood and applied, is our main sword against Satan.
Written truth has an ally too. Truth is established by the Word of God, but it must eventually be experienced in order to have any practical effect on Christian believers. Jesus had a testimony. John had a testimony. Paul had a testimony. Every Christian has a testimony. The written word of God plus a believer's response to it makes truth evident, real and practical. One’s response to truth becomes his/her testimony.
It's getting so in our day that telling of one's Godly experiences is often received with great skepticism by the Church. This is likely due to cults and deviant doctrines which have risen over the centuries, founded by leaders who spelled out in great detail their grandiose, spiritual, not-of-God experiences. But, among all the perversions still remains true, God-given experiences. We in the body of Christ must learn to be discerners. Has God not given us the ability to hear and know the truth when it is being spoken? Did Jesus not send the Comforter to aid us in detecting error? Let's not allow fearfulness and skepticism to cause us to overlook genuine, supernatural gifts to God's children.
Without going deeply into my testimony, please allow me to summarize my Christian background in order for you to at least partially understand why I feel the frustration I do with regards to the CM-CS conflicts.
I must be very careful here because I'm well aware that experience is an incomplete basis for establishing a theological position. However, every truly-God-oriented person from Adam onward had a testimony and so does every born-again individual since Jesus founded the Church. The important question is whether one's testimony agrees with Biblical truth. Here's part of mine. You decide.
I am now 74 years old, and was saved at age 12 in Antioch Baptist Church in Buncombe, Georgia. So, my Christian voyage now spans 60 years. I come from a long line of Christian influences: one grandfather was a Baptist minister; the other was one of the most solid laymen I've ever known; my dad and all four of his brothers were church leaders as deacons; my mother was the pianist for 58 years in the same church and a Christian song writer; two sisters are Christian musicians; 10 uncles and aunts on both sides — all born-again Christians; (two uncles were pastors), etc., etc. I realize this sounds boastful but these were simply the conditions surrounding my up-bringing. All I’m trying to convey here is that I was raised in a strong Christian environment.
But in spite of the Godly background, my life has not been a smooth flow of Christian maturity. Indeed, I've known few Christians whose lives were more spiritually-turbulent than my own. Although I truly knew Jesus as my Savior since childhood, I drifted away from Him during my high school, Navy and college years. My wife Cindy was also saved as a teenager. But, due primarily to my poor leadership, our Christian walk was very sporadic during the first 15 years of our marriage.
In 1970, 25 years down the line after becoming a Christian, my stumbling and bumbling (spiritually and every other way) led to a divorce. This was followed by seven years of rebellious, sinful, doing-my-own-thing practices, virtually never in church and most-definitely not seeking to follow the Lord's ways. I was a carnal Christian.
But God..., ah, but God! In December 1976, the Holy Spirit got my attention. He had let me drift as far as He was going to. Alone on my bed one night, tears streaming down my face from the burden of many years of unconfessed sin, I cried out for God's help.
Actually, I don't remember saying many words. I think it was just a right attitude in my heart towards the Lord. Suddenly, and with no expectation, a peace swept over me, so much so that it's impossible to adequately describe with mere words the power I felt inside me. Then, I literally leaped out of bed and picked up a piece of paper. And while being enveloped in what seemed like a majestic whirlwind of light (which I now believe was a Holy-Spirit-stirring in my spirit) I scribbled thoughts which were racing through my mind. Good thoughts. God-inspired thoughts, I later decided. Finally, I fell back into bed and went into the most restful sleep I've ever known.
The next morning, I awoke still feeling just as ecstatic as the night before — full of joy, at peace, yet excited, wondering what in the world had happened. “Just please don't go away, whoever, or whatever, brought this on”, I thought.
I looked at the page of notes, and was surprised because it was written in third person, as if by someone else, to me! There was nothing profound in it, things like "Lance, you have been doing 'so-and-so'...now you need to do 'this-and-that'", etc. Signed like this: "The Lord bless us all; praise His holy name!" I was quite unaccustomed to language of this kind at that time. The primary thing I was 'instructed' to do was break off certain relationships, which I immediately did.
My whole life and direction changed at that point. Within a few days I went to a Baptist Church in Vacaville, California, and eagerly went forward at the altar call. The pastor was a serious, understanding man who listened intently to what I had to say. I wanted to not only be reconciled to God but also to once again join the ranks of a Christian congregation. They welcomed me literally with open arms. What a joy it was. I soon became a member of that church, sung in the choir, participated in a Sunday School class and evening Bible studies, attended seminars, etc. I didn't want to miss out on anything God might have in store for me in congregational activities.
In addition to the above church involvements were dramatic changes in my personal and home life. I was alone then, and overnight developed a thirst for God's Word. I would read for hours almost without stopping. If you saw me in a restaurant, you'd have seen a Bible by my plate; if you saw me parked in my car, you'd have seen a Bible leaning on the steering wheel; if you looked in my shirt pocket, you'd have seen a small Bible. Do you get the idea? It seemed as if I couldn't take in the wonderful ‘food’ at God’s table fast enough . This went on for months and months...indeed till this day, now 28 years later.
I had always said a simple prayer at night before going to sleep, but this activity had slowed to a virtual stop during the seven divorced years. After the 'renewal', I developed a prayer life, even going to a certain place and kneeling, often for long periods of time, and would speak unusual (for me) things to God as the promptings would come from within.
Along with the Bible study, prayer life, church attendance, etc., also came a desire to go to certain persons and confess the ways in which I had hurt them in years past. Chief among these was my wife, Cindy. We hardly spoke during those seven years of divorce, except to conduct business matters or to discuss our two children, Martin and Jennifer. I called Cindy one night and, surprisingly, she agreed to see me. We decided to go for a Sunday drive in the country.
What a wonderful day that was. Cindy was open, kind and receptive, listening attentively as I tried to explain what had been happening in my life recently. I confessed and asked forgiveness for the wrongful ways I had treated her in the past. And, bless her heart, she forgave me! After that, I called Cindy regularly and we would have long, surprisingly-easy talks.
Cindy also felt the urge to return to church. She started attending a Baptist Church in Davis, California. Ironically, her pastor and my pastor had been good friends in seminary. Neither minister initially knew they were counseling separate 'parts' of the same broken marital relationship.
One day, for the first time in seven years, Cindy burst into my downtown-Davis optometry office and said she had to tell me something, right then! We stepped into a room and she said something like this: "Lance, you know I have listened to everything you have been telling me about the Lord, the Bible, the joy of restoration, etc. Well, I believed you and have been going to church again but I knew something was still not quite right. So, last night I got on my knees and prayed to God, 'Lord, I've tried to do what I thought I should but I still don't feel right about things. Here are the pieces of my life. Please put them back together.'" She said that a wonderful peace immediately came over her with the thought clearly implanted in her mind: "Everything is going to be alright now, Cindy."
The face of the bride of my youth was shining like the sun (correction — Son). Her joy, smile and radiance was like I remembered when I first fell in love with her. No, it was better. From that very moment, it became obvious that we were supposed to get back together. Oddly, until then, I wasn't quite sure. Now though, I can see that God wanted both our relationships with Him firmly re-established before returning to us that unmistakable inner-knowing that we were 'one flesh'.
A few days later, driving on the causeway to Sacramento, I asked Cindy to marry me again. My timing was just as peculiar as the first proposal (when I asked her in a bowling alley). Cindy, probably recalling that incident, said with a smile, "Yes, I will."
My pastor, Milton Steck, officiated our re-marriage vows; Glenn Allen, (Cindy's pastor) and his wife, were our witnesses. Our children were there too, and beaming their approval. Not long afterwards, Marty and Jenny became Christians, later married and have two and three sons respectively, all of which have accepted Christ as Savior. After remarriage, I moved back to Davis and became involved in the church Cindy had been attending. The ministry included deacon-ship, music, Sunday School teaching, several committee chairmanships, etc. As rewarding and enjoyable as those functions were though, I somehow felt that there was something else that I was supposed to be doing.
Sensing a leading from God about 24 years ago I founded a para-church organization called COME & SEE Ministries. Let me summarize the ministry's development and involvement. From this base I have provided Christian counseling, conducted radio-commentary programs, written and distributed tracts, and authored five manuscripts. There is also a giving side to the ministry that Cindy and I have provided: vision care to certain individuals — i.e., to the needy, missionaries and the homeless. As of today, we still participate in local church activities, but also continue to direct Come & See Ministries.
Now let me discuss in greater detail the two main topics of this chapter — baptism in the Holy Spirit and eternal security.
BAPTISM IN THE HOLY SPIRIT —
ETERNAL SECURITY —
Is either, neither, or both, of God?
I have had to deal with many questions about my personal life starting back about 29 years ago. For example: What was it that caused me to become so intense in my search for God and His ways? How could I, after a 25-year spiritual drought, so quickly desire to pursue knowledge and understanding of the scriptures? Why was I suddenly compelled to seek forgiveness and reconciliation with my wife? Why did church involvement and related activities become so important to me? The answers to these kind of questions should explain why such drastic changes came over me so quickly, lasting even till this day.
Some have suggested, "Lance, you simply weren't saved until December 1976, and everything else that has happened to you since then is just the normal flow of Christian maturation." I must reject this explanation. I am confident that I was saved at age 12. From then on I never doubted that Jesus Christ was my Savior, even though, by my conduct, I realize that, for the most part, I was rejecting His influence and guidance during those years between ages 12 and 44. Certainly one could logically ask how? and why? I could do that. But as I understand the Scriptures, this kind of rebellion is possible, even in the life of a born-again person. (The biblical explanation of this was presented in book 1.)
Now, let me tell you about some other things that commenced that same night. I started having what can only be described as supernatural experiences. Noteworthy is the fact that sleep became incredibly sound and peaceful. However, shortly before waking up in the morning, I would often begin to see and experience dreams and visions almost as real as life. (I tell this very reluctantly, and you'll see why in a moment.)
Although new and unusual, these experiences didn't alarm or scare me. In fact, it soon seemed quite normal because of the regularity with which they occurred. The phenomenal pictures and words were always short and to the point. I felt something special was going on, uncertain just what, but I didn't dwell on it or become overly-fascinated. My main concern in those days was simply to do the things I mentioned above relative to church involvement, Bible study, restoring mine and Cindy's marriage, etc. After a while, because of their frequency and special content, I accepted the experiences as normal as any other facet of my life.
At first, I would briefly ponder the dream or vision, and then go on about my business. But, because of the intensity of the experiences, I started keeping written records.
Here's an example: As in the apostle Paul's experience (2 Cor. 12:1-6), “whether in the body or not I don't know”, I can only say what occurred. I was lying on the bed one night, staring at the dark ceiling, and suddenly my body seemed to rise straight up off the bed as if gravity had lost its grip on me. Then I floated freely through a closed sliding-glass door. Next I drifted slowly upwards, then over the housetop, settling down in a sitting position on the roof. I looked up and down the quiet street and could see everything exactly as it would be if I had climbed up there and scanned the neighborhood wide awake. I could see the sky and stars as plain as could be.
Then, just as unexpectedly as all the rest, I commenced talking as I looked up at the star-lit sky. The surprising thing was that the words didn't come out in English. This stunned me at first, causing me to hush for a moment, then I'd calm down and start speaking again. In spite of the unusualness of my speech, it felt right. The words seemed powerful and intelligible, so I just continued talking [to God I suppose — see 1 Cor. 14:2] until I was finished. Finally, I rose up and re-traced the same path back to the bedroom and nestled serenely back into my body and slept like a baby the rest of the night.
What had happened? For a long time I didn't have the slightest idea. All I knew was that it was a great experience and I wished to do it again, although it was never repeated. Some would say that I was speaking in a "tongue" of a known, foreign language. Others might say that I spoke in a tongue of angels. But, based on what I have learned from the Scriptures, I believe I was praying in the Spirit; i.e., God's language. (More later on this.)
Now as to why my encounter with the Holy Spirit wasn't in a wakeful state in the presence of others, God alone knows. But I have decided to believe that there are three possibilities as to the purpose of the event: (1) Charismatics might suggest it was a baptism of the Holy Spirit; (2) or maybe it was merely a personal reminder from God to me about Pentecost; or (3) it could have been a delayed, long-overdue filling of the Spirit.
Do I think this makes me some kind of special Christian? Not at all, because I realize it didn't happen due to any goodness in me. But to ignore it would simply be to deny the truth of what happened. This I know: subsequent to that incident, my love for God, for His Word, and for my fellow man, all increased dramatically. And the course of my life took on altogether new interests and new direction. Whatever it was, something extraordinary caused these changes.
At first I assumed my experience would be common among other Christian brothers and sisters. What a shock was forthcoming. I'll never forget once sharing this background with a deacon Sunday School teacher. While visiting at my home one day, after describing what had been happening to me since I had come back to God, I asked him what he felt these dreams and visions meant. (As an older and wiser brother in the Lord, I assumed he would have the answers to my questions.) He said, "I don't think they mean anything!" His response hurt. But I tried to take it in stride, thinking surely he misunderstood what God was doing in my life. I quickly changed the subject and we continued our meeting.
However, I later discovered my SS teacher's reaction was actually quite typical of how others would react. From then on, I would learn just how skeptical and guarded the CS camp [traditionally, my camp] is about supernatural phenomena of this kind, in our day, being related to the God of the Bible.
Over the years, many teachers and books I’ve read say that such experiences as mine are not of God. In willingness to agree with the scholars, I studied their biblical exegesis and at times was almost persuaded. But somehow this didn’t square with the peace and joy which came with my experiences, much like that which would come through reading Scriptures, prayer and fellowship with other believers. "Has Satan the ability to give the same peace and joy as does focusing on Christ and the Word of God?," I wondered. I was driven deeper into the Scriptures to see if the doubts of some of my CS brothers had validity concerning experiences such as mine.
Based on these studies and my experiences, I have now concluded the CSs are probably wrong here. The Bible presents God as a living God. A straight-forward analysis of the Biblical evidence does not indicate that in this age God would discontinue giving to His sons and daughters dreams and visions or of allowing them to pray in the Spirit. Not to doubt the sincerity of my CS brothers, but I have come to the conviction that doubts regarding whether any supernatural phenomena today is of God or not is based either on fear, or originating out of the natural mind, rather than true spiritual discernment. Also, sustained unbelief of some believers likely hinges partly on the fact that they themselves have not had such experiences. If so, denial and quenching God's supernatural power may very well prevent it from ever occurring.
BUT WHAT ABOUT ETERNAL SECURITY?
The CMs are equally wrong about eternal security (ES). As rebellious as I was during so much of my life, God held on to me. If I had died while in the wilderness (and twice I came close to it), I'm as convinced that I would have gone to heaven just as surely as if I died right now. Those who oppose ES would say, if I was indeed saved at age 12, that I didn't fall away far enough from God to be un-renewable. They might also say that because I never doubted my faith in Jesus as Savior would give strong evidence that I didn't reject God to a non-restorative level. My friends, this is precisely the point of eternal security, and it is always true for every believer. The only thing inside me continually-affirming my childhood belief and commitment was the Spirit of God Himself, Who cannot deny Christ Jesus. In spite of those periods when we become less faithful in our walk, God remains faithful to hold onto the new man who is sealed into our spirit. (2 Ti.2:13)
The NES position says: "Yes, it's possible for one to become born-again and be eternally secure as long as he remains in Christ Jesus". On the surface, this seems to imply that they believe the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ at Calvary was sufficient payment for a sinner's guilt and death penalty. But, ironically, in the same breath they will go on to say that a Christian can choose to walk away from God, never to return, and foolishly cancel his once-held 'security'. That's not security at all; nor is it Biblical grace-faith! It's insecurity. It also reflects trusting in one’s own works to save, rather than the work of Christ Jesus.
To non-eternal security folks, salvation is like a contract; if either party breaks it, it becomes null and void. We could have endless discussions about this but in the final analysis, if one adheres to this position, two conclusions are inevitable: First, a Christian's own will can override God's will; second, being heaven-bound was never exclusively in God's hands, because man can alter it.
Another line of NES reasoning: "God provides salvation but the believer must keep it in force through obedience and appropriation, just as he did when he first believed". There are some implications of this last statement which are certainly acceptable. For example: God indeed does invite and command us to seek His blessings; to receive His anointing power; to believe in His willingness to work maximally through us when we are obedient; and, to exercise unwavering faith in God's Word, etc.
Undoubtedly, we Christians are covenanted to God through Christ Jesus. So, in a sense, I agree with the contract idea. But we are not talking about two equally-endowed partners here. For sure, a man in Christ Jesus is a fantastically-powerful creation. But God is God! There are no weaknesses in Him. He has no tendency to 'fall away' as we do. Man can become God-ly but he is not, and never will be, God.
Admittedly, it has not yet been fathomed what God can do through a fully-yielded saint. And, in eternity, it's hard to imagine what one glorified person will be able to do. But then, as now, the results will be due to God working through us, not by inherent, self-willed power. God will always be the Master, and us His servant-children. In heaven, we will do nothing contrary to His will, nor without His knowledge and input. What a wonderful day that will be!
SUMMARY OF PART I
I'm truly amazed that Charismatics believe one can lose his salvation and at the same time be so strong in praise and worship and other areas of the Christian faith. But where eternal security is concerned, I have concluded that these brethren, for some reason (s), have fallen short of the truth. A brief biblical admonition to them is Jesus' command: "Have faith in God." (Mark 11:22)
But I'm almost just as surprised that Conservatives have such strong convictions about God's immeasurable faithfulness and His bountiful grace with regards to eternal security, and at the same time seem to steer away from topics like God's in-filling or baptism of the Holy Spirit. The appropriate brief command to them is from Paul: "Quench not the Spirit." (1 Th. 5:19)
Although viewed differently, both CMs and CSs fail to rightly differentiate between spirit and soul salvation. Neither group seem to recognize that the totally-God-provided salvation of the spirit, must be kept separate from salvation of the soul, which includes believer works. The non-eternal security folks would be close to the truth if they limited their thinking to the soul. That is, it is true that the soul can be negatively affected if one doesn’t abide in Christ, which means to continually place good works on the foundation of his faith. But believer works must be distinguished from the permanent work of God already done in one’s spirit, i.e., the implanted seed of the new man. Subsequent to the new birth, works affect one’s position and rewards in the future Kingdom of God, not whether one goes to heaven or not. Spirit salvation determines the heavenly destiny. Soul salvation relates to one’s rewards there.