Having spent some time away from writing on this blog has helped me to refocus a little. Writing all the time; telling the world of the revelations which I have been having was becoming all about me and less about God. In the words of John the Baptist, I must decrease so that He can increase (John 3:30).
Over the past few months we have faced some of our toughest challenges. Frequently, I have failed to face those as I should have done. The experiences have (thankfully) exposed weaknesses in me. I am learning to surrender to God’s grace and mercy at those times. Often, I find myself hoping that surrender will cause the test to pass. Sadly, that is not always the case. This is how God is. He wants to test what is in our hearts, sometimes over and over again, in order to refine us. In those tests and trials I have occasionally taken my eye from Yeshua (Jesus’ Hebrew name) and sunk like a stone. But, God is gracious. He picks me up (sometimes through words of encouragement from others; sometimes through Scripture), and dusts me down, and shows me the way back to the Narrow Path.
During a recent ‘wobble‘, a friend called me and read me the Riot Act. Interesting term isn’t it? Well, like most people who use it, it is metaphorical. For me, the reading of the Riot Act, is simply reminding me of what I already know, and not anything to do with the 1967 Act of Parliament. This particular reading of the said act was taken from the letter to the Hebrews, chapters 11 and 12, to be precise. My friend felt that he should read it to me. I needed to hear it too. For those of you not familiar with the text in question, and in order that you don’t have to reach for your Bible, here’s a brief summary:
The writer is keen to remind his readers that all which we do; everything we cling to, is all based in faith or trust of things that cannot be seen. The text continues to refer the readers to the giants of faith – those whom continued to trust in what God had already said, despite all the evidence around them indicating that what had been promised wasn’t likely to be realised. The mere mention of Noah and Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Moses, is enough to jog most people’s memories of what they managed to achieve by a simple, blind trust in the creator of the universe. Of course, to some, the faith which they exhibited and became the substance of legend, can be as daunting as the task of believing themselves. Were it not for the pages in which their histories are recorded also recording their doubts and mistakes, it would be easy to believe that these shining examples were not mere mortals like the rest of us.
For me, it is actually their frailty and their mistakes that encourages me, rather than their heroics – as someone who fails to exhibit a healthy trust in God for much of the time, it is comforting to know that others have trodden this path before me.
Chapter 12 opens with a plea in light of these heroes to cast aside all of the sin which hinders us and continues to explain that God only disciplines those He loves. In essence, we have two beautifully sculptured chapters aimed at encouraging and building the faith of the elect. And, I have to add, that the text is able to achieve all that it is designed to do…providing you let it. I say that because, although the text is clearly the truth, unless you are willing to hear it, it won’t ever help. Thankfully, on this particular occasion of being read the Riot Act to which I confer, I was able to hear what God was saying to me through these words. And now, as I consider the points which I learned, I find myself turning my attention to another matter, one altogether much more significant than my own selfish whining.
You will note from the Reading List section of this blog that I tend to favour what you might refer to as stout men of God. Like the heroes of faith which the writer of the letter to the Hebrews would draw our attention to, I have compiled a list of authors which inspire me (and hopefully others as well), to press on in my faith. You will note that several of the giants of faith mentioned there are from an age long since past. I don’t believe that to be a simple coincidence – I find inspiration in the pages of these men’s books because God led me to read them. God knows exactly what I need to encourage me. He knows precisely when to reveal something to me; who will take the message to me, and whether my heart is ready to listen. And it is often through the men and women of the 19th century that I draw the most inspiration. They seem to belong to an age which understood what walking with God in humility was all about.
It was one of those men to which my attention has turned of late. For a while I have pondered a question about where it all went wrong for the church. Of course, you will have to travel a long way to find a preacher in this country who would agree with me that there is a problem. North West Norfolk is particularly absent of preachers who display any real unction in this matter. But, for argument’s sake, let us agree that there is something fundamentally wrong with the church. We measure the problem not by attendance but by the lack of signs and wonders. That appears to be a decent measuring rod – after all we are quick to run to the New Testament as a reference when it suits our preaching, but let us do it to see how things should really be. If you are not familiar with the early chapters of the book of Acts, I suggest you read them carefully now, and preferably not from the NIV (the translation is poor in places and misses vital context). Read chapters 1-6 to get a real feel of what the early church really looked like and try not to think of any reasons why it’s not like now. We are very good at justifying external reasons why we don’t see the Holy Spirit moving in the way we see in the book of Acts – spiritual warfare and opposition, the Masons, witchcraft, etcetera. In doing so we fail to recognise that Yeshua was and is always victorious. There’s nothing to stop us seeing that kind of overflow of the Holy Spirit right now…except for us.
Now, I am sure that some of you reading this will be of the Cessationist persuasion. I will address that issue as I work through this subject. It is a lengthy and somewhat complicated subject – the mixing of the seed, and it will take several instalments to deal with it as it should be. In fact, over these next few instalments I aim to deal with a great many strongholds that are so cemented into modern church thinking that you would think that God Himself dug the holes and erected their standing stones. But let me say this on the subject of signs and wonders to whet your appetite for what’s to come:
About three years ago (or so), I asked God, after reading and re-reading Acts, why we weren’t seeing the kind of Holy Spirit signs and wonders and miracles which manifested around the early church. I couldn’t find a single reason for it in any Scripture. I could find a million opinions online and in the pages of books, but nothing from God Himself. Until a few weeks ago.
I had to take a bus journey. Those of you who have experienced life in this part of Norfolk will understand that everything moves slowly. So, I took a book. It was a book I had read before but I was drawn to it that morning. As I started reading it I realised that I had no memory of it whatsoever, which is a little unusual for me – I usually retain much of the substance of what is written. But this time my mind was a complete blank. It was as if I hadn’t read it at all, or if I had, something had stopped me from taking it in.
The book in question is called ‘The Calvary Road’ by a guy called Roy Hession. I won’t go in to it here (it’s on the reading list as a pdf link if you want to read it) because it wasn’t anything written on those pages that answered my three year old prayer. The first chapter just triggered a thought process which simply placed the answer inside my head. I can’t explain in any other way except that it was just there. In that moment I realised the two things which allowed the Holy Spirit to work through those early disciples:
Firstly, they accepted that God had a plan for each of them and that they also accepted that whatever came their way as being part of God’s plan – both good and bad. Secondly, they had learned how to empty themselves of all selfish ambition. As a result of these two factors, these two acts of yielding to God’s will, God was able to fill them completely with His Holy Spirit. What we refer to as the signs and wonders are simply the overflowing of His Spirit in their lives. The emptier they were of themselves, the more of the Holy Spirit was poured into them. This is why Ananias and Sapphira died when challenged by Peter. This is why people were healed when they were in Peter’s shadow. He had emptied himself so utterly, so completely that the Holy Spirit simply flowed out of him, and because He is Holy nothing could stand in His presence. No lies, no deceit, no sickness, no disease, no demons. Everything fled from His presence because He is light and darkness has to flee. If you’re not convinced by this theory then read the two accounts I mentioned and apply what I have written. You can find the account of the death of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11, and Peter’s shadow in Acts 5:15. It is brokenness that allows the Holy Spirit to function in us, just as David confirms:
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart – these, O God, You will not despise.” [Psalm 51 NKJV]
Now, I firmly believe that what I have just shared with you was an answer from God about the state of His church both then and now. Of course, it shows us something very important about the now, something that no preacher would care to admit to their congregation – that the reason why their church isn’t seeing signs and wonders is that they are too full of themselves and reject God’s plan for their life out of hand. This is a stumbling block to many. But, it is not a new stumbling block, and I’m not the first by any stretch of the imagination to receive this particular revelation. What it revealed in myself was an arrogance which I didn’t even realise was there. I had to apply what God had shown me to my own life – the reason I wasn’t witnessing signs and wonders like the early church is because I was rejecting God’s plan for my life out of hand and was too full of myself to allow His Holy Spirit to fill me to overflowing. Believe me, that is a tough revelation to swallow for yourself. It is much easier to apply it to other people. It is very easy to forget that we are all called to the same walk as those early disciples. No exception.
I will return to this subject later on, but let me get back to the point – the introduction to this series about the Mixing of the Seed. The stout hero of the 19th century whom I was referring to was Charles Spurgeon. It’s very hard not to admire his unction and his resolve in all he did, but as I have learned recently, his final years were somewhat marred by what is known as the Down-Grade Controversy. It won’t take much for you to Google the subject and get all the details but, for those of you not so inclined, here’s the rub: A series of articles were published by a friend of Spurgeon in which he outlined the way in which the gospel had been down-graded, or watered-down, since the Reformation. The articles showed strong evidence about how different splinter groups of Protestantism were formed and how each time a piece splintered off some of the power of the gospel was eroded away. Spurgeon’s friend suggested that within a generation each and every branch of Protestantism had fallen away from the true gospel. Spurgeon picked up the writing of the articles where his friend left off and continued to examine even the Baptist Union of which he was a major figure. The upshot was that Spurgeon left the Union when they refused to acknowledge the problem.
History sadly tells us that his attempts to unite all believers under a single and true gospel failed – then there were very few denominations, today there are something in the region of 40,000. Of course, what Spurgeon charged the Baptists (and others) with was absolutely no different than that which the writers of the letters of the New Testament did to their own churches – allowing false teaching and acceptance of a gospel other than the one which they first received. Spurgeon isn’t to blame for the schism. Time has shown that his reputation for being a great preacher has superseded any controversy which he was associated with. I don’t blame him for anything he said regarding the problem – in fact I heartily agree with him. I do however, believe that his solution served only to make matters worse. Let me explain.
At the time, believe it or not, the Baptist Union had no documented Statement or Articles of Faith or written doctrine. Spurgeon suggested that in order to prevent false teaching profligating throughout the Union that they should introduce one. This is man’s wisdom, not God’s. Legislation is just another branch of legalism. The moment you write it down and try to enforce its principles, the spirit in which it was written departs and the letter of the law rules over all. The Baptist Union did finally introduce a Statement of Faith. Whilst it is not a testament to Spurgeon’s efforts to unite all under a single gospel, it stands as an edifice of a testament to what man can do when he attempts to enshrine the Spirit of the gospel in the laws of men. Today the church is divided by the differences between what each denominational head office states are its Statement or Articles of Faith. This isn’t what God intended. It isn’t what Spurgeon intended. And it certainly isn’t what Paul and Peter and James and Jude and John intended.
I believe there is a better way. The purpose of this series will be to investigate that better way. This is merely a brief introduction. In the next part, however, we will first look at where it started to go wrong.