Monthly Archives: September 2013

Home groups at westminster chapel

Over recent years it has been an absolute privilege and joy to host a CityLifeGroup in our home. We have laughed, prayed, cried, and stirred one another to love Jesus more. As my wife and I anticipate heading to South Africa for three months tomorrow, we know we’ll miss our home group a lot. Here’s a little taster video made by my friend, Andy Mehigan. Some of it was filmed in our house.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/73305127 w=740&h=416]

Well, i grew up in a christian home…

Sharing your testimony is a Biblical form of evangelism. When Jesus heals the man tormented by a ‘legion’ of demons, he doesn’t allow the man to become his disciple, but instead he spins him around, pats him on the back, and tells him, “Go home to your own and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19).

However, not all of us feel that we have a story to tell – not like that man’s story. What happens if you grew up in a Christian home, gave your life to Jesus at age 4, and never looked back? Since we’re not necessarily allowed to ‘spice it up’ (i.e. throw in some stories about drugs and sex and stealing) how can we give a compelling account of what the Lord has done for us, and how he has had mercy on us?

Here are a couple of thoughts that might help:

1. Your passion is a story in itself. If Jesus is everything to you, and his love causes your heart to burst in amazement and appreciation; if you have felt the depths of his forgiveness and mercy; if you have ever meditated in wonder on the cross; if you have felt the Father’s embrace – if any of these things are true of you, then you have a story to tell.

It doesn’t matter to me whether a cod liver oil enthusiast came to it at a late age, having spent his former years denouncing it as a vile substitute for real medicine, and then experienced a change of heart and mind at a later stage, or whether he grew up consuming his daily dose and never deviated from the path. All that matters is his enthusiasm. If he’s passionate about it, and can testify how much it has benefitted his life, I’ll listen.

However, if you can’t articulate with any passion what Jesus has done for you, I think you need to start checking your spiritual pulse. Is there any sign of life? Are you really born again?

Those of us who grew up believing, and don’t remember a time when we didn’t believe, have so many reasons to be passionate about and grateful towards Jesus. We have enjoyed grace and favour we didn’t deserve, privileges we didn’t choose, protection we weren’t worthy of. And we know Jesus now and can speak about him with enthusiasm and passion now.

2. Your parents’ story is your story. My younger brother pointed this out to me just yesterday, and I thought is was such a great insight it had to be worth blogging about.

Your testimony does not begin with your childhood, it goes further back than that. (I don’t necessarily mean that we need to start before the foundation of the world, but you could go there if you wanted to.) The testimony of me and my brothers really begins in the 1960s, long before we were born. Our parents (and grandparents on my mother’s side) have their stories of how God rescued them, and these stories are part of our stories. I’m a Christian partly because of the powerful influence of my parents, and so my testimony begins far back, when Jesus rescued them.

Some Jewish people, even to this very day, would tell their testimony like this. “We were slaves in Egypt, and God rescued us…” The stories of our forefathers are part of our story.

So, perhaps it’s time to sit down with your parents, if possible, and ask them how they came to faith? Telling your testimony may well begin by telling theirs.

A warm half-caf triple venti breve caramel capuccino

“I believe if you can learn to order a coffee at Starbucks, you can learn theological language at church.” Ed Stetzer said this when he preached at the Chapel a couple of years ago, and he has a point.

Of course, on the one hand, we need to work hard to make ourselves understood so that even newcomers walking into church for the first time won’t get totally bewildered by the new language they’re hearing. Preachers, especially, have to think about ways to fill words with meaningful descriptions, metaphors, and analogies. They have to place themselves in the pew and listen to themselves speaking, so as to make sure they are understood.

On the other hand, there are riches of truth in the Bible that simply cannot be expressed if we jettison the language of theology. The particular word Stetzer was about to unpack when he made this comment was “imputation”. What a beautiful word, if you know what it means.

Spurgeon credits a household servant for teaching him much of his theology. Now, she was either an exceptional woman, a stand-out Christian, or he lived in an age when ordinary Christians took the doctrines of Scripture seriously and were able to explain them to one another. I don’t know which is true, but I know which I’d prefer for Christians today.

Unless we work hard to understand our faith, how can we “teach one another” (Col 3:16), or raise our children in the faith (Deut 11:19), or disciple young Christians (Matt 28:18-20), or explain what makes our faith so beautiful to those who don’t yet know Jesus (1 Pet 3:15)?

If you can learn to order coffee, you can learn your theology.

Baptism in the Spirit

Reformed guys tend to argue that the baptism in the Spirit is equivalent to the work of the Spirit in us called ‘regeneration’, or the ‘new birth’. From this they deduce that all believers in Jesus (those who are genuinely born again) have already been baptised in the Spirit.

Depending on their particular degree of conservatism, they may argue for fresh fillings of the Holy Spirit as something experiential and known to you, the recipient, (check out some ‘Third Wave’ Reformed Charismatics like Wayne Grudem and Sam Storms). Or, they may simply not expect any felt experience of the Spirit whatsoever in the Christian life. You get it all at conversion. No doubt there are many nuanced positions somewhere in between.

The view that the baptism in the Spirit is something separate from conversion is not so popular among the Reformed. Lloyd-Jones held this view, and was a bit of lone voice in his day. More recently Terry Virgo and the Newfrontiers movement of churches have taken the same line as Lloyd-Jones, expecting and experiencing the baptism of the Spirit for individuals, and many fresh waves of his power as a movement of churches.

Now, the more conservative Reformed tend to be nervous that we might create two classes of Christians if we follow Lloyd-Jones – those who have not been baptised in the Spirit, and those who have. They will go to 1 Cor 12:13 (“For in one Spirit we were all baptised into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit…”) and the basic argument is that, since all the Corinthians had drunk of one Spirit, they had all been baptised in the Spirit at conversion.

I don’t see the logic. Paul is obviously writing to a church he planted (see Acts 18:1ff) and we know it was his practice to pray for all his converts to receive the Spirit (see Acts 19:1-7). So it simply doesn’t make sense to argue that baptism is regeneration based on the fact that all the Corinthians had received the Spirit. The alternative (that some had not received the Spirit) was unthinkable to Paul, since he went out of his way to make sure all believers had received the Spirit (Acts 19:2).

But not only is the case for baptism-in-the-Spirit = regeneration pretty flimsy if built on this verse, the whole drift of the book of Acts points to the doctrine that baptism in the Spirit is something separate to and distinct from conversion.

Take Acts 8 as an example. Philip preaches the gospel in Samaria, and they believe. Later, Peter and John come down and find that they haven’t received the Spirit, so they pray for them and they do. Two things are hugely important and striking from this passage:

1. The Samaritans are called believers in 8:12, and they’ve been baptised in water, but they receive the Spirit later when Peter and John pray for them (8:15, 17). Therefore, being born again does not equate to receiving the Spirit, though the new birth / regeneration is, of course, the work of the Spirit.

2. When they receive the Spirit it is such a remarkable event (details not provided) that Simon Magus, an ex-magician, wants to pay good money to have the gift that Peter and John seem to have of touching people, and those people receiving the Spirit (8:17). If it were an invisible work of God, he would hardly want to part with his cash (8:19-20); that would be a pretty rubbish magic trick.

Simon was clearly wrong in his motive, and Peter tells him so. But we shouldn’t miss the underlying point – receiving the Spirit in the book of Acts was a felt experience, so remarkable and obvious that people knew if they had or had not received the Spirit, and observers could even see it happen.

I’m getting a bit off track with the second point, and so want to get back to underlining the first; receiving the Spirit is not the same thing as being born again. Now, I’ve heard the argument that says that since this was the first time the gospel had gone to Samaria their experience was unique. Like the experience of the disciples in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost, this was a turning point in history. As the gospel went out in successive phases from Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria, then the ends of the earth, so did the promise of the Spirit. Therefore, it is concluded that the experience of these early believers should not be expected today. No, today it happens differently. Today, regeneration is baptism in the Spirit.

Huh? I’m sorry, but that simply isn’t a Biblical argument. You’ll never find a verse or passage to support the idea that “It was different then”, and it doesn’t make sense anyway. Of course, it fits nicely with church history and the weight of teaching through the centuries, where most of the dead guys we respect did not think there was an experience of the Spirit after conversion. But even so, it’s not Biblical. Dead guys are wrong sometimes.

Conclusion; Every new believer should be prayed for to receive the Spirit as part of the normal Christian birthing process (usually just before or just after baptism) and they should know when it has happened to them.