This is the first in a brief series about my own journey through the Charismatic movement. Please forgive the autobiographical bent, but I hope to use my own story to demonstrate the folly and damage done by the Charismatic movement in it’s early days. It’s much worse now! But even back in the 1970’s, witness one believer’s devastation.
When I first heard the gospel of Jesus, I was eight years old. It was in a Good News Club, held at a schoolmate’s house nearly right across the street from my Elementary school. I couldn’t say no to Him. In fact I was delighted with the idea of being adopted by God Himself, and becoming Jesus’ little brother!
Being the only believer in Christ in a large, blended household, I got no guidance as to what to do next after receiving Christ, but I knew that Jesus People went to church. So I got rides to church from the family that hosted my Good News Club. It was a little independent Presbyterian church about 5 miles or so from my house. Too far for an 8-year-old to walk, but I actually did walk there many times in during the next few years. I brought a few other members of my household to church and introduced them to Christ there.
Fast forward to middle school. Almost a teenager, I always looked up to the high school kids and wanted so much to be cool like they were. But mostly, I wanted to be “on fire for God” like they were! They talked about God all the time. Not only in church but everywhere they went. They were completely in love with Jesus and determined to be fully His. They were perfect, powerful, sanctified, pure and holy saints in my eyes. But I was struggling just to make sense of the bible. Prayer was my strong suit, probably owing to the hardships I faced in school and at home. Asking God for stuff was easy. Working to understand and apply His word was hard. But these super-saintly older kids had it down pat somehow, and when I kept asking over and over again what their secret was, I was finally given access to The Secret. And I was told that I must tell no one outside the elites in the youth group, because “our church doesn’t believe in this stuff and we could get thrown out.”
I was stunned that any church could condemn and outlaw whatever it was that could make teenagers so wonderfully dedicated to God and burning with passion for Him! Why wouldn’t every Christian want to know, and be on fire for God too? I was soon to find out why their secret was so divisive and dangerous. And soon after that, the pastor of the church joined us. And not long after that, all of us – including the pastor – were kicked out of the church. We kids called our secret “Holy Spirit baptism.” The pastor called it “second blessing.” The church called it heresy.
The church was like,
and the older kids, now “outed” for standing with their pastor, were like,
And I was like,
“Holy Spirit baptism,” according to the supercharged, on-fire-for-God kids that I so much wanted to be like, is a second “experience,” following regeneration and conversion, in which a qualified seeker receives the Holy Spirit in greater measure, empowering the recipient with power for supernatural service to God and to the Church. And they really did mean supernatural. One might get the gift of healing, or miracle-working faith, or special wisdom and knowledge, or prophecy. But everyone got a special, devil-proof “prayer language.”
I didn’t “search the Scriptures to see whether these things were so (Acts 17:11).” I just figured they had to be so, since all the super-spiritual, on-fire-for-God kids had received it. I had even heard some of their prayer language, and it seemed completely believable and sensible. I wanted this power, and my prayer language, more than anything!
Our defrocked pastor moved back up North somewhere and we never heard from him again. Most of the super-spiritual kids went off to college or got jobs in other towns, or got married and moved on. Being the youngest of the Black Sheep from our old church, and still in middle school, I was suddenly without a church and any way to look for one. But fairly near my house was a Pentecostal church. I had heard that they were really on fire for God and had their prayer language too, so I visited one Sunday. But they scared the snot out of me with their excesses and I ran out of there like a scalded dog. All alone again. Little lonesome sidekick.
Just at the time I was praying desperately for a church that was on-fire but not artificially so, three bible teachers came to our town with a vision for a city-wide church, just like in the bible! We were going to make “the church in Fort Lauderdale,” just like “the church at Ephesus,” “the church at Thessalonica,” and “the church at Phillipi.” One big church, undivided, all with Spirit baptism and supernatural gifts just like in the book of Acts! Everyone knows Ephesus didn’t have a Baptist church, a Lutheran church, a Presbyterian church and all that. There was one church in a city. One glorious, powerful, militant, world-changing church in every city where God was really moving. Ours would be the first citywide church since the first century! It would be a jumping-off point for worldwide revival that would hasten the Second Coming. All the cool kids I wanted to be like would miss out on this “ground floor” move of God, but I got to be right in the thick of it. I was thrilled beyond words! But it was okay, because I would soon have my own new prayer language to perfectly express my gratitude to God.
Stay tuned for Part Two, next Theology Thursday. I’ll tell you all about Holy Spirit baptism and the Shepherding movement in Fort Lauderdale.