My apologies for being late for Theology Thursday! We are preparing for what appears to be an imminent death in the family and life has gone topsy-turvey around here.
This is Part Two in a brief series on the Charismatic movement. Please forgive the autobiographical bent, but I want readers to know from a child’s perspective what dangers and chaos and confusion is created by this false teaching and how to help friends caught up in it.
Be sure to read Part One before you read on. This is Part Two.
In Part One I described conversion to Christ, the longing of a 12-year-old to be like some of the older kids in the youth group who were “on fire for God,” and the secret they kept that got us all thrown out of our church when it was exposed. Then followed a search for a new church and the introduction of a radical idea: The church in the city, just being birthed in my hometown by three charismatic teachers.
There were a few Charismatic churches in town that I was to learn about in my 8th grade year, but I just had to visit the one where a girl I had a crush on went. Her father was the pastor of Memorial Baptist Church. Pastor Arnold was instrumental in introducing the new bible teachers to Fort Lauderdale. I wasn’t allowed to go to church on Sundays, but I was able to get rides to Bob Mumford’s Monday night teaching sessions at Memorial Baptist Church. He taught there until the crowds grew too large and the meetings moved to the Governor’s Club Hotel downtown. I used to literally sit at Bob Mumford’s feet for lack of any other seating. And besides, all the kids sat on the floor up front and we wouldn’t have had it any other way. Bob Mumford was entertaining and wonderful, and had a special way of making mysterious teachings sound perfectly sensible.
The Monday night meetings were captivating! The entire crowd, gathered from a half-dozen Charismatic and Pentecostal churches in the area, would sing with abandon to the glory of God. No one really led the song service beyond the first song or two. After that all of the worship was spontaneous, and seemed to be choreographed by the Holy Spirit Himself. As if on cue it might suddenly get quiet, then spontaneously erupt in made-up melodies with unintelligible lyrics. It was angelic-sounding, robust yet subdued, sweet and intimate. Hands in the air, eyes closed, just “letting the Spirit overflow.” I had never seen such heartfelt worship from so many people before, so completely absorbed in rapturous ecstasy. I had seen the super-spiritual kids from my old youth group do it, but this was hundreds of people! I yearned for the intimacy with God that they seemed to have. And I was sure that “Holy Spirit baptism” was the missing ingredient in my life.
There were plenty of people around to help me get “baptized in the Spirit,” including one very attentive “prophet” who told me, “God has called you to the ministry even from the womb, and I am to be your guide.” He even tried to take me from my home to go live with him and I would have gone happily. Until I learned from an older kid that this so-called “prophet” was a pedophile who was especially attracted to vulnerable, frail-looking pre-teen boys.
Oh well. There were others to help me get this “Spirit baptism,” and I wanted it desperately. There seemed to be differences of opinion among my mentors about “how to get baptized in the Spirit,” but some of the things they all had in common were:
- Be completely pure in heart, “sold out” to God,
- Confess every last known sin,
- Pray unceasingly seeking the baptism,
- Put aside absolutely every other interest,
- Make peace with every enemy … in short,
- “Be ye perfect, even as He is perfect.”
I was far from that. I thought I needed the power of the Spirit to achieve such purity and holiness, yet my teachers pressed this spiritual perfection as a prerequisite for receiving the Spirit’s power. Had I not lost sight of the truth, that salvation of imperfect, corrupt, depraved sinners is by grace alone, I might have asked:
If it is possible to achieve such spiritual perfection without Holy Spirit baptism, then what do I need Spirit baptism for?
But alas, as in the years of darkness in the Church before the Reformation, the gospel had become obscured behind mystery, superstition, and gnostic-like seeking after “deeper experiences of God.” Years before, I had been taught that every Christian has the Holy Spirit dwelling within. And if I had kept my bible open and my mouth shut, I might have apprehended the meaning of “Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27)” and “in Him you have been made complete (2:10),” “made alive with Him (verse 13).” No, it is not possible to “qualify” for God’s grace. No one can earn the Holy Spirit by their own efforts. The best we can offer is like filthy rags to Him! Spirit baptism and having a “prayer language” were treated like some sort of merit badge for advanced Christianity. No “head-knowledge-only” Christian could possibly understand the rewards of being “Spirit-filled.”
It took nearly a year of radical, desperate prayer and pleading and seeking and crying and begging and imploring God to pleeeeeeease immerse me in His Spirit and give me my prayer language so I could truly live for Him and have the power to be like these others; effortlessly soaring far above the “ordinary” Christian who had only doctrine and catechism and orthodoxy to guide him. But then, riding my bicycle home from Rogers Middle School, I was westbound on Davie Boulevard at the intersection of SW 9th Avenue when it happened. I still remember every detail of that magical moment when my “prayer language” spilled out out my mouth through tears of joy. I jumped off my bike and danced and jumped around, singing and crying and babbling away in ecstasy for 15 minutes or more right there on the side of the busy four-lane boulevard. Looking back, I can imagine that if it had happened today, several people might have called 9-1-1 to report “an obviously mentally disturbed kid having some sort of attack or seizure or something.” Thankfully, cell phones were not in common use in 1971.
Now, at last, I thought I would never wander away from God or fail Him again. Now I had POWER, and even the devil himself couldn’t interfere with my perfect prayers, because they would by-pass my mind and go directly from my pure spirit to God’s throne (conspicuously absent from my thinking was the clear biblical teaching of prayer directed to the Father through the Son, by the Spirit), free from the interference of any evil thought that the devil might put in my head. I could be His real true faithful sidekick now that I had been baptized in the Spirit!
And speaking in tongues was to be just the beginning. Bob Mumford described it this way:
Tongues is like the ABCs. You learn them in kindergarten. But even when you’re writing you doctoral thesis in astrophysics, you still use the ABCs! It’s only that you have grown in maturity to a point where you can use them to edify others.
I knew I was on my way to something wonderful. Maybe prophecy or healing or miracle-working faith! Or maybe special knowledge from God like Pat Robertson had: “Someone named Sally has just been healed of cancer! You know who you are, because you just felt the pain go away, just now.” Or maybe I would even have the gift of discerning spirits! Then I would know the next time some false prophet was hoping to molest me, or if someone had the wrong interpretation of a message delivered in tongues. What an adventure I was starting! I had lost touch with all the super-spiritual kids from the little church I started at, but if only they could see me now! And if only that little “head-knowledge-only” church could open up to the experience of God instead of just knowing about Him!
How little I knew what was coming. How unaware I was of how far I had already strayed from the truth. If Calvary Presbyterian Church had cared enough to take us kids to the scriptures instead of just tossing us out of the church, I might have been spared from 20 years of “wilderness wandering.” But God had an even bigger plan than I could have imagined.
The great Fort Lauderdale Experiment was ready to start, and “shepherds” were already being selected and trained. For a sneak peek at the next exciting episode, click HERE!