Tuesday, April 3, 2007

journey into holiness by an unholy ex-reprobate

posted in 2005

How I love that old Pentecostal confession: "I thank God for saving, sanctifying and filling me with the Holy Ghost." You never hear it anymore. The old confession of faith. How wonderful .. !

I will someday publish my own testimony of how I came to Christ but for now, I will just say that I came into the Church of God in 1980. My first pastor preached that confession and preached it well while he was still serving in the pastorate. Some of the older saints in the church were from Churches of God in the South (my homechurch was in Chicago Metro) and would still stand up and testify that they were saved, sanctified, and filled with the Holy Ghost .. I would often wonder at what they meant, as a young babe. Glory to God, through His Spirit and Word I know better now.

Thank God for these wondrous Bible truths that the Spirit has laid on us to confess! Because they so wonderfully summarize what I have always believed has been the rock solid foundation of Pentecostal doctrine .. and what gets the job of true Christian discipling done. To follow that way isn't glamorous - never has been and never will be. It will always cost true disciples their blood, sweat and tears. It will demand a separation and a price to be paid that the flesh will not give up easily. But it gets the job done.

I learned this, thank God, very well as God's Spirit drew and dealt with me as I struggled to live "right" without quite understanding what "right" was. You need to understand that my struggle as a naive ex-Catholic pagan to first of all UNDERSTAND what in the world this "tongue talking" stuff was all about was never answered to my satisfaction during the two and half years after I came to Christ in February 1981. You need to understand that without anyone telling me so, without any Pentecostals slapping hands on me, I just felt a profound hunger and desire to embrace this bizarre, weird, otherworldly reality sought that involved physical manifestations and speaking in tongues that were completely alien to my Catholic background. I both feared and desired it enormously. There was an intuitive longing for what we now know as "the baptism" after I was first touched by God with saving grace back then.

I could never explain it, but something just drove me to seek an encounter with this frightening, unknown reality. There was something there I knew I just HAD to touch, but I could never ever put it in words. But at every juncture, no matter how many times I wept, cried, pounded the altars, "nothing happened."

I remember one night at the Jacksonville Beach Church of God (when I was attached to a ship in the Navy homeported in Mayport, Florida only a couple miles away)how I literally saw, with eyes shut tight during a worship service, a honest-to-God vision: an indescribable blaze of flaming glory before me beckoned me to embrace it. But as shaken to my core I was to see it, that overwhelming compulsion to spring upon it seized me, and as I sought to rise to my feet to walk to where it seemed to be in the front of the church, a literally tangible blackness arose before me and blocked my view of it and yet again froze me solid.

To make a long story short, I later learned what this meant for me (and I haven't had many visions like that since, I guarantee) .. the Comforter was ready to pour upon me, and yet there was one little matter that needed to be dealt with .. my SANCTIFICATION. The darkness was - I would realize later - a very bitter hatred of my father that I had for his absolute and utter failure to be any kind of meaningful presence in my family's lives, and this sinful attitude simply had to be confessed, repented of and renounced before my vessel could be meet for the Master's use.

It was what was keeping me cut off from the living water I thirsted for .. and until that was dealt with, He would not bless with His Baptism. That is why, I think, many are not baptized in the Spirit with the initial evidence of speaking in tongues .. because they have not yet become completely yielded vessels to Him. That is partly why I am such a strong advocate of the preaching of the graces of salvation, sanctification and the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the initial evidence of speaking in tongues.

Later, the Spirit dealt with me about this bitterness, which I repented over, forgiving my father in an unforgettable moment of death to my self aboard my ship. And two days later, a brother Archie Webb called me out in a Family Training Hour in mid December 1982, by the word of knowledge indicating that I had been seeking the Baptism, and THAT night, I would receive. I was skeptical, weary, but I obediently sought the Lord. And through a stammering lip and another tongue, not ten minutes later, the Shekinah poured into me, and my life was never, never, the same ... Later, as I studied the Bible I found the Scripture that explained what happened to me and found them literally jumping off the page into my heart. Oh, praise GOD!

All of this so radically changed my life! I never looked at the world, nor walked in the Spirit the same again.. I learned from the Bible that the Baptism of the Spirit was given to empower for Christian service, to be a witness for Christ, and was a divine visitation of the fulness of the Godhead within our weak human vessels! GLORY! what a truth! It still makes me dizzy ..

I am afraid that this precious Biblical blessing is a priceless spiritual legacy that we are losing in the Church of God (Cleveland). The tenuous balance the COG (and other Pentecostal denominations) once had in trying to apply these concepts to a practical Christian lifestyle is fast teetering over the brink of extinction. We have always historically preached that three fold confession but have never historically well articulated it to the people in our movement. Without that, the process of distinctively Pentecostal spiritual formation (read that DISCIPLESHIP) has been almost terminally choked by our full gospel traditions and outright errors.

Sadly, we never, as a denomination, have ever come to a Biblical unity over what sanctification is, so - IMHO - we have seen the trend today of preaching salvation .. then "getting the Holy Ghost". Sanctification has been relegated to the dusty file cabinets behind the church parsonage as a messy, sticky tangle nobody wants to talk about anymore since it cause SO MUCH DIVISION (part of the cultural LIE we have swallowed which demand that we don't Make Waves but be "Moderate").

And unfortunately this is a trend that is all too easily discernable. When is the last time ANY of you heard the doctrine of sanctification CLEARLY spelled out, proclaimed, and consistently applied in a Christ-centered, sensitive, yet uncompromising program of Christian discipleship ANYWHERE?

When I left my church in 1986 to come to the Holy City (Lee-bound), I honestly can say that I never heard one single sermon on Sanctification in all the dozens of Lee college chapels (and four convocations) I attended until the Spring of 1988, when Mark Rutland visited and in love pinned our ears back. "Amazing, brothers!" I kept saying all the way back to homiletics class, unable to hold in my own astonishment any longer .. "amazing! It takes a Spirit filled Methodist to tell us Holiness people what living right MEANS." And it took 9 more years for me to again hear a sermon on the subject at my home church (and I have since lost the tape of it I bought, but I assure you that as soon as I find it, I'm going to lock it in a vault).

In my humble opinion, the present day Pentecostal movement still has yet to fully grasp what holiness really is and is perilously teetering between the two extremes of legalism or license. With all I have seen go on in the Pentecostal and Charismatic worlds in the past 20 years, I can only further submit that we might not be able to right ourselves anymore. I seriously question if passion for holiness still is what's behind the "passion" of much of the church today. But without it, the Bible says, no man will see the Lord.

In that case, Christians, follow the direction of the first altar call in the Bible, from the first herald of Pentecost, brother Peter:

Acts 2:40

No comments: