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Pastor Tim Cantrell Blesses Us with a Report from South Africa

23 August, 2017

Dear Alpha & Omega Board & Supporters,

Greetings to you in Jesus’ name from Johannesburg, South Africa.  This is a long overdue thank you letter for sending Dr. White over here for the past four years.  As I again sat there last Sunday night under his superb teaching and powerful exposition, I shed (again!) tears of heartfelt gratitude for God raising up such men for His Church, and send them to us here at the ends of the earth.  I know many pastors across the USA that would give their right arm to have James White at their church, and yet here we are on the other side of the planet getting to sit under his ministry more than once!

You need to know something of the impact his visits are having here in South Africa:

  • Watching him live in debating Muslims, respectfully reasoning with them, explaining the gospel, defending the faith.
  • Hundreds of churches, church leaders, and members, attending our biblical worldview conferences and hearing the crystal clarity and doctrinal precision of Dr. White on subjects ranging from homosexuality, the Trinity, Calvinism, transmission of the NT, Islam, apologetics, Roman Catholicism, etc.!
  • My congregation, and others in our Sola5 family of Reformed Baptist churches, getting to have Dr. White in our pulpits, expounding God’s Word so capably.
  • Countless conversations before and after meetings and over meals and car rides, picking his brain time after time, gleaning his wisdom.  What a resource!
  • All the people that purchase and read Dr. White’s books as a result of his visits here.

I’m sure there is much more I left out.  But please know how thankful we are for your generosity and investment in the gospel cause here in southern Africa, and for the ongoing ministry of Alpha & Omega and its impact for Christ around the world.

Yours very gratefully in Christ,

Tim Cantrell

Sr. Pastor, Antioch Bible Church

President, Shepherds’ Seminary

Confessions of a Former Charismatic, Part 2: Why I’m No Longer a Charismatic

In part one of this “confession,” I talked about some of my experiences as a Charismatic, including the time I encountered Benny Hinn. For the formative years of my Christian life, I fully embraced the Charismatic viewpoint. I spoke in tongues, believed that God raised up healers and prophets today, and considered churches that weren’t practicing “The Gifts” to be dead. In this second part, I want to talk briefly about why I changed my views.

Before I begin, let me be clear on this point: I believe there are many sincere, genuine Christians who are Charismatic in their pneumatology. They truly love the Lord, do much good in His name, and are trying to serve Him faithfully. I have known many such people over the years. The majority of Charismatics I’ve known would want nothing to do with the Word-Faith movement. While they might share Benny Hinn’s belief in the continuity of the Apostolic gifts, they would reject much of what he teaches with regard to health, wealth, prosperity, and would cringe at his irreverent—even blasphemous—“Holy Spirit ministry.” As a Charismatic, I never really bought into the health and prosperity teachings. What captured my attention were the supposed manifestations of God’s activity in “words of knowledge,” “slaying in the Spirit,” “speaking in tongues” and so forth.

My conversion to cessationism (for want of a better term) was not the result of a single event or a particular book. It was a process that began after I left university and started giving more time to considering the questions I had previously shelved. If God is sovereign—and I was becoming more impressed in my studies at how extensive God’s sovereignty is—why does He need to be a “gentleman,” as Benny Hinn would say? Surely He could impose the Spirit on us and have us all speaking in tongues, if that was His will for every Christian. There are examples in Scripture where God sends spirits of one kind or another without regard to people’s feelings. He sent an evil spirit upon Saul, and I’m sure He didn’t ask Saul’s permission (1 Samuel 18:10). When the church was filled with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, it was an act of God done in His timing, and in the way He desired (Acts 2:4).

Through books like A Different Gospel by D. R. McConnell, and Christianity in Crisis by Hank Hanegraaf, I became increasingly aware of the bad theology undergirding the Word-Faith movement. As I said above, many Charismatics would distance themselves from the Word-Faith teachers, but I had to wonder: would God bless bad, even heretical theology with the miraculous? If the miracles in Acts were used of God to confirm the gospel message, would God perform tongues, healings, and “slayings” to confirm Benny Hinn’s gospel? If not, then why do these things happen at Benny Hinn crusades? If the “miracles” at a Benny Hinn meeting are not of God, then could it be that the same things happening elsewhere are also not of God? How would one know?

As time went on, I found that while I still clung to a belief in the continuity of the Apostolic gifts, that belief had absolutely no impact on my life. I stopped speaking in tongues. I spent less time waiting for an audible voice of God and more time studying His Word to know His will. In short, I became a practicing cessationist. And to my shock, my Christian growth wasn’t stunted as a result! This led me to wonder exactly why I still believed in the continuity of the Apostolic gifts. What purpose did they serve in the church today? If the canon of Scripture is closed, why look for prophets with new revelation? If Scripture is everything that 2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells me it is, then what else do I need to hear from God other than the inspired Word He has already revealed?

I felt no loss at leaving the Charismatic movement behind, and I still don’t to this day. I do, however, feel sad at the wreckage I’ve seen among former Charismatics who have since left the faith. I’ve heard too many testimonies of self-proclaimed atheists who were formerly members of Charismatic churches. Our culture has a fascination for the supernatural. Popular television shows and movies betray a hunger for unexplainable manifestations, and weird, seemingly-spiritual experiences. If Christianity is nothing more than another flavor of strange supernatural stuff, then its no wonder worldly-minded people go elsewhere. And when people like the English mentalist Derren Brown can use hypnotism and other psychological techniques to fake Benny Hinn-type manifestations, we shouldn’t be surprised when people who have trusted in that kind of thing as their evidence of the truth of Christianity walk away.

A few years after my experience with Benny Hinn at the Birmingham N.E.C., I returned to that same venue, this time to see Paul McCartney in concert. The place was packed out, and Paul put on a dazzling two-and-a-half hour show. I have no doubt, that if Mr. McCartney had called me up onto the stage, I would have experienced the same kind of adrenaline rush, and light-headed excitement I felt that day with Benny Hinn. With the right set of psychological expectations, I would have been just as susceptible to being “slain in the Spirit.” I don’t say that because I’m now skeptical of Charismatic experiences, but because I have, over the years since that time, recognized those same feelings in different contexts.

Where I Am Today

I believe God can do the miraculous. He can grant someone the ability to speak a foreign language. He can heal the sick without the intervention of medicine. But I don’t believe God guarantees that He will always do this. Instead, the Word indicates we can expect persecution, tribulation, distress, and famine (Romans 8:35). Indeed, God ordains sickness and trials in order to glorify Himself (Genesis 50:20; John 9:3). And there are harsh words in the New Testament regarding those who seek signs and wonders (Luke 11:29; John 2:23-25; John 4:48).

One of our problems is that we have become so used to God’s grace in our lives, we fail to recognize the miracles He is working in our midst every day. The fact that our propensity for sin is restrained, the fact that hard-hearted sinners become lovers of God and servants of Christ, the fact that the penalty for my sin has been paid by Another—these are all miracles, no less remarkable than the raising of Lazarus from the dead. And what was the raising of Lazarus other than a sign pointing to that greater wonder: the resurrection of dead souls to new life in Christ?

My study into the gifts of the Spirit have lead me to the conclusion that the sign gifts displayed and described in the New Testament were given at that time for a specific purpose. Nothing in the Scriptures convinces me that those gifts were intended to be permanent. They served the purpose of establishing the church and validating the message of the Apostles. We have that message in Scripture, and we have the confirmation of that message in the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, testifying to us of the truth of the gospel. First Corinthians 12-14 is not a manual on how to use spiritual gifts, but was written to correct the abuse of those gifts within the church at Corinth. While those gifts are no longer functioning within the church, the truths Paul preaches regarding the supremacy of love and the necessity for order within the church are certainly applicable to us today.

I believe the Holy Spirit is alive and working within the church. His ministry is evident in the lives of believers as they grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. The unity I see between believers within my local church, and throughout the world, is evidence of the Spirit’s activity. How else could the body of Christ hold to various positions on secondary issues, and yet speak with unanimity on the essentials of the faith? How else could brothers in the Lord like James White and Michael Brown disagree in love, and defend the faith shoulder-to-shoulder? As I see lives transformed by the gospel, marriages healed, and the kingdom of God advanced, I am convinced the Holy Spirit is continuing to do His work in Christ’s church today, as He has for the last two thousand years.

I hope this brief summary of my journey is beneficial to you. May the Lord use it to help and encourage His people.

Confessions of a Former Charismatic, Part 1: Me and Benny Hinn

The venue was the National Exhibition Center in Birmingham, England, the largest exhibition center in the UK. Five of us squeezed into a small car and drove the sixty-plus miles from Hereford to what we thought at the time was the biggest spiritual event of the year. Christ for All Nations, evangelist Reinhard Bonnke’s ministry, was hosting a conference, and one of the main attractions was Benny Hinn.

This was the late 80s—1988, I believe—and for most of the British population, television consisted of four stations. And none of them was TBN. This meant the only way we would ever hear the cream of American televangelists was on video or audio cassette tapes obtained either by mail-order subscription, or at conferences. The friend who drove us to Birmingham had obtained by one of these means a video of Benny Hinn, which he had shared with our church youth group some months previously. The presentation on the tape consisted of about thirty minutes of teaching—mainly Hinn recounting how his “Holy Spirit ministry” started, and then talking about how to relate to the Holy Spirit. He’s a gentleman, Hinn taught, and won’t come unless you ask. And don’t grieve the Spirit, otherwise He’s like a child, and you’ll lose His trust. There was no trace, as I recall, of his wackier teachings that I would later be made aware of. After the talk, there followed a solid hour or more of “slaying in the Spirit,” and people getting out of wheelchairs. Although four of us in the car were students of theology (two just starting University, and my best friend and I in our last year of A-Levels), we were all charismatic in our pneumatology, and Arminian in our soteriology. Within those parameters, we found a home for Hinn. More on that later.

The auditorium was at least two-thirds full. I don’t recall who the first speaker was that morning, or what he spoke about. I do remember a refreshment break, and then hurrying back to our seats to be sure we didn’t miss any of Benny Hinn’s presentation. He came out, he taught—I don’t remember any details of his teaching, though I daresay it was largely what we’d already heard on the video—and then the show started. The organ played, he set the mood, and then started with the “words of knowledge.” A lady over there being healed of something. A man somewhere at the back has been suffering with X and the Lord wants him to know he’ll be well before he leaves. Then he began calling people up on stage. People reported healings, people were in tears, and all of them were slain in the Spirit at the touch of Hinn’s hand.

I should note at this point that I was no stranger to the “slaying in the Spirit” phenomenon. It was only five years earlier that I came to the Lord through the witness of my best friend (the same friend who sat beside me at the NEC event). Since I was not in a Christian home, his family took me under their wing, and began the work of discipling me. This sounds ideal, except for the fact that they were heavily influenced by teachers such as Oral Roberts and Kenneth Hagin, and about as deep into the charismatic movement as I have known anyone to be. My best friend’s mother was the most “on fire” of them all. His father was supportive, but not as vocal. Nevertheless, they would take me to revival meetings and church events where speaking in tongues and “slaying in the Spirit” were commonplace. I spoke in tongues, too, and I had at least wobbled in the Spirit—I had never experienced a full “slaying.” At least not yet…

Suddenly, Hinn invited anyone in the audience who wanted a healing to come down to the front of the stage. I had been having problems with my sinuses, and I mentioned that to my friend. Should I go forward? It seemed so trivial compared to the people on crutches and with misaligned legs. My friend encouraged me—why not? What’s the worst that could happen? So I did. I made my way down to the front of the stage and stood there along with probably a few hundred other people. I don’t recall if Hinn prayed over us, but I do remember him pointing at various people in the crowd and summoning them up on stage. I could hardly believe my eyes when his finger pointed at me. Me? Really? Before I knew what was happening, I was coaxed forward and helped up on stage.

From where I stood at the side, the audience seemed to melt into darkness. The lights were so bright I could only really see half the auditorium. A couple of people were ahead of me, and Hinn made short work of them. Then it was my turn. He didn’t even ask what was wrong, why I was there, what the Lord had done for me. But he was close enough that I could smell his aftershave. He looked at me and said, “The devil’s not gonna get you,” and he blew on me. I went wobbly, and it’s possible I went down. I don’t remember exactly. My next memory is sitting up at the side of the stage watching as other people came forward and were “slain.” There was definitely a vibe up there. A buzz. The feeling was something akin to a huge adrenaline rush, an intense excitement, and a feeling of light-headed clarity, all rolled into one. No-one came to check on me, or talk to me, so I made my way off the stage and rejoined my friends.

Not long after this, I started my theology studies at university. I remained a charismatic the whole time I was there, and went to “happy clappy” churches. But it was around this time that I began seriously questioning much of what I had previously assumed. If God is sovereign, why does He have to have my permission to come to me? If it’s so important that we speak in tongues, why doesn’t every Christian speak in tongues? And why do Christians have to learn how to speak in tongues? If we have the Holy Spirit, and He is sovereign, can’t He just do it for us? And what about those Christians who don’t use tongues, and aren’t charismatic? Are they really spiritually dead? If so, how come they seem to be as passionate for Christ as my charismatic friends—in some cases even more so? Since I was moving in predominantly charismatic circles, both at church and within the university’s Christian Union, I decided to set these questions to the side, resolving to study them more another time.

A few years after graduating, I stopped being a practicing charismatic. Not long after that, I turned my back on the charismatic movement altogether. In my next post, I’ll discuss some of the reasons why I walked away from my former charismatic convictions.

God Saves His Own

If you have not watched/heard the interview with Rosaria Butterfield, you must!. The next hour of free time that you have, watch this interview. It will not be an hour wasted.

Rosaria is the author of The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith

“Rosaria, by the standards of many, was living a very good life. She had a tenured position at a large university in a field for which she cared deeply. She owned two homes with her partner, in which they provided hospitality to students and activists that were looking to make a difference in the world. There, her partner rehabilitated abandoned and abused dogs. In the community, Rosaria was involved in volunteer work. At the university, she was a respected advisor of students and her department’s curriculum.

And then, in her late 30s, Rosaria encountered something that turned her world upside down—the idea that Christianity, a religion that she had regarded as problematic and sometimes downright damaging, might be right about who God was, an idea that flew in the face of the people and causes that she most loved. What follows is a story of what she describes as a “train wreck†at the hand of the supernatural. These are her secret thoughts about those events, written as only a reflective English professor could.”
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Farewell, Phil

Faithful ministers frequently have as their reward only the knowledge that they pleased their Lord and served Him diligently. It is not their aim to be lauded by men, but only to serve Christ and bless the church through service. But, there are times when the fruit of faithful diligence is readily seen and long lasting.

For seven years Phil Johnson of TeamPyro has faithfully stood before the amorphous “conversation” of Post-Modern Christianity applying propositional truth directly to its forehead. His writing has always been a pleasant mixture of pastoral insight, apologetic fervor and Pauline bite. Many have been blessed by his insight and wit, but more importantly, by his conviction that the truths of Scripture are both knowable and ought to be known.

Today, Phil is stepping down from blogging to focus on greater responsibilities. We wish him well and pray the Lord will continue the fruit of his labors in whatever form they happen to be. God bless, brother.