Called by Contact for Christ
This final piece was originally intended to round off the second volume of memoirs, which remains incomplete as I mentioned in the introduction to these relics. It brings my story up to date, and rounds off my writings to date, which is no bad thing. What happens now, not just with regard to my writing but to myself in general, is in God’s hands. Believers, pray for me please.
Early in January 1993, while still attending meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, I received a call from a man called Spencer who told me he was from an organisation by the name of Contact for Christ based in the South London suburb of Selsdon near Croydon in Surrey.
He'd got in touch with me in consequence of a card I'd filled in on a British Rail train some months previously. I tried to put him off as I recall but somehow he got round me and before I knew it, he was at my door, a neat, dapper man with a large salt and pepper moustache and gently penetrating deep brown eyes, whose youthfully slender frame belied the fact that he was probably already in his 70s, although looking at least ten years younger.
He wanted to pray with me, so I ushered him into my bedroom, where we prayed together at length. At some point - perhaps it was this very afternoon - he invited me to his home for further counselling, with the result that shortly afterwards, I found myself as a guest at his large house deep in the south western suburbs near leafy Weybridge where he asked me to make a list of sins past requiring deep repentance. Once I’d done this we spent a few hours in his living room praying over each and every one of the sins I made a note of, and there were a good few, and any one of them would have seen me damned to hell for eternity had I never come to saving faith.
It transpired that Sterling was a Pentecostal of long standing, Pentecostals being those Evangelical Christians who - along with the neo-Pentecostals of the Charismatic and Apostolic movements - maintain that the more supernatural Gifts of the Holy Spirit such as Tongues and Prophecy are still available to Believers. In this capacity, he introduced me to the magazine “Prophecy Today”, then edited by the Reverend Dr Clifford Hill, through which I came to be in contact with another contributor, the late Frank Wren of Trumpet Sounds Ministries. I wrote to Frank soon afterwards concerning various issues including my spiritual condition which alarmed him sufficiently that in the summer of 1995, he invited me to his home in a little village near Exeter in Devon called Crediton, for what is known as Deliverance Ministry, which he felt I might benefit from.
Sterling also introduced me to the conspiratorial view of history through his recommendation of the works of the late New Zealand Evangelist and writer Barry R Smith, and specifically "Final Warning" by Smith, which I subsequently bought. I should say he re-introduced me, because I'd already learned something of the conspiratorial weltanschauung through my reading of various books purchased in the years immediately prior to my becoming a Christian. Indeed, during this period, I was actively, not to say, contemptuously opposed to Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority and other aspects of the then Religious Right, especially when it embraced theories concerning the End Times, or Last Days prior to the Second Coming of Christ. In this respect - as a rabid persecutor of the Saints - I was somewhat in the mould of Saul prior to undergoing a Road to Damascus conversion and having the scales fall from my eyes.
But I'd have to wait until 2003 before fully exploring the labyrinthine world of conspiracy theories. How long these have proliferated within contemporary Christianity and elsewhere I'm not qualified to say but what is undeniable is that it wasn't until the internet revolution that they started disclosing their secrets to countless millions of hitherto unsuspecting web users. Despite the fact that they vary wildly in terms of credibility and are subject to enormous distortion and disinformation, I’d nonetheless be slow to automatically discount every single conspiracy theory, although I have no further desire to investigate them in search of an absolute truth that is of necessity unattainable.
It also transpired that Sterling was a member of the Guildford branch of the Full Gospel Businessman's Fellowship International, founded by an Armenian-American, Demos Shakarian in 1952.
Shakarian had left his native country in 1905 as part of a small group of Armenian believers, and arrived in Los Angeles a full year prior to the famous Azuza Street Revival which ignited the worldwide Pentecostal movement. They'd done so in response to an 1852 prophecy on the part of a godly child of Russian origin by the name of Efim Gerasemovitch Klubniken, which warned of a coming cataclysm for the Armenian people, and when Klubniken warned that the latter was imminent in 1905, many left Armenia for Los Angeles.
Shakarian founded the FGBMFI a full century after the original prophecy with only 20 fellow believers, by which time he was working as a dairy farmer, and yet today, it's active in some 150 countries across the world, and can even boast a rival organisation, which came into being following Demos' death in 1993 (at which point his son Richard took over as leader), in the shape of the Business Men's Fellowship.
The Full Gospel – as contained within the name of the FGBMFI - is that upheld by Christians within the Pentecostal family of churches, including the Charismatics, in the understanding that the Gospel is made more complete through emphasis on the more overtly supernatural gifts – or charisms – of the Holy Spirit.
One of the family's forefathers - and arguably the patriarch of the three great waves of Pentecostalism - was the famous English divine John Wesley, who while never disassociating himself from either The Church of England nor the Reformed tradition, went against the grain of both in certain extremely vital respects.
His emphasis on personal Holiness went on to exert a colossal influence on the evolution of Pentecostalism, and of course the Holiness movements that preceded it. These included the Salvation Army and the lesser known Church of the Nazarene, which are both spiritually Wesleyan in so far as they uphold such doctrines as Conditional Salvation, or the ability of the Believer to make a shipwreck of his faith and so lose his or her salvation...which runs contrary to traditional Reformed or Protestant theology. Indeed, few men in history have done more for the cause of Arminianism - named after the Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius - than John Wesley.
Wesley's was a truly Biblical Arminianism with a powerful emphasis on personal Holiness, bequeathed to several generations of churches up to and including the early Pentecostals. It lives on to this day not least among Pentecostals devoted to a return to the Classical model, such as those of the Alliance of Biblical Pentecostals...as well as various fundamental Arminian groups including the Fundamentalist Wesleyan Society, and the Society of Evangelical Arminians.
At the same time, like Arminius, John Wesley never saw himself as anything other than Reformed, a word now almost completely associated with Calvinism, Calvinists being those Christians who've traditionally subscribed to what is known as the Doctrines of Grace - or Five Points of Calvinism - which stem from the Protestant Reformation. According to these doctrines, God predestined a limited Elect of men and women to be saved and that this election is unconditional, given Man's total inability to respond to the Gospel without Grace, which is irresistible, and that salvation is irrevocable.
Calvin was himself powerfully influenced by Augustine of Hippo (345-430), the great North African Church Father who was an early proponent of a type of Christian determinism known as Predestination. This is based on the belief that God has foreordained every minute detail of history from the foundation of the world, including who would come to salvation in Christ, and who would be passed over. Double predestination, which was emphasized by John Calvin involves God's active reprobation - or rejection - of the non-Elect. Up until Augustine, the majority of Church Fathers were advocates of the doctrine of Free Will, later revived by Jacobus Arminius and John Wesley.
Some Calvinists are what is known as supralapsarian, from the Latin lapsus meaning fall. They believe that God's Elective Decree occurred prior to the Creation and Fall, and that it was accompanied by the reprobation of the non-elect. Calvin himself was a supralapsarian. Others, known as infralapsarian, maintain that Election followed the Fall. Most have been supporters of double predestination, thereby allegedly forming part of the largest group within Reformed theology.
Calvinist Churches became known as Reformed in Germany, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, and Presbyterian In Britain and the nations colonised by British Presbyterians such as the United States, Canada, Australia and so on. Their faith was expressed in written confessions, or creeds, such as the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession of Faith, and the Canons of Dordt, as well as the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Westminster Catechisms. All are in essential agreement, together with the Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689, which has been upheld by Calvinist Baptist churches to this day.
Calvinism received the most devastating wound of its history when, after having been employed to defend Predestination from the attacks of one Dirck Volckertszoon Coornhert, the aforesaid Arminius, a Reformed theologian born Jacob Harmeszoon in Utrecht in 1560, began to have doubts about the validity of Predestination himself and so to lay the ground of what ultimately became known as Arminianism. However, no doctrine was formulated in his lifetime, and he himself remained loyally bound to the Reformed tradition within Christianity.
After Arminius' death, his followers became known as the Remonstrants. They maintained Election doesn't involve reprobation, and is in accordance to God's foreknowledge of who will and who won't come to saving faith under the influence of God's universal or Prevenient Grace, rather than as a result of Predestination. They also maintained that salvation is for everyone who responds according to their own God-given power of choice, and that far from being eternal as the Calvinists believe, it can be shipwrecked and finally lost. The only one of the Five Points of Calvinism which they upheld was Total Depravity, although for them, this didn't involve a total inability to respond to the Gospel.
They expressed their beliefs through the Five Articles of Remonstrance. However, the Synod of Dordrecht of 1618-'19, which had been organised for the express purpose of condemning Arminius' theology, declared both the theology itself and its followers anathemas, before drawing up the Five Points of Calvinism, and expelling all Arminian pastors from the Netherlands. But unbeknown to them, Arminianism was destined to ultimately triumph over its rival, so that by the end of the 20th Century it was by the far the most dominant of the two rival belief systems.
Healthwise, I was in fairly good shape throughout the early part of '93, although if my memory serves me faithfully, there was a distinct lack of sensation in my legs, and for a time I was subject to terrifying panic attacks which seemed to me to anticipate impending unconsciousness and even death, and which would be triggered simply by leaving the confines of my house. I controlled these with diazepam. When I suddenly and for no good reason switched from the latter to a powerful sedative known as heminevrin within a few weeks of attaining sobriety, I felt quite inconceivably awful for a few hours and seriously thought I might collapse at any moment and die, but in time these deathly sensations subsided.
Soon after weaning myself off the valium, I lost my taste for cigarettes, with the result that I've barely smoked in 17 years. Was it a coincidence that one of the issues addressed during my initial prayer time with Sterling was my continuing addiction to nicotine? I don't think so somehow. Sterling wanted me to join himself and his wife Gloria at their little family church in West Byfleet, but realising that it would probably be too far for me to travel to each Sunday, he gave his blessing to a church based in nearby Esher, also in Surrey, which was then named Cornerstone Bible Church, but which has since been renamed Cornerstone The Church, and which then as now, was affiliated with the much debated Word of Faith movement.
By 1996, I'd moved from Cornerstone to the Thames Vineyard Christian Fellowship, undergoing part of the Alpha course through them at weekly cell group meetings near my home. By this time I was serving as a part-time actor, musician, writer, etc., with a Christian theatre company called Street Level, based in the tough multicultural district of Croydon on the borders of Surrey and South London. During my time with them, the panic attacks briefly returned, possibly in consequence of my working all day without taking any food, which alarmed my fellow workers.
I was the ultimate baby Christian, and I accepted everything blindly until 2002, when I underwent a long voyage into the heart of the faith, as well as the myriad conspiracy theories flourishing at the time both within Christianity and beyond, significantly perhaps as a result of the proliferation of knowledge and information occasioned by the rise and rise of the World Wide Web.
But in the ten years or so preceding this period, I was as trusting as an infant. This naivety reached an apex around about the turn of the decade and I can recall one evening when there was a storm raging outside, and yet I was convinced that unless I turned up for band practice for the Sunday morning service I'd be in danger of losing my salvation. Within a few months of the beginning of 2001, however, I started feeling I could no longer maintain the high standard of church attendance - which also included a weekly House Group and music practice - I'd set for myself, and so to stay away on occasion from Sunday church meetings. Then, my beloved church folded, and I made a brief return to Cornerstone, remaining there until about September 2002.
It was at this point when, having suffered from extraordinarily low levels of energy since the onset of the spring of that year, I started visiting multiple websites, thereby discovering for the first time since my conversion that some Born Again Christians see themselves as either Calvinists or Arminians, while others refuse all such labels, some subscribe to Covenant Theology, others to Dispensationalism, some believe that the Saints (all born again Believers) will be raptured prior to the Great Tribulation, while others are convinced that the Rapture will occur after this tribulation, clearly described by Christ himself in , and so on and so forth.
Furthermore, as stated earlier, I also became increasingly apprised of the nature of what could be called Conspiracy Theory, that is, further to my acquaintanceship of the same through such authors as Frank Wren, founder of Trumpet Sounds Ministries, and Barry R Smith, widely revered as a prophet and evangelist within Pentecostal and Charismatic circles and possibly also beyond them. I feel no further need to venture into this tortuous labyrinth in which so much contradiction and misinformation exists, although that does not mean that I automatically discount all Conspiracy Theories, far from it.
In a message recently posted by a listener to the Sermon Audio website regarding a study by erstwhile broadcaster Scott A Johnson, he described one aspect of Conspiracy Theory related to the identity of the Antichrist as a "mind trap", and while I'm inclined to agree with him to a degree - as so much contradiction and misinformation and plain absurdity exists as I see it within its tortuous confines - I would in no wise automatically discount every Conspiracy Theory, given that the Bible clearly states that in the Last Days, perilous times will come, and there is in my view sufficient evidence in terms of contemporary world events for me to propose that these are indeed the last days prior to the Second Coming of Christ. What's more, among those Believers currently endorsing a conspiratorial view of history and culture from a Biblical perspective, there are many for whom I have the greatest regard. I greatly admire those who have been called to be Watchmen in these perilous times, although I do not consider myself to be sufficiently mature in a spiritual sense to be named among them.
Once released from the aptly named Liberty Christian Church, I rejoined my very first congregation, Cornerstone, where I remained until the end of 2002 when, in consequence of internet research related to the origins of both the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements, I decided to explore churches existent beyond their confines, but by the end of the year I'd returned to the fold, determined to start attending services at my local Church of God. This was in consequence of several e-mail conversations I'd enjoyed with an ordained minister of the Pentecostal Church of God (Cleveland) whose online ministry was - and still is - committed to what he would consider to be discernment in an age of far reaching error and compromise affecting the visible Church. In my view, his is one of the most trustworthy of the many Discernment Ministries I encountered during my year of non stop research, although sadly, I never made it to the Church of God.
Instead, between 2002 and 2008, I bounced from one church to another, unable to settle in any of them, beginning in '03 with Bethel Baptist Church, situated in Wimbledon in west London, and affiliated to the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist movement, which I came across through the Sermon Audio website, and specifically IFB pastor David Cloud of Way of Life Ministries, and various other non-Charismatic fellowships.
I didn't officially become a member of any church, however, until early 2009, when I was granted membership of Duke Street Church, a Grace Baptist fellowship situated close to Richmond Green in the picturesque south western suburb of Richmond-on-Thames. The Grace Baptists, who are quite generously represented in the affluent suburbs of SW London such as Richmond, Twickenham and Teddington subscribe to the Five Points of Calvinism, unlike their Independent Fundamentalist counterparts. They tend to be passionately opposed to Calvinism, while refuting the Arminian label...and justly so, given that a key IFB tenet is a belief in Eternal Security, also known as the doctrine of Once Saved Always Saved, which doesn't square up with classical Arminianism.
Yet, by the time of the completion of this piece, which is to say October 2010, I was regularly attending service at a church which while Anglican is also strongly Evangelical and Charismatic, and therefore far from the common view of a Church of England or Episcopalian church. Furthermore, I’ve no intentions of doing any further church hopping. Could I have found my spiritual home at long last? Time alone will tell.
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