Early in January 1993, while still attending meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, I received a call from a man 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 called Spencer 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 that very afternoon, in fact…he invited me to his home for further counselling, with the result that shortly after our first meeting, I found myself as a guest at his large house deep in the south western suburbs 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 Spencer 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. The upshot being that in the summer of 1995, he invited me to his home in the little Devon village of Crediton for what is known as Deliverance Ministry, which he felt I might benefit from.
Spencer 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 Spencer 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. This being the Business Men's Fellowship.
The Full Gospel is that upheld by Christians within the Pentecostal family of churches which includes the Charismatics, in the understanding that the Gospel is made more complete through emphasis on the more overtly supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit.
One of the family's forefathers 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.
Both are 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; and by Wesleyan, I mean Arminian, after the Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius. And few men in history have done more for the Arminian cause than England’s own beloved John Wesley.
But rather than any lukewarm variant, Wesley's was a truly Biblical Arminianism with a powerful emphasis on personal Holiness, the very type, in fact, that was bequeathed to several generations of churches up to and including the early Pentecostals.
It lives on to this day among Classical Pentecostals of every stripe, not least 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 Calvinist Christians, which is to say whose who've traditionally subscribed to what is known as the Doctrines of Grace - or Five Points of Calvinism - which stem from the Protestant Reformation. And according to which 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.
Healthwise, I was in fairly good shape throughout the early part of '93, although if my memory serves me well, 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 Spencer was my continuing addiction to nicotine? Perhaps not.
Spencer wanted me to join himself and his wife Grace 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 one based in nearby Esher, also in Surrey. This was Cornerstone Bible Church, affiliated to the famous Word of Faith movement, and specifically Ray McCauley’s Rhema Bible Church based in South Africa, which has since been renamed Cornerstone The Church. But by ‘96, I'd moved from Cornerstone to the Thames Vineyard Christian Fellowship at the behest of a passing acquaintance who’d spoken highly of the level of spiritual giftedness found therein.
Also in that year, I served as an actor, script writer and musician with a Christian theatre company by the name of Street Level, based in the tough multicultural district of Croydon on the borders of Surrey and South London. And during my time with them, the panic attacks briefly returned, possibly in consequence of my tendency to work all day without taking any food. This alarmed my fellow workers to the degree that at one point they felt compelled to drag me to a fast food restaurant, in order to try to tempt me to eat.
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 in the summer months of that year, when, suffering from quite extraordinarily low levels of energy, I started visiting multiple Christian websites, only to discover for the first time since my conversion that some believers see themselves as Calvinists or Arminians, while others still refuse all such labels.
I also discovered that while some Christians subscribe to Covenant Theology, others incline to Dispensationalism, and that while some are convinced the Saints will be caught up in the air with Christ prior to what is known as the Great Tribulation, others are convinced this event will succeed the tribulation. And are thence believers in the Post-Tribulation Rapture, and so on.
What’s more, I became increasingly apprised of the nature of Conspiracy Theory through such authors as Frank Wren, founder of Trumpet Sounds Ministries, and New Zealand author and evangelist Barry R Smith.
But I feel no further need to venture into this tortuous labyrinth in which so much contradiction and misinformation exists, although that does not mean 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, misinformation and plain absurdity exists as I see it within its tortuous confines, I’d 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 sufficient evidence in terms of contemporary world events for me to propose the possibility 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.
For instance, 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 first congregation of Cornerstone the Church…and remained with them 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 the latter’s 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 is committed to discernment in a dangerous age. And in my view, his is one of the soundest of the many Discernment Ministries I encountered during that year of non-stop research. Although sadly, I never made it to my local Church of God.
Instead, I bounced from one church to another, beginning in '03 with Bethel Baptist Church, situated in Wimbledon, West London, and affiliated to the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist movement, which I came across through the Sermon Audio website, and specifically Pastor David Cloud of Way of Life Ministries.
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, who 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 which doesn't square up with classical Arminianism.
Yet, by the time of the completion of this piece, I’d been attending services at a large Church of England fellowship in east Twickenham, which also happens to be strongly Evangelical and Charismatic…and therefore far from the common run of Anglican or Episcopalian churches.
Furthermore, I’ve no intentions of doing any further church hopping. So…could I have found my spiritual home at long last? Time alone will tell.
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