Satan knows that Spiritless evangelicalism is as deadly as Modernism or heresy, and he has done everything in his power to prevent us from enjoying our true Christian heritage. A church without the Spirit is as helpless as Israel might have been in the wilderness if the fiery cloud had deserted them. The Holy Spirit is our cloud by day and our fire by night. Without him we only wander aimlessly about the dessert.
~ A.W. Tozer
Last year, when I shared a little with you about my journey to discovering the Holy Spirit, I wasn’t prepared for the spiritual battle that followed this revelation. In fact, at the time I wrote this post, I wasn’t even aware of the reality of spiritual warfare and how absolutely critical it is to be adequately prepared and equipped.
In this post, I want to share with you more about the path the Lord took me on and the intense internal struggle that followed. This is just a small first part of my testimony of growing up in Christ…
I grew up in a Baptist family. My father was an ordained Baptist pastor who loved the Lord and continues to sincerely love and serve our Father.
We have not always seen eye to eye, particularly in matters of established church rules such as dress codes, (which I found to have no biblical basis). But through the years of living under my parents’ roof I tried to be obedient as best I could (except the times when I rebelled, of course).
However, as far as theological dogma was concerned, I never questioned the cessational point of view on the Holy Spirit and His miracle gifts. In fact, I remember sincerely believing that us, baptists, were the most “truest” Christian denomination, that Pentecostals were misinterpreting the Scriptures, and that Charismatics were off their rockers completely. In my world, there were these three major Christian denominations – Baptists, Pentecostals, Charismatics – and I was proud of being a Baptist.
Thankfully and by the grace of God, the Holy Spirit was working in my heart. The Lord led me through circumstances that were slowly changing the above worldview.
My husband and I left the church we grew up in after a series of events left us with no other choice. The most important brothers (from МСЦ ЕХБ) were called all the way from Russia to come and resolve a church conflict that arose from mishandling of the church finances by the senior pastor of our church (not my father).
It was determined that the church would need to go through “cleansing and sanctification” (очищение и освящение). Those members that participated in this process would retain their membership and those that refused to participate would be “erased from the church membership list.” At this point, both my husband and I believed this practice to be unbiblical, and moreover, we simply could not stay in a church where the senior pastor was unrepentant of his sin.
In reality, the “cleansing” proved to be a convenient way for us to leave without all the drama of standing before the church and explaining all of the reasons why we chose to leave.
But we weren’t ready to leave behind everything we grew up in just yet. We visited a few other Slavic Baptist churches in the area, as well as a few local “American” churches.
We really liked two of the American churches, but didn’t think we would be completely comfortable serving in those churches because, as my husband would say, “you just can’t take the Slavic out of you.” Moreover, there was pressure from both of our parents to “go to any Russian Baptist church” and to stay away from the American churches.
So we became members of another local Slavic church (Grace Family Church) while simultaneously attending a nondenominational American church (Bridgeway Christian Church).
We loved the in-depth expository teaching at Bridgeway, and we loved the transparency of the Bridgeway pastors. It was completely foreign and at the same time refreshing to hear the senior pastor talk about his own struggles and encouraging the church members to be like the “good Bereans” were – to test everything they hear from the pulpit by the Scriptures.
However, we continued to attend the Slavic church. This was a more “liberal” church compared with the one we left, but it also held to a cessationist theology on the Holy Spirit. I continued watching Bridgeway sermons online.
The final push to leave Grace Family Church was when its senior pastor was arrested for soliciting a prostitute. The news was all over Sacramento. Throughout the entire ordeal he maintained his innocence (and he continues to function in his senior pastor role to this day). I staunchly defended the pastor, asking everyone not to declare the man guilty until due process takes place – “innocent until proven guilty”. However, the facts proved otherwise. In the face of an overwhelming amount of evidence, particularly an audio recording by the undercover deputy, the pastor pleaded “no contest,” sentenced to take a two-day class for “Johns” and to pay a fine.
This was “the straw that broke the camel’s back” for us. I absolutely do not believe that the Lord created the above circumstances to lead us to Bridgeway, but He definitely used them for His purposes for our lives.
As a result, we became more open to the possibility of becoming members at an American church. I am in no way saying that the problem lies in Slavic churches, but that the issues we were seeing in the churches we were a part of were severe enough for us to be open to an idea of God leading us to an American church.
We also became more critical of teachings heard from the church pulpits. We had learned to be like the Bereans in Acts 17:11, daily examining the Scriptures to see if the teachings line up with God’s Word.
As you can hopefully see by now, our decision to leave the Slavic churches was not taken lightly. More importantly, we would have most likely remained in the Slavic churches had the pastors of those churches been repentant of their sin.
Unfortunately, this was not the case in both of the above circumstances. Unfortunately, politics and the love for authority and power took over. Unfortunately, we see the same kind of issues in many churches. Unfortunately, the church members who support those church leaders are either blinded by their adoration of the person, or they are too comfortable with the status quo, or they translate the legal procedural findings as “Christian persecution,” as it was in the latter case.
This is partly why I was led to expose these kind of issues in the Slavic community in some of my previous posts. The young generation that is growing up sees these issues and sees the leaders who are power-hungry and who care more about their status within the Slavic community than living out the Gospel. They see religion and all the dirty stuff associated with it – politics, power, control, etc.
In hindsight, I can see that had I known what I know now about spiritual warfare, I would pray more for the pastors. Had I known then what I know now about how the enemy works, attacking those who are at the frontlines of the spiritual battle, I would most likely intercede more on behalf of the church leaders, praying for protection against the enemy attacks.
At the same time, however, how could I know about spiritual warfare if it wasn’t even a part of an accepted teaching? Would I have discovered the amazing functions of the Holy Spirit that are overlooked by those who teach cessationism?
By the time we started to regularly attend Bridgeway, I was desperate to know God more. The hunger for His Word was intense. I read the Bible daily with a new-found passion. I watched the Bridgeway archived online sermon series titled “Awakening” on the book of Isaiah. I prayed, repenting for all the times I have been living a life of religion, misrepresenting my Jesus and what He had done for me. The Holy Spirit was working in my heart and preparing me for a day I will never forget.
We were on a much needed getaway in the mountains. My sister and her husband (who was born in a Pentecostal family) were vacationing with us. A heated discussion took place between my sister’s husband and I on the miracle gifts of the Holy Spirit, particularly the prophecy and speaking/praying in tongues.
While defending my cessationist position with the same arguments I have heard from Slavic Baptist teachers and cessationists like John McArthur, I grabbed my Bible with an intent to prove to my sister’s husband once and for all that his theology was wrong.
As I was reading the all too-familiar passages from Acts, 1 Corinthians 12:1-31, and especially 1 Corinthians 13:9-12, it hit me like a thunder in the middle of a sunny day. I couldn’t find what I was so desperately trying to prove from the Scriptures – mainly that the miracle gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased to function after the end of the apostolic church.
Cessationism theology just wasn’t there.
Shortly after that fateful day, our senior pastor led a 6-week course on the Holy Spirit and the miracle gifts.
I was getting to know my Father more.
I was learning about my new identity in Christ.
I was beyond excited to learn that He had sent the Holy Spirit to enable us, his body of believers to advance His Kingdom on earth.
Yes, the Holy Spirit has many functions – to comfort, to convict, to bring people to the knowledge of God, etc. These are very important functions. However, I was realizing that my erroneous view that the miracle gifts have ceased put a limit on how God could work and move through me.
I started to pray for people to be healed.
As a nurse, I silently prayed for my patients’ healing. As a mother, I started to pray for my children to be healed every time they got sick. As a daughter, I prayed for my mom to be healed when her back pain was severe. As a sister, I prayed for my brother to be healed from a disability that affected his entire life from the time he was born.
That is how the Lord led me to be on a prayer team at Bridgeway. I was convicted of not following through with the Great Commision Jesus had given us prior to ascending to heaven (Mark 16:15-18).
I desperately wanted to pray for my mom’s back to be healed but knew that there would be resistance from my father. He would bring up James 5:14 in his defense that I can’t pray with authority for anyone’s healing.
So I went to pray with the Bridgeway prayer team members before heading out to my parents’ house. During praying with two prayer team members, not only did the Lord strengthen me, but He also confirmed that I was on the right track. I was also invited to be on the prayer team. (I did pray for my mom’s healing later, while my father refused to pray with me following his own conviction).
Things were happening with a fast pace from then on. I witnessed one miraculous healing and one deliverance from evil spirits while praying with a dear sister in Christ at Bridgeway.
I was also convinced and had faith that God was going to miraculously heal my brother. I repeatedly prayed for his healing. There was no doubt. I knew God was going to heal him one day. I didn’t know when, but kept praying and expecting the miracle to happen any day.
My mom even had a conversation with me one day. She was concerned that if the miracle didn’t happen, I would become disillusioned and disappointed in God and would lose my faith. She shared with me her own experiences when God miraculously healed her heart condition many years ago. She also told me how she had pleaded with the Lord to heal my brother when he was a baby; however, the healing didn’t happen. My response was that God’s timing is perfect and that I am sure my brother is going to get healed.
I kept praying for my brother and I prayed for other people. The pressure from my parents to rethink my position, coupled with the absence of healings in those I prayed for, created an opening for doubt. I wasn’t as sure anymore of whether I could pray for healing as a woman believer. We also moved away from the city to an isolated place in the mountains. It became difficult for us to make the hour drive to our home church.
I stopped praying.
This time was one of the darkest times I had ever experienced as a believer.
I felt isolated and deserted. I felt that God didn’t care. I began to question His goodness. Why would He move us away from everyone in the first place? Why didn’t He heal my brother yet?
There is a song that describes exactly what I was going through at that time. Every time I listen to it now, I’m filled with wonder at how my faith was sustained even in the midst one of the darkest periods of my life:
I was taken to a place of complete surrender yet again.
I was starting to learn to stand on God’s Word and His promises despite the enemy’s lies.
I was learning more and more about spiritual warfare.
I was realizing just how unequipped I was to fight in the full-blown battle that was waged against me. I believe the enemy began to see me as a more serious threat. He wanted to stop me.
And he almost succeeded…
But I began to lean on God’s Word and His promises again, although it was difficult to do, not knowing how long we were going to live in an isolated area. But complete surrender meant full surrender to His will, and I knew He wanted us to move in the first place. I just didn’t know for how long.
I am so happy that it didn’t take long! Six months later, we moved back to the city much closer to our dear home church. I began having a burden and the urgency to be involved with the prayer team again.
So I started to pray about it. At this point I didn’t feel comfortable praying for people to be healed with authority. I felt that I could only pray a pleading prayer, similar to “God, IF it’s your will, please, heal this person.”
The internal turmoil was intensified as I searched the Scriptures and read “Authentic Fire: A Response to John McArthur’s Strange Fire” by Dr. Michael L. Brown.
Finally, I cried out to the Lord, “I need clarity, Father. Please, give it to me! Answer in whatever way You think is best!” And I believed He would.
He never disappointed before and He wasn’t about to disappoint me now…
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