Saturday, September 24, 2005


Addictive faith

For quite some time, I've had a policy regarding issues that make me fearful: I strive to educate myself on the subject. Time and time again, I've found that learning more about a subject helps me to understand it more and thus fear it less. For instance, when I first began to notice the growing prevalence of tattooing and body piercing, I took the time to read some books on the subject as well as lurk in an Internet group for piercing/tattooing fans. Good thing, too: most of the stores I patronize for CDs and DVDs are chock full of pierced-and-tattooed employees, so it's helpful to be able to make eye contact with such a guy without whincing in vicarious pain at his pierced lip or tongue. Besides, my education proved to be more than sufficient to erase any notion of modifying my own body from my mind. :-)

Another subject which I've researched is drug addiction. Frankly, I find the very idea of addiction to be pretty scary. Contrary to what you might think, drug addicts really aren't that different from non-addicts. The only thing that makes them different from me is that God has seen fit to mercifully guard me from falling into such bondage. Besides, I think I understand a bit of what it's like to be a drug addict, because I was once addicted myself: not to drug-induced highs but to "spiritual" highs. I was addicted to my religion: the Charismatic Movement.

My life as a religious addict began like that of many addicts: as a "chipper" or experimenter. I dabbled with speaking in tongues, faith healing, etc.. It all seemed rather strange and uncomfortable at first, but yet I felt myself drawn in to the life. It seemed to be somehow mysterious and powerful. As a shy, awkward young man, I felt quite helpless and adrift in the world, so the type of empowerment that was promised by the Charismatic "baptism in the Holy Spirit" was intriguing. Still, I wasn't 100% sure that this was the right way to go, so I sat astride the fence for a season.

As the weeks went by, I continued to experiment, first tentatively but later with increasing boldness. My first breakthrough: I spoke in tongues. I had the baptism of the Holy Spirit! Once I'd broken through that hurdle, the subsequent milestones came more and more quickly. Soon I was praying for the sick and speaking words of knowledge. Also, I was having dreams and visions of things to come, including a great revival in which I was going to be mightly used by God. Oh, the excitement I enjoyed during those times, and it seemed that just when I started to get hungry for a little more, more is what I got! By the time I began to be called out in revival services to receive prophecies that God was preparing me for a mighty work, I was hooked.

What a honeymoon it was! It was a lot like the "good times" that many junkies look back on with fondness long after the ravages of addiction have taken their toll. It was a time when my spiritual gifts all worked, all of my visions and dreams seemed to be on the verge of coming true, and all of my prayers seemed to be answered in record time. It all seemed wonderful, but for one problem: I wanted more, and once I got more, I wanted even more. I was told that this was a good thing--I just wanted more of God, after all--so I saw no harm in it. Oh, I heard the occasional criticism of Charismaticism, but I knew better than to listen to the warnings and discouraging words of the non-Spirit-filled. After all, my experience proved all of their well-meaning words in error. What did they know? They didn't even speak in tongues!

However, there was a dark cloud lurking within this silver lining, and it was growing and growing and growing. You see, I'd started to build up a "tolerance." I was no longer satisfied with the "highs" that had thrilled me before. I craved for more...much more. My Pentecostal church which had seemed so "on fire" at first began to seem dead and cold, so I began to attend revival services at other churches as well as home prayer meetings that featured the extra amount of prophesying that I'd come to desire. To my pleasure, my increased dosage worked for a time. Although I'd started to have doubts about my dreams, visions, and prophecies, I received some timely "confirming words" that temporarily revived my faith in them. For the time being, at least, I felt pretty good.

But yet, something was very wrong. Oh, I had my spiritual highs alright, but I was no longer reading my Bible, and I no longer cared much about Christ except to use His Name as a means to receive answers to my prayers or to rebuke the Devil. Far from loving Christ, I'd come to love me: my spiritual gifts and my spiritual "highs."

Needless to say, this situation couldn't last forever, and it didn't. I think the long death of my addictive faith began when I heard a series of sermons that proved beyond any reasonable doubt that the Charismatic teachings on which I'd based many of my practices was founded on heretical doctrines and plagarism. My pastor, himself a Pentecostal, did all too good of a job of exposing the lies of the extreme form of Charismaticism with which I'd cast my lot. Thus began my season of doubt.

Almost immediately, I realized that I'd lost my source of spiritual joy. The practices I'd once used had been proven to be a sham, so I knew that I could no longer rely on them, but as I had no solid foundation for my faith underlying those false practices and beliefs, I was left to doubt not only my spiritual gifts, but also Christ Himself. My withdrawal had begun. Although it was spiritual rather than physical, it yet showed many parallels with what I've read of the wrenching misery of the heroin addict as he is weaned off his once-beloved dope.

In my case, I found myself in hopelessness and despair. As far as I could tell, the heavens were as brass to me. It seemed as though God wasn't listening to my prayers at all. To make matters worse, I came to doubt not only the personal "words from God" that had come to nothing but also the Bible itself. I asked questions such as, "God, if you lied to me about that prophecy, how do I know that you're not lying to me in the Bible?" So it went, for year after year, at least five years in all, until at last the tide turned and I found mercy in the sight of God.

I think my recovery began with surrender. During my season of withdrawal, I'd clung tenaciously to the scraps of my precious spiritual gifts, including certain prophecies on which I'd pinned high hopes, but now I was whipped, so while praying one day, I told God that I was going to put my gifts and prophecies on the shelf and concentrate only on the Scriptures. In case there was any truth or value to what I was shelving, I told God that He was going to have to make that very clear to me, because otherwise I was going to have nothing more to do with that which had so far brought me only misery and despair. Yes, I finally saw the true nature of the fruit of my spiritual addiction: far from being good for my soul, it stank to high heaven. I'd had enough of it, and wanted nothing more than to get it out of my life.

Incidentally, I'd not yet made a formal change of my doctrinal views regarding the gifts of the Holy Spirit. At this point, I still allowed that there might be some true gifts in operation today, but on the other hand I was well aware that if there were such gifts, I had never seen them even once. I was not yet a cessationist, but I'd already come to the place where I denied the validity of all the gifts I'd seen exercised in the churches I'd attended. It wasn't until a couple of years later that I came to embrace the Reformed faith and the sufficiency of Scripture.

Through the wonder that is the Internet, I sometimes encounter Charismatics. How much they remind me of myself during my honeymoon days, when the excitement of my spiritual gifts was so strong! Although I take every opportunity to share this testimony with them, they are just as blind and deaf as I was. Their spiritual pride is still too strong for them to consider that their "walk with God" has degenerated to something that's little better than an addiction to allegedly spiritual highs. Sadly, it seems that no one sees the devastation and misery that awaits once the honeymoon is over. May God use my testimony as well as that of other ex-Charismatics to warn these poor souls and bring many to their senses before it's too late!

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