Thursday, May 19, 2011

Pilgrimage of a Spirit-Filled, Reformed Christian

By Pastor John L. Bayles, M.Div.

All of my life I have had a Christian influence. Before I could walk, my parents carried me to church. At the age of seven, I made a public dedication of my belief in Christ and His work for me at Calvary. And, in the Southern Baptist way, I was baptized the very night I made this profession of faith. Baptist life was generous, transferring a knowledge of God and His Word to me from this young age. Sunday School, Training Union, Royal Ambassadors and myriad retreats, camps, visitation nights, and revivals all made up my religious training. During the Valentine’s Day banquet, I even wore the “king’s” crown for highest percentage of Christian duty according to the Six Point Record System several years running.

“Once Saved, Always Saved,” was a doctrine I was well-versed in along with the unquestioned reality of “Baptism by Immersion” (I took great pride in knowing that John the Baptist was the first Southern Baptist), “The Authority of the Believer,” and “The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are Not for Today!” In addition to these dogmas I also came to love the Word of God and never questioned its absolute authority in my life. What was I? I was a Southern Baptist Christian.

How many of us have a dark period in our pilgrimage? It seems to be the universal element in Christian testimony. For me the years between ages seventeen and twenty-three were not a back-slidden time, but a period of disinterest in God and a dissatisfaction with the church. In retrospect, those years were really a time of disinterest and dissatisfaction with myself. But, a remarkable change took place in 1973 at a retreat center in Glorietta, New Mexico. I was baptized from above. I was filled with the Holy Spirit. I was altered in a way that left me totally affected, turning my life upside down. In retrospect, I had been “made alive” (Eph.2:6) through regeneration/new birth and filled with the Holy Spirit. I had become a “Spirit-filled,” Southern Baptist Christian.

Almost instantly I felt a strong disapproval by my Southern Baptist pastor for my strange experience. In fact, some well-meaning friends said the Baptism of the Holy Spirit was of the devil. It was during this time that I felt something strange taking place – I didn’t fit. Something had happened to me that was not of my own choosing. I knew God in a way I had never experienced before, yet I was learning that there are high walls of acceptable experience erected throughout Christianity. And I have found one..

Singing was now worship. The Gifts of the Holy Spirit was not an academic question any longer, it was a present and personal reality. Witnessing was not an event on Tuesday nights, it was a natural expression of my love and relationship for Christ. Prayer was more natural than breathing. And the Bible was my daily bread, my life, and my passion. Read the Bible? I studied it, devoured it, memorized it, quoted it, and tried to preach it. I completed correspondence courses, noted all the preachers I heard, listened to tapes galore and even wrote out the study notes in my Haley’s Bible Handbook and Scofield Bible.

With my zeal I also picked up a very distinctive theological view. Now the “Rapture,” “The Millennial Reign,” and “The Great Dispensations of God’s Covenants” all became subjects in which I began to acquire an understanding. My systematic theology was a hodge-podge of assorted views, neatly packaged contemporary pop philosophies, and a deep conviction that confessing God’s Word could effectively bring all kinds of things into existence. But it didn’t really matter because no one was challenging me and, THANK GOD, not too many people were listening either.

During 1978 I accepted a position in a local “Spirit-filled,” Southern Baptist church and enrolled in a local Bible college. In this church I experienced acceptance by others from all kinds of backgrounds that had also received a touch from heaven. It was early in my Bible college program that I first began to subscribe to a theological orientation. I began thinking authoritatively on theological subjects like baptism, eternal security, the rapture, the millennium, and salvation. As I studied, I came to view God and His world as highly man-centered.

I felt comfortable with the idea that God had created the world for man and because He, God was incomplete and wanted to have fellowship. God had lost control of man at the fall and beyond, and God sent Jesus to die on the cross so that man might receive forgiveness for his sins and live with God forever. This salvation was freely offered by God to each-and-every person who had ever lived. If by his free will, man accepted the Gospel, salvation was to be obtained; if any man rejected the gospel, Hell was his self-inflicted destination. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was fast becoming a Wesley-Armenian,“Spirit-filled,” Southern Baptist Christian.

Then disaster hit. A man who later became one of my dearest friends returned to our area from seminary. And not just any seminary, but one described in his terms as Reformed. What that word means awakened me to “new” perspective that transformed my theological orientation. I also learned that those “new” ideas were hundreds of years older that the “old” ones to which I ascribing and more troubling, were clearly articulated in the Bible.

We talked over lunch until it was dinner time. We debated. We argued. In all these times together, my friend was well-informed and patient. He recommended authors like J.I Packer, Louis Berkhof and D. James Kennedy to me. My confidence was that I would show them all to be wrong from the Bible. But, it was from the Bible that I learned my past views were misframed. And so, without realizing it, I was fast laying hold of a God-centered theological view. Creation?… it was to reveal God’s creative nature. Man?… God’s image bearer. The Fall and the escalation of a world of sin?… God’s determination to patiently reveal his redemption in Christ. God’s holiness, His sovereignty, His omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence, holiness, and immutability fell from the pages of these books and the Bible upon a heart that longed to know the living God.

God, not man was the revelation found in the Bible. For the first time I realized that I could understand myself only as I truly came to know God. During those months God opened my eyes to the Reformed faith and a revelation of His eternal nature and attributes that have never subsided in their intensity in my heart from then until now. I was fast becoming a Reformed, “Spirit-filled” Christian.

But, then I was confronted by my pastor/mentor and friends who, far from loving the theological convictions which were bring me life, hated them with a passion. What was life to me, was viewed as death to others. The views of God which I came to hold, caused others to feel that God was not fair and not loving or just. They warned that I was moving toward error. Watch out! My charismatic friends were telling me. My experience was right, but my theology caused me to be unacceptable. The reality that hit me again was that I didn’t fit here either.

As an associate pastor, I was not a capable enough expositor to get a lot of time in the pulpit and during those first years of my transformation, God cocooned me as I sought to understand and express my theological views. For many people, I was just an energetic young man who would grow up and learn the “right” way in time. During those years I described myself as a confused, “Spirit-filled” Christian.

Within three years I completed a Bachelor’s degree at the University of Maryland with a concentration in Counseling and Personnel Services. With my Bachelor’s behind me, I then looked about for a seminary to attend. My choices were slim in the Washington, D.C. area, schools ranged from moderate to liberal in theological orientation. Then the wonderful and the seemingly impossible happened – God convinced me and my family to pack up our lives and move to Boston to attend Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. I was again motivated by my same influential friend who had graduated there those few years earlier.

At seminary, I grew in my knowledge of God and His Word. My experience there was the highest delight of my life. I was among men and women who not only agreed with my theological views, but challenged and nurtured them. I was among those who accepted me. Theologically, I fit! On the other hand, I learned that I stood on thin ice with my new reformed comrades because they didn’t particularly hold to a view that contemporary worship and the gifts of the Holy Spirit benefitted the modern church. They believed in prophecy, faith, healing, miracles, etc. but did not engage in their practice.

Watch out! My new reformed friends were telling me. My theology was right, but my experience caused me to be unacceptable. Depending on whom I was with, I was either a Reformed, “Spirit-filled” Christian or a “Spirit-filled,” Reformed Christian. In either case there was no real hostility of any kind. No one left me as a friend, but again, I didn’t fit!

Isn’t the local church wonderful? It is truly a place where you can be blessed by God in the context of being skinned alive by His people. There is such a high level of expectation for what pastors should believe and teach in the church. This is especially true in the very tenuous effort of church planting. This was my calling in 1985 – to plant a local church, twelve miles away from where I had served as an associate pastor three years earlier.

We were blessed with a strong central leadership of committed Christians who had, for the most part, been close friends of mine for over ten years. We thought we knew each other, but God made many significant adjustments in us relationally, ecclesialogically, and especially theologically. During the first years of our existence we had literally thousands of visitors. Some stayed, most looked and left, but all were challenged by a Reformed view of God and His Word.

My own growth did not stop with seminary. I learned how to present my views without rejecting the views of others. I learned patience, love and especially that it is possible to find Christian community with persons who do not expressly share your own theological orientation. I was learning to be a pastor-teacher. Gloriously, the church was becoming a place where my experience and my theology were not at odds with one another. I was a “Spirit-filled,” Reformed Christian living and ministering with others who rejoiced in this combination. I was part of building a place where the “Charismatic” and the Reformed could find fellowship in an atmosphere where God’s grace could be seen in our fellowship with one another… and we often hit the mark.

In January of 1990, I found out that God was not building a church in Maryland so that John Bayles could feel comfortable about his life. Through a friend, I met Dr. W. A. Young in Atlanta Georgia during a conference we both attended. Not only had I found a new friend, but came to know that God was bringing about the “Spirit-filled”/Reformed combination more broadly than I had imagined.

Into the wee hours of the night we talked: informing, challenging, dreaming and capturing a vision for our lives which has lasted to this day. I found in W.A. Young a kindred spirit, whom God had filled with a vision to train men and women from a reformed view theologically within the context of the“Spirit-filled” experience.

During the past fourteen years we have had the pleasure of training hundreds of called men and women through Covenant Theological Seminary of Tallahassee, Florida and its extension school here in Maryland. Today, over twenty-five students are regularly enrolled in our programs. We have pursued a conviction that God’s Word breathes the same message today which first inspired the early reformers of the Protestant Reformation. The also are deeply convinced that we are called to expresses the often neglected message of the unceasing ministry of the Holy Spirit Who is a work in regeneration and the ongoing expansion of the Kingdom of God.

So where does this find me today? I have found support and acceptance by like minded others who at one time, like me, felt that they were outsiders because of the unusual way in which the Lord has developed their life and thinking. I still know the shape of who I am and what I believe continues to be under construction and refinement. But from the beginning, the consistent element that has remained a part of my pilgrimage is the knowledge and deep conviction that “… He who began a good work in me will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil.1:6, emphasis added). And, I find peace in this secure place.


  1. I have longed for the past twenty or so years to discover other theologically Reformed Christians who were touched by the life of the Holy Spirit and believe that He continues to manifest Himself today as from the beginning. Any other Spirit-filled / Reformed pilgrims out there? Either new or old?

    Pastor Bayles

  2. Thanks for the hit "O" What's your journey?

  3. I just ran across your post here and wanted to respond. I too have a story that seems to not be as far along as yours. I am in my sixties, have been in the ministry for over 35 years and in this last decade of my life have been going through additional significant changes in my heart and life theologically. I find myself Pastoring an Assembly of God Church yet I also find myself in the process of venturing further and further into the Reformed Tradition. Talk about a fish out of water. However, I have had neither the training or background of seminary or even Bible School. My training has been a bit of the bootstrap kind of, from the ground up training of life, in and with my precious Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus. While I am genuinely further along than this post of mine, which attempts to describe my venture in and with my Lord it stills paints a vital picture of the Lord's faithfulness to lead, develop and train me along His way. If you are at all interested, you can read it at .Thank you for your sharing with us your journey in and with our Lord and His Living and alive Word. While I continue to have questions and wrestle with them, I rest in the confidence of the Lord's continued faithfulness to lead and direct me down His path. I remain hungry for the more of Him and His Living and Alive Word and I want to follow Him regardless of its cost.

    Sincerely Yours in the Lord Jesus Christ,
    Pastor Philip H McAlmond Jr

    1. Pastor Phil

      Thank you for the great note. Amazing how we sometimes feel alone, like Elijah, and even say, "I am the only one left...." (Rom.11:2). Then God shows us that we're not an oddball, but one of many who hold the same views as we do. This has been my experience and it seems that it has been yours too.

      From your site I assume that many in your AG church have also been greatly impacted. By His grace God always reveals those who have also, like R.C. Sproul says, "been awakened" to Reformed truth? I have found that historical Pentecostal/Charismatic people who love God's Word, joyfully embrace sound theology (though classically Reformed) when it is clearly what the scriptures teach. I pray that our Reformed brothers and sisters would also expand their sometimes rigid opposition to their view of Cessationism versus Continuationism by the same measure. We would all do well to pull down our historical walls and consider the Spirit's voice in the scriptures, no matter what the cost. This has been a reward of the many years of teaching from the classical position, I am impacted, and those who hear are impacted by the truth of God's word, especially when the labels of Reformed or Calvinistic set aside.

      Again, great to hear from you and thank you for the post.

      Pastor John Bayles