I am about to paint with extremely large brush strokes, larger than even Paul Bunyan would have used if he was into painting, but it is for a reason, bear with me. Pentecostalism and Charismatic are a side of the church that tends to focus on the Spirit that many do not know about or perhaps scoff at. Another side Baptist, Reformed, tend to focus on the Bible and not the Spirit. Yet another Lutheran, Episcopalian tend to still rely on tradition and liturgy similar to Catholics but with more protestant reformed theology in nature. To avoid some of these problems, we have non-denominations to avoid being too pigeon-holed. As I said these are extremely broad brush strokes to paint with for sure, but it still paints for us the picture of a divided church with different focuses, practices, and yes beliefs as well. I do this for a reason.
With the denominational spectrum so large many people have many different church experiences. I have seen how some non-denoms, which is the growing class, have begun to walk away from either end and create an entirely new space. It is however being defined by cultural engagement over the Bible. If nixing certain things from the Bible ministers to more people and gets them in the door? Then so be it. But this is precisely why we cannot simply choose aspects of the faith that appeal to us: the Word of God is bigger than that, and the presence of God in our lives can be so much more real than that.
Now I understand how we got here.
Did we simply want to stop having all those time taking church councils? Did we want to avoid Calvin’s mistake of creating another theocracy that puts people to death over differing theology? It wasn’t that cut and dry for him for sure but we certainly don’t want pastors presiding over death penalties. This is why God gave us governments. What we have is literally an example of toleration. We have decided to agree to disagree and continue on in our own flavors. I have written about flavors and preferences already: Changing Dirty Filters but I have been thinking about the Spirit. Should the Spirit be included in our lists of preferences?
Of course not! But well, honestly ask yourself, is he?
I honestly started out on this blog intending to eventually address this question. For a bit of my background, I have appreciated Hegelian theology, the search for synthesis. He was about observing the trends in history and concluding that theology was the process of arriving at synthesis after a series of arguments with thesis and antithesis. He seemed to think that history is a record of tension resting in a comfortable medium. In fact you could say, that in a way, this blog has this underlining premise, my own theology does as well. But it is not that I believe that theology is just an evolution of competing ideas, I don’t. But I recognize the value in the observation that both theological thesis and antithesis have merit if they are drawn from scripture.
In other words I seek a synthesis as it is present in the text, not simply for the sake of something that goes down easier. This is simply recognizing that often the text has a both/and feature rather than the taking sides either/or feature. I will admit that sometimes the Bible is clear-cut and an either/or approach is needed, but not always. This is the humility to allow the Bible to speak in both occasions. If we are committed to a side or tradition over the Bible then sometimes we don’t let the Bible speak for itself. I never want to be in that position. I don’t want to rely on my experience or someone else’s for that matter against the scripture. I will rely on someone else’s as they submit to the authority of the Word.
All that to say, I don’t think the Spirit should be experienced in only certain parts of the church. If he however is being experienced by all, then fine move along, but I suspect some have seen and experienced at least a bit of what I am talking about.
Now I know that part of the reasoning for this is from abuse, we witness excess and then we, rightfully so, created distance. This gets back to that filter thing we talked about. But while we think that we are being cautions are we repeating the mistake of the Pharisees? In order to avoid breaking the Law they created more rules to avoid even approaching them. Their changes caused them to miss Christ. Have ours caused us to miss the Spirit? I am not saying that the Charismatic and Pentecostals necessarily have it all right. It is some of their excesses that have contributed to the problem, and their lack of Biblical theology has sometimes caused them to miss God in other very real ways.
But as someone who ran from the “Charismania” as I have dubbed it, I am lacking on this side versus the other one. As I have toured the country from Tucson, to Kansas City, To Chicago, to Prescott, to Grand Rapids, sitting in many different kinds of churches I have seen the problem. Some churches seem to be missing the Spirit in a very real way and some are missing the Word in a very real way. All lose as people are either not loved or not fed. Just as our preferences have stifled real relationships, might some of our denominations have stifled healthy growth? Are we a lopsided people? Have our denominations allowed us to not truly press into all of what is written? Is the Spirit perhaps a bit side-lined in some places? When the bottom drops out for Christian America our denominations will not save us, but the true Word made flesh will. I need the Word and the Spirit of God.
The problem begins in the passage in Corinthians 12 where it says we prophecy in part and speak in part but when that which is perfect comes those in part will be done away with. Now some have taken this to mean when the cannon is complete we will no longer need that other kind of direct revelation from God. I understand this in principle. We do not want any average Joe “Thus saith-ing the Lord” up new revelation. This is exacerbated by all the abuse we have seen of the gifts in the church. So some have distanced themselves from the gifts and the Spirit’s presence in power. It would be easier if we could just label them all false prophets and be done with all that stuff from left field. But that unbalanced view is also not helpful, even if some prominent ministries have adopted that posture.
Now all the denominations would acknowledge the Spirit in their commitment to the Trinity, good, but what role does he actually play?
John 16 gives us a look at what we miss out on when we do not engage him.
13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
And I Corinthians 2
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.
And again 1 Corinthians 12
12 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
With so many people claiming to be “spiritual” these days, it would be helpful if that term was grounded in the person of the Spirit himself. Too often people tend to think the “spirit” seems to be leading them away from the Word of God. This is not how the Spirit of God operates. This is that call for the spiritual person to judge all things, but how can we do it apart from him? So ask the questions, what role is the Holy Spirit playing if your life? Is he a present help in time of need? Does he illuminate the scriptures to you? Does he provide comfort? Does he judge your heart? Are you sealed for the day of redemption? Does he energize and encourage your prayer life? Do you worship in both Spirit and in truth? Is he grieved in your presence? Are you even interested?
We need the Spirit to illumine the scriptures more and more when we live in a world now with more and more churches changing what God has said. This is simply Satan taking advantage of our Spiritless countryside impressing the question continuously “Has God really said?” God is not going to change what he has said just because our sins are more accepted by the masses. The Spirit does not contradict the Word of God. Seek God and cry out for his Spirit. I know I am.
We each have to evaluate where we are on the spectrum and cry out to the Lord for our help, because my help will most likely look different from yours. I am not intending to indict any denomination but merely bring up this subject to ask if maybe it fits. With all our denominations we may very well be lopsided and the kind of balance we are in need of before God probably looks like many things. We all need the Spirit to guide us in the Word, to help us understand the Word and see what he is speaking to us. Today is a new day with new graces and new challenges and I want to move forward with all the help I can get.
Theology is a pendulous problem, so some supernatural help? Yes please.