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Fervent Prayer and Praying in the Spirit

Fervent Prayer and Praying in the Spirit

Dave Black provides an extract from his forthcoming book on the Seven Marks of a New Testament Church. In it, he refers to praying in the Spirit, noting that some exegetes say this refers to praying in tongues. He doesn’t deny that possibility but says it is broader than that.

While I believe that praying in tongues is praying in the Spirit, “praying in the Spirit” is not a category of prayer, in that one might pray “in” and “out” of the Spirit in some way. Rather, it describes something that should be a characteristic of all prayer. There are those who elevate or diminish praying in tongues. On the one hand nobody, even the person praying, necessarily knows what a prayer in tongues is about. Is it not better that people hear the prayer? On the other hand, prayer in the Spirit is most definitely not under the conscious control of the one praying. Is it not better to be fully under the control of the Spirit of God?

Actually prayer, and any spiritual discipline can be verbal or non-verbal. I find I hear most from the Lord when I’m reading Scripture. But often it is not the words, or at least not consciously the words, that bring peace or direction. Sometimes I just study and come to some decision or other that I needed to. Sometimes I merely feel my anxiety relieved, even though I may not have been reading. This morning I was helped to a place of peace (I was worrying about something I had no business worrying about) while reading Leviticus 23 in Hebrew. I cannot think of anything in that text that related to my situation.

I would suggest that bringing the words of one’s prayer, when those words are spoken aloud and consciously, under the power of the Spirit is more difficult. It is definitely worth doing. But you won’t do it yourself. You can only hope and wait for the Holy Spirit to do it. And obey when He does!

Letting the Holy Spirit Teach

Letting the Holy Spirit Teach

I’ve been meditating a bit on letting the Holy Spirit be the teacher. There’s an interesting corollary to letting the Holy Spirit teach—letting other people learn.

You see, what we often want to do is to “let” the Holy Spirit teach other people what we already know, and what we think they need to learn. If they don’t learn that fast enough, or heaven help them, if they don’t ever learn what we know, we’re likely to start questioning which spirit they’re listening to. Letting the Holy Spirit teach involves not just trusting God, but also trusting other people to be able to hear from God. I think we frequently trust the Holy Spirit just so long as he doesn’t slip his leash. By which, of course, we mean that he has failed to keep other people in the proper order as we see it.

So I’m going to tell a story. This happened in 1999 just before I married Jody. I traveled to England with Perry Dalton and a fairly stellar group of speakers. (I’ll name Perry, but not try to list all the others.) We were to offer pastors’ conferences at a number of Methodist churches. I was very easily the least famous person on the team, and I didn’t figure I’d be doing all that much talking. Yes, there was the moment of pride when I told myself I had plenty of notes to use in speaking and I’d love to use them, but I reconciled myself to just going along. That wasn’t hard. After all, I was going to spend three weeks traveling all over England and Wales. What’s not to enjoy? Just for fun, I should mention that not a few of our friends suggested that I was getting cold feet about the upcoming wedding and had fled to Europe! But I came back, and Jody and I are coming up on our 14th anniversary this November.

The first conference—and no, I don’t remember the name of the town—was quite a rousing event as I remember it, though my expectations about not speaking were fully realized. Until, that is, it was time for the closing meeting of the evening. Now those who read this and know Perry will be unsurprised at this. As the singing finished for the final meeting Perry comes up to me and says, “Get ready. You’re going to wrap this thing up.” Getting ready involved something like 30 seconds. So I got up and wrapped things up. I don’t remember a thing I said, and I believe I can safely say that nobody else does either.

Then I closed with a prayer exercise I use. I invite people to begin in silence and listen for the Holy Spirit to direct them to somebody else in the room they should pray for. This exercise tends to scare conference leaders. They’re afraid of the chaos that might result, the crazy things people might do. And this fear is not unfounded. We’ve all encountered crazy people doing crazy things and blaming it all on the Holy Spirit. “God told me,” is often an excuse for the worst sort of silliness and abuse. On the other hand, I’ve done this many, many times, and have never regretted it.

It went well that time as well. People prayed for one another. There were the inevitable questions for me from people who are concerned about the rules. What if the Holy Spirit tells two people to pray for the same person? What if I’m supposed to pray for more than one person? What if I’m supposed to sit in my seat and pray for everyone?

Then it was over. Nothing spectacular.

As we were about to close, an elderly gentleman asked to give a testimony. (Knowing Perry, he may have been calling for testimonies. I don’t really remember.) The gentleman was grinning from ear to ear. He was fairly bubbling with joy and excitement. Then he started to talk.

He pointed to the first speaker. “I was reluctant to come here this morning,” he said, “but I did. I listened to your presentation, and I just about left. It did nothing for me.”

He pointed to the second and told him that his had done nothing for him either. He was so joyful, however, that nobody could really take offense. He said at lunch time, he had almost decided not to return to the conference. He went through the list of afternoon speakers and said the same thing about each one.

Then he said, pointing to me, “And you, young man, yours was all just rubbish to me too. It did nothing for me. But then you called for prayer. I was certain nothing was going to happen. I had a particular thing I wanted to hear about from the Lord, and I was sure this was going to be a failure. Then I felt someone put his hand on my shoulder and start to pray. It was my own pastor! I was disappointed. But then he started to pray, and I heard precisely what I’d been waiting to hear all day today and for a long time. The Lord sent all of you here all the way from America just so my pastor could pray for me!”

The question, of course, is whether those of us called to teach can handle having what we say called rubbish, and being sent on intercontinental flights so God can use other people to do his work.

Or is there too much pride?


Hunting Down the Holy Spirit

Hunting Down the Holy Spirit

One interesting privilege I had during the Brownsville Revival here in Pensacola was meeting groups going to and from the revival. At the time I was a member of Pine Forest United Methodist Church, and groups would stay in the Family Life Center there in order to be in range to get to the revival which was around 10 miles.

They would come by bus, or less frequently in a caravan of cars, sleep on the floor, and then get up early in the morning to stand all day in line, hoping to get into the main sanctuary for the service. Sometimes they would try to talk to some of the Pine Forest UMC staff or members who had experience of the revival to try to find out what they were about to experience.

At the time I lived in a trailer on the campus of the church. I had volunteered to check all the doors late at night. It is very rare at a church when you can’t find some door unlocked when it ought to be locked! In doing my late night check I would occasionally find groups that had returned from the revival and were trying to digest their experiences. Thus I could hear from them both before and after.

I’m going to use these experiences to make a composite picture of two different pastors with whom I spent some time talking and praying during this time frame. There were many who could be represented by each of them, but I’ve chosen the extreme set of circumstances.

The first was on a second or third visit. He reported new growth and new activity in his home church after he had visited Brownsville. “It isn’t really anything like Brownsville. It’s unique,” he told me. “But I was really blessed here, and I’m bringing others in my group this time so they can be blessed.”

The second told me that he was close to retirement and expressed desperation that he wanted his ministry to count. To him, the revival at Brownsville represented the one chance of getting something real done in his ministry. Over time, his church shrunk to nearly nothing, and he had to move on.

I am left asking just what was the fruit of the Brownsville revival. Is it best represented by the first pastor or the second? Is it represented by those who rededicated their lives to God and to service and carried it out in the way God called them to do, or those who became desperate and tried to duplicate what they saw?

Those are, unfortunately, the type of binary questions that I tend to dislike. We tend to use the “know them by their fruit” model (Matthew 7:15-20). The problem is that quite frequently both sides have good “fruit” arguments. There are people who are greatly aided or even restarted in their spiritual lives. There are also people who go off the rails in one way or another, damaging themselves or others. The more adventurous tend to blame those who take some negative path on some force other than the revival. They claim the revival is good, but if you bring something bad there, the devil will get to work and ruin the result. The more theologically and spiritually cautious note the failures and are most concerned about those who are harmed.

In my experience, however, you can say that about almost any movement and certainly most churches. I have seen the same church congregation be a tremendous blessing in one person’s life, while it becomes the very last church that some other person will attend because he has been injured in some way.

Any time you have a group of people who are active, there is going to be a mixture both of people and of results. Even though Jesus doesn’t address this all that directly, I think a better model than the fruit is the weeds among the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30). This doesn’t mean that one should not check the fruit, but rather that one must realize that when people are involved results will generally be mixed. I would want to have a very comprehensive knowledge of a ministry before I said that its fruit was totally bad and it should be rejected as a whole. At the same time, I think it is very important to observe danger signs and give warnings.

Amongst those things to watch are:

  1. A tendency to focus on visible but extraneous things such as being slain in the spirit
  2. Getting stuck, i.e. simply hanging around all the time “being revived” instead of finding a constructive calling and doing it
  3. A focus on a single person or place. Note that this doesn’t mean nobody should go anywhere to experience God’s presence. Elijah had an important experience after running to Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19), surely a more daunting journey in his day than a bit of a flight to a church in Florida is now.
  4. Unbalanced emphasis either on personal experience and spirituality over study and community, or the reverse
  5. Desperation. Desperate people try to force things, and are very susceptible to pretending. If you must have a miracle, you just may invent one or see one where none exists.
  6. Duplication. What happened at _____ (wherever) must happen here. That’s how I’ll know God is working.

The question has been put to me by friends of whether I’ll find my way to Lakeland or at least follow it on GodTV. The answer is that this is not very likely. Is that because I have made a studied and negative decision? Well, simply the fact that I haven’t even watched it where conveniently available on TV should answer that. No, I haven’t made any studied decision. The things I have said are not, and cannot be directed specifically at Lakeland, because I have too little knowledge.

The reason, however, that I’m not involved is that I’m already involved with what God is doing in my life and in the life of the church congregation I have just joined. The Holy Spirit is moving at First United Methodist Church in Pensacola. It bears no resemblance to rumors of Lakeland. I can say emphatically that it bears no resemblance to Brownsville, with which I had some acquaintance. There are no large altar calls and nobody has fallen on the floor.

What is happening is that the church is experiencing steady growth. It is unable to accommodate all the activities of the members and the ministries to the community within existing space, and that space is not small. The ministers are preaching a strong gospel message, and people are responding. The leadership has determined that they are going to serve the community, help those less fortunate, and generally be a witness for Jesus in their downtown community. The senior pastor declared that the one and only reason for the existence of a church was to fulfill the gospel commission, or you could restate that to be a witness for Jesus Christ. I’m excited to be joining in with that in whatever way God calls me to do so.

Do I want to set one way up against another? No. Never. But it’s the latter to which I am personally called.

Peter Kirk wrote about a visit to the Dudley outpouring. I was interested in his experience. While he was unhappy with some elements he still received a blessing which he was able to bring back to his church. That is a positive testimony. He also provides a list of links to other comments on either Dudley or Lakeland.

Again, I’m struck by the “weeds and wheat” metaphor for these events. The ideal is often the enemy of the good, and I think this can be true in the case of outpourings. Unfortunately, many on either side expect one to either be wholly for or wholly against, using another set of sayings of Jesus as their model. Well, I’m wholly for Jesus and wholly against that other guy, but when a number of people are involved, I suspect the division is a little harder to make.

(PS: Peter Kirk has also written a great deal on the Holy Spirit, and I’ve been bookmarking some, intending to write, but I have simply not had time to do the subject justice.)

Experiencing the (Baptism of the) Holy Spirit

Experiencing the (Baptism of the) Holy Spirit

This is a topic where I tend to make just about everyone uncomfortable. Long time readers may recall a previous discussion of speaking in tongues, and my own experience of it. Those who expect me to be intellectually oriented and rational are uncomfortable with mystical experiences, and many who are comfortable with the mystical experiences are deeply troubled by my tendency to analyze.

But the fact is that I am one person, i.e. the same person who examines data about the historical Jesus and expresses skepticism of some of the details recorded in the gospels also claims to experience the risen Jesus in a personal way. So when Adrian Warnock started talking about the experience of Holy Spirit baptism, I decided to say a word or two.

I’m not going to defend my particular theology in this post, but let me simply state that I believe that Holy Spirit baptism can, and ideally should occur at the time of one’s baptism in to the Christian faith. Nonetheless in the book of Acts we have numerous instances where the two experiences are separated. I believe nobody comes to Christ in the first place without the work of the Holy Spirit, but the idea of the baptism of the Spirit involves one personally experiencing and being transformed by it.

At the same time I want to guard against the notion that this experience is singular, that one checks off the boxes of conversion, then baptism in the Holy Spirit, and then one has attained. I don’t like the idea of Christians who have “attained.” I think they tend to fall quickly into pride. I know I would, so if I ever get to the point where I believe I have attained, it will be the surest sign that I haven’t. I know I’d fall straight into spiritual pride without passing Go or collecting my $200.

I do remember a specific experience at the time of my own baptism at age nine. I was in Mexico with my missionary parents and had to convince them and a Spanish speaking pastor that I knew what I was doing. It was the strong conviction that had come on me that made me able to do so. They were very skeptical.

But I want to discuss a later experience, that came when I was working in the church. This happened several years ago. I was trying to get material written for the early stages of Pacesetters Bible School, and I would be interrupted frequently. But one week almost the whole church staff including the pastor was going to be out of town on a mission trip, and I was looking forward to a week of writing with few interruptions. It was not to be.

One of the things about “mystical” or “spiritual” experiences that I have noticed is that they do not occur for my convenience. My Monday of that week happened as I had hoped. I got a great deal done. On Tuesday I was praying through my prayer list. I had an extensive prayer list, and was quite systematic about praying for the people on it. Having checked off my list, I felt that I had done my part in praying for the congregation.

Included on my list were all the college students and all the church leaders. As I began praying through the list that day I was interrupted by a voice. Now all the more intellectual folks and those who are not Christians are permitted here to doubt my sanity. I generally just assume it’s loosely attached. But I did hear a voice. It said, “Stop.”

So I stopped a moment and then started to pray for that person again. Again, I heard “Stop!” Then the voice began to question me about these persons. What were their gifts? Regarding the students it asked me what they were studying, when they would be finished, and what their ambitions were. For the church leaders it asked me what their specific roles were.

Now the fact is that I didn’t know most of this stuff. They were on the staff or on committees, or they were students, so their names were on my list. I didn’t have a clue as to who they were personally. Then the voice asked me, “How do you expect to function as a teacher in the church if you don’t even know what these people are supposed to be doing?”

Good question! But I’m a stubborn person. I argued with that voice for the remainder of the week, from during the morning Tuesday through around noon Friday. By noon Friday I was pretty much done. I think I had a mild idea of how Elijah must have felt when God said, “What are you doing here?” (1 Kings 19:9)

What happened at noon on Friday? Finally I admitted that I needed to change the way I did business. I was all in the books. I planned curriculum according to what I thought people (in general) needed to know. I didn’t really want to know the people themselves. That was messy and took up too much time.

It was a transforming moment in ministry for me. I may be insane to argue with a voice for several days. Each day I returned to the office intending to work, and it didn’t happen. When I shut down and went home, things went back to normal. But that insanity was transforming. People noticed the difference. They would ask me, “Who are you and what have you done with Henry Neufeld?” The main obvious difference was that I started taking a personal interest in people’s lives, their call, and their work in the church. I started to try to meet those needs.

Now this seems fairly obvious in hindsight. Isn’t that simply good people skills? But at the time I didn’t exercise that variety of people skills, and due to my knowledge in other areas, and basic teaching skill, people put up with me anyhow. It took this spiritual encounter–in my view an experience of baptism–completely being overpowered–by the Holy Spirit to get me on track.

Regeneration and Baptism of the Holy Spirit

Regeneration and Baptism of the Holy Spirit

OK, readers, this is a strictly Christian type of argument. Is regeneration and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit the same thing?

Since I haven’t link to him in so long, some may think I no longer read Adrian Warnock’s blog, but that is quite incorrect. I still subscribe to his RSS feed, but he’s been reposting his most popular articles from last year, and I had already commented on the ones I wanted to. Today, however, I read his post Lloyd-Jones on How to Grieve the Holy Spirit. To quote briefly:

“There is nothing, I am convinced, that so ‘quenches’ the Spirit as the teaching which identifies the baptism of the Holy Ghost with regeneration. But it is a very commonly held teaching today, indeed it has been the popular view for many years. It is said that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is ‘nonexperimental’, that it happens to every one at regeneration.Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones So we say, ‘Ah well, I am already baptized with the Spirit; it happened when I was born again, at my conversion; there is nothing for me to seek, I have got it all’.” [Please read the larger quote from Adrian’s blog.]

Since I have published previously on this topic, let me start my response with a quote:

I believe that the baptism is an experience God intends for all Christians, and that ideally it should occur in connection with initial conversion and water baptism. There are ongoing opportunities for the Holy Spirit to ‘infuse’ us with more gifts and increases in gifts throughout our spiritual walk. There is ALWAYS more!”

This is from a summary of the pamphlet I Want the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. The pamphlet expands on it, but is still very brief. Essentially, I deal with two concerns. The first is the possibility that any singular experience can be used to divide Christians into classes. Thus we have “Spirit-filled” Christians and ordinary Christians. The second is that we decide that a singular experience is all there is of Christianity. There is a variant on this that would suggest that once one has received the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a specific, identifiable event, then that is the end of one’s experience.

My friend Dr. Bob McKibben, in his book Holy Smoke! Unholy Fire!, holds a somewhat different view. (Note that my company publishes Dr. Bob’s book.) I begin my quote after he has referenced four texts in the gospels about the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Each of these passages refers to the same setting. John the Baptist is making reference to Jesus Christ and in each case the baptism of the Spirit is something that is yet to come. John is referring to a future event, which most scholars contend is the day of Pentecost. Let’s move from the gospel references to the Book of Acts:

And while staying with them he [Jesus] charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4-5)

In this passage, our Lord is speaking to the disciples sometime after His death and resurrection, but before His ascension into heaven. Like the verses found in the gospel accounts, Jesus is speaking of an event that is yet to happen. Again, like the gospel accounts, this text is looking forward to the Day of Pentecost.

There is a reference in Acts 11 that looks back rather than forward, but again you will find that it refers to the ministry of John the Baptist:

As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, “John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 11:15-16)

The seventh and last verse which refers to the baptism of the Spirit, without using the exact phrase, is found in I Corinthians 12:13. This verse clearly speaks of unity within the church, which is the Body of Christ. This verse also makes clear the point that there are not two different groups or categories of Christians. As you read this verse, do so prayerfully, discerning what Paul was desperately trying to impress upon his beloved in Corinth:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (I Corinthians 12:12-13)

Paul used the metaphor of the human body to explain the principle of unity within the Church. Just like the body, the Church is an organic whole made up of many different members. But Paul is making it painfully clear that even with the plurality of members, there is only one kind of Christian. The church – body of Christ does not possess two different kinds of Christians, some with the Holy Spirit and some without, or some with more of the Holy Spirit and some with less.

Using these seven Biblical references to Baptism of the Holy Spirit, I believe that there is only one Baptism of the Holy Spirit and it occurred on the day of Pentecost as described in Acts, chapter two.

I fully understand Bob’s concern here with only one class of Christians, but I also share the serious concern expressed in the quotation that Adrian has provided. In the end I’m probably more concerned about the latter. Too many Christians see only a singular experience, and see no possibility for growth or change. I see sufficient scriptural evidence to suggest that we are talking about two things in the life of the believer, yet that the two elements should ideally happen simultaneously. Unfortunately, we tend to believe that if both happen together, we have no need to stoke the fire after that, and on the other hand if the two occur separately, we have an excuse to divide Christians into classes.

I’d suggest one class–Christians who have entered the gate (regeneration) and are following the path. But if you are on that path and have not experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life, seek it out. It doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit hasn’t worked in you–you would hardly have entered the gate without the Holy Spirit’s work. It does mean that there is more to experience in your life with God.

Preachers: Respecting without Idolizing

Preachers: Respecting without Idolizing

Eddie Arthur at Kouya Chronicle comments on recent debates about John Piper and justification. Amongst other things, he says this:

It might surprise some of you that I recommend Doug’s articles because in his review of Piper’s criticism of Wright, Doug comes down fairly and squarely on the side of Wright, not Piper. For most Evangelicals John Piper has a status approaching infallible. However, on this question, everything I’ve read leads me to side with Tom Wright (though I will fully admit to not yet having read Piper’s book).

(HT: Gentle Wisdom, in a related post, also well worth reading.)

Eddie is to be congratulated on his attitude of respect for John Piper, while at the same time being willing to recognize where Piper is not quite so strong. After reading Eddie’s blog for some time, I would have expected no less. But many Christians find it difficult to both hold a preacher or teacher in high regard and disagree with them. If we shift the cultural and religious context, and refer to leaders instead, I suspect it is a strongly human characteristic. We like to either like or dislike someone, and to do so without qualification.

There will be those who think I don’t respect Piper at all. After all, I have criticized him recently. But I have also appreciated what he has to say on many topics, including prosperity theology, though I differ there in the details. Mark Driscoll is another preacher I have criticized, but also one from whom I have much to learn. My theological perspective is very, very different from these two men, yet I find myself continually blessed by interacting with what they write, even–or especially–when I dislike it.

The other day my wife and I were watching 60 minutes on Joel O’Steen. Now if you want to find a preacher who gets on my nerves there he is. There’s all the glitzy, prosperity oriented, shallow, showmanship that I dislike most. When the segment was over my wife and I discussed it. We frequently do this, because we both teach, and often do so together. We found that there were things we could learn from the work in ministry, as well as many things that we both deplore. I look, for example, at the time he spends on his sermons. Wouldn’t it be great if more preachers spent that kind of time and effort on their proclamation of the word each Sunday!

My wife frequently gives a portion of her testimony when we’re teaching. She was greatly blessed and had a life-changing experience with the Holy Spirit at the Brownsville Revival here in Pensacola. Now many readers will again be surprised that I have any connection with Brownsville, given the more rationalistic tone of my own faith. But those who have read my own testimony will perhaps remember this. She tells of how she was powerfully changed and for many weeks continued attending the revival and drinking in everything that evangelist Steve Hill had to say. Then came the night when he read a text and made a point and she said, “That’s not right! That’s not what that text said!” With a bit of thought she realized that two things were compatible. Steve Hill could be wrong. Steve Hill could be God’s instrument in a powerful change in her life. The two things were not incompatible. She tells that as an important point of maturity in her Christian faith.

I blogged yesterday about being willing to live with uncertainty. Just as we like certainty about the facts we use in living our daily lives, we also like certainty in our leaders. A preacher is either good or bad, not quite good but fallible. But that is the wrong perspective. We are all human, all fallible, all less than perfect. I can often learn from people whose behavior I do not like, or whose teaching grates on me in many ways. At the same time, I must always be aware that even people I truly appreciate may be in error.

I need to respect preachers, teachers, and leaders, without making the mistake of idolizing them.

Why Authority Issues are Important

Why Authority Issues are Important

Via Pandagon I found this story, also reported here. These are serious accusations, and more and more people are coming forward.

Such a story should emphasize several things to those of us who are in ministry, including how transparent our ministry practices should be. Teach and behave in such a way that an accusation such as this would be implausible in your ministry. In my view that includes not claiming excessive authority over the spiritual lives of others, and in fact teaching them to use their own discernment with respect to claims of spiritual authority. It also means practicing accountability, both to let the congregation know that you really mean it and to make sure that the opportunity doesn’t arise.

Christians should also be very conscious of efforts to force them to give up their judgment to another person. Even demands that one “prayerfully consider” something that you have already rejected (for good reason), can be efforts to break down your own good sense and rational judgment in favor of a church leader. If you haven’t prayerfully considered something, of course, it’s a good idea to do so. But when you have, remember that your decision is between you and God and don’t let yourself be pushed around.

All of this reemphasizes the point I made a few days ago about the dangers of authority, especially the type of church teaching that makes women spiritually inferior in authoirty to men, such as the teaching that a woman can never have authority over a man in the church. I discussed these issues in Women in Ministry: A Shock and Gifts Ministry and Blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

Note what I wrote in the first of these entries:

God doesn’t like his children lording it over one another.

I have taught this repeatedly. Authority, especially spiritual authority, is dangerous. You create the potential for abuse as soon as you place them in charge and insulate them in any way from accountability. This is true in the home when a man is made “head of household” answering only to God, with his wife answering to him. It is true when one of the church offices is placed above all others. There are a number of teachers who emphasize that the pastor is the final authority in the church and insulate him from challenges because one cannot touch God’s anointed. But all of these options fly directly in the face of the gifts teaching of 1 Corinthians 12-14. God gives the gifts as he wills. They are all important, they are all needed in the church. None of them are to make one of us Lord over another. To fail to recognize this will ultimately result in abuse. If you’re teaching it, though you may not be abusing anyone yourself, you’re opening the door. [Emphasis from original.]

Now notice the teaching that was apparently involved in this particular pastoral abuse, from The Dallas Observer Blog:

Allen’s practice of paddling adults has been widely known in local COGIC circles for years, but a common teaching in black Pentecostalism is that a church member should never make an accusation against a man of God. Instead, he or she should pray privately that God deals with the minister’s sin. The two women I interviewed, in fact, each cited this teaching, which is apparently based on a biblical statement, “Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm,” that is mentioned twice in the Old Testament.

I don’t by any means believe that everyone who teaches a questionable view of authority is engaging in this type of abuse, but I do believe that any teaching that tends to remove accountability from someone in spiritual leadership is terribly, terribly dangerous and must be vigorously challenged by all Christians.

Unfortunately, in some charismatic and pentecostal circles, the belief that God’s Spirit can come upon everyone in the church and that God can speak to anyone sometimes gets perverted into the idea that God puts an unaccountable authority on certain church leaders. When you have that teaching, abuse of authority, whether spiritual, emotional, or finally physical will not be far away. (Note that I do not mean that the abuse is limited to or especially bad in charismatic and pentecostal groups; rather, that in those groups it is this particular doctrine, and related doctrines about “anointing” that are often abused in this way. Other groups have their own avenues into sin.)

Gifts Ministry and Blaspheming the Holy Spirit

Gifts Ministry and Blaspheming the Holy Spirit

OK, that should be a sufficiently provocative title! 🙂

Peter Kirk commented on an earlier post and gave me some advice–advice which I would normally consider quite good sense. Here it is:

But maybe you are going a bit too far, at least to keep yourself out of trouble, in suggesting that those who do not accept women’s ministry may be guilty of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

Now I would normally take that advice, because heating up a debate such as this is commonly quite unhelpful, but in this case, I’m not going to, and instead I’m going to make my reasoning explicit, paint a target on myself, and see who wishes to take target practice. I do not mean to destroy dialogue, but I have claimed repeatedly that there must be a balance between expressing one’s views forcefully and allowing room for conversation in any dialogue. Often what passes for dialogue consists entirely of watered down arguments and sentiments, and results in a mental fog rather than an exchange of opinions. I would reference my responses to the Adrian Warnock interviews with Wayne Grudem as an example. I responded with some vigor to a number of points, yet at no time was I actually angry with Adrian or with Wayne Grudem. I know that some things that I said did offend a couple of people, but I think I said what was necessary in order to be honest.

Looking Back

Now I’m going to refer back to my response to that interview on a couple of points. First, however, a correction. I quote from my own post:

I would note however, that while I disagree with the idea of male-only church leadership, I am not particularly offended by churches that follow such a practice. Anyone who dislikes their view can go find another church, and there are plenty of those. What I object to is that this doctrine is made an essential of the faith. . . .

I am going to refine that position in this post, because I don’t think I drew the line correctly, and I think that my response has become more vigorous due to some experiences since that time.

In the same post, I also partially defend Grudem’s use of the term blasphemy for the views of another, from his viewpoint:

Now I know that Dr. Grudem retracted his acceptance of the term “blasphemy” when used of Steve Chalke (with whom I am not acquainted). I’m a little less happy with that retraction than others are. Don’t get me wrong here please. I appreciate the humility and the willingness to dialogue that it represents. But I wonder if at root there isn’t some justification for the word form Dr. Grudem’s point of view on the atonement. Now I can’t speak for him, but what suggests this to me is my own reaction from the other side. The claim that penal substitutionary atonement is the essence of the atonement tempts me to use the word blasphemy because I believe it paints such a wrong picture of God, one different from the revealed and experienced God. Now I’m also going to resist use of the term, though my own use of anti-God could easily be as provocative. Thus I understand both John Piper’s desire to use the term, and Wayne Grudem’s initial agreement.

Again, I want to refine that comment just a bit in this post by being more specific about why I use (and used) the term “blasphemy” in that particular context, and why I can understand its use by another against my own position. A bottom line point here, however, is that if anyone who is a part of the family of Jesus believes that I am in danger of blaspheming the Holy Spirit, my preference is that they say so. I may disagree with them, but I get the opportunity to examine my own beliefs and question myself, which is a good thing. I regard that as part of the attitude of repentance.

The Unpardonable Sin and Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit

I need to say just a few words about the unpardonable sin. It is commonly equated, and quite scripturally so, with the phrase “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.” I am not going to fully defend my position on this in a post that will already be quite long, but I do not believe that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is a single act, nor is the unpardonable sin singular. I have commented on this briefly in the Participatory Study Series pamphlet Repentance and Rejoicing:

One of the tasks of the Holy Spirit is to convict of sin. If we turn away the Holy Spirit so much that we no longer hear His voice, we will no longer ask for pardon and it will, in fact, be too late.

I discuss this a bit further in my personal testimony, and also in a sermon which was broadcast on the radio here in Pensacola, and will be podcast via the Pacesetters Bible School New Blog within the next few weeks.

In summary, I believe that we are all more or less on the path between pardon and the unpardonable sin, which elicits the stern warning of Hebrews 6:4-6. There is a point of standing up against the urging of the Holy Spirit at which you will no longer hear the Holy Spirit speaking. When you get to that point, you will no longer as forgiveness, and thus will no longer be forgiven. Thus the unpardonable sin is that sin for which you do not ask pardon, and every time you resist the Holy Spirit, you head that direction. Fortunately, God’s grace is greater than our sin, and constantly pushes us to listen.

To go even further, however, I believe that every time we resist truth in any area of our life, we build habits of resistance that start to shut our ears to new light and to correction. If I become so angry with Wayne Grudem (see above), for example, or John Piper for their comments on penal substitutionary atonement, that I refuse in the future to hear anything they say, I have taken a step away from being corrected. Now obviously I can’t physically read or hear everything that anyone might desire. I’m talking about the attitude.

Gifts, Women’s Ministry, and Blasphemy

So this brings me to the actual point of this post. (I imagine you thought I was never going to manage that!) I start from the simple position that the Holy Spirit gives gifts in the church as he wills in order to do the work of ministry. Unlike our federal government, God doesn’t give unfunded mandates. The Holy Spirit can accomplish your call and your congregation’s call through you provided that you let him. The presence of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the church indicate God’s intention that those gifts be used in ministry.

Every time I close myself off to that call, every time I place a barrier in the way of the Holy Spirit carrying out his ministry in and through me, my family, or my congregation, I am speaking against the Holy Spirit, putting up my views and my agenda as greater than God’s. That is not only a form of idolatry, but when done in the face of the conviction of the Holy Spirit it is, I belive, a step on the road to blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. That blasphemy will become unpardonable if I get to the point of being unable to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches (Revelation 2-3).

Now one caveat here. While I am now more offended than I was previously by churches who deny women a place in ministry according to their gifts, I do believe there is a substantial difference between believing that something is right and failing to do it and not being aware that something is right. Both are dangerous, because our awareness of the Holy Spirit–God’s breath in Christ’s body–is key to our Christian life. But the first can be disastrous in a short period of time, while the second erodes. If completely honest, those with the second error correct their course.

This does not merely apply to women’s ministry. It applies to all forms of restrictions on ministry. I have seen churches where ministry was artificially restricted based on age, on economic status, on whether one was part of the founding families of the church, on intellectual ability or lack thereof, or on a buddy system with the elders and pastor. All of these things are, I believe, a way of flying in the face of the work of the Holy Spirit.

My bottom line is this: Be open to what the Holy Spirit is actually doing. While you need some structure from sound doctrinal beliefs, it’s easy to be wrong and to place your own agenda above God’s agenda. The one way to be safe is to maintain that attitude of repentace, to remain correctable.