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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.)

Lakeland Revival Notes

Lakeland Revival Notes

A number of my friends have commented to me on the revival in Lakeland, Florida at Ignited Church, some positively, some with questions, and some critically. Some have seen opposition that is already represented on the web, such as you find here.

I have not attended or watched the revival in Lakeland, and I don’t expect I will be visiting soon, though watching is more of an option. I have a pretty strong schedule of local involvement right now, and I believe that’s what I’m called to do. But for those who would like a first hand report, I asked a friend who attended meetings at Lakeland to comment.

Rev. Perry Dalton was the pastor of Pine Forest United Methodist Church at the time I returned to faith and church back in 1994. He was pastor of Pine Forest during the time of the Brownsville Revival, and has endured a great deal of criticism at the time. (You can see my own experience relating to the Brownsville Revival in this article on my personal testimony.) He is a friend and co-author with me of the book I Want to Pray!. He has attended services at Lakeland. I asked him to provide me with some comments which he did and graciously gave me permission to quote. I will quote his comments in full.

Please note that while comments on this post will be open, I’m neither going to defend the revival there nor will I join in any attack simply because I am not equipped to do so. The exception would be something that is based on an inappropriate theological starting point. I’m providing this comment for the benefit of my friends and other readers.

From Perry Dalton:

Thanks for your note. I’ll try to give you some things about my experience at Lakeland. I am getting ready to leave for NYC/UN to celebrate Israel’s 60th birthday. So it will be brief.

My experience at Lakeland was awesome. It is nothing like Brownsville. Everything about this move of God will drive everyone’s religious spirits crazy. Nothing fits the normal church theology. God just shows up and melts people. I was sitting there enjoying the worship and heard the Holy Spirit say “You are no longer retired”. The presence of God was so powerful I could hardly stand it.

Brownsville had more than its share of critics, but this is way beyond that. So far beyond it that the critics will not have to look for things to criticize. Todd Bentley does not preach. It just calls out healings. He will give an invitation. But the invitation is so simple and so short that it will seem inadequate and yet people make decisions every night. The invitation is simple, sweet and easy to understand.

If you have not seen Todd, he is tattooed all over. He dresses in jeans and motorcycle shirts. His interns as he calls them are people that appear to be right off the street with no training (maybe like the disciples). But, they demonstrate that they love the Lord. Since, I have been home I have continued to tune into God TV that is broadcasting this all over the world and moved their regular programing so that they can broadcast it. I have not heard any thing come from Todd’s mouth that is not biblical. It is different but still true to the Word.
Todd gives God all the glory.

It is almost as powerful on TV as being there in person, at least for me.

I recommend that everyone who wants to make a commitment of more of themselves to the Lord, to go! If you go as a spectator you will come away only with disappointment and criticisms, which only hurts the critic. The healings are awesome. Are some fake? Probably. Are some real? Yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I was impressed with the number of really small children being healed and really old people 90 year olds being healed.

As long as God gets the glory, I believe this will continue to grow around the world. It is already broadcast into 214 nations with close to a 1/2 billion viewers.

You are welcome to use any or all of this. Just keep it in context. I am in no way a critic of this move. God is free to do whatever he chooses.

Many people are quite shocked to find out that I have anything positive to say about Brownsville because my theology is somewhat different from theirs. I’m not called either a “liberal charismatic” or “passionate moderate” for nothing! But part of my view of Christian moderation is the acceptance of God’s working in a great variety of ways. In my view all activities of the Holy Spirit will show both human and divine elements. I will not go through a list of doctrines, check off the ones with which I disagree, and then condemn the ministry or movement. I prefer discussing particular teachings or actions rather than people or whole ministries, and the fact that I disagree with a particular teaching doesn’t mean I condemn the person holding it or the ministry in which he or she is engaged.

Despite theological disagreements, my experience with Brownsville was positive, and my recommendation to anyone questioning at the time was to go check it out. I’d say the same thing about this one, sight unseen.

Let me provide a couple of links here.

  • Revival: Benefits and Dangers
    This is a cautionary article I wrote during the Brownsville Revival. Oddly enough I got favorable comments about it from both supporters and critics of the revival.
  • Ten Things I Believe about the Holy Spirit
    While I don’t like criticizing whole movements and ministries, it is rare that I find something I can endorse without qualification. This list from Dave Warnock, a Methodist minister in England, is on the mark. I agree with it 100%.
  • A Foundation for Thinking
    First of a two part series I wrote for my wife’s devotional list dealing with Genesis 1:1-2. You may miss what I’m saying about the Holy Spirit until you read the second part.
  • Wind of God – Chaos to Order
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.

A Common Theme for the Epiphany 2 Lectionary

A Common Theme for the Epiphany 2 Lectionary

I’m probably going to talk about common themes later, but I noticed something interesting that might not be the first thing one would notice in these passages, and that’s a combined sense of inadequacy without God’s Spirit, and the adequacy given by the presence of God’s Spirit. In Isaiah 49, the servant is taken as an infant, and equipped by God. This parallels John 1, I think, where we do not have an expression of inadequacy, but we have the giving of the Spirit at baptism, and ministry that follows it.

Inadequacy is specifically expressed in Psalm 40:1-11 “pulled me up from the seething chasm” and “from the mud of the mire” (v. 2, NJB), and in Paul’s letters frequently, but demonstrated in our passage again through the focus on “called by the will of God (v. 1), and “relying on God” (v. 9).

Whether or not the inadequacy is expressed, in each case the preparation and the giving of the Spirit is the launching point for ministry. We talk about the baptism of Jesus as demonstrating the path that each Christian must follow. Jesus is obedient to God, even though he has not sinned and doesn’t require baptism for forgiveness of sins. But note also that Jesus is not inadequate, as we would normally think of inadequacy, but he also launches his ministry when he receives the Spirit.

There is a pattern there for modern ministry (clergy or lay) as well.

Which Paradigm to Check

Which Paradigm to Check

David Lang has written an interesting post at Better Bibles dealing with the complementarian/egalitarian debate. Readers of this blog will realize that I’m not terribly moderate on this particular issue–I’m passionately egalitarian.

David does make a good point about polarizing arguments, however:

. . . In the process of trying to persuade those who disagree with us, we often become even more polarized in our views. We get so frustrated with the other person for not agreeing with us and so flustered by their arguments, that we begin to shore up our own arguments and press the text to say something more clearly or explicitly than it really does. This is especially true when we see the stakes as being high. . . .

It’s quite true that overstating one’s case can both drive neutral parties away and alienate opponents so that dialog becomes much more difficult if not impossible. I would say on the other hand, speaking from personal experience, that one can be so careful not to overstate one’s position that it becomes unclear just what the position is.

People will then congratulate you for being a peacemaker, but the problem continues. You can spend so much time framing a debate, that the debate itself gets lost.

David’s comments are not without merit, however. And I will keep them in mind as I state things fairly forcefully. But perhaps I will restrain myself from time to time!

But the key point to which I wanted to respond is this:

As I’ve observed the gender role debate, I’ve seen this dynamic played out over and over again. There is a finite set of Biblical passages which the two camps must deal with. . . .

It’s a simple statement and is perhaps not David’s main point, but it becomes my main point. Why? Because I do not believe that this debate is a matter of dealing with a finite set of Biblical passages. We are warned to check presuppositions, so the presupposition I want to check is this very one.

To me, the issue is not a finite set of Biblical passages. I happen to believe, for example, that at least in some of his churches, Paul did not permit women to teach. I don’t think Paul would, in his context, have advocated ordination of women. The “finite set of passages” position seems to rest on the idea that the Bible is primarily a set of theological propositions, and if we can just straighten it out so that all of them say one thing, that is the theological answer.

I would suggest instead looking for the principles on which the various individual judgments were based. To me particular counter-examples to male leadership, such as Deborah in the Old Testament and Junia in the New are that much more significant because of the fact that they occurred in overwhelmingly male dominated societies. That is an interesting factor, whether or not there are particular texts that speak against women in leadership or not.

This leads me to believe that I don’t have to “deal with” all of these passages, at least in the sense of explaining that they really express an egalitarian ideal. What I’m looking for is what are truly the basic principles of the kingdom.

When I have found those I try to apply them to living in a modern society. What worked in Paul’s churches may not work in today’s churches and vice-versa. What I must be careful to do is to make sure that my behavior today is based on the same principles.

I take this a bit further, however. It is not merely Biblical passages that are involved, but also church traditions, and most importantly the present day guidance of the Holy Spirit. Now I don’t believe that the Holy Spirit will guide us into violating the principles that are expressed in scripture, but he certainly can guide us into seeing how those principles are to be applied in a modern context. All of this is accomplished using our reasoning powers–always under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, or so we’d all like to assume.

The paradigm that I would like to see shift is one that expects us to explain all of the texts one way or the other, and takes a look at the general trend of scripture–the trajectory, if you please–to see where God is leading us.

I do believe passionately that God is leading us to more equality in ministry. I believe this because I see it happening in scripture–some of the time. I believe it because women have stepped up throughout church history. I believe it because I see genuine calls and gifting amongst women in areas the complementarians would reject. But most importantly, I see anything less than equality in the church as unworthy of the incarnation. The Word becoming flesh dwarfs these kinds of human barriers.

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.