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Posts Tagged ‘Holy Spirit’

Ethics for Paul, therefore, is ultimately a theological issue pure and simple- that is, an issue related to the known character of God.  Everything has to do with God, and what God is about in Christ and the Spirit.  Thus: (1) the purpose (or basis) of Christian ethics is the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31); (2) the pattern for such ethics is the Son of God, Christ himself (1 Cor 4:16-17; 11:1; Eph 4:20), into whose likeness we were predestined to be transformed (Rom 8:29); (3) the principle is love, precisely because love is at the essence of who God is; (4) and the power is the Spirit, the Spirit of God.

Gordon Fee, Paul, the Spirit and the People of God, p106

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I have a great appreciation for Carl Trueman.  For those who don’t know, Trueman is a theologian and historian who teaches at Westminster Theological Seminary.  He also blogs regularly at Reformation21.  He is one of the wittiest and most insightful writers out there, one from whom I’ve learned much.

Part of what I like about Trueman is that he is unabashedly Reformed.  It’s not that I agree with his positions, but I admire the man for the fact that he has strong convictions, doesn’t mind stating them strongly and, it seems, he appreciates when others do the same.  I like people who know where they stand and hold to it firmly, as well as grant you the right to do the same.

Then there I times I shake my head.  Like yesterday, when I was reading this post on an unfortunate incident regarding a church suing a former member.  The context of that post isn’t my concern here (since I agree with Trueman, save for the following points).  But in it he makes a statement I’ve heard/read from him previously: “The church is marked by two things: the word and the sacraments.”

This is, of course, a classic Reformed position, so he’s not stating anything new here.  And since I went to a Reformed seminary, I’m well aware of the arguments in favor of it.  I don’t necessarily disagree with “the word” part of the statement, though Trueman and I might not see eye-to-eye on how it’s carried out.  Most Reformed folks I know would stress the preaching of the word- one guy standing up in the front and the congregation listening, with very little interaction otherwise.  That, to me, is not necessarily bad, in fact, it’s mostly a good thing, but it’s not exactly what the NT writers had in mind.  There was some of that style of preaching, to be sure, but there also seemed to be a bit more interaction happening, too.

Anyway, I find his statement regarding the centrality of the ‘sacraments’ (and the term he uses next, ‘means of grace’) to be the most problematic.  This is the mark of the church?  I’m not sure if a person who has never read the NT before would come away with these two points as the marks of the church.  What about love (Jn 13:35)?  What about obeying the commands of Jesus (Jn 14:23-24)?  What about living lives of faith?  It seems to me that Paul thought faith set the church apart from others.

What about believers helping fellow believers financially, practically, etc?  In fact, that shows up more often in the NT than the Lord’s Supper does.  Why doesn’t that make the Top 2 Marks of the Church?

Or, perhaps even more egregious, how about the fact that the very presence of God who was present at the beginning of creation now dwells in the hearts of his people individually and among his people corporately?  You mean to tell me that someone read the NT and came away thinking that the Holy Spirit is not the mark of the church?  God himself dwells among us!  After all, it is the Spirit’s presence in our corporate worship that ought to make unbelievers “fall down and worship God, exclaiming ‘God is really among you!'” (1 Cor 14:25).  If that isn’t something that marks off the church, I don’t know what is.

I want to be clear.  I’m not down on the so-called ‘sacraments,’ or as I state here, my inner Baptist prefers to use the term ‘ordinance.’  In fact, I’d argue baptism and the Lord’s Supper are undervalued in the modern church.  I’m a proponent of weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper (though I’d stress more ‘supper’ than a cracker and juice).  I have very strong feelings about baptism, not just the mode but also its importance.

But what I think Reformed theology has done in general, and Trueman in particular, is give a good thing too high a place in the life of the church.  It is, in my opinion, very difficult to get from the NT that the two primary marks of the church are the word and sacraments.  The first, as I said, is defensible, depending on how we define it.  The second is a harder case to make.

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It is certainly no accident that with his [the Holy Spirit] entry, there is no further talk of defeat.  In Romans 7:14-25, a rough count that I made indicates that the words “I,” “me” and “my” (in the RSV anyway) were used over 40 times. In that context there was no reference to the Holy Spirit, and thus, defeat.  In chapter 8 where the Holy Spirit’s presence is all pervasive, confidence and assurance are set forth.  The warfare between the two natures goes on, but where the Holy Spirit is in control, the old nature is compelled to give way.  And as long as Christians seek to carry on the warfare at their own charges, they fight a losing battle.  But when the avail themselves of the resources of life and power that are their’s in Christ Jesus, they are more than conquerers. 

From Peter O’Brien, Freedom from Death Talk 1 (on Romans 8:1-4)

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Scattered Thoughts on Acts: Part 2

See Part 1.

The Holy Spirit & Tongues

Many Pentecostals I have known over the years have used the book of Acts to argue that the initial sign one has received the Holy Spirit (which often in their reckoning occurs separately from salvation itself) is speaking in tongues.  In evidence of this they trot out Acts 2, Acts 10 (Cornelius & friends, which may be the name of my next fake band) and the folks in Ephesus in Acts 19.  In each case the Holy Spirit descends and people start speaking in tongues.

But what about the people in 4:31?  Or the Samaritans in 8:14-17?  Or Paul in 9:17-19?  Or even the 3000 who were saved in Acts 2?  There may even be more.  My point is that less than half the time the Holy Spirit shows up results in speaking on tongues.  For my money, I need a better percentage than that to convince me that Luke was trying to make that connection.

Now I know that some will argue, for instance, that Paul did speak in tongues; he says as much in 1 Corinthians 14.  But that’s not the issue.  All of these people could have ended up speaking in tongues.  The question is regarding Luke’s intent- was he trying to demonstrate that the initial sign of the reception of the Holy Spirit was speaking in tongues?  If that were his goal, I think we’d see a better “success rate.”

The Role of the Spirit in Acts

Now, the Holy Spirit plays an important role in the book of Acts, so much so that some have argued we should title the book “The Acts of the Holy Spirit” rather than “The Acts of the Apostles.”  Besides tongues, the Spirit gives direction for ministry (8:29, 13:2), inspires prophecy (11:28, 21:11) and even transports Phillip (8:39).  But the single biggest role of the Spirit is to empower people to witness (1:8).

Connected to this is the theme of boldness which comes through the Holy Spirit (why isn’t this the initial sign of the Spirit?), both explicitly stated (end of chapter 4) and implicitly (Stephen is quite bold in his speech).  The point is that the Spirit is the One who empowers God’s people to witness.  The Spirit drives the mission of the church in Acts. 

The Spread of the Gospel

Whatever else one says about the book of Acts, the main point of the book comes down to the spread of the gospel.  Pretty much everything else that happens feeds into this theme.  The Holy Spirit empowers witnesses to spread the gospel (1:8).  The miracles seen accompany the preaching of the gospel.  Persecution (as noted in Part 1) is a vehicle for spreading the gospel.  The conversion of Saul isn’t simply a cool story, but catipults the Gentile mission (Acts 9).  The Jerusalem Council validates what God is doing among the Gentiles (Acts 15), and endorses the spread of the gospel to all people.  Paul’s trials get him to Rome, where he shares the gospel.  Even the episode of Cornelius and friends speaking in tongues in Acts 10 serves to demonstrate that the gospel is spreading to the Gentiles.

So I think that you must read the book of Acts through the lens of the gospel reaching beyond the boundaries of the Jewish people.  I also think it’s instructive for us.  Whatever else might happen in our churches (the manifest power of the Spirit, life-giving community, contextualizing for the sake of other cultures, etc), the goal is to spread the good news of Jesus Christ and His kingdom.

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A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers.  I’m slowly but surely making my way through many of D A Carson’s books.  It is a rare skill to be exegetical and devotional in the same book, or even on the same page, yet Carson pulls it off.  This book came at just the right time, as I need a pick-me-up in the prayer department.  It’s interesting, and a bit disheartening, to see how little we allow Scripture to shape our prayers.  While this book doesn’t answer every question regarding prayer, it does provide a biblical framework with which to start, and contains numerous bits of practical advice along the way.  My wife is currently reading this as well, and has also benefitted greatly from it.  I’ve quoted from this book once in a previous post.

Paul, the Spirit and the People of God.  Have you ever had a book that you’ve never read from beginning to end, but probably read the whole thing in chunks over a long period of time (for many of us, that’s the Bible)?  That was me and this Gordon Fee book, until recently.  I finally made the time to read through the whole thing, and I’m glad I did.  Stemming from his work in God’s Empowering Presence, which is 900+ pages of detailed exegesis and theological reflection, Fee offers this manageable 200ish page volume.  I think this would make an excellent book for a small group to study if they are interested in learning more about the Holy Spirit in Paul’s letters (and in the NT as a whole).  Much of the church today lacks a robust understanding of the Spirit, including my own charismatic circles.  It will be hard to read this book and not be challenged to see just how central the Spirit is to biblical theology and practice.  From eschatology to ethics to spiritual gifts, Fee does a tremendous job of making accessible what a lifetime of research has taught him.

From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya.  We read this Ruth Tucker book (affectionately known as FJ2IJ) in our missions training school.  It is, as the subtitle indicates, a biographical history of missions.  Tucker runs through the history of missions by looking at various important figures, with some historical setting for a little context.  Reader beware- she pulls no punches.  The history of Christian missions is mixed with triumph and failure, and she’ll let you know about it.

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Joel Willits over at Euangelion had an interesting post yesterday regarding the presence of God and charismatic theology.  I was simply going to leave a comment, but it was going to be too long, hence this post.  He starts by asking the question: “How much of the modern charismatic movement’s stress on the ‘tangible presence’ of God in the form of signs, wonders and individual manifestations is the result of a non-sacramental theology?”

For those who aren’t familiar with the term “sacramental theology,” Dr Willits is referring to those Christian traditions who believe that Christ is, in some sense, present in the sacraments (Catholics, Lutherans, Orthodox, and Anglican- though they all nuance it differently).  There should probably be more to this definition, but for the sake of this discussion we’ll start with that.  He observes that charismatic churches tend not to emphasize the sacraments in terms of Christ’s presence, and I think he’s probably right. Most charismatic/pentecostal churches tend to be “non-sacramental,” along with Baptists and a few other groups (Nazarenes?, Congregationalists?, not sure).

He also relays a conversation he had with a friend who is part of a “supernatural boot camp” (Willits’ term).  This friend expressed a desire to feel the presence of God and experience intimacy with God,  giving a couple examples of this happening, such as feeling a warm sensation in his hands.

I encourage you to read Willits’ entire post, because he discusses a couple other things that provoke good thought, but I wanted to focus on his original question: is the desire to experience the presence of God a result of a non-sacramental theology?

There are probably a number of factors that are at work in the desire for the tangible presence of God, some good and some bad.  Some have a desire for something new or cool.  Some have seen the faithful lives of those who seek after these things and want whatever it is that those people have experienced.  And, as Willits suggests, they may be seeking the tangible presence of God because they don’t have any other room in their theology to have that experience (that is, being non-sacramental).

But I think there is something more crucial here that Willits does not mention, and does not crop up in the comments (at least not yet).  Once again, I appeal to what Gordon Fee has emphasized on many occasions: in the earliest churches, the Holy Spirit was an experienced reality.  Many of us charismatics read 1 Corinthians 12-14, Galatians 3 and the entire book of Acts and note there was something about the presence of the Spirit that manifested itself in the community, and, with maybe a couple exceptions (Acts 2:42?), those passages are not connected with sacraments (or ordinances, as my inner Baptist prefers to call them).  That, of course, doesn’t mean that those holding to a more sacramental theology are wrong to do so (they do have biblical justification in the gospels); it simply means that the presence of God can be manifested apart from them.

To be sure, charismatics hardly have the monopoly on experiencing the presence of God.  I’ve written a bit about this before.  Needless to say, a warm feeling in the hands may indeed be from God, but it most certainly does not exhaust what the NT has to say about God’s presence through the indwelling Holy Spirit.  In fact, I’d say it barely touches on the amazing things we see in Scripture.  My point here, though, is simply to note that there is a biblical and theological justification for the charismatic’s desire to “feel the presence of God,” even if that can be awfully hard to define.

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It’s always interesting to see the reaction I get when I tell someone that I am a charismatic.  I’ve been getting weird looks since my undergrad days at a Baptist university.  Back then, it wasn’t so much that I was a charismatic, but that I, Danny Pierce, was a charismatic.  After all, I was a good exegete (or at least I had that reputation) and knew the Bible reasonably well (only to find out as the years have gone on that I didn’t know it very well at all).  I wasn’t overly exuberant; I never wore a “John Wimber is my Homeboy” t-shirt;  nor did I raise my hand in class to ask a question only to slip into an uninterpreted tongue.

I still get weird looks.  Even some people from my own church are confused by my labeling our church ‘charismatic’ (which, I should note, is not an official label given by our elders, but my reckoning of things).  I’ve had numerous people say to me, “wait, we’re charismatic?!?!?!”

There is a lot of confusion over this term.  Most of the people I talk to about the term ‘charismatic’ have all sorts of images pop into their brain.  Some see prominent televangelists bilking old ladies out of money and throwing Holy Ghost Hand Grenades into the first few rows of a healing crusade.  Others picture a rock concert trying to pass itself off as a worship service, complete with shouting, jumping and the ominous potential of a moshpit.  Still others see a group of people driven by emotional ecstasy and chasing after spiritual highs (or spiritual drunkenness, as some might say) without any care for the baggage that comes with those experiences.  And then there are those who see all of these things colliding for the perfect storm of charismania.

What drives me nuts is that this distracts from the biblical presentation of spiritual gifts, or the charismata (you know… the word we get ‘charismatic’ from).  The charismata exist to build the church.  They are gifts from God to be exercised in the life of the Christian and the church, primarily for the purpose of edifying and strengthening the body of Christ.  Most of the pictures that creep into our minds at the sound of that word are not what we ought to be focusing on.

So let’s clear the air:

  • The exercise of spiritual gifts does not have to be accompanied by showmanship, an event or even a prominently gifted person orchestrating a given meeting.  Spiritual gifts can be, and should be, exercised by any believer in any context.
  • The exercise of spiritual gifts is not tied to a particular worship style.  There is no reason to think that a church with electric guitars and a drummer who breaks 2 sticks in one set (coughbriancough) is any more ‘Spirit-filled’ than a church who sings hymns accompanied by a pipe organ (wait, the instruments can accompany the singing and not the other way around? Oops, sorry, tangent for another post).
  • Being charismatic does not require one to participate in any of the following activities: keeping Hillsong or Vineyard cued up on your iPod, being slain in the spirit (or badly wounded, for that matter), laughing uncontrollably, crying uncontrollably or just losing control in general.
  • Having a cool experience does not necessarily make one charismatic in the biblical sense.  It’s too easy to be deceived into thinking every good feeling is of God.
  • Being charismatic simply means that we seek and exercise the spiritual gifts (charismata).  No more, no less.  Everything else (for instance, upbeat worship) is gravy, and depending on how you like gravy it can be either good or bad.

So who’s to blame?  I’ll go ahead and place it squarely on us, the charismatics.  We have made secondary (if they’re ranked even that high) issues the most important ones.  We have convinced ourselves that the Holy Spirit moves in certain ways and amongst certain people.  We decried the box other traditions have placed God in, all the while keeping him nice and wrapped in a box of our own.  We have turned our preference for the way we like things to be into a law and called it the move of the Spirit.

Part of the danger, of course, is that by saddling all our junk on top of the term “charismatic,” as well as the eager pursuit of spiritual gifts, we have effectively ruined that pursuit for many others in the church.  True, each person is responsible for their own decisions, and I truly believe that everyone should pursue spiritual gifts regardless of what they think about us charismatics (see my post here).  But we, the charismatic portion of the church, are responsible for ourselves, too.  And if we see our role as building up the whole church, and not just the like-minded people sitting next to us on Sunday mornings, then we ought not to add more to the term than Paul himself does in 1 Corinthians.

‘Charismatic’ has, regretably, come to denote a style, not a theological understanding of how God continues to build the church through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.  And as long as we think style is what defines us, we’ll fail to fulfill the goal of building the body of Christ.

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