turn your attention, look to, and focus on Jesus

Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

John 12:20-22

Recently we saw what I think amounted to a good documentary on the life of St. Patrick of Ireland. I thought it dealt with what I have read and been taught about his life, evenhandedly and well, for the limited time it had, not including the myths that are either historically unwarranted, or can’t be substantiated. What I like best about it in retrospect, became apparent to me after looking at a popular (I take it) more like film, acting out his life. In this film, the actor playing Patrick was quite charismatic, I suppose, which is beside the point, because actually the actor playing Patrick in the documentary, surely would have been as well, if by charismatic we mean seeing the gift of the Spirit at work through his prayers and life. But if by charismatic, we mean a strong figure who attracts the attention of others, than that was every bit the Patrick portrayed in the film. He looked tall, rugged, strong, a face one could hardly forget, in command, one people would look to, and have confidence in, just because of his appearance. But the real Patrick, or the one that I believe is much more in keeping with what we know of in accordance with historical evidence, and from what we see about this in scripture, was humble, self-effacing, yet firm in his commitment to God’s call on his life. A broken vessel, sharing the gospel. The one as portrayed in the documentary.

Interestingly, in the scripture above, the Greeks didn’t care about seeing the disciples, or followers of Jesus. Or anyone else for that matter, it seems. They wanted to see Jesus. And Jesus surely wanted to see them, as well. But he thought of the great ingathering of Greeks and of all peoples that would take place through what he was about to do. This was Jesus’s response, and what followed:

Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.

John 12:23-33

Jesus is the one we need to see. It’s not us, or someone else. Only, and forever only: Jesus. Through him we see God. And we see the one who wants to make us fully what we were created to be in what amounts to nothing short of a new creation in him. But it is never marked by our own greatness or goodness. Only his.

Our lives are only as good so to speak insofar as they point to Jesus. If people’s attention is turned to us, that’s not to their benefit in the least, but actually to their destruction. But insofar as we can see Jesus in someone else, that is wonderful, and what’s meant to be. But it is marked by the way of the cross. What we reflect on during this time of the year, as we look forward to remembering Jesus’s suffering and death for us, and the resurrection that followed.

“We would see Jesus.” Yes, me, too. In and through him. Amen.

Paul, a charismatic Anglican

In one of Scot McKnight’s recent books (another good one), A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together, in some good humor Scot suggests “that the Apostle Paul was a charismatic Anglican, who was a mix of routine and spontaneity.” When you look at Paul in the New Testament, there is no escaping the fact that in the biblical sense his life seemed to include all that the Spirit was doing then and is allegedly doing today in some quarters: people praying for the dead to rise and seeing God answer, others healed of life threatening and debilitating illnesses, demons cast out, prophesying occuring, and speaking in tongues as both a gift to edify the church as long as there’s an interpretation, or a prayer language, and surely a few things I missed. Actually I like another point Scot makes in the book that the gift we are given in Christ’s body amounts to whatever blesses the body. For me it has seemed to be more in the line of teaching, but the gift we all have is surely as unique as each one of us is from God both in terms of creation and new creation.

What can be missing in Pentecostal and charismatic churches and circles today, from what I’ve seen, is the humility of Paul. And I’m not referring to the showboating in some places which has nothing to do with the charismatic gift (which actually includes all in Christ’s body, but to that later). But there is too often something of the sense of superiority in looking down on other churches and Christians, so that like the Corinithian church who were overflowing and behind in none of the gifts, Paul might say to some if he were on the scene today that in their divisiveness and attitude that others are beneath them, they are living as if they don’t have the Spirit at all. Although I’m sure that in the grace of the Lord there are many Pentecostal churches and believers who are genuinely humble.

According to the Greek New Testament, strictly speaking, all of us in Christ are already Spirit people, we are charismatic, having the charismata of the Spirit. It doesn’t even matter, I don’t think, if we mistakenly believe some of the so-called charismatic gifts (not really a biblical way of looking at this, I might argue) are really not for today. The Baptists along with the Nazarenes, Mennonites, Methodists, and yes, Roman Catholics, and other traditions and believers are all potentially Spirit-filled, period. And some of the Pentecostal churches and believers who advertise themselves as Spirit-filled may well be not.

I will probably be continuing to think on this subject for a time, so I have to hold on to my hat (I’m a hat wearer, though my wife isn’t crazy about that). There is so much to say on this subject. To come: the fruit of the Spirit is far more important than the gifts of the Spirit, though both surely have their place. And what I think a real Spirit-filled church looks like. For a hint, and actually in large part at least, my answer, look at the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7.

words and acts being holy

We hear of those churches either rooted in the Great Tradition, or closer rooted to it of the importance of the ministry of the word and the sacraments. Of course referring to scripture and at least to baptism and the Lord’s Supper (or, Meal, referring to the Eucharist or Holy Communion). I would agree in the sense that both the words and the acts are holy, not only in terms of the human participation in them, but of no less than God’s participation in them as well. We can say they’re symbolic, but we can’t stop there. The sign is imbued with the reality, in other words something of the reality accompanies the sign I take it– by the Holy Spirit of God. Just how all of this happens, take for example in the Lord’s Meal, I don’t think we need to know. Except that both the past and the future is brought into the present by the Spirit in and through Jesus. N. T. Wright in this little book makes a good case for that.

Good, well thought out liturgy such as we find in the tradition Thomas Cranmer began in the Book of Common Prayer carries with it both a beauty and power which reaches deep into the human experience, indeed into our humanity bringing into that nothing less than the divine in and through Jesus. And by that a working toward the fulfillment of our true humanity made no less than in the image of God. The prayer book takes one through scripture along with prayers and song and opportunities to pray for a host of things, good and important reminders.

In so many evangelical churches while there is some good liturgy by virtue of the songs sang and the scripture that is read and preached, it is often hit and miss in terms of the gospel remaining front and center in it all,  I’m supposing. The words and acts in such services are certainly no less holy, and there’s not one way of meeting together in corporate worship. But I am thinking there are certain basics which need to be covered which are the usual common fare in the churches of the Great Tradition.  And we do well to learn from such in this regard. There is a Roman Catholic church in our neighborhood which I attended (a 5:00 pm Saturday service) once. So rich in liturgy both in the reading of scripture and in prayers and song. Only about 5% I’m supposing was Roman Catholic, the rest being common to us all. I have also been impressed from what I’ve seen of the Eastern Orthodox tradition in this regard. Symbols being treated as they really are: holy. Because through such we are taken into the very presence of God in and through Jesus by the Spirit.

We could say adoration of God in praise, confession of sin, thanksgivings, along with supplications meaning petitions in prayer to God should be basic in all of corporate worship. Along with the proclamation or preaching of the word. And I think it is good to leave open room for the unusual, what is nowadays called the charismatic, movings of the Spirit in God’s people outside the normal rhythm, yet in harmony and resonant with that. The good order and normal flow and work of the Spirit may at times be accompanied or temporarily suspended by a needed holy interruption. Before getting back into the normal flow.

Our church is good at incorporating something of this into each service. So that we have a good balance between the liturgical and what might be called free or spontaneous. Again there is no one way of being church in the corporate worship setting. But it does seem essential to acknowledge and remember that our words and acts are especially marked out as holy in those places and times.

Jordan Seng on supernatural ministry for today? yes, but…*

One final thing that supernatural ministry may require of you is what you might call the faith to discover—or to rediscover, as the case may be.

I’m often asked this sort of question: if supernatural ministries are so useful and have been as prevalent as many claim, then why don’t all churches and traditions use them today? It’s a good question that actually reflects a profound historical reality. The truth is, while supernatural ministries have been both common and enormously fruitful in church history, they’ve never been what you would call steady. Over the centuries we see great renewals of supernatural ministry followed by long droughts of disuse. It’s up and down, here then there, a consistent inconsistency. You can focus on regional revivals and conclude that supernatural ministries have been constant, but you could just as well focus on down times and conclude that supernatural ministries ended with the first apostles. Really, it’s the variation that needs explaining. Why do supernatural ministries surge so often only to dwindle so frequently?

Since supernatural ministries have never been entirely absent, it’s hard to argue that God decided to stop empowering them, so the cause for variation must lie with us. My theory is this: groups of believers frequently figure out how to do supernatural ministry, but they have a hard time figuring out how to live with the ministry. Revivals come with great exhilaration and fruitfulness; downturns come when people tire of the level of weirdness, vulnerability and sacrifice that supernatural ministry demands.

One result of this variation is that very few believers have had the benefit of what you could really call a tradition in supernatural ministries, so each new generation has to do the work of rediscovering the ministries for themselves.

It’s always been this way. For example, the use of supernatural ministry by first-century believers is well-chronicled in Scripture and elsewhere, but by the late second century the church father Irenaeus in his Against Heresies actually had to reassure his readers that supernatural works were still practiced fruitfully in his jurisdiction. “For some do certainly and truly drive out devils,” he wrote. “Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole. Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up, and remained among us for many years.”

In the next century the seminal theologian Origen wrote from Alexandria of “traces of that Holy Spirit” among Christians who “expel evil spirits and perform many cures, and foresee certain events,” but it was only “traces.” A century later, in the same city, Bishop Athanasius extensively documented the miracles of his Egyptian contemporary, Anthony of the Desert, but his whole project was based on the notion that only exceptional monks were doing such ministry.

The great Augustine of Hippo totally dismissed the possibility of supernatural ministries initially, but then he encountered them during a fifth-century revival in his native North Africa. In the last section of The City of God he offers gushing accounts of healings, concluding “even now miracles are wrought in the name of Christ.” He reportedly collected accounts of recent miracles for pastors to read aloud in the churches he supervised in order to rekindle the ministries.

We have rather detailed accounts of the use of supernatural ministries by Patrick, Columba and other monk evangelists of the western European outreach. In a wonderfully personal letter to Augustine of Canterbury in A.D. 601, Gregory, bishop of Rome, acknowledged the use of miracles to attract English natives to Christ, and even offered advice for handling the pressures of being a supernatural minister. But by the later middle centuries, as central church leaders focused on governance rather than outreach, supernatural ministries seem to have survived only on the fringes.

Early Reformation leaders strenuously dismissed miracle stories as a ploy by Catholics to legitimate their dominance, but it didn’t take long for Protestant pioneers to rediscover the usefulness of supernatural tools. Scottish Reformers John Knox, Alexander Peden and George Wishart had highly regarded prophetic ministries in their day. (Wishart even predicted his own murder.) John Welch, a leading Reformer at the turn of the seventeenth century, was recognized as a man of “prophetic utterance” and was credited with raising a man from the dead. Seventeenth-century biographers of reform clergyman Robert Bruce systematically collected eyewitness accounts of the many healings, deliverances and other supernatural manifestations linked with his evangelistic meetings.

And yet less than a century later, the great British revivalist John Wesley was shocked to find “that signs and wonders are even now wrought by his holy child Jesus.” His revered journals are spiced  with accounts of deliverances and healings , and also of the opposition he experienced from “formal, orthodox men [who] began even then to ridicule whatever gifts they had not themselves and to decry them all as either madness or imposture.” Wesley’s New England contemporary, Jonathan Edwards, often called the dean of American theology, wrote some of his most ardent essays to fend off Christian critics who didn’t trust the supernatural manifestations that characterized his revival ministry. Even her wife was called to defend what was called her “joyful view of divine things.”

Francis Asbury, the first American Methodist bishop, was so passionate about supernatural ministry that he used to command his preaching protégés to “Feel for power, feel for power!” Two Methodists and a Presbyterian touched off the Cane Ridge Revival on the American frontier in the early 1800s—a movement that  popularized the phrase “slain in the Spirit.” But today few Methodists or Presbyterians are aware of this movement, and neither of those denominations is known for practicing supernatural ministry.

Supernatural ministries played a big role in the establishment of the early church, the birth of monasticism, the expansion of the faith to Western Europe, the spread of the Reformation, the great revivals of the Atlantic and American frontier evangelism. And yet in each instance, practitioners had to discover it anew for themselves.

So, what does this pattern of atrophy and rediscovery mean for you?

Well, it mean that while you may or may not have had some supernatural experiences with the Lord, you probably haven’t benefited from a lot of examples of living with supernatural ministries. If you’re at a church that practices supernatural ministry, the church is probably relatively new to it. And even if you church does have a strong supernatural tradition, chances are the congregation has experienced some dramatic waxing and waning in the effectiveness of its supernatural ministries. In all, if you’re interested in supernatural ministries, it’s likely that you’re in a place of rediscovery or renewal, and that requires a certain sort of faith.

There’s a style of Christian discipleship that is conservative, in the literal sense of the word: its emphasis is on preservation, affirming what’s proven and familiar. There’s another sort of discipleship that presumes new things and experiences—not liberal, in the sense of giving license to violate the old or established, but progressive, in the sense of Jesus’ teaching on “new wineskins” for “new wine.” To embrace all the works of the kingdom, we have to be willing to expand our containers of knowledge and experience. To pursue supernatural ministry, we need the faith for this progressive sort of discipleship. We have to be willing to try things, to reach for things we’ve only heard of, to explore and discover, to act without being totally sure how to act. Supernatural ministry entails adventure.

Jordan Seng, Miracle Work: A Down-to-Earth Guide to Supernatural Ministries, 25-29.

*Could have been entitled, “renewal of a supernatural people,” in keeping with the titles of the chapter and section quoted, but that raises questions which are not answered well by what is quoted here, though in my view are indeed answered well in the book as a whole.

being open to the Holy Spirit

Most all of my Christian life I have more than dutifully listened to the Bible being read (on cassette, and now on CD’s). Except for one period of time. For a few years we went to a Vineyard church. I had a personal crisis and we up and left the church we were part of. I had been dissatisfied with my Christian life to some extent, and had considered considering Roman Catholicism at one point. I had believed in all the gifts or manifestations (as I might want to emphasize now) of the Spirit through the writing of Gordon Fee. Now we were in a church in which a number of the gifts cited in scripture, particularly in 1 Corinthians, likely would be “in play.” And over time we found out that was the case. Probably not as intense as in some Vineyard and charismatic or Pentecostal churches. But just as surely present.

Back to the Bible point, for the first time and I think the only time in my decades of being a Christian, I quit listening to scripture for a time, was using a different version than the NIV, the new NLT, and was simply trying to be open to the Spirit and get into worship. The worship, while one dimensional in the sense that it was one kind of music, was excellent in quality of music, but more importantly, it was about worship. For people to be lying on their faces, at times dancing, all of us moving with hands in the air, was the norm. God’s presence in conviction and sweetness was often palpable for me. I believe the Lord helped me emotionally during that time, and to know more (even though still not enough) of the presence, power and person of the Holy Spirit. I entered a bit into some of the manifestations of the Spirit.

I was there a few years, and though I was impacted on the “charismatic” side, I felt like I wasn’t being used, wasn’t really needed there, I felt like somehow I didn’t entirely fit in. And eventually we left for the church we are members of now. I came to miss the charismatic side, but I also thought that sometimes people on that side don’t have their feet sufficiently on the ground. Probably unfair and that Vineyard church had an unusual amount of artists and creative people, which means they will seem off the beaten path, oftentimes more than not. I believe the church we are at is open in theory and a little in practice to that side, the charismatic side.

I do think that an emphasis on the Holy Spirit is much bigger than the distinctions of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements. At the same time, I think a significant chunk of the manifestation of the Spirit is missed when we aren’t that open to works like prophecy, tongues, healing- laying hands on others and healing the sick in Jesus’ name, discerning spirits, both in regard to utterances, and perhaps with reference to those who may be demonized, either possessed to some degree or another, or troubled by a demonic spirit, etc.

And I think we need to be open to whatever the Spirit might do, including the phenomena of being slain by the Spirit. If this would happen in a church, I suppose it might come to be known as a full blown charismatic (or Pentecostal) kind of church, though I don’t think that necessarily follows. A problem has been the questionable interpretations and practice in regard to these gifts and the manifestation and power of the Spirit. There are “ministries” I would want no part of, engaged in this kind of thing (at least in appearance, and I don’t doubt there might be some power present, even from the Lord). But who are not well grounded in scripture, and are questionable in some way or another (or in a number of ways). In some ways I would just as soon go on and know church as I always have, but scripture indicates there is more in the sense of variety as well as degree, I suppose.

All of this simply to say, we need to be open to the Holy Spirit, to the ministry of the Spirit. The Spirit will emphasize Christ, that Jesus is Lord. And will empower us as witnesses about Jesus to the world. And he will move in power, if we are open to that, indeed if we pursue it.

Much more to say, and this opens me up to much misunderstanding. But I must end this post here. We by the Spirit are together in Jesus in this for the world.

imagination (prophesying, dreams, visions)

To one who likes to read scripture and books that emphasize scripture in terms of exegesis, theology and the life that is to flow out of that, I am not one given much to imagination as being a part of the life of faith, or a vehicle God may use in our lives by the Spirit. However if one wants to be biblical with reference to some details, I think one needs to be open to this.

Prophecy and related to that, dreams and visions all require at some point at least for many, some openness to imagination. A fundamental question might be: Does God speak only through the words of scripture, or does he speak in other ways as well? One gifted, godly church leader and academic I once heard say that God speaks only through the words of scripture. And I have no doubt at all that God spoke to them regularly that way. But that begs the question: What about the stories we read in scripture itself? Those things can’t happen today?

Symbols and interpretations, as well as ways the Lord may be encouraging and preparing to use us–we need to be open to all of that. Read the stories in scripture of the prophets and of the early church. We need to keep our eyes open to the details. And then be open to the idea that God can work in those same kinds of ways today. It is to the great loss of the church when we are not open to such things, for example, prophesying. The heart of the unbeliever or inquirer being made known, so that they exclaim: Surely God is among you! To see faith in someone. To lay hands on the sick and see people healed. To cast out demons.

The addition of these kinds of things in the power and love of the Spirit in and through Jesus does not make a full gospel. The gospel is much bigger than that. Nor are these kinds of things the end all. People need much more, in fact if it is only about such things, I’m afraid we’ve missed the point. They can be powerful pointers, and more than that, nothing less than a manifestation of the new life of the kingdom of God in Jesus here and now. But the whole counsel of God in terms not only of details, but of the big picture of God’s kingdom breaking in in and through Jesus and that the ascended Jesus seated at the place of ultimate power at the right hand of the Father is King over the earth now in fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel for the world–this is getting more at the fullness of the gospel.

Back to imagination. What I’m thinking I need to cultivate, and am experiencing a little of is simply the use of imagination in God revealing something of his will to me, not simply for me, but for others. Reading scripture, praying and being open is a simple place to start. All of us together in this in Jesus for the world.

pictures

I was once a part of a “charismatic” fellowship of believers, and to have pictures as in visions, or in one’s mind’s eye was familiar to us, in our home group meetings. I think the Lord can do this for us, giving us a glimpse of his will in some way in terms of his working in and through our lives in this world, or in terms of something we need. Of course always with reference to scripture.

I recently received strictly in my mind’s eye, not an actual vision, but a picture of myself and how I could be through a difficult situation. In fact I think I applied that to more than one difficult matter in my life. Something which can end up characterizing me along the lines of faith and the Jesus Creed  of loving God with all my being and doing, and loving my neighbor as myself.

Of course I don’t imagine I can live that out perfectly, or that it is not a matter of continued growth to the end. But it is encouraging to get a sense of what God can and wants to do.

In this comes imagination, to be sure, sanctified imagination. Imagination which hopefully is lined up according to God’s word and the way in Jesus. And I would hope as well, given by the Spirit. Imagining what we can be in Jesus as individuals, and in community, in mission in Jesus for the world.

how easily we drift

I look forward to vacations and restful weekends, but I often find them challenging, because I have not developed well enough, a sustained disciplined practice before God during such times. Of course we need times of rest, and perhaps just prolonged silence and a kind of solitude, even among our loved ones, or out amidst others. My favorite venue for such times would likely be something like a national park in which we could hike on the trails.

But I find that I can drift easily any day. Yes, God is always present with us in Jesus by the Spirit. We indeed to live in his Presence. But we are to be in the seeking and serving mode regularly. Loving God and our neighbor as the Jesus Creed reminds us. Being devoted to prayer along with good works.

Some of us are on our feet all day with busy, even challenging jobs. Or at a desk, busy on projects and in meetings. The challenge in our work can help remind us of the challenge of seeking always to draw near to God, to seek his face, to walk in his ways. We are called always to follow Jesus in everything. What seems little, as well as what seems big. In all of life, in every part of our lives.

This is why I like both the charismatic side, and the liturgical side.* I say charismatic, simply referring to the dynamic of the Spirit in all of God’s children in Jesus. We can pray, and seek to pray in the Spirit at any time. But prior to that as a rule, I like to major on the liturgical side. Saying the Lord’s Prayer. Praying from a prayer book, or well written prayer. Praying words of scripture. That can help get us settled into a rhythm so to speak, in and from which we live. Though it’s not about the practice, but about the goal of loving God, and our neighbor. Any spirituality that is not marked by that is not the spirituality of Jesus.

In the meantime, I still have to guard all the time against drifting. Except to drift into God’s mercy, his everlasting arms underneath us, his hemming us in behind and before. His surrounding us. Indeed we living in him and he in us by the Spirit through Jesus. So that even in our drifting God is there with us. To help us together in the way in Jesus for the world.

*I am a novice at this, even at my age. It is not just something we do, but something that becomes a part of us. I am all too aware of my lack and need in this area, which is in large part why I posted this.

come Holy Spirit!

We were blessed on Sunday with a message from Jack Brown on the purifying work of the Spirit in our lives, from a passage on John the Baptizer’s words that Jesus would baptize them with the Spirit and fire. Water symbolizes the Spirit and fire the Spirit’s purifying work. Actually the baptism with fire I see as judgment in that passage, evident in its context. But judgment of the house of God, i.e., on God’s people is purifying in nature. We need the fire of the Spirit to burn the chaff out of our lives, and to empower us to speak forth the wonders of God in Jesus.

Deb and I were blessed to be part of a Vineyard church for some time. It was an interesting time in our lives, as my openness on paper to the ministry of the Spirit in all the Biblical, charismatic ways, was given the chance to take hold in real life. What a blessing! The emphasis on the Presence and Power of God with us in Jesus through the Holy Spirit impacted me (and Deb) in ways that are life changing, though we must continue to open ourselves up to the ministry of the Spirit, and seek to grow in that, something that sadly can be neglected, I speak for myself.

It was a joy, too getting to know Vineyard Music and the unusual life and influential ministry (well beyond Vineyard) of John Wimber. What wonderful worship and praise happens through Vineyard music (we sang at least two of their songs, I think, Sunday), written from Vineyard artists who are members of their churches. I’ll never forget the “Fire by Night” times we had, dancing in reverent and joyful ways before the Lord, and lifting up our praise to God. And through Vineyard music I was encouraged not to despise my simple guitar playing, but to get hold of the chords, and practice the songs (with the pleasant discovery that I can play songs on the guitar by ear), remembering as taught on a Vineyard video that my voice is the most important instrument I have. Without Vineyard I don’t think I would have pressed through to learn my guitar well enough to play, in the first place, nor would I have continued on, as I realized just how limited I am in comparison to the amazing artists Vineyard has everywhere, including in that church of which we were a part.

While at Vineyard my theology was revolutionized through reading N.T. Wright’s, The Challenge of Jesus. Pastor Daryl Underwood referred frequently to him, and Vineyard is influenced by him, and rightfully so. This theology of the gospel of the kingdom of God in Jesus led me back in my understanding of Scripture to my Anabaptist roots. And the wonderful experience of being around those who practiced gifts not acknowledged in other churches, and learning to enter into that for myself, was a blessing which I wish for all churches and Christians. Though according to at least one Vineyard theological strain of thinking, we in Jesus are all charismatics, because the Greek of the New Testament makes it plain, that we all have the charismata of the Spirit. So I personally am very hesitant to say such and such a church or individual is Spirit filled, while “non-charismatic” churches or individual believers are not. I don’t buy that. At the same time, I do believe the explosion of growth worldwide of Pentecostal churches and believers (include “charismatic” here) is because of the work of the Holy Spirit. God honors believers opening themselves up to the wonderful, powerful work of the Spirit. It comes with issues and problems, but we need this, and indeed it is part of our heritage in Christ.

Our church, Redeemer Covenant, is part of the Evangelical Covenant Church denomination, which has its roots in Pietism. Pietism is often misconstrued to simply be “navel gazing” as in being solely concerned about one’s own inner spirituality to the neglect of all else. Though actually Pietism is getting a bad rap, because it was known preeminently for stressing good works by believers in the world, as well as participating in their common life in Jesus.

Please forgive me for this personal post, but the message on Sunday from Jack was just what I need, and it brought back a flood of wonderful memories. And as we prayed on Sunday, so now I pray, and want to keep praying: Come, Holy Spirit!

liturgy is spiritual

I am only a fairly recent convert to liturgy as being relevant and helpful for us as Christians. I’ve had some practice at it, with a couple of small prayer books at home, and getting some liturgy online. I do wish we evangelicals would provide ourselves with more resources, making this a priority in our daily lives. About the closest I really come to being a liturgical Christian is to be in the word regularly. Good liturgy gets one into the word, as well as into some of our rich heritage in Christianity, and then into well crafted prayers that reflect God’s revelation from Scripture in Jesus.

Jesus taught us to say “the Lord’s prayer,” the “our Father prayer.” Not just to pray like it. I believe in the charismatic side as well as in spontaneous prayers, but we should benefit from set prayers, as well as praying spontaneously. One is not inherently more spiritual than another. What we say and do is spiritual, because Christianity is inherently an incarnational faith, in Jesus. In fact when we make too much of spiritual apart from the material we begin to leave Christianity toward some form of gnosticism such as is found in the Gospel of Thomas, championed by Dan Brown.

Of course anything can become dull, dead, and vain repetition. And one can have all kinds of spiritual gifts and practice them, yet not be spiritual, according to Paul. But we do well to seek to enter into all that God has for us. And tradition as to how the church has lived out the faith over the centuries should not be easily tossed aside. In essence it must not, though we always have to judge all by Scripture, a good Protestant article of faith. Yet we must remember that how the church has read the Bible over the centuries must carry weight as well in our consideration of what Scripture really says. The Spirit has guided the church so that there is always a remnant which has kept the faith. I’m off on an aside right here.

For me I keep attempting to hit the Bible hard day after day. Through meditation, listening to it (The Bible Experience), studying it, and above all seeking to live by it always. Liturgy helps us immensely in all of this, and helps us do so in concert with other Christians all over the world, in the one Body of Christ.

What do you think about liturgy? Has it helped you and how?