do we make much of the Holy Spirit?

We just experienced, if you can say that, Pentecost Sunday. Actually it was an experience for me, although not enough out of the ordinary, but somewhat. Our Pastor Jack gave a good message on the Holy Spirit and Pentecost (Acts 2). And afterward people were waiting on the Lord in prayer in a prolonged time after the service. I would have remained, but it was my week to do coffee ministry. Later I went to the nursing home and spoke on the same subject from the same passages of scripture.

And I just had a sense of the refreshing of the Spirit. It was good. And that leaves me wondering. Do we make much of the Holy Spirit, indeed, do we do that enough? My answer for myself is no, I don’t. I think good liturgy steeped in the Trinity can help. One of the prayers I recite is the simple prayer, “Come Holy Spirit.” We need the new creation life breath of the Spirit which may be a renewal of vocation in call in God’s image, and is certainly related to the church’s call to proclaim and teach the gospel and confirm the faithful. And we need to be clothed with power from on high to be Jesus’ witnesses from where we live in our homes, workplaces and neighborhoods, to the very end of the earth.

I would hope that looking to God for more of the Spirit would become a regular habit of mine. And that this would be exponential in helping me grow in the fruit and gifts of the Spirit, along with others in Jesus. As we seek to live in and out from the gospel of Jesus. In and for the world.

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.

overrealized and underrealized eschatology

Gordon Fee in perhaps his magnum opus, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul, criticizes his tradition, Pentecostalism for falling into the same error it is evident the Corinthian church fell into, the error of an overrealized eschatology. I think Fee makes the case well for that, clearly (enough) evident in the letters of 1 and 2 Corinthians.

Eschatology in the Christian sense, in the sense from the New Testament, is simply the future being in the present from God through Jesus by the Spirit. One way to put it: in this old creation, the new creation is present in Jesus, destined to continue on forever, when heaven and earth become one in Jesus.

The problem with the Corinthians, and dare I say with some on the Pentecostal side today, is the view that they somehow are beyond the humiliation our Lord lived in, somehow realizing more of the glorification of the future in the present. Certainly not true of all the Pentecostals. No, even though we are the resurrection people of God in the present, in and through Jesus, we live in the power of that resurrection so that we might live out nothing less than Jesus’ death in this world. We are to know Christ, the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.

An overrealized eschatology might be expressed in an attitude of believing “we are Spirit-filled, our churches are Spirit-filled,” and other churches are by clear implication not. Or thinking one is beyond certain weaknesses of this life, for example sickness, or struggle in some other area in the weakness of our humanity.

Gordon Fee points out the truth that Christ’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. Weakness here is not about sin issues, though I think it would include our struggle against (and perhaps, even our repentance in working through and out of) sins (which hold us down). We certainly don’t arrive to sinless perfection in this life. But the weakness Paul was referring to is one in line with living in an existence in which the world, the flesh and the devil hold sway. But doing so in the power of the Spirit in the way of Jesus. Christ’s body is not yet glorified as the head is, in other words we await the resurrection to come.

On the other hand, we evangelicals can err in an underrealized eschatology, I’m supposing. Expecting too little from the Lord in this life. Indeed eschatology practically speaking seems to mean for many of us, simply waiting for the Lord to come back and fulfill the promises God has made. It certainly includes that, but the fulfillment begins in the here and now by the power of the Spirit. Not that all evangelicals fall into this error. And in spite of ourselves, God is faithfully at work to empower us in our lives and testimony as those bearing witness to Jesus to the world.

And so we go on, living something of the future in the present, the eternal life in this transitory life, together in Jesus for the world.

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.

more than enough

In the kingdom of God in Jesus there is always more than enough. That more than enough is with reference to God’s will in Jesus, to the good works God has prepared in advance, that we in Jesus should do them.

Too often we’ve operated on some sort of worldly system which depends on ourselves, or the world’s system. Too often we don’t really depend on God in terms of God’s will and calling along with the gifting that comes from that. Or maybe we do just in spots, here or there, and not in life as a whole.

The “more than enough” God provides is never with reference to some kind of worldly goal we have in terms of something like “the American dream.” Rather, it is always in terms of God’s good will in Jesus, not just for us, but through us to the world.

Yes, God does this in community, but also in us individually. God gives each of us what we need to make our unique, God-given contribution to the whole. Often we ourselves will be weak, bereft of resources in and of ourselves. Of course we are nothing on our own apart from God, apart from Jesus. Such times of felt and actual weakness and need seem especially to be the times when God wants to move the most.

We need to have faith as a mustard seed, and we need to follow through in that faith. And if need be, stand alone. We are in this faith together for the world, but there may be times when for whatever reason, we basically seem to be left to ourselves, perhaps a one person band. God will stand with us in order that his calling to us can be fulfilled. With the more than abundant, overflowing life and power of the Spirit. Out of which we live and help others into this new life in Jesus. Together with others 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.

“I have a dream.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., fifty years ago today, gave a speech which has rightly been eulogized and remembered for all time. It was a great speech especially for that day, and as such remains a great speech for all time. The push behind that speech goes on to this day, although much has been gained since that time with regard to the crux of the issue then: civil rights in America for Black people.

A society free of racism continues to be a good goal to pursue in the public sector, one that ought to be lived out Sunday after Sunday in our churches, and in our daily lives as followers of Jesus. Today the push for civil rights includes gays and the LGBT community. Many either want or are open to gay marriage, at least accepting it. And of course there are many causes being pushed, some good, some not so good, and some probably indifferent to many of us.

Do we have a dream? As followers of Christ is that legitimate? I think of dream here as a vision of what is good, what we would like to see, even what we hope to see in this world. Such a vision will depend on one’s theology to a large extent. And I include those who hardly know the definition of “theology.” Theology I am thinking of in terms of what one thinks is possible as well as good in this life. Something to which individuals, communities and society at large ought to aspire. The aspiration for the world at large will vary, again depending on one’s view of what is possible as well as good in such.

For me I simply see the fulfillment of God’s kingdom, come in Jesus, in the church, and out from the church into the world, as central to any dream I would have. This includes an emphasis on the gospel of King Jesus in terms of redemption from evils, wrongs, sins done. And reconciliation through that gospel across the board. And that is in terms of the offer of the good news of King Jesus to all, to the world. On the basis of Jesus’ cross- of his death, walls of separation, even hate can and will come down, as people both accept that cross objectively, as the focal point and mover and shaker for change, and subjectively as the way in which life is lived as followers of Jesus. Such a change is to come from the heart in relationship to God in Jesus by the Spirit. It cannot strictly speaking be legislated. And yet such an example from followers of Jesus, from the church shows a standard that perhaps is new to many of what humanity ought to look like, yes, even in this tragic, sinful world.

The other part of the dream I would have would be in terms both of the fruit as well as gifts of the Spirit. We need the Holy Spirit. We don’t just need right thinking or right theology. We need the experience no less than God’s love being poured out in our hearts by the Spirit whom God gives to all who believe in Jesus. We need the experience of the power and presence of God by the Holy Spirit. Yes, we need the faith to heal people, to cast out demons, to prophesy, to live in the movement of the Spirit in ways in which by and large most of us are not accustomed to. We need openness, but more than that we need to put this faith into practice. To grow in it.

I am of the persuasion according to my theological understanding that response and change within the world at large to God’s kingdom come in Jesus will be mixed. We can expect some persecution. Yet we can also hope for some good, some change. Only when Jesus returns will justice really prevail. The church should be an expression of God’s will for the earth. And that expression is not only localized, to itself, but missional. Although the expression as an example in itself, is missional.

And so I have a dream. God can give each of us dreams, perhaps on a smaller scale to contribute to the whole. God’s good will for the earth. We are in that good will together in and through Jesus for the world.

“Come, Holy Spirit.”

All who receive Christ by faith receive also the Holy Spirit. I doubt the Pentecostal theology of the baptism of the Spirit after conversion, after the initial reception of the Spirit. At the same time I fear that many of us in Jesus, much of the church is not open enough to the immediate presence and power of the Spirit in and out through our lives into the lives of others. In terms of witness as well as the works God has for us to do.

The prayer or invocation, “Come, Holy Spirit,” is a request and plea to God to come in power, majesty and authority. To in love, use us for God’s glory, to make Jesus known, yes, even to enable us to do mighty works, signs and wonders. We all need to be more open to God’s moving by the Spirit, to let the Spirit have his way in our lives.

And so, along with the Jesus Creed, the Lord’s prayer, and the Jesus prayer (modified most of the time with just a basic plea for mercy), I have been praying this prayer as well. Wanting to be open and ready to receive more of the Spirit’s love and power, as together we in Jesus share God’s love to the world.

speak out

In Acts the Spirit comes on the believers and they begin to speak in other tongues/languages as the Spirit gives them utterance. In other places when one is filled with the Spirit they speak.

I think sometimes we who have the Spirit for one reason or another remain mute. Perhaps that’s a near impossibility when we receive a fresh infilling of the Spirit. I think even in our weakness we need to trust the Spirit to give us words for the moment. Our entire lives are in a sense preparation for that, as well as learning from God through scripture, tradition (the church), reason and experience. We need to trust the Lord that even in and through our weakness, he can speak through us. At the same time we must seek to speak his word and words, not our own. While realizing with all humility that something of our own words may get mixed in, which can not only be alright, but in fact an expression of the incarnational faith that is ours in Jesus.

And so prayerfully with all humility, let us seek to speak out, words of truth and love. To each other in Jesus, and especially to the world as his witnesses.

I believe in the Holy Spirit

We affirm in the Apostles’ Creed our personal belief in the Holy Spirit, that belief further expanded in the 381 edition of the Nicene Creed.  But what does this really mean for us in Jesus?

At the heart of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in our lives is the help the Spirit brings us as a gift from the Father through the Son. To help us along the way in this life in the Jesus Way no less.

The help is detailed in clear specifics such as pouring out God’s love in our hearts, making known something of the depths or deep things of God. Helping us in our prayers. Gifting us for the building up of Christ’s Body. Making us a part together with others in Jesus of a temple glorifying God in this world. And more.

The help from the Spirit is also so close, and so intimate as to be hard to detail. Like our very life breath, breathing into us the very life of God. From which we live and move and have our being in and through Jesus.

This concerns not only our own life in God, but our life together in God through Jesus, and that life being made known to the world. It is in the Spirit, as well as in the Father and the Son. In fact the Spirit is the person, and indeed element likened to rivers of living water in which this life in God is lived, uniting us to the Father and the Son. A life lived out with each other in Jesus, and before and for the world in life, deed and word. A life of love in the truth as it is in Jesus.