Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Holy Spirit: A Controversial Topic of Conversation

WARNING:  Controversial subject matter

I taught Five-Day-Clubs for Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) the summer I was 13 years old.  It was a fabulous experience, but I'm not going to talk about that.  A CEF employee drove the other teacher and me around to different Denver neighborhoods started, and one day, I can't remember why, he started talking about prophecy and speaking in tongues and how those things ended in the first century.

He offered biblical evidence based on 1 Corinthians 13, which said, ". . . where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears."

He defined "perfection" as the written Bible.  And since we all have one of those, prophecy, tongues, and knowledge were all obsolete.  

I listened quietly, and even though I went to a church that didn't practice any supernatural gifts, it seemed to me that his conclusion depended on a false definition of "perfection."  I didn't say anything at the time--I seemed to sense that disagreement would be futile.  Years later, when I was about 17, Pastor Olsen spent an entire month of Sunday night services demonstrating from Scripture that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was only for the early church.  It was the seventies and those Jesus People were doing things that threatened the integrity of the church.  

Again, I didn't think the Scriptures he used proved anything.  But I did start to get a sense of how controversial the subject of supernatural gifts and the baptism of the Holy Spirit can be.  

For me it was an academic subject.  As far as I knew, I didn't know anyone who spoke in tongues or prophesied.  And my only encounter with supernatural healing was a woman who said that she didn't even know one of her legs was longer than the other until an evangelist healed her.  I wondered why God would bother to heal someone whose legs worked just fine until she was told they didn't.  

And then I met Duane.  (sigh)
He went to an Assembly of God Church.  The church with crazy people who spoke in tongues during services and prophesied and did all kinds of things that made me uncomfortable when I visited.  But it was Duane's church, and Duane was amazing.  (sigh)

And so began my cautious relationship with anything related to the Holy Spirit.  

Eventually I went to the altar to be prayed for to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  I was told that if I said certain words, I was speaking in tongues.  That seemed ridiculous.  In fact, the whole thing seemed ridiculous.  I didn't really want to speak words I didn't understand.  

And yet Jesus had a lot to say about the Holy Spirit.  The Paul and the book of Acts had a lot to say about things like speaking on tongues.  There wasn't anything that said these things would continue forever.  But all the people who said the baptism and tongues and prophesy and healing would pass away seemed to be taking Scripture out of context to prove their point.  

I know all Christians have the Holy Spirit, but this seemed to be something more.  

And here's what I wanted:  I wanted everything God had to offer.  I wanted to love him.  I wanted freedom from my fears.  I wanted joy.  I wanted peace.  I wanted the Holy Spirit to work in my life.  

And if I had to speak in tongues to do that--well, I would just suck it up and trust God.  This wasn't about speaking in tongues.  This was about allowing God to work in my life and do whatever he wanted.  

I said I have a very cautious relationship with anything related to the Holy Spirit.  I'll tell you why:

  • I know some people I respect will think I've gone off the deep end.
  • I know I sound crazy, and I hate sounding crazy. I can't explain this.  I try not to.
  • I know some people get more focused on the supernatural events and exciting experiences than they do on actually surrendering their lives to God.  
  • Sometimes people see the supernatural in very natural events.  Or they make stuff up.  Like my mom's friend who never even knew one leg was longer than the other until she was healed. 
  • Or they use the baptism of the Holy Spirit to appear superior to other Christians.
  • Or they think that if they speak in tongues, they can live however they want to live.  That's just incredibly wrong.   
Sometimes I wish God would just deal in the realm of things that make sense, but I know that's just my own discomfort.  I don't want to limit God to things that make sense to me, as if I were the guardian of rationality.  

Our Lord can do anything, and if you doubt that, you haven't read the Bible recently.  Or you've turned events like Jonah in the belly of the fish or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, or Lazarus into myths or metaphors. I think those events are real.  

The God who could do those things then can do anything he wants now.  

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