Here. Â Interesting stuff…
I briefly met someone recently who was supervising a group of youth who were attending the ‘Get Smart’ conference in Auckland, NZ.Â He asked if I had been attending the conference.Â When I said no, he replied, “Oh man, it’s great.Â We were just there and when we left things were still going.Â Carnage, man.Â Just carnage.”
I was genuinely confused.
“Carnage?” I said.
“Yeah man,” he replied, “Carnage.Â Kids everywhere.Â All over the floor.”
I — having realised now that I had (unfortunately) learned a new piece of spiritual mumbo-jumbo jargon — bit my tongue.
I’ll keep this post short and to the point.
I see no reason whatsoever to believe that people rolling around on the floor in ecstatic states of consciousness is anything close to the kind of human behaviour that moves the heart of God.Â I have no reason whatsoever to endorse or support such behaviour, much less encourage it.
An interesting person is gaining popularity at the moment. His name is Todd Bentley.
Apparently, 25 (or so) people have been ‘raised from the dead’…
A few thoughts:
- If this stuff is really happening, then for Bentley’s sake (not to mention God’s) get it on tape!
- Don’t complain when people like me want evidence that people really had cancer or were really dead (the biblical story of Lazarus being raised includes the detail that he was beginning to stink – that’s dead).
- Don’t complain when I remain hesitant to accept these reports if no evidence is given.
- I hear of ALL KINDS of such things happening all over the world, and I’m prepared to believe that it’s not ALL nonsense; but for crying out loud, somebody do some investigation! Wouldn’t it be great to have it!?
I recently went to a Benny Hinn ‘Holy Spirit Miracle Crusade’. (Yes, me.) I could, of course, share many thoughts about that, but I simply wanted to mention a flyer I received while waiting in the crowd/throng/line/queue/mob to get in… It was an advert for a local church. It had these words/phrases on it: ‘signs & wonders’, ‘healing’, ‘anointed’, ‘miracles’, ‘fire’, ‘deliverance’… and my personal favourite… ‘the gifts.’
Now, that’s a bit of an extreme example, perhaps, compared with other views of ‘spirituality’, but I think it may reflect what happens when popular ideas/assumptions about ‘spirituality’ are taken to their eventual end point. Before addressing a few of the Scriptures which are relevant to the topic of ‘spiritual gifts‘, I want to point out a key difference between the ways of thinking in our world and the world of the New Testament.
You see, we live after a period in history known as the ‘Enlightenment‘, from which much of the world has inherited (among other things) a view of the world in which the ‘natural’ is sharply contrasted against the ‘super-natural’.
In this view, things like grass growing, rain falling/evaporating, babies being born, working, eating, sleeping – in other words normal life – are quite simply natural. In the case of ‘supernatural’ things, these consist of things such as ‘miracles’, ‘divine intervention’, ‘providence’, etc. As the definition of ‘supernatural’ suggests, the world is bound by ‘natural laws’, so therefore a ‘supernatural’ agent/force/event has to break those ‘natural laws’. This shows up in all kinds of ways, which I won’t go into here to keep this short.
In contrast to todays popular post-Enlightenment view of the world, the 1st century Jewish view of the world (though there are, of course, differences about this and that) was not divided this way. The Jewish God was Lord over all the earth and heaven. Nothing happened or was done apart from His permission, providence and power.
This God was a God who was not detached or distant from creation (like the deist version of ‘god’), but rather, is passionately interested and personally present in it (however, not to the degree that creation itself is itself god’, as in pantheistic worldviews). This God was not simply present when ‘big’ or ‘miraculous’ things ‘happened’, but was always present in His world; and in the case of ‘miracles’ or ‘big’ things, they were times at which God was present powerfully (and with purpose, I suggest; not simply pulling ‘god-stunts’).
This, I think, is how miracles are to be understood. Some, in their adverse reaction to what happens in some more ‘lively’ church contexts have suggested that ‘miracles ceased’ once the Bible was finished and/or when the last Apostle died. There is no warrant for such a view. No, not even 1 Cor. 13:10…
At any rate, we should be aware of how various views of the world affect our reading of Scripture (by the way, there is not one person who doesn’t have any views/experiences/traditions/etc. that affect his/her reading of the Scriptures…) not least when we approach the topic of so-called ‘spiritual gifts’.
One tendency in Christian circles is to start with an assumption that something is true, and then read that assumption into various Scriptural passages. We may, as a result, feel as though we have much more biblical support for a position than we actually do have. In my view, there are only 3 passages that could even possibly be about ‘gifts’, according to the popular understanding: Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4.
Sadly, the ‘gifts’ in these passages are often ‘lumped’ together in order to arrive at ‘Paul’s doctrine of gifts’ or something… as if he was at all interested in ‘building’ a systematic outline of ‘things’ God may or may not choose to ‘give’ you, and thought it best to provide this outline in 3 separate letters and in obscure fashion. Even more sadly, many a weekend-conference has been developed to ‘help’ people ‘discover’ what ‘gifts’ they have and which ones they don’t. (I need to say here that my thoughts here are following on from that of Mark Strom.)
These 3 passages have their own contexts, and ought not be ‘lumped’ together sloppily. The Romans 12 passage instructs on how each ‘gift’ is to be handled, which is (in context) to be in service of others! The 1 Corinthians 12 passage is (again, in context) seeking to undercut pride in the Corinthian community (the implications of Paul putting ‘miracles’ and ‘helps’ in the same ‘list’ is simply brilliant!), and again, the things listed here are not for the individual, but for the growth and edification of the community. The Ephesians 4 passage (within the context of unity, growth and maturity), is describing, not individual ‘gifts’, but roles within the body of Christ (again, these roles are for the service of others – to produce unity, growth and maturity).
Not only is each and every ‘gift’ featured in all these passages (have a look for yourself!) intended for service of others (not so you can have a nice, comfortable, individual private prayer experience or whatever…), I also have yet to see anything in Scripture that demands the common sharp distinction between ‘natural abilities’ (which you ‘get at birth’) and ‘spiritual gifts’ (which you ‘get at conversion’). To show how I see things, let me use the ‘mind’ as an example.
You don’t get a mind at conversion. What happens is this: the mind God gave you (and everyone!) at birth gets renewed by the Spirit of Christ. The mind that was formerly hostile to Christ now bows in allegiance. (Baptism may be a good metaphor, in that the mind (in a sense) ‘dies’ and ‘rises anew’.)
This, I suggest, is precisely what happens with our so-called ‘natural abilities’ (which, in a sense, are not ‘natural’ at all!). Everything about us (bodies, minds, abilities, etc.) is God-given. The spiritual person sees themselves this way. Our whole, interconnected selves are spiritually tempered renewed and reborn by the Spirit of Christ – not so we can ‘enjoy our gift’ or be ‘spiritually fulfilled’, but to form us (heart, soul, mind and strength) into the likeness of Christ.
Thoughts and words about the Holy Spirit can go in many different directions. One can try to present their view by way of many different paths, and from many different angles – and I believe many of these paths/angles would be biblical…
To try and promote unity and clarity, I’d like to address a few ideas about spirit/spirituality/the holy spirit/etc., that I think need sharpening… Along the way, I hope the ‘personality’ of the Spirit will become more obvious…
Dualism must die…
Greek philosophers of old, looked at the world and decided that reality was split in two – the ‘unseen’, ‘spiritual’ realm; and the ‘seen’, ‘physical’ realm. The ‘unseen’ realm was perfect, pure and un-changing. The ‘seen’ realm was corrupt, faulty and change-able. The relationship between the spirit and matter, then was – no surprise – a strained one.
The Jewish perspective saw reality differently. God was in ‘heaven’; Humans were on ‘earth’; yet God could still ‘dwell with’ His people and His creation. It wasn’t just that spirit could mix with physical, but more that the two ‘realms’ were always mixing. It wasn’t so much a question of if they mixed, but more how they mixed. In other words, the real question was which spirit was mixing in a given physical place/person?
In the Greek view, you assume a huge gap between the ‘spiritual’ and the ‘physical’. So, you have to do all kinds of things (the right prayers, sacrifices, rituals) to make it ‘just right’ – right enough for the spirit to mix with the physical. That’s a general picture, but it gives you the idea.
In the Jewish view, the two realms relate easily. In the Scriptures, there are many ‘spirits’ mentioned – some on the ‘good’ side (i.e. a ‘spirit of wisdom’, etc.), some on the ‘evil’ side (i.e. a ‘spirit of jealousy’, etc.). The entire world is ‘bubbling’ with spiritual potential.
The word ‘supernatural’ isn’t very helpful at times…
You may not have thought of it this way before, but our understanding of the word ‘supernatural’ is, of course, only as good as our understanding of the word ‘natural.’ It seems odd – to me, at least – to say that God is the one who establishes the ‘laws of nature’ and then breaks them from time to time (and that is precisely how the ‘supernatural’ is defined).
We need to see the world differently, I think. The Scriptures don’t give us a ‘laws of nature’ which God must violate in order to do something ‘supernatural’. Instead, they give us a picture of a God who – as the powerful creator of all things – acts within His creation. It’s not a question of when He is acting, but rather when He is not acting.
In this light, we need not call miracles ‘supernatural’, so to speak. Rather than see them as ‘supernatural’ events that ‘happen‘, I think we should see them as powerful actions of the God who is Lord of Heaven and Earth. Remember, the Scriptures insist that God is always active within His good creation (yes, even after the tragic ‘fall’ in Genesis 3), and sometimes… just sometimes… He is active in miraculous and powerful ways that surprise and shock us.
Me, Myself and… Everyone else
Literally everything in our Western, affluent culture suggests that life is all about you getting what you want/’need’. It’s ALL about the individual. I observe and sense much of the same trends in our all-too-individualistic perspective on spirituality. Much is said about ‘me’ having a great experience; ‘my’ spiritual gift; ‘my’ church; ‘my’ testimony; ‘my’ prayer life; etc. I love this quote:
It’s true. It’s not about you. More specifically, it is about others. In the Scriptures and in my own (dare I use the word) experience, the Spirit moves powerfully in community; not in isolation from others. One of my favourite examples of this is when the Apostles got together to discuss ‘what to do about those gosh darn Gentiles’ in Acts 15 (it’s often called ‘the Jerusalem Council’). They get together; talk things over seriously; share perspectives – and emerge with a unified decision, saying ‘It seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit…’
When was the last time you heard any pastor/preacher/speaker talk like that? I wish we would hear much more of it. If the Apostles (who wrote the majority of the New Testament) were helped in their spiritual discernment processes by getting together and discussing things, then surely we will be!
But the point, of course, is not comparing us to the Apostles, but realising that the same Holy Spirit that guided them is the same Holy Spirit that will guide us – and I am suggesting that He (the Holy Spirit) can do so better in community than He can do in isolation. Am I limiting Him to meetings? Of course not! God is certainly personal and is able to do reveal Himself to us individually. But I insist that we all need to surround ourselves with other people to help us discern and decide; people who (with the Apostle Paul) can say, ‘…and I, too, think I have the Holy Spirit…’
Towards a better spiritual ethic…
I think unity and clarity will come when we are able to focus on the main and plain things of the Spirit. We must remember that the Holy Spirit is God. He is not an ‘it’. He is not an impersonal ‘force’. He is not a drug on which to get ‘high’ on. He is the Spirit of Jesus. He is the Spirit of God. His first and foremost task is to remake (and continue remaking) us into the likeness (character) of Jesus. All of us. Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength.
Call me crazy, un-biblical, un-spiritual or a stick in the mud, but I think this kind of spirituality has very little to do with what happens during a church service or in a prayer closet, and has almost everything to do with what happens outside those places. It may ruffle your Christian feathers, but I think God is more excited with lives of mercy and justice than moments of celebration…
Let’s see all of our lives, all of our priorities, all of our choices, all of our time, all of our money, all of our relationships, all of our possessions, all of our everything – as spiritual. May we see the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, self-control…) in all these areas and more.