BAPTIZED BY FIRE:
THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT (Part I)
Acts 2: 1-6
You may wonder why I would write on a topic as historically controversial as the Holy Spirit. For me, it is an issue of disconnect and firepower. The disconnect is that standard practice in most churches does not even remotely resemble standard practice in the early church. The firepower issue has to do with orthodox theology. When I say Orthodox Theology, I refer to what most Christians have generally believed for two thousand years. If we don’t believe God can actually change and remember people, we are open to every single criticism the culture hurls at us. The rest of this series will be unpacking these two ideas.
Throughout this six part series, you are going to get some of my story so let’s begin that journey. I was raised in a tradition that valued Scripture above all things but taught the active presence of the Holy Spirit in time and space essentially concluded with the canonization of the Scriptures. This is loosely based in I Corinthians 13:10 that states when the “perfect comes (Bible), the partial (Gifts) will pass away. But as I grew older, my parents morphed toward embracing a more active view of the Holy Spirit that strongly impacted American churches of all kinds. That paradigm shift changed the trajectory of their lives…and mine. When mom and dad got “filled with the Holy Spirit” in the early 70’s, I didn’t precisely understand the implications but it soon became clear that life as we knew it was going to change.
Big Idea #1: Encountering the Holy Spirit is Life Changing
As the years rolled on, my parent’s understanding of the person and work of the Holy Spirit was the single most significant variable in the faith life of our family. I remember dad experiencing an increasingly bad fit with the Baptists, briefly exploring the Assembly of God tradition, helping plant a charismatic church, attending a non-denominational church and leaning into Full Gospel Businessmen and other Holy Ghost focused para-church groups and events.
This “Charismatic Movement” came in direct response to the “just starting to decline” lifeless and increasingly liberal Mainline churches and threw more energy into the mix than most could tolerate. Many sociologists think the movement started around 1960 and the basic tenant was that ideas concerning the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit that had formerly been exclusive to Pentecostals, were making their way into both Mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic congregations. It wasn’t just that it took you off-bulletin, this new kind of expression sometimes featured tongue talking in church, interpretation of said tongue talking in church, the concept of a private prayer language, bold attempts as faith healing, prophetic words and a strong belief that people needed to be filled with the Holy Spirit as a second act of grace after salvation. Church people began to wonder if there might be “more,” some clergy embraced a new understanding and began to practice the gifts of the Holy Spirit and many churches had no idea what to do with them other than to let them go. This movement, like all historical revivals, caused significant disruption.
In my experience, many churches split over the Holy Spirit and splits were often led by Charismatic pastors, who took a part of their congregations and bought a building in the same town. I make no value judgement here, Protestantism was a schism and has always grown by schism. When one church of 100 splits into two churches of 50; in ten years you normally have two churches of 100. It is a difficult way to grow but it is not uncommon.
Swept up in a much larger movement, I was a bad fit for a 1980’s style charismatic; I grew to really dislike the emerging methodology of the movement, didn’t resonate with the loose and haphazard way they used Scripture and never believed you had to speak in tongues to be filled with the Holy Spirit. It seemed to me many Charismatics were flying about like an untied balloon and rejecting any sense of rooted rationality or sound theology that would slow down the emotional roller coaster. Not only that, I saw a lot of church power politics being played in the name of the Lord. It was amazing how many prophecies from the Lord and interpretation of tongues supported the agenda of the person offering them. “Thus saith the Lord, the carpet should be BLUE, not TAN.” After a short while it got to me. I developed a bad attitude toward the movement and when that happens, you just hit the stopwatch because exit is now a matter of when; not if. Once I was called out in a church service for quenching the Spirit. The guy was probably right. Another time they mistakenly let me preach my first sermon. What it lacked in substance, it made up for in passive aggressive frustration and sheer length. Terrible. Primarily because the methodology and practice seemed manipulative to me; I rejected the movement in whole. It was like running away from home for good but not having anywhere else to go. It did not land me in a good place. I was unsteady, depressed and without a theological home. I would not go forward with them but I couldn’t exactly go back either. I was more resentful than confused and more sarcastic than resentful. I was done. But what had I lost? I hoped not my faith.
Those of you who know and trust me as a pastor, know that I don’t treat scripture like fast food establishments used to treat chicken nuggets. They used to take every part of a chicken you wouldn’t want to eat, blend it, add gelatin, season it, add some “chicken-ish” coloring, deep fry it and serve it up as though it was an actual food. I am not going to take pieces and parts from all over the Bible, jump from out of context scripture to out of context scripture, blend it, season it, dye it, deep fry it and call it theology. We are going to dig into passages in their context and let them tell us their own story.
Our best Christian insights into the work of the Holy Spirit come from the book of Acts. In fact, the Holy Spirit is the central character in Acts.
The Acts of the Apostles
- Part II to the Gospel of Luke
- Luke was a Gentile, a doctor and Paul’s helper
- Dates somewhere between 60 and 85 A.D.
- Snapshots of the early church
- Continues the life of Christ through the ministry of the Church
- Holy Spirit is the primary character
Luke ends his Gospel account of the resurrection of Christ with Peter staring into the tomb, wondering what had happened. He then shifts to a conversation a risen Christ has with two disciples on the Road to Emmaus. Luke says their hearts were “strangely warmed.” Jesus opens the scriptures and points to the resurrection, charges them to take his Gospel to all nations and promises to send the Holy Spirit. Jesus then travels to Bethany outside of Jerusalem and is taken up into heaven. Luke concludes with the people worshiping Jesus and returning to Jerusalem with great joy where they worship at the Temple and praise God. Acts begins with the disciples convinced of the resurrection and waiting for a gift of the Holy Spirit. There is great anticipation and excitement…
Big Idea #2: Obedience places us in position to encounter the Holy Spirit!
- 1 On the day of Pentecost, seven weeks after the resurrection, the believers were meeting in one place Along with Passover and Tabernacles, Pentecost was one of three Jewish observances in which Jews living within 20 miles were required to travel to Jerusalem. Jewish pilgrims from the Roman Empire joined them in great number. Both animals and unleavened bread were sacrificed at the Temple as they celebrated Moses receiving the Ten Commandments and the gathered harvest. It was held annually in early June and no Jew was allowed to work; it was a holy day. On this particular Pentecost, the disciples were living in obedience to Jesus who had told them, “Wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Ghost comes upon you.” He told them to wait and they were waiting. Obedience places us in position to encounter the Holy Spirit!
Big Idea #3: When the Holy Spirit shows up you are going to know it!
2 Suddenly a sound like a mighty wind filled the house where they were meeting When the Holy Spirit shows up you are going to know it! You don’t have to wonder if a church or a person is Spirit-filled! There is an undeniable energy, optimism, electricity and enthusiasm about them.
3 Then tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them Not some of them but all of them! The disciples knew Jesus personally but they did not have the power of the Spirit until Pentecost.
4 And everyone was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in languages they had not learned Let’s take a closer look. As I study scripture there appears to be at least three variations of tongues. There is a gift that is spoken in New Testament worship that needs an interpreter, there is a personal prayer language and there is an ability to witness in languages you have not learned. The gift of tongues at Pentecost was unquestionably the latter. There was nothing unintelligible at Pentecost; the miracle was that everyone heard the Gospel in the language in which they could best understand it! The gift of tongues was not the ends at Pentecost; it was the means. The “ends” was that the Gospel went from Jerusalem to the uttermost parts of the earth.
5 An international crowd of Jews were in Jerusalem for Pentecost It is of interest that tourism is a five billion dollar a year industry in Israel to this day. Jews living throughout the Roman Empire dreamed of personally experiencing God on his holy mountain. Since Pentecost featured the best sailing weather of any of the Jewish holidays; Jerusalem was at its most international during Pentecost. The fire received at Pentecost would go back home with all the pilgrims who personally received Christ that day and wildfires began to break out all over the Mediterranean.
Big Idea #4: When the Holy Spirit is active in the church there is evidence of it outside the church.
6 They came running toward the sound and were bewildered to hear the Gospel being preached in their native languages When the Holy Spirit is active in the church there is evidence of it outside the church. John Wesley said, “When you set yourself on fire, people love to come to watch you burn.”
12 The crowd was amazed and perplexed, “What could this mean? but others thought the disciples were drunk It is the first thing in the morning on Saturday when the Spirit shows up and people are preaching in languages they have never learned and the best counter the devil could think of is that these people were drunk. I am surprised he didn’t lose his job. I have seen people get slurred, silly, sloppy, surly, stupid and sullen when they get drunk but I have never seen anyone break into fluently speaking a language they had never learned! How many of you have ever known one person in your life who got smarter when they got drunk? I rest my case.
So let me close by offering a metaphor:
In my first church job, a guy donated a brand new movie type popcorn popper and taught me how to use it. The only thing that I didn’t see coming was that you needed to add oil to the kettle with the un-popped kernels. The oil does two things; 1) It keeps the kernels from burning and 2) It super heats the kernels. Now let me tell you why popcorn pops. Inside the hull is a tiny amount of water. When the kernel is super-heated, the water turns to steam, builds up pressure and explodes. The explosion completely changes everything and turns a small “harder than a rock” kernel into something fluffy and entirely edible. In church tradition, anointing with oil has been an emblem of the Holy Spirit. To my way of thinking, the Holy Spirit super heats the Christian, pressurizes our baptismal water and takes us to a whole new level of Christian living. It is called sanctification. Our Methodist Church Doctrine defines it this way:
“Salvation is not a static, one-time event in our lives. It is the ongoing experience of God’s gracious presence transforming us into whom God intends us to be. John Wesley described this dimension of God’s grace as sanctification, or holiness.
Through God’s sanctifying grace, we grow and mature in our ability to live as Jesus lived. As we pray, study the Scriptures, fast, worship, and share in fellowship with other Christians, we deepen our knowledge of and love for God. As we respond with compassion to human need and work for justice in our communities, we strengthen our capacity to love neighbor. Our inner thoughts and motives, as well as our outer actions and behavior, are aligned with God’s will and testify to our union with God.”
-United Methodist Book of Discipline
View this blog as an introduction. The first steps on a journey. The first page in a journal. What lies ahead will be really hard work. Many of us will have to face our own issues and our own inadequacies as Christian people. The kind of hard work that can highly heat us, pressurize us and transform us. It is the kind of hard work that can change…everything. POP!
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop is the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois