BAPTIZED BY FIRE:
THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT (Part II)
Text: Romans 12: 6-8
In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.
– Romans 12:6-8 (NLT)
Last week I launched a six part blog on the Holy Spirit. My purpose in taking on such a daunting topic had to do with 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. If we don’t believe God can actually change people, we have nothing to offer. The rest of this series will be spent unpacking these two ideas.
You are going to get some of my journey with this, so with a short trailer from last week, let’s crack at it. I was raised in a tradition that taught the active presence of the Holy Spirit in time and space essentially concluded with the completion of the Bible. But as I grew older, my parents morphed toward embracing a more active view of the Holy Spirit. They were swept us in the “Charismatic Movement” that started around 1960. The basic tenant was that ideas concerning the Holy Spirit that had formerly been exclusive to Pentecostals, were making their way into Mainline Protestant, fundamentalist and Roman Catholic congregations. Charismatic comes from a Greek word denoting something given by God that is unattainable any other way. It is what you know that you were not taught and what you achieve that is beyond you. Charismatic expression combined a rediscovery of the spiritual gifts with a strong belief that people needed to be filled with the Holy Spirit as a second act of grace after salvation. In a theological sense, an ecclesiastical shift occurred from emphasizing the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace) as the highest Christian aspiration, to the gifts of the Spirit. In an era where the Mainline church was just beginning its decline and Vietnam era America was shifting rapidly, some Christians began to wonder if there might be “more” to Christianity than they were experiencing; they certainly hoped so. As many began to lean into the gifts of the Holy Spirit; they started reading the New Testament through new eyes and that is where the disconnect occurred. “Why does what we do in our churches look nothing like what they did in the Bible? They didn’t even have bulletins!” This movement, like all historical revivals, caused significant disruption in many theological traditions and local churches; not to mention the careers of many professional clergy.
I was a bad fit for a 1980’s style charismatic. Because the theology seemed shallow; the use of Scripture selective and the methodology manipulative, I rejected the movement in whole. I would not go forward with them but I couldn’t exactly go back either. I was in the theological no-man’s land at the age of twenty-one. Perfect. My journey was further complicated by my marriage to a woman with more spirituality in her little finger than I had in my whole body; graduation from college and my first big boy job in Louisville, Illinois. Leaving home to start my life seemed like a good time to re-approach things and hopefully find a place to land. What did I do in the meantime?
Like all significant historical revivals, great music was emerging that soon was called Contemporary Christian Music. This genre took the sights, fashions and sounds of the Woodstock era and refocused the themes of “sex, drugs and rock and roll” to “holiness, worship and rock and roll.” Melissa and I received spiritual sustenance through musical ground breakers like Larry Norman, prophets like Keith Green and poets like Rich Mullins. The message was clear, “This isn’t your grandpa’s Christianity. This is fresh, new and relevant.”
Determined to find a faith tradition Melissa and I could call our own, we visited every church in Louisville which took three Sundays. Mainly because there were other young couples our age, we ended up being a United Methodists. After teaching history and coaching baseball and basketball for two years, I accepted a Teaching Assistantship at SIU-C, focused my Master’s work on 19th Century Revivalism hoping to figure some stuff out and took a staff position at the Herrin Methodist Church. At Herrin I met a retired missionary and product of the “decidedly non-rock and roll” Wesleyan Holiness movement named Sylvia Culver. Sylvia would have been in her seventies and she seemed to gracefully embody everything I believed the Holy Spirit should do in a life. She had a warmth and a glow about her but most of all there was a spiritual force in her that was undeniable. She was what I wanted to be in the unlikely event I ever grew up; she had something I both lacked and needed. When I took a class she offered about the Holy Spirit; she taught in a methodical fashion that spoke to me and I found my heart strangely warmed. For the past thirty years, I kept her notes in a file labeled “Holy Spirit” that I carried with me through seminary and my subsequent years of ministry. I never preached or taught on them; I just kept them in the file. And then early this year, I got them out again.
So what you are getting is a morphing of Sylvia’s stuff, my stuff, Methodist stuff and especially Bible stuff. I am also drawing off some of my dad’s experiences because he was on the tip of the spear in a very influential historical movement. I believe the movement is over but the sustained revival that it torched may still forming. The Mainline American church is on hospice right now and I don’t see that as a bad thing; it ran its course and I would like to be a part of whatever is next. I am not advocating a return to the Charismatic Movement, I wasn’t crazy about it when it was here. I am advocating a Wesleyan and Biblically based openness to the Holy Spirit concerning our beliefs and our practices. I want to eradicate the distance between what we do and what Jesus and the early church did and tap into every ounce of the power available to us as the New Testament church. Some of the things we discuss might make you a bit uncomfortable; I assure you they make me uncomfortable. My prayer is that God makes us all uncomfortable in the ways we most need to be uncomfortable.
Let’s meet the Holy Spirit:
THE PERSON OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
- The Holy Spirit is a person. Orthodox theology describes God in terms of the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit is God and equal to the father and the son. The Holy Spirit is a person in substance though not in body and is not an “it” or an “influence.”
The United Methodist Articles of Religion describe the Trinity in this way:
Article I — Of Faith in the Holy Trinity
There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body or parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the maker and preserver of all things, both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there are three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
- The Holy Spirit is distinct from the Father and Son
- The Holy Spirit is everywhere present
- The Holy Spirit doesn’t stay where not welcome He departed from men when disobedient. David “Take not thy spirit from me”
- The Holy Spirit is all powerful In the Old Testament he empowered men for service.
- The Holy Spirit is eternal He is seen in the work of Creation in Genesis.
- The Holy Spirit came in a new way at Pentecost
- The Holy Sprit interacts with the church in the same way until the return of Christ
The letter to the Romans was written around 58 AD by Paul from Corinth to a Roman church he had neither founded nor had visited. My guess is the church at Rome was started by people who had experienced the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Jerusalem and had returned home. Paul wrote the Roman church to outline the emerging theology of the Christian movement. Paul’s theological conclusions have changed the world at least three times when the will of God, a great leader and new technology formed the perfect conditions for long term change. All true revivals are initially torched by movements and are disruptive forces to the status quo. I pray a fourth will happen in my lifetime.
First, aided by Roman innovations in transportation, Paul helped Christianity emerge from a localized Jerusalem movement by spreading the Gospel all over the Mediterranean world. Hundreds of thousands of first century Gentiles were converted to Christianity as they responded to his message of salvation by faith.
Second, Martin Luther’s encounter with Romans in sixteenth century Germany touched off a revolution called the Reformation in Europe. Challenging the corruption and works based theology of the Roman Catholic Church, Luther argued that salvation was found through faith in Christ alone. Luther translated the Bible into German and aided by the technology of the Gutenberg Press and put the Bible in the hands of regular people for the first time.
Third, in nineteenth century England a discouraged young Anglican Priest named John Wesley was reading Luther’s preface to the Romans when he found “his heart was strangely warmed…I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation and an assurance was given to me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” Wesley’s willingness to go outside the church building, Spirit fire and methodological leadership nurtured a revival of feeling in the midst of the industrial revolution and connected the church to the culture through cutting edge music, bold preaching and the formation of small groups. Methodists were standardized, preachers were interchangeable and the Holy Spirit burned like wildfire.
I believe we may be on the threshold of a fourth movement of God that is going to ride the waves of the World Wide Web. My heart’s desire is to be a catalyst in that revival. Such a revival will not happen without a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit and our collective openness to be a part of it.
Personal Revival Positioning (PRP):
- Receive Christ
- Receive the Holy Spirit
- Recognize your gifts
- Put your gifts into play
6 God has given us unique spiritual gifts to be used in accordance with our faith You are gifted. You may not currently know what those gifts are so let’s precede Paul’s list of seven gifts with a prayer:
Awaken my heart to the gifts you have given me.
And give me the courage to use these gifts
For the good of the church and the glory of God.
In Jesus’ Strong Name…Amen!
Seven Spiritual Gifts
- Prophecy (v. 6) Proclamation of the Gospel with authority and effectiveness. Do you love apologetics, Bible study and Biblical proclamation?
- Service (v. 7) Practical service; doing what needs to be done. Do you love the feeling of doing necessary things?
- Teaching (v. 7) Explanation of the Gospel with clarity and conviction. Do you love to preach, teach and instruct?
- Encouragement (v. 8) Lifting up other people in life giving ways. Do you love helping people see the good in themselves?
- Generosity (v. 8) Sharing resources with a simple kindness that flows from a generous spirit. Do you love to give of your tithes and offerings?
- Leadership (v. 8) Leading with zeal, passion and willingness to sacrifice for a greater good. Do you love strategic planning and seeing a plan come together?
- Kindness (v. 8) Acting toward others in faith nurturing, loving and non-judgmental ways. Do you love being there for others, especially in their difficult times?
The question isn’t whether or not you have gifts, the question is will you use them for the work of the church and the glory of God?
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.