“Gifts of the Spirit” What do you think about when you hear that? Go ahead and get a few pictures and concepts in mind.
“Fruit of the Spirit” What do you think about when you hear that? Again, go ahead and get a few concepts and images in your mind.
How similar are your pictures? Do we, practically speaking, based on what we associate with the gifts of the Spirit, almost think of two distinctly different “Spirits”–one that does fruit and another gifts? I’ve heard of ‘cafeteria catholics’, but is that what we in the West tend to do with the Spirit? I long for Paul’s attitude, (i) who prioritizes love, and simultaneously encourages folks to eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially prophecy, out of a desire to love and build others up, (ii) who speaks and prays in tongues and is glad for it, but when is with others, always seeks gifts that can benefit them, (iii) who in a nutshell sees the gifts as particular expressions of love for people from God, and wants us all to seek gifts in that vein.
There are many ways the Spirit works, but just one Spirit. There is not a “social justice” Holy Spirit, and a separate “charismatic” Holy Spirit, and yet another that inspired the scriptures. There’s just one who does all of that and more. Can we embrace such a Spirit?
I mentioned in my last post that we’re planning a training on working with the Spirit. Well, Serving with the Spirit Training is the latest draft and outline circulating among our local prayer team for questions and feedback. The content is largely, though not exclusively, dependent on John Wimber’s training on this subject.
You’ll see in the outline that there is time set aside in both sessions for folks to actually do what we’re talking about. These parts are the most helpful and exciting. The first session we have experienced folks doing this as led by the Spirit, and the attendees are encouraged to give it a shot in the second session. I’ve done these a few times now, and there’s always some really great stuff that God does.
Questions, thoughts and other feedback are welcome, from experienced practitioners and novices alike, as we finalize the training. Merry Christmas! May we all experience more and more of the incarnation of God among us.
When I discuss healing and prophecy and the miraculous with Christians who have hesitations about those practices, one of the recurring objections is the concern that people who are sick or handicapped or the like not be blamed for not being healed, usually for lacking faith. This morning I was reminded of that as I was thinking through a few of the stories in which Jesus rebuked the disciples for having little faith in him. The first thing that leapt out at me as I thought about such stories was that when it came to the miraculous, it was so often his disciples — the insiders, the co-workers with him — whom he rebuked for lack of faith, not the needy folks coming to be healed. As I thought of the many times and ways Jesus did this, including when the disciples failed to cast a demon out of a person during his transfiguration, it dawned on me that Jesus does rebuke his apprentices for lack of faith (evidenced in a variety of ways), but never does he rebuke a person acutely aware of their need for healing. With those that are hurting or on the outside–the bruised reeds, the smoldering wicks–he may still discuss their faith, but he is much more gentle, even commending or praising the faith that he finds in such people. Think of the interchange which climaxes in the now famous “I believe; help my unbelief!” That’s as close as Jesus gets to correcting the faith of someone in a felt need. Of course, that interchange is so non-condemning, so honestly helpful, that it rivals if not outstrips his dealings with Thomas as the most loved among us doubters.
He was more blunt, corrective or even confrontational not only with his own students, but also with those who had more official training in the Jewish faith that didn’t believe, and with those communities who personally witnessed him doing signs and wonders but still didn’t believe him as “Christ.” The latter folks are given not mere correction but “Woes” and warning. But you never see Jesus being short or harsh with those who are about to lose their daughter, or just lost their brother, or in some other way are, in that moment, in the middle of experiencing some the real poverty of the human experience, even if their faith in him is weak. With them he is more gentle, even if still urging them, pulling them, to believe. It seems he is even more gentle with his disciples when they are personally experiencing loss (look at the Lazarus incident). Therefore, I think it is safe to say and teach that a practice of the miraculous that is modeled after Christ is not going to create any blame or burden for those who personally need healing or rescue from one of life’s tragedies. We might call this the “smoldering wick” principle and it seems to extend even to Christ’s disciples when he might otherwise be more blunt about their lack of faith.
But this led me to a second, related thought especially concerning his disciples. Clearly, Jesus wanted everyone he encountered, even the smoldering wicks and especially his disciples, to “believe” in him, and, what’s more, he expected their faith in him to include his power over death, over demons, over disease, over nature (and rebuked them for lacking it). And it goes farther still: he even commanded them to do the same things on his behalf and rebuked them and occasionally seemed exasperated when they lacked the faith to do it. But my question is this: Can we effectively argue (or should we even try) that Jesus wants us to have a materially different faith than that which he obviously sought to instill not only in the disciples, but in everyone he encountered? Can we read Jesus’ rebukes to the disciples and to the religious community of the day and exempt ourselves if we lack in our faith what they lacked in theirs? When Jesus tells someone in the NT that they have little faith or great faith, what exactly is the content of that faith that they lack and should ours be different?
It is obvious from the NT that Jesus wanted his disciples to have faith that went well beyond whether or not he forgave them (and whether they could forgive on his behalf). Yes, he does want us to know that “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” and that “if [we] forgive anyone, they are forgiven.” But if Jesus himself or the gospel writers are to be believed, God seemed at least equally concerned that Jesus’ disciples knew that he had authority on earth [and they through him] over diseases, demons, death, and over nature, as well as forgiving sins. He wasn’t happy with their “faith” when it didn’t include any one of these things and when they lacked the faith to do the same things on his behalf. He summed it up in his final great commission to them: “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me, therefore, make disciples . . . [.] His authority over everything (as God’s anointed, the “Christ”) as richly demonstrated in the gospels, is the basis of the Great Commission. Our “faith”, according to Jesus, needs to include not only his authority and willingness to forgive, but his authority over all things in heaven and earth, and in our authority from him to do the same things he did, as he said that anyone who believed in him would do. If our faith in him, and the actions that flow from it, should be markedly different than what he was so insistent on his first followers having, what’s the basis? I really don’t think that’s a search with a happy ending. We’d be better off, I believe, to let the gospels transform our faith and practice than justify our own. I’ll be posting the content of an upcoming local training on that topic soon.
When it comes to doing the things Jesus did and that Jesus sent the 12 and the 70 out to do (preaching, teaching, and even healing–in churches that still do that), churches tend to be like one-man hamlets–most of the parts are still there, but with only one guy on the stage. There are still lots of backstage jobs that need doing and get done, but I think it’s fair to say that few modern congregants resonate with Jesus’ prediction: “Anyone who believes in me will do what I’ve been doing.” Most of the “what-Jesus-did-jobs” in each church are reserved for the sacred (the sacramentalized) few–the reverends, the priests, the ones set apart for God. Doing what Jesus routinely did was not my experience of mere “faith in Jesus,” having been in churches and in Christian schools from birth. It certainly wasn’t what church was like. Church was more like going to watch Michael Jordan talk about basketball than getting into a scheduled game or even drills with him and some friends. That is, until I joined with a Vineyard church.
“Everybody plays” was the phrase. By this they meant that everybody who wants to can learn to work with and through the Spirit to “do the stuff” that Jesus did, namely, be an instrument of the Spirit to prophesy, to heal the sick, to cast out demons, etc., for the building up of the Church and the redemption of the world–no degree required. While many churches affirm this, the Vineyard was the first church I had been a part of that actually practiced it so intentionally and so widely when it came to doing the things Jesus actually did. In this sense, the Vineyard took a unique sacramental view of each believer as a priest and a temple of God’s Spirit, and of participation with (or obedience to) Jesus in the ministry he modeled and led in the gospels and Acts.
As always, the proof is in the practices. Vineyard churches, because they sacramentalize the believer, routinely make space in their gatherings (usually called ‘ministry time’) for large teams of people (generally not including the pastor) to “do the stuff” with/for anyone that wants someone to pray and listen to the Spirit for them, for one kind of healing or another, and routinely offer trainings/workshops (I have given them myself) for people who want to participate in this kind of ministry both in the church meetings and outside of them.
I should probably also mention here that the practice of actually seeking or asking for God to be uniquely present or active is also viewed as sacramental in the Vineyard, in that it is commonplace in the Vineyard to expect God to be uniquely active when people ask or welcome him to be. Even though the Vineyard does not teach that God’s response is at all dictated by people, they do teach and practice that sometimes God is not “uniquely present or active” because we don’t ask, expect or really want him to be. Therefore, in the Vineyard, the practice of “asking, seeking” goes hand-in-hand, often literally, with the sacrament of “anyone who has faith” in Jesus.
Next post will be AA’s unique view and practice of the sacrament of “the priesthood of the believer.”
Thanks to everyone who participated in last post’s survey. BTW, the “other” suggestions for evangelical sacraments were “group bible study,” “communion” and “everything we do.” I kind of doubt that the results are very reflective of what evangelical churches actually practice and/or prioritize, but that’s a subject for another post. For now, I want to echo the “God is present in everything we do” comment to the poll. While this can sound simplistic, I think it contains too much needed truth in our day to dismiss it. In fact, all of what various Christian traditions have called sacraments or even spiritual disciplines or practices have availed me much more–and been far lighter in the process–when I have due respect for what many have called the “sacrament of the present moment.”
Recently I heard a description for spiritual disciplines that made me think of this issue of (evangelical) sacraments, which I raised in the last post. Here’s the description:
The spiritual disciplines are like opportunities for grace, opportunities for us to welcome God to work in and through us.
I like that. It reminded me of the definition of sacrament that I mentioned in the last post: “an activity in which God is uniquely active” or present. It also made me think this when I heard it: is there a moment in which there isn’t an opportunity for grace; is there any moment in which God is not uniquely active? I really don’t think so. In fact, I firmly believe that in every moment, God and his grace are ready, willing and able to lead and empower towards good, towards redemption, and not just in a general sense, but in a particular and customized way. Every moment is an opportunity for grace, for cooperation with God. This means, though, that the grace of God will indeed take a variety of forms. All of life, if it is a life led by God, will not be spent in the prayer closet, or reading the bible, or what have you. Certainly we are called to constant communion or prayer with God, and we will read our bibles, go to church, etc., but that doesn’t mean we are to be constantly praying and doing nothing else. It means that sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do in a given moment might be to take a nap, or make love to our spouse, or do the dishes, or get in the pool with our kids–all within an awareness of and responsiveness to the personal, specific and redemptive involvement of God. How’s that for the manifold grace of God? Indeed, cooperating with God in a given moment might take the form of anything: taking a phone call, reading the bible or something else, changing a diaper, maybe even kneeling down to listen and pray (while cleaning a toilet or not). But whatever the form, I am convinced that the grace of God is always ready for us to turn and ask what He is doing and how he is doing it right now, and I suspect strongly that the variety of specific answers to that question are generally outside of what we think of as “spiritual” or “sacramental”, though they are exactly that precisely because of God’s calling and personal involvement.
If you haven’t already checked Christine Sine’s Spiritual Practices Series at her blog, give it a whirl. She’s got folks adding to it regularly. Get a vision for sacraments that are right in front of you. I’ll be talking about some of AA’s and the Vineyard’s “sacraments” in upcoming posts.
Well, now that I’ve really outed myself as a person who believes that God’s mission is in no small part about healing, I want to clarify a few things and connect this thinking with some other, larger themes that are common for me.
First, I think the best way to understand healing or any of the spiritual gifts, is as a subset of love in action from an all powerful God and creator. As the New Testament makes abundantly clear, love is primary. Healing is merely a particular form of grace, or love, from a God who has the power to do it towards a world that needs it. It’s really not complicated. Have you ever loved someone that was suffering? So has God. He still does. The difference, of course, is that God has more power to do something about it (not a particularly bold claim to make about God, right?). Even people outside of the Church think that healing is a natural (expected?) thing for anyone named “God” to do. What really trips them, and us, up isn’t that God heals, it’s all the occasions that he doesn’t heal but supposedly could, without being asked, if he’s so loving, powerful and aware. That’s honestly, though, a topic for its own post. The point for now is that if we ascribe both love and power to God (the anchor of Christian theology?), then saying that he heals people is easier than adding 2 and 2.
Perhaps more importantly, seeing healing as a subset of God’s love & ability puts it in its proper context, both relative to love and relative to all the other expressions of love. And as a few folks rightly pointed out in the discussion at Jesus Creed, healing the physical body shouldn’t be our only or even primary focus. There’s all kinds of “healing” and love is bigger than healing. Amen. Christ-shaped love should be our highest goal. And such love will inevitably lead us to work for the good of others and cooperate with God in all (literally all) sorts of life-building, life affirming and healing ways–absolutely not limited in any way, shape or form to physical healing, or to nonretaliation to evil people, or to generosity to friend and foe, or to preaching the good news, or to hospitality to strangers, etc., etc. We tend to like some of these expressions more than others; some are riskier, physically, socially or financially than others. They tend to be avoided for those reasons. But if Jesus-shaped love is our goal, if he’s the one showing and telling us what God’s mission of love is and what shape that will take, if it’s his mission which we enter as his apprentices, how many of the expressions and forms I mentioned do we leave out, and if so, on what basis? If it is Jesus’ mission we’re joining, if “discipleship” means anything, we need to seriously think about and pray about and discuss the expressions of love and mission which were particularly central to Jesus’ own life and that of his apprentices. How prominently does healing, of all kinds, fit within the mission of God as revealed by Jesus?
I’ve got a guest post today at Jesus Creed, the blog of my friend and croc provider, Scot McKnight. Here’s an excerpt:
People familiar with John Wimber and/or the Vineyard will know what “Doin’ the stuff” refers to. And if you want a good intro to ‘missional’ thinking, go here or here. But what does “missional” have to do with “doin’ the stuff” that Jesus was known for? Towards that question I want to throw a few ideas for folks in both camps to think about, because I think that the missional movement and doin’ the stuff could be a match made in heaven–and earth. It’s also why I have Wimber’s Prayer Model as a tab on this blog, because I think routinely praying for people who are sick, both with the compassion of Jesus and the power and insight of the Spirit, is a pretty missional habit to pick up.
Stop by for what should be a good conversation.