The Straw that broke this camel’s back: Anyone want to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, please come forward

 

This story is about why I left my church. People leave their church for so so many reasons some of which are for so so reasons. I hope my reason is not of the second kind. Christians all agree that “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5b). My reason, which shall become clear is related to the question “When is the Holy Spirit given to us; at regeneration (spiritual rebirth) or as a subsequent gift, unhappily called, I shall argue, the “Baptism in the Spirit?”

I was speaking to somebody who had got a teaching job at a “Word of Faith” (a “charismatic”) school. She said to me that she got the job because they needed somebody who was spirit-filled. Ergo, she fitted the bill. I’m sure that she was a competent teacher to boot.

What did she mean by “spirit-filled?” To answer that question, we need to know what the “Word of faith” movement means by this term. Here is a word of welcome from one of these churches: “Welcome to Word of Faith Fellowship Church WOFFC is a spirit-filled bible-believing and bible-teaching, non denominational church, teaching you how to be victorious …” What the WOFFC means by“spirit-filled” is stated in one of their central beliefs: “We believe in water baptism,  and in the Baptism of the Holy Spirit as distinct from the new birth, in speaking with tongues  (Acts 2:4).  We believe that  these are available to all  believers.” (Word of Fellowship Church). The “Word of Faith” movement is part of the wider movement call the “Charismatic” movement.

I once belonged to an Anglican church whose pastor had “Word of Faith” leanings but it never got as far as Baptism in the Holy Spirit as distinct from the new birth. The pastor was replaced by a new pastor. His second sermon was entitled: “The marks of a true church.” One of these marks, he said, was the “Baptism of the Spirit.” He did not elaborate, so it was unclear what he meant by the term, which, of course, is a biblical term. During the next few months nothing more was said on the matter, and so we continued characteristically and uncharismatically as normal.

A few months later, a the end of the Sunday service, the pastor announced a workshop for the following Saturday morning to discuss the direction the church was going and to formulate what he called a “vision statement.” Alarm bells went off, I believe only in my head. One of the pastor’s previous sermons was entitled “What is your vision,” wherein he quoted the well-worn first half of Proverbs 29:18: “Where there is no vision the people perish.” The complete verse reads Proverbs 29:18 is “Where there is no vision [that is, prophetic vision] the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.” “Vision” here is in the context of keeping the law, and nothing else. What do many preachers do with this half a proverb, for example, Adrian Stanley, Rick Warren and Joel Osteen, and the “Word of faith” people? They turn it into a sermon series or book on how to get a new vision for your life. This pastor did the same in his :What is your vision?” sermon. (See Where there is no vision: No more cutting and pasting a way to prosperity for this hermeneut).

During the following week, I emailed the pastor and asked him for an outline of the coming “Vision” workshop, which he sent me. The following points were to be discussed 1. “What is vision? 2. A picture of a preferred future. 3. The value of vision. 4.The quotation of half of Proverbs 29:18: “Where there is no vision the people perish.”

Point 3 “A picture of a preferred future” is probably directly or indirectly from Adrian Stanley’s writings on Leadership and Vision – “Leaders provide a mental picture of a preferred future and then ask people to follow them there” (Adrian Stanley).

These points were to be related to external issues:
1. The wider church, 2. Globally, 3. Regionally, 4. Within the country (South Africa), within the city, within the community.

I wrote the following back to him: This is what I shall say to you on Saturday. I see that the vision you’re going to talk about is directed to everything outside our church. About inside our church, do you have a clear picture of who show signs that they are not believers ( born again) or are babes in the faith. It seems to me that growing our church more in-depth is needed before looking for ways to grow in numbers and evangelise the world. Our church needs to be evangelised.”

He agreed that we need to look at growing the faith inside the church. Here are are some of the contributions from different members raised from our church’s “Vision” workshop. My comments are in italics:

One of the church members said, the early church was simple. Have courage and confidence, don’t fight with one another, help one another, be patient, don’t shoot anybody down.

It is very difficult not to rock the boat without “shooting anybody down,” that is without anybody getting sea sick, or worse, taking offense.

We now come to the nub of my topic (I recorded the audio of the workshop).

Elder: You’ve got to be spirit filled.”

Me – What do you mean by spirit filled?

Elder – You have to ask the Spirit to fill into your life. And accept him into your life.

Where does the Bible say you have to accept the Spirit into your life?

Me – What’s the difference between a spirit filled Christian and a Christian?

Church member – You have to be a proper Christian.

Me – So a real Christian. That’s obvious.

Elder – If you accept Christ into your life, then you are spirit filled.

Me – Why say spirit-filled? Just say genuine christian.

Elder – We are talking about people in this church.

Church member – Nominal Christians.

Me – So, not true Christians. What I’m worrying about is that the church is going the way of Word of Faith movement. The charismatic movement, where the filling of the spirit and the baptism of the spirit is considered as a distinct experience, I believe that for you (addressed to the same elder) it is because you speak in tongues and I think this is so for the pastor and for the (Anglican) church he originates from. This church has become officially a branch of that mother church. (Our church, which was struggling financially, was taken over by this charismatic mother church). What I’m worried about is that we are going to get this idea that there are Christians who are born again, which the Bible says can only be done through the holy spirit – you can only be regenerated through the holy spirit, you can’t do anything, you’re dead in your sin. So it is through the holy spirit that you are born again. If you are born again you are going to love Christ, you’re going to follow him, you are going to obey his commandments. He’s the lord of your life. And you are going to want the spirit to nourish you continually. If you don’t want that, it means you are not born again. So we do ask for an increase of devotion in our lives. Increase my faith. Lord I need more of your spirit. We pray for a filling like that. 

Church member – That’s what the elder means.

Me – Then please just say, be a proper Christian, that like “are you spirit-filled?” Somebody once said to me that the reason why she was employed at a Word of Faith school was because they needed spirit-filled people there. You know what that means for them? It means the charismatic church; you have to have an extra baptism, a baptism of the holy spirit. But you don’t mean that do you (to the Elder), do you? You don’t mean the baptism of the holy spirit. Extra after you’re baptised? 

Elder – I think we need to be a spirit-filled guided church. 

He avoided a direct answer.

ME – Alright. As long as we understand our terms. You don’t mean what the word of faith people mean? You have a baptism of the spirit as something separate from your conversion. You don’t mean that?

The elder kept (thinking of his?) mum.

Church member 1 – In this exercise we want to learn the word of God. To be filled by the spirit once I get going. I don’t think we need to be perfect.

Church member 2 – I think we all agree about that.

Church member 3 – Then we should say, let us be spirit filled, those who are willing. 

The pastor then speaks for the first – ad last – time.

Pastor – And we’ll take thought of your view.

ME (a stuck record) to Pastor – So we don’t mean baptism in the holy spirit. All we mean is somebody who is devoted to Christ. In other words born again. True conversion true repentance. Ok fine. Say it like that. 

I had been pleading for clarity from the Elder and the Pastor on where they stood on the dividing line between “infilling of the Spirit” and “Baptism on the Spirit.” No luck. There was something amiss, if, not rotten, in the state of Denmark:

Horatio: He waxes desperate with imagination.
Marcellus: Let’s follow. ‘Tis not fit thus to obey him.
Horatio: Have after. To what issue will this come?
Marcellus: Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
Horatio: Heaven will direct it.
Marcellus: Nay, let’s follow him. [Exeunt.]

(Hamlet Act 1, scene 4, 87–91)

At the workshop, one of the members asked the Pastor whether members could start a Bible study at the church with me as the leader. The Pastor said yes. Two weeks later, we had our first Bible study session.

The following week, the Pastor phoned me and said he wants to meet with me at the church. We met a few evenings later. He said that he has decided that I stop the Bible study. I asked why. Did he receive any negative reports from attendees of the Bible study? He said, no, but he was thinking about the idea of me leading a Bible study and thought it would not be a good idea after all. I said, surely there must be a better reason. He said: You don’t hold to Anglican beliefs. I asked, which beliefs were those. He said, “You tell me what those beliefs are.” I said, “how can you ask me to tell you which beliefs you think I don’t believe in.” He persisted that I tell him what he thought I didn’t believe. I repeated, no you must tell me, not I you. He said: “You don’t believe in healing.” I said, of course, I believe that God heals. He said: “You don’t believe in the infllling of the Spirit. I said: Of course, I do. He said, you don’t believe in Pentecost. Of course I do; I believe in the incarnation, in the crucifixion in the resurrection, in the ascension, so why wouldn’t I believe in Pentecost. If you mean that I don’t believe Pentecost continues today, that is so, I don’t believe that. The Pastor said that I was wrong. I told him that as it was his church he had every right to do what he sees fit. The meeting ended on that note.

Recall that in the “Vision” workshop, the pastor did not show his cards even after I pleaded ad nauseam for clarity on the distinction between 1. “regeneration throught the Holy Spirit,” 2. “being filled with the Spirit,” which occurs throughout a Christians life and 3. the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” as a subsequent unique event after regeneration (taught by charismatic churches like the Word of Faith movement). A large number of Anglicans have become “charismatic.” My pastor was one of these.

What are these Anglican articles that the pastor says I had rejected. Recall, my pastor had accused me of rejecting “healing.” By that he meant the modern equivalent of the profusion of miracles in the New Testament. Although there is a great variety of beliefs among Anglicans, and Protestants in general – indeed among Roman Catholics as well – what is clear is that the articles of faith held by most Anglicans exclude the belief that the abundance of miracles of Jesus and the miracles of the Apostles (through Jesus), before and after Pentecost, occur today. These Anglicans are cessationists.

The pastor had few words to say in the “Vision” workshop on the “Baptism/Infilling” issue. In our meeting (above), it became clear to me that he was confusing “Baptism in the Spirit” (as a one-off second injection of power) with the “Infilling of the Spirit” (a continuous process in the Christian life).

I decided to quit my church, which grieved me because I had grown close to many of the church members. A few weeks later, I learned that another pastor was to take over most services. Things were looking up. I attended this new pastor’s first service. Being Pentecost Sunday, his sermon was on, good guess, Pentecost. Part of his sermon was on “tongues.” He said: “The bible says it (tongues) can be either a language of men or a heavenly language.” At the end of the sermon he prayed, “Please fill me with your spirit and give me the gift of the holy spirit.”

Didn’t he have the Holy Spirit, then. At the end of the service, he said, “Please come forward if you want to receive the gift of the Spirit.” If you think I was confused by the previous pastor, now, I lost my fuse. I thought, “For sure, I’m definitely outta here.” But I felt I still had to engage this pastor. I used to do this engaging during after-service fellowship, but I decided that it was too stressful for pastors/preachers (visiting ones included) immediately after a sermon, especially when it was rotten one. So I corresponded with them by email. I wrote the following email to the new pastor (who had said in his sermon: “Please come forward if you want to receive the gift of the Spirit”).

Harry (not his real name), here is a major difference between the “Pentecostal – Word of Faith” movement” (the previous pastor and it seems you) and the biblical view of the “Baptism in the Holy Spirit.” This movement labels the event in Acts 2:4 as the “Baptism in the Spirit,” which it regards as a second and necessary stage in the Christian life. Acts 2:4, in fact, is about “filling” of the Spirit, not “baptism” of the Spirit.

Acts 2:1-4 Filled with the Spirit
1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

1 Corinthians 12:13 Baptism in the Spirit.

“In one spirit are we all baptised into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”

This baptism in the Spirit is a one-off act of God that occurs at regeneration (being born again). The infilling of the Spirit, in contrast, is a repeated activity, as in Acts 4:8, 31; 6:5; 7:55.

Harry replied: “You have stated my position exactly. Baptism in the Spirit is a once-only event and being filled a present continuous. I was exegeting the text quite correctly, because that is what happened on the day of Pentecost. When I invited people forward to be filled with the Holy Spirit it was that exactly.”

He confuses “Come forward to be filled with the Holy Spirit,” which he did not say in the sermon (I recorded it) with “Please come forward if you want to receive the gift of the Spirit,” which he did say.

He confuses the “baptism of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13 above), the gift of the Holy Spirit and the “infilling of the Spirit” (Pentecost). The disciples received the gift of the Holy Spirit, when they were born again through this same Holy Spirit. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the same as the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” Scriptures that speak of grace and faith as a gift are quite familiar (Ephesians 2, for example). There is also a scripture that explicitly says the Holy Spirit is a gift, which I quoted in my first paragraph: “… the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”(Romans 5:5b). Here is the context of that snippet in Romans 5:

[1] Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. [2] Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. [3] Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, [4] and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, [5] and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

To receive the gift of the Spirit is not the same as to be filled with the Spirit. Conflating the two has caused chaos (“charismatic chaos” – John MacArthur) in the Church. Also, I wonder whether you should invite people (to come forward) to be filled with the Spirit, as the pastor above did. It seems more biblical to pray to be filled as in Acts 4:24,31; 8:15ff; 9:17,31; Luke 11:13.

A serious matter. A divisive one? Absolutely. Divisive enough to look for another church or stay at home. I think so.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “The Straw that broke this camel’s back: Anyone want to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, please come forward

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s