PENTECOST 2018 (4/5)

It’s amazing to hear sometimes what people can throw at the church about the past. The Crusades, Slavery, Apartheid, the Holocaust, emotional and sexual abuse of church leaders and so on. We are 2000 years down the road of Church History and we have perhaps ‘wised up’ on who we are and who God is.

We have also seen the negative side of what can happen when people do things in the name of God, perhaps using the Holy Spirit to display power and manifestations that we sometimes wonder if this is really that healthy.

Let me just ask you a simple question. Do you think that Pentecost 2018 is a big deal? I mean, what do we celebrate with Pentecost really? The start of the church empowered by the Spirit? Or is there more to it. Do we just look into history, or is there also something for today and for the future?

People associate and listen and interpret through filters all the time. For example, when I say the word “Pentecostal”, what do you think? Be honest here.

Or let me ask the question in another way: ‘Is God Pentecostal?’ Strange question, right?

But seriously, how Pentecostal is God? Is He into that at all?

After all, when I often use the word Pentecostal, people associate it frequently with different meanings for people and often those meanings can be put in two categories. Let’s have a look:

  1. The cultural meaning ‘Pentecostal’

For many the ‘Pentecostal Christian’ is usually someone from a very religious and strict tradition. Some examples are that women aren’t allowed to wear make-up or pants, no short hair for them either. Some may even think that being Pentecostal means that you have to speak gibberish and calling that spiritual. And when you don’t, well, you haven’t been ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’. In other terms, for both Christians from other Christian traditions and non-Christians, there seems to be quite some legalistic tendencies involved when they look at most of the believers that would be part of the Pentecostal camp. In modern culture that’s how often people look at Pentecostals. If this is the picture that people have, then the answer to my question ‘Is God Pentecostal?’ needs to be answered with a firm ‘NO!’

I am fully aware that this is a stereotype and that there many moderate versions are also possible, but for the sake of the discussion, this is helpful to make the point.

  1. The biblical meaning ‘Pentecostal’

Now the biblical definition of ‘Pentecostal’ is different. It is actually someone who understands and appreciates the historic fulfillment of the Feast of Pentecost as we read in Acts 2 and further. If the term describes someone who understands that the fruit and gifts and fellowship of the Holy Spirit are also available for us today – and that we are in need of His Empowerment to live out the New Covenant life, then I’d say that God is Pentecostal. Makes sense? So, understanding is very important here.

Let me quote C.S. Lewis here for you:

“I feel a strong desire to tell you–and I expect you feel a strong desire to tell me–which of these two errors is the worse. That is the devil getting at us. He always sends errors into the world in pairs–pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight between both errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them.”

This is important to grasp. Often a Christian may look from one camp – let’s say a Baptist or reformed tradition – and look at the Pentecostals through the cultural lens of ‘a crazy fundamentalist’. Likewise, someone from the more ‘Pentecostal side of the spectrum’ looks at the other camp (whoever that may be) and think: ‘You don’t know what you are missing out on. Your life is so boring and dry.’ Snap judgements about clothing, outward appearances, worship style and more may be going back and forth, without ever expressing that and it is keeping obviously the body of Christ divided. That’s what C.S. Lewis meant with the fact that the devil sends errors into the world in pairs knowing that the human mindset can easily be a set up.

Legalism on both sides of the fence can be found easily, you don’t’ have to be on the Pentecostal camp (in the extreme form) only. The point is this. Could it be that because we have certain dispositions towards how the Christian life should look like, that we mentally exclude anything that could possibly threaten or harm that mental image?

If I believe for example, that what I read in Acts is also for today – which I do by the way – I may go on some sort of spiritual quest looking for experiences and manifestations. After all, God must be on the move and so do I. But that is not what I necessarily read in Acts. The apostles weren’t looking for goose bumps, thrills and excitement. They even had to pay the ultimate price for their faith. The miraculous happened validating their message about the Kingdom of God and their Saviour, Jesus Christ. What actually stood out in the life of the early church was unity, fellowship, love and really knowing God intimately.  We on the other hand, in our eagerness (which is in itself not wrong) to live holy and powerful lives, can sometimes get it very wrong, when we think it is all about manifestations, power, or following a whole set of ‘Thou shall and shall nots’ . Rules without relationship leads to religion regardless of which spiritual camp you are in.

There is another angle to this as well. When we discard the extremes of Pentecostal craziness, which I fully understand, we may again go into the other extreme potentially. You can sense that every time you hear the word ‘Holy Spirit’. Seriously! It stirs all sorts of defence mechanisms instantly, as if He is an inferior part of the godhead. I am not joking. So who is the Holy Spirit? Or what is He like? It is a message itself to explain this but let me make two quick remarks about the Holy Spirit

  1. The Holy Spirit is a Person, not a force, energy, or the source of a spiritual high. We relate to Him, because He lives inside of us. In fact, it is the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, that now lives inside of us. Sounds powerful to me…
  2. The Holy Spirit is also our Helper, Counsellor, Defender, Advocate and Comforter. I encourage you to do a quick study on John 14-16 and you’ll find these roles of the Holy Spirit clearly. He gives you the words when you don’t have any. He defends you when you get attacked for your faith. He comforts you when you are in uncomfortable situations. He really does.

Pentecost 2018. What do we really believe about it for today? Are we merely remembering that God poured out His Spirit on the Church? Do we perhaps believe that was a one-time event and that all the miraculous is not even for today any longer, because we have now the Bible who will teach us into everything about God and that should do. There are whole groups and theologies that believe that!

Or is there still something for us today, right here and now?

I sometimes wonder whether the powerlessness, defeat, anxiety,  discouragement, fear and more is (partly) a result of a lack of understanding of who the Holy Spirit really is and what He can do today. I am fully aware of the extremes on both sides and both I dislike. But our understanding of the Holy Spirit and Pentecost for today is not based on our experience, feeling or even our thoughts. It is based on truth as we read it in Scripture. I really think that there is something that people are often missing out on, not because I have had the experience and they not. It’s not me judging them. That’s not healthy. No, when I read Scripture, it becomes clear that a couple of things are very different there from what I am seeing today and I firmly believe that our life experience needs to line up with what Scripture says and not the other way around. I am in dangerous waters here and people may not even like this, but I really believe that life often speaks louder than God’s Word.

In my final blog, I will share you part of my personal journey with God as it relates to the Holy Spirit. I hope it can help you.