It’s been nearly 2 months since I attended the Moving To The Spirit conference. I told myself that I’d post something about it and I think I better do so now before I procrastinate further and end up not gathering my thoughts and writing about the event and things related. This was meant to be just one post but my introduction (the necessary context for my experiences and thoughts on the conference and things after) became so long that it warrants a post on its own. So in this post, I’ll just write some thoughts on my pursuit of the things of the Spirit in general.
While I’ve had experience in both charismatic Christianity with its emphasis on the things of the Spirit and non-Charismatic evangelical (mainly Reformed) Christianity with its emphasis on good teaching of Scriptures, I know that my strength has been more on the Word and less on the Spirit side of things. As a left brain Christian, I love to read good theological books. I reflect a lot on what the Bible says and on Christianity in general and don’t accept what pastors say so easily without checking it with the Word and doing my own research. (That’s the reason I’m so eclectic in my beliefs). I appreciate good teachings because I’ve seen the abuses and excesses in charismatic churches and I’ve seen how so many Christians are easily influenced by these excesses because they refuse to use their minds to evaluate things. I also do know that the mind is important and it’s not there for nothing, as if spirituality is all about offending the mind and being in touch with the spiritual side of things. But I’m also aware of the areas I need to improve in. While I can always be stronger in my understanding of the Word of God (who can’t?), I know that this isn’t exactly the area I should be focusing on. (I don’t want to be seen to be seeing a dichotomy between Word and Spirit, but there’s a certain truth to that, if you know what I mean). I don’t want to be strong in one area, and so weak in the other. I would surely be missing out on something. It would surely be less than ideal.
I respect people like John Piper. He’s strong in the Word and he’s not anti-charismatic. There’s so much the church can learn from a person like him. But I wouldn’t wanna attend a church like his because I don’t think (I may be wrong) he encourages the charismatic manifestations of the Spirit. His focus is clearly on the Word side of things. There are a lot of churches like that – one that I can think of off-hand is Covenant Evangelical Free Church. Such churches aren’t anti-charismatic like fundamentalist Christians (e.g. the Bible-Presbyterians in Singapore) but they also won’t be promoting things like healing, prophecy and the like. They are so-called “open but cautious”. They’re not against these gifts if Christians practice them privately, but they wouldn’t encourage or promote such things during corporate worship times. This is of course much better than thinking of tongues as demonic, etc., but in my opinion it’s still not good enough. If you don’t teach, encourage and practice these gifts in a corporate manner, what’s the point? It’s as good as believing that these gifts are not important and therefore not needed. It’s a seemingly safe way to do church but I think it’s inspired more by fear and not having experienced genuine charismatic Christianity – which is understandable since there’s a lot of flaky stuff out there and I think very few good models that are strong in BOTH Word and Spirit. But I think this shouldn’t result in us keeping quiet about these things during corporate worship. We should seek the good and throw out the bad, rather than just remain silent about these things. After all, a safe and intellectual Christianity seems so far from the kind of Christianity I see in the early church and in the gospels. That doesn’t mean the extreme charismatics have got it right, with their disdain for anything intellectual. But there has to be a middle-ground somewhere.
For some time, I’ve been wanting to get out of my comfort zone of this kind of “open but cautious” Christianity – therefore, my many posts on hearing God’s voice. This desire has been gradually getting stronger and stronger – especially since the conference. Although New Creation church is definitely charismatic in a sense, because (perhaps like many other “charismatic” churches) it doesn’t promote a lot of the prophetic in corporate worship or cell groups, it’s not a lot different from a lot of “open but cautious” churches.
In a sense, I would say I’m very comfortable in the middle-class intellectual Christianity of Singapore. Actually, that’s not totally true. Give me a mix of not too charismatic intellectual evangelical Christianity with a dose of the emerging church passion for social justice (loving the poor, marginalized and oppressed) and I’ll be pretty satisfied and comfortable. Yet not totally because there will always be this sneaking suspicion that something’s missing and not right. But heck, I can live without that something and I won’t die. After all, so many Christians do live without that something else…
But then I won’t be truly satisfied. So I have no choice but to get out of my comfort zone. But getting out of it is not easy. It can be scary. It’s going into the unknown – into a place you’re not so familiar with, where you feel you’ve got so much to learn.
In recent years, I’ve talked to many prophetic people – especially recently during and after the conference. I’m very open to learning from them. But it can be difficult when I see a lot of them not particularly strong in the Word. You sometimes get the feeling that for them the ideal Christian worship service is one prophetic and glorious/glory experience after another. The preaching probably isn’t a particularly important part of the service for them and they would be satisfied with preaching that really… isn’t preaching at all – no depth, no great insight and just very superficial. I know the power and importance of strong preaching and teaching and how that can transform lives – I’ve seen that in conservative non-charismatic churches with strong preaching and teaching of the Word. And of course I’ve seen that so beautifully in New Creation too. Yet for these prophetic people, you sometimes get the impression that they are just so far up there and just too “spiritual”. They don’t need good teaching or understanding of the Word – they just need a good experience.
I really wanna learn from these kinds of people and it’ll be so much more easier if they were to be strong in both Word and Spirit – and not only the Spirit – or at least recognize their lack in the Word area and that they have much to learn in that area – and thus are open to be corrected and recognize that they have so much to learn from other Christian traditions very different from theirs, rather than having mere disdain for Christian traditions different from theirs. Those who are so-called so in tune to the Spirit can often think they are totally correct and don’t have much to learn from non-charismatics because they’ve experienced something and such experience is valued over everything else – they can be just as dogmatic and judgmental as non-charismatic fundamentalists who firmly believe in their interpretation of the Bible. It’s hard to accept everything from such people because I’m not prepared to accept that charismatics have got it all correct, just as I’m not prepared to accept that the non-charismatics have it all right. It’s always easier to learn from people who recognize that both the Word and the Spirit are important and from those who have spent a decent amount of time in both areas and appreciate both sides of Christianity. One church I instantly think of with ministers and a tradition that is strong in both the Word and Spirit is the Westminster Chapel in London. And one family of churches is Newfrontiers. (Years ago, I would have included Sovereign Grace Ministries as a good model of Word – Reformed theology, in particular – and Spirit. However, I feel that they’re leaning more towards the Reformed/Word side than the Spirit side, which I think is quite sad. They affiliate themselves strongly with many anti-charismatic or “open but cautious” Christian leaders of the Reformed persuasion, but somehow don’t seem to work with ministries from the other side.)
So there aren’t many great models of good Word and Spirit balance in the Church. And I think that’s one reason why you still have such a huge charismatic/non-charismatic divide in the body of Christ. If there were many churches with that good balance, you’ll have many more churches learning from them and having that balance. But I think it’s because you see so much abuse in the charismatic circles that non-charismatics throw the baby out with the bathwater and refuse to touch anything too charismatic. That’s why you get many churches that profess to be open to charismatic gifts, but refuse to promote them corporately. They are fearful that abuses will occur. And the converse is true too: so many charismatic churches don’t care much for good teaching (other than teaching on the gifts) because they’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater too and refuse to touch anything too non-charismatic.
Anyway, I was recently reading Rodney Howard-Browne‘s The Touch of God. I bought this book at the end of 1995 when he came to Singapore at the height of The Toronto Blessing. Rodney Howard-Browne’s meetings are full of the manifestations of the Holy Spirit – especially laughter. Not a whole lot of solid teaching/preaching in his meetings. Anyway, the book is about the anointing and I hadn’t actually read it yet but recently decided to read it. An interesting thought struck me when I was reading one of the chapters of the fivefold ministry. He wrote that Jesus stood in every one of the fivefold ministries – He was an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher all in one. Then he wrote:
You and I do not individually have the ministry of Jesus because He never gave His ministry to one individual. He divided His ministry to the Body… I want you to notice that everyone who stands in a fivefold office collectively makes up the ministry of Jesus on earth today… You and I have the Spirit by measure, but corporately, we have the Spirit without measure. That’s why this last day revival will not come through one single group or denomination. (p. 14-16)
One ministry will emphasize healing, another preaching or teaching, another salvation, another the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It is because of this diversity that we need to recognize the whole Body of Christ and to understand that we need each other. (p. 40)
Here’s what struck me. I’ve always thought that churches should strive for balance and be perhaps like how we envision Jesus to be like – strong in the Word and Spirit and good in all areas. So if New Creation is strong in grace, that’s great. But if they combine that with also being strong in social justice and missions and the prophetic, that would be even better and more biblically balanced. I’d think that Benny Hinn is anointed with healing gifts, but his meetings wouldn’t be a good representative of how local church services ought to be like because while you may get healed, you probably won’t grow so much in other areas as a Christian. Or that Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship (from where cameth the Toronto Blessing) would be great for renewal and revival, but not an ideal church. These are all specialized ministries, but shouldn’t we strive to see a local church have it all like Jesus, and not just focused in one or some areas?
Reading the above, it dawned upon me that maybe (I need to reflect on this more) we can’t really expect each local church to have it all – like I’ve been writing about above (“Where are the churches good in the Word and Spirit??”). Only the whole body of Christ is perfect in all areas. Maybe it’s OK that different churches specialize in different areas and are strong in different areas. Maybe that perfect balance and strength in all areas is only realized when looked from the perspective of the whole body of Christ? So maybe what we’ve been looking for and seeking in a local church is only fully realized and reflected in the body of Christ? I dunno…
Of course, I don’t think that gives any church an excuse just focus on one or two areas – and neglect others – and not seek to be as holistic as a church ought to be. But I’ve come to realize one thing. If I’m to learn more about the charismatic and Spirit side of things, I’ll probably need to go to people who so-called “specialize” in such stuff. And yes, they may be a bit extreme and not that balanced, but these are probably the people that you’ll learn the most from in this area. Trying to be balanced in all areas most likely means you’ll compromise in some areas. Ministers and churches are almost always stronger in one or some areas than others.
What that means simply is that I have to humble myself and learn from people that I may not think are very balanced. I can learn from their strengths, without giving up on the other side. I can take the good that I see and discard the rest. And sometimes even take in stuff which I may think is bad, because what do I know anyway? If I totally knew everything and totally knew what’s good and bad and all, I probably wouldn’t be in this state of lack or weakness in regards to this aspect of Christianity. So to learn, I have to be willing to be very open to things that I may not understand or even think it’s completely wrong. That’s not to say I need to throw out my mind completely. If erring on the side of caution prevents me from stepping out and learning more, then maybe erring on the other side may be the way to go sometimes!
So there’s where I am now…