Are we afraid of 1/3 of the Trinity? Afraid He might show up and because we hardly know Him we are afraid of what might happen, or worse that we won't recognize if what is happening is truly a moving of the Holy Spirit? That is the question raised in this very interesting talk by Tope Koleoso speaking at the 2013 Desiring God conference for pastors. His talk (video embedded below) carried the rather unwieldy title: Sovereign Grace, Spiritual Gifts, and the Pastor: How Should a Reformed Pastor Be Charismatic?. Setting aside the exclusive way he addresses this issue to clergy, his message raised some interesting and perhaps troubling questions for me.
I have always erred on the side of what can perhaps be called the cold, intellectual, rational aspect of Christianity, with the systematizing of theology and the reading of books, theoretically honing the edges of intellectual understanding. As part of that overly rational and intellectual aspect of the faith I have looked with equal parts suspicion and mockery at the more exuberant, expressive aspects of Christianity. There is certainly a place for scholarship, for study. We have always faced the specter of wolves and false teachers in the church who pervert the Gospel for their own gain. That has not and never will change this side of eternity but we can overreact and in doing so hamper our ministry.
Some of that is perhaps understandable. The excesses, abuses and outright heresy of the extremes that often go under the guise of "charismatic" are legion and well documented. Many of the most recognizable names who claim special spiritual gifts are kooks and crackpots and outright heretics, from Benny Hinn to Todd Bentley to the entire TBN network.These wolves need to be identified and called to repent. But like many other controversial issues the reaction is often an overreaction in the opposite direction.
This talk has caused something of a stir. Just like John MacArthur's talk some years ago on why all self-respecting Calvinists should be dispensationalists, this talk has ruffled feathers (for an example see The Cripplegate which has a multiple part series on why Reformed pastors need not be charismatic in response to Tope's talk. Some of the information is OK, some of it is arrogant and borderline dangerous like the post equating the miraculous gifts with spiritual infancy in the church, presumably in contrast to our "maturity" evidenced by our endless sermonizing). Rather than taking their word for it that Tope was off the mark, I watched the video of his talk myself and found very little that was objectionable. Was it jarring to our "mature" modern sensibilities that seeks after "solid exegetical expository preaching"? Sure. We live in a sterile culture where everything is neat, tidy and sanitary and that is nowhere more true than in the church where we have adopted the sensibilities of the world. The messiness of ministry has been replaced by a performance based culture. That "works" for us in our religious culture. The sheep are entertained, whether by catchy music or by well prepared sermons. The money flows, the system marches on and nobody asks any questions more controversial than questioning the color of the carpet in the sanctuary. Who needs the Holy Spirit outside of a perfunctory invitation for Him to show up at the beginning of a "worship service"? We have it all figured out, organized, systematized, sterilized. I am afraid we have neutered ourselves our of fear.
Now I am not at all convinced that all or even most of what passes for "movements of the Holy Spirit" are legitimate. Having been a mormon and experiencing the "burning in the bosom" I know how easy it is for people to convince themselves that the experience they are having is legitimate even when they are creating it themselves. I have run into too many people who make stuff up that is obviously self-serving for the purpose of enriching themselves or covering for their own sin and disobedience. Not everything that makes you feel warm and fuzzy or even makes you cry is a movement of the Spirit. So I still take spiritual claims with a grain of salt or three. However I am concerned that quashing or denying the movement of the Holy Spirit can be as damaging as false reports of His moving.
We must test all things, not in a spirit of suspicion but in a spirit of discernment. The only way to do so, in my understanding, is via a community hermeneutic. In 1 Corinthians 14 when Paul is speaking of the spiritual gifts and what appears to be an issue with their misuse he doesn't forbid them but rather encourages them while at the same time calling for the church to be involved in their use so that it may be done for the edification of all rather than the puffing up of the one. We today should likewise "earnestly desire the spiritual gifts" (1 Cor 14:1) for the edification and building up of the church. We have not "matured" beyond our need for the gifts but rather just the opposite. Our need for legitimate, church building, spiritual gifts has never been greater! Paul indicates that the spiritual gifts are something that we can and ought to desire. Instead of fearing the spirit or capitulating to false manifestations of shysters and charlatans seeking to enrich themselves we should as the church all seek the gifts of the spirit.
Until we equip the church and make disciples who are mature and discerning instead of milk fed novice disciples that are spiritually co-dependent on clergy we will continue to have the two extremes where people are either taught to fear the Holy Spirit and His gifts our of ignorance or people are lured in and destroyed by wolves. If our fear is that the church will be deceived by the Benny Hinn's of the world then we need to equip disciples and feed them meat. The problem is not the Spirit, it is immature disciples who have never been equipped to stand on their own. Until we fix that very little will change, whether dealing with the spiritual gifts or evangelism or any other question that troubles the church. Anyway here is the video, it is an hour long but worth the time.