Common Stumbling Blocks
This was a difficult editorial to write. In fact, I have waited with doing so for almost two months - skipping the August issue "The Amsterdam Letter." You see, I believe that certain things need to be addressed, but I didn't want to do so on the spur of the moment.
What follows are my personal thoughts and observations - often mirrored in what I hear in person or via email. Whether you agree or disagree - in whole or in part - I ask that you pray about these issues. Please feel free to let me know what you think.
Love in Jesus,
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While following and participating in various discussions regarding renewal and revival - with people who are either pro, con, or undecided - I have noticed certain stumbling blocks on either side of the fence. In this article, I will deal with those on the side of the renewal and revival movements. A soon to be posted follow-up article will shift the focus to the other side...
These five points, though numbered, are in no particular order. However, these stumbling blocks not only hinder those who speak out against the various renewal and revival movements, but also stand in the way of personal growth of those who support the renewal/revival.
The Bible has much to say about individual freedom, conscience and conviction. At the same time - in the same passages - it clearly teaches not to put stumbling blocks in each other's ways (See - in context - 1 Corinthians 8:9; 1 Cor. 10:23 - 11:1 and Romans 14:1 - 15:3.).
That said, here we go...
Worshipping The Experience
I don't think there's anything wrong with experience. For example, I believe in and experience the joy of the Lord. I know what it means to feel His presence or touch. One way in which we all grow is by experience.
Not Translating Personal Renewal Into Personal Action
However, there are some within the renewal/revival movements who appear to worship the experience. They "feel" no service is complete without them having gone forward, done "carpet time", laughed uncontrollably or otherwise "manifested".
In certain forums, many message writers show an almost insatiable focus on getting "more". Not that getting more of Jesus is at all bad, but despite assurances to the contrary it frequently seems that the emphasis is on the experience rather than on Him.
If you think a church service or other meeting is not good, blessed or complete unless the pastor can not finish his sermon, there are more people out cold on the floor than in their seats, or the whole congregation laughs, shakes or gyrates, it's likely you're worshipping the experience.
Notice this verse:
4:13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they wondered; and they recognized that they had been with Jesus. - Acts 4:13
When you get "more" of Jesus, the results should show in your personal actions. Others will recognize you have been with Him, not because you shake, laugh, or talk about "carpet time," but because you are known for doing the things Jesus did. Here's His mission statement:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." - Luke 4:18-19
That's your job description as well, and if you're ignoring it in favor of "shaking and baking," you've missed something. In the parable of the wedding banquet (Matthew 22:1-14) the servants were sent out to invite the guests. Shouldn't we be inviting guests - by sharing the Gospel, releasing the captives, ministering healing to the sick and release to the oppressed? Instead, much like the Corinthians who couldn't wait to eat of the communion meal before everyone else had arrived (1 Corinthians 11:20-22), "One remains hungry, another gets drunk."
Are you really serious about renewal and revival? Than get off the carpet and demonstrate the Gospel where it counts.
Inappropriate Behavior And Language.
Hello! The Holy Spirit is not a bartender. Worship songs are not "drinking songs.". The purpose of the Holy Spirit's ministry is not to make your drunk in the Spirit, but does include conviction of sin, teaching us the things of Jesus, helping us communicate with God, and giving guidance.
We are told to be "filled with the Spirit" - not to be drunk:
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. - Ephesians 5:18
Check into the meaning of "debauchery." One of its definitions is to "corrupt by intemperance or sensuality. Sensuality: "relating to or consisting in the gratification of the senses or the indulgence of appetite." "devoted to or preoccupied with the senses or appetites." "deficient in moral, spiritual, or intellectual interests : wordly;
esp. irreligious." (Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary).
Though I understand the thinking behind it, I find much of the "lingo" used by many renewal/revival supporters to be inappropriate. It is one thing to say you're "in the River," but an entirely different thing to always be talking about drinking wine, getting tipsy, singing drinking songs, and "pouring each other one for the road."
Someone forwarded a message to me in which the writer stated, "A couple of the sisters, (..............) wondering why I wasn't wobbly, prayed me into a tipsy condition." Excuse me? Is that the kind of thing Jesus used prayer for?
Inappropriate Sharing and Unbridled Speculation
On mailing lists and web sites, in newsgroups and in private email, I find people sharing prophecies and other words far beyond the church, group or individuals they are meant for.
Don't get me wrong. I believe the gifts of the Spirit are still in operation today, and therefore I do not treat prophecies with contempt (1 Thessalonians 5:20). However, much of which I see being shared so publicly is broadcast inappropriately and could in itself be seen as treating prophecies with contempt.
In many churches where the gifts of the Spirit are welcomed, these gifts are practiced by people who know each other. One church I was part of encouraged the sharing of prophecy and words, but limited the public sharing of these to people who were known to be in mutual relationships of accountability within the church. This way, the church knew that those who gave words in a more public setting were people who have demonstrated and grown their gifting within
the protection of mutual accountability and relationship.
Every pastor knows that there is a constant stream of people who claim they are called to speak this or that word to the church. Frequently, such words are full of judgment and condemnation. Other times, they're overly sweet and pointless. In almost all cases, these words are also completely off-the-mark. Even within the church, there are sometimes people who - for various reasons - wish to prophecy, teach, or otherwise be recognized. Wise pastors protect their flock from such prophets who prophecy from their own imagination (Ezekiel 13:2ff).
Part of the process of learning how to prophecy or speak words of knowledge as inspired by the Holy Spirit, is knowing how to test "impressions," feelings and thoughts. Another part is to know whom to share them with. Is a personal word or dream meant for yourself, is it something to be shared with your small group or congregation, or should you really subject it to speculation in an international forum like the Internet?
In recent weeks I have seen many examples of inappropriate sharing and unbridled speculation. There's a steady stream of "judgment is coming" words, visions and perceived visions of angels, a tremendous over-emphasis on spiritual warfare (often accompanied by defiant threats and challenges to the forces of darkness), and much speculation (e.g. people claiming to know the enemy's plan for storms, cities, nations, etcetera.)
Frankly, there's a lot smoke and no heat. I don't think of someone who prophesies, sees angels, dreams dreams, "shakes and bakes," "soaks," or "is birthing something" (don't get me started!) as particularly spiritual. That distinction is reserved for the people who serve soup, hot coffee, a listening ear and an effective prayer to the street people downtown. It's those who remember prisoners as if they were their fellow prisoners (Hebrews 13:3) who are spiritual and truly blessed.
Believing that "balance" equals "compromise"
I am pleased that much of the email I receive in response to the "Sugar and Vinegar" articles is very positive. It appears that many who support the renewal and revival movements do at the same time yearn for balance.
But unfortunately, many writers also report things like this:
"We have tried to talk with our Pastors and home-group leaders about these issues, but they keep telling us that we should not hinder the work of the Holy Spirit. Two of our closest friends have stopped hanging out with us because they feel we have a 'pharisaical' spirit. All because, like you, we want to see some balance returned to our church."
I think of this as the "Revival-at-all-costs" syndrome. We've desired it for so long, that nothing will stop us now. All caution is thrown out of the window, it's "lead, follow, or get out of the way," and if you dare question anything you should be thankful that God hasn't killed you yet.
Folks, balance does not equal compromise. If it did, 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 would not be in the Bible:
Do not put out the Spirit's fire;
do not treat prophecies with contempt.
Test everything. Hold on to the good.
Avoid every kind of evil.
The fact that so many of those who support the various renewal and revival movements engage in name-calling towards brothers and sisters in the Lord who happen to see things differently, is one of the biggest stumbling blocks standing in the way of fruitful dialogue.
Whatever you may think about those critics who approach these issues in an unbalanced, unfair, and unloving manner - you are supposed to obey the very same Scriptures they appear to take in stride:
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. - 1 Peter 3:15-16
Here's how this particular stumbling block hurts not only critics of the current movements, but also you and your church: There is a prevailing attitude that searching, knowing and applying the Scriptures is something done only by Pharisees. Thus when there is inappropriate sharing - including off-beat prophecies, personal dreams and words not meant for a larger audience, or misapplication of Scripture - many people who know better keep quiet. If they don't, they'll be branded as "people who hinder the Holy Spirit," "Accusers of the Brethren," and "Pharisees" with whom it's better not fellowship. Some stay and pray. Others leave and find fellowship elsewhere.
What happens then is the opposite of revival: death. Renewal and Revival, on the other hand, both have to do with relationship - a renewed relationship with God. A relationship with God does not result in redefining or rejecting His Word. Rather, it results in a hunger and thirst for righteousness, a love for brothers and sisters in the Lord (no matter how they act or what their views are), and a love for the lost.
But if you find yourself calling brothers names, being afraid that questioning attitudes, practices or teachings hinder the work of the Spirit, and valueing feel-good experiences above putting Scripture into practice, beware. You may one day wake up with a hang-over.
Note: If you've read this far, thank you. These are issues that are on my heart. As I mentioned, I will soon publish an article on the stumblings stones produced by those who speak out against the current renewal and revival movements.
I have not published them both at the same time because they would distract from each other...
I can imagine that some pro-renewal/revival people may view this article itself as a stumbling block. Obviously, it isn't meant to be. However, in promoting balance I prefer to share my thoughts openly and honestly, sharing what I trust is received as constructive criticism.
As always, whether or not you agree, you're welcome to write me.
Love in Jesus,
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