In following up on my post from yesterday, I’ve been thinking, praying, and dialoguing about issues regarding our understanding of the Holy Spirit and how he works in the church. In 21st century Pentecostalism, I think the majority of people who would identify themselves as such understand these things, but we don’t often hear them taught with biblical clarity. It seems that most of what we hear on the spiritual gifts, and how they work in the church, is framed from one of two polar extremes. Either it’s a “free-for-all,” where any order or discipline is seen as “quenching the Spirit.” Or it’s a “no-for-all” cessationist perspective that would teach that the spiritual gifts died out in the first century. The latter of these is obviously a major departure for any Pentecostal context, so the purpose of this post is to attempt to insert some biblical clarity into the “free-for-all” side of things.
I think there are some major misnomers concerning how the Holy Spirit works that exacerbate this topic in most Pentecostal contexts. It is not uncommon for people to assume that if you want to restrain non-biblical excess or regulate order in gathered worship, that you are making a direct frontal assault on the person and work of the Holy Spirit of God. I have been accused of that and more many times over the course of my pastoral ministry.
I think we could argue that one of the most definitive New Testament treatments on the work of the Holy Spirit in the context of gathered worship is found in the book of 1 Corinthians. We often look to chapters 12 and 14 as the places that will affirm right-thinking concerning the gifts of the Holy Spirit. However, we need to be careful here. The context of the book of 1 Corinthians isn’t Paul sitting down seeking to write an affirmative treatise on the right working of the gifts of the Holy Spirit for gathered worship. The context is Paul correcting a church that was extremely immature, given to excess, and lacking in discipleship. Here are just a few examples from the overall context of the book to prove this point:
1 Corinthians 1:11
For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers.
1 Corinthians 3:1-3
But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?
1 Corinthians 4:6
I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.
1 Corinthians 4:14
I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.
1 Corinthians 4:18
Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you.
1 Corinthians 5:1-2
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn?
1 Corinthians 5:13
God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
1 Corinthians 6:5
I say this to your shame.
1 Corinthians 6:7-8
To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud- even your own brothers!
1 Corinthians 8:1-2
Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.
1 Corinthians 10:12
Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
1 Corinthians 11:17-18
But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part,
1 Corinthians 14:20
Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.
1 Corinthians 14:26 [This is Paul’s correction for excess with regard to spiritual gifts]
What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.
1 Corinthians 14:32-33
and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.
1 Corinthians 14:36-38
Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.
1 Corinthians 14:40
But all things should be done decently and in order.
The Corinthian church was certainly a place where giftedness abounded. But it was also a place where arrogance, immaturity, wrong-thinking, and confusion abounded. Here are a few of what I like to call “Corinthianisms” that I have seen and experienced growing up my entire life in a Pentecostal context.
1) “Spontaneity = Spirit led”
This is a very common error. We think that the more random, off-the-cuff, and unplanned something is, the more it reflects the Holy Spirit’s work. Nowhere in the New Testament would lead us to believe this to be true. Something is not more Spirit-led because it is more spontaneous. We’ve all heard a pastor say at one time or another, “I’m going to toss my notes, the Holy Spirit is leading another direction.” There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that happening, but to think that the Holy Spirit can’t lead you throughout the week as you prepare your sermon is somewhat small-minded. This leads to the second common error.
2) “The Holy Spirit only works on Sundays”
Growing up in Pentecostalism, we crave those services where everything is unplanned and “spirit-led!” What happens the other 6 days a week? I spend a ton of time in prayer and preparation for Sunday’s message on Wednesdays every week. Is the Holy Spirit awake and working on Wednesday as I study? Does he take weekdays off and only work on Sundays? Is it like the opposite of the creation account, does God rest 6 days and just work on Sunday? He’s the same God on Tuesday, Wednesday, and in our prayerful and intentional planning of gathered worship throughout the week as he is when we are worshipping him together on Sundays. The Holy Spirit doesn’t take days off.
3) “Sensationalism = Spirit-led”
This is a major error of which the Corinthians were guilty. They loved to come together and have a show. You’ve heard of dueling guitars; if you attended gathered worship in Corinth you got to witness dueling tongue, dueling prophecies, and dueling words of wisdom. Paul treats these issues with sarcasm in many contexts of his letter. He says stuff like “Or was it from you that the word of God came?!” and “Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings!” In a culture where we hunger for the spectacular and sensational, we can be so desirous of a good show at church. It is not uncommon in Pentecostal circles for individuals to get bored with God’s word as they long for the sensational outworking of certain spiritual gifts. Ask yourself: do you feel more spiritual fuzzies when you hear a tongues and interpretation on a Sunday morning, or when you hear the word of God exposited line by line? Does it take a sensational experience “outside the norm” for you to feel like “God showed up?” If so, you need to leave Corinth.
4) “Certain gifts manifested = The Holy Spirit’s presence”
Following from this is the false equation: “certain gifts NOT manifested in gathered worship = lack of the Holy Spirit’s presence.” This is such a huge error. I had a guy approach me at one point a few years back and ask me,
“So, when are you going to get the Holy Spirit in this church?”
“What?” I said.
He continued: “When is the Holy Spirit going to come to this church?”
“What is it you mean by that?” I asked.
“I mean, it’s clear to me on Sundays that you guys don’t have the Holy Spirit working, because his gifts aren’t active.”
“You have to be kidding me, right?” I continued.
You want to know what was particularly vexing about that conversation? It took place less than two weeks after we had baptized around 25 new believers in water on a Sunday morning. How did that happen without the Holy Spirit?
Pentecostals: We need to redefine “quenching” and “grieving” the Holy Spirit in our church contexts. We need to watch out for and discipline all of these errors in our thinking and in our churches. Putting the “Holy Spirit in a box” doesn’t happen when we correct these mindsets with biblical teaching, it happens when we don’t.
Will the real Pentecostals please stand up?