Wednesday, September 30, 2009

On the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Remember a few months ago when I lamented the end of my Systematic Theology group? Well it's back. Whereas most of these studies would start with things like scriptural authority or the character of God, we decided to start with the Holy Spirit. We have our reasons.

Since summer began, my church has seen the Holy Spirit move in greater power through miracles and spiritual gifts. People have learned how to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit and respond in obedience. Others have been healed of long-term, debilitating pains. Two people had their legs instantaneously grow during prayer, eliminating their back pain. At one Thursday night meeting downtown, the Holy Spirit showed up and kept us in worship and prayer the whole evening.

Naturally, some people have had questions. A woman at work asked me about my church and the Systematic Theology group. I told her that our theology is reformed, but we have charismatic expressions during worship. When she asked me to explain what I meant by "charismatic expression", I talked about the Holy Spirit working through people, speaking to us, healing people, and so on. She asked me if we believed in the Bible. I assured her we do. As I walked away, she spoke to the woman next to her, "I don't know about that sort of thing. I think it's dangerous."

I'd like to take this moment to assure you, the Holy Spirit is not "safe" in the way some Bible teachers might portray Him. He operates outside of our control and it scares many to see Him move beyond comfortable perimeters. Consider this story in Numbers 11:24-29.

"So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. Also, he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people, and stationed them around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him; and He took of the Spirit who was upon him and placed Him upon the seventy elders. And when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do it again.

"But two men had remained in the camp; the name of one was Eldad and the name of the other Medad. And the Spirit rested upon them (now they were among those who had been registered, but had not gone out to the tent), and they prophesied in the camp. So a young man ran and told Moses and said, 'Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.' Then Joshua the son of Nun, the attendant of Moses from his youth, said, 'Moses, my lord, restrain them.' But Moses said to him, 'Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!'"

The Spirit of God supposedly only resided in the Tent of Meeting, where Moses and the priests went into His presence. So when the Spirit came upon two people in the camp outside of the church, away from the pastors' conference, it caused a stir. Moses, in humility, recognized that God wanted to put His Spirit on more than the accepted leadership. He wants to move in His people, the church.

Joel prophesied of a time when the Spirit would move as Moses wished. Joel 2:28-29 reads, "It will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days."

Peter referred to this prophecy saying that God had begun its fulfillment in Acts 2:16-21. But this promise was not for a chosen few. Rather, for all mankind. This goes beyond God only using the Apostles, or the seventy who followed Jesus, or any other kind of restrictive explanation given by spooked theologians. Even as Paul taught the Corinthian church on how to use and recognize spiritual gifts (including the gift of miracles), he said in 1 Corinthians 14 to "desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy." This echoes Moses's hope that all God's people would have His Spirit upon them.

There are many passages where Paul teaches on spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12-14 and Ephesians 4:11-12) and acknowledges Holy Spirit activity in other churches (Galatians 3:5). A good portion of the book of Acts details how the church interacted with the Holy Spirit and the miraculous. I think it's important to remember that God inspired the authors to write these things in the Bible. Why would He do this? To convince those already saved in the church or to teach us how to use the gifts to glorify Him?

When the Holy Spirit moves in the church, it won't be for the glory of a man, a particular church, or even an experience. Jesus is alive and at work in the church. The miraculous testifies to those outside of the church and draws them closer to saving faith, so they glorify God. The miraculous also testifies to the church and continues to build our faith, so we also glorify God. And that's the point. We must glorify God in everything.

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