Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Spirit of the Living God

I have begun an amazing Bible study with Beth Moore- Living Beyond Yourself. Every study of hers that I have done is simply profound, life-changing, and *needed*. I had alluded to a post I wanted to write on the Holy Spirit (oh, months ago), and this Bible study has found me at the perfect time.

I had begun to realize that just living a "Christian" life was really lacking. We can obey Christ's teachings, we can make moral judgments, we can go to church, hear the sermon and make small changes, but without walking in the Holy Spirit, well, I find it insufficient. (*gasp*)

I mean it. Walking in the Holy Spirit- being led by Him, giving Him control of your life *every day*, and relating to our Father in such a personal, intimate manner is necessary so that "you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh," and to keep from " not do[ing] the things that you wish" (Galatians 5:16,17).

It seems that serious Holy Spirit talk has become a charismatic subject. At least, in the charismatic churches I have been a part of the Holy Spirit plays a really big part in the lives and talk of the believers, whereas noncharismatic churches seem less likely to keep the subject of the Spirit in the forefront. This is one reason I find Beth Moore's study like a breath of fresh air. As a member in good standing at Houston’s First Baptist Church she isn't seen as a part of "charismania," and therefore her readers don't get tripped up and assume she is a crazy charismatic heretic.

Before I really get into the great conversation about the charismatic movement, I want to say that Beth Moore is anointed as a prophetess. As John MacArthur defines such a label, “prophetess simply designate[s] a woman who [speaks] the Word of God” (Twelve Extraordinary Women, 132). He also says, “Any preacher who faithfully proclaims the Word of God would be a ‘prophet’ in the general biblical sense” (emphasis mine). Beth Moore is faithful to the word; she is able (by the Holy Spirit) to teach the truth about the Himself in a way that doesn’t convolute the subject or get anyone riled up about it.

With all that said, I believe, especially after a thorough study (with Beth Moore) of what scripture has to say about the Holy Spirit, that living by and walking in the spirit is essential in a believer’s life. We all *have* the Holy Spirit. Upon salvation He is given as a deposit and as a seal (Eph. 4:30). And Galatians 5:16 says “live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” Genesis 1:2 shows the spirit “hovering.” The Spirit is who puts power and energy to Christ’s words- His Father’s commands. The Holy Spirit is also He who provides the power and energy for us to obey those words/commands (Phil 2:13).

I recently came upon John MacArthur’s sermon on Charismatic Chaos. He used extravagant examples of apostate Christians to lay the foundation for all of his arguments. Obviously there are churches both charismatic and noncharismatic that are apostate, teaching unbiblical “truth,” camping out on experiences rather than doctrine, throwing out doctrine, etc, but the problem with MacArthur’s premise is that it is based on wacky examples. It is much easier to use media-hungry “Christians” as examples that everyone can see than to dig deep into the doctrine of various charismatic churches to find what the main body of charismatic believers is living, believing, and teaching. One of his main arguments- which is certainly believable after looking at his examples- is that, “[The charismatic movement] resists, and has resisted any kind of doctrinal definition that is too rigid (“Are Experiences a Valid Source of Truth” 5). I have never visited, joined, or seen on the internet a church that does not have a doctrinal statement, and honestly, what does he know of these churches rigidity? Basing his arguments on televangelists and random people who write in to him is *not* a basis to condemn the entire charismatic movement. He states that the charismatic movement is based on the belief that “the Baptism of the Holy Spirit as a post salvation experience that adds something to your Christian life that you previously didn't have, and is usually is accompanied by signs and wonders, most particularly speaking in tongues” (MacArthur 5). This *is* what most Pentecostals believe, but the Pentecostal denomination and the charismatic movement are not one in the same. In fact, there is this “new movement” that has been labeled the Third Wave movement, and although MacArthur makes claims about it that sound convincing, here is the definition as gathered statistically by David B. Barrett:

These are Evangelicals and other Christians who, unrelated to Pentecostalism or the charismatic Movement, have recently become filled with the Spirit, or empowered or energized by the Spirit and experiencing the Spirit's supernatural and miraculous ministry (though usually without recognizing a baptism in the Spirit separate from conversion), who exercise gifts of the Spirit (with much less emphasis on tongues, as optional or even absent or unnecessary), and emphasize signs and wonders supernatural miracles and power encounters, but who remain within their mainline nonpentecostal denominations and who do not identify themselves as either Pentecostals or charismatics. (A Response to Charismatic Chaos, pg 4)

Now, I do consider myself charismatic, as I am in agreement with the way Wikipedia defines it, “Charismatic is an umbrella term used to describe those Christians who believe that the manifestations of the Holy Spirit seen in the first century Christian Church, such as healing, miracles and [speaking in tongues] are available to contemporary Christians and ought to be experienced and practiced today.” And most charismatic churches do adhere to a “rigid” doctrine; it just doesn’t coincide with MacArthur’s beliefs.

I also came across A Response to Charismatic Chaos (Rich Nathan- Vineyard Church), and although it is responding to John MacArthur’s book with the same title as his sermon series, I have not read the book yet. I believe though, based on the Response, that I have heard enough of MacArthur’s views on this subject via the transcript of his sermon to be able to recognize the “Straw Men” Nathan refers to. Now being as uneducated as I am on these things, I looked up “straw men” on Wikipedia. This is the definition it gave (Thank you , Lord, for such resources.):

A straw man argument is a rhetorical technique based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position. To "set up a straw man" or "set up a straw-man argument" is to create a position that is easy to refute, then attribute that position to the opponent. A straw-man argument can be a successful rhetorical technique (that is, it may succeed in persuading people) but it is in fact misleading, since the argument actually presented by the opponent has not been refuted.

In section III.F Nathan makes three counter arguments. It is stated as such:

F. Why should MacArthur stop fighting straw men?

Because Charismatic Chaos is so severely marred by the technique of arguing against straw men, perhaps it would be helpful to suggest three reasons why MacArthur ought to abandon this argumentative style (which unfortunately characterizes nearly all his writings).

1. The same technique can be applied to modern fundamentalism of which MacArthur is a representative and to Christianity in general. One would not have to search too hard to find fundamentalists who believe in an especially inspired King James Version, a dictation theory of inspiration, or who have written fantastic books of prophetic schemes regarding the Middle East, which have proven to be absolutely false. Likewise, false and foolish statements from sincere nonfundamentalist Christians abound. Yet, it would be totally unfair to charge the best proponents of fundamentalism or Christianity with holding the views of their less sophisticated or educated brethren.

2. By arguing with the weakest of your opponents, one proves absolutely nothing. One may appear to win, but the victory is false and hollow. The already convinced will applaud MacArthur and thank him for his thoughtful analysis (p. 13), but more objective observers watching the battle can rightly conclude that MacArthur either did not understand his opponents' better arguments or did not have the ammunition to defeat them.

3. Perhaps most serious of all, arguing against straw men is unbefitting of a mature Christian. Micah 6:8 says, "He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." Pinning a position to a Christian brother that he does not hold just to make him look foolish (or to win a cheap victory) is not just, merciful, nor does it display humility before God. After reading MacArthur's book it could be asked: What price for such a Pyrrhic victory?

("A Pyrrhic victory (pronounced pirric) is a victory which comes at heavy cost to the victor."- Wikipedia)

If you have read Charismatic Chaos, or if you have had your jaw dropped because one of your friends is charismatic (love ya, sister), *please* read A Response to Charismatic Chaos. There *is* charismania out there, just as there is ridiculous church-growing apostasy (among other kinds) in the noncharismatic churches. This article is extremely well documented, thoroughly researched, and it truthfully defends the charismatic movement. I particularly was interested in John MacArthur's claim:

The underlying assumption that drives the whole Third Wave movement is wrong. Miracles, signs and wonders are impotent to produce either faith or genuine revival.

"And, he claims that Jesus, himself, did not practice 'power evangilism'" (A Response 17). Rich Nathan gives example after example of what the Bible says about Jesus' preaching and converting style, and who can deny the Word? (Acts 9:32-35, Acts 9:40-43, Acts 13:7-12, 1 Cor 2:4, Ex 4:1-6, Matt 4:23-24, Matt 9:35, etc, etc, etc)

Belief that the Spirit works in us, that the Spirit fills us upon asking Him to, and that we are capable to live by the Spirit are all *Biblical*. One man cannot understand all there is to know about God and His Spirit, and condemning a huge part of the Body for belief in spiritual gifts and living supernaturally is “patently unbiblical” (MacArthur).

(P.S. isn't the Pentecost Batik, [Salomon Raj, India, Contemporary. Asian Christian Art Association] beautiful! Oh! to have it in my house!)