Boxing In The Spirit? - A Response to Mark Heath.
My friend Mark wrote an article at the beginning of last week entitled: "Welcoming the Spirit": -
While I can appreciate the motivation behind it and the valid concerns it raised, I was quite concerned at a number of possible implications and maybe a few aspects in Scripture that were missed or not picked up on. This is a matter extremely dear to my heart. After spending the last 2 years in an "open but cautious" environment (i.e practicing cessationist) I am desperately passionate that the Holy Spirit has free reign to move in my church and in my life. Here are just a few points I wonder if Mark could meditate on.
It seems to me that there is a definite dichotomy in Scripture. While on the one hand we all agree and applaud the omnipresence of the Holy Spirit, it seems to me that there is definite room and place for Him to be "More or Less" present. Consider the following:
1. A Personal Presence.
In the individual life of the believer 1 Corinthians 12:13 is quite clear; "For by ONE SPIRIT were WE ALL baptised into one body". Scripture seems clear that there is no way we can enter into an active relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ or His church without a work and de facto the Presence of the Spirit. He must be at work in us to lead us to any interest in Christ. Then after conversion itself Scripture says again that it is the Spirit at work in us that produces His fruits and therefore evidences of conversion - the kind that Jonathan Edwards looked for in those who wanted to partake of the Lord's Table. Yes indeed - the Spirit is omnipresent in the life of ALL true believers.
Anyone who takes the book of Acts seriously and the Epistles must admit that the Spirit could be "More or Less" present in those same believers He was with. Jesus Himself said; "He has been WITH you and will be IN you". It must have been the Spirit that led Simon Peter to exclaim; "You are the Christ!". Yet on the Day of Pentecost the Apostles received a baptism of power and the Spirit came upon them. This would be the understanding of any who believe in a distinct experience called the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Even those who do not must admit that the Spirit can be "More or Less" present. Conservative evangelicals are very fond of quoting Ephesians "Be filled with the Spirit". Well, if we all have the Spirit as Mark said then why do we need to be filled with Him?
2. A Corporate Presence.
This seemed to be the particular area of interest in Mark's article. And yes, we all agree that the Lord said; "Where two or three are gathered together, there I Am in the midst". How is He present? By His Spirit. Applying this principle we would all be committed to the fact that WHEREVER His church meet in spirit and in truth, then indeed God by His Spirit is present.
There are countless Scriptures that suggest that the Presence of God can be "More or Less" present. Gordon Fee wrote of the "broad work of the Spirit" in New Testament times yet Wayne Grudem wrote; "I think what believers want is to experience the active Presence of God".
How can He be "More" Present?
Any account of revival is widely acclaimed to be a perculiar intensification of the Presence of God. Surely no one can say that a church in a time of revival is exactly the same as a church that is not?! In Ezekiel there is a gloriously thrilling precursor to New Testament revival when the prophet saw the glory of God returning to the city like the sound of mighty rushing wind. Again the more famous account of the valley of dry bones speaks very powerfully of the fact that that the prophet actually had to "prophesy" to the wind (or the Spirit) before He would come. This had to be done a number of times before the scattered useless bones came together and rose to become a mighty army.
How can He be "Less" Present?
The chilling accounts in the book of Ezekiel talk of the gradual yet definite withdrawing of the Presence of God. Israel were still His people, yet His Presence had departed. In the Old Testament the term "Ichabod" was used to denote the fact that the "glory had departed. We can grieve or quench the Spirit and R T Kendall wrote a book devoted to the fact that the Spirit when grieved will withdraw like a dove.
Should we welcome or invite the Holy Spirit to a meeting? Of course He does not need our permission to come! He is God and we meet because of Him. Is He reluctant to come? Maybe in some instances particularly as I have said where He is being actively quenched. I don't think it is enough to "cultivate an attitude of expectancy and openness". To do this and this alone seems to me to culture the "Open but cautious" category that Mark has mentioned before. I do think that this prayer; "Come Holy Spirit" is very useful and while it may benefit us, surely the primary aim is not our benefit but the hopeful increasing of the Spirit's Presence in our meetings. One of the comments talking of "invoking the Spirit" - this is a term I find nigh-on blasphemous. The Spirit is a Person, not a spell or a charm
Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that; "The greatness sin of the evangelical world is to put the Spirit in a box and tell Him what He can and cannot do". We are surely wrong to presume that He is present just because. Let us take nothing for granted! As I have quoted before Terry Virgo said; "I hate church that isn't church! Let us never be satisfied with another meeting where God is not present".
Let us be careful in our attitude to the Spirit to remain aware of the 'whole counsel of God' and be faithful to His Word. If there is a dichotomy in Scripture, let us admit it and not simply form a theology or an opinion based on our comfort zone. Dr Ll0yd-Jones said again that most of the warnings concerning charismatic excess in Corinthians virtually need not apply to us because "there is no problem of excess in a graveyard". When was the last time we saw the dead raised? Or the unbeliever fall in repentance before the prophetic? Whatever the terminology - that is my desperate desire - to see THAT sort of intensity of the Spirit's joyful Christ-exalting powerful work.
To end with C H Spurgeon; "The Spirit is most powerful beloved!".