Friday, January 05, 2007

Resisting the Holy Spirit and the Treachery of Tradition by Dr Ern Baxter ...

It seems a shame to follow on the positive note and exciting hope of my last post with one titled such as this and focusing on the negative. Yet I am scared (a righteous fear I hope) that once again the people of God will blow it and we will miss the moving of God (should He decide to move) because of the reasons why we have ALWAYS resisted Him.

Ern Baxter was and remained to his death, the most open man I know to the moving of God and the coming down of the Spirit of God. He always hoped for more - always looked for more and always asked, "Is this it?". So this blog reproduces a large chunk from Ern's book; "The King, the Kingdom and the Holy Spirit". It's warning must be heard and held in tension with the excitement and hope that the New Year holds for us all. We can be open to what Ern wrote and said because his ultimate longing was that the Holy Spirit would be able to find a people who will not quench Him or resist Him or turn from Him through fear of excess yet at the same time stay safely within the bounds of the Word of God and not fall into doctrinal error. May this post contribute to avoid us making the same fatal mistake again. Over to Ern Baxter:

"We have examined an important historical principle; God is an active, changing, transforming God. On the other hand we are ... well from a historical perspective, we're simply not so hot. In Acts chapter 7 Stephen is talking to the religious leaders of Israel who had engineered the death of our Lord Jesus. He tells them, "Oh you stubborn people, hard of heart and hard of hearing. You are forever resisting the Holy Spirit. Your ancestors did it and you're doing it still" (Acts 7:51).

What were they resisting? Actually who did they resist? They said, "The Holy Spirit? We never saw the Holy Spirit". "But you did and you didn't recognise Him. You resisted Him in Isaiah. You resisted Him in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Obadiah and Zechariah. You resisted Him in Malachi and Zephaniah. You resisted Him in Moses and you resisted Him in Joshua. You resisted Him. Every time He spoke through the servants of God you resisted Him". "We didn't know that was the Holy Ghost. We thought that was Isaiah". "That's not the problem. You didn't resist Him because you didn't like Isaiah. You resisted the Holy Ghost coming to you through Isaiah because there was something in you that wouldn't have heard the Holy Ghost even if the Holy Ghost had been manifested in a personal form with a big sign over His head saying, "I'm the Holy Ghost". You would have still resisted Him because it wasn't the form of His coming. It was what was in you".

A brief glance through the Scriptures or at Stephen's speech to the religious leaders of his day clearly demonstrates the historical habit of man with God. Now let me give you the historical reason. It's very important to have a sense of history and learn from it's example. Why? Many of us don't realise we are resisting the Holy Ghost now.

"Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 'Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? ... Jesus replied, 'And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? ... Thus you nullify the Word of God for the sake of your tradition". (Matthew 15:1-3, 6 - NIV).

That didn't mean the disciples ate with dirty hands. It means they didn't go through the religious ablutions that were purely symbolic. Jesus responded to them with another question; "Why do you, yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?". Your tradition empties the commandment of God of all it's meaning. This is a difficult issue for me to teach.

I remember being invited to address a denominational convention a few years ago. I spoke from this type of scriptural base. I told them, "So the time has come for us to find biblical, documented evidence to support the things we are doing. We have built up a system of traditions, rites and ceremonies that are not biblically based. And we are so dedicated to keeping our traditions that when we hear the pure Word of God we can't attend to it because we are busy handling the substitutes".

I remember the leader of that denomination who drove me to the airport after the convention. I knew I hadn't been heard for with a smile he said very simply and dispassionately, "Ern I've always considered you to be one of the outstanding Bible teachers of our day and I've always enjoyed hearing you. But I need to tell you that I disagree with what you taught at this convention. I cannot document 50 percent of what I do in my church and I have no intention of changing".

One of the last things I heard about that man came from a friend who said he'd been in that leader's church one Sunday morning and watched the man standing behind the pulpit with tears streaming down his face saying, in essence, "Where is God?". I'm not that man's judge but as far as I was concerned that day while we were driving to the airport that man served notice on God that he had no intention of changing his traditions for the commandments of God. I am not trying to push something hard on you, but at the same time I am not willing to withold for my own sake or comfort what I feel the Holy Spirit is saying. I know men who would cut my throat from ear to ear simply because I may suggest that one of their traditions cannot be biblically documented.

I heard once that there are 942 individual acts you have to perform as a Jew, rituals that the rabbis laid down as things that must be done every day. That is the goal of religion. Religion wants to burden you down with a lot of rites and ceremonies that appear very religious but the general aim is to keep you from hearing and receiving the life-giving voice of the Holy Spirit. There is a difference between religion and relationship. What I want you to do is examine everything you are doing. Find out if you are engaging in a tradition or if you are obeying a command of the Father.

The treachery of tradition comes from a satanic source ... (John 8:44) Jesus told those religious leaders, "The source of your disobedience and hatred of Me, the fact that you challenge Me at every turn of the road and the reason you hang onto your traditions and won't submit them to the commandments of God rises from a deeper problem within you. You are of your father the devil. You are being driven by a satanic spirit".

The title of this teaching is "Restoring the Balance between the King, the Kingdom and the Holy Spirit". I have called it that because the people of God seem to tend to stop short of becoming the people God created them to be".

Let us hear Ern Baxter's plea from beyond the grave! He may be dead but he still speaks and would have us learn from the mistakes of church history! God has great things in store for His people! He will have us become a praise for Him in the earth! Lets conform to His desire and allow His Spirit free reign to take us where He will and do with us what He will!


don said...


Sheila said...

I wonder here about the difference between "dead tradition", and traditions that CAN add heft and balance to our Christian life. YES - there are lifeless traditions. But then, there are traditions that are rendered lifeless only by the heart that engages them.

Example: in our church, we have, for the past year or so, been reciting the Apostle's Creed before we begin our time of worship. Dead, lifeless tradition? Not to me. I know the story behind the words. I also know the abysmal inability of most Christians to verbalize what it is they believe - and this power packed statement encapsulates the Christian faith into a single, memorizeable paragraph. Nothing gives me more joy than to look around our church and see the THREE YEAR OLDS reciting those precious phrases....from memory! (Sure - my prayer also is that one day, those phrases will make more sense to the now-three-year-olds, but they DO understand far more than most give them credit for!)

In addition, at the end of every corporate time together, my pastor husband gives the priestly blessing: "The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make His face shine upon you, the Lord be gracious to you...something something...and give you PEACE."

NOT a dead tradition. It means a great deal to our church family. One time, my husband got distracted and forgot it. He dismissed the gathering. Several people remained seated, until someone spoke up and said, "Where's our blessing??"

It isn't that my husband has some special "power" to bless that others do not have. Rather, people in our day are so starved for a sense of continuity. Everything is changing faster than ever before in history. It is a documented, researched fact that most true Christians are hungry for two things: a fresh encounter with God AND a strong sense of "holy continuity", for lack of a better description.

Can both be ministered to? Can we lead God's people into fresh encounters, while at the same time, giving them the needed, stablizing sense of continuity...of having something in common with saints of all ages past, giving them the sense of being part of a doctrine of faith that can boast history and veracity? History and veracity both in "word" AND in "power"?

I realize what Ern (and Jesus) meant by people making the commands of God of no effect by their tradition. I also feel the urgency to call God's people to get beyond symbolism and grasp the SUBSTANCE.

I'm just contributing to the discussion, from my own context.

And Dan - as usual - should you come to the US, the Atchley Welcome Mat will be out for you. If you need to save on hotel expenses, we can even arrange a place for you to stay. You could stay on our couch...or we have delightful, fun friends who can put you up in their very large, amazing, lovely home. (swimming pool, hot tub, amazing views of the mountains, and a pool table downstairs, upon which my husband will challenge you to MANY games!) They'd gladly have you. Any friend of mine is a friend of theirs.

But I warn you, as to kitchen duty: we are a family of six. You may want to re-think that offer to give me the night off by cooking our dinner! *smile*

Peter Day said...

This is a huge challenge to every church leader. It is so easy to do the things which keep people comfortable and happy but stop them from hearing the Holy Spirit. We must remember that the church is the Lord's and not ours.

Do we have the courage to take a thorough audit of our churches and ask "what saith the scriptures?"

With reference to what Sheila says above, there is a place for doing things every week, or most weeks. For example, to preach the Word of God is a continual thing, but it is a biblical thing. Therefore we must have preaching - but preaching in the power of the Spirit.

If the power goes the preacher and people must get on their knees and call upon the Lord. The answer would not be to stop preaching, but it might be to preach in a different way, or even to get a different preacher - or for the preacher to deal with issues in his life.

Is there scriptural basis for blessing each other - yes - aren't we all priests to each other? Is there scriptural basis for apostles creed? Not those words as such (although the creed itself comes out of scripture), but there are clearly credal statements in scripture (eg: Phil 2v5-11 and 1 Tim 3v16).

But neither are commanded as something to do weekly. They CAN be helpful means of grace as long as the Lord leads us into doing them and they are a means of grace.

Should they become dead and empty we must not leave them simply because they are part of our church life; rather, we must change them, or remove them, as the Holy Spirit leads.

And that is key - it is God's church. We are a temple of the Holy Spirit. Let Him rule. Our measuring line is scripture, which tells us about the Word of God, prayer, worship, the freedom of the Holy Spirit to distribute and manifest gifts. And yet within that measuring line there is flexibility - yes we can declare the creed, surely we must bless each other in the Lord - but let these things be done through the leading of the Holy Spirit.

And, if that is the case, life will be ministered to the people of God.