Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Faith Moment: Salvation

How does faith congeal in the soul to become substance

I do not believe that God secretly presses a button he's concealed within us, which when pressed, makes us people of persevering faith. As I understand it, that is precisely what Calvinism proposes. The problem with that is that if God did do that kind of thing for any person, he'd do it for all people. Scriptures are clear that is not the way things turn out, so Calvinism cannot be consistent with the self-revelation of God in them (and Universalism must be seen to bite the dust as well). 


God has made mankind with the capacity for faith, of that there can be little doubt, for people everywhere trust in things they cannot see. I think this general capacity is what separates mankind from angels, particularly in regard to redeemability. Mankind was made in innocence, really ignorance, and therefore was made for faith. Faith exists in that gap produced by unseens and unknowns, but Angels were made for knowledge and sight. 


When angels rebelled they did so in knowledge and sight and are irredeemable as a result (see Hebrews 6:4a for the concept as it applies to mankind). If Romans 12:3 applies broadly to all humanity (as I've always taken it to mean) rather than just the church (as Calvinists in particular take it), then God has in fact dealt each person at least some measure of faith. Of course, true faith, faith that actually has an effect, requires that it be placed in the right object, namely, God and God alone. That means that God has to "show up" for faith to spark into life.


Really, God "showing up" is that enabling help without which no one could truly believe, but I also know that God, no matter what help he gives, isn't going to believe for us. Otherwise, all of his commands to us to believe would be nonsensical. In order to effectively trust in Christ, only a minimal amount and clarity of faith (i.e. less than mustard seed quantities) is required. That may not seem like much of a threshold, yet it remains a mountain to most people most of the time. 


We are called to faith, it is the very currency of heaven. On their own, humans can only answer that call with something less than true faith in the actual God. When the Holy Spirit brings our focus on the person and authority of Christ into clarity, the moment is ripe for salvivic faith to be born. It is not guaranteed, as is attested by Israel's example and the fact that not everyone comes to faith since Jesus was lifted up on the cross.


Nonetheless, thank God that the Holy Spirit is sent to bring us to that moment when everything comes together and Jesus is seen as supreme--the faith moment.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Stirred not Shaken

What would it take for you to act upon an impression that you thought might be the Holy Spirit? If absolute certainty is your threshold, you will never move upon any inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Even if your condition to act is merely that you have to apply thoughtful consideration before acting (that seems wise, right?), anything that is of an urgent nature, i.e. that requires an immediate response, will never be done either. We can easily undermine our experience of things spiritual and miraculous in the name of caution and prudence. 

Things of the Spirit (pneumatikos) are anything but certain. According to Christ, it takes faith to cast out demons, heal the sick, and move mountains. In the realm of things the Spirit inspires, there is a gap between what is and what could be that only faith can fill. If we are not willing to strike out in faith on the basis of an inspiration, call it a holy hunch, we will never experience the kinds of supernatural things that are mentioned throughout the New Testament.

Substituting our judgment for the Holy Spirit's is not prudence or wisdom, nor is it faithful--what it is, is a surefire way to quench the Holy Spirit and live a life without the miraculous.

It is a misapprehension to think that a lightning bolt from heaven would strike (or something nigh unto it) if you were meant to heal the sick, or speak a prophetic word, or exercise power against an unclean spirit. Not many, if any, of us are ever going to experience anything like that! Jesus didn't experience that, Peter didn't experience that, and Paul didn't experience that. Elijah learned the hard way not to expect to

We need sensitivity to the intimate voice of God within us to catch the stirring of the Spirit.

When God's whisper falls on our "ear", we have to act in faith or we'll miss the opportunity to do a greater work. If that happens, something Jesus went to the cross and ascended into heaven to make possible ends up being missed entirely. We are not meant to live satisfied with the Cessationist's paltry gospel, which is little more than an academic exercise in criticism, history and philosophy that devolves into endless debates over the meanings of words. What we are called to be is powerful witnesses of Christ to the world after that the Holy Spirit comes upon us

The Holy Spirit has a way of making himself heard to the hearing ear. To those that have one, much more will be given. To those who turn a deaf ear to God the Spirit, what could have been theirs is lost, like a fruitful field of grain that went unharvested. We're partnered with God, someone we can absolutely trust. When that hunch that might be the Holy Spirit stirs within, we must take faith in hand and act or we'll lose the opportunity.

James Bond, despite his iconic instruction concerning his taste in spirits, would be dead wrong in the realm of the Spirit: it's always better to be stirred, not shaken.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

I Was in the Spirit

John uses the expression, "I was in the Spirit" twice in the Apocalypse. Once at 1:10, and once at 4:2. That he was referring to the same state of experience both times could hardly be argued against. What that state was we are about to explore, though it is not explicitly developed in the text. The sort of thing it results in, on the other hand, was explicitly demonstrated throughout the Revelation.

In both instances, the phrases are exactly the same in Koine. On their face, they refer to a locus in or among the Spirit. In the way that one can be "in the wind" or even "in the sun", the Apostle John was in the Spirit. What he is communicating by this was that he was experiencing a pointed (and I would say virtually tangible) consciousness of the divine presence.

This was not John's common or moment-to-moment experience of the Spirit. There are clear enough references to the inception of the experience in both occurrences. In the first usage, this something special happened to occur one Sunday on Patmos. In the second usage, the condition was initiated immediately upon hearing the voice beckoning him to heaven. In both cases, it seems clear that the experience as recorded represented a change from what was going on before.

The word used [ginomai] to describe the existence of John's state packs within it the idea of "becoming" rather than simply being. In other words, John emerged into this state (really, was born into it) at the moment in reference. It is not described in trance-like terms, though the word "ecstasy" is often bandied about while commenting on it. It is ridiculous to do so in my mind, for John betrays no rapture, no enthusiasm, no exhilaration nor any euphoria in conjunction with this experience. Really, there is nothing but matter-of-fact reportage associated with it.

More than anything else the state of being in the Spirit, at least from the accounts of John's being so, is about awareness of the very presence of God--not theoretically, not by faith, but in actuality. If we can generalize from John's experience to any of our's (and I think we can), being in the Spirit is like having a light go on in the dark which suddenly reveals things one would otherwise be unaware of. Those things could be revelations regarding heaven or earth or about the activity of God in a moment past, present or future.

If there is anything precedential or paradigmatic about John's experience, I think it can be said in regard to its application to us, that coming to be in the Spirit (really, acting on charismatic distinctives) is about coming to an acute awareness of God's immediate presence and what he is up to. As a result of that awareness prophecy, or healings, or works of power, or miracles are then manifested in this world. Those manifestations do not break into existence because someone exercised enough faith to produce them, but because someone had come to be in the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Why Leave A Church?

We live in a mobile society. Folks are shifting from one place to another constantly. I wouldn't think, given such a circumstance, that it would be unexpected that folk would be shifting churches in the shuffle. That's fine, it goes with the territory, but folk are also leaving churches they otherwise would not have to, and it raises the question is, "Is OK to leave one's church?"

People leave their churches for all sorts of reasons and in all kinds of conditions. Some leave churches wandering out of a fog bewildered, some surf the edge of the blast wave after a big blow-up, some leave at the end of the left foot of fellowship, and some lose motivation or faith and fall off more than they depart. Some leave because they find another place more attractive, and some just want something new. Everyone that leaves has their reasons, I'm sure.

Although I doubt that many are legitimately motivated when they choose to leave a church, I do think that leaving a church can be the right thing to do at times.
If that church doesn't uphold the Scripture as the infallible rule of faith and conduct;
If that church embraces universalism;
If that church becomes libertine or antinomian; 
If that church adopts legalism...
You get the point. There are practical and doctrinal issues that are so fundamental and non-negotiable, that if a line is crossed there, then we must cross ourselves off the roll. Even if this is the case, I don't think one should leave such a church without a fight. Not that one should seek to win an argument or engage in a turf war, but that one should contend for the faith and for the souls in that body. Don't let them wander off to hell without an effort to save their souls! However, if they won't hear, and won't stand on sound doctrine, then one must leave!

At times, a bone of contention arises between folk that, given the nature of the personalities involved, cannot be resolved. If continuing on together in mission is impossible, separating unto mission is acceptable It is still unfortunate in the grand scheme, but as long as it is done on reasonable terms and doesn't result in an unending grudge it may be the preferable course of action. We can disagree without being disagreeable, even if it means one going one way and the other going another.

At times, folk are being appointed in the body according to the wishes of the Spirit of God, and leaving one congregation and going to another is precisely what God wants! It's easy to discern this if one is moved to a distant place; it's not so easy if this change takes place in the same town. Regardless, each of us is a gift to the body and we must understand that God gets to place us where he wishes. Actually, I wonder how much dissatisfaction people feel in church is actually just the dissonance in their souls caused by not discerning where God wants them.

There are acceptable, justifiable, and quite spiritual reasons to leave one church and go to another

And then there are reasons which are neither expedient nor justifiable.

It is not justifiable to leave a church for selfish reasons. Church is about Jesus being Lord, not about the churchgoer getting what he or she wants. Christians are not customers, the church is not a business and spiritual ministrations are not consumer goods. To treat this God ordained endeavor as if any of that were true is an insult to grace. Leaving a church for greener pastures is unacceptable for clergy or laity.

It is not expedient for those who have been appropriately corrected, or who have been properly spiritually directed to leave a church rather than humbly submitting to that which has been rendered for their spiritual development. The flawed natural constitution of humans beings means that we grow as Christians to our lowest level of incorrigibility, but that cannot excuse a lack of obedience to the Word or to the brethren. Escaping correction or rejecting direction in one body doesn't give one a blank slate to start in another (regardless of whether one is clergy or laity).

There are occasions where the godly will be justified in leaving a church. At times it will be the absolutely right thing to do. However, even if it is, it's never something left merely to our discretion or preference. Jesus is head over the body, so he gets to plant us where he wants. 

As for us, we need to stay where we're planted and blossom.