In Spirit & In Truth: My Story
Updated: Jul 25, 2018
We’re starting something new on So We Speak this week. We’re beginning a multi-part series that will last for the next 5-6 weeks. For the past year or so, I’ve been working through the role of the Holy Spirit in the Christian life, and specifically the practice of the spiritual gifts. I want to invite you to think through this with us. This is one of the most important aspects of our lives as believers. The gift of the Holy Spirit is one of the fundamental changes that takes place in us when we become believers. Most of us live like nothing changed. The Bible calls us to something more than that.
My First Experience With Charismania
My background spans a little bit of both camps when it comes to the Holy Spirit. Although I grew up in a functional cessationist church environment, I was involved with several ministries on the charismatic side of things in high school and college. I’ll never forget one of my first encounters with the charismatic movement. I was brand new on the leadership team of a ministry in college, and we were having a problem. Every week during worship, in the middle of the service, right when the music began to build and the band would break into a big chorus, someone in the crowd would let out this blood-curdling banshee scream. And it got worse. She began doing it in the quieter parts of the service. Then she started laughing loudly during the verbals. I remember sitting around in a circle saying, what do you even do about that?
Being the know-it-all 19-year old that I was, I volunteered to take care of the problem. The next week, before the service, I psyched myself up for the task. The first problem was we had no idea who this person was. So as the music started, I listened for the screams. As they began, I made my way over to the part of the room I thought they were coming from. As I got over to the aisle, it became clear that I had identified the screamer. About 25 feet in front of me a girl was rolling around on the ground, flailing her arms, screaming her lungs out. I had no idea what to do.
I slowly walked down the aisle and as I got up close to her, I kind of expected her to stop and sit up. Maybe she would think she was in trouble or something and go back to her seat. No such luck. I bent down, reached out my hand, and carefully touched her on the shoulder. When she looked up, I asked if we could talk for a second in the lobby. When we got out there, the first thing I did was apologize for having her leave the service, and then I asked her why she was screaming. “The Spirit makes me do it,” she said. “Do you do that every time you worship or just here?” I asked. “Sometimes I do it other places, it just depends on what the Spirit wants, and I just go by whatever I feel like He wants me to do.” I thought for a moment. “Well, I wonder if you could try to keep it down a little bit.” You could tell she was offended. “Why would I disobey the Spirit because you have a problem with it.” I’d never really thought about it that way before, but I answered, “I have a hard time believing the Spirit wants you to do something that would keep other people from worshipping. That seems like it would be a little bit counter-productive to His nature. I really need you to see if you be quieter so that you don’t keep other people from worshipping.” Visibly upset, she gritted her teeth, “I’ll try my best.”
Sure enough, for the next couple of weeks, she rolled on the ground, and she laughed a little bit, but she didn’t scream. After a few weeks, I didn’t see her anymore. When I reported back to our team, I felt terrible, but we didn’t know what else to do. We had dancers, flag wavers, sprinters, and other kinds of Spirit-led worshippers, but they weren’t really bothering anybody else. We moved on, and I kept wondering about whether or not that was actually the Spirit. It doesn’t seem like something He would do. But how can we know?
For my first few years in the church, I did ministry like a cessationist for all intents and purposes, but in the last couple of years, I started to feel a tension between what I was reading in the Bible and what I was seeing in ministry and in my own life. I would read passages like 1 Corinthians 2 about wisdom that comes through the Spirit, and I would think, we have access to something incredible, and we’re not accessing it! There’s something missing! 1 Corinthians 12-14 are the go-to passages for the gifts in the New Testament, but the broader role of the Spirit is everywhere. Romans 8 says if by the Spirit we put to death the deeds of the body, we will live. 1 Thessalonians 5 tells us not to quench the Spirit and not to despise prophecy. In Galatians 5, Paul tells us to keep in step with the Spirit. In John 3, Jesus says, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Most of what I was doing and seeing in ministry didn’t match this at all. My ministry was less like the wind blowing and more like a clock ticking.
These are just a few of dozens of passages I underlined in my Bible. Maybe the one that struck me the most, the one I still can’t shake, is a passage in Zechariah 4, “Then he said to me, ‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel, you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’” There’s something different going on here.
My conviction was that I was missing a lot of the Spirit’s work, and as a consequence, so were the people in my ministry. I had experienced some pretty significant supernatural gifts in my own life, but I wasn’t sure what to even make of them biblically. (I’ll write on those later in the series). I don’t want to miss what God has for me because I’m content with what I already know. I don’t want you to miss out either. Like many of you, and in many of the stories you hear about the gifts, I wanted what I was reading to match up with what I was seeing - and in some cases what I wasn’t seeing.
Now, some of you are already hesitating. I can see you sitting there reading this on your phone and your palms are getting sweaty. “He’s going to tell us to speak in tongues at the end of this. I don’t want to speak in tongues… I’ve got friends that went off the deep end casting demons out of every rock and tree...” Stick with me! Praise flags make me nervous too. I like the service to remain in a language I can understand with everybody relatively still and upright as much as the next guy. And if I see somebody on the platform whipping people with their coat, you can bet I’m not sending in my seed gift.
The beginning of my study of this topic came from wanting to be biblical. I wanted to make sure that my theology and my practice lined up. I’ll admit that one of my frustrations with the charismatic movement has always been the mismatch between their theology and their practice, and in some cases a lack of theology to go alongside their practice. We’re going to begin exegetically and get clear on what the text says and what it means. Then we’ll seek to develop a theology and a practice that fits with what we’ve learned. The Bible will consistently inform practice, but both pieces are crucial.
This is what I want to explore over the next few weeks. What does the Bible say about the spiritual gifts, especially the sign gifts, and how should we go about implementing and practicing what the Bible says? Throughout our series, I’m going to be working through all kinds of questions wrapped around this tension.
If you have resources, stories, or thoughts on this topic, please comment! I’d love to hear your thoughts and get to discuss the issues together. Tomorrow morning, I’ll kick us off with some core principles, a framework for the next few weeks.
Check out part 2: What are the issues?
Cole Feix is the founder of So We Speak and a regular writer. Follow him on Twitter, @cfeix7.
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