Todd Weber's Random Thoughts

April 26, 2010

Where Art Thou, Lord?

Filed under: Biblical/spiritual — tkweber @ 10:20 am

Some of my peers and I struggle with the tension between what we have known and what we know to exist but have not yet obtained. We desire the sense of spiritual life and power in the presence of God that we have experienced countless times in Pentecostal church services, while at the same time attempting to lay aside and leave behind the un-biblical elements of those events as we pursue authentic biblical spirituality and relationship with God.

While often accused of spiritual compromise, “leaving the message,” heresy, and other crimes against the faith, our sincere desire for pure faith and biblical accuracy has led us to recognize that many of the methods, mannerisms and activities common among Pentecostal/Apostolic Christians have little or no basis in scripture and often lead to error and abuse. We find in the New Testament a conversational, dialogical style of preaching and teaching rather than the loud, passionate, emotive style with which we are familiar. We read of outpourings and manifestations of the Holy Spirit occurring in response to sincere prayer and devotion which seem nothing like modern Pentecostal gatherings which often rely on music, hype and manipulation to work people into a frenzy, which is associated with a “move of the Spirit.”

It is not that we are against emotional expressions in worship and emotional responses to the presence of God. We understand that humans are emotional beings and that our interaction with the Creator will naturally involve the emotions he created. Our problem is with emotionalism and emotional manipulation that is mistaken or misrepresented as spirituality and/or worship. In fact, we desire and encourage the deep devotion, prayer and worship that brings the manifestation of the Spirit which is often evidenced by emotion, be it crying, or laughter, or silent awe and reverence.

However, the tension arises when we abandon traditional modes of worship with which we are familiar to practice what seems to us a truer form, but then fail to achieve the same powerful experiences as before. We try to lead people into a more sincere and Christ-centered worship, but are often left with the sense that we failed to connect with Christ because no sinners were converted, or sick people healed, or prophesies given, etc. So, we begin to wonder where we have gone wrong. What have we missed? Are those traditions and mannerisms we have abandoned truly essential? Should we go back to the ways of our fathers?

My answer to such questions is an emphatic, No! Our dissatisfaction and disillusionment come from our upbringing. We have been conditioned by years of teaching and experience to expect the manifestation of the Holy Spirit to occur in certain ways and to elicit particular responses or reactions from worshipers, and when those expectations are not met, we doubt the validity of our faith, worship, and even our relationship and devotion to God, in spite of our desire to move beyond such shallowness.

All we know is what we have known, so our journey into the unknown is fraught with anxiety and apprehension as we feel our way forward in faith. We must resist the natural tendency to measure what lies ahead with the same rule given to us by our predecessors. Just as Moses led the Hebrews through uncharted wilderness, suffering the cries of the fearful and unbelieving to return to the bondage they knew rather than pursue the freedom that they did not know and for which they had no frame of reference to comprehend, so we who desire pure, authentic New Testament faith and praxis must stay the course and feel our way through the mysterious mist of the Spirit until we reach the Promised Land.

One of the hardest things for us to deal with, and which slowly wears down our resolve to continue this journey, is leading members of our congregations who are likewise conditioned and programmed with false expectations, but who do not wrestle with the deeper issues and implications and the causes and consequences as we do. We often feel as though we are rowing a boat upstream against a strong current while our passengers (and sometimes the crew) are hacking holes in the hull. We are continually subject to misunderstanding, accusations, and assaults upon our character and commitment to Christ and truth, yet we must press on.

Remember, the fledgling New Testament church had no idea what they were doing, either. From the moment they were filled with the Spirit in the upper room, they were walking in the unknown. They continued to serve the same God as their fathers, but in a radically different way. They left many of the traditions with which they were raised to worship and serve Jesus in a manner that evolved from day to day. There was no roadmap. There were no how-to manuals. And, they were locked in a continual struggle with those who were determined to go back to the “old-time religion” of Judaism.

The answer we all need is in Christ. When we pursue the person of Jesus Christ first and foremost, all the rest will follow naturally. It is when we pursue other things first–spiritual gifts, signs and miracles, emotional stimulation, etc.–that we get off track and drift into areas none of us want to go.

The failure to apprehend does not invalidate the pursuit of a worthy goal. Let us keep seeking, pursuing and reaching toward the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. The manifestation and operation of the Spirit that follows may (or may not) turn out to be different than anything we expect or are prepared for. Can we trust God enough to simply follow and allow him to act according to his own will?

©Todd K. Weber 04/26/2010

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