Within about a month of Abraham Lincoln’s administration taking office on March 4, 1861, eleven states had declared their secession from the union to form the Confederate States of America. The uneasiness between the two sides erupted into hostilities on April 12, 1861 at Fort Sumter South Carolina, and continued for the next four years leaving in its wake a scar of death and destruction across our nation that is arguably still not fully healed. It was the deadliest war in American history. 620,000 soldiers were killed besides an unknown number of civilian casualties.
The Civil War, without question, is a stain on American history. It was a time when the nation was divided clearly into two very distinct camps. There was the Union and the Confederacy. One sought to abolish slavery; the other sought to maintain it. Instead of protecting their unity based on their commonalities, they huddled up with those of like mind, and started highlighting and rehearsing their differences rather than their similarities. They debated strenuously. They started calling each other names, and before you knew it they began to kill one another.
Sometime between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the next millennium – the seeds were planted and sprouted for a Civil War of sorts within the Church. Not the church in general, but the Bible-believing churches in specific. Through the years the two sides in this conflict solidified their positions. They each developed their own war cries, they debated strenuously, and they started calling each other names. Before you knew it, they began to live as if those in the other camp were non-existent. Instead of highlighting their similarities, they majored on their differences and it is an ecclesiastical war though not as much in the forefront as it has been is still arguably being fought and neither side is winning, but both sides are losing. This is the war between the Evangelicals and the Charismatics. Maybe more simply put it is the war between those who emphasize the Word, and those who emphasize the Spirit.
I have been blessed in my 37 years of following Jesus by being able to be part of both camps. I have had the privilege of being educated at one of the finest seminaries in the world, and pastoring a solid Evangelical church. After leaving that ministry Nancy and I were drawn to the Anaheim Vineyard and finally here to this church more than a dozen years ago.
Having invested significant time and energy in both camps I have seen both the strengths and weaknesses of each camp. I am convinced that the Lord has allowed me to see both sides for a reason. To lead me to an understanding that the greatest blessing for us individually and the greatest impact we can make for the kingdom corporately will come not from hunkering down in our own camp and dismissing others as somehow uninformed or unspiritual, but when we embrace the best of both camps and walk in the tension of that middle ground.
Now, this morning is not going to be my typical message. For those of you visiting, I invite you to return next Sunday for a more typical time of teaching from the Scriptures. This morning though, I want to introduce the series I will be teaching on for the next several weeks. My purpose this morning is to cause us all to pause, consider where we have come from along the spectrum between the two camps and help us realize that it is important to bridge the gap between the camps.
This past summer I read at least a dozen books related to the Holy Spirit in preparation for this series. I suppose I felt it important to dive into the subject to this extent because of a general under-emphasis I had in my own training.
Let me explain. At the seminary I attended the study of theology was divided into three courses. Interestingly enough, but not without understanding, the one subject that was most downplayed was the study of the Holy Spirit. In fact, if you didn’t take a special elective course on pneumatology (which I did) you received very little teaching on the person of the Holy Spirit. That under-emphasis was the result of the thinking of the founders of the school and the times in which I was in school. Without getting into too much technical vocabulary, the founders of my seminary were trained in a school of thought that believed that the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit had ended with the Apostles. We call this cessationism. I began seminary in 1980 – just when the debates between cessationists and charismatics were heating up. This was just the time when our movement’s founder, John Wimber, was beginning the movement, and teaching a course on signs and wonders at a neighboring seminary (which was quite controversial there as well). For my class in pneumatology I read one of John Wimber’s books – Power Evangelism – and it changed my direction. Contrary to what some of my professors and colleagues believed, I began seeing the role of the power of the Spirit’s ministry in accomplishing the mission. It was a pivotal point in my journey toward the middle.
I was not alone, however, there have been many others, trained in a similar fashion as I was, who have seen both sides and ended where I am. I could list names like Jack Deere, Rich Nathan, Ken Wilson, and Sam Storms. Their names are not important but their journey is . . . when you end up being exposed to both camps – you begin to realize that all of the arguing, and name calling that has gone on back and forth has contributed nothing to our mission, but only weakened us and diluted our impact. Real strength is when we learn to live in a balance between the word and the Spirit. People who believe this are what Rich Nathan, the pastor of the largest Vineyard church in the country, called Empowered Evangelicals. His name identifies a person “empowered” or strong in the Spirit – the charismatic camp, and an “evangelical” or strong in the word – the evangelical camp.
Walking in the tension between these two camps, however, is not always easy. The two camps have developed, through time, their own distinct emphases. Let me show you a graphic created by Sam Storms. I do so for two reasons. First, to demonstrate the difference between the two camps, but second, to allow you a moment to reflect upon which camp you are, or have been, in. Realize – there is really a spectrum between the camps. You will likely find things in both lists that you agree with, but you probably lean one way more than the other.
To me the tragedy here is that both camps, by working hard to maintain their distinctives, have both lost blessing. They have both lost power and impact in the mission.
What has happened is that both camps have narrowed their focus of the role and the work of the Holy Spirit.
Evangelicals clearly understand the role of the Spirit as it relates to the Word. We wouldn’t have, or understand the Word without the Spirit. We wouldn’t know God, or his will without the Word. And it is the Spirit who inspired the Word, who illuminates the Word in our minds and who then empowers us to apply it.
It is in the narrowing of our understanding of the role of the Spirit that we miss the blessing of growth.
I like how Rich Nathan says it,
If we emphasize the Word without the Spirit, we dry up.
If we emphasize the Spirit without the Word, we blow up.
If we hold the Word and the Spirit together, we grow up.
I don’t know about you, but I know that what I want is everything the Father has intended for us when He gave us the Holy Spirit. I want everything Jesus knew would be ours when he told the first disciples to “wait” until the Holy Spirit comes, with all He is, and then we will be ready for the mission we have been sent on.
Again, Rich Nathan’s book gives us a good sense of how all of this works together:
“We won’t gain more of the Spirit by having less of the Word. And we won’t depend less on the Word by having more of the Spirit. We need as much of both as we can have. This means as evangelicals consider the lessons of Pentecost, we must maintain as strong an emphasis as ever on the priority of Scripture. If our honest reading of Scripture tells us to avoid a particular charismatic approach, then avoid it we must. But if the Scripture leads us to incorporate things that we used to consider charismatic, then incorporate them we must. “
This is why I have titled this series: Recapturing Our Life in the Spirit. We have to become more consciously aware of all the Spirit is and does, and we need to do that on a daily, hourly, moment-by-moment basis. After all the study I have done the one thing I am undone by is the vastness of the Spirit and his work both in us, and in others as the kingdom advances. Everything that has us here this morning, and everything that takes us to the streets and around the world is the result of some aspect of the Spirit. Our eyes would still be blinded to God without the Spirit. Our hearts would still be cold and unmoved toward the Father. We would not know the greatness of our God if not for the Spirit of God giving us the word and opening our eyes to the experiences we have that demonstrate His characteristics. We would not know about Jesus and his magnificent work on the cross if not for the Spirit. And without the Spirit – we wouldn’t care. We wouldn’t know the way to walk out our faith without the Spirit’s illumination and direction. We wouldn’t be incorporated into the church without the Spirit. We wouldn’t have the power to live with one another as we ought without the Spirit. We would never grow to maturity without the Spirit. We would never be moved to worship, or know the sweetness of praising the Father without the Spirit. We would not be sensitive to the present day work of God without the Spirit. We would not know what to say to those who challenge our faith without the Spirit. We wouldn’t know healing without the Spirit. We would be trapped in our sins without the Spirit. We would not know an intimacy with God without the Spirit. The list could go on and on. Everything about your life finds its root in the Spirit of God.
And I don’t want to live a puny, narrow, dull, powerless life. Do you? I don’t want to live a life aimed at just getting one emotional experience after the other; to live a life without an ever-deepening understanding of God and His ways. I don’t want to be stuck in my growth, but I want to mature. I want to live in the fullness of the Spirit.
But how will this happen?
First, understand the Spirit will orchestrate each of our own growth. But we must cooperate with His work. I am convinced our cooperation will require us to consider two things we must be aware of and resist: fear and pride.
Fear and pride influence both of the camps I described this morning.
Evangelicals are afraid of highly-charged emotional worship, of shallow theologizing, and unexplainable phenomenon. Charismatics are afraid that focusing on the Word will impinge on their freedom, that they will quench the Spirit by theological fastidiousness, or that they will become joyless or arrogant.
Truth is, we fear what we don’t know. If you were saved in a charismatic context you are comfortable with that, it resonates with you, and you are afraid of the evangelical context. If you were saved in an evangelical context you are comfortable with that, it resonates with you, and you are afraid of the charismatic context. Whichever camp you may have cut your spiritual teeth in, that is the camp that feels like “home” to you, and honestly – most people never take a good, hard look at the other camp to see what is good about it. If you visited one of those “other churches” you just don’t feel comfortable. They do things differently and we are afraid of what is different.
We often combat our fear by deciding that since I feel uncomfortable, or I don’t prefer something, “they” must be doing something wrong. I am right, because I like this and feel comfortable with it. They are wrong because I don’t like it and don’t feel comfortable with it. Another word for this is pride.
Evangelicals pride themselves in their focus on the Bible, and Charismatics pride themselves in their focus on their spiritual experiences.
It doesn’t matter which side you have found yourself on – fear and pride have caused us to hunker down in our camp, and throw stones at those in the other camp. Evangelicals call the Charismatic unbiblical, and the Charismatics call the Evangelicals unspiritual. What a fine mess we have gotten ourselves into!
To put an end to such hostilities, however, will require us to cooperate with the Spirit who wants to eradicate our fear and our pride and instead foster love and humility.
After all, isn’t it “perfect love that casts out our fear”, and doesn’t “God oppose the proud but give grace to the humble”? That is what the Spirit wants to work in our hearts and in our church. He wants us to be a people of love and humility.
In the weeks to come I am going to work out some of the details of recapturing our life in the Spirit. Let’s face it – the chances of me challenging you in this series are about 100%. At some point I suspect I will make everyone upset. No matter which camp you have come from there will be, depending on the week, a sense of pushing you toward the middle; toward a place where you won’t be comfortable. Fear and pride will arise. Let’s pray that the Spirit of God by His power and His Word will lead us to a new place where we all can live more in the fullness of the Spirit – a place where love and humility rule our lives.
Practically speaking, as we progress, you might have questions. Talk to me, or one of the Elders, or one of the other mature saints in our midst. For instance, Mark Weyant and I have had a long-lasting dialogue about this subject – talk to him.
Let’s pray for an openness to what God might show us, and do in us in the weeks to come.