10 February 2015

Don't use "the Holy Spirit" as a rug

by Dan Phillips

Ironically though oft-noted, one of the most wretched crimes of Charismaticism is the shabby treatment they give to the Holy Spirit.

"I don't see how you can say that," a reader might respond. "No movement talks more about the Spirit than Charismatics and their spinoffs."

"Talks," yep. True enough. But what do they say about Him? That's the issue.

We understand that there is a great deal of mystery about the Holy Spirit, in Scripture. Assembling a true and coherent doctrine of the Spirit from the Word is a challenge for anyone. This is true, first, because of His name. He doesn't precisely have a personal name like "Jesus," or a title with a personal connotation like "Father." Given that the Greek and Hebrew texts don't provide capital letters, it isn't always easy to tell when the Hebrew or Greek words for "spirit" are referring to the Third Person, or whether they're referring to wind or breath or the human spirit.

A second factor contributing to the Spirit's mystery is that He is not the focus of the text. He may come to the fore of a narrative, but as Jesus Himself says, the focus of the Spirit is not the Spirit. The focus of the Spirit is Jesus. The Holy Spirit is not a failed master of ceremonies.

As it is with the Spirit, so it is with some of the gifts of the Spirit. Revelatory gifts were designed to have limited shelf-life. So there can be little wonder that to us who live long after their expiration-date, some of them are mysterious — "mysterious" as in "we have no idea what they were" (1 Cor. 12:8). As Chrysostom noted just three centuries after the apostles —
This whole place is very obscure: but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place. And why do they not happen now? Why look now, the cause too of the obscurity hath produced us again another question: namely, why did they then happen, and now do so no more?
[John Chrysostom, “Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the First Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians,” in Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Hubert Kestell Cornish, John Medley, and Talbot B. Chambers, vol. 12, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889), 168.]
What was true a scant 300+ years after the New Testament events is, to say the least, no less true 1900+ years afterward.

Faced with impenetrable obscurity, there are fundamentally two options: accept the obscurity, or make something up to "clarify" it. Enter the Charismatics. Like the government, they're "here to help."

Here is what I've observed for decades. Never content to stay within the lines Scripture draws, nor content to focus on what God has revealed (contra Deut. 29:29), Charismatics use these mysteries, these obscurities, to load in and thus canonize their own peculiarities and alien-conflagration inventions.

It works like this. Do you get flashes of insight that feel significant to you? But you don't want to call them that, do you? Put that way, they have little meaning beyond the personal. No, you feel the need to imbue them with some sort of holy, divine mantle. You feel they deserve more attention and authority. Well, lookie here: nobody knows what a "word of wisdom" or a "word of knowledge" was. So just call it one of them. Nobody can prove you wrong!

Or: Do you feel like barking like a dog? or giving up all bodily control and dignity? or acting like a drunk or a druggie? Do you find that normal behavior isn't drawing enough attention, or satisfying your itch, but you have some bizarre capacity to shake your head, or something? Well, lookie here: nobody's sure he knows everything the Holy Spirit does. Even saying "Holy Spirit" is mysterious. So just say He made it happen. This is some work of the Holy Spirit. Who can prove you wrong?

So you see, we end up with a kind of backwards exegesis which is just a subspecies of eisegesis. We start with a phenomenon we like, we're sure it's got to be in the Bible somewhere, so we just find what we see as a bit of rug loose enough for us to sweep it under. Given the mysteries associated with the Spirit and His gifts, that's an oft-used recourse. Find even the appearance of ambiguity, and Robert is our mother's brother.

After all, Scripture says He "leads," right? Well, maybe this is that. Scripture says we're to "walk in" the Spirit, right? Well, maybe this is that. Just fill those words with your content. That's the first step.

Next step: subtract the "maybe." Say it again with confidence instead of tenuousness.

And voila! Another Charismatic crowd-pleasing distraction is born.


Because rather than revering the Holy Spirit as God, and cleaving as closely to the Word He inspired as they can in grateful, faithful contentment, they use "the Holy Spirit" as a sort of rug. They sweep all their unsightly made-up embarrassments of irresponsibility and indulgence and carnality under that phrase. Then it doesn't look so ugly anymore.

It's covered up, by a phrase you use as a rug: "the Holy Spirit."

NEXT WEEK (Lord willing): what it actually means to be led by the Spirit.

Dan Phillips's signature


trogdor said...

You forgot the step where you get to accuse anyone who questions your shenanigans of quenching and/or blaspheming the Spirit.

In the advanced class, you learn how to declare yourself the Lord's anointed and pronounce anathema on anyone who 'touches' you with scoffing questions like "which verse is that again?".

Robert said...

The thing I really don't understand is that there is no real fruit of the Spirit found in any of these people. They're constantly seeking that next high and are unable to sit still in a quiet, still moment. Which indicates there is no peace or real joy there.

I often find that I can't really see the Holy Spirit work in my life until I see how He worked after the fact. And it isn't in signs and wonders...well, other than the wonders of my heart and life being more conformed to Christ. We read Scripture, He illuminates it so that we understand, He convicts us and molds us, and we repent and follow Christ as the Holy Spirit points us towards Him. Now, that is something worth praising because it has lasting effect.

Jesus told the Samaritan woman that He could offer water so that we would no longer thirst. To me, that is the Holy Spirit...He wells up in our hearts and continually provides nourishment. We don't have to seek the next high or some better experience...and if that is all these people have to offer, then they're just pulling water from any well they can find themselves instead of being supplied by the Holy Spirit.

That's just my take on it, though. It is both sad and angering that this stuff goes on and more people are sucked into it every day.

JG said...

Ooooooh, I'm looking forward to next week! I was just discussing with a friend the topic of "knowing God's will for your life" (and referenced your great post on the subject).

Michael said...

I really don't want to wait for next week, Dan! To understand the work of the Holy Spirit is crucial for everyone but no one more than us newer Christians.
As an aside, re: reCAPTCHA. What if I was a robot? What if I was the robotic domestic employee of a Christian family? I would want to learn what you are teaching so as to not be a stumbling block to the members of the family. I respectfully submit that robots should not be excluded from hearing the gospel message even though their salvation is not possible and perhaps an AI intelligence couldn't perceive any better than human unbelievers.

DJP said...

Michael, in the interim you could get some help here.

Michael said...

Own it already. Need to read it. Am currently reading about the Holy Spirit's work (writing by Spurgeon, Owen & others) in an old issue of Free Grace Broadcaster from Chapel Library.

DJP said...

Thank you.

Fred Butler said...

I appreciate Robert's observation about personal "fruit" on display in these people's lives. A couple of examples.

First, in Dr. Brown's book critiquing Strange Fire, when he provides his readers with a brief bio of John MacArthur, he writes of him that "he has never been caught in a moral scandal." I found that comment telling, because moral failure, by which he means, an marital affair, is common in charismatic circles.

Second was a guy who was attending my church and was a part of a Fundamentals of the Faith class I taught. He came from a charismatic church and was disillusioned with the leaders at his old church because they stole money and one of them cheated on his wife with a college student. At the same time, he insisted that tongues and miracles were still for today. After we established that it was the HOLY Spirit who imparted the spiritual gifts, I asked him how long all of that corruption and sin was taking place at his church. He responded by saying for a number of years, and the one pastor cheating on his wife was doing it for at least a year. I then asked if those individuals spoke in tongues and healed people, to which he responded with a hearty yes. I then asked why the HOLY Spirit would work in a Christian's life who was actively involved with unrepentant, grievous sin without convicting the person of that sin. All I got was a blank stare; he'd never thought about that before. To which I merely pointed out the serious imbalance of the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer. His primary role is to conform us to the person of Christ, not make us spectacular stage magicians.

DJP said...

The comments are all good, and I thank you.

I just need one person to indicate (s)he gets the single specific point I was making, so I don't have to end the day feeling I succeeded at what I didn't try to do and failed at what I did.

Robert said...

Taking a stab at it. People are trying to use the "mystery" of the Holy Spirit to bring in all of the messy stuff they like and just cover it up by saying it is of the Holy Spirit. They throw out the verse (out of context) "Don't quench the Spirit!" and use that as a cover for what they say and do, even though it goes against Scripture. All the while, the Holy Spirit is really working through Scripture.

I hope I am close...I'm sure it is frustrating for people to miss the point.

DJP said...

Yep. Driscoll sees porn in his head, and that's "moving in the realm of the Spirit," because "the Holy Spirit" is a rug for that. Another person acts on impulses, and that's "walking in the Spirit." Another falls down and yields bodily control because he's "slain in the Spirit."

No Biblical warrant for any of these and a hundred other bizzarities, but the phrase "the Holy Spirit" has been allowed as a rhetorical rug to hide ugly outbreaks of strange fire.

Robert Tingle said...

Dan, before you ever wrote this post, I had often wondered what is the motivation for many people to claim "flashes of insight" as workings of the Spirit. To me, it seems the range could be from the innocent, misinformed desire to attribute _every_ good thing to God, to the greedy desire to increase one's sense of self-worth.

I am prone to believe that the whole charismatic movement is led by people who are characterized by the latter.

Side note: It's a shame that flying carpets aren't a "gift of the Spirit", because that would give the driving metaphor of this post whole new meaning...:)

DJP said...

Yes, Robert, exactly. In fact, I credit you: I'm going to go back and put in something I've often thought, should have put in, but forgot: the fact that this is a kind of backward exegesis.

Thank you!

Michael said...

But Dan, regarding impulses. You are not ruling out impulses all together are you? David frequently asked God to teach him his statutes (The Word in the Bible) but he also asked Him to lead him in His paths and incline his heart to His testimonies. Isn't that an internal work of the Spirit?

DJP said...

I do rule out seeing impulses as authoritative or granting them status, as a category, as Pneumatic Morse Code, or looking for them for authoritative guidance.

Jason Dohm said...

Probably my favorite message from watching the sessions of "Strange Fire" online was Phil Johnson's "Providence Is Remarkable" (http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/TM13-15/providence-iisi-remarkable). In that session, Phil develops how it demeans the real work of the Spirit when we baptize our every inclination by calling them from the Spirit.

DJP said...

Yes. Phil's clarity in these areas is a real gift to the Church.

You might say... a spiritual gift.


Michael said...

So, if we should pray like David did, we should not then associate our growing inclination to love the Word and desire to obey (when once we didn't) to the work of the Spirit? Since we can't be sure?

JackW said...

I think it’s also a shame that using the God/Holy Spirit card paints that person into a corner so to speak. As someone in music ministry, I’m reluctant to use songs that the songwriter claims was given to them by the Holy Spirit. Granted, the Holy Spirit may have been glad to get rid of it, but now when someone points out a problem with the content it’s not his fault.

DJP said...

You're making less and less sense to me, Michael. We should associate love for God with the Holy Spirit because the Bible warrants that association.

Michael said...

I'm sorry. I know what this post is about. I really do. And I'm sorry I turned it into something a bit different. But maybe it's the wording (impulse) that confuses me to the point that I make no sense. While I certainly wouldn't attribute The Spirit working within me to every thing I may think and do (writing a song or writhing on the floor) I would attribute my love for the things of God as only even possible due to the indwelling Spirit. I thought that love was an "impulse".

DJP said...

Perhaps that's where we're disconnecting!

The first dictionary definition of "impulse" is "a sudden strong and unreflective urge or desire to act." That's the sense in which I'm using it.

The second definition is "a driving or motivating force; an impetus." That seems to be the way you're using it — like motivation.

Michael said...

Yes, Pastor, that's it. I'm talking about motivation. Not sudden unreflected upon urges. Thanks. Just a result of going off topic (even if only slightly).

Jason Dohm said...

What I realized as a result of watching all of the "Strange Fire" sessions and then reading the book was that I had never really understood the cessationist position. Cessationists actually (1) like the Holy Spirit (which is a great idea), (2) honor His work, and (3) acknowledge realities that Charismatics assume they deny, calling them by other - and better - names. Regarding (3), here are two examples. First, healing. Cessationists believe that God supernaturally heals people in response to prayer. However, they distinguish that from the Apostolic gift of healing, which the New Testament shows to be something else entirely. So if someone is healed after the Lord's people prayed, a cessationist is not surprised and is happy to acknowledge that it was the work of the Holy Spirit. A cessationist is NOT happy to call it the gift of healing, as if what happened was identical to what the Apostles were doing in Acts. Second, gaining insight into Scripture from the Holy Spirit. Cessationists call this "illumination" and praise God that the Holy Spirit is our teacher. They do not, however, think we are immune from mistaking a thought we have about Scripture for the illumination of the Holy Spirit, so they avoid "God showed me," "God told me" language.

Guymon Hall said...

"I do rule out seeing impulses as authoritative or granting them status, as a category, as Pneumatic Morse Code, or looking for them for authoritative guidance."

In other words, when we have an "impulse", measure that impulse against what Scripture says, and then act accordingly...?

Mark Hanson said...

GH - Yep. And if the Scripture says nothing about our impulse, don't ascribe it to the Holy Spirit. Say "I think" and "I feel" rather than "I am led".

Paul Reed said...

One thing I've noticed is Charismatics have absolutely no idea of how blasphemous they are. When I was a kid, my aunt's husband would get extremely drunk, cut out 2 holes on a white sheet, place it over him, and run around the house making groaning sounds saying, "Boo! I'm the Holy Spirit! I'm tired of not getting the attention that the other two gods get. I will continue to haunt this house until I'm respected!". As offensive as I found this, I wonder if God finds the work of the Charismatic church worse (or at least the 98% 'fringe' of the charismatic church).

Mark Kendrick said...

Amen. Preach it. Thank you brother.

Zac Dredge said...

When I read the title I actually pictured a granny rug; one of those knitted blankets. I was thinking of the analogy being people using the Holy Spirit to get comfortable and remain passive. I've heard comparisons with Pentecost, where we need to wait for the Spirit to come upon us. You could simply take the time to declare 'Jesus is Lord' and qualify the Spirit is already present. No harm in praying to be filled with the Spirit, but if you have faith in God there's no need to be waiting around. Pentecost was unique in that the Spirit had never come like that before, but I still feel a lot of Charismatic folk(and others) believe in waiting on the Spirit, with granny rugs on lap.

trogdor said...

Years ago someone neologized a term that means "An empty thing onto which people project their own ideas, thoughts, fears and/or aspirations".

Charismaticism treats the Holy Spirit like nothing more than an obama.