Saturday, August 26, 2006

Fear of the Holy Spirit

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me [Jesus Christ.]" [Trust also in the Holy Spirit.]* John 14:1 (NIV)

“One would expect, therefore, that nothing would be more familiar to every Christian than the reality of the Spirit. But to the contrary, there is almost no other subject in modern theology so difficult to deal with as the doctrine of the Holy Spirit." 5

All our lives it was drilled into us that the unpardonable sin was grieving away the Spirit of God. Several approaches result from such a fear. One lives in a constant state of anxiety worried that too much sinning, or lack of devotion, or some incomplete knowledge of salvation might lead to the unpardonable sin.

Another result is fear of any type of emotional response to the Holy Spirit's work during evangelistic or worship services lest that heightened sense of emotion lead to a false speaking in tongues, which would automatically be labeled "not the work of the Holy Spirit."

Still another result is to have so much respect and awe and, yes, fear, that one thinks it best not to dwell on the subject of the Holy Spirit too often, or to speak of Him as little as possible, so as not offend, and therefore "sin against the Holy Spirit."

Perhaps there are other possibilities, but these will suffice to lead to the real reality of the Holy Spirit and His importance in our lives.

During one of the Sabbaths earlier this year when the church was studying the subject of the Holy Spirit, we asked the class if they thought it was proper to pray directly to the Holy Spirit and to worship Him directly? The question was shocking to most of those present. One woman even said that to worship and pray directly to the Holy Spirit was to make an idol of the Holy Spirit. We responded that it was impossible to do so, since being God Himself, one could not make an idol of Him by both worshipping and praying to Him directly. The rest of the class then concurred that what was accepable was to worship all three members of the Godhead equally and simulaneously, but not separately, if memory serves me. Regarding praying directly to the Spirit, all concurred that one had to pray to God the Father, in the name of Jesus, and through the Spirit.

Since "God is Spirit" and the Spirit is both the "Spirit of God" and the "Spirit of Jesus" would you not be worshipping and praying to the Godhead by worshipping and praying to the Holy Spirit directly? Being Spirit in its Quintessence, are not all members of the Godhead embodied in the Divine Spirit? When we pray, love, worship and meditate on the Holy Spirit, are we not concurrently doing all these devotions to God the Father and God the Son? Do you think the first and second persons of the Godhead mind that you pray to the Spirit in this, the final age of man, the Dispensation of the Holy Spirit? How much more holiness, love and power would there be if the Spirit were constantly being invoked, praised, honored, talked about, and loved?

In the church hymnal there are very, very few songs exclusively devoted to the Holy Spirit. Of the few there are, only one was familiar to me from all the songs I've ever heard sung in an Adventist Church. That song was one made popular in the 70s by the Heritage Family with words that said, "There's a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place. And I know that it's the Spirit of the Lord." Since the Spirit is our mainline to God and our only hope of getting with God and staying with God, why are there so few songs in the Hymnal? And why are those songs sung so infrequently? Is it because if they are sung the members will get too emotional and former members who "spoke in tongues" will get the urge to do so during Sabbath morning services?

I once witnessed two former pentecostal members of my Spanish congregation in the early 70s briefly get emotional during Wednesday night prayer meetings. One woman knelt with all others during a special altar call and directly addressed Christ with language so poetic and powerful that she stood out among your usual and "orthodox" prayer meeting devotee. The others didn't follow her example, but something very unusual was happening. So much so, that the miniser with a smile of awe that I've rarely seen in an adventist church, said, "Let's keep calm, because the Holy Spirit is defintely visiting us at this moment, right here right now." It almost seemd that by his fascination with what he and all present were witnessing, that he had seldom been at such occurrences within the Adventist church. It is one of the most singular memories I have of Adventism, the Holy Spirit, and a minister's cautious counsel.

We as a church have not paid enough attention to the Holy Spirit, his reality, his ministry, his person, his beauty, his friendliness, his promise. It is a real shame that, instead of being known as those folk who focus on the sanctuary, 1844, the investigative judgment, and the prophecies of Daniel, we're not known as the "Church of the Holy Spirit." Were that the case, we'd have the tools and the power to fight post-modernism, secularism, apostasy, worldliness, bickering, contentiousness, selfishness, sensuality, smugness, pride, a superiority complex caused by an obession with our being the Remnant Church of the Last Days, unChristlikeness, and just plain insensitivity to those inside and outside of the church who are hurting, lonely and in need of a helping hand.

May God have mercy on us and help us to think more about, pray more to and love Him more. I'm speaking of the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, in a word, our Saviour, our God and our Friend, the Holy Spirit.

* It seems appropriate now to complete Christ's command to believe in all persons of the Godhead in this well-known verse. Jesus could not very well have included instructions to trust also in the Holy Spirit at the time He said these words since the outpouring of the Holy Spirit had not yet occurred.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Two Million, Three Hundred Thousand Years

While it makes for interesting, and some would insist historically important, Bible study, and, no doubt, it enrichens one's understanding of God and a host of other aspects of soteriology, I, for one, lose very little sleep worrying about the 2,300 days, years, or millennia.

Years have come and gone without those words crossing and recrossing my mind. Through the dark days that have come and gone, only Christ and his ever-present reality have been both in the forefront, as well as, in the back of my mind.

Whenever I happen to note other religious traditions and their detailed and exacting studies, reinterpretations, and endless quibbling of fine-haired details, I'm relieved to thank God for the beautiful simplicty of righteousness by faith in Christ Jesus.

So much time and effort is spent on rehashing all these dates, and possible interpretations and whether this person is right, or if they aren't how can they still call themselves Adventist, or Christian, or Spiritual. Why not give it a rest? That's right. Declare a moratorium, or a Sabbath Rest, that lasts longer than anyone has ever dared. Why not concentrate on more pressing matters, such as receiving and continuing to receive the Holy Spirit? Once more and more believers are filled with the heavenly comforter, all these dates and problems with dates, or with horns, or with places, times and reinterpretations will vanish. How I long for the simplification of Christianity. How far we've gotten from the apostolic church and their one-big-family style of worship and fellowship. We've unncessarily made Christianity into something as complex as are other tradition-obsessed schools of thought and practice.

Let's keep it simple, like Morris Venden suggested, salvation in a nutshell: "Pray to God, study His word and work with Christ." "...Apart from me [Christ] you can do nothing." John 15:5 (NIV) & "I can do everything through him [Christ] who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13 (NIV)

Or as John Keats once said, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all you know on earth, and all you need to know.”

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Aesthetics of Decadence and Violence

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." Philippians 4:8 (New International Version)

Are you tired of serious or quality films that while, ostensibly, are not junk as far as their artistry is concerned, nevertheless, their themes of violence, lust, twisted sexuality (necrophilia, voyeurism, sado-masochism), and their obsession with just plain appalling people whom you'd never want to bring home to your house or would feel comfortable visiting theirs, makes you long for a new cinema, one of decency and gentleness? While such anti-cinema-verite films may be useful to give you a point-of-reference when talking to both Christian and non-Christian lovers of serious film as Francis Schaeffer recommended in Escape from Reason, it is becoming increasingly distasteful to continue being "in the know." While the same thing could be said for significant literature and the arts in general, the medium of film with its alternate universe and in-your-face palpability, invades not only your mind for two hours, but your life, as well, with a lingering residue that lasts days or weeks or years, down the road. Even though I've only seen Silence of the Lambs once, years ago, its deadly world of misery and vileness reappears briefly whenever the title flashes across any history-of-film newspaper article or in a chance sighting on the DVD shelves of a library or store.

While the films that were then-current with the intellectual set when Schaeffer wrote his Escape from Reason, such as Satyricon or Day for Night were, no doubt, equally as offensive to some lovers of serious film, whether Christian or non-Christian, they seem almost wholesome in comparison to the movies of the 90s and of the first decade of the 21st century. The former, while containing some decadent and historically-correct violent images, left much to the imagination and were metaphorical in their use of images and motifs, as opposed to today's no-holds-barred approach. In spite of some of their themes being objectionable, the total effect of each film focused on the power of art and memory to enhance, instead of vitiate, the lingering effect of one's celluloid encounter.

Needless to say, some future film afficionado may one day look back upon Sin City and Kill Bill, Volume 1 and find them strangely nostalgic of a simpler time. It's painful to even imagine what those future serious films will be like, that will render these contemporary films agreeable and reminiscent of days gone by.

"By beholding we are to become changed; and as we meditate upon the perfections of the divine Model, we shall desire to become wholly transformed, and renewed in the image of His purity. It is by faith in the Son of God that transformation takes place in the character, and the child of wrath becomes the child of God..." –Elen G. White, 1st Selected Messages 335-338 (Signs of the Times December 26, 1892).

Saturday, August 05, 2006

To Be a Rock, but Not to Roll

"And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" Luke 18:7-8 (NIV)

Even John the apostle was mildly influenced in his choice of imagery, though not his theology, by the gnostics and their emphasis, or fascination with light. We're glad he was mildly influenced for the style of the Gospel according to John is light-years away from the synoptic gospels. We intend, needless to say, no disrespect for the beauty and simplicity of Matthew, Mark and Luke. John did not write or live in a cultural and intellectual vacuum. His marvelous writings, including the often-shocking Revelation with its visions of lakes of sulfuric fire and cities of transparent light, were not written in a cultural or intellectual vacuum, though the Apocalyptic book was, of course, written in the apparent cultural isolation of Patmos' confinement.

Modern Christianity is necessarily colored by its time and its intellectual or cultural movements, as well. We have memories of Christians and Christianity through the kaleidoscopic lens of the Summer of Love. Again, no reference is intended by "kaleidoscopic" to most Christians necessarily taking psychedelic agents which colored their views of their religion. I, myself, was a church-going teeny bopper who was both afraid, but not ignorant of what others, both within and outside the church were doing with mind-expanding drugs. Nevertheless, we're reminded by now-forgotten accounts of pre-conversion encounters with God through Lysergic Diethylamide Acid (LSD), as well as, Cannabis (Marijuana.) Some of these accounts were of recently-converted first year theology students who had been tripping months prior to their conversion, or of late-70s or early 80s inner-city gang members whose first encounter with what later became correctly identified as God, was initially perceived through chance Cannabis-altered consciousness.

Might today's young adults, 30-somethings, and all other post-Woodstock generation individuals, whether generation-x, y, z and beyond, especially the generation, not also be influenced in their perception of Christianity through the cultural influences of the Worldwide Web, MTV, and the musical-cultural-cinematic excesses of their youth and early adulthood? Do they read the Bible or the related writings of their Christian founders, Mary Baker Eddy, Joseph Smith, Ellen G. White, differently than do their pre-Gen X fellow Christians?

What about the aging Beat-era Christians? I met two or three Christian educators who had a mild awe of Kerouac, Ferlinghetti and the Cool Jazz Scene, though not of Ginsburg's Howl, when I was a student at an Adventist college in the 70s. Did their 50s-beat sensibility color their perception of art, culture and religion, in ways that were necessarily different than the Flower generation? No doubt, Beat-influenced Christians had more in common with the Woodstock generation Christians, than the latter group has with the odd apathy or nihilism of the Gen-X influenced Christians and beyond.

What about the "What the Bleep Do We Know?" flavored Christians of today and their descendants? Will their perception of Christianity be as alien to their parents as the Woodstock-era Christians were to their parent's Christianity?

Nevertheless, are there no takers for pure, undiluted, old-time religion, Christianity, or spirituality? Or is that a distant memory or theory or future development as the "End of Time" takes place, if it has not already taken shape as we write?