Friday, October 26, 2007

[THO] The Religious Experience

While I might throw out terms like post-charismatic, I am very comfortable in the charismatic world. At least experientially. However, I do have some reservations about the way that charismatics understand their experiences with the Holy Spirit. I am convinced that we charismatics could actually do things in a lot healthier ways.

Let me qualify that just a bit. People get hurt because of the ways that charismatics, and I've been just as guilty as the next charismatic, approach their spirituality. Yet, the temptation is to get so wrapped up and overwhelmed by the event that we miss what God really wants to do. So to that end I propose a few considerations about the religious experience we charismatics like to call the gifts of the Spirit.


The first thing that we need to insist, and to this task I would call all charismatic leaders of integrity, is that of recognizing that we only have access to the experience of God by the human. That is when we experience God's presence we can only describe and understand that experience through our own capacities. More harm has been done by well meaning folks who think they have a direct and unmediated understanding of the experience of God. Really understanding what happened takes time and reflection. In fact I would insist it takes a Church because no word of prophecy is of private interpretation. Too often we want to claim the upper ground because we fear invalidating the experience. But the reality is God has asked us to test all prophecy, so to do less is to dishonour God's intent. The experience comes as a grace (and we love it) but it also demands reflection, humility and community to be of real value.

I am always reminded that first Corinthians was written to correct us. A little more reflection and we might find that Paul is right.

God's Purpose in Visiting Us

We should begin our reflection with a question - what is God saying to us through this experience? I've seen too many charismatic junkies running from fix to fix and never pausing to ask why. John White (When the Spirit Comes With Power) reminds us that we are psychological beings, and that we can live in a Pavlovian experience where we react in a pre-determined way whenever the Spirit shows up. At some point our response just serves to deaden us to the voice and intent of God. I remember the first person to tell this Pentecostal to stop speaking in toungues (the usual reaction to being prayed for) and just listen to what God was saying. I was offended, but I now know that person did me an immense favour. I would say that if you always react the same way when the Spirit comes then you need to look for real fruit, if you don't see it then stop and start listening to God. God is more interested in what is going on within us, that is converting us to the mind of Christ, than what is going on externally.

For the Church

The gifts of the Spirit are for the Church. This is so important. If something is disrupting the service then stop it. If something is happening, then share it. The fruit to look for are unity, peace, healing, forgiveness, liberty and joy. I'm not saying shut down things just because someone doesn't like the way it is going, but for heaven's sake if there is confusion then look for clarity. Don't ignore their frustration, ask the folks manifesting what God is doing. If it isn't God then it will likely put a stop to grandstanding, and if it is God then that clarity will bless the Church. But don't stop there either. Take that and reflect, search as a community for what God is calling you to through this. Too often we think that this is just a personal experience - Paul's correction was to tell us that God is not that selfish, the gifts are for the Church.

For the World

The gifts are also for the world. God shows up because God still loves this world. When we miss this we turn into a pathetic bless me club. If the visitation doesn't send you out into the world with good news. Then quesiton it. Seriously. Good news, we've talked about here a lot, it is more than just telling others to come get drunk in the Spirit in some hedonistic festival. It is to love mercy, do justice and walk humbly with God. This is exactly what the world is looking for. This is exactly what God wants for the world. So when the visitation leads us elsewhere - we need to really quesiton if it is God who is visiting, or at least if we are really listening to what God is saying in the visitation.

No comments: