Reforming the "Spirit Filled Church"(Part 1): Reforming our Theology

Martin Luther wasn't able to blog.
Earlier this week I recommended J. Lee Grady's article 'It's (Past) Time for a Charismatic Reformation' from Charisma. If you're Pentecostal or Charismatic and haven't read Grady's article yet, then please do: he's saying things that need to be said.

In Grady's own words:
'I am no Luther, but I’ve grown increasingly aware that the so-called “Spirit-filled” church of today struggles with many of the same things the Catholic church faced in the 1500s. We don’t have “indulgences”—we have telethons. We don’t have popes—we have super-apostles. We don’t support an untouchable priesthood—we throw our money at celebrity evangelists who own fleets of private jets.
In honor of Reformation Day, I’m offering my own list of needed reforms in our movement. And since I can’t hammer these on the Wittenberg door, I’ll post them online. Feel free to nail them everywhere.'
Like Luther, I'm sure Grady isn't just nailing his theses to the door for decorative purposes: these reforms aren't just to be looked at, but to be discussed, debated, and implemented. So discussing and interacting with them is exactly what I propose to do.

So, let's look at Grady's first thesis:-

1. Let’s reform our theology. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. He is God and He is holy. He is not an “it.” He is not a blob, a force, or an innate power. We must stop manipulating Him, commanding Him and throwing Him around.

Sadly, Pentecostals and Charismatics aren't well-known in the wider evangelical world for our great theology. That's not to say we don't have some great theology and some careful theologians, but, alas, there's also an awful lot of wierd and wacky 'theology' to be found in the charismatic camp. I never cease to be amazed at how often I encounter people who don't seem to understand fundamental doctrines like Justification, the Incarnation or the Trinity, yet who can give me amazingly detailed explanations of how to engage in spiritual warfare against territorial spirits or how to command the Spirit's power!

Once when I was teaching the book of Acts to a first year class at seminary one of my students got rather agitated. I wasn't quite sure why, as I didn't think I'd said anything in the least way controversial. But the student was clearly in strong disagreement with what I was teaching.

So why was he so upset? Well, simply because I had said you had to be a Christian to be baptised in the Holy Spirit! 'No, no, no!', he insisted, 'non-Christians can be baptised in the Spirit too.' Unsure about exactly what he meant, I went on to speak about how, yes, it was possible for someone to be saved and baptised in the Spirit at the same time (as we see clearly from the example of Cornelius and his household in Acts 10 & 11). But, 'no, no, no'; that wasn't what he meant at all. My student insisted you could be baptised in the Spirit and still stay unsaved!

'Why do you say that?', I asked as calmly as possible (or words to that effect, as it wasn't an English-speaking class). 'Because I've seen it happen', he replied, and told me of non-Christians visiting his church in his home country, 'being baptised in the Spirit', and then going back out to continue in their disbelief. 'What makes you think that what happened to them was the baptism in the Holy Spirit?', I inquired. The answer: 'because they felt electricity!'

This is one particularly extreme instance, but yet the basic principle is seen over and over again; rather than a doctrine of the Holy Spirit built upon the Word, the Holy Spirit gets downgraded into some sort of religious electric shock. Instead of looking at, and responding to, the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Trinity, equal in power and glory with the Father and the Son, He gets treated as some sort of spiritual force.

And as a result, rather than submitting to Him, people command Him. Rather than humbly following Him, people try to throw Him around. Rather than allowing Him to transform and use us, people try to manipulate Him.

We need to recover the very basics of theology: who our God is, what He's like, and what He likes.