We recently celebrated Pentecost at Alpine. We remember this Jewish holiday because it also happens to be the day that the first Christians received the gift the Holy Spirit. Recently I was listening to author and preacher Brian McLaren who has this to say about our 20th century theology of the Holy Spirit, “Conservatives have tended to emphasize the of personal dimensions of faith and liberals have tended to emphasize the ethical, and public and social dimensions of faith, and the results haven’t been good.”
McLaren goes on to explain when you emphasize a public, ethical, and social theology concerning the work of the Spirit, but it isn’t supported by the deep rooted spiritual faith experience of the Spirit, your spirituality can digress into a kind of ideology or form of institutionalism. Sometimes it doesn’t sound that different than a political party platform.
On the other hand, if people try to create a personal spirituality that doesn’t try to address the realities of God’s world that God loves so much – that presents a kind of distorted form of spiritually that becomes a tribal religion that exists for the benefit of one group of believers over another or to benefit powerful pastors and leaders who provide a spiritual service to believers.
The first stories of Pentecost actually speak directly to this. For the gifting of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts was not just to give the “true believers” a powerful experience that could become the foundation of their faith – instead it was to be a transformative experience that would reach into every aspect of their lives. Stephen was a man filled with the spirit and it showed when he was being an administrator and when he was speaking to a mob. In both cases it was evident to witness that this was a man who was filled with God’s Spirit.
Throughout Acts, the Holy Spirit is not portrayed as a force of magical powers or as a sign of God’s blessing and favor. Rather, it is given out freely to everyone (even those people who are undeserving) so that their lives could be turned upside down. A change of character accompanied them that drove them to share God’s love. It wasn’t a power to make other people “like (or similar to) them” or to advance a social or economical agenda. Rather it was a mighty uncontrollable wind that people got caught up in and whirled away (literally at times). It was a fearful sight as well as one that brought joy and relief. The Holy Spirit is so much more than how Holy Spirit is portrayed today by modern churches.
It was a mark of God’s presence in your life. But it wasn’t a treasure to be stored inside, bottled up, and brought out when convenient. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the power that we need to radically change our lives and the world around us with a love that is counter cultural –unexperienced by a cold hearted world. Jesus said it best when he told his disciples, this is how the world will know that you follow me and have God’s presence in you- they will know it because of this supernatural love that you possess and give away so freely – just like God the Father has done with you.
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