In the last post I was thinking about how I, wrongly, let my bad experiences affect my participation in Christian gatherings where Believers participate in all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Today I want to look a bit closer at my experiences, what the Word says, and what that means.
In that last post I said that I'd been in a church for three years where things ranged from well meaning Believers who, simply because of that charismatic culture, made "power of the Spirit" things happen, to downright misuse of situations to manipulate people. I want to look a bit closer at this because writing helps me process my thoughts, because I hope that some may be able to relate to my experiences, and because thinking about concrete situations helps make conceptual ideas real.
An example of a well meaning cultural make-happen was this couple that I knew. These were wonderful people who really loved God and desired to minister His love, grace, forgiveness, salvation, and power to people. This couple ministered in jails, prisons, hospitals and homes. They truly were good people. But one day I was watching them pray for people. Each person that they prayed for was "slain in the Spirit" and fell over. But there was one young woman who was very new to the church and the culture and they prayed for her; she obviously did not know she was supposed to fall over, and she did not. But the funny thing was that the wife in this couple had her hand on the woman's head as they prayed and kept firmly pressing. So what ended up happening was the young woman being prayed for would keep stepping back and the woman doing the praying would keep pressing forward; it ended up that they were practically doing a walk-back around the room. I quickly realized what was happening and, for some reason, caught the husband's eye (he had been praying with his wife for the young woman). He and I shared one of those super brief moments when you realize what the other is thinking and we were both amused.
An example of a manipulation was a specific prophecy over the church janitor by the Sr pastor's wife. This was a large church that had their own 2 year school of ministry that was attended by people wanting to become ordained and go into full time Christian work. The janitor attended this school. One morning the Sr pastor's wife called the janitor up in front of the church for a "word from God". I don't remember all of it but it was very encouraging to the man; all about how he had the cleanest hands in the church and how God has new, big things for him right around the corner. Two weeks later the Sr. Pastor and his wife had a supposed revelation from God that the three other pastors were meant to "leave the nest" and no longer be pastors at that church any more. Again, because I was privy to much of the happenings behind the scenes and knew all three of those pastors who received that word that day, I knew that none of them had felt that they were meant to leave that specific local church. But all three of them had been asking questions about some financial situations that just didn't seem right. It sure looked to me as if they were getting rid of the "trouble makers" and paving the road for the janitor to become a new pastor. The janitor had no idea about any financial misdeeds. I also happened to know that the janitor was a good guy who was in severe denial and struggling intensely with an alcohol addiction that would have prevented him from being able to minister until he dealt with that and experienced some time of sobriety.
When I look at these situations now, in light of what I've read in Chan's book Forgotten God, I see things a bit differently then I did at the time. At the time I figured that this church represented most charismatic churches and decided to attend a non-charismatic church. But now, as I'm looking at 1 Thessalonians 5:19-24, I see that God calls me to test the spirits. This scripture does not say to just believe whatever you hear as long as it's said in a church; it calls Believers to specifically test prophecy and to hold onto what is good. I did the opposite. In a sense I did test the spirit and see that it was wrong, but I held onto what was wrong and let it prevent me from continuing to participate with other Believers in prophecy in the context of community and accountability as God had intended. What I should have done was let go of that one bad prophecy, perhaps even that one corrupted church, but continue to have my heart open to God speaking to His people through prophecy.
I find today that I really am open to doing that, but continue to have difficulty finding a group of Christians that participate in all the gifts of the spirit in a healthy manner. It seems as if the pendulum swings from one end of the continuum to the other. My experience with local churches is that they either over emphasize the gifts and abuse prophecy or on the other end of the continuum they ignore it all together.
Am I the only one with this experience? Do you see a polarity in the local church with regard to practice of all the gifts of the Spirit?
In light of this challenge, I'm sure grateful for the 23rd and 24th verses in this Thessalonians passage:
"May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. "
These words remind me that I don't have to sweat it because it's not all up to me - it's up to God. He is faithful and He will bring me to where He wants me to be.