What I Write About

I write about the infinite number of intersections between every day life and the good news of the God who has come to get us.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Marking the Spirit

In the midst of a brawl over whether or not newly converted Christians had to be circumcised in the book of Galatians, the apostle Paul plays an interesting card: "I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?"

I find this interesting because I don't think that most evangelical Christians have any idea when or if they've received the Holy Spirit at all. Paul assumes and knows that these believers have an experiential data-point that they (and he) can point to that involved an experience of receiving the Holy Spirit.

I think that most of us who are not in Pentecostal/Charismatic circles don't have a clue as to what to do about the Holy Spirit...and some of us frankly aren't sure that it matters all that much.

Jesus had a very different approach. He said that it was better for him to leave so that his followers could receive the Holy Spirit. If we've got a gift that good coming to us, we better take it.

So what to do about our lack of experience with the Holy Spirit? A professor I took last summer argued that the current evangelical church had steam-rolled over symbols and icons and markers that were important in a believer's life.

Certainly baptism, for example, is not in and of itself what "saves" you. But it is not something to be blown off or taken lightly. Jesus both did it and commanded it. Why would we dismiss something so quickly that our Lord took so seriously? He argued that a person who was unwilling to undergo the ritual of baptism was somewhat akin to someone who gets married and then is unwilling to wear a wedding ring.

He also argued for a separate ceremony after the baptism for the reception of the Holy Spirit. Laying on of hands, prayer, perhaps anointing with oil if your comfortable with cooking accessories being used as part of worship. He argued that most of us have no way of identifying with Paul's argument in Galatians because we've grown up in churches that did not afford opportunity to mark the reception of the Holy Spirit.

Again, this is not the actual event of receiving the Spirit. But it acts as a sign, a marker. And so I was most appreciative this past Sunday as my church confirmed two children who had gone through the process of confirmation. The first portion of the ceremony marked their belief in the Lord Jesus. The second part of the ceremony marked their reception of the Holy Spirit.

Plenty of people get confirmed or baptized or have some sort of experience with God and it never develops beyond that. Jesus told the parable of the seed and the sower to help us to understand that phenomenon and not be shocked. But it seems to me that incorporating a ceremony marking the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in a believer's life (what a tremendous gift! what power to transform and be a transforming agent!) would be a step in the right direction for many of us.


Jeff said...

Fascinating thoughts Alex. You gave me something to think about.

Liz Hundley said...

I agree- this is a great point about the lack of understanding and commemoration of the Holy Spirit in most contemporary American churches. I know this framework has been something lacking in my own life. How great, then, that your church celebrates the Holy Spirit! Even though, as you said, it is a marker, and not the actual reception of Him.

This summer I found Cloud & Townsend's chapter on the role of the Holy Spirit in the growth process very enlightening. Thanks for suggesting it!

Daniel Kirk said...

"Getting married and not wearing a wedding ring". I think that refusing baptism is closer to getting married and then refusing to have sex.

Daniel Kirk said...

That, of course, is my way of siding with you here!