“Are you Spirit filled?”
This was the number one question on everyone’s mind in the charismatic, independent, evangelical churches I grew up in. This was also the question we projected on other groups or people who claimed to be Christian: “are they Spirit filled.” If they weren’t it did not mean they weren’t Christians, it just meant they lacked the “power” available to Christians; power to command healing, financial prosperity, abundance in all things, etc.
The give-away to whether or not one had the Holy Spirit was if they spoke in tongues. No tongues = no Holy Spirit. Simple as that. After all, what could be clearer from Scripture? Jesus said, “These signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will…speak with new tongues…” (Mark 16:17). And sure enough, on the day of Pentecost they spoke with new tongues (Acts 2:4).
But this article is not about the gift of speaking in tongues (though that would be fun). Instead I want to share a major ‘changing of the guard’ in my own worship and understanding of what it means to have the Holy Spirit.
Again, not to contradict the charismatic, Pentecostal tradition of what Acts 2 teaches concerning the Holy Spirit – I have no dog in that fight, and do not care to get caught up in an endless controversy – but one thing is undeniable about the happenings at Pentecost that goes far beyond one’s belief about the doctrine of speaking in tongues. Acts 2 teaches us that the Holy Spirit brings unity!
Acts tells us that various nations had come to worship in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (the text lists at least 15 different languages represented). When the Holy Spirit appeared on the disciples they were all “filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues” (Acts 2:4). Those at the feast from the various language groups claimed to understand the disciples, saying: “we hear them speaking in our own language the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:11). Luke goes on to tell us that thousands of people were added to the Church that day.
The first act of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost reveals almost everything we need to know about His ministry. Does the Spirit empower believers with signs and wonders? Yes! Does the Spirit convict the world of sin and righteousness? Yes! Does the Spirit bring unity among believers?…
What was I to do with this last question? It was obvious that the Spirit brought unity to the various groups at Pentecost – that He had reversed the curse of Babylon, so-to-speak – so how could I account for the fact that the church I attended, which prided itself on having the Holy Spirit, was the result of splitting from another church, which had also split from a church, which had also split from a church, etc, as far back as I could count? If we really had the Holy Spirit how on earth could we have such a poor track record of unity?
No problem. The only unity we needed was the unity within our own church. That was enough. And besides every church I could think of was the result of a church split: Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Lutherans, Pentecostals, all dirty little ‘splitters.’ In truth, since the Reformation, merely 500 years ago, Protestantism has never ceased to produce schisms at mind bending speed. Today one could easily number them in the 10’s of 1000’s.
It was not until I found myself in a Church History class in my grad studies at Oral Roberts University that I could no longer resist the fact which had been staring me in the face all of my Christian life: either my understanding of the Holy Spirit was seriously messed up, or the Holy Spirit was inept to fulfill His ministry of unifying the Body of Christ. I had to opt for the first choice since the second choice was a heresy.
Fast forwarding to the present day, I now thank God that the Church is not lost; that there still exists the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, unbroken in its unity since the time of the Apostles. The fight for me is over! I do not have to try to do what the Holy Spirit has done all this time without my help (imagine that). Though I pray for reunification between the Churches of the West and the Church of the East, I can now relax in God’s Spirit and trust that He is in control of His own “Body” in the earth. This is as far as I have come in my journey with the Orthodox. The depth of the Orthodox understanding concerning the ministry of the Holy Spirit is far beyond my comprehension and experience at this point. And this is what makes the journey so amazing!