Gifts of Healing

The previous blog post had to do with the gift of faith as the gift of trust, which is based on relationship with the one whom one trusts. We examined this from a number of perspectives and noted that it was basic to a number of spiritual gifts; now it is time to apply it in a single area, that of the gifts of healing. As usual, I will add my caveat that I come at this as a biblical scholar, so I am looking at the various gifts from an exegetical perspective. And, yet, I am and have been also a pastor and practitioner, so it is important to know my background (in brief) to understand how I apply the biblical material.

I first encountered effective prayer for healing in Germany, first in a story from the history of the Plymouth Brethren-Baptist theological school where I taught, then in my encounters with Roland Brown and Helmut Ahlvers, and finally in my dean’s experience of healing (the last two being part of the Ruferbewegung, a German charismatic movement primarily in a Baptist context). This was the same period in which we became deeply influenced from the classic Christian spiritual tradition, starting with the desert fathers and continuing into the present. But I did not participate in healing prayer yet, or, if I did, I did so peripherally.

This non-practice changed with my ordination as an Episcopal priest in October 1979. On the Monday after that Saturday God spoke to me, pointing out that praying for the sick was part of my “job description” (Jas 5:14-15) as a presbyter. I realized that I had been avoiding praying for healing out of fear, but now I had no excuse. As a result, my first Eucharist as an Episcopal priest was a small midweek healing Eucharist at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Sewickley PA. I did not experience anything special other than nervousness (it was my first time at the altar on my own as well as the first healing Eucharist I had been at) – I simply went “by the book” (Book of Common Prayerand James 5:14-15) – and the one person there who was ill was indeed healed (but would not mention the fact to me for three months). We would later learn about, and Judy would experience, healing in a Camps Farthest Out at Messiah College at which Francis and Judith MacNutt were the speakers. And still later we would have a lot of experiences with John Wimber and his associates. And, of course, there was reading, lots of reading. That is the background from which I approach the gifts of healing.

Healing, which was not unknown in the Hebrew Scriptures, was a characteristic of the ministry of Jesus, which he passed on to his official delegates (i.e. apostles) in Mark 6:13 and parallels. Both Peter and Paul in Acts parallel the healing ministry of Jesus with multiple people healed (including by strange means – Peter’s shadow and Paul’s sweat bands), and in each case at least one dead person was raised. Others participate as well, with Ananias of Antioch being of special note. In other words, while Peter and Paul were the most famous, there is no indication that healing was limited to their actions. Paul refers to multiple gifts of healing in 1 Cor 12:9, so apparently he did not know it as a single gift, but as a differential gift. And James makes it a normative function of presbyters in Jas 5:14-15:

14 Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint (him) with oil in the name of the Lord, 15 and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven. [1]

So, we cannot overlook this gift. Yet that still leaves questions on how it functions.

First, faith is involved in healing, but primarily the faith of the one praying. In the teaching on faith it was noted that no one other than Jesus is said to have trust or faith in 2/3 of the healings of Jesus. So, while there are situations in which the one being healed trusts in Jesus (such as the woman with a hemorrhage – although that trust seems more in the power of his clothing than in who he was), in most situations Jesus is the only one said to have faith. Trust or commitment or faith on the part of the one who is ill may be helpful, even very helpful, but it is not said to be essential. Likewise we do not find faith or trust attributed to the blind man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple or in Aeneas, or any number of others who were healed through the agency of the various Apostles. Finally, James attributes trust or faith to the presbyters, “the prayer coming from trust,” not to the person who is ill (who may be so ill that he or she is not even conscious of what is going on).

What, then, is faith or trust? It is trust in a person, namely, in Jesus and his Father. The content of this trust is determined by what one hears in the relationship. Faith is a gift, but the gift comes from contemplation or listening prayer. Since such prayer requires quiet and calmness, inner recollection is also the requirement of effective prayer for healing.

Second, what is the nature of healing? Health is the condition in which every part of the human being is in right relationship to its Creator and therefore to every other part of the person and the creation. Health is a systemic or networked condition. One can talk about spiritual health in which the whole person or group of persons are in right relationship to the Creator God, social health in which the person or group of persons are in right relationship to persons or groups of persons, emotional health in which the inner emotional components of the person are rightly related and are under rational and spiritual control, and physical health in which the various chemicals, cells, organs, and systems of the person are in right relationship and therefore functioning as designed. Health also includes freedom from the influence of dark spirits (de-demonization is closely connected with healing in both the gospels and Acts). Therefore, when it comes to healing, any one of these systems (and probably more aspects of the person than these systems) may be the root or may be God’s priority. That makes listening prayer very important, for otherwise we will not know what the Father is doing and will instead be vainly chasing down rabbit trails of our own priorities. Furthermore, there is a time to die for every person, and while we may discuss this with the Father if we discern that this is what happening, praying for physical healing will not be effective, no matter how many Scriptures we cite to God or how many people “storm heaven” (a rather offensive expression, for it suggests that human beings must overcome or manipulate God, rather than submit to him).

Some examples may illustrate the principles above and given perspective to seeing what the Father is doing. Example one: I was visiting a pastor whose wife was very ill, but before praying for her, we were talking with a person who was struggling with bereavement. As I was listening to the person, with another part of me listening to God, I heard, “Prepare [the pastor] for [the death of his wife].” The pastoral conversation went well, and I could see that the pastor was listening carefully. Later I prayed for that pastor’s wife, phrasing my prayer so it would commend her to God and lay a foundation for what was coming, without shutting out short-term healing. That was God’s healing, and God would later have me walk that pastor through two years of grief recovery, which was also his healing. Example two: I was praying at a conference and a woman I knew brought a baby to me, asking me to pray for the healing of the infant’s eyes so it would not need glasses. I knew that the baby had a deVere neurological disorder that would make it difficult to keep glasses on it. And I sensed within that the request was what the Father was doing. I prayed, and years later the person does not wear glasses. But in my reason had I not listened I would have prayed for healing for the neurological disorder, which was not what the Father was doing. Example three: during the “clinic” phase of a talk by some rather flamboyant women speakers a father came up to them and said that his seven-year-old son thought that he heard God say that God wanted to heal ears. The women responded by getting the boy up on the stage (so he could reach adult ears) and announcing that he would be praying for ears. As people in need lined up for prayer the child placed his hands on their ears and said simply, “Jesus, please heal. Jesus, please heal.” I do not think that he ever said it more than twice. In each case the person was visibly touched by the power of God, which was not the sort of thing that was going on at that workshop. I guess that in his simple trust that boy had heard what the Father was doing. Final example: I was teaching a workshop on healing prayer and other spiritual gifts. I asked people to be quiet seek God and then asked if anyone had impressions that God had given them. A woman I knew from a seminary class I taught raised her hand and said, “I see someone’s right arm. It is pink except at the elbow, where it seems to be purple, like it was throbbing.” Immediately, someone two rows in front said, “That’s me” (while using their left arm to hold up their right). There were two healings when that young woman prayed for the person with the problem elbow: the elbow was healed, and that young woman learned that pictures she had been getting all her life were God’s way of communicating with her.

This means for me that when I am in a group of people praying excitedly and often insistently for a person, claiming this and commanding that, I often step back, perhaps looking away, trying to find that quiet center in which I hear God. “Father, show me what you are doing?” And if I get an impression I think may be God, I then step back into the group and at a break quietly pray according to that impression. Otherwise I simply raise the person up to God and hold them quietly there, letting his healing light shine through them or his healing love soak into them, although I may not know what is being healed. So, keep in mind, “No my will but yours be done” and “Your kingdom come, your will be done,” and any number of other passages that make listening to God the key to effective healing prayer.

The order is: holiness (cleaning and quieting the house) – intimacy/listening – prayer

So, third, healing will be wholistic, although some parts of it may not be complete until the resurrection of the dead. The person presents their symptom, which may seem to be a great need or just a serious bother. The Father may point to a demonic influence behind the disease and its symptoms. The Father may point to an emotional issue, such as resentment, anger, or failure to forgive the person in forgiveness, and that may lie behind the physical disease or be at the root of the demonic influence. In other words, all systems are inter-related. And only the wisdom of God can see which needs to be healed in what order. Furthermore, there are interrelationships among people, people groups, and social systems. What if prayer for a certain set of symptoms in a given person is related to the social system within which they ministered for years or the environmental destruction their wider society is still engaged in? We are far too individualistic in our thinking when it comes to healing. The failure to listen and then respond is probably a major reason why a lot of prayer and healing is all “sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Faith that I work up in myself or that is faith in what I want God to do or what I am sure on the basis of this verse or that verse that God must do if I claim that verse is not the faith of James.

James also speaks of anointing with oil, which Mark says is what the Twelve also did. This tells us that healing prayer can be sacramental, but this sacramental prayer is only mentioned in connection with the original Twelve and presbyters, who in the New Testament are appointed by an apostle or an apostolic delegate. It seems to be as if the oil is a liquid line back to Jesus and as if the physical act is something like laying the hands of Jesus on the person and thus is done “in the name of” or “on behalf of” “the Lord.” Whereas laying on hands may be an act of solidarity, a physical expression of love, the oil seems to be more a connection to Jesus himself, done at his command. I personally use oil often, but always within the liturgical form. Yet I do it with confidence, for I am “following the book,” i.e. doing what I was taught by James and also doing what I am authorized to do through ordination by a bishop in line with the apostles. I anoint “in persona Christi capitis.” That, of course, does not mean that other means of healing prayer will not be effective, but that this form is the form that presbyters are taught by James to use.

Finally, note that for whatever reason certain people effective in praying for certain issues. It may be that they have a particular sympathy for such people. It may be that the Spirit can flow through them most easily in that way. It may be that they have a particular gift of trusting for healing in that area. It is important to be aware of this, for knowing that some have one gift of healing and others have another helps bind the body together and we get the right person of prayer with the right person with disease. We often like to claim the verse (out of context), “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” as if we did not need others or were Superman/Superwoman (without the tights). That is not how God usually works. In fact, he works most frequently through weakness.

How, then, are gifts of healing received? Through intimacy with God and caring for others. Go about one’s business of seeking intimacy with God, living a life of prayer, and doing good to all. When one encounters someone with physical need, gently retreat to one’s inner room and ask the Father to show you what he is doing. If you have no clear impression, hold the person up to the Father’s healing light and let his loving care soak in. Or, if one is a presbyter, use the anointing oil and trust that Christ’s touch will in fact be effective. If you have an impression, whether a vague impression on the heart, an inner word, or a visual picture, follow that guidance, but do so with humility and gentleness. You may indeed receive a gift of healing for this instance. Or you may find that in many such instances God gives you that gift. Or it may be a more general gift. Whatever you experience, do not go beyond the pace of grace, the level of trust you have, the revelation that you are being given, but do not be afraid to ask for more. Know that whatever God does, he does out of love, out of seeking the good of the person and the wider group. And we are simply weak and ignorant agents, children before the Father, who get to work with him, but who often do not understand the wider picture that he sees.

[1]Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. Board of Trustees, Catholic Church. National Conference of Catholic Bishops, and United States Catholic Conference. Administrative Board, The New American Bible: Translated from the Original Languages with Critical Use of All the Ancient Sources and the Revised New Testament(Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, 1996), Jas 5:14–15.

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The Gift of Faith

[Note that this is a quick draft of my teaching for Tuesday June 11. I would like to rework it, but in a sense that will happen as I apply this to healing and miracles in the coming weeks.]

The first continuum of spiritual gifts that we looked at was the cognitive-speech spectrum that took in less cognitive or less understandable speech such as glossolalia and its interpretation, that which comes in the middle and is semi-cognitive or understandable, such as prophecy and the discernment of spirits, and that which at least in its reception by others is most understandable, such as expressions of wisdom or knowledge, or the teaching/exhortation gift in general. Now we are turning to a second continuum of spiritual gifts that of affecting the physical world in which we live. In this case the continuum is something of a tree, starting with faith as its roots or trunk and branching out into gifts of healing and mighty deeds (1 Cor 12:8-10). Again, remember that these are only examples that Paul lists to give variety, not a complete list, and also remember that Paul never defines these gifts, and in practice they probably shade into one another. Finally, since prophecy, among other speech gifts is often a speech-act, a speaking that effects what it speaks (much like sacramental speaking), it too shades into these gifts affecting the physical world, almost as if the two sets crossed over each other, indicating two vectors on a graph.

Faith in the New Testament is in essence a commitment to a person and therefore to the truths that the person reveals. The Greek term is a term of trust and commitment. If it is followed by an “in” (and there are two words in Greek for this) or the dative case, usually with a personal object, it means trust that person, entrust oneself to that person, or give one’s allegiance to that person, all of which imply following their directions or obeying them. In the New Testament this person is God or Jesus.

There is also a believing that or trust that, which is a commitment to certain data, usually about the person in whom one trusts or revealed by the person in whom one trusts. One takes on that person’s perception of reality, not because one perceives the reality, but because one trusts the person who reveals. This is why “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” (Heb 11:1) for our trust in the promiser or revealer gives us assurance. So “by faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God . . .” because we trust in the God who revealed that he spoke that word. My point is that even the “believe that . . .” is based on trust in a person.

Faith is therefore not opposed to deeds, but requires deeds, or it is not faith. If I am committed to a person, I do what pleases them or what they request, particularly if they are in authority. And if I trust a person, I follow their directions, even if I cannot see the result when I step out onto the diving board or jump off the cliff (as in The Silver Chair in the Chronicles of Narnia). If I will not do that, then I show that my professed commitment/trust/faith is a sham. That is, I show how right it is that, as James says, “Faith without works is dead.” If I profess a creed that says that Jesus is Lord, but will not obey him, then my so-called faith is empty.

Now that does not mean that I am not nervous in taking the risk that is entailed in faith. A friend of mine (Gary Best) used to tell the story of his having been a physical education instructor (while I reduced the story to writing, the book available now is Naturally Supernaturally) and, while watching youth swimming in a pool had his mind wander to faith. He is alone on a diving board over the pool. “Jump,” says God. “But there is no water in it!” Gary protests.” “Right. You jump, and I fill.” You hesitate. “I’m good with water. Remember the Red Sea, the Jordan River, and, Oh, yes, I made the oceans.” Your hands are clammy, you feel a bit sick in your stomach, but you eventually close your eyes and jump – that is faith – and there is a splash as you hit the water. You swim to the edge, climb out, and God says, “Do it again.” As you obediently go back to the diving board, you hear the water draining out of the pool. And this continues. In fact, when you get comfortable with trusting God on the lower diving board, he moves you up to a much higher one, and the cycle begins again.

We can go on and one discussing this topic. There is a common faith because there is a common Lord whom we trust and who has revealed his perception of himself and the universe to us. Abraham trusted God or entrusted himself to God and that was expressed in obeying what God told him to do. Because this is trust in God, he does not need to have full knowledge, but acts on what he knows and eventually is brought to the point that he does have the heir God had said he would, yet still needs that trust to be committed to the fact that that one son would become a multitude.

Initially faith or commitment comes from “what is heard” and “what is heard comes by the preaching of the Messiah.” (Rom 10:17) But even that hearing is a gift from the Holy Spirit and is empowered by the Holy Spirit so that it sinks into our heart. Faith is at root a gift, not dependent upon the persuasiveness of human argument, although the Spirit may use that human argument and give it the power to convince.

Now there are about 372 references to “faith” or “believe” in the New Testament, and we shall not cover them all in this post. But it is important to grasp that this relationship of trust is behind all of the gifts of the Spirit and all of the New Testament signs and wonders. It is not that the person who is healed or who experiences the miracle believes or has faith. In only 1/3 of the healings in the New Testament is the person healed said to have faith; in almost all of the other 2/3 it is Jesus or the one who represents Jesus who is said to have faith or who acts in what seems to be trust in God. Likewise, in the stilling of the storm the disciples definitely do not have much trust in Jesus – Jesus calls them “no faiths” in Mark and “little faiths” in Matthew. But Jesus is calm and collected, for he knows what the Father wants to do, so he speaks a word that would be utterly risky and even nonsense to us, and the storm stills. He does not seem surprised, for he trusted the Father and of course if he acted on that trust in the speech-act what the Father said would happen would indeed happen.

That means that it is not the faith of the person being healed that is important, or even that of his or her friends and relatives – although it is wonderful if that is there, and even a mustard seed of faith is powerful – but it is a question of whether the Holy Spirit has given a calm inner trust to the person who is praying or who is speaking the word of command.

I come from a faith tradition, that of the Plymouth Brethren. There were heroes of faith in that movement, such as George Müller of Bristol (and my own paternal grandmother who worked in a Müller-inspired orphanage in England), and others more contemporary to my time, whom I knew in my youth. I also knew men and women of faith in Germany, including the American Baptist pastor from Chicago, Roland Brown. But the essence of faith in all of these people was that they trust God/Jesus out of a personal relationship. They were, in a sense, contemplatives, for they spent time in prayer, including silent prayer, worshipful prayer, and listening prayer. They knew God and knew when they were in tune with him and when they were not.


This was also at root the theological basis of the early Vineyard movement in the USA (and elsewhere). The music was music of intimacy with God, music that brought one to stillness, adoration, and quietness. There was a hunger to get to know God better. And then as one got to know him, one would or should do what he told one to do, for one had caught his heart of love. In any given situation one should “seek the Lord” until like Jesus one saw “what the Father was doing,” and then with whatever level of trust one had, one could, as directed, step out and do whatever he requested (e.g. engage in the speech-act). One “did the stuff,” such as feeding the hungry, caring for the needs of the poor, healing the sick, proclaiming the good news, and all that other “stuff” that Jesus and his Church did and that he still wishes to do in the world today.

Faith, then, is the basic gift behind all the gifts to act in the world. It is the gift given to the child, who does not get it that he or she cannot “do it” or that “it is impossible,” but just acts in obedience with the parent doing the rest. It is rooted in the humility that one does not have ability in oneself, but that because Jesus has all power, whatever he says one can do.

The gift of faith, then, is more general than gifts of healing or miracles. George Müller started his ministry with faith for evangelism, faith that God would provide funds without his having to ask for them, and faith for healing. Later, after the Brethren movement developed a doctrine of gift cessationism, he no longer had faith for healing, but retained his faith for the other two works of God (which were not mentioned in any spiritual gifts list). In other words, his trust in God and what God wanted to do shifted, but in those areas in which he retained trust, he still saw miracles happen.

Thus the gift of faith is in essence contemplative. One has to spend time in quiet with God until one has dealt with relational barriers and is in a position to hear “see what the Father is doing” or “hear what the Father [or Jesus] is saying.” In other words, one cannot just quote this or that verse (usually out of context) and “claim it” because on thinks that God must do what he said he will do. On the contrary, in the quiet one spends time with God, realizes where God wants one to “step off the diving board,” and then, acting from that trust that the Holy Spirit has put in one’s heart, one can quietly step out in that direction and do whatever it is that the Father wants one to do under the leadership of Jesus. That may be walk on water, or it may be feed or house the poor in a way that demands means that one does not have, or it may be step out in evangelism, or it may be multiply loaves and fish, or it may be speaking a word of healing, or it may be housing and educating hundreds of orphans, or it may be planting new communities of Christians.

What is clear is that whatever it results in, “faith” is trust, it is relational, and it contemplative, and it is Trinitarian. When it loses these characteristics, it becomes either a type of magic or “sound and fury signifying nothing.”

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Prophecy and Teaching, genuine and false

Prophecy abounded in the ancient world around Israel, as well as in the first century world of the early Christians. It ranged from the more mantic and ecstatic prophets, such as the prophets of Ba’al (or, more properly, the Ba’alim, since they were plural), and the oracle at Delphi, who breathed fumes coming from a crack in the earth, to those who read the stars or the entrails of sacrificial animals or other signs built into nature to those versed in the traditions and teachings of the deity and could advise on how to manipulate or please the deity or atone for transgressions. The lines between these were blurry, and often various types of prophets/astrologers/magicians were combined. We often see them in groups, whether in Persia, Babylonia, or Egypt. Every court had its prophets of one type or another, as did temples and other cultic locations.

Israel was no different in its need for and use of prophets, although at its best it only used prophets of Yahweh and rejected augury, “magicians,” and soothsayers. These Yahweh prophets also came in various types, parallel to the nations around Israel. Israel had its mantic or ecstatic prophets; i.e. those singing, dancing (and we would say tongues-speaking), groups that were discussed previously under the heading of glossolalia. Israel also had prophets associated with the pre-royal (Shiloh and Samuel’s sanctuaries, for instance) and royal sanctuaries, north and south, and with the royal court – men like Gad or Nathan spring to mind. In the north Ahab had his court prophets, although for the most part these were Ba’al prophets. The king (and others) needed advisors and knowledge of what God (or in the case of Ahab, the gods) had in mind. (This phenomenon, of course, produced the danger that the prophet would prophesy what the king wanted to hear, since he was paid by the king. There are parallels in priests and pastors to royalty or national leaders today.) There is also evidence that prophetic groups carried on, updated, and exegeted the traditions of Israel. While the priests were charged with teaching (and thus the shrine would become a center of official tradition interpretive and scribal activity), the prophet was the one who showed the relevance of the old traditions today: “you are experiencing this drought because you violated these terms of the covenant, and so now do this as an act of repentance.”

We know the most about Israel’s writing prophets because, well, they wrote, although we can see some of the same characteristics in prophets that did not write. What we see in these prophets in general is usually an initial call-vision (Jeremiah 1, Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1-2, etc.), followed by a series of revelations. The revelations might be visionary, parabolic (some actions that the prophet needed to perform, sometimes without understanding the purpose until after the action was done), inspired interpretation of history (which is why the so-called historical books are called the “former prophets” in Hebrew and which is why Isaiah and Jeremiah both include historical narratives), or oracular (which may be because the prophet heard the oracle from God or that the prophet expressed in poetry the impressions from his God-given altered state of consciousness God). The prophetic books are about two-thirds poetry, i.e. shorter oracles joined together into larger books. The visions and oracles often contain plays on words of various types, or plays between words and visions. That is in part of what makes them cryptic (and difficult to translate – that Hebrew for a “basket of summer fruit” and “end” sound similar, but in English translation one wonders how God gets from “summer fruit” to making an “end” of Israel). They are generally about the immediate present or future of the prophet: Ezekiel prophesies about the fall of Jerusalem that was only 20 years in the future as a maximum, and probably much closer in time than that. Isaiah 7 prophesies about the destruction of two hostile kings within three years or so. Amos 7:17 tells a senior priest that his wife would be a prostitute in the city and he would die in exile, which in a world in which the average lifespan was 40 years would indicate an event not too far distant. Generally, one finds a near-fulfillment if one reads the prophet against the background of the world around them (the failure to do that being one of the pitfalls in interpreting the Hebrew scriptures). Prophets were also intercessors, for they prayed for the people and often were given instructions in response to their prayers. All of this can be checked out in the basic biblical studies literature on the scriptural prophets.

While most prophets we know about were men, there were also some women we know about who were prophets, such as Deborah and Huldah, and in both cases the women were married. We do not hear whether the prophetess Miriam was married. There is no indication that these women were any different in character than the male prophets – they probably had some type of call-vision, and they probably spoke in oracles, for instance, but if they were at all numerous, only a few of them made it into the historical record. Given early and virtually universal marriage in Israel, it is probably that few of the female prophets were part of prophetic bands, although some may have been.

In the New Testament prophecy is at the root of the gifts of the Spirit. The New Testament narrative starts with a prophet (and perpetual Nazirite, like Samuel), John the Baptist, who was not so much the restoration of prophecy (there were several prophets we know of in the Second Temple period, such as one of the Hasmonean kings and Honi the Circle Drawer, so the myth of “400 silent years” is indeed a myth), as the start of prophecy associated with the advent of the Messiah and his resultant rule. Therefore, Jesus was taken to be a prophet for he, like John, called people to repentance, and, like Elijah-Elisha, worked miracles (although virtually none of his were judgment miracles). He also engaged in some parabolic actions, such as the so-called cleansing of the temple. Because he did not fit any one prophetic model, people were confused as to whether he was the reincarnation of a particular prophet or the prophet predicted in Deut 18 or John the Baptist come back to life. But all the guesses were prophetic.

With the advent of the Holy Spirit, prophetic speech becomes rooted in the church. The Hebrew Scriptures are reinterpreted in the light of Jesus (narratively this starts happening in both Acts 1 and 2), the people are called to repentance, and the sentences of God are announced (Ananias and Sapphira, for example). Prophecy is clearly Paul’s most favored gift in 1 Cor 14, even if, because of the mixed nature of human beings, it must be discerned or sifted.

Against this background, what is prophecy? It is at root delivering a message from God in a manner in which God directs. One is “speaking forth,” which can mean foretelling, but usually does not mean foretelling and is more likely to be revealing what actually is. It is often simply telling the person or group how God sees a situation and calling them to deeper commitment. It is not exegesis of the scriptures, the passing on of tradition, for it has an immediacy in speaking from God rather than a mediated speaking from God that is found in laying out the scriptures and tradition. At the same time, the prophet may use the scriptures, reading them at a different level than the exegete does.

Who prophesies? First, in the New Testament all believers are potentially prophets, fulfilling Moses’ wish that all God’s people prophesy, and the Joel citation cited in Acts 2 (in which the scripture is altered so that the prophetic gift is emphasized). Thus, prophecy (in the Christian sense) can be given to anyone who follows Jesus. But there are those in the church who were so characterized by prophesy that they were called prophets. They are mentioned in Acts 13, for instance, and in Eph 4, as well as in 1 Cor 14 (where only two or at most three are to prophesy before there is a pause for evaluation by the leaders of the community). We do not hear of these people having a call-vision and we do not hear of their full-time work being prophesy (then again, most of the Hebrew prophets seem to have had other jobs as priests, or, in Amos’ case, as a shepherd). That does not mean that some did not have call-visions and that none did serve full-time as prophets (although the latter is less likely than the former), but it does mean that the New Testament writers did not feel it necessary to state such experiences as qualifications. It is clear that prophets were still around at the end of the first century and into the second century, not just John of Patmos, the writer of Revelation, but the sometimes-traveling prophets mentioned in Didache 11 and the prophets mentioned in the Shepherd of Hermas. Later, while not called prophets, many of the great saints as well as named monastic leaders exhibit the gift of prophecy. This gift has certainly never ceased, even in groups that believe it has ceased (I know of instances in the Plymouth Brethren movement in which prophetic phenomena were expressed, but, of course, never called prophecy).

How does prophesy come about? It is based in a soul that is quiet and has drawn near to God in a listening attitude, although sometimes God chooses to override our “noise” and speak anyway. Like all spiritual gifts, it usually originates in an impulse from the Spirit, a revelation. This may be an auditory or visual “vision” (and in works like Ezekiel this vision was at times shared by others, at least in part, so it could be external or internal), but it is often a quiet word within. Sometimes it is a heightened awareness of something external, such as seeing a flower and suddenly thinking of it as a parable from God. The same can happen with scripture, when one “sees” something in scripture that may have nothing to do with the context, but is God using the scripture as a means of speaking to the people. It may be a numinous dream, such as Joseph had in Matthew 1 and 2 or Paul had in Acts 16:6. Each of these is a form of revelation, but revelation is only the first step in prophesy.

The next part is the interpretation. What does this mean? Some people have received revelation all their lives but have never realized it was God and so have never paused to reflect on and interpret it. Sometimes the meaning is clear, but sometimes it is not. When Paul was in the storm-tossed ship, the divine messenger he experienced, probably in a dream (although, the case of Peter in Acts 12 shows that one may see a divine messenger at night and think it is a dream, when it is in reality an objective event) gave him an explicit message for those on the ship. But the dream-vision in Acts 16:6 could have been a temptation to leave Asia Minor or a divine call to leave Asia Minor for the Iberian Peninsula. Paul, either due to an immediate inward knowing or due to reflective, listening prayer, took it to mean the latter, perhaps after mutual discernment with the others in his company. I have heard very prophetically gifted people get accurate revelation, but give it the wrong interpretation, for they jumped too quickly to the conclusion of what it meant and did not take it to prayer or discernment with others. That is why good prophetically gifted people are humble, and humility is an important part of delivering prophetic words. “I believe that God wishes me to tell you (whether the “you” be individual or group) . . . Does that make any sense to you?” is a good way of delivering a prophetic word. One may, perhaps, speak with more boldness if a group has prayed through a word and believes it is indeed a word from God, although even then there is the danger of “group think” – groups have their collective prejudices and ideas. It is not just individual people who are fallen and fallible and may mix in “their stuff” with a true word from God.

Part of the interpretive discernment is whether the revelation (perhaps with interpretation) is for oneself or for others, and if it is for others, is it to be shared privately or in a public setting? Failure to ask the “who is it for” question has led to many a true divine revelation being used in a harmful manner. The rule of love is important. Along with this there comes the question of when the word should be shared, which we turn to next.

Finally, there is timing. Some prophesies were to be “sealed up” for some period of time, while others were to be spoken immediately. One sees that in Revelation, where the messages of the seven thunders were sealed and were not to be communicated, but Revelation as a whole was to be communicated to the seven churches immediately, for the time of its fulfillment was “soon,” and the churches needed its encouragement to stand during trial. I had finished speaking at a conference in England and had set the group to praying for and ministering to one another, when, turning from cleaning off the white board I had used, I saw a group on the far side of the room. I had no idea what they were praying about. I had the impulse within, “Tell that man that God loves him.” I protested in my heart, “That is so banal. Everyone knows that truth. Am I making this up?” But the impulse persisted, so I walked slowly up to the group and took in what was going on, deciding that I needed to risk that this was God’s word. At an appropriate break in the prayers, I said, “I have the impression that Jesus wants to say to you that he loves you . . .” (and perhaps I said a bit more). The man collapsed to the ground in tears. “Oh,” I thought, “I guess that was from God.” It was so commonplace. It was clearly not false, but still so common. But I had God’s timing right (for once) and the word struck home like an arrow from a well-aimed bow. Therefore, the one with the impulse that contains revelation and interpretation must also pray that God will give him or her the timing and the means of delivery. Usually the delivery is verbal, but, like Agabus in Acts, it may be acted out (he took Paul’s belt and tied up his own hands and feet and then gave a verbal interpretation).

Finally, as noted above, prophecy needs evaluation or discernment. Paul speaks about this as group action in 1 Cor 14. In the Torah both Deut 13 and Deut 18 give tests for a prophet (Does the message accord with the Torah? Does any predictive element come true? Notice that even if a predicted sign or wonder takes place, the message is to be rejected if it does not accord with the Torah.) In Didache 11 two tests are given: (1) does the prophet live an ethical life; does he live what he teaches, and (2) is the prophet profiting from his prophecy? If he tries to do that, reject him or her and his prophecy, no matter how deep or spiritual it may seem. The same is true in Shepherd of Hermas, Mandate 11, for there it is clear that a prophet should not accept remuneration nor should he or she allow themselves to be used as diviners, i.e. they should not respond to people who come to them asking for a word from God. This was what happened in 1 Samuel, for instance, when Saul goes to Samuel asking about his lost donkeys, after having been assured by his slave that the slave had a bit of money, apparently enough for proper remuneration of a “seer” in those days. Elisha would later refuse a gift from Naaman, setting a standard that continues into the New Testament and beyond: one does not make a living from prophecy; the prophet should not profit from his prophecy. Of these tests, the most important is that of the godly life, which flows through all the literature. If the prophet does not live what he or she teaches, then reject them as a prophet, or reject the prophecy if it is a person who only occasionally prophesies. If the prophet is ungodly, then absolutely reject what they prophesy, for it will be tainted, even if there is a core of truth. Holiness of life is fundamental, for otherwise the whole of the prophetic word is twisted. It may be a true word, but it will be warped in some way.

This differentiates the prophet from the teacher. The elder who labors in teaching is especially to be given a full wage (1 Tim 5:17-18 – the word for wage or financial remuneration and for honor is the same in Greek and double is often used for “full” in Scripture). Prophets are never said to be remunerated. Perhaps this is because teaching and preaching take more preparation and are more time consuming, not leaving time to do other work. Perhaps this is because teaching often required copies of the Scriptures and the like, which were expensive. Whatever the case, the teacher is to be remunerated. It is not that teaching is not a spiritual gift, one associated with knowledge and wisdom. I have often been teaching and, as usual, drawing things out on a whiteboard or chalkboard and realized that I had written on the board something that I did not know beforehand. I would, after the class, copy what I had written on the board to, first, check it out and, second, incorporate it into later teaching. And there are times when I will say something while giving advice to a student or perhaps someone in the confessional, and afterwards will think, “Did I say that? That was so wise. Where did it come from?” Or someone will tell me that something I said changed their life, and I cannot even remember saying it. That is where the words of wisdom and knowledge show up in teaching, but such phenomena do not mean that there is not a lot of preparation and study (and prayer) involved. God often builds on the foundations that have already been laid. (The word of knowledge that is often spoken of in charismatic circles is usually a prophetic word, a visual or auditory revelation that initiates the prophetic person’s approach to the person or initiates a prayer for healing.)

Prophecy is a powerful gift, and that is why Paul valued it so much. At the same time, it can be very abusive. I have heard a lot of junk prophecy (perhaps because the timing was off, perhaps because it was for the person and not for the group, perhaps because it was just junk). I have experienced and seen abusive prophesy. Those tests of life and the discernment of others are very important for it to stay healthy. But when it is healthy, it can build up and strengthen the community and bring people to repentance in powerful ways. In fact, a good deal of what we find in the Patristic writers is probably prophetic. Maybe when we get together after this age, we will get a chance to ask them, “How did you get that teaching?” Then we will know from their answer whether I am right about that or not.

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Glossolalia, the most misunderstood

Recently the Domestic Expression of the Brothers and Sisters of Charity has been focusing on three topics stemming from the Leadership Gathering in April: clustering (getting closer together), vocations (gathering more who are called), and renewal in the Holy Spirit. My previous post of cell group teaching gave an overview of the gifting of the Holy Spirit. This post starts focusing on some of the gifts and graces of the Spirit. Remember that the previous post noted that any of the gifts of the Spirit that are exercised without the holiness that the Spirit leads us into will be perverted and become destructive. Also note that the perspective taken here is basically a biblical studies and historical approach, although with some pastoral observations.


While the lists in the Pauline and Petrine letters are not complete, but are examples shaped to the context of the argument in which they are included, we see clearly that: The Word Gifts are on a continuum: least comprehendible (by both speaker and hearer) to most comprehendible. The diagram below pictures this, and the fact will become clear as we continue.

Glossolalia/Interpretation —–  Prophecy ——  Teaching/Exhortation 


The first word gift, the least comprehendible, is glossolalia, which we encounter, first in an extended discussion in 1 Cor 12-14 and then in Acts 2. It raises a number of questions, which we shall take up one at a time.


First, is it non-language, ecstatic sounds? From a biblical historical point of view, one does find ecstatic non-language group speaking in scripture, but only in the early exilic/ pre-exilic former prophets, who attribute it to an earlier time and context. For example, one finds it in 1 Samuel and 1 Kings in the prophetic bands (the groups are still present in 1 Kings 18:13), which are probably the same as the “sons of the prophets.” While we do not hear of any content to the prophecy in Num 11, it is clear in 1 Sam 10 that the prophetic band stimulated what is normally identified in modern scholarship as glossolalia by energetic singing or chanting, accompanied by musical instruments (1 Sam 10:5). This was the means used to induce the ecstatic experience. The experience could be catching (at least when the Spirit was involved), for in 1 Sam 10:10-11 Saul “catches” it as the Spirit comes upon him and he starts to do the same thing. The experience of singing and processing seems to have included dancing (as in David’s “dancing before the Lord”) and/or laying on the earth in ecstasy (as Saul does in 1 Sam 19:20-24 – notice that Samuel is presiding over something when Saul comes up angrily and then involuntarily joins in), with both associated with “nakedness” or indecent dress (which might simply mean the removal of one’s outer garment, which one wore when out of the house and not doing physical labor, but then falling to the ground and dancing in which one kicked up one’s skirts, might both produce at least flashes of indecent exposure). While this is called “prophecy”, that is because it was the original meaning of a term that later shifted its meaning, for 1 Sam 9:9 indicates that the original meaning of “prophet” [Heb nabi’] was associated with such behavior and “seer” [Heb ro’ē] was associated with what we normally associate with biblical prophecy. Later, perhaps by the exile, the ecstatic behavior drops out of favor, and the term “prophet” comes to mean what we associate with the writing prophets (Elijah – Elisha seeming to form a transition). The term “seer” stopped being used. This type of ecstatic speaking was not unknown outside of the Hebrews, for in 1 Kings 18:26, 28-29 we find Ba’al prophets dancing around their altar (derisively called “limping” by the prophetic author of 1 Kings) and cutting themselves (when dancing alone did not do it) and prophesying (derisively called “raving,” for it was ecstatic speech, not understandable speech). While these references are all biblical, one would see something of the same in Ancient Near Eastern texts describing pagan practices. That, of course, should be a warning, for apparently-glossolalic-type utterances are not necessarily Christian (or ancient Israelite), but the altered states of consciousness can be induced by the same means in many contexts. But this is not what the New Testament means by glossolalia or “speaking in tongues.”


Second, what does the New Testament mean by glossolalia? It means speaking in a language not known to the speaker. This is clear in all New Testament references. In Acts 2 the 120 started spontaneously speaking in languages that they did not understand (since they were probably all Greek and/or Aramaic speakers), but which the those who visited Jerusalem recognized as their native languages (although a traveler would normally speak Greek). In his long discussion of glossolalia (which was being abused in Corinth) Paul in 1 Cor 13:1 groups glossolalia under the rubric of language, human or angelic. And in 1 Cor 14 Paul’s argument assumes that the language can be interpreted (i.e. that it is a language), even if the ability to do that is a divine gift. Finally, as Andrew Wilson points out in Christianity Today, in the Fathers it is also assumed that glossolalia is a language, even if unknown to the speaker or the group to whom he or she is speaking (without the spiritual gift of understanding it). Thus, what the New Testament is talking about and what the Church experienced over the centuries is a linguistic phenomenon, speaking in a language unknown to the speaker, even if the language involved was angelic.


Third, how common is glossolalia? In Acts it is a common, but not unique, mark of the filling with the Holy Spirit and thus part of Christian initiation for many people, with it either preceding or following immediately upon baptism. But in Acts it is notthe only or necessarymark of the filling with the Holy Spirit, nor is it a mark of re-filling with the Spirit even in Acts. Prophecy, joy, and other such expressions are equally marks of the filling with the Holy Spirit. Glossolalia seems to be common, as if the joy and inner experience of the Spirit can only find expression in Spirit-given words, but it is by no means unique. In Acts 19 Paul asks whether the people in a group had been filled with the Holy Spirit upon conversion, so he expected some experience, but he does not ask if they had spoken in tongues. In fact, 1 Cor 12:30 Paul argues that not all speak in tongues (the form of the question with Greek indicates a negative answer, “All do not speak in tongues, do they?”). In fact, Paul’s argument as a whole in 1 Cor 12 is against the idea that ever believer can or should speak in tongues/ use glossolalic speech, for there are varieties of gifts and no one has all of them. Finally, pastoral experience shows that some people who deeply desire to speak in tongues never do, despite prayer, coaching, and other means of “getting them started.” There is the further danger that if one by using “means” induces glossolalic-like speech in a person whom the Spirit is not gifting, since it is not coming from the Spirit, it must be coming from some other source, at best fleshly and at worst demonic.


Fourth, since we are talking about the genuine gift, how is it received? There are situations when someone, during an overwhelming spiritual experience, starts to spontaneously speak in tongues (“like a turkey gobbler” was how John Wimber put it). Yet, while one can pray for such overwhelming spiritual experience, i.e. pray for revival, trying to induce it or making it normative would be unwise at best and dangerous at worst. More often someone, upon reading or hearing about the gift and praying with relation to it, develops a desire to speak in tongues and/or receives an inner impulse to do so. In that case, opening their mouth, giving breath, and starting to speak what “comes to mind” will quietly start the gift. That is, normally the person’s will must be joined to the divine impulse, for otherwise they remain with the longing and never fulfill the longing. Let us make it clear: the person is in no way “out of control.” Thus, according to Paul (1 Cor 14), they can stop and wait for translation (or request that gift) or stop speaking in tongues altogether, for the gift is under the control of the speaker. The key element in this is the inner divine impulse – one feels an impulse within oneself that one recognizes as indicating that it is time to speak in tongues, yet even if the impulse is there, when it becomes evident that there is no translation, there is no sin in refraining. Furthermore, all gifts of the Spirit remain “giftsof the Spirit” and are under control of the Spirit, who can gift or not give whenever he wishes – they are never “my gift” that I own whatever the Spirit may want. I may, due to my personality or how God made me, frequently, even normally, be used by the Spirit in one or another area of gifting, but that do mean that I “own” it. In order to keep the gift genuine, I must be listening to the quiet voice of the Spirit within and resist jealousy if I see someone else being used in that area of gifting when the Spirit is not choosing to use me.


Fifth, Paul says that in a public assembly/ public gathering glossolalic speech should always be interpreted (or the person should be silent). Interpretation/ translation (when it is a spiritual gift) is likewise an impulse to speak, but in the known language. This impulse comes to a person who has understood what the glossolalic message means, not because they understand the language in general, but because they understand this instance by means of the Spirit. Furthermore, it is easy for a person to confuse the impulse to translate with the impulse to speak a word of prophecy on their own. In that case, the spoken message is not connected to the glossolalic message, which is not healthy. It is not healthy because prophecy should be weighed or evaluated by the leaders of the community rather than simply accepted (again, see 1 Cor 14), and if it is masked as the interpretation of a glossolalic message, it may seem authenticated by that fact and therefore not interpreted. This danger is greatest when excitement and emotions are running at a high pitch in a gathering.


Finally, we come to the “so what?” question. What is the significance of or reason for glossolalia? First, it is a sign that God is gathering all the nations (thus Pentecost in Acts 2 has people from nations around the Roman world hearing the good news). The sign is a dual sign, for it is both that God is sending the good news to all nations and that God is speaking to us through people of other languages (i.e. a reversal of Babel). Second, it is therefore a sign of the universality and catholicity of the Church, especially since we have to work together to understand it – some must interpret what someone else says. God breaks down the linguistic/ national barriers to form a universal community. Third, it is also a tool that God sometimes uses to proclaim his good news to people we otherwise could not communicate with. I had a woman in a church I pastored who was a nurse and who had the impulse to “speak in tongues” to a patient who did not speak English. The patient brightened up and started speaking enthusiastically back in their own language. At a pause, the nurse started again to speak in tongues, and so a back and forth conversation ensured, evening when the nurse had finished her duties and needed to go on to see other patients. It was clearly understandable and meaningful to the patient; the nurse had no idea what it was about, other than that she had obeyed God and thought she heard something like “Jesus” and “Christ” in what she was saying. And she never received the impulse to speak that way again to a patient, even to the same patient, whom she next saw on her way out of the hospital after discharge. These things do happen, even if, at least in our culture, they are rare. (Early Pentecostal missionaries sometimes rushed to the mission field without bother with language training, assuming that since they spoke in tongues this would be their normative experience. The results were disastrous.) Finally, it may be used in prayer to express what we cannot express in our own words, although the only scripture (Rom 8:23-24) speaks of our “groanings,” not glossolalia, while the Spirit sights in a way beyond words. But it is true that Christians have lifted up their hearts to God using repeated phrases that keep them focused, such as the Jesus Prayer or the prayers of the Marian rosary, and in the recent Pentecostal and charismatic movements group glossolalia has replaced such prayer. But, of course, such groups assumed that every “Spirit-filled” Christian could “speak in tongues,” which Paul denies. And sometimes, like with the Corinthians, there seems to be the assumption that the non-rational is better than the rational. So, while there are times when a group or someone within a group can only say, “Abba, Father,” (from Rom 8), or “Hallelujah,” or “Jesus,” or some other phrase, and for some this will be an appropriate time to glossolalia, the New Testament says nothing about the use of glossolalia in such instances. In my experience, it is also often manipulative when someone tells a group to lift up their voices in tongues, for it both raises the gift to an importance that Paul denies it has and makes those who do not have the gift feel second-class. And it may make those who do exercise that gift feel manipulated, for the impulse is not coming from the Spirit within but from someone without.

Much more could be said about this topic, but enough has been said to think about. We need to move on to the more understandable gifts of the Spirit, which will be the topic of my next post.




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The Holy Spirit in the Believer

We in the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, Domestic, were encouraged to study clustering (living in closer proximity and more intense community), vocations (calling others to vocations, both domestic and monastic), and the renewal of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. What follows are my thoughts behind a presentation that I made to the St Clare Cell Group on 5/22/2018, or partly made, for we are not finished. Of course, it does not include the material I added in as I made the presentation, for I am always finding places where I have left something out. Given that context, here are my thoughts:

This is a brief discussion of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, which will lead into an ongong discussion of the gifts of the Spirit.

  1. In the post-exilic period of the Hebrew Scriptures we start to get descriptions of the Holy Spirit indwelling an individual, usually a king. There is in fact a fear that the Holy Spirit will be taken from the king, which would be a disaster for him and for the people. That is the original sense of Ps 51:13, while Wisd 1:5 indicates that the Spirit flees deceit. It is also in Wisdom that the Spirit is equated with Wisdom/sophia(Wisd 9:17). The Psalms were originally a royal hymn book associated with the royal shrine in Jerusalem, and of course Wisdom is attributed to Solomon the King.
  2. The last part of Isaiah also describes the Holy Spirit as being in the midst of the people as a whole, as being God’s unseen presence. This is the sense of Isa 57:15; 63:10-11. This collective sense of the Spirit also shows up in the New Testament.
  3. The New Testament views the prophets as having prophesied via the Holy Spirit, but in the Hebrew Scriptures the term “Holy Spirit” is not associated with the prophets. The “spirit of the Lord” does come upon ecstatic individuals in the pre-monarchial period, including both “prophetic” individuals and Saul, but he is not associated with the articulate prophets of the monarchial period. Even in Daniel (which is one of the Writings, not one of the Prophets), while pagans attribute Daniel’s abilities to the “spirit of the holy gods” (Dan 4:5-6, 15, 5:11), Daniel only refers to God as being the revealer, not to God’s spirit. The closest one comes the possibility of the Holy Spirit being a revealer is in Susana (Dan 13:45), when it is said that the “holy spirit of a young boy” was stirred up, but this seems to indicate that the boy’s (Daniel’s) own spirit was holy.
  4. In the New Testament it is promised that Jesus will baptize with “the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt 3:11 and parallels). Notice that this promise is made in the context of John’s baptism in water.
  5. That promise, or at least part of it, is fulfilled when the Holy Spirit is given in John 20 as authority, and that authority is actualized as missional power in Acts 2. These 120 were men and women who had been part of the mission of Jesus and probably should be viewed as having been already baptized in John’s baptism, although in John 4 it indicates that Jesus’ disciples continued that practice, so it may have been Jesus’ baptism. In other words, the Spirit completes John’s baptism of repentance by adding the Spirit-reception that is part of Christian initiation. Also notice that the authority of the Spirit in John 20 is given to the Eleven, not generally to the 120 plus in Acts, as is also true in the Synoptic accounts of Jesus’ giving the Twelve/Peter the authority of binding and loosing.
  6. After Acts 2, the baptism in/ anointing with the Spirit is characteristic of Christian initiation and is associated with baptism in water. We do not know if oil was used in that period, but we do know that laying on of hands was used. When Paul finds people in Acts 19 who do not show signs of the Spirit, he inquires and finds that they had defective faith: they did not know about the fulfillment of John’s preaching in Jesus, they did not know about the Spirit at all, and so they needed baptism into Jesus as well as the laying on of hands for the reception of the Spirit. In Acts 8 baptism into Jesus takes place right after a confession of faith, but only when Peter and John later decide that the calling of Samaritans to faith is kosher do they lay on hands for the reception of the Spirit. They complete the initiation. In Acts 10 the initiation is started by the Spirit, for the Spirit falls on the new Gentile believers before there is any talk about baptism and that is the fact that persuades Peter to order their baptism without any other qualification (such as requiring them to become Jews). That is, the presence of the Spirit persuades him to accept them as true believers withouttheir becoming Jews, an issue that will be discussed in Acts 11 and Acts 15. Paul will in Rom 8 likewise describe the presence of Spirit as normative for all Christians – it is the Spirit who baptizes men and women into Christ, who makes them put on Christ. And this is associated with baptism in water in Rom 6. Likewise, in Heb 6 part of basic Christian initiation is teaching about baptisms (plural – one had to differentiate Jewish washings from Christian baptism) and then there is a reference to the Spirit (and the works he produces) as part of full Christian initiation. In other words, the New Testament views properly initiated Christians as having the Spirit from the beginning; it does not see any need for a second experience, a “baptism in the Holy Spirit,” subsequent to confession of faith/ baptism in water, unless Christian initiation was defective.
  7. While glossolalia is a common experience in the initiation narratives, there are other phenomena associated with the Holy Spirit: joy, prophecy, boldness, peace, etc. None has an exclusive right of indicating the presence of the Spirit nor is any one of them absolutely required.
  8. The purpose of the Holy Spirit’s coming is to make Jesus/God present to the world. This could be looked at in two ways theologically. One would be that it could be looked at as the fulfillment of the divine command, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart . . . and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The one side (love the Lord your God) is the unification of the believers with the Trinity, entering into the divine love-union, and the other side (love your neighbor as yourself) is the drawing of the peoples of the world into this love-union, starting with the unification of the church and continuing to the unification of the peoples of the world, which means extending the love of the Trinity to all people and drawing them into it.
  9. The second way one could look at the Holy Spirit’s coming to make Jesus present to the world begins by noting that the Holy Spirit is the creative Spirit of God, creator spiritus, who was active in the first creation, and is now active in recreating the face of the earth. That, of course, is why in the Orthodox tradition the color of the Spirit (Pentecost) is usually green, for it is a creative color (rather than the red of fire in the Latin tradition). But to do this recreation the Spirit has to do two things: first, he has to enable human beings to overcome their passions (sanctification), which is what we see in Rom 8, building on the previous two chapters in Romans, where the Spirit brings freedom. Likewise, Gal 5 starts with freedom and indicates that there is a passions/ flesh – Spirit contrast, the passions being rooted in “the flesh,” in the uncontrolled limbic system (to use the language of Family Emotional Systems). The Spirit brings the virtues that limit the passions and block their control of the individual, which virtues open the individual to love. Second, the Spirit has to reach out in mission, a mission in which the followers of Jesus participate. Here the Spirit convicts the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. Proclamation in Acts is Spirit-driven.
  10. The tools for this reaching out in mission are gifts of the Spirit, both those Jesus used in his mission (Isa 61:1ff quoted by Jesus in Luke 4 in Nazareth) and the those listed by Paul in 1 Cor 12 and elsewhere.

The announcement of Jesus is an announcement of the gathering of God’s people, the means of which are what would later be known as the corporal works of mercy:

Luke18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,/ because he has anointed me/ to bring glad tidings to the poor./ He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives/ and recovery of sight to the blind,/ to let the oppressed go free,/ 19 and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

But the Spirit is also the Spirit of Wisdom or sanctification, for without Wisdom the corporal works of mercy are corrupted

Isa 11: The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him:/ a spirit of wisdom and of understanding,/ A spirit of counsel and of strength,/ a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord,/ and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.

That is why Paul in Galatians also lists some of the wisdom of the Spirit:

Gal. 5:22 In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ [Jesus] have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires.

11. The Spirit, then, comes as part of bringing the Trinity. The Trinity brings its character as love that uses the various spiritual gifts and graces, but uses them out of virtue, out of love. Separate the two and one has corruption.

12. The more active tools given by the Spirit are listed in Rom 12 and 1 Cor 12, and in Eph 4 and 1 Peter 4

Rom 12: Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them: if prophecy, in proportion to the faith; if ministry, in ministering; if one is a teacher, in teaching; if one exhorts, in exhortation; if one contributes, in generosity; if one is over others, with diligence; if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. [Notice that there is a mixture of the corporate and spiritual works of ministry and that none of the gifts are for the benefit of the individual exercising them – they are missional.]

1 Cor 12: To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledgeaccording to the same Spirit; to another faithby the same Spirit; to another gifts of healingby the one Spirit; 10 to another mighty deeds; to another prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another varieties of tongues; to another interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes. [Again, the gifts are for the benefit of others, but in this case Paul’s point is not that of giving a complete list, but rather of showing that (1) no one exercises all the gifts and (2) that every gift is equally and expression of the Spirit – none is better than the other.]

Eph 4: But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore, it says: “He ascended on high and took prisoners captive;/ he gave gifts to men.” [This is taken from the Greek version, not the Hebrew] What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended into the lower [regions] of the earth? 10 The one who descended is also the one who ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. 11 And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastorsand teachers, 12 to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ. [The point here is that people are given to the church equipped by the Spirit to function in one of these ways, not for their own status or benefit, but for the benefit of the whole of the church.]

1 Pet 4: The end of all things is at hand. Therefore, be serious and sober for prayers. Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. 10 As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace. 11 Whoever preaches, let it be with the words of God; whoever serves, let it be with the strength that God supplies, so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. [Notice that this is in the context of a contrast to the deeds that the pagans do, which makes it similar to Gal 5. Furthermore, a list of virtues precedes the two categories of gifts, which rhetorically stresses the virtues over the gifts.]

Each of these lists is different, for each is shaped for a different context, used for a different purpose. That makes comparing the gifts difficult, for in each case examples are given that that fit the purpose of the author, and in no case does any author try to give a full listing. Furthermore, there is no sharp distinction between gifts: the attempt to define them in contrast to one another is bound to fail, for (1) they tend to be on continua (e.g. wisdom – knowledge – prophecy – preaching) and (2) the authors never define them, since that is not their point; they are illustrating rather than defining.

13. The tools/ gifts are means to an end, not the end in themselves. The end is the building up of the body of Christ, i.e. the unity of the Church and maturity of the Church. The end is love based in prayer. Therefore the gifts are not “merit badges” to be talked about, e.g. “I move in gift a, and gift b, and gift c,” but fluid tools that may come and go, although some seem to characterize a person, probably because they fit with how God has formed their personality.

14. There are times when there is revival, when the Spirit seems to take control, when there is repentance and renewal, etc. At such times the primary mark of the Spirit is holiness of life, total dedication to Christ, a living like Jesus. There are at times experiences that accompany such revival, as Jonathan Edwards pointed out (Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, but more importantly, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections) and as John Wesley experienced in his revivals, among many others. But the reality of the revival is to be judged, not by the phenomena (or, better, perhaps epiphenomena) but by the fruit in holiness of life and deepened devotion. Thus, Edwards defends the “religious affections,” as he calls them, and accepts them, but at the same time he does not view them as a mark of whether a work is or is not of God. In this connection it is important to recognize that the Pentecostal movement (as well as the Christian and Missionary Alliance) and, derivatively, the charismatic movement, grew out of a healing-holiness revival of the late 1800’s. Holiness was at the core, with healing as a manifestation. When any manifestation becomes central or becomes the validation that a given work or experience is of God, then there is corruption, either corruption already or corruption close at hand. The gift is being sought rather than the Giver. The passions are what are desired, rather than seeing them as an epiphenomenon of what often happens when the divine and the human come into contact. And in the end pride comes into play, bringing with it all types of other vices.

15. Most of the great saints, and especially those who were the greatest miracle working saints, simply sought the Lord. The usually preferred solitude to the crowd, humiliation to adulation. They preached and acted in the power of God, because they were obedient to the call of God. But they did not call attention to the phenomena, to the miracles. They called attention to God and called others to holiness, whether by preaching or through the corporal works of mercy. Indeed, they often tried to hide their spiritual experiences or miraculous acts. This is an attitude the modern spiritual movements should emulate.

16. There is not special experience needed for using the gifts of the Spirit other than prayer, both drawing close to God and listening to God. Often a person has been being urged by God to do this or that for years or has been receiving revelations and visions from God for years, but because they were quiet and inward and were not associated with outward phenomena, they have been discounted. Once one views oneself as a person whom God might use and starts paying closer attention in listening prayer, one simply starts to act (with a humble tentativeness at first, to be sure) on what one has always had. Or, as one Christian leader I know put it, “I now keep what I used to throw away.”

17. Therefore, in exploring the gifts of the Spirit there should be two foci. The first is a focus on what defeats the passions and brings the person closer to God. These are gifts (virtues) to be ardently longed for. The second is a focus stemming from the first, what makes the mission of God in the world more possible? That mission is a mission of love, the restoring of the creation, which means the building up of the church both internally and by increasing its gathering of the nations into the kingdom. If that is the mission, then we ask God for the tools to do his work, tools that may be temporary or permanent, tools that others may or may not see. Anything else is likely to become problematic.

In conclusion, I have no desire to revive the Pentecostal, neo-Charismatic, or other revival movements of the past. Their music is not sacred but temporal, their phenomena were those of that time that fit into that context, and their weaknesses do not need to be perpetuated. I do have a desire to seek revival in the present that makes a path, through repentance and ascetic practice, for the Spirit to work. I expect to see similar phenomena to the movements of the past, but at the same time new, for they are in a new context. Furthermore, biblical studies as well as theology has come a long way since 1880’s, the early 1900’s, and the 1960’s-1980’s. We want a fresh and freshly articulated work of the Spirit rather than the warmed-over work of the Spirit in the past. Francis of Assisi was not like the movements before him (e.g. Benedict) nor would the Carmelites of the 1500’s or later spiritual movements be like Francis of Assisi. God is always doing his same-new thing, same in principle, but new in outward form.

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Pentecost without being Pentecostal

It is clear that the church in the first century had an experience of the Spirit. Both Acts and Paul agree that there were a variety of experiential elements to spiritual experience, and they included glossolalia, joy, prophetic speech, healing, and similar experiential elements. I am writing this just on Ascension (or before Ascension in some dioceses) and the gospel reading is the longer ending of Mark, which includes a number of those experiences as coming from the Spirit.

What is also clear is that none of the experiences was stereotyped. Paul indicates in 1 Cor 12 that not all speak in tongues (the grammar of “Do all speak in tongues?” expects a negative answer) nor do all experience any one of the other gifts of the Spirit. But all are Spirit-filled. This was true down through the history of the Church. Not all of the monks in the desert had the experience that Anthony of the Desert had. But they (or at least many of them) were none the less saintly and Spirit-filled individuals. Not all had the conversion experience of Augustine (which was really the end of a long process), but countless were truly committed Christians. Not all had the call of Francis of Assisi. And the experience of St Dominic was quite different. And while Francis of Assisi and Ignatius Loyola were both “converted” after an experience in battle, their paths were quite different after conversion, the one being suspicious of intellectual activity and the other forming his core group at the University of Paris. The list could go on and on.

The same is true in the Protestant world. Luther has his “tower experience,” which depended in part on Augustine, but one cannot demand that experience of others – and perhaps Luther himself carried it too far. John Wesley had a series of experiences that led to his preach tours, but they were not the same as the noisy revivals that broke out when he preached, often scandalizing proper Anglicans. Yet when it came to joining the Methodist movement and being part of the society, it did not matter whether one had had a noisy conversion or a quiet one that came over decades, but rather that one was indeed committed to Jesus. Likewise Jonathan Edwards defended the phenomena of the Holy Spirit in the New England revival and then turned around to argue that none of the phenomena were sure signs that a work was of God. Andrew Murray experience a revival in South Africa that he had been praying for for 30 years, but it was so unlike anything he had personally experience that at first he tried to shut it down. The Spirit uses infinite variety, and one cannot force everyone into the same mold. A friend of mine, a Protestant pastor, was concerned that he had not had the dramatic spiritual experience of his wife, while his wife was concerned about the same thing, thinking that he might lack the Spirit after repeated prayer. But the Anglican David Watson said to them, “[Susie – I am changing the names], you came in like a flood, while [Sam] is a slow leaker.”

However, at the end of the 1800’s in the USA something happened. Charles Finney, a great evangelist, started “using means” to induce a conversion experiences. That is the beginning of the altar call and the “mourners bench” and “tarrying” until one had the “right” experience. That would develop through later evangelists like Billy Sunday and Billy Graham. The altar call, and even the music of the altar call, became stereotyped. The “steps to salvation” were boiled down to a “sinners prayer.” And one ended up with a number of simple methods of “leading someone to Christ.” The “born again” experience became the standard experience of Protestantism. Anyone who did not have such as “testimony” was viewed as not being “saved.” Now I do not for a moment doubt that such experiences did not transform lives and produce committed Christians. I know of too many stories to doubt that. But I also realize that in moving away from Christian initiation as a process that either culminated in baptism and confirmation (as in 4th century Jerusalem and RCIA today, even if it is less dramatic) or grew out of infant baptism (baptism – catechesis as one grew up – confirmation and first communion when one could articulate one’s faith) one produced precisely what Baptists criticized in those who practiced infant baptism – nominal Christians. When infant baptism is not followed by familial and church catechesis and a Christian lifestyle in the home, one does get nominalism or cultural Christianity, often with a falling away from Christian practice. When a conversion experience is the be-all and end-all of evangelistic efforts (although in some ecclesial communities there is also baptism, even baptism right after the “born-again” experience) one likewise gets nominalism. A large percentage of USAmericans identify themselves as “born again” – they have had the experience. A vastly smaller percentage actually go to church or identify with core Christian teachings.

Now I grew up in a Protestant group. However, my mother started reading (King James) Bible to me at age one (due to having a brother five years older) and noted that I soon showed recognition of the stories. I was taken to church from infancy on, and by the time I was five I felt it was important to sing the songs in our small church community. There was no doubt in my mind that what I heard was real. I was totally committed and proud of my parents’ commitment. But about age 6 a well-meaning Sunday school teacher told that class that if any of us had not “asked Jesus into your heart,” i.e. had the experience, Jesus might rapture one’s parents and leave one behind (implicitly to go to hell). Well, that so scared me that I “asked Jesus into my heart” repeatedly every night in my bed for quite a period, never telling my parents or anyone else. I was terrified. But there was no “experience,” and that was natural, for I was already a believer. I would much later, when I needed a “born again” testimony use that event, but as I reflect on it now, there was no status change at that point. Rather, it was unwitting emotional child abuse. I had grown into the faith, the faith of a child, but real faith, and would not have a crisis experience. I would, of course, grow in my faith. And there came a time at age 15 when I decided that I needed to take my faith seriously rather than drift along in the boat that was my family. That is when I asked the elders of our church for baptism, and also asked to “come into fellowship” as an adult male, and would within a year start my preaching career. I had a committed young adult faith. But there was no experience, no crisis, no walking of the aisle, but rather a quiet decision, I think in the privacy of my bedroom. Yet I had to have an experience to tell to others. And the first public talk I gave (at age 8 or 9) was a stereotyped evangelistic address based on “The Wordless Book” (it was given to a banquet for the Bible Club movement, and was also broadcast on the radio). And I would late get training in most of the canned evangelistic methods known to evangelicals. It would only be years later, long after seminary, that it would dawn on me that none of the evangelistic stories or messages in the New Testament asked a person to pray “the sinners prayer” or to “ask Jesus into their heart.”

Now all of that is to lay the basis for pointing out that not long after Finney the healing-holiness movements of the late 19th century broke out and, when those revival movements started having experiences of the Spirit, a development took place that paralleled that happening in the field of evangelism. That is, one had to have a “second blessing” or “baptism in the Spirit,” or one was not “Spirit-filled.” (This was true of many movements, from the Christian and Missionary Alliance to the Pentecostals, for there were a number of movements coming out of the same healing-holiness ferment.) And for some of these movements the one and only necessary sign that this had happened was that one spoke in tongues. So one “tarried,” not to “get saved,” but to “get the baptism.” It did not matter that Paul said that not all spoke in tongues. It did not matter that some earnest believers never “got it.” That was the sine qua non. And perhaps one reason for that was that, as monastic movements have long known, holiness is a process that takes time to develop, while that “sign” could be produced quickly in an emotional event. And often it was not a sign of holiness at all.

The Pentecostal revival would later spread to mainline Protestant communities and to the Catholic Church as the Neo-Pentecostal or Charismatic movements of the various groups. Often it spread with the same insistence on having the experience, although in those latter groups there was not the parallel need to “get saved” first (or at the same time). In other words, “Spirit baptism” was subsequent to a more process-oriented Christian initiation rather than a “second experience.”

I got interested in charismatic phenomena when I was at Wheaton College, but did not pursue it until after my PhD when I was teaching at Bibelschule Wiedenest in Germany. I had picked up a book during my PhD time in England while serving as a military chaplain on an Army base in Germany. I reflected on it for a while and prayed and nothing seemed to happen, but I knew that God wanted me to speak in tongues. In Germany I would sit in the forest above Wiednest and meditate and wait for God to “do it to me,” and nothing happened other than a longing. But in 1975 sitting on a balcony of our apartment in Haus Sauer and reading another book I got a bit of needed instruction and did quietly speak in tongues. No lights, no peak experience, just an “oh, so that is how it is done.” And that same longing brought me (and rather quickly us) into German charismatic meetings that were quiet, contemplative, but in which various gifts would surface from time to time. And they brought us to week-long fasting retreats. Glossalalia was accepted and properly disciplined, but it was not the sine qua non. A deep longing for God and a growth in holiness in the context of community was. But I did see marvelous healings during those days. And I learned that one did not have to be loud and did not have to have a single sign gift in order to be filled with the Spirit and know God intimately. One did not have to be manipulated, and one should certainly no boast that one “had it.” In fact, I cannot remember ever hearing my mentor, Armin Riemenschneider, ever speak in tongues. But he was a deep river of the Spirit.

I would later enjoy louder meetings, such as the National Catholic Charismatic Conference for Priests and Deacons in Steubenville Ohio, which I attended in 1980, just after having been ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church in 1980. Yet while the Spirit was so thick one could cut it with a knife, no one was pressuring me to have their experience nor was I pressuring anyone to have mine.

I would later be involved in charismatic pastors groups in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. It was one such group the first invited John Wimber to Vancouver. That was another exercise in difference. He did not want to focus on gifts, but on God. The early Vineyard music tended to be quiet and intimate, intimate worship music, not message music. It seemed too simple at times, but then it was not designed for professionals, but came out  of home groups. And the actions of the Spirit were not taken as evidence of anything. From Wimber’s point of view each individual had had the Spirit since coming to faith. The point was to draw close to God, to see “what the Father was doing,” and to cooperate with it. So he was nonchalant about healing – it was just an act of obedience to what God was speaking in his heart – and very realistic about people who died. There was no blaming that the person did not have faith, as I had seen some people abused earlier, but just a note that even though thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, and prayed with great faith, that physical healing was not what the Father was doing. “Any prayer that could not be prayed at a deathbed was not worth praying at all.” And while Wimber spoke in tongues, he did not stress it. Nor did one have to testify to having that gift to become a Vineyard leader. And yet many, many were healed and, at least in Vancouver, demons were driven out, not with a lot of show, but with gentle authority (gentle towards the person, that is). And we drew closer to God.

Now Vineyard would take some twists and turns down the years, some of which happened before the death of John Wimber, and some of which John Wimber regretted and repented of. So I write what I write by way of example, not as a means of adulation.

The long and short of it is that God being who he is acts sovereignly and will not be reduced to anyone’s formula or anyone’s box. That is the story of the church in the first century, and the story of various revival movements down the years. They usually start of with someone’s experience, but eventually it gets formalized. There is an experience that one must have, whether in coming to faith or in being filled with the Spirit. And this becomes the formula for growth or healing or revival. But people being people do not always fit this formula, so some are cast aside and even abused (I will leave those stories out, for this is long enough and they would not be profitable). There is only one “formula,” and that is drawing close to God, which means conversion of heart, a deep longing for holiness, and quiet contemplation of the divine. Always loves, which means that he always seeks our good, and in his time and in his own way he fills the rooms in “the interior castle” of the person. And when that happens, phenomena happen. Often the individual is unaware. Often they will not tells stories about what God has worked through them. They want God, not the gifts. They seek the lover, not the stuff he gives them. Those gifts get his work done, so they are used as appropriate. But they are not to be boasted about ir even pointed out. The goal is becoming like Jesus, union with Jesus.

Now that is consistent with Catholic theology. And that is exemplified in the lives of saints down the ages (Catherine of Sienna, Teresa of Avila, and dozens and dozens of others – I try to read the story of saint every day as an encouragement).

When I first met a Vineyard team, this advice was given, “Be an animal (I thought of a wounded animal dragging itself through any obstacle to reach its goal). Seek the Lord, seek the Lord, seek the Lord. And when you think you have arrived, seek him some more.” Now that is 20th century California language, and it is not the language of the Pentecostal or Neo-Pentecostal movements. But it is the language of the Spirit. I think that St John of the Cross or Anthony of the Desert or any number of others would agree. And when one seeks God, when one’s whole object is to be conformed to the cross of Christ, when one finds one’s beloved and so becomes like the beloved, as happens to true lovers, then the Spirit flows and ministry happens. But if one falls into formulas and tries to manipulate God, one may get power, but it is power with a dark side, the dark side of abuses that have dogged the charismatic and many other movements in the church. Rather, seek God and let the Spirit flow.

Enough for now.

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Clustering and Communion

In the recent Leadership Gathering of the BSCD the members were encouraged towards clustering in one form or another. This was one of three themes of Leadership, the other two being an increase in vocations and the need to pass on the experience of the Holy Spirit. But clustering might seem to be the first and easiest to deal with.

In a sense clustering has been part of the church from the beginning. Acts pictures the church in Jerusalem as located within a small area, perhaps with a range as far as Bethlehem and Emmaus, or a couple of hours walk in various directions. The central location was in the city, even if the celebrated Eucharist (broke bread) in a number of houses. That is no surprise, since a room in a large house would not hold more than 30 individuals, even if they were jammed together. A double meal table setup would accommodate 18 unless it was crowded. Thus we could talk about a cluster of house communities that cared for one another, selling investments to support one another, as needed.

Once the church scattered from Jerusalem we find groups of house communities considered a single church. In Rome we can identify 7 or 8 such communities in Romans 15. In Corinth the one church seems to have included groups in the two port cities as well as in Corinth itself. Naturally, it was geography that made the groups, for it would have been difficult to walk from Corinth to either of the ports at night, which is when meetings tended to be held, and each of the ports and Corinth itself were centers of population, such as there were in those days.

Finally, one should note that Paul normally traveled in a team, sometimes larger, sometimes smaller, but he always preferred to travel in a team, and there seem to have been clusters of people gathered around other leaders as well. The lone-ranger type of Christian was not one modeled by Jesus or by his followers after his death and resurrection.

But clustering is demanding. As envisioned in the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, it would be domestic members living in their own homes, whether owned or rented, within a short distance of other members who lived in their own homes, and meeting together in a single cell group. There might also be members who lived in the homes of other members, which would be especially true of singles, but might be true of a small family if another member family had enough room in their home. Ideally this would be in the context of a single parish, so that parish life would reinforce the cluster, and the cluster would reinforce the parish.

Now this is not all that was envisioned, for it is realized that not all members are in a situation in which they can be part of a cluster. Ideally clustering is the end of a continuum with the individual isolated member being at the other end, separated members meeting in virtual cell groups being the next step, physical cell groups (some of which might meet only once or twice per month given the distance members live apart, while others might meet weekly) coming next, and clustering with a much more intense community being the final step. The idea is that, as they are able, members move along the continuum ever closer. In fact, some might feel a call to full monastic community, but that is a separate step.

Such clustering has been part of church history, sometimes with a focus on full communalism, sometimes with more of a focus of living together in the same area. Without noting the cenobitic monastic communities, one should note that villages and even cities were smaller in pre-modern times, so if everyone was a member of the parish church, there would be something of the contact that is being talked about in the cluster. Anabaptist communities took the monastic ideal and made it part of the whole people of God, so often these communities would travel together as they were forced to migrate from one area to another due to prosecution in various forms. And then there are the communities of the revival of the 1970’s that were written about in Dave and Netta Jackson’s book, Living Together in a World Falling Apart. Some of these still exist, some do not. In other words, the clustering idea is not new, nor is it limited to monastic or Catholic groups.

Our own journey with this concept started in 1975, in our year of renewal, for we had been very interested in Christian community and it was because of a discussion about it with a visitor to Bibelschule Wiednest that we discovered the Church of the Redeemer (Episcopal) in Houston, Texas, and their communities. We visited that community, as well as the Sojourners community, the Bruderhof, and the like over the next few years. We were part of a different type of clustering in Langley British Columbia a decade and a half later, for there a group of us formed an association and built 19 townhomes so that we could live in proximity. There were 15 families, and the association purposely retained 4 townhomes to rent at reduced rates to families in need of housing or at a normal rate to families that needed to live in a supportive community but were fine financially.

So one sees that clustering is part of the history of the church and that it fulfills basic human needs for support and fellowship. But it also makes demands. Most of the clusters that I know about grew out of a type of revival. There was an intense encounter with the Holy Spirit that led to deeper commitment to Jesus resulting in a loosening of attachment to property, finances, and goods. This made the sharing involved in clustering possible, for without such Spirit-inspired shared the community will be short-lived. That also means the facilitating or praying for such life-changing revival come first and clustering is an after-effect.

A second demand is that the cluster must have mature and stable leadership. On the one hand, it would be best if it were seen as a ministry or arm of the local parish, for that would give mature oversight from the church hierarchy, if they shared the vision. On the other hand, mature leadership, well-formed leadership, and spiritually and psychologically aware leadership is needed to lead the cluster. This is usually hierarchal, and even a group of thinking-alike elders can act as hierarchal, for one-person-one-vote type of structures tend to break down more quickly. Yet such a group can turn into a TACO (totalist aberrant Christian organization) if there is not outside guidance and oversight. There is a significant literature on this as well.

Finally, the cluster needs to be in a place that is physically and financially viable. Are there enough jobs available to support the group, jobs of the right type? If the group is older, are there hospitals and medical specialists available in the area? If the group is younger, are there solid schools available? Sharing can go so far, and certainly one must encourage it – support the widow and the orphan, take in the immigrant (whatever the government says or does not say), care for the sick, for all of these are deeply biblical values. But for sharing to happen, there must be something to share, so someone must have income, enough someones, so to speak. And in some areas that would be difficult. Or the jobs available might not fit the skills or physical abilities of the potential members of the cluster. Thus clusters work best in urban areas unless, like the Hutterite communities, the members are involved in farming.

These are some of what comes to mind when one thinks about clustering in any of its various forms. More reflections will come later.

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I grew up in a Christian community that emerged during the post-Napoleonic period. It is no surprise that it was concerned about identifying an AntiChrist. Of course such identifications have multiplied over the years – Mussolini, Hitler, a Russian leader, someone who would emerge as the leader of the EU when it had 10 members, and others were all candidates “clearly identified by Scripture.”  Wrong identifications abounded without apologies or retractions when proven false, but what if the issue was the asking of the wrong questions and such a power is right under our noses?

Who Is the AntiChrist

The AntiChrist figure of Revelation (also called the beast) was modeled on Antiochus IV Epiphanes; the Beast is said by John to be Domitian, the 8th emperor (5 Julio-Claudian emperors and 3 Flavians, with Domitian viewed by some in that age as a type of Nero redivivus). Domitian himself has come and gone, but the spirit lives on. Remember that Paul argues in Ephesians that the Prince of the Power of the Air rules in the kingdoms of this earth, and Jesus says something of the same about “The Prince of this world.” My thesis is that we in the USA often fail to think of this as embodied in our government, the inner structure of the land we love.

Now, lest one jump to conclusions, I am not thinking of President Trump in particular. First, this would be just another identification like some of those noted above and so bound to fail, since he too will pass on. Second, he is nothing more than a particularly strident form of the same attitudes that have been characteristic of the USA for at least the last few decades.

It is true that the last election was dominated by emotional thinking (which is really just emotions, not thinking) and the appeal to anxiety and prejudice (i.e. another name for fear) using Twitter and the like. The USA sank to a lower level of differentiation and higher level of anxiety as described by Edwin Friedman in Failure of Nerve (1996). In fact, my knowledge of Friedman’s work made me aware of the likelihood that Mr. Trump would become President before he had the Republican nomination sewed up. The result of that campaign has been increased (increased, not newly appearing) polarization in the sense of black-white thinking and quick-fix mentality and a government characterized by the same emotional thinking. In other words, moving to the terminology of biblical theology, desire rules or the passions rule. And, of course, if one knows the New Testament, when desire or the passions rule, it is not good. It is not the work of the Spirit.
But it is also not new. The focusing on polls and popularity, the fixation on the accomplishments of the first 100 days (quick fix), and highly emotive statements without substantival backup are not unique to this past election, even if they showed up in extreme forms. Nor is the relativization of truth unique. Certainly it was more extreme: something was or is true because a candidate (or President) asserts it is to be true without citing evidence and then there is the demonization of those who dare to check for actual data that might prove or disprove the truth or falsity of the statement (liberal media, as if all media were of the same stripe), and this happens on both the right and the left of the political spectrum. But if your truth is your truth and my truth is my truth, i.e. if truth is relative to the person, is this not just a blatant example of that principle? Indeed, because of this I am not one who calls President Trump a liar (just as I did not think that President Clinton was a liar when he said, “I did not have sex with that woman”) for I suspect that he believes what he says. It is his truth for the moment (and in President Clinton’s case, I know from experience and talking with others that many in his subculture did not consider anything less than penetration “sex”). It is his emotional statement. And as such, he believes it is true, so it is, in such eyes, a violation of his person to subject it to the test of evidence. Extreme, maybe, but unique, no. This has been around in many parts of our society for quite some time.
(Also, there is also the psychological study I read that examined of the sentence structure, wideness of vocabulary, repetitions, and other linguistic evidence in Mr. Trump’s interviews and writings over something like the last 5 years. This demonstrated cognitive decline, which the psychologists who voted for Trump attributed to age-related causes, while psychologists who did not vote for Trump were more likely to attribute to some more than that. But all, not matter what their political affiliation, agreed existed. This would be further exculpatory evidence.)
Rather, I start with the central Christian claim that Jesus is Lord, that in the resurrection God vindicated his claim to be God’s promised anointed king, that in the ascension he took authority over, not just this earth, but the universe. He is Lord. The AntiChrist, then, is any symbol, spirit, or influence different from the authority of Jesus that claims to be Lord, that claims allegiance, and in particular claims ultimate allegiance. As 1 John says, many antichrists have gone out into this world. But they all have a basic characteristic that of denying absolute authority to Jesus and making some other value central.
One central value in the USA is freedom, not the freedom that the New Testament talks about, freedom from the power of evil and freedom to serve God, but the absolute freedom of the individual. In other words, “You shall be like God, knowing good and evil.” This means that you can determine for yourself who you are and what is good and what is evil from your point of view. Who are you to tell me what to do? I am an individual. And certainly this is one characteristic of this age, one that we see whenever the collective good, the common good, is put forward as more important than individual freedom.
But, sticking with John in Revelation, the characteristics of Babylon the Great (in Rev 18} have been touted as positive values by a series of administrations and candidates of both major parties in the USA. The USA has stressed its superior military might that it is not afraid to use around the world; the USA is the one the kings of the earth come to for power/weapons (although there are other candidates rising, which, of course, is what one would expect in a fallen world). Come to me and I will give you military power. That art of the military deal is not limited to the present administration. Come to me and I will support you militarily. The USA is seen as the key to power.
The USA has also stressed economic indexes as the measure of success for some time. What else is the fixation on GDP and similar measures? Nor is this the first administration that has been accused of being too cozy with or run by Wall Street or wealthy individuals. Nor is it the first one to give preferential access to the wealthy (whether wealthy individuals or wealthy corporations, even if it has been more blatant in making the superrich authority figures in the administration and even if there has been more boasting about the wealth of the President. As I said above, this is not the first time that indications of prosperity are used to judge national success (without regard to the prosperity of other nations or even of minorities within the nation). Nor is this administration unique in blaming the poor for their plight. What President Trump has done is to be rather crass and up front about all of this. With a cabinet made up of generals and wealthy business leaders, he has given clear signals about the gods in whom he trusts. Others trusted Mars and Mammon but were at least somewhat more subtle about it. Yet such subtlety is not a Christian value, after all “the snake” was the most subtle of all creatures. Naturally, if Jesus were Lord, other values than these  would prevail.
Now it is not that the Christian scriptures lack a role for rulers. The people of Israel wanted a king to lead in battle, but God seemed to think that the king should lead in creating justice. He should not create a large army, he should not gather wealth, and he should not have many wives, but, as the Psalms point out, he should bring justice to the poor and care for the oppressed. Then God would take care of the king in battle. Nor do the scriptures lack a role for the wealthy. The king is not to gather wealth, it is true. But those who prosper from just and righteous activities also have a place in God’s order, their place being to distribute this wealth for the common good, to be the advocates of the poor, to be the father to the fatherless, etc. Their place is not to heap up more of the same, for that is nothing less than finding security in something other than God. And that is bound to lead to injustice to the poor, such as offering wages on which one cannot live.
So in such values or “gods” is where one finds the AntiChrist. That spirit is alive and well. That spirit is embodied in the much of US culture. That spirit walks freely in the halls of Congress and the corridors of the White House, for that spirit is what promotes military might as security, demonizes minorities, values people on the basis of the amount of wealth they have heaped up, rejects others for failing to make it up the non-existent ladder to success, etc. That is the spirit of individualism, the spirit of a freedom that does not look at its own addictions, the spirit of an anxious protectionism, for, if I am my own god, how can I not be anxious.
The AntiChrist had great success when it manipulated US thought so that religion was said to be private and that a person’s religion should not determine his or her politics. That put Jesus in the private sphere and the AntiChrist in the public sphere. But a depoliticized Jesus is not Jesus at all, for Jesus is Lord, Lord of heaven and earth, not just a Jesus of personal internal salvation.
No, let us not demonize President Trump (or President Obama or any other President or member of the legislature). President Trump may be crasser and more blatant in his expression of this spirit, but let us remember that he is not known for his church-going background or his depth of knowledge of biblical theology. Let us realize that the AntiChrist spirit is rooted in the system and can express itself through any Congress and any Supreme Court and any President. It is only conversion of heart that will break the system. It is only embracing the cross that will undermine the system. It is only making Jesus truly Lord that will bring a true revolution.
And before that happens, Babylon the Great will likely fall.
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed above are those of the author, not necessarily those of the particular church in which the author is incardinated and serves or of that church’s leaders and not necessarily those of the publican association of the faithful to which the author also belongs.
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Advent Greetings 2016



Dear friends and family,

Advent has rolled around again with that combination of reliving the
birth of the Incarnate Word from Mary and expecting his return as universal
Lord, before whom all rulers will bow to receive their judgment.

The year has been dominated by Judy’s heart condition, first diagnosed
in Sep 2015. Her cardiologist is pleased with her progress, but she still tires
easily and there have been ups and downs in her medication. Still, she is alive
and able to serve the Church in spiritual direction and pastoral counseling, so
we have much to be thankful for.

Partly due to Judy’s heart condition Gwen and Brent and their boys
drove down over their spring break to visit – a crazy trip, but one we
welcomed. We were even more thankful in that this is the first time any of our
children have visited us with their families. We are hoping for a family
reunion here next summer.

Judy did go to Canada in July, and Peter joined her for a part of that
visit. She did not do the cross-Canada tour she has done in previous years, but
remained based in Calgary, with Ian and Buffi and children coming to visit her
there. Thus  we did get to see all of our children and grandchildren (ages 2 – 19) during the year.

There were also some ministry trips: in March Peter went to Washington
DC and Baltimore for the annual Chrism mass of the Ordinariate, getting to
visit his brothers and family as bonus. Then Judy went to Little Portion
Hermitage in Arkansas in April for the BSCD Leadership Retreat; she and Peter
returned in late September for the BSCD Gathering, at which we were both
involved in ministry. A day or so later Peter flew to Boston for the National
Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors, a very profitable conference. He had
flown to Omaha in July for the Institute for Priestly Formation retreat for
seminary formators (a lovely mostly-silent retreat). Then in October, just
after NCDVD he and Judy flew to Buffalo and were driven to a retreat center in
Niagara Falls, Ontario, for the annual clergy retreat of the Personal
Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter, at which Judy led the track for the wives
of clergy. Then in late November Peter drove to San Antonio for the Society of
Biblical Literature meeting – he wonders if it will be his last time to attend.

[You can order Judy’s book directly from her – email is below]



But most of the year we have kept busy right here in Houston. Judy does
spiritual direction and pastoral counseling in the office next to Peter’s on a
two-day per week basis. She leads the BSCD cell group out at St Clare Monastery
on Tuesday evenings. Peter is still a priest-in-residence at Our Lady of
Walsingham and Director of Clergy Formation for the Ordinariate, which means he
is handling applicants for both the priesthood (both former Anglican priests
and celibate younger men) and the diaconate (a “from scratch” cohort will start
formation in January). His job finishes when he certifies to the bishop at
their ordination that the Church has found them “worthy” for ordination. He
also supplies in various parishes (and even for a Vineyard church), holds a
weekly service at a hospital (and then takes sacraments to patients on the
floors), and helps at St Clare Monastery. And he has churned out a series of
articles and kept up with editorial jobs for the Word Biblical Commentary. No
grass growing under our feet.

While we would like Judy to “get back to normal” (which one doubts will
ever be the case), we are in general quite pleased with our life here in
Houston. We would like to be more involved in the lives of our children and
grandchildren, but Judy does spend an afternoon or so weekly with her sister. And
so we look forward to what God will do in our lives this coming year – he is always
coming to meet us, not just as our incarnate Lord, but also as our reigning
king, whose promised “well done” is that for which we live our lives.

Grace and peace this Advent and Christmas season,

Peter and Judy Davids

1202 Seagler Rd., Apt 117

Houston TX 77042 USA

713-314-7886 (Peter) or 832-392- 9519 (Judy) or

Nativity 2

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Davids Advent/Christmas Greetings 2015

Advent       Nativity 2           2015

Dear friends and family,

As we in this Advent season anticipate the coming of Jesus (both reliving the anticipation of his birth and looking expectantly towards his return), we greet you after an eventful year. Continue reading

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