Some of you are familiar with my testimony as it pertains to my theological shift in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s regarding the person and work of the Holy Spirit. I learned so much incredible theology from those who poured into my life after I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord in 1994. As a matter of fact, I still hold to the vast majority of what I learned in those early, formative years as a happy Baptist. I consider those truths to be foundational to who I am as a Christian and, for the most part, untouchable and permanent fixtures in what I believe about God and His Kingdom.
A year or two after I was saved, however, I began to notice that I would hear things from preachers and teachers that I could not find sufficient Scripture to support. Trained to be one who clung to the Bible, it was an automatic spiritual reflex for me to search the Scriptures to find out if what I was being taught by others was true. Sometimes, it was simply a matter of a preacher or teacher placing their own nuance on a biblical theme. Other times, it was their clear and aggressive overstating of something in the Bible without any regard to the context that surrounded the thing actually being taught. Many times, I found an apparent unwillingness in those preachers and teachers to dig down deeply into tough-to-understand statements in the Word of God. I remember one man giving a thirty-second response when I asked him to help me understand the doctrine of election! Thirty seconds of as denominationally canned statement to one of the deepest mysteries in Scripture. So many of those former preachers and teachers seemed to gloss right over verses that my hungry heart was crying out to understand.
There was no other area more often ignored, misrepresented or denominationally-contextualized than the passages in the Bible which taught about God the Spirit. I was so confused by the ongoing silence about all-things-Holy-Spirit. In 1997, I began a personal quest to study all that I could in Scripture about the Person of the Spirit, the ministry of the Spirit, and the gifts of the Spirit. It changed my theology about Him forever. A short time later, it changed how I lived and ministered.
During that 2–3-year time period of intentional study, I frequently found myself with the heavy awareness that I had been taught wrongly by many concerning God the Spirit. While these were precious people in my life whom I loved and still do, they were theologically inaccurate and blind to their denominational loyalties as pertains to pneumatology – the theology of the Holy Spirit. I didn’t feel deceived by them. I felt that I had been caught in the same gears of tradition which had caught them. My loyalty to the Bible was not allowing me to sit idly by, so I found myself in deep conflict.
By the time the year 2000 was complete, I no longer supported at all the view that the gifts of the Holy Spirit had ceased. Though I was taught this false doctrine in detail and preached it myself more than once or twice, I privately repented to the Lord for taking man’s word over His Word. My theological shift was complete by that time, and I no longer considered myself a cessationist. Now, I was also in a dilemma because my entire world was Baptist. My pastor and boss was a cessationist. Pretty much everyone I knew disavowed the validity of supernatural Holy Spirit gifts still being available. Our church bylaws at that time even contained statements denouncing the belief that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were still active and available. It was not uncommon for preachers in our circles to take cheap shots at Charismatics from the pulpit. I did it myself once, even after my views had changed. It is the single most regrettable moment I have ever had in my preaching ministry because I was being both unkind and untrue to my own convictions. As far as I know that particular message on the gift of tongues is the only time I consciously hardened my heart to suppress what I truly believed. I caved in to a fear of man that day. I grieved the Holy Spirit, and later committed to never do it again.
Interestingly, though my theology had shifted concerning the Holy Spirit and His gifts, I had not yet had any kind of personal experience that I would have labeled supernatural. I believed in the gifts of the Spirit being available, but it all rested in the realm of the theoretical for me due to my lack of personal encounter with God. All that changed in February of 2003 when I sat in my new office as Senior Pastor of the church in which I had been spiritually raised. The Holy Spirit sovereignly encountered me that morning (and the next morning) in my office and changed the landscape of my life and ministry. Speaking tongues was not merely a theological possibility, in that moment it became for me a functional actuality. Nothing would ever be theoretical again. It had gotten real up in here!
Over the next several years, I struggled immensely in what to do with my private experiences with the Holy Spirit and how to lead a ministry that, on paper, opposed the very One who was becoming so precious to me. In the end, I dialoged with my fellow church leaders and shared with all of them my views. It was not exactly warmly received as you can imagine. God led me to allow the Scriptures to speak to the matter, and I preached a twelve-message series on spiritual gifts, addressing both what the Scriptures say about the gifts of the Spirit while also debunking the teaching of cessationism. I asked the listeners to discipline their minds and hearts so that we only framed our beliefs up by God’s Word, not denominational expectations. So many people came alive. Others came unglued! In the end, I offered my resignation to the elders of the church which was refused by them. Instead, two of them resigned, left the church and what followed was an exodus of about one-third of the active congregation over a six-month period. I want to be accurate here: I do not now blame anyone for leaving. God was making a shift in our congregational life, and He was clearing the way for us to become people who held radically to the Word of God, no matter the personal cost. It was, at that point in my ministry timeline, the single most painful season in my Kingdom works. It also became the most glorious because the chains of man’s religion had been burst from off of me and I felt completely freed to leadwith no anxiety of fallout.
I always have much more to say on these things, and I even wrote a book on my experiences which provides much more detail and understanding about how God led me from human religion to holy release. For now, I would just like to submit some verses below from our New Testament. I would like to ask all Christians to honestly assess if they are obeying these commands from the Word. These are biblical commands, not suggestions. These were normative expectations in the early Church. Prior to 2003, I had lived my Christian life avoiding and redefining the simplicity found in these verses. I made them to mean something other than what they actually mean. I had to, because I was trained to believe that the Holy Spirit does not work today like He did when these commands were originally given. Now, I see that my eyes had been closed by human teaching instead of being opened by the Word and the Spirit. I am so grateful that He would not leave me where I was. I believe He is doing the same thing in many of your lives. Please ponder these verses and ask yourself if you are aligned with them. Note also whether or not your default instinct is to explain these verses away like I once did. If that is your response to them, honestly assess what biblical grounds you have to do so. Jesus is Lord, and He sent the Holy Spirit to us so that the work Jesus began would continue until He comes again. May we sense Him calling us to press in to God the Spirit. We cannot make it without Him.
“And when Jesus had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” – John 20:22
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” – Galatians 5:16
“If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” – Galatians 5:25
“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” – Ephesians 4:30
“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” – Ephesians 5:18
“…praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication…” – Ephesians 6:18
“Do not quench the Spirit.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:19
“But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit…” – Jude 1
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches…” – Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22