Thursday, December 26, 2013

Charismatically Dangerous

My car is where I feel most comfortable worshipping God. Sometimes it can be quite disappointing worshipping God, particularly, in a Chinese church setting. We are an ethnicity of shyness and rigidness. The sphere of our body is our comfort zone, and to lift our hands above our heads while singing of worship is to break our hands through our comfort zone. But when I’m all by myself in my car, I feel most free and worriless as I sing out loud of worship, and wave my hands in an old school disco style without worrying what others might think of me.

My worship time in my car reminds me of what it’d be like in Heaven, where we can feel free to praise God and adore Him in open expressions of our hearts, and where no one would see us as lunatics or call us freaks. And this is one of the strengths of the Charismatic church. Even as we are easily caught up with everything material in this world, through the passionate singing of worship, the speaking of tongue, and the practice of miraculous healings, signs and wonders, the Charismatic church helps us to set our minds on things above. It reminds us of the present work of the Holy Spirit, and moves us to see beyond material.

However, as we speak of Christian spirituality, does “being Charismatic” equal to “being spiritual?” Are Charismatic Christians necessarily spiritually mature? Why do we sometimes find so little “spiritual fruit” in even a Charismatic person’s life? Why does the powerful touch of the Holy Spirit seem to exist only at church on Sundays? And why is that even though we could speak in tongues and heal with divine power, we find it hard to bear witness for Christ with the ways of our lives?

The problem, I believe, is that sometimes we forget the work of the Holy Spirit is so much more than the outward performances such as speaking in tongues and divine healing; and sometimes we forget that Christian Spirituality is not only for our own good, but as means to bring blessings to all God’s creation.

Charismatic Christianity’s emphasis on speaking in tongues has its root in the Pentecost experience portrayed in Acts. Speaking in tongues is so significant in Acts, because it demonstrates the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise of baptism with the Holy Spirit; and it also signifies the arrival of salvation to the Gentiles. HELPS Word-Studies defines the Pentecost experience as, “to demonstrate the arrival of the new age of the covenant,” namely, to mark the beginning of the New Testament.

Immediately after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the first thing the apostles were empowered to do was to preach about Jesus to foreigners in their languages that the apostles had never learned. Indeed, as Jesus foretold, the most prominent purpose of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is to bear witness for Him. Except to verbally preach about Jesus, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Christians are empowered to bear witness for Jesus in many different ways.

In John 13:34-35 Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love one another, I would say, is the most powerful witness for Jesus. For this reason, the Holy Spirit assigns different spiritual gifts to different Christians to help build up the Church – the body of Christ, and to promote Church unity.

That is why Paul encourages public practice of prophecy over speaking in tongues, because, “For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort. Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church.” (1 Corinthians 14:1-4)

In Paul’s epistles, the tongues could mean both foreign languages – like that in Acts, and the angelic language which only God could understand. That is why Paul discouraged public speaking in tongues unless with interpreters of tongues present. However, among most of the modern Charismatic churches, though the ones speak in tongues are many, the ones interpret the tongues are very rare.

During Jesus’ earthly ministry, He healed the sick and demon possessed out of His compassion for mankind, and as means to draw people to God. After His ascension, this work of healing is carried on by the ones gifted with divine healing. Divine healing is to be done out of our compassion for others, by the name and power of Jesus through prayer. And miraculous healing inevitably bears witness for Jesus. Likewise, God also equips countless faithful men and women to bring healing and witness for Jesus through medical practices. Both are wonderful testimonies for God, and one is not to demean another.

Most importantly, now that we have the Holy Spirit lives in the innermost of us beside our spirits. He knows us better than anyone else, and even better than ourselves. Even though our hearts are deceitful above all things, we could fool ourselves, we could not fool the Holy Spirit. That is why we must rely on Him for our spiritual formation. Spiritual formation, or so called the sanctification process, is the process to become Christ-like. The ultimate goal is to become perfect as Jesus is perfect. Spiritual formation is not only how individuals may be freed from all sorts of spiritual and emotional bondages. The more we become like Christ, the more we are able to love others with God’s love, and the more the Church may be unified.

Though spiritual practices such as speaking in tongues and divine healing are particularly helpful for creating a charismatic environment, which could remind us of the present reality of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we must not stop at merely the pursuit of the performances of spiritual gifts. As Paul urges us when talking about spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:31, we should “eagerly desire the greater gifts.” And the most excellent among all spiritual gifts, as Paul unfolds for us in 1 Corinthians 13, is love. And Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control should be the fruits of the Spirit that Christians are to be recognized and known for.

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