Two Streams Converge: Series: How Broad Is The Kingdom Of God
Luke 4:1-14 January 29, 2006
Gasoline and a spark. Car keys and a 16yr old. Vinegar and baking soda. Stephen Harper and Paul Martin. Sometimes, when you put two things together, the end result can either be messy and destructive, or can be harnessed for great good. I think the same is true of what Richard Foster calls the “charismatic, or spirit-empowered stream” and the “evangelical, or word-centered stream”. Over the past three weeks we have intentionally planned our worship services to explore those two streams. Two weeks ago we brought the two together in an enthusiastic way; last week we led a very word-centered service, today we led a charismatic service. What end result will we see from bringing these two together?
Lessons From Church History:
In the very early years of the 20th century, God started something new. God did it in the US, in a place called Azusa Street LA, through a black preacher named William Seymour. For three years, 3 times a day, 7 days a week there were worship services that united people of all races, that were full of exuberant worship and accompanied very noticeably by demonstrations of the power of God such as speaking in tongues. Most church historians point to that revival as the beginnings of the Pentecostal movement – a movement which now numbers more than 523 million people world-wide, compared to 210 million evangelicals, and which sees anywhere from 10%-20% annual growth. (from David A. Barrett, World Christian Encyclopedia, 2001, p 4, accessed at http://www.bible.ca/global-religion-statistics-world-christian-encyclopedia.htm).
Although the “Charismatic Stream” has existed throughout church history, the story of Christianity in the 20th century is largely the story of the Pentecostal movement. And not just in Pentecostal churches – the movement has had a very significant impact on the rest of the church as well. The shift in musical style in the Christian church finds roots in the charismatic movement, as does the emphasis on the Holy Spirit, on spiritual gifts, and on the power of God to be experienced in our daily living. Much of this shift has happened in our lifetimes.
About 8 months ago, I had coffee with our Area Minister, Sam Breakey, and was sharing some of the things going on here at Laurier. As I talked about the various changes, and our struggle with these, Sam made an insightful comment that has stuck with me: “It isn’t that Laurier is changing; the entire church is changing.”
So What Do We Do With It?
We turn first to Scripture. More specifically, to the person of Jesus. Luke 4:1-14. Jesus has just been baptized by John, and here is what happens next:
“1Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
3The devil said to him, "If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread."
4Jesus answered, "It is written: ’Man does not live on bread alone.’"
5The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And he said to him, "I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7So if you worship me, it will all be yours."
8Jesus answered, "It is written: ’Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’"
9The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down from here. 10For it is written:
" ’He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
11they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’"
12Jesus answered, "It says: ’Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’"
13When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
14Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside.”
“Filled With The Spirit”
Luke makes sure that we understand something right at the beginning – Jesus was quote “full of the Holy Spirit.” And while in the desert, Jesus was “led by the Spirit”. Twice in the first verse – obviously trying to make a point! This is the heart of the charismatic stream – a desire that all of us might be like Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit. And despite all of the concentration on seeing “supernatural signs and wonders” as the evidence of the fullness of the Spirit, even William Seymour on Azusa Street preached and believed that the highest evidence was love – not tongues or healings or those types of spiritual experiences. When we look at Jesus, that is the most important result that we see. Luke ends the story with the same point – at the end of the temptation, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit.” (vs 14).
Filled With The Word
With that important context, let’s look at the three temptations. First the devil attacks at the place of felt need – after 40 days of fasting he tempts Jesus to prove Himself by turning a stone into bread. Then the devil attacks at the point of desire for an easier way, and offers Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world” in response for Jesus’ worship. Finally, the devil attacks at the heart of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, “if you are the Son of God…”, and is even more devious by quoting Scripture at Jesus.
Every time, Jesus’ response is straight from the Word of God. Here we see the Evangelical stream at its best – we see truth and we see Jesus standing on truth and speaking truth and exposing the lies and deception of the devil with the truth of God. Notice that Jesus did not challenge the devil to a fight – He didn’t say “By the power of the Holy Spirit I command you to leave me alone!” – He didn’t engage in some type of power encounter. He quoted Scripture: first Deut 8:3, “He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”; then Deut 6:13, “Fear the LORD your God, serve him only.”; and finally Deut 6:16, “Do not test the LORD your God.”
The Two In Harmony
In Jesus, we see these two streams brought together in perfect harmony. We see that it works. That in the Kingdom of God there needs to be not animosity, not competition, but rather unity and harmony and cooperation and interdependence. And that is one of the things that I love about Laurier – we can make this work. Throughout February we are going to keep looking at the other streams and talking about them and experiencing them, but as I look around right now, as I listen closely to what people are saying and feeling, and as I look at our history as a church, the biggest challenge is to unify people who would have a strong tendency towards one of those two streams, the charismatic and the evangelical, and for us to share life and worship and ministry together.
I see it like gasoline and a spark. Under the wrong conditions, it is destructive and painful. But under the right conditions, like inside your car’s engine, it is an incredible power to move our church forward.
You Can Blow It Up
Unfortunately, there are far more “wrong conditions” than “right conditions” for the spark and gasoline. It is hard to get it right, hard to build an engine that will work and be safe and move the vehicle. The same is true in church. It is too easy for a person who has had a “charismatic” experience to believe that others all have to have that same experience or else somehow they are immature. It gets so easily twisted – in our right and good excitement for what God has done in our life we very easily and quickly cross a line into judging others based on whether or not they have experienced the same thing. And out of our excitement we often speak in ignorance of what others actually have experienced, and we jump to conclusions like “Steve was quiet while we prayed in tongues, he must be weirded out by it because he’s never seen anything like that”.
Likewise, it is far too easy for a person who is firmly of the evangelical stream to look on those in the charismatic and write them off as a bunch of fluffy, emotional, ungrounded and immature people who never read their Bible. It is easy to ignore someone that claims to have heard God speak, or even to say “how dare you claim to have heard God speak to you like that!” Sometimes it is even more subtle – we look at the other with distrust and imagine an agenda and imagine all sorts of things that we think the person in the other stream is thinking about us, when in fact they are not thinking about us at all!
And where those things happen, it is sin. And it is destructive. Specifically, it is the sin of disunity. Often it includes the sin of gossip, and of pride. And perhaps most clearly, it is the opposite of what Paul calls us to in 1 Cor 13 – “4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”
Notice especially verse 8 – prophecies and tongues will disappear, and so will knowledge. The only thing that “never fails” is love.
Two Streams Converged
Perhaps we have some repenting to do as we examine our role in the coming together of these two streams here at Laurier. As I examined my heart with the Holy Spirit on this issue, I felt God’s affirmation that I have for the most part remained balanced, and have to the best of my ability loved equally and celebrated new insights into Scripture just as much as charismatic experiences. I have not been as proactive in some of these things as I should be, but I felt encouraged by God that my heart’s deepest desire is for God’s Kingdom to come in His way and in His time and in His fullness. I challenge each of you to do likewise – examine your heart under 1 Cor 13, and if you need to seek forgiveness from one of your brothers or sisters in Christ then do so – that you might be forgiven and free.
It is not enough to tolerate another stream. It isn’t even enough to leave others to find and worship God in a different stream from you. Love calls us to more than that. Love calls us to cross over and sit with a brother or sister in Christ in their stream, to with joy sacrifice ourselves for their worship and growth, to embrace their heart and desire and leave nothing undone that might encourage them in their growth in Christlikeness. And to, all the while through, be patient, kind, and always protect and trust and hope and persevere.”
The Power of Two
Many years ago I was traveling back from Calgary with Joanne and two or three other women who had just attending a New Wine conference in Lethbridge, where they had participated in a wonderful weekend which would solidly be described as part of the charismatic stream. I had been in Calgary meeting as part of the Board of Directors for our Bible School – certainly part of the evangelical stream! As we drove, the women were talking about their experiences, sharing about what they had seen and felt God do, but it kept only going so far and then someone would say something like, “poor Steve, we’re probably blowing his mind…”, or “better not tell Steve about that part”, or “that’s too weird for Steve”, or some such thing.
I listened for a while, but as this continued I finally found a place to interject and said, “you know, sometimes when I’m praying by myself I find myself praying in tongues.” There was dead quiet for a moment, as that sunk in. What happened next I’ll never forget: one of those women turned around and looked me straight in the eye and said, “I owe you an apology. I made assumptions about you, and I can see that they are wrong.” I smiled and said “apology accepted, I took no offense.”
What happened there bridged the gap. I am still an evangelical; I still might choose to go to a board meeting to decide the best way to disciple young people into Christlikeness rather than a conference on how to worship in tongues. But what happened in that vehicle was that love grew and won out, that two streams found harmony and value and respect. And we all ended that trip with our love stronger, our understanding greater, and our ability to work side by side in the Kingdom of God multiplied.
More Conversations Needed
We need more conversations like that. More face to face interactions, where we see that the assumptions we have made about one another are wrong and destructive. I know this is a high call, but I call you to love others enough that you would initiate those conversations, listen to the stories, hear the hearts of others in our community. Then share yours.
That is where we will find unity, and that is where we will find power to be what God has called us to be together. To that end, let us pray.