Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Filled with the Spirit

This weekend our Leadership Team went to a conference in Tacoma hosted by the church of a pastor friend of mine, Bo Noonan. The church is New Communities and was planted in Tacoma 4-5 years ago as a part of the New Frontiers family of churches. The conference was called "Reformed, Charismatic, Missional..." an intriguing title to say the least. We attended for two reasons; One, I always try and take our leadership team to at least one conference a year to challenge us, develop unity and spawn creativity. Second, I didn't want to take everyone to a conference where we already agreed with and knew everything that was talked about. To be honest, as a Southern Baptist born and raised, the "Charismatic" in the title scared me and intrigued me the most. I knew it would step on our toes a bit and force us to look at Scripture. Boy did it ever?

Terry Virgo is the founder of New Frontiers and he was charged with speaking biblically on the filling of the Holy Spirit. He did the most amazing job of taking a biblical look at what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit. He began in Acts and walked through several different examples. Beginning of course with Acts 1:8 he pointed out that the believers were filled with the Holy Spirit in a unique way that day. He noted that, "prior to the day of Pentecost, Jesus told his followers to "wait" on the Holy Spirit. After Pentecost, no one was ever told to wait again." In other words, as believers we all have free access to the Holy Spirit's indwelling power. But, the question is do we all receive the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation, as I have always believed and taught?

That led Mr. Virgo to take us to Acts 19:2. Paul asked the "believers" at Ephesus, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" "And they said no, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." That is a very interesting response to focus in on for someone like me, who has always believed that the Holy Spirit comes at salvation. How could these believers, recognized as believers, not have the Holy Spirit?

Mr. Virgo also walked us through several other passages. Acts 9 for instances shows us that Paul was "saved" during the famous supernatural experience he had with Jesus on the road to Damascus, but it was not until several days later that he received the Holy Spirit.

However, Mr. Virgo also pointed out another passaged that showed another way in which the Holy Spirit came on believers. In Acts 10:44 we see that as Peter is preaching the word to the Gentiles that the Holy Spirit came upon them. In this particular passage the Holy Spirit came as the the people were hearing the message. However, that is clearly not always the case.

So the question remains-- are we "filled with the Holy Spirit" at the moment of salvation or is that something that happens later? The answer... I haven't figured it out yet!!!

Based on the Scripture I've looked at so far it seems that there is not one way or moment that the Holy Spirit comes but it is very possible that a person can be saved without being filled with the Holy Spirit. However, the Scripture also seems very clear that there is no reason not to be filled with the Holy Spirit. All we have to do is ask and believe. Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 1 that it is his responsibility to fan into flame the gift that he has been given. Mr. Virgo contends that this gift is obviously the gift of the Holy Spirit. However, many would contend this gift refers to specific spiritual gifts. If this does refer to the gift of the Spirit then it would lead me to believe we can have the Spirit but we can quench the gift through a refusal to use the power of the Spirit. I also notice in the beginning of Acts that Peter is filled with the Spirit at Pentecost but then again in Acts 4:8 he is "filled with the Spirit" before he speaks to the court of the High Priest. Does this show we can be filled with the Spirit multiple times? Tough questions that need to be asked but are obviously not easy to answer.

All this and we haven't even gotten into speaking in tongues, a topic most of us think of immediately when we hear the word charismatic. One thing I will say is that when we read of conversion experiences in the book of Acts they are not always followed with speaking in tongues, but it is undeniable that they are "often" followed with speaking in tongues. It's something that as a Southern Baptist I can't ignore. I don't want to be content with being faithful to my Southern Baptist roots... of which I am very grateful... but I want to be faithful to Jesus through my faithfulness to the Word of God. There is absolutely a charismatic... Holy Spirit filled... element to the Christian life that far too many of us have ignored for far too long.

I don't have it figured out but I'm not ignoring it anymore. I believe in the Holy Spirit and the power that he brings. God promised him to us for so many reasons and I want to use his power and filling to the fullest measure for God's glory. Ask yourself this question: have I ever looked objectively into what Scripture says about the filling and purpose of the Holy Spirit or has my opinion been shaped by those who have gone before me? I've been challenged to seek the Scriptures for answers. Will you do the same?

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