I’m not one to scream persecution. I think too many Christians in the West do so whenever they don’t get their way. The local school district won’t remove Catcher in the Rye from the middle school bookshelves, and some Christian parent pulls out the persecution card and sues.
Meanwhile, in some parts of the Middle East, they cut off your head.
Doesn’t seem quite the same.
But cultural and societal persecution is coming quickly to the West. You can’t have a socialist government without curbs on religious freedom. One day you can call sin sin, and the next you get tossed in jail for the same. People who keep crying for a nanny state can’t fathom what gets lost in the mix. Or else they can and just don’t care.
Which is how I ended up reading about the UK homosexual, millionaire couple who sued the Church of England for refusing to marrying them in a church wedding.
Expect to see more of that. It’s no longer about rights but about breaking the back of the Church, which was the agenda all along. Besides, the cool, hip sinners have already moved onto demanding polyamory rights. Slippery slope may be a logical fallacy, but it’s a societal reality.
I write all that as the setup, because this post is not about text but subtext. But then this is Cerulean Sanctum, and it’s usually about reading between the lines.
The uproar in the UK lawsuit is only partially about the Church being legally compelled to marry homosexuals. It’s only partially about the reality that the Church of England took “tithes” from those men for years and sort of looked the other way while doing so.
Instead, I want to talk about the Holy Spirit and this situation.
We Christians believe that the Holy Spirit indwells each Christian believer. That’s bedrock doctrine. By definition, the indwelt believer IS the Church.
If we know that these two men have sat Sunday after Sunday in a supposedly genuine Christian church comprised of self-labeled Christian believers, how is it that the Holy Spirit has had no effect on them at all?
“Whoa, Dan, how can you be so sure the Holy Spirit has not worked on them?” Well, I think a lawsuit against the church/Church they’ve claimed to attend for years to compel it to do something it has believed for 2,000+ years is wrong is a pretty good indicator.
This leads to two troubling issues:
1. Many sects within the Christian Church believe the Holy Spirit cannot be resisted ultimately.
2. If these men are surrounded by self-proclaimed Spirit-filled Christians every Sunday for years, yet there is no change in their lives, it must be considered that the people surrounding them each Sunday actually do not have the Holy Spirit living in them.
The two issues go hand in hand.
Regarding the first, I have always struggled with the concept taught in some church sects that the Holy Spirit cannot be resisted when He chooses not to be resisted.
First, we know that the Holy Spirit CAN be resisted:
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you….”
—Acts 7:51 ESV
The Christian martyr Stephen made that accusation while filled with the Holy Spirit moments before he was stoned to death. Given that, I think we can assume the theology is right on the mark.
Later in the New Testament, we read this:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
—2 Peter 3:9 ESV
I’ve never found a satisfying response in light of 2 Peter from those Christian sects that say the Holy Spirit cannot be resisted ultimately. God desires that all should reach repentance. What part of all is debatable here? We know that not all do reach repentance. What then does that mean in light of Acts 7:51?
But let’s defer to the side of ultimate irresistibility and look at the second troubling issue. In fact, let’s push it to its logical extreme.
If a homosexual couple can spend years within a church filled with believers who have the Holy Spirit in them, should it not be assumed that the Holy Spirit is wherever those believers are? You would think. So, what would it mean if these two men, surrounded by hundreds filled with an irresistible Person of the Trinity, do not eventually surrender to that irresistible Person?
Doesn’t one begin to wonder if that supposedly Spirit-filled crowd is in fact housing the Holy Spirit at all?
That is the issue that troubles me most.
Every Sunday we have many who sit amid supposedly Spirit-filled people and hear a supposedly Spirit-filled presentation of the Spirit-filled Gospel delivered by a supposedly Spirit-filled leader within the church and the Church, and yet they seem to resist that supposedly Spirit-filled assault with little or no effort.
Does that compute to you?
It doesn’t to me. When we look at how remarkably the Church grew in its undoubtedly Spirit-filled nascence and compare that with today, something must be off. We can talk about the fact that the bloom is off the rose with regard to the Christian faith, and that it’s not a new phenomenon to people, so its novelty isn’t there anymore, but the Holy Spirit is the same, isn’t He?
How then can people sit in our churches for years upon years and NOT be changed by encountering the Spirit in His fullness?
We like to point to all sorts of causes, but we’re loathe to hold up a mirror and note that the pointed finger may be pointing back at us.
Can a homosexual couple in a congregation of truly Spirit-filled believers successfully resist the Holy Spirit forever? And if they can, what does that say about the truth of that local church containing genuine Spirit-filled believers?
Worse, can anyone in a congregation of truly Spirit-filled believers successfully resist the Holy Spirit forever?
Something to think about.
7 thoughts on “No Holy Spirit, No Church”
The good news in this case is that I don’t think it’s quite so simple. There’s also that pesky ‘free will’ thingy.
What actually surprises me (but not really) is that 2 homosexuals would stay in a church for very long. Nooooo, I’m not talking about whether they would have been welcomed! Godlessness and God haters don’t really like being around the light! I tend to think of homosexuals more as God-haters more than anything (as, practically speaking, are all sinners). So their actions and attitudes aren’t particularly surprising. Ultimately, even those who would claim otherwise are still trying to insist that God’s view, in which He calls their actions sin, is wrong and he should overlook their little issue and just be more fair. They ‘know more’ than He does, obviously.
They really can’t have it both ways. Paul calls us the smell of death (aroma that brings death) to those who don’t believe. My casual, albeit entirely anecdotal, observation is that where sinners are comfortable, there isn’t too much smell of death for them. Exceptions abound but don’t disprove the reality.
My conclusion? There wasn’t much Holy Spirit death smell around that church in the UK.
Unfortunately, I think the Holy Spirit has left many “churches” to their own devices. Jesus warned Ephesus that it could be so:
‘But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place–unless you repent. (Rev 2:4-5)
As to continued sin in a church equating to no Holy Spirit? I’d be hesitant to make that assumption until such time as all Christians have overcome their individual weaknesses.
Someone once wrote a book with an analogy equating the absence of the Spirit in congregations with “Elvis has left the building.” No Spirit = No conviction. At the other side of the spectrum Ananias and Sapphira found out the hard way that resisting/lying to the Spirit no only brings conviction but death as well. Paul wrote: “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” [Rom 8:9] Paul is not reminding the brethren in Rome about their justification. He is warning them about their sanctification, or lack thereof. The word “have” in this verse is “echei” – present tense verb – therefore should instead read “having”. Echei in this sense is not referring to a one-time past event but refers to continuous action in the present. Ultimately, one must go on having the Spirit in order to belong to God. Multitudes have been misled to believe that they have been forever sealed and kept by the Spirit so no need to abide. But Paul warns those “for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. [Rom 8:13] Willful, continuing sin does indeed bring about the loss or absence of the Spirit which of course equates to spiritual death.
Perhaps that someone was me? Or else the idea came from yours truly. 😉
From Cerulean Sanctum September 2007:
“The Spirit Has Left the Building”
The Spirit Has Left the Building—More Thoughts”
I must confess that I find the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira one of the more inexplicable events in the Bible. I don’t think I’ve ever read commentary that makes any sense of what happened, why, and its implications for today.
The only problem I have with your exposition of “assurance” (or in the case you make, the lack thereof) is that it puts the believer into a state of constant flux, where at any time he may be saved or at any time damned, depending on circumstance. There’s no freedom in that. It’s the old chains, just with a new, Christianized polish.
Hi Dan – I’m a recent reader of your blog & enjoy reading your posts so I was motivated to search for the source of my citation which turns out to be a book written in 2006: “Jesus Has Left The Building” by Paul Vieira – good read.
In terms of assurance, I think part of the problem is how we present the gospel message to people which is more like step right up and get your one-way ticket to heaven now & forevermore based on a past moment of belief. We quote John 3:16 to people but that verse is worded so that every one who is “believing” in him may not perish as the Greek verb is in the present tense. In other words one must continue and go on believing as an expression of personal saving faith.
Another part of the problem is that the gospel today resembles a synecdoche. We tell people that they must believe but we sometimes leave out or do not emphasize the aspects of repentance, obedience, perseverance which are also part and parcel of the gospel message. You bring up a valid concern though regarding assurance. We all certainly sin and God on his part is faithful to forgive us [1 Jn 1:8-10]. However, the Apostle John makes an important distinction between occasional sin and willful/habitual sin in 1 Jn 3:4-10. God forgives when we repent of sin but no assurance can be had when we continue to practice sin and it becomes characteristic of our lives. At that point we no longer fellowship in the light but live in darkness and no longer have any assurance. That is why John gives assurance to the brethren with these words: “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him” [1 Jn 3:18-19].
As for Ananias/Sapphira (another perplexing one – those who became weak/sick/died resulting from partaking in the Lord’s supper in the wrong manner), I once read an explanation that makes the most sense to me though it is not taken from Scripture itself. I forget who it was but he wrote in effect that the presence of the Spirit was so pervasive and heavy at the time of the NT church that it brought about the manifest holiness of God. Therefore sins which we might overlook today, were magnified and the attendant consequences of sin were also greatly magnified in light of the very presence & holiness of God. If this is true, then what does this imply for the state of readiness of the church when the Lord returns?
I have read of people who do not believe in God but attend church regularly because they enjoy the show. Maybe that’s the case with these two gentlemen. And to follow on with your point, maybe that’s true of other Christians as well.
Wow, Dave. I hope that’s not the case, but if it is, it explains much.