No Holy Spirit, No Church


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?

Stone heartBut 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.

The Problem with Christian Criticism


Recently, I wrote “Humility, Unity, and the Overly Opinionated Christian.” In it, I noted that too often we lack the facts to comment and should probably, in humility, refrain from adding our two cents.

Seems some may consider me part of the problem. 😉

At Christianity Today, Rachel Marie Stone, in her “Why Criticism Belongs in the Christian Blogosphere,” argues the merits of Christian opinion. She equates it to iron sharpening iron, and she wonder how it is that Christians are refraining from offering much-needed criticism.

I would like to offer my answer.

1. Many people are tired of angry discourse on the Internet. It doesn’t seem as if anyone has enough couth to criticize without resorting to sinful expressions of anger and resentment. Stone notes her own criticism of others has often resulted in ad hominem counterattacks. Well, yeah. That’s where we Americans are in 2013. Still, some thoughtful people—thankfully—are tiring of this.

2. Our critical vision as Christians is too small. Nearly all criticism by Christians on the Web is directed at individuals rather than at systems. Problem is, it’s mostly the systems mucking up everything. While it is much easier to criticize individuals, doing so rarely changes anything on a larger scale, because the power of that larger scale is not in individuals but in systems.

3. Systems are ridiculously hard to address. Criticizing the guy next door for letting his dog poop on your grass may accomplish getting him to keep his mutt out of your yard. But if your state determines your house is ground zero for a new shopping mall for “the public good,” good luck with your criticism of the state. And many systems are more complex than even a state government. Try criticizing the result of the Industrial Revolution and changing it through criticism. That system is far harder to assault because it is enormous and nebulous at the same time.

4. Criticism of individuals does not lead to change on a larger scale, while criticism of a system often gets absorbed by the immensity of that system. That tendency toward “lose-lose” explains the result Stone laments in her article.

For too long, some Christians have focused too much anger in their criticism, reserving much of it for individuals. So and so is a heretic! You don’t know your Bible! And on and on. This does not get us far. More people now recognize this. They also note that much of that criticism was not wrapped in love but in self-righteousness and pride.

Where Christians should be focusing our criticism is on systems, yet almost no one does. No one talks about workplace justice. No considers whether our lifestyles are based on fallacies locked in place by deviant cultural assumptions. No one asks whether the Reformation and democracy have led Americans to no longer fear of God. For the most part, Christians are not offering criticism of these larger thoughts, ideas, and systems because we’re too intellectually lazy and too satisfied with the status quo. Why rock the boat and bring down the system on our little heads?

I stopped reading most Christian blogs because they went after the minuscule. They strained for gnats. And then when they did, they were too often mean-spirited about it.

I think many people are tiring of the mean spirit. Meanwhile, few are willing to wade into larger battles. Stone talks about how hard it was to receive criticism for her criticism of another writer’s book.  If that’s the size of our vision, then all is lost already. Taking on systems, which is what we Christians SHOULD be addressing, is costly, complex, and tedious. Our criticism needs to be laser-like, educated, and relentless if we are to fix entire systems in the name of Christ.

Christians of long ago were up for that task. I’m not so sure we are today.

Oh, look…

“Hey, you! Get your dog off my lawn!”

Easy Accountability, Hard Accountability


Iron sharpens ironIn my 35+ years as a Christian, I’ve heard a lot about accountability. In Evangelical ranks, the most common term of use is accountability partner.

An accountability partner is an individual who works with you to keep you on the straight and narrow. Iron sharpens iron and all that. In concept, it’s a nice idea.

It’s an easy one too. Maybe too easy.

The kind of accountability that an accountability partner provides, though, is that same kind of individualistic thinking about the Faith that seems ingrained in the American Church (see “The Church, Corporate Sin, and Christ as Community Savior“).

But there’s a harder accountability. Way hard. And perhaps because it’s hard, I hear about it as often as I hear about adding a Swahili-language service on Tuesday nights.

I’d like to see some accountability for all the prophecies and words of knowledge/wisdom some dole out that never come to pass. And I’d like to see the people who receive those words stop making excuses for their failures or for the people who pronounced them.

I’d like to see some accountability for all the times we go on and on about how radically “touched” our youth were at the retreat/conference/lock-in/whatever only to have those example youth walk away from the Church the second they graduate high school.

I’d like to see some accountability for the fact that so few of our church discipleship programs are effective enough to raise a church’s leadership from within so a church doesn’t have to scout the country for someone to lead it.

I’d like to see some accountability for the fact that we have thousands of Christian conferences around the country each year, and yet for all that wisdom being trotted out before thousands and millions, the trajectory of the general spiritual status of the populace of the United States continues sharply downward.

I’d like to see some accountability for the reality that most people who are on that downward slope only think about Jesus in negative terms because the people who represent Him are doing such a lackluster job of being excited about what they believe and sharing it in a positive way.

Getting an accountability partner for oneself is cake. Finding an accountability partner for the big “C” Church in America? Seemingly impossible.

I say seemingly because I don’t believe for a second that it really is as impossible as we make it.

As a whole, we Christians CAN do a better job. We CAN stop making excuses for the lacks. We CAN get serious about what we believe.

But we have to WANT to. And wanting to means dealing with the mess of the cleanup. We can’t kid ourselves about the job.

Do we want to improve? Or is taking the easy way all we want to be held accountable for?