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Let me be honest with you. I am concerned. That’s an understatement, really. I am deeply concerned about what’s happening in the Netherlands. I am the product of the Charismatic movement in Holland of the mid-90s, but I more and more struggle with calling myself a Charismatic Christian for a number of reasons. Let me tell you why.
What’s happening in the Charismatic fringes?
I have been following some of the things that are happening in the Charismatic fringes in our country. Sadly enough it seems that the extremes in those fringes actually are becoming more and more mainstream, so that’s why I felt I needed to write about them. Here are three things that have been worrying me lately in some Charismatic circles:
- Mystical experiences with Jesus are being presented as the norm for every Christian. Maybe this happens subconsciously, but when a (new) believer keeps on hearing about all the mystical experiences other believers have, he or she might think that they are less spiritual if they don’t have those experiences. I believe God wants us to be close to him, but the whole “intimacy with God” thing of today’s Charismatic movement might actually keep us from actively fulfilling the plan God has for our lives. We may think that we first need to attain to a certain level of maturity (read: intimacy with God) before he can really use us.
- If no Charismatic manifestations (people being slain in the Spirit, holy laughter, miraculous tooth fillings, gold dust, etc.) are happening in a service, the Holy Spirit isn’t really there. A few years ago, I more or less believed that and those kinds of things actually happened during services I preached at, but what made me change my mind is that I have seen very little life change as a result of those kinds of meetings.
- The third thing, which is most concerning to me, is the lack of ability to deal with situations when claimed miracles have not truly taken place. Just one recent example: a missions team of one particular Charismatic organization claimed some hard-to-verify healings in a country far away in Asia. So some people decided to check whether the claims were true and found out the healings never took place. Instead of admitting this, the organization tried to cover it up, ignored the proof, insulted the people who did the research and claimed even bigger hard-to-verify miracles. As a Christian who has experienced the power of God first-hand, I still believe that God can and wants to heal. But imagine the damage that has been done to people who are truly seeking God and are open to starting a relationship with him, but now think we’re all a bunch of imposters!
Don’t misunderstand me… I still consider myself a Charismatic. I still believe in supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit. As a matter of fact, what I see happening week after week in the church I pastor,International Church, just blows my mind. Lives are being changed on a weekly basis, even though it might not look as spectacular from the outside. But it’s definitely the work of the Holy Spirit.
Do the manifestations get in the way of reaching the lost?
But can you understand that I feel less and less inclined to identify myself with the Charismatic movement? My life and ministry is all about reaching the lost with the life-giving message of Jesus Christ and sometimes the three issues that I just identified are the very things that get in the way of reaching the people God loves (and I love) so much!
Get your theology right!
So what do I need to do? What can you do if you feel the same thing? I think we can be Charismatic without being crazy! I think we can be Charismatic without losing our integrity! I think where we need to start is get our theology right, and especially our pneumatology (theology of the Holy Spirit).
To me it seems like the Charismatic movement for a big part has been chasing a rabbit trail of stuff they attribute to the Holy Spirit that is either 1) not from the Holy Spirit; or 2) from the Holy Spirit, but not the type of stuff we need to actively pursue. When it happens, it happens and it is alright, but just don’t seek it. Instead, seek the things of the Spirit that God does want us to seek!
So what aspects of the work of the Holy Spirit does God want us to seek? When I understand the Bible correctly, there are two things he wants us to go for:
- The fruit of the Spirit
- The baptism (or infilling) of the Holy Spirit
The fruit of the Spirit
The fruit of the Spirit has everything to do with our growth in Christian maturity. When we seek to follow Christ more closely, the Holy Spirit does a work in our hearts and produces the character of Jesus in us. This is a process, not an overnight thing. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal.5:22-23 NLT).
This is not very spectacular stuff… doesn’t draw much attention like gold dust or people being slain in the Spirit during a service… but wouldn’t the world look much different if all who call themselves Christians would exhibit this kind of behavior? Let me tell you, if you see someone take the step to truly start following Christ, the changes are spectacular! You just need to get close to that person to see it!
Don’t get me wrong… I don’t think we should force this kind of behavior on people. That would be legalism. But when the Holy Spirit is at work in someone’s life, this is the natural (or supernatural?) product! I think there is no greater testimony to a world that is seeking authenticity and a relevant spirituality.
The baptism of the Holy Spirit
But there is more. And this “more” actually makes some of us feel a bit uncomfortable. It’s the baptism of the Holy Spirit or infilling of the Holy Spirit, available to every true follower of Christ! I wonder what the answer would be when you would ask most Dutch Charismatics or Pentecostals what the purpose of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is. I think a fair number of them would say it is either speaking in tongues or all kinds of Charismatic manifestations.
I think we need to stick to what the Bible (actually: Jesus himself!) says about what the purpose of the baptism of the Holy Spirit is:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere – in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 NLT).
So the purpose of the baptism of the Holy Spirit (and consecutive infillings) is power to be witnesses for Jesus! Nothing more, nothing less! St. Francis of Assisi was right: “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.”
When the fruit of the Spirit is visible in our lives, our lives become a testimony and we’re able to (practically) reach out to people with God’s love. That speaks louder than words! And beyond that, the Holy Spirit gives us the power to talk about what Christ has done in our lives while at the same time he is at work in the life of the person listening (John 16:8).
The other stuff?
So what about the other stuff? What about the mystical stuff and the manifestations? For one, let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water! God does, at times, work in ways that are outside our comfort zone.
A question we would need to ask when God deals with us in very intimate ways if this is something we need to share with others. When we are intimate with our spouse, how much are we sharing about this with our friends (or even worse: on Facebook)? Let’s be careful to not become spiritual exhibitionists. If we do, we might encourage other people to chase after experiences they may never have or make them feel they’re less spiritual.
At the same time, I wonder how much of the intimate stuff some people claim to have is actually God and how much of it is our own imagination, informed by a possible misreading of the Song of Solomon or other Bible passages.
And let’s also be careful to automatically attribute all manifestations to the Holy Spirit. I don’t believe the Holy Spirit forces himself upon us, but leaves it up to us how we respond to him. I think that some of the manifestations in Charismatic circles are demonic: demons are manifesting because they don’t want to be close to God. But most of the manifestations we see are the human response to what the Holy Spirit does in a person’s life. There is nothing wrong with those as long as the people responding don’t go overboard and start drawing attention to themselves, disrupting the service.
So what’s next? What do I think needs to happen to bring balance to a marginalized Christianity in the Netherlands that becomes more and more influenced by hyper-Charismatic things? Here are a couple of suggestions:
- Let’s all be humble enough to acknowledge that we won’t understand everything when God is at work. He created the universe and still chooses to love me, an insignificant human being! If I can’t get my head around that one, I certainly won’t be able to get my head around all the other stuff God does.
- Let’s pray for God to give us discernment to see which mystical experiences and manifestations are really from him and how we need to keep those either to ourselves or share them with others.
- Let’s be careful to never define spiritual maturity as how much you know or how much you experience. Spiritual maturity is not about our knowledge or mystical experiences, but about how much you love the people whom God loves, in particular people who don’t know Christ yet. So: let’s keep the threshold low for them if they’re seeking Christ.
- Let’s be honest! Honesty and integrity are worth more than the biggest miracle. When a miracle you thought happened did not happen, what’s the problem with admitting you were mistaken? Everybody makes mistakes! And I have a lot of grace if you’re honest and I am sure many other Christ-followers do!
Anyway… those were my ramblings. I hope they’ll get a process of self-reflection started in the Netherlands within the Charismatic movement. I believe we have so much to offer to a people that is so hungry for an authentic spiritual experience. Let’s not rob ourselves of our voice by going for the extremes, but let’s stay in the middle and influence a nation for Christ!
What do you think about my observations? I would love to get your feedback, whether you agree with me or not! Be sure to leave a comment!