Sundays in Pentecost: Open to the Spirit (4)
We are taking the Pentecost season to post a Sunday series of excerpts and reflections from Scot McKnight’s new book, Open to the Spirit: God in Us, God with Us, God Transforming Us.
• • •
The mark of Pentecost and the mark of the new Christian movement is renewal through openness to the Spirit. The sign? God would speak to the people through prophets. In the New Testament era, God’s Spirit would empower “both men and women” to be prophets. There is no indication in the New Testament that the gift of prophecy would either die out or that it would be assigned exclusively to famous preachers and pastors. Young and old, men and women— God raises up prophets among them all.
…Is our God the God who speaks? Has he now ceased speaking, or does God still speak today?
• pp. 72, 86
Scot McKnight devotes a couple of chapters in his book about the Holy Spirit to ways that God speaks outside the Bible. Many Christians, including those in the cessationist traditions where I received my formative ministry training, deny that God does speak this way today.
But Scot reminds us that, on the day of Pentecost, the spirit of prophecy was proclaimed as an essential sign of the Spirit-indwelt church:
In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:17-18)
He backs this up with several paragraphs of New Testament epistle texts that indicate that God’s word of prophecy was being experienced in the churches. He also reminds us, however, that Paul and the other authors stress testing the prophecies that are spoken, and that not all will be judged genuine.
McKnight does not give a lot of examples of how this might work today, and I think some readers might find that frustrating
However, I don’t. It seems to me that one of the problems I’ve encountered among the Pentecostals, Charismatics, Third Wave, and other groups that emphasize the continuation of the charismatic gifts is that they end up institutionalizing the gift and practicing it in certain set ways. What is meant to be the surprising, sovereign work of the Spirit speaking to the church becomes another recognized church practice. That becomes our “biblical” model. As a result, the voice of the Spirit gets bogged down in the traditions of “Spirit-filled” churches perhaps even more than in liturgical settings.
It is my opinion that if the Spirit speaks, it will be in the Spirit’s way and the Spirit’s time. We won’t be expecting it and we certainly won’t be conjuring it up by our methods. There are few I read about in the scriptures who weren’t surprised when the Spirit spoke. I don’t know many (any?) congregations that are truly like this, but I would hope Christians and churches might be open to the Spirit speaking without expectations of how that must happen or what it is like.
If it’s truly God speaking, I would think we’d all be caught off guard. We certainly won’t be in control of it.