Saturday, 31 May 2014

Receiving spiritual gifts

How does a Christian receive spiritual gifts and the fullness of the Holy Spirit?  That question has been on my mind for nearly fifty years.  I have thought about it a great deal. I have read many books on this issue. I have listened to many sermons, and discussed it with pastors, preachers, priests, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Baptists, Charismatics, Catholics, Calvinists, Dispensationalists, Episcopalians, Evangelicals, Lutherans, theologians, non-denominationalists and Quakers.

Linked to the above question often comes another question. Does reception of spiritual gifts and/or the fullness of the Holy Spirit require or depend on a post-conversion crisis experience?

These have been important questions for the Evangelical and Charismatic community of believers. There have been disputes, divisions and discord as well as benefits and blessing.  One of the dangers, that I have seen at close quarters, is basing doctrine and theology on personal experience, and then believing that the experience is normative and binding on all Christians. Our personal experience can never be the measure!
It may well testify to the work of the Holy Spirit, but it is wrong to assume that personal experience should be used to establish doctrine. Some claim "The Lord told me..." so it must be true. If we naively believed all such assertions then the Church would be tossed to and fro by many winds of doctrine and strange teachings. Christians have been deceived and duped by confident claims of special revelations and messages, which in time prove false and completely erroneous.  The really dangerous ones have elements of truth that resonate and strike certain chords but they do not keep in step with the Spirit of God.

On the positive side these questions are asked by Christians who hunger for spiritual reality.  The Apostle Paul enjoins us, in 1 Corinthians 14:1, to:

Make love your aim, and desire earnestly the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 
Διώκετε τὴν ἀγάπην, ζηλοῦτε δὲ τὰ πνευματικά, μᾶλλον δὲ ἵνα προφητεύητε.

When we desire to live in a loving way and we are sincere and open to God's gracious gifts, then God will hear our heartfelt prayers. But they may not be answered in ways that we desire. The Holy Spirit moves as He wishes. Please see John 3:8.

τὸ πνεῦμα ὅπου θέλει πνεῖ, καὶ τὴν φωνὴν αὐτοῦ ἀκούεις, ἀλλ’ οὐκ οἶδας πόθεν ἔρχεται καὶ ποῦ ὑπάγει· οὕτως ἐστὶν πᾶς ὁ γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος.

He is sovereign. He works wonders, mighty deeds and signs that amaze and move people. The Holy Spirit has come through "the laying on of hands" in Acts 8:17 ff. This is one experience and it seems to be post conversion, but that does not mean that it is always post-conversion. In Acts 13:52 we read that Christians, evidently young in their faith, were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. This experience could have been at conversion or around the time of conversion. 

Max Turner in The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts argues that it is a mistake and a misunderstanding of the New Testament teaching to insist that receiving the Spirit is a discernible experience and to assume that the moment of the Spirit's coming upon a person must be consciously perceived.  Max Turner contends that the actual need for a second crisis experience of appropriation of the Spirit (under whatever name) rests on a misunderstanding. He sees, in essence, the creation of a set of false experiential dualism and the absolutizing of one of them. Such an experience, MT believes, is by no means the only way to spiritual empowering. For many this comes instead as a gradual series of growth experiences, nor is this experience a paradigmatic and normative way for Christians.

It is the reality of the Holy Spirit in our lives that counts.  We cannot always explain and prove how He moves, but like the wind we know when He does. He leaves a trail of construction!

For me, I find this prayer helpful:

Lord, I may have been filled with the Holy Spirit, but I leak. I leak frequently. O Lord, fill me again, and keep me wanting to be filled with Your Holy Spirit. Keep me aglow and willing to see Your gifts of grace manifest in the Church of God, among Your people, united by the Holy Spirit in the bond of peace. Lord, I wish to see Your goodness and loving kindness in many ways and in mighty acts that bring You glory, honour and praise.  In Jesus' Name. Amen.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

An Away Day at the National Trust's Scotney Castle, House and Estate

May is a lovely time to visit Scotney Castle, House and Grounds in the garden of England, viz. Kent.  Although it was half term week with good weather, which draws the crowds, the beautiful NT property is a pleasure to behold.  The last Spring glory of nature makes the trip even more enjoyable.

I have not been to Scotney for many years. On my last visit the house was not open to the public.  It was agreed that the NT should take over the extensive property and grounds in the late 1950s, but while Betty Hussey was still alive the house should remain off limits to NT members.

  Since 2007 the house has been open for viewing, as Betty Hussey died in her 99th year earlier in the decade. She gave instructions that the house should be shown as she lived in it. And today it retains her personal touch and taste. It is as if she has just left for a holiday and everything is in place for her return.

 Her husband,Christopher, was editor of Country Life magazine in the 1930s and during the early years of the Second World War.

 I understand that Betty helped him by taking photographs of selected country houses for magazine articles.

 He died in 1970, so she was a widow for well over 30 years.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Does Nick Clegg think it's only a flesh wound?

It seems that Nick Clegg is seriously wounded politically, and some see him as the Black Knight in the Monty Python film. He will fight on as it is only a mere flesh wound. He may well lose his seat at the next election, but come what may Clegg will fight another day. It could be a very slow political death.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

At Oxford, City of Dreaming Spires and Special Delights

Yesterday I went back to one of my favourite places, Oxford. What a delight to be there in the merry month of May, fourth week in Trinity Term! The weather was fine, so I was rejoicing as I walked by the ancient colleges, along splendid streets and architectural wonders.

The Ashmolean Museum has improved so much, and I was amazed to see how much better it is since it re-opened in 2009. I had a wonderful time there yesterday afternoon. Tremendous!

The roof garden restaurant is recommended.

I am a life member of the Oxford Union.

The Goodman Room

A view from the Goodman Room

Today's Oxford Union debate

St. Giles' Church, Oxford from the graveyard

The Quaker Meeting House in St Giles, Oxford

Helwys Hall, Regent's Park College, Oxford

I was privileged to have been a post graduate student at Regent's Park College.
The RPC crest over the Principal's lodgings in St. Giles, Oxford.  The college motto comes from 1 Thessalonians 5:21, "test everything; hold fast what is good."

The RPC flag flying above the Oxfam Bookshop on the corner of Pusey Street, Oxford

Anyone for croquet?


River Stour