07 February 2009

Alpha Retreat Sermon 3: How Can I Be Filled with the Holy Spirit

This sermon started with going over the five types of responses the apostles encountered when preaching to others about the Holy Spirit. Some immediately longed for the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:2-4), others were receptive to the idea but weren't as certain as the first group (Acts 8:14-17), others were hostile towards them (Acts 8:17-19), some were uninformed and had no clue what they were talking about (Acts 19:1-6), and some were skeptical (Acts 10:44-46). Gumbel explained that all those in the audience also fall into these categories. The way he's structured the talk, it's painfully clear that he wants you to be in one of the first two categories, and casts a negative light on the others.

The funny thing is that he gives bible verses as references to these 5 groups, but only the receptive and the uninformed are actually unambiguously represented in the verses. The longing group were the first bunch at Pentecost, who we will see later; however, no real mention is made of longing and the second group didn't seem to be any less longing than the first group. Both groups were generally receptive. The hostile verse is actually the sorcerer who really wants the power to lay on hands and manifest the Holy Spirit but just doesn't understand the real point to it. The the unlikely group is actually not outright skeptics; rather they were Jews who didn't think the Holy Spirit should have been given to the gentiles.

What? Twisting the Bible to push another point? No way!

I'm really interested in the story of the Holy Spirit coming at Pentecost:
1When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. 5Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? 8Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? 9Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs-we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!"

That would be some pretty amazing proof. Actual, visible, tangible flame tongues; everyone able to understand everyone else regardless of the language being spoken. Pretty funky indeed. I don't know about you, but I'd be pretty damned impressed by this if it ever happened around me. Yet God doesn't see fit to provide this evidence anymore. Too bad.1

Also, in a lot of the early cases during the Acts of the Apostles, it was required that an apostle lay-on hands for someone to receive the Holy Spirit. WTF is that about? The rules just keep changing.

The most important thing according to Gumbel here is that the Holy Spirit automatically comes into every person the moment they accept Jesus as their lord and saviour. The problem is that most of the time, the Holy Spirit comes in only a small quantity. ie. you are unfilled. Gumbel used the analogy of a pilot light in a fireplace. The Holy Spirit is the pilot light. It's up to you to turn the gas on 'high' and get filled with fire.

Anyway, the rest of the sermon had to do with explaining what happened when you received the Holy Spirit. First, you "experience the power of the Holy Spirit" - a surprisingly vague statement that seems to encapsulate the general warm, excited feeling you get, but also the other "fruits of the Spirit."

Second, you are "released in praise," which basically means lots of emotional, spontaneous praying and worship.

Third, you "receive a new language" ie. speaking in tongues. Despite the biblical precedent, Gumbel went on to explain, like the good lawyer he was, that your results may very. According to him, not all Christians speak in tongues, it's not necessarily a sign of being filled with the Holy Spirit, you aren't less of a Christian if you can't speak in tongues, and it's not the most important gift.

Despite this, he then went on at length explaining about speaking in tongues. It's an angelic and human language that transcends language barriers (despite not making any sense to us), it's a form of prayer, it strengthens the individual, and it's under the control of the speaker. Apparently you can also sing in tongues.

And apparently we can receive this gift if we eagerly desire it, ask God, be cooperative with the Holy Spirit, believe, and persevere. The three most common hindrances are doubt, fear, and inadequacy. Certainly seems like those who can't speak in tongues are lesser Christians, doesn't it?

The way the sermon was supposed to be done, they were supposed to follow it immediately with a call to receive the Holy Spirit and people were supposed to start dropping to the ground in ecstasy and speaking in tongues, etc. To my great disappointment, the elder and group leader didn't even try. The elder simply lead an group prayer about praying to be filled with the Holy Spirit and that was it.

Damn, I wanted to hear some crazy ravings!

1 Note that this isn't plain glossolalia, it's more xenoglossy. Though, for what it's worth, there are plenty of "friend of a friend" examples, including one from my wife, who claims her sister apparently once had her pastor tell her to "be quiet, don't interrupt" in her family's obscure Chinese dialect. So make of it what you will.

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At February 09, 2009 1:35 PM, Blogger Carlo said...

Speaking in Tongues is the most awesome collective delusion ever. See the documentary Jesus Camp (2006). It's essentially just adults speaking in 'baby-speak', and I'm fairly convinced that they all realize that it's bullshit. However, much like the parable of the Emperor's New Clothes, no one wants to admit that everyone participating just looks like an idiot, and thus the spell remains unbroken.

At February 17, 2009 8:59 PM, Blogger King Aardvark said...

I'm actually curious about who in the group will be able to survive a lack of Holy Spirit/speaking in tongues and who will crack under the weight of it and drop the hardcore Xianity entirely. I see the cracks there in a lot of the group members. I'm sure some, perhaps most, will find some way to just drop their concerns over never having ecperienced the HS, and go on in their normal Xian lives. I'm sure certain others won't.

I'm not 100% sure that all speaking in tongues is collective delusion (the divine explanation is). I'm willing to bet that some xians try really hard and do experience a genuine non-supernatural glossolalia event. They just take it as godly speaking in tongues.


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