Note: This post discusses Centered Set Christianity. If you have never heard the term before you may want to read In or Out or check out Dave Schmelzer's Bounded and Centered Set Thinking
In the last week I have had several conversations with other believers concerning the gifts of the Holy Spirit (tongues, prophecy, healing, wisdom etc.) This discussion continued in our home group tonight as well. This is an interesting subject because it brings such strong reactions whether from those who have baggage from seeing abuses first-hand in Charismatic/Pentecostal Christian gatherings, or from those who stand outside of those traditions who are just afraid of what they associate with more Charismatic expressions of faith, to those who wholeheartedly embrace spiritual gifts no matter how crazy they may seem to others. As we conversed on this subject at our home group I couldn’t help but think of how a centered set understanding of faith might be helpful when it comes to the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts and practices in the church.
One of the most famous instances of the Holy Spirit showing up in the Bible is recorded in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost. This was the first recorded instance of people speaking in tongues in the whole Bible. Acts 2 records that as the disciples spoke in tongues, the crowd around them each heard them proclaiming the wonders of God in their own language. This was no small deal because it was quite the international crowd (made up from folks of upwards of 16 different nationalities). Immediately after that Peter preached a sermon and some 3,000 people became Christ-followers and joined this newly birthed entity called church.
What strikes me about this original encounter is that the Holy Spirit wasn’t just putting on a show with tongues but was rather leading people to Jesus. In other words the Holy Spirit was doing just what Jesus did in his earthly ministry—breaking down walls and reconciling people to God (the walls or barriers that day were language, culture and religion). Sure it must have looked awfully crazy, but it was craziness with a point and that point was Jesus. Most people I run into in various aspects of life truly want to experience God. They are dying to have some kind of spiritual connection in their lives. They don’t want religion whether it’s the stuffy traditional type or the crazy bounce-off-the-walls type, rather they want to experience true relationship with their creator.
In my years as a Christian I have been a part of many charismatic gatherings where spiritual gifts were strongly emphasized and yet most of the time these meetings were not the sorts of places that outsiders would ever feel welcomed or even begin to know how to make their way in. Somehow the emphasis on gifts had become a barrier to the very mission of the Holy Spirit—leading people to Jesus. It is interesting to note that the day the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church nobody had any idea how it would look and yet there was no doubt when it happened that it was God. In modern times what has been associated with the gifts of the Spirit has often had as much to do with a certain type of religious culture as with the Holy Spirit and as such has become just another bounded set version of Christianity. (This is not to say that God never truly shows up in these areas because he does but there is often a whole lot theatrics and culture added as well)
While there is always a temptation to avoid anything having to do with gifts of the Spirit because of all of the abuses out there I am more interested in how we can begin helping people everywhere—whether in or outside of church encounter God in meaningful ways without having to control or put our own religious-cultural packaging on what that should look like. In other words how can we help people experience God (the Holy Spirit) and thus help adjust the trajectory theirs lives so they are heading towards Jesus. This is more of a centered set approach faith that removes religious/cultural boundaries to help people encounter God right where they are. In my estimation this seems more in line with the ministry of Jesus and the Holy Spirit that we read about in the Bible but I am just thinking out loud here.
What do you think about the gifts of the Holy Spirit in a centered set approach to faith?