Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The Gifts of the Spirit and Centered Set Faith


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?

6 comments:

Nathan Ayres said...

A few quick thoughts:
I think churches can lose the freedom that comes with the Holy Spirit and end up in bondage to them. By that it could mean that the Holy Spirit must be experienced or expressed a certain way, thus creating an "in or out" problem.

So our challenge then is to embrace the freedom. The advantage they had in Acts 2 was that they didn't know what was going on, so they went with it. So we pray and invite the Holy Spirit to move us towards Jesus, however that may look.

Penny Murray said...

I love the whole "centered set" illustration. We were talking about this idea in a small group a couple weeks ago, and termed the people who want to patrol the perimeter, keeping people out of the circle: "The Boundary Dogs." We all can fall into the trap of constantly making sure the only people who are "in" look like, believe like, or experience God like "us." But if I am "boundary dogging" that means my eyes are turned away from Jesus.

I strongly believe the Holy Spirit is active and the gifts are still given, but I've been in environments where it is easy to fall into the trap of worshiping the gifts, and not the Giver. I listened to many stories where people were open to the moving of the Spirit, and yet felt ostracized in their church or group for not manifesting the work of the Spirit in very specific ways.

I think you are onto something with the "Centered Set' concept in the area of Spiritual Gifts. I'm really thinking about how exactly this would play out.

steven hamilton said...

i like the thoughts i have heard concerning "charismissional" reagrding centered-set spirituality.

From Emerging Grace's article:

"Why aren't charismatics missional? If the function of the Holy Spirit is to reveal the heart of the Father, and the heart of the Father is the reconciliation and restoration of all things, why have we, who claim knowledge and intimacy with the Spirit, missed the missional leading of the Holy Spirit? I am sorry to say that the charismatic church has not represented the function of spiritual gifts very well. While we pursue the supernatural aspect of our inheritance, eagerly desiring the gifts of the Spirit, for the most part, our expression of the gifts has been self-serving.


As a friend, I would like to issue this missional call to the charismatic church. Let us open our eyes and hearts to what God is doing. I have written this letter explaining the need to reconsider the way we practice our faith. We may have to admit that the expression of spiritual gifts within charismatic, prophetic, and intercessory circles fed our sense of importance and need for recognition. We have at times been guilty of using the anointing for our own personal glory.


No longer can we define apostolic understanding as a way of structuring authority and networks while we continue to ignore those to whom we have been sent. How can we presume to be apostolic without leaving the realm of church?


No longer can we pursue prophetic ministry simply for our own gratification, elevating prophetic ministers to celebrity status. Rather than tickling one another's ears, we could use our prophetic insight to speak forth the redemptive purposes of God.


We could use our prophetic voice to call forth the vision and promise of God in the lives of unbelievers. We can do this without churchy language or a ministry setting. We can learn to minister God's words and life in a way that is organic to the situation in which we find ourselves.


We cannot stay bunkered in our walls praying for revival. How can we accept that mentality when Jesus' example and command is to go?

Crispin Schroeder said...

Steve, thanks for sharing that article. That was very insightful. It's putting more words to what I've been feeling.

Betty Richard said...

Like so many other things, I think the "in & out" is based on fear. "I don't understand those spiritual gifts and so feel uncomfortable around people who express or do them."

If we discount everyone and every situation in which people speak in tongues or claim to heal others, for example, we are going to miss out on some great big God stuff that's going on. Keeping others out and being in also means we are shutting ourselves off to opportunities to see God move and act. In a way, we are putting ourselves in prison. We are no longer free but become limited by the closed set.

It's scary to be open. What if someone is not well-meaning and we get tricked or fooled? What if someone wants to do harm and not good and then cause more doubt for those looking at the church and seeking God? We have to remember that Jesus is not sitting in heaven wringing his hands. God is in control and he has given us his Spirit to help us along the way.

Crispin Schroeder said...

Betty, I love that line from your comment:
Keeping others out and being in also means we are shutting ourselves off to opportunities to see God move and act. In a way, we are putting ourselves in prison. We are no longer free but become limited by the closed set.

Very true! It is easy to think of bounded set thinking as just keeping outsiders "out" but we shut ourselves out as well. We could probably do another post on that truth alone.