Years ago I sat in a Mennonite church service and a visiting preacher preached about the Holy Spirit. I don’t really remember much of what he preached, but it is the only sermon that I distinctly recall hearing teaching about the Holy Spirit. What made an impression on my young mind at that time was that the bishop got up afterward and refuted everything the visiting preacher had preached about. He basically said, “We don’t believe like that in this church.”
I often wondered after that, “What do we believe about the Holy Spirit?”
I noticed that asking about or speaking about the Holy Spirit always seems to make Mennonites very uncomfortable. I don’t particularly relish the thought of writing my own thoughts and discoveries simply for the reason that it upsets many Anabaptists. I also am only learning and feel like I am a novice and am limited in what I can teach or write on this subject. But I will share what I have learned and experienced in the last few years and hope that it will help someone else.
Why we are so against Holy Spirit teaching?
The older generation remembers seeing a movement that wasn’t always very accurate in it’s teaching and brought about some pretty crazy stuff. Because of this, they put their guard up to protect their congregations from the wrong teachings that are out there.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. Pastors do need to protect their flocks from teaching that contradicts Scripture. But instead of avoiding the teaching and saying what all is false, they need to replace wrong teaching with right teaching. We can’t throw it all out because of there is bad mixed in with good.
Suppose someone gave me a large bag of money that was filled with one hundred dollar bills. If I was told that some of the bills were counterfeit, what would I do with that bag of money? Would I throw the entire bag away? What if I would, instead, just simply set the whole bag aside, realizing that while it still had value, I probably should not take the risk of attempting to use it?
This is what many of us have done with teaching on the Holy Spirit. We either throw out teaching about the Holy Spirit altogether or we realize there is value there to some degree and just “set Him aside” because we are afraid we will possibly do the wrong thing or are afraid our discerning skills may not be good enough.
If someone would truly see the value in that bag of money, they could study some real one hundred dollar bills to know what to compare it to. They could get help from others who were more knowledgeable and begin to throw out the bad while keeping the good. People who are in need and desperate enough won’t even think twice about using that money even if it means there is some extra work involved.
How desperate and in need are we for the Holy Spirit in our lives? Most of us Anabaptists are viewed as being self-reliable and self-sufficient. We have orderly lives and we run our communities in a systematic fashion. Our culture appears to be better than other cultures around us as we see lives falling apart in chaos and disorder.
Could this be why we don’t even see a need to teach much about the Holy Spirit? Are we not desperate enough? Do we see ourselves as being so self-sufficient that we do just fine on our own with our tightly knit communities and rule-governed lives?
But what about when it’s not enough?
What about those hundreds and thousands of men and women in our communities that live secretly addicted to porn and other vices? What about those families with molestation hidden from the eyes of others? What about those parents who are only able to “control” their families by anger and physical abuse? What about those husbands and wives who go from counselor to counselor trying to find help for a marriage that just doesn’t seem to get any better? Worse yet, what about those husbands and wives who have given up because there doesn’t seem to be anything more that they can do except to live as two separate lives under the same roof?
Do we just keep on pretending that we don’t have problems because our rules and the way we do things are good enough to at least keep up appearances?
How are we any different than the Jews in Jesus’ day? We have a different set of rules that we abide by than what they did, but many of us don’t seem to have God’s law written in our hearts any more than those of Jesus’ day did. Instead of making sacrifices in the temple for the sins we keep committing, we hide them until we can’t anymore, then we do our penance by making a confession in public and being “put on probation” for awhile.
Why aren’t we able to help those that can’t walk in victory over sin no matter how many guidelines and fences we erect? We simply can’t because that is the work of the Holy Spirit. The whole point of the law was to show us that we cannot do it on our own. Without the Holy Spirit as a living, breathing entity in our lives, we are left to fight the flesh alone with the help of only our rules pointing out all that we are not doing right.
“But we believe in the Holy Spirit! Of course we have the Holy Spirit– all Christians have the Holy Spirit!”
Every Christian has access to the Holy Spirit, but with no teaching about Him, we are like a gardener with a hose in his hand trying to water the garden with the spigot turned off. Why can’t we teach our people about the power that is available? Could it be that our leaders themselves don’t know either? How can they teach what they have not learned?
Jesus spoke of the blind leading the blind and when a leader’s solution for sinful addictions is to proclaim more laws and/or judgement because that is all they can offer, they are only leading them into another ditch.
Is it possible to know whether that “spigot” is turned on?
For most of my life, the little teaching I received about the Holy Spirit was that He was just a quiet influence– much like your conscience. I always wondered how I would know when it was my conscience and when it was the Holy Spirit. And my salvation experience did not bring any change in the voice of my conscience. I felt guilt when I sinned just as I had before salvation, but that “quiet influence” was so quiet, I could not have shared what the Holy Spirit actually did differently in my life.
I remember hearing a missionary ask his audience if they would even notice or be able to tell if the Holy Spirit had left. That question haunted me because I didn’t know how to tell if He was there or not. Maybe sin or lack thereof would be the telling factor? But if I couldn’t tell when He came, how would I be able to tell if He left?
It was years later before I experienced a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Trying to talk about my experiences to other Anabaptist believers brought mixed reactions. I saw doubt, disbelief, and outright scorn; but in the past few years, I have found many others who have also found something–or rather Someone– different than any teaching we received in our Mennonite upbringing. And these with whom I talked to, now lived drastically different lives than they did before this experience. Many found freedom from bondage, but all found life and joy in the Christian walk rather than a life of struggling to obey rules. The Christian walk was no longer a hard thing void of all pleasures. Praying was suddenly different than it had been before. No longer was it a discipline to pray, but rather a time of pleasure and joy– something to look forward to. Feeling His Presence in a real way is “fulness of joy” and “pleasures for evermore”!
How will we know what is real and what is counterfeit?
There are many counterfeit teachings out there. Every time God gives us something good and pure, Satan loves to twist it into something that looks similar and uses it to entrap people into bondage and sin. So how will we be able to tell what is the good and perfect gift from God and what is Satan’s counterfeit? Are we better off just rejecting all things pertaining to the spiritual world altogether?
Satan would like us to think so.
But the fact of the matter is, we were created as spiritual beings who happen to have a physical body. We tend to forget that and think that we are physical beings who just happen to have a spirit. Though we may not understand everything, we can not discard teaching about our spirit or the Holy Spirit.
Jesus said that God is a Spirit and those that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. How can we do this if we have no idea how to?
The Bible is not silent regarding the Holy Spirit. Read it and check to see if any teaching you hear or read is lined up with Scripture or not. Feel free to give me feedback if you feel something I write is contrary to Scripture. I want to speak Truth and write nothing that contradicts God’s Word.
I realize I have probably raised more questions than I have given answers in this post. But for the sake of easier reading, I am once again planning to divide this study into segments. So be patient, more is coming.