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Monday's Meditation: Three Important Questions

The other day I came across a statement from Bill Johnson, pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, California. I posted it on Facebook because I thought it was a treasure and wanted to share this treasure with all seven of my friends. Then the trouble started: not everyone considered it such a treasure. Here's the treasure/trouble:

"It's hard to have the same fruit as the early church when we value a book they didn't have more than we do the Holy Spirit they did have."
It seems some people considered Bill’s comment a challenge to the importance of scripture. “What do you do with the scripture that says ‘faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God?’” asked one friend. Another posted: “How would we know which fruit is of the Holy Spirit and which fruit is from elsewhere without objective guidance?” It became a three-way discussion. The comments piled up, one after another, until no one else in their right mind would want read them all. But today, I would like to invite each of you into the conversation.

Without presuming to speak for Bill Johnson, here are three questions his statement provokes:

  1. I think any reasonable comparison between the 1st century church in the Middle East and the 21st century church in North America points out that we are nowhere near as fruitful. Since we have the Bible in abundance (in fact, the greatest availability of the Bible in the history of the world) what must be lacking in our day?
  2. Why are so many 21st century North American believers concerned about “subjectivity” when it comes to the dynamic of the Holy Spirit (who is God), but not at all concerned about the inherent “subjectivity” involved in interpreting scripture (which is not God). The wide-spread availability of the scripture does not eliminate the need for listening to the Spirit's leading. In fact, it should give us more confidence to risk obedience to his living, daily voice.
  3. Why is the gospel flourishing in South America, sub-Saharan Africa, and most of Asia--where the dynamic of the Holy Spirit is celebrated, while Evangelicalism is increasingly considered irrelevant in the West--where the Holy Spirit is perhaps honored in name but rarely in practice?
Today’s Monday Memo is not the usual suggestion for mediation. It’s an invitation--no, it’s a plea--to explain why we North Americans have lost the vitality of the early church. Honest, I’m begging: tell me what you think.

Reader Comments (30)

Great post, Ray!

Yes, I think the western church has replaced a good portion of their relationship with God (in all 3 aspects of the Godhead) with worship of his letter to us. It is a beautiful love letter, isn't it? But I still would rather have the relationship.

I think I'll post the same quote on my Facebook wall and see how many friends I can lose on a Monday. ;-)

May 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChad Estes

Your three questions are very good questions to think about. I am not sure I could actually answer your questions. I do know for me, sometimes it is hard to hear God. Not because He is not speaking, but I am afraid to hear. If I hear then I am responsible, and He might ask me to give something dear to me up, such as my current comfortable life. I ... See Moream 50, I have 8 grandchildren, most of them live close to me. I like this very much. To move away, far away, is a hard thing. Maybe that is one possible answer to one of your questions. Perhaps we have become so comfortable here in North America, that we do not want to actively listen and obey what Holy Spirit is saying. To give mental ascent to God and His word is easier.

May 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

This is Pat Myles. I haven't figured out how to post this without pressing the anonymous profile.

Anyway....

My criticism of the Bill Johnson quote is that his conclusion is that we value the Bible more than the Spirit. I think his target is the wrong target. The problem isn't that we value the Bible too much, the problem is that we don't value the Holy Spirit enough. I would say for some they don't value the teachings of the Bible enough. Others even value dreams, personal prophecies, etc. above or on par with scripture.

May 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I'd love to tell you what I think. But I think you would be dismissive of it as "faultfinding" - yet we are, in fact, looking for the 'flaws" in our practice, right ...?

May 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCharles

Good morning to you all!

Charles: I'd love to hear what you think--I'm a big boy, and I can take it! Please permit one quibble: Our primary purpose is to learn how to follow Jesus more completely (truly, whole heartedly), which includes discovering flaws in our practice--but finding flaws is always secondary to developing the devotional love in the greatest commandment--to love him with the heart, soul, body, mind, and strength. So it starts with love, which always includes truth, but also (perhaps more important) grace and peace. So bring it on ;-)

Pat: Here's the sentence you wrote that rings my bell (in a good way): "The problem isn't that we value the Bible too much, the problem is that we don't value the Holy Spirit enough." We totally agree there. The challenge is when we value the Spirit too little, everything else is out of balance--including our understanding of Scripture AND it's place of relative importance in our discipleship.

Anon: Without question there are times when I'm afraid to hear as well--we are silly little creatures. Why do we always imagine the "hardest" thing? For me, I still have to remind myself that his will really is the best thing for me, but my heart becomes afraid and I think I know better. BTW - 8 grandkids! Congrats!

Chad: Your words are so sweet: "It is a beautiful love letter, isn't it? But I still would rather have the relationship." Of course, a strong relation will cherish the love letter, won't it? And for the record, I didn't lose any of my seven facebook friends, they just roughed me up a bit! I hope yours are gentler.

May 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

Good Words. I used to view the Holy Spirit as subjective, but the greater level of encounters that we have with the Lord, the more objective I believe He is. Objective in the sense that the Spirit is the Truth (1 John 5:6) and that when someone has a genuine encounter with the Glory of Christ they know that it is the God they were created to serve. The deepest desire in man's heart is met in the revelation of God.

That being said, Jesus is the Truth (John 14:6), meaning both the complete and pure revelation of God as well as the objective example of what a man in relationship with God is supposed to look like. And we are in a state of spiritual immaturity until we look like Him.

Generally speaking (and this is very general) sometimes people discourage seeking for supernatural revelations of God because they fear people will be deceived in their pursuit. I think this is a good value to have, but the problem is that it believes in the ability of the devil to counterfeit and deceive above the ability of God to do what only He can do. God is more powerful than the devil and only God can fill the missing "God-shaped space" inside of the human heart. At the same time (another generality) many pursue spiritual encounters without any regard for the Word because they don't trust that God could have writen it to be perfect and complete and have placed their trust in the fallacy of man above the ability of God to humble a man, inspire a man's writings and protect and preserve His Word so that we could have an objective guide for today. Both are rooted in unbelief. Having either will hinder one's development as a christian.

Ok, but it has to all come back to Jesus. When we look at Jesus' life we see that not only did He have an unshakeable trust in the Holy Spirit, but He also had an unshakeable trust in the Word of God. We see in various places that He would say stuff like, "the Scriptures must be fulfilled" or "it was written that this must happen". So I believe that true spiritual maturity embraces both, and in fact the Spirit and the Word actually honor and feed off of one another. You cannot grow unless you have an unshakeable trust in both.

May 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterThe Grinder

Can we really call a "call to destiny" or a healed hand or a restored relationship subjective?

May 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRay Roberts

Perhaps it is not growing in North America because we have not had the hards times that the rest of the world has. They have found the need and want to reach out for a higher power and have found it. Maybe what we are going thru now is hoping to bring people either back to or to
Jesus. At my church I see the flock growing weekly. WE talked about the power this past week our minister set a CD player on the alter but is was not plugged to show it can not work without the power. WE ARE THE POWER of Jesus and it is up to us to PLUG IN and make it happen

May 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterbill quinn

#2 Ray, really - so concise and well said!!! And Grinder's point/take is about as good as it gets.

Jesus said (paraphrased): you search the scriptures because you believe/think that by them you can have eternal life. All the time the scriptures point to me, yet you refuse to come to me.

It has been my experience that folks (including me in a season of my life) who approach the bible as primarily a book of doctrine, or primarily a book from which to gather information or primarily an answer-book, aka (primarily a world-view viewer), these same folks carry a deep suspicion or even fear of hearing from God first hand - despite the fact that almost every page in the book is about someone hearing from God (and seldom is said person hearing from God by reading the book, though this obviously happens as well).

On the flip side, the folks that see the scriptures as primarily a MEANS to knowing God personally (i.e., the love letter metaphor, or perhaps more precisely a long story/account of how God has interacted with our fathers and mothers and friends in the past - He never changes), and secondarily a book of doctrine or a world-view viewer, these same folks grow easily in the grace of hearing from God and learning how to respond to his voice.

I realize i've been real simplistic and general, but that has been my experience. finally, i find that generally speaking, harshness and pharisee-type mindset is more often accepted as the norm (or God-forbid the ideal and rewarded!) among the first group. though similar mindsets exist in the 2nd group, my experience has been it occurs less often and is definitely less rewarded by the 2nd group.

May 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSammy

Sammy: You've not been "simplistic and general," instead, you've simply shared you're experience. I'm glad you did because I learned from them.

Bill: you raise an excellent point about the mindset of North Americans--we have such an abundance that it's easy to rely upon ourselves rather than God's Holy Spirit. I'm delighedt to hear that folks at your church are talking about the same things.

Grinder: Dude! Where's YOUR blog site?!? Your comments were so instructive and enlightening. I'm going to go read them again (probably more).

Dr. Ray: Good point. The things that are most real in everyday life have little to do with what the world calls "objectivity."

Peace to all!

May 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

The early church HAD to be led by the Spirit(God) because the New Testament wasn't written yet. They had the Torah. The Bible itself gives an insight to this--"The letter of the Law kills but the Spirit gives life"
When we decide to obey the Holy Spirit I know we will see great fruits & wonders! U R LOVED

May 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterestelle

I think we've become so intent on the rules or laws of what is written that we don't go to the one who is the truth. Also we are fortunate to have both. We should be twice as far along in the doing as they were. Joyce LaGodney

May 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Pat Myles here.

I have had the priviledge of being in a variety of Churches. For some churches the emphasis was so much on the Bible that the Holy Spirit could have left and they would have never known it. For others the Bible too was this scary thing that could be wildly interpreted (and of course it has) and we should be wary of becoming like the pharisees who knew the scripture but didn't know God. I'm saying if you take either approach you are wrong. Just because the pharisees knew the Bible doesn't make it something we should avoid. In the same way because there are kooky snake handlers we shouldn't avoid the Gifts of the Spirit.

If a king says something, his subjects should listen to him. If he writes them a letter they should heed the words. Study God's word. It brings life and faith. We need to remember that He asks us to love us with all our heart, MIND, and soul.

May 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Great post, Pop. while you didn't suggest any meditation, I believe tough questions often inspire a measure of inward reflection.

I think one of the greatest of dissimilarities between the the North American church and others interspersed around the world is a cultural phenomenon. The western world values intellect to unhealthy measures. A by-product is an adoration for things we can manipulate, things we can twist to better fit our ideals. It's with this mentality that many approach the Bible, like it's a malleable thing, an interactive compendium to be twisted and transmuted. The trouble is we've failed to recognize the Holy Spirit as the master alchemist and tried to take up that mantle for our own.

With that in mind, it makes utter sense that a believer in the 21st century church would cling a book that, by their reckoning, only bolsters self-formed suppositions about Christianity. Meddling with the movement of the Holy Spirit endangers the safety and soothing status-quo of American Christian living. Jesus cares too intensely for us to think on our comfort; he loves us enough to fix us. And that scares people most times.

That's my spiel. Peacelove.

May 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Hollenbach

Ray said: .>....Please permit one quibble: Our primary purpose is to learn how to follow Jesus more completely (truly, whole heartedly), which includes discovering flaws in our practice--but finding flaws is always secondary to developing the devotional love in the greatest commandment--to love him with the heart, soul, body, mind, and strength. So it starts with love, which always includes truth, but also (perhaps more important) grace and peace. So bring it on ;-)<<

I reject your quibble, so I cannot participate fully.

I am not trying to fault find. I am trying to truth-find. So I think it's o.k. to spot cognitive dissonance, contradictions, etc.

May 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCharles

so...is Bill Johnson commenting on here posing as "Grinder"?

May 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSammy

Let's face it, Jesus said you cannot serve God and Money (Mammon). North Americans worship the stuff, plus large parts of the North American church. Obviously this is a generalization, but I believe accounts for much of the powerlessness of the Church today. God repeatedly warned the Hebrews that when they came into the promised land, "do not forget the Lord your God". Hard to feel like you need God in the midst of a sea of abundance. This could course correct as God continues to shake the world economic systems.

May 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

I'm with Chad. In fact, our church is reading through the book of Acts right now. I've been surprised that no one, in the Q&A during the sermons, has asked, "They keep talking about the gift of the Holy Spirit. What are they talking about?"

So I'm going to post this as my Facebook status, addressed to my church. Should be interesting, especially as I am more visible now as the administrator of our church's Facebook page.

May 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJon Reid

What a great discussion!

First, I want to call out a total stranger... Charles, I don't know you, but I like you cause you're here at Ray's blog. So please don't take this personally, but you can't clock-in AND take a sick day. You're already here, so you might as well do some work. Much respect! :)

Secondly, I want to affirm Grinder's call for both/and...

In order to avoid the messy, maintenance-heavy, subjectivity of living in the tension between the two, congregations & denominations feel compelled to choose sides in a Bible vs. Spirit bout. The resulting polarity is easy to see in the western church. But in praxis, I think both sides are lacking because I've been to both ends.

I believe this is a false choice where both alternatives deny the work and divinity of the Spirit. After all, who do we think breathed every inspired word? And who do we think moves in our midst with gifts, signs, wonders, power, comfort, and conviction?

Instead of choosing, we have the unique opportunity to embrace both the Spirit AND the Word. You’d think that would be a no-brainer, but unfortunately, it’s like my golf game... when my driver’s working, my short game falls apart. When I’m putting well, I can’t hit a fairway off the tee.

In my experience, we don’t lack Bible or Spirit... we have camps for each. Hence two opposite reactions to the original Bill Johnson quote. What we lack is a single camp where both the Word and the Spirit abide.

Should we not invite the Spirit into our hermeneutics? Should it not be a Spirit-led science to interpret the scriptures? And what if our experience of God through the activity of the Spirit was informed by a deep biblical understanding? And when we inevitably botch things up, is it not sound Biblical doctrine that brings correction and calls us back to God’s heart? Isn’t that the reason we have many of the epistles?

Imagine the same Spirit that inspired the Word working in us to interpret it, and then empowering us to act accordingly... to behave like we believe.

Maybe then my regard for the Spirit would not be my alibi for my ignorance of His Word. Maybe then my love of the Word would not result in attempts to constrain the power of the Spirit within my eisegesis.

Maybe, just maybe, it would shift my hearing:doing ratio and I would do the stuff Jesus did.

May 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

Perhaps my approach is naive, but when I "know "that I have heard the Lord on a matter I automatically feel empowered to do "that thing". Isn't that the Word and the Spirit? When we try to make something happen, we are generally working out of reason or doing a good thing that may not be exactly what God has in mind for us at that moment. It would appear that a lot of spiritual energy is wasted in trying to do something that the Spirit has not called us to do. The God who gives instruction and power also gives rest and restoration and "summer breaks".

May 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRay Roberts

Well, good morning for a second time, on day two of this discussion. My thanks to each of you for your comments, and who knows? perhaps Charles will feel the love enough to jump into the pool!

Ray Roberts: You're certainly not naive, but I think some believers would have a difficult time with the concept of God speaking AND the empowerment coming with the word. But I tend toward your side of that equation.

Matt: First of all, Welcome! Your thoughtful response resonated with me in several areas, but I'll just agree with in one important point: it is disheartening that believe feel the need to choose either or. Experiential, Spirit-oriented believers need the written word as their safety net and hence should be diligent students of the Scripture, and at the same time, I long for the "Spirit-led science to interpret the scripture." I've been let down time and again by natural reasoning that clearly never invited the Author to help interpret the Word.

Jon: Your experience with believers reading the book of Acts is spot on with my experience. Some folks have followed Jesus since childhood and "suddenly" discover the prominence of the Holy Spirit in the scriptures, saying, "why hasn't anyone ever pointed this out before?"

Anon: It's true that the "wealth" of the North American church comes with a unique set of problems, namely trusting in Mammon. But can you imagine a Spirit empowered rich person (Count Zinzendorf, or even Bono)?

Joe: I totally love the "alchemy" line. Also, the West has always valued intellect disproportionately. We need to remember, along with St. Paul, that "knowledge puffs up, but love builds up."

Peace to all!

May 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRay Hollenbach

I don’t think anyone here disagrees that both the Bible and the Spirit are needed. I don’t think Bill Johnson would disagree with that. In fact, as far as I know, I’ve never met a “Christian” who doesn’t believe that both the Spirit and the Bible are needed. Yet this discussion has garnered lots of comments…so something is afoot.

When I read Bill Johnson’s comment, I think (though like Ray I can’t speak for him) he is saying the same thing Jesus was saying in John 5:39-40: “39You diligently study[a] the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” To me, these two quotes (BJ’s & Jesus’) are twins, they are practically about the same issue. Neither Jesus nor BJ are saying the scriptures aren’t necessary or meaningful or important (very important, as Grinder has pointed out), but beware the ROLE you ASSIGN them.

Here are some questions I believe to be valid to this discussion: Did Abraham walk with God closer than you or I? If so, how? He didn’t have one lick of scripture. How about Job? How about Abel? How about Noah. How about Enoch. How about all the women we haven’t heard about in that same time frame? How about…you get the point. Or, more recently, how about all the folks from Moses’ time to the 1400s? If they wanted to hear the “Bible,” they often had to go to synagogue or church, and hear it read (out loud, vs reading it themselves) and/or looking at icons of the stories themselves. Often they heard the Bible read in a tongue that was either ancient or foreign to them. Did God fail those people? Did they walk with God as close or closer than you or I? I think that is some of the stuff Bill Johnson is getting at. It doesn’t mean the Bible ins’t true or important. It questions about what role God himself plays in our lives, and whether at times we ascribe to the Bible a role that perhaps God himself should be playing (hence, Ray’s point #2, less concise).

May 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSammy

That is a good point samwise, God revealed Himself and still reveals Himself to people who do not have Scripture and these men and women were able to walk with Him and know Him.

But, the blessing of having Scripture is that we can learn the ways in which God often interacts with men and we can know the revelations of God's Nature that these men were given. For example, Abraham, Noah, Enoch, ect all walked with God, but their revelation of the Nature of God was nothing compared to what Jesus revealed to His disciples (Matthew 13:17). The revelation of God found in the Person of Jesus is the most valuable thing that humanity has been given because in it we have the clearest, perfect revelation of the Creator (such is why it has been so clinged to and worth dieing for since it has been shown to man)

Abraham mostly knew God as One who was with him and promised to bless him, Noah mostly knew God as One who liked him, but definately didn't like the sin of mankind. In fact, only David (and even David only partially) came to a revelation of the Goodness of the Lord and His Love towards mankind (but more so they only understood of His love towards Israel). In fact all the saints in the Old Testament didn't have a perfect revelation of God even though they were able to step out into incredible realms of faith in the things the knew about Him.

One of the things I love to meditate on is Jesus' spiritual development. It is amazing because the key revelations that God gave other men of the past, and the spiritual annointings that come when your heart believes these Truths, were all understood by Jesus and thus in operation in His Life. For example, He had the revelation that His Father knew everything (a Truth that Samuel the prophet understood)--thus they were able to walk in an Annointing where God would regulary reveal secrets of people's lives to them. We see that Jesus also walked in the Miraculous Realm that Elijah and Elisha walked in. This came from the understanding that God is greater than the natural world and He walked in an Annointing where He would regulary do supernatural things. (Though the revelation of God that Jesus had compared to Elijah and Elisha was radically different, in that Jesus understood that God loved all men and wanted to bless all men, thus His supernatural acts were all focused on blessing people whereas Elijah and Elisha often used to power of God to kill). But i personally believe that because Jesus honored what God had done in these other men's lives, that it allowed Him to see God in that way and thus He was given an Annointing that enabled Him to reveal His Father to men in that way.

Ok I really got off track there haha.

BUT Scripture reveals the Nature of God, and then its our job to actually pursue Him in a way that we know by experience that which has been passed down from the generations and given to us by men who knew God in that way.

haha, which is like one of the core messages that P Ray and the peeps on the leadership team of our church have been trumpting for years

May 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterGrinder face

Grinder, really...i thought it was Bill Johnson...but now I'm wondering if it isn't St. Paul or Moses hacking into Ray's blog from heaven.

Of course I can only agree with you (and Ray, and the vast majority of those who have commented) - none of those guys, up to J-Bapt (according to Jesus), had the full potential of revelation that we have (Jesus himself). For us (and the early church) the sky's the limit. And to add to this, holy smokes, we've got the full revelation of God in the scriptures as well (as opposed to just the Torah, oral traditions, some random letters from Paul etc), which the early church didn't have in its entirety! The point I've intended to make (and probably failed drastically) is that I think the scriptures should PRIMARILY be seen as a means to knowing God himself, and never and end to itself, or - perhaps more subtly - put on some sort of equal plane with God, because we do not worship scripture, however holy it is. You guys are very articulate, and Grinder is simply anointed.

As Grinder said, "the blessing of Scripture is that we can learn the ways in which God often interacts with men and we can know the revelations of God's Nature that these men were given" is, i think, how I view the primary service/role that scripture plays.

May 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSammy

First, thank you for as always, posing a relevant and provoking question.
My initial reaction would be to say legalism in the churches. Man’s attempt to reach God so deeply thwarts God’s reach down to mankind (the Holy Spirit & Jesus) that we miss the point. We in America do not truly understand grace – that we CAN NEVER EARN our way into Heaven. The second we think we can, we void Jesus’ priceless gift of atonement and justification for us. It is a free gift and we are now to walk in it!
Because we do not understand grace, we cannot understand that God LOVES US. He love, love, loves us!! We do not wish to walk closely with Him because we fear that we have once again “disappointed Him” or did something so we are no longer “loveable”. But if we do our hail Mary’s and don’t swear – only then does God love us. I think there are initial tears in Heaven because we will simply realize how much we missed the point – HE LOVES US!!!
My second view would be to say like the others, American culture values ANYTHING but Jesus Christ. It is quite a masterpiece Satan has laid out – pay attention to ANYTHING other than what you are supposed to be doing (walking in a loving relationship with our Savior and friend).
The importance of Scripture cannot be valued enough. God’s reveled Word ensures that us as the sheep are not doing in the name of God, things that God hates. But I would rather have a genuine-hearted effort to walk in the Spirit and mess up a little bit than to ignore the Holy Spirit completely. For if as a collective group we walk in the Spirit, won’t the Creator of Heaven and earth be faithful to pry us back in the right direction?? We must be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. For the Holy Spirit is a person, not an “it”, He has emotions and can be grieved…I can’t imagine how I would feel being an uninvited guest to my own house for 1,000s of years….

May 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCassie

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