Abusing The Holy Spirit … United Methodist Style
“The Holy Spirit is the most forgotten, the most misrepresented, the most dishonored, the most grieved, the most abused, and I might even say the most blasphemed of the members of the Trinity.” John MacArthur
That statement by John MacArthur comes from a sermon in 2011, just two years prior to the release of his book Strange Fire and the highly impactful conference of the same name. (You can find the above-referenced sermon HERE, the book HERE and the Strange Fire conference HERE.)
Barely half a decade later, we continue to see egregious offenses against the Holy Spirit committed. While it has become common fare for “Christian TV” to broadcast Spirit blasphemies across the airwaves to the undiscerning – those the apostle calls “naive” (Romans 16:17-18) – and though the charismatic movement remains ground zero for its own status-quo blasphemies against the Third Person of the Trinity, the blatant abuses of the Holy Spirit are not consigned merely to those Scripture-denying quarters of “Christianity.”
Abuse of the Holy Spirit has become a mainstream industry. It has become increasingly commonplace in once more theologically conservative denominations. Abuses against Him are regularly seen in the growing infatuation of contemplative spirituality (for example, Jesus Calling), in preaching where emphasis is on the Holy Spirit rather than Christ, in the growing evangelical fascination with “visions, dreams, and voices from heaven,” as MacArthur notes, and in “Christian” bookstores where Biblically-deviant teachers and teachings on the Holy Spirit are rife. (Consider, for example, the Southern Baptist Convention’s LifeWay and their continued sales of modalist T.D. Jakes’ “Christianized” self-help tomes.)
A more recent example comes from the United Methodist Church (UMC). The UMC, according to its website, is the second largest Protestant denomination in the United States, ranking behind the Southern Baptist Convention. Globally, the UMC boasts some 13 million adherents. But, if the recent story is any indication, what it can no longer boast is faithful adherence to the perspicuous teaching of Scripture. (That seems to be par for the course in the increasing “itching ears” era in which we live. (See 2 Timothy 4:3) The nation’s largest denomination, the SBC, has been veering away from Scripture since its Conservative Resurgence heydays just a few decades past.)
According to an April 11, 2017, article in Good News, a magazine subtitled as “Leading United Methodists to a Faithful Future,” blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is hitting mainstream Methodism. Entitled “Invoking The Spirit,” the article gives us evidence of the denomination’s increasing disregard of Scripture and its abuse of the Holy Spirit.
“The Holy Spirit had swept across the room; its power and presence real and obvious. It was a sacred moment on holy ground.”
If you want to count, the reference to the Holy Spirit as an “it” is abuse number one reported in this article. The Holy Spirit is not an “it.” The Holy Spirit is a person, the third person of the Trinity. He is not some Star Wars-like “force” or some new age- esque “energy.” Christ refers to the Holy Spirit as “He,” making evident the Spirit’s distinct Personhood within the Trinity. See John 16:13, for example.
But the “it” of the UMC article had “swept across the room” for a very particular and very Scripture-defying reason … “the election of the Rev. Karen Oliveto, an openly married, lesbian, as a bishop of The United Methodist Church.”
According to the official website for the UMC, we glean the following under the topic of “Women in Leadership:”
In the Methodist tradition, women were ordained as ministers as early as the late 19th century, and in 1956 the Methodist Church, a predecessor body of The United Methodist Church, granted women full clergy rights. Women now make up approximately 25% of clergy in The United Methodist Church.
A few months ago, my wife and I were sharing the gospel with the manager of a large used bookstore that I tend to frequent. The manager – a woman – was very receptive to a conversation about matters of faith and theology. But when the mention of the New Testament writings of the Apostle Paul arose, so did her ire. “I disregard him. He’s a misogynist. That’s not Christian.” It’s certainly a retort offered more and more frequently in our post-modern culture (If you haven’t encountered it yourself, you might add an apologetic response for it to your “defense for the hope that is within you!” 1 Peter 3:15).
Here’s the thing, though. The Holy Spirit inspired Scripture. The Holy Spirit is eternal God. When He inspired Paul to write such things as “I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man,” (1 Timothy 2:12) the Holy Spirit, as transcendent God, was not bound by the social norms and religious dictates of Paul’s first-century culture. The Holy Spirit was uttering God-breathed Truth and inspiring Paul such that His words would become Holy Scripture.
The Holy Spirit said exactly what He meant, inspired only what He meant, and has providentially transmitted fully what He meant – even to 21st-century readers. That our culture finds Paul misogynistic isn’t a reflection on Scripture’s inadequacy in addressing our particular cultural needs and craving for “tolerance.” It’s not as though the Holy Spirit didn’t know that the God-established authority of man as “head of the wife” (Ephesians 5:22-33) would be socially distasteful and ecclesiastically challenged when our post-modern era rolled around. The problem isn’t with the Word of God. The problem – as always – is with us. We don’t get to question the potter. We don’t get to challenge the order of things established by our sovereign Creator.
But God-breathed Scripture – in its authority and in its sufficiency – is clearly something the UMC isn’t much concerned about. Ordaining women as pastors is a clear violation of Scripture’s teaching. Scripture nowhere instructs us to adjust it to cultural expectations so that God’s message might be more “inclusive.” Rightly handling the Word (2 Timothy 2:15) demands obedience to it. The standard isn’t inclusiveness … it’s faithfulness.
That’s not all, though. Ponder this from the UMC article:
“The Spirit is moving … and wherever we are willing to join in her work, she will birth fruit through us… Holy One, you have assured us that though we cannot see the Spirit herself, we can see the fruit of her work in one another, in our lives, and in the world. We know she is there wherever we see love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against these things, you have told us, there is no such law.”
Perhaps you caught the problem. This progressive group within the UMC chooses either to refer to the Spirit as some sort of impersonal “it” or as a culture-assuaging, gender-specific “she.”
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” John 16:13
For the Biblically-obedient, however, we can refer to Christ’s words about the Holy Spirit and then, knowing that God is immutable (Malachi 3:6) – inclusive of all three persons of the Trinity – understand with certainty that the Holy Spirit has not suddenly become transgendered in the 21st century simply because it’s the attention-grabbing, culturally-chic thing to do.
The author of the article takes exception to the claims made by the progressives in the UMC that the Holy Spirit is affirming the LGBTQ segment of the denomination. He says the General Conference of the denomination – which serves as its deliberative oversight body – “received no word from the Holy Spirit compelling it to overturn its sexual ethics and teachings on marriage. Instead, it heard just the opposite: the Holy Spirit’s reaffirmation or reconfirmation of ethics and teachings rooted in Scripture and 2,000 years of church history.”
Now, that sounds like a pretty solid affirmation of Scripture and the witness of the church’s historic orthodox obedience to it. But, the author is speaking only to the issue of the LGBTQ progressives who are seeking full inclusion within the denomination. What the UMC, in a much broader way, has already established is a precedent that persuades them to disregard Scripture by their disobedient willingness to ordain and employ women in their pulpits. (A 2011 study reported over 11,000 ordained “clergy-women” in the UMC.) Winning on the LGBTQ issue certainly won’t fill the sails of the denomination with the winds of the Holy Spirit, when they are already eager to disregard His clear teaching on other, much more foundational issues.
Still, the author is calling for an outright denominational split over the issue.
Given the long and acrimonious debate, and now the progressives’ claim that the Holy Spirit is leading them to not just contest, but to defy the teachings of the UM Church, they need to fully embrace where they believe the Spirit is leading. For the sake of comity, and the larger mission of the church, it is time for them to create a new denomination in order to follow the Holy Spirit to a place where the UM Church does not believe it is leading.
The problem in all of this, so far as the UMC is concerned specifically – but which speaks more broadly to the evangelical church as a whole – is that Scripture is not a doctrinal buffet from which we may serve ourselves with the delicacies that appeal while avoiding the ones that are distasteful. Approaching Scripture through the lens of contemporary culture is not a responsible, Biblical hermeneutic.
“ … God does not want to be worshiped in illegitimate ways. God wants to be worshiped for who He is, for what He has done in the way He has declared. It is open season on abusing the Holy Spirit, outrageous dishonor of the Holy Spirit, claiming He is saying things and doing things and generating things that have nothing to do with the Holy Spirit at all. … It is a shameful and dangerous sin to heap such abuse on the Holy Spirit. In fact, the idea of bringing dishonor on the Holy Spirit ought to make any thinking person tremble.” John MacArthur
Jesus gave us an important insight into the ministry of the Holy Spirit, a ministry that the UMC is rejecting, regardless of the stance it takes on the homosexual issue.
And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: , concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. John 16:8-11
The denial of any portion of God’s Word is abusive to the Holy Spirit who authored, inspired, preserved and transmitted it. Attributing things to the Holy Spirit that He did not do – such as leading a denomination to ordain women as pastors – is blasphemy, whether those women are lesbians or not.
By their own precedent, however, such blasphemy is welcomed in the UMC.
“There is no broader way to apostasy than to reject God’s sovereignty in all things concerning the revelation of himself and our obedience…” John Owen
[Contributed by Bud Ahlheim]
H/T – William Guilkey