Why did Paul Go to Corinth with a Demonstration of the Spirit’s Power?

“My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power….”

Ruins of Ancient Corinth in Peloponnese, Greece

Over the couple weeks that I was paying attention to what happened at Asbury University in Wilmore, KY (and other places now too), and considering the people criticizing it or cautioning us about it, I have prayerfully considered the matter. I have written about the “Asbury revival” a handful of times, so I am not going to rehash what I have written.

I continue to mull over the seeming positive development of 20-somthings worshiping, publicly confessing sins, praying for each other, and exalting the name of Jesus while people have been critical of what was happening and questioning God’s involvement in it. At the same, I have been drawn in my daily Bible reading to the concern Paul expressed in most of his letters for unity in the body of Christ.

This focus that has been impressed on me as I read the Bible and meditate on it predates the Asbury thing by many months, but it is directly relevant to it. The lack of unity in the American Church stands in sharp contrast to Paul’s emphasis on unity in the body of Christ. Our lack of unity has been publicly demonstrated in the vitriolic responses to the “He gets us” commercials aired during the Super Bowl and now to the Asbury “revival”.

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is all about unity and order in the local body of believers in Corinth. At the same time, the Corinthian Christians seemed to lack no shortage of what we might call the “outpouring” or “movement” of the Holy Spirit. None of Paul’s letters deals more with “the spiritual gifts” than this one.

I need to comment that the free exercise of the spiritual gifts, and God moving in peoples’ hearts and minds do not necessarily go hand in hand, as we will see, Paul also did not discourage the Corinthians from using the spiritual gifts.

This is the problem, though: while the spiritual gifts were demonstrably evidenced in the Corinthian church, they Corinthians were not producing an abundance of the fruits of the Spirit among. This lack of the fruit of the Holy Spirit was the problem in Corinth.

As a key indicator of that lack of fruit, Paul focused on their quarrelsome cliques: one group followed Paul, another group followed Apollos, and other groups of people claimed to follow Cephas, or simply Christ. That local body was being torn apart by arguments over who they should follow and other aspects of the Christian life, like whether they should be eating food sacrificed to idols. Meanwhile, they were ignoring other problems in their midst like sexual sin, relational issues, and other things.

They exhibited the spiritual gifts abundantly. Those exhibitions of spiritual gifting might be called today a “movement” or “outpouring” of the Holy Spirit, but the fruit of the Holy Spirit was lacking. Whether the Spirit was “moving” or people were simply exercising gifts given by the spirit are two different things.

I have experienced that incongruity myself. A lack of harmony between a hyper focus on the spiritual gifts and a lack of unity, faithfulness, maturity, and holiness in the local body of Christ has caused many to pull back from Charismatic and Pentecostal forms of Christian expression. Me included.

We sometimes fail to appreciate the difference between the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the fruits of the Holy Spirit. We think that a demonstration of the gifts of the Holy Spirit means that we are blessed by God, and everything we do is approved by God, but that isn’t necessarily true.

If those two things went hand in hand, Paul would have had no issues with the Corinthian church, because the Corinthians experienced a liberal “outpouring of the Spirit” characterized by prophecy, speaking in tongues, miracles, etc. Though the Corinthian church was demonstrably Charismatic (or Pentecostal), it was woefully lacking in unity and personal holiness.

Having acknowledged that, we need to notice that Paul’s issue with the Corinthians wasn’t (primarily) their misuse (or ineffective use) of the spiritual gifts. The more serious concern was their prideful, boastful, quarrelsome lack of unity and toleration of sin in their midst.

Something else occurs to me that I hadn’t noticed before, and this is the focus of my writing today. The Corinthians were Greek, of course. Paul famously says to the Corinthians that Greeks demand wisdom, while Jews (his people) demand signs.

Both of these things are forms of error, but the Corinthians, being Greek, were particularly prone to err along the lines of their particular, cultural bias. They valued discourse, argument and persuasive oratory. Thus, Paul said,

“When I came to you, brothers and sisters, announcing the mystery of God to you, I did not come with brilliance of speech or wisdom. I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not be based on human wisdom but on God’s power.”

1 Corinthians 2:1‭-‬5 CSB

Paul says he did not come with brilliance of speech or with persuasive words. He came with “a demonstration of the Spirit’s power”. As I will show below, Paul’s focus is on the Greek tendency to err in demanding “wisdom”, not the Jewish tendency to demand “signs” (though the Corinthians experienced no shortage of “signs”). This is interesting to me in the light of the Asbury University phenomenon.

Continue reading “Why did Paul Go to Corinth with a Demonstration of the Spirit’s Power?”

Taste and See that God is Good: The Asbury Revival

We spend far more time praying for renewal of our strength than soaring on wings like eagles.

I have noticed with some mild interest at what is going on at the chapel on the Asbury University campus in Kentucky. Posts show up in my Facebook feed daily, as I am connected to many Christians (and many other people too) on Facebook. One post today, shared from someone who has been there from the beginning, described it succinctly as follows:

“A chapel service that didn’t stop but continued spontaneously for 8 days now.”

Today has been ten (10) days since that spontaneous beginning, and I have been watching various live streams of the February 8th chapel service that is still going on. This is how it started:

How the Asbury University chapel started on February 8, 2023

I have seen doubters and critics, I have seen posts from people who jumped in their cars and traveled hundreds of miles to see it for themselves: this chapel service that started and has not stopped. It has continued around the clock for 10 days now.

I have seen hype. I have seen caution. Critics caution about emotionalism. Critics want to de-emphasize experience and double down on the Bible and doctrine. Critics say that an omnipresent God should not require a person to travel to a particular location to experience Him.

I have been cautious myself. I am also aware that a sovereign God does what He wants to do despite our understanding of scripture, and theology and the way things ought to be. I have experienced “moves of the Holy spirit”, myself.

I have experienced that people cannot dictate how, when, or whether the Holy Spirit moves. “The wind blows where it will.” We don’t put the Holy Spirit in our pocket like a rabbit foot. We don’t command or possess Him.

People have described what is going on at Asbury University as a revival. That term may conjure up images of a “tent revival” and flamboyantly crass preachers, artificially slick hair, words that drip like honey, and ecstatic chaos.

The Asbury Revival is characterized by a different atmosphere. The person’s post from today who has been there from the beginning said this:

“To quote Professor McCall, a theology professor at Asbury Seminary, ‘what we are experiencing now—this inexpressibly deep sense of peace, wholeness, holiness, belonging, and love—is only the smallest of windows into the life for which we are made.’”

As a child of the 60’s and 70’s, I am reminded of the hippies who wanted “Peace and love. Not war!” I think of John Lennon who imagined a world without war – and without religion – with only peace. Hippies, however, were a contentious bunch, and John Lennon was no saint.

Not that I blame them for dreaming or trying. It’s just that people are completely incapable of making these kinds of dreams come true. Just when we think we have created our utopia, it is already disintegrating and slipping through our fingers like a mirage we feel we can grab hold of.

I lived for several years in a communal house. It was a leftover from the flower children of the 1960’s who became the Jesus people of the 1970’s. I loved it, but it was no utopia. The reality is that people have rough edges. So, “iron sharpens iron,” but the sharpening isn’t always a pleasant process.

Yet, when people get together to devout themselves to following God together, to worship and pray together, to do life together, God is in their midst. These words of Jesus are as true today as the day he spoke them:

“Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Matthew 18:20

These words are true when our rough edges are rubbing against each other as much as when we “feel the love” (which may not be as often as we like). Even then, I have never experienced the intimacy with another human being as I have experienced when I have experienced the Holy Spirit “moving” in me, usually during times of group worship..

I have experienced the “inexpressibly deep sense of peace, wholeness, holiness, belonging, and love” described by the Asbury professor. It cannot be manufactured or trumped up. When it “happens”, words are difficult to describe it; the experience is life changing.

The experience is only truly life changing, however, if we recognize that the experience is not the point. The experience is a brush with God, who is the source of peace, wholeness, holiness, belonging and love.

If we walk away from the experience longing for another experience, we have missed the important thing. It isn’t ultimately the experience that we long for at all; we long for God, and relationship with Him.

If we chase the experience, it becomes ever more elusive. In our desperation and desire to repeat it, we may resort to emotionalism. We may even resort to trumping up experiences that are artificial.

We desperately need connection to our Creator and the lover of our souls.

Continue reading “Taste and See that God is Good: The Asbury Revival”