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?”