When Jesus left Earth, He gave the disciples and all who would believe in Him the Holy Spirit. And ever since, there has been tension regarding the way Christians interpret this mysterious aspect of the trinity.
Surrounding the Holy Spirit in Christianity, there are 2 major belief regarding the way the Holy Spirit is manfested today: Cessationism and Continualism.
For the sake of background knowledge, I will briefly describe both and then let you know which one I believe and why I believe it – I think this is necessary for me to disclose if I am going to write on such a topic.
Cessationsim argues that, while the Holy Spirit still dwells eith God’s people, the gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit ended in the Book of Acts after the 12 apostles ignited the movement of Christianity.
In Acts chapter 2, the apostles are on a mission to spread the good news of this Messiah that just died, resurrected and ascended to heaven: Jesus Christ. One day, the apostles are preaching in a house and God all the sudden sends flaming tongues from heaven that start speaking to all the people there, allowing them to hear the gospel in their own language. 3000 people of different ethnicities were saved that day and it ignited the apostles’ church growth and spreading of Christianity. There is never another time recorded in the book of Acts when flaming tongues fell from heaven again like this. So Cessationism argues that God didn’t need to do that again since the fire of Christianity was already started and burning and spreading. Thus, arguing that the Holy Spirit doesn’t do that anymore period.
Continualism states that the gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit continue now and can be present in the life of the Believer.
In 1 Corinthians 12-14, the apostle Paul who was a missionary evangelist for Christ and a key player in spreading Christianity in the ancient world, mentions the gift of speaking in tongues. So it clearly kept happening after Acts chapter 2, because Paul was persecuting Christians at that point and hadn’t yet met Christ until later (Acts 9:1-19), so to be addressing the issue of tongues in his letter to Corinth shows that there had been enough time for this to be active and present in the church.
I personally agree with this position of Continualism and I’ll tell you why.
(You are free to believe what you believe if you really can defend it, this is just what I have come to after research, thinking, and what I see in scripture.)
Cessationism assumes that speaking in tongues was a “one-time” thing.
But as recorded historically, it was not a one-time thing… it pops back up later chronologically in 1 Corinthians 12-14 at a time where Paul is in charge of a church, whereas at the time of Acts 2, he was still a Jewish Christian persecutor. Also, the author of the book of Acts never tells us that what happened in chapter 2 was only a one-time thing.
Not only that, but if the Holy Spirit’s power was a one-time thing and then ceased, how does that line up with the theology of the trinity where the Holy Spirit exists as God in 1 of God’s 3 forms? God doesn’t cease to exist. So the Holy Spirit cannot cease to exist.
Some cessationists push back and say that the Holy Spirit did not cease to exist, just the impartation of prophesy, speaking in tongues and healing.
Okay. But if the Bible says God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow (Hebrews 13:8), how can the Holy Spirit all the sudden be different today than He was in the 1st century with the apostles? The Holy Spirit is no less God than Jesus or the Father. So He cannot stop being who He is. He cannot stop imparting His powers. 1 Thessalonians 5:19 tells us not to quench the Spirit. Ephesians 4:30 says to not grieve the Spirit. If we try to limit the Spirit by telling people He doesn’t operate the way He used to, then we are violating His identity and quenching and grieving Him, which we are told not to do.
Also, many missionaries and people from other countries will tell you just how powerful and present the Holy Spirit is in other countries doing things similar to things in the gospels and the book of Acts. They’ve seen it. God uses the Holy Spirit to lead people to salvation.
God is still moving in our world and most often, He does the most radical things in the places least expected. And God will do whatever it takes to save somebody, even go so far to speak through somebody in tongues, heal and/or prophesy so that He may draw a sinner to Himself. God loves His creation that much. And He’s way more powerful than we give Him credit for.
Regardless of what position you hold, everyone has the Holy Spirit who believes in Christ (Eph 1:13).
Jesus left the Holy Spirit here with us to be our guide and comforter.
Whether you attribute that power to God generally or the Holy Spirit specifically, the part of God that resides with us here on earth theologically is the Holy Spirit (John 14:16, 26).
Cessationism won’t deny that.
It believes in the Holy Spirit. It just doesn’t like all the “Holy Spirit stuff” as I’ve heard it put.
I don’t even know what that means.
“Holy Spirit stuff?”
That’s like saying, oh I like Christianity, I just don’t like all that “Jesus stuff.”
Or I like Chik-fil-a, I just don’t like all that “chicken stuff.”
The two are mutually exclusive.
You can’t like one part of the Holy Spirit and reject the other.
So I am concerned.
What I am concerned about is the problem of the Holy Spirit being misunderstood.
The Holy Spirit, the one dwelling on the earth, is the part of the trinity that gets misunderstood the most.
The Holy Spirit dwells in the earth…
And the people in the earth just don’t quite know what to do with Him…
Can He still do all the powerful things of the Bible?
Is the Holy Spirit just as important as Jesus?
What does the Holy Spirit do anyway?
Will others think I’m one of those “crazies” if I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit?
What am I supposed to believe about the Holy Spirit with all these different beliefs?
These are just some of the questions others and myself have asked.
Satan loves it.
I think it’s the devil’s goal to get us confused and doubtful about the Holy Spirit so that we will be limited as God’s children and thus be powerless against the spiritual warfare we face.
Because without the power of the Holy Spirit, we’re all going to crash and burn hard. There is no freedom from our flesh and our sin without the help of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:1-6, 2 Cor 3:17). The Holy Spirit is the part of the trinity on earth currently waging war with the devil, and He encounters great resistance from the devil and, sadly, also from Christians who don’t understand Him.
We did the same thing to Jesus too.
Jesus came to His people, the Jews. And the Jews did not believe in Him or want Him.
They didn’t understand Him.
So they disrespected Him.
Now Jesus has given His people the Holy Spirit. And so many of His people do not believe in the Holy Spirit or want Him.
They don’t understand Him.
So they disrespect Him.
It seems that when God touches down on earth in whatever form, He gets misunderstood and disrespected.
We misunderstand the Holy Spirit when He is seen as anything else other than what HE is: holy, God, powerful, authoritative.
We disrespect the Holy Spirit when we see Him as “weird.”
Unfortunately over time, the Holy Spirit has gained this stigma in evangelical Christianity.
And it has stuck to the Pentecostal and Charismatic denominations in particular, since they are the ones who most boldly hold to the Holy Spirit as being just as powerful now as He was in the 1st century church among the disciples.
Evangelicals observe the Pentecostal and Charismatic churches from the outside.
They see or hear about them speaking in tongues, prophesying over one another and praying to God for healing and they immediately assume that all of that is craziness.
Isn’t all of Christianity craziness?
I mean, heck, we believe in a man who was born of a virgin teenager and proclaimed to be the Messiah and ended up being resurrected after dying on two pieces of wood! We have no problem believing that! We have no problem believing in all the crazy stories in the Bible.
Yet we condemn others who believe that God can do mighty things through His Spirit!?
It seems that we ALL should be charismatic.
I don’t even know why it’s a denomination.
I thought every Bible believing, Jesus-following Christian believed that God can do whatever the heck He wants to do through His Spirit. HE is GOD after all.
So why has it become such a divisive topic?
“Don’t get carried away with that Holy Spirit stuff” I’ve heard many people say.
What does that even mean? Seeing theologically that the Holy Spirit is the third part of the trinity and is God, you are, in essence, saying that I should “not get carried away with God.”
And I know that’s not what they’re trying to say. The just don’t understand what they’re actually saying.
So what’s the real issue here?
From what I’ve observed and experienced myself, this is the MAIN reason evangelical Christians say “don’t get carried away with the Holy Spirit stuff”: they observe false actions being done in the name of the Holy Spirit.
In other words: these skeptical christians claim that they have seen people do or say something in the name of the Holy Spirit that don’t come to fruition and, thus, aren’t actually from the Spirit or from God. So they assume all these kind of things aren’t real and just emotional exaggeration.
This happened to me several years ago.
Back in 2011 I spent some time with an organization connected to a charismatic style church.
During our week of training, we had a session on “The Holy Spirit.”
*Before I lose anybody, please know that the following is not accurate theology but I am fleshing it out to let you know what this leader believed, as I share the aftermath of his preaching that night.* That evening, our leader preached from gospel passages regarding the nature of the Holy Spirit and this idea of “a second baptism of the Holy Spirit” which he, and many others, decipher from Matthew 3:11, which says Jesus will come to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. He interpreted this as meaning that after we accept Christ, there is a second baptism that we have to ask God for in order to receive the actual “power” of the Holy Spirit. He then went on to pick out certain verses from the gospels that illustrate the Holy Spirit “coming upon” Jesus and selected others, arguing that the Holy Spirit must “come upon” someone after they have been saved. Then, he invited everyone in the room to pray and ask God to baptize us with the Holy Spirit so that we can have this special power like the other ones in the room who already seemed to have this power. He started speaking in tongues and so did others in the room. Then people started walking up to each other saying prophesies over them. And I felt very frustrated. I felt frustrated because I was trying so hard to receive this “second baptism of the Holy Spirit” and waiting to feel something and be able to speak in tongues like everyone else but I couldn’t do it. I thought that maybe I wasn’t spiritual enough. I thought I wasn’t praying hard enough. Or not doing something right. So I took one of the leaders to the side and asked her why I couldn’t do this like other people in the room. She said I needed to relax and just ask God. She prayed over me and then said for me just to open my mouth and see what comes out. But it didn’t work. And I was very confused at the whole session. And I do believe that speaking in tongues can happen because I just believe that God can do anything He wants, and if He wants to save somebody through their neighbor sharing the gospel in tongues while standing next to them then by gosh I believe God can do it. But I’m not going to assume anyone can just do it. That is up to God.
So this whole experience made me see the negative consequences of people misunderstanding the Holy Spirit. I see why some are cessationist and are hesitant to believe the Holy Spirit can do today what He did then. I get it. But we need to realize that this incident was precisely the result of people acting upon theological misinterpretation.
This leader and the others around me at this place do really love Jesus, but their theology regarding a “second baptism of the Holy Spirit” is not sound. Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit at the moment of our salvation. The only reason the Holy Spirit was “coming upon people” in the gospels is because of 1 very important detail: Jesus had not yet ascended to heaven to leave the Holy Spirit permanently. After He ascended, the Holy Spirit came to dwell on the earth and with every believer. But I trust that if they do really love Jesus, that He will teach them. It’s not up to me or anyone to correct them. Let’s leave it up to God.
That whole incident was a very different experience for me.
I could let it scar me and make me not want to do anything associated with “the Holy Spirit” or spiritual things.
But I haven’t.
And I’m not going to.
I’ll tell you why: the Holy Spirit is still who He is despite a few people’s misinterpretation of Him. I can’t let a few people who misunderstand the Bible and the Holy Spirit and then go do crazy things obstruct me from letting God be present in my life in the third form of the trinity, the Holy Spirit.
I’m not going to quench God.
Will some abuse the Holy Spirit? Yes.
Will some misunderstand the Holy Spirit? Yes.
Will some believe wrong theology and do wrong things in the name of the Holy Spirit? Yes.
And the enemy fuels this because He knows that if we embrace the Holy Spirit’s power we will be unstoppable.
I am NOT about to fall for that and let it stop me from letting the Holy Spirit be present and active in my life however He wants to be.
I need Him too much.
I can’t get through this life resisting the Holy Spirit. I would be dead and lifeless.
This whole incident just shows how easy it is for good people to get caught up in a desire for “more of God” that causes abuse of the name of the Holy Spirit.
A desire for more is great.
I want more of God.
We all want more of God.
But the danger in combining human will-power for “more” + observing manifestations of the Spirit is that → we assume “more manifestations” means “more of God.”
And we exert all of this effort trying to experience something rather than letting God be God and do what He wants to, whether He reveals something we observe tangible or not.
Because most of the time, God does a lot and we just can’t see it.
So out of a desire, that is actually good, we end up basing our relationship with God on what we SEE happening around us and in us (i.e. healings, ability to speak in tongues, ability to prophesy, etc) because it’s human nature to want to SEE what God is doing.
And what we see becomes a barometer by which we measure our current closeness or distance with God.
This is what has caused division in Christianity: a few minority of people doing things in the name of the Holy Spirit that aren’t actually from God and then others getting all upset about it and thus broadcasting that observation onto every Christian who does things in the name of the Holy Spirit as if it is also not from God.
But we can’t let a few people who abuse the Holy Spirit’s name cause us to expect that every charismatic person must be doing that…because in reality, the majority of charismatic people really are seeking God and are not abusing the Holy Spirit at all.
Rather, they are the ones inviting Him in and expectant that He can move!
And they are living lives of purpose and real connection with God!
I wish we all had that kind of faith!
The Holy Spirit is so much more than gifts and manifestations of power.
The Holy Spirit is basically our lifeline to God the Father.
He indwells us to be who God calls us to be as God continues to work on our hearts.
The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, leads us to faith in Christ, sustains our hope in God, comforts us in pain, empowers us to overcome sin, addictions and other strongholds in our lives, reminds us of God’s grace, connects us to God, intercedes for us in prayer, and so on…
He is so much more than anything we can see or not see…
If we don’t invite the Holy Spirit into our lives and in to the church because we assume He is weird and not necessary we will never experience the life of freedom and joy we were meant to live here.
We need the Holy Spirit.
Just as much as we need Jesus.
We need EVERY part of God.
In contrast to that 1 horrible experience, I’ve way way more really great encounters in charismatic environments and am always encouraged by the people I am around. I’ve heard so many great stories from friends of mine who have seen God move in mighty ways. And the joy of others I see when I am surrounded by those seeking the Lord for who He is in Father, Son AND Holy Spirit, is just contagious. I could not have anything less than that. Life without the Spirit is not living.
And honestly, when I’m in a place joined with others who are mindful of the Holy Spirit I feel like I can breathe again.
It’s not that the Holy Spirit is not present in other places.
He’s always there.
It’s just that in some places, most people don’t really care about the Holy Spirit. And there is no communal effort to be mindful of Him.
Whether you’re in church or just in your room or in town or in your car, it doesn’t matter where…be aware of the Holy Spirit…because He’s there whether you invite Him or not. And He wants you to be aware of Him so that You can be at peace with God in your midst.
We need Him far more than we can ever know.
Maybe the Holy Spirit is weird. God saving a soul from death to life is not normal. It is weird. Overcoming alcoholism despite years of addiction is not normal. It is weird. Forgiving the drunk that killed your family member is not normal. It is weird. So if people want to ignore the Holy Spirit because it’s “weird,’ I think we also need to recognize that everything about Christianity is “weird,” especially to those who would look at it from the outside and say “How in that world is that possible?”
1 Corinathians 1:18 says,
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
So I guess it is weird.
Our faith is weird.
And if it is, then I want it.
I want weird.
I don’t want dead, lifeless religion. I want something that’s alive. And My God is alive…in all 3 forms: Jesus, Father and Holy Spirit! So I’ll take Him in all 3 forms.
I pray that we as a church would start to come together in seeking God while taking advantage of the form He left with us on earth to help us: the Holy Spirit. Jesus and the Father left Him here with us for a reason. And I pray we would not resist. May we invite the Holy Spirit to invade every part of our lives and find that we will be ready for every attack the enemy tries to throw at us. And may we find comfort and lasting peace in Him. Thank You, God, for Your kindness towards us.
“The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.”
“Here As in Heaven” by Elevation Worship