The Holy Spirit and Mennonites

I preached this message in 2015.

“Leap of Faith”, a 1992 movie where a traveling performing preacher/faith healer (fraud) uses tent meetings to get money by producing fake miracles. The movie portrays our culture’s deep desire for miracles and our suspicion of the miraculous but also asks the question, what does it mean when the miraculous happens?

I am critical of how the Mennonite church, in my experience, has taught about the Holy Spirit. Teachings on the Holy Spirit, both theoretical and practical, had been lacking and this has led to confusion and difficulties in the church especially in the face of the various charismatic movements over the last century. The irony here is that at it’s beginnings, the Mennonites and the Anabaptist movement was likely more charismatic than it is now.

Lack of understanding the Holy Spirit has caused us problems by creating in us irrational fears and expectations. We tend not to trust speaking in tongues, we’re suspicious of healings. Some believe that the supernatural gifts don’t exist anymore, because we don’t see them and we can wonder if it’s because we lack faith.

I grew up being confused about the Holy Spirit. While I knew the Holy Spirit played a part in church, I couldn’t see what it was. When I was in my twenties and reading the Bible, I had a difficult time reconciling what I read in scripture and what I experienced in church when it came to the Holy Spirit. In scripture, especially the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit is dynamic, ever present and center stage.

The worship in the church I grew up in could be best described as stoic, not dynamic. I’m not surprised at the effectiveness of the various charismatic movements because there is a desire to understand the Holy Spirit.

We are made, by God, from the beginning, to understand the Holy Spirit, but it isn’t something that comes naturally even though it should be.

The Spirit of God and our spirit

Before there was light, God’s Spirit moved above the surface of the earth’s waters.

In the beginning, Adam and Eve are formed by God from the earth. We are made almost 100% from the earth with one exception: The breath that God breaths in us. The only part of us that is not earth, is the breath we have, it is our own spirit. This breath gives us life apart from the earth, made for eternal living, made to understand the Spirit of God.

The word “spirit” is often translated from a Hebrew word that is also translated as breath. That is why God’s Spirit is often described as a wind or God’s breath. God’s word is carried by God’s breath, his Spirit. He is the unseen power of God that is felt and moves in ways we cannot see. We can choose to move with the Spirit or we can move on our own.

It’s our spiritual part, that God breathed into us that is meant to connect with God. Yet humanity choose separation from God. From the Fall of Man which we read about in Genesis until Pentecost which we read in the book of Acts, the Spirit of God only manifested itself rarely among people. Since the time of Pentecost, the Spirit of God has been poured out on all peoples.

Article 3 of the Mennonite Confession of Faith highlights our basic understanding of the Holy Spirit. I will walk through our confession and highlight a few points.

The guarantee of redemption

John baptized with water, Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit.

As we reflect on the 1st paragraph of article 3 we profess that the Holy Spirit is the guarantee we have of redemption. Church attendance, church membership, tithing money and baptism don’t guarantee anything. We often think that baptism is the guarantee, but it’s not. Only the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life is a guarantee of salvation.

It’s for this reason that it is crucial to understand how to recognize the Holy Spirit in our life and in others. To see the fruits of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit as evidence. For example, it’s only by the Spirit of God that you can love your enemy and forgive them.

The Spirit at work

Prayer is an essential spiritual discipline that enables the Holy Spirit to do his work. As Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, so we pray.

Paragraph 2 emphasizes that the Spirit of God had a part in all the significant works of God in history. Like wind shaping a landscape, the Spirit of God shapes history. Always at work, unseen, but powerful.

Pentecost: The Spirit poured out on the church

Paragraph 3 emphasizes the communal work of the Holy Spirit.

The church isn’t defined as people inside a building, it’s defined as people where the Holy Spirit resides. The Holy Spirit has an active role in the church through ALL OF IT’S MEMBERS! No one is excluded. The Holy Spirit doesn’t discriminate, so we shouldn’t either. To treat someone with the Holy Spirit as less than a brother or sister is disobedience to the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit in your heart

Paragraph 4 emphasizes the very personal nature of the Holy Spirit’s work.

If you never felt guilty of sin, if you never repented, then you never allowed the Holy Spirit into your heart. This is the primary work of the Holy Spirit in our individual lives.

Do not resist the Holy Spirit. Let him do his work in your life.

Holy Spirit living

The last paragraph is the most Anabaptist part of article 3 because it talks about community, suffering, persecution and weakness. The point is this: The Holy Spirit doesn’t save us from any of the bad parts of living life, it only guarantees that we are redeemed at the end of all of life’s troubles.

The emphasis

The points I find most significant about our confession is that we do believe that the Holy Spirit’s presence is the one guarantee that we have of salvation. At the same time, we don’t say which gifts someone needs to have. The emphasis of our confession is how the Holy Spirit enables redemption.

As a congregation, we need to work towards learning and practicing life with the Holy Spirit. A number of years ago (2012), we had Antonio Ulloa come and teach us 3 sessions about the Holy Spirit. I found his teachings to be very good. Good teachings and practice will help remove confusion and irrational fears. It would be good for us to come to place where we are comfortable with the gifts of the Spirit being expressed without awkwardness or suspicion.

When it comes to my experience in church growing up, I would say that my congregation avoided emotional worship and I do think that this hindered or “quenched” the Spirit. The work that the Holy Spirit does in a person’s heart is very emotional, being convicted of sin is emotional in a difficult way and being freed from sin and burden is also emotional in a good way. At the same time, I don’t think it’s good to believe that we can cause the church to experience the Holy Spirit through emotional worship. The best way I know how to experience the Holy Spirit in worship: (Psalm 51:17) “ a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart …”.

If the only place you experience the Holy Spirit is on Sunday mornings at church, then you are missing the best part of the Holy Spirit. In scripture, the Holy Spirit does it’s most miraculous work in places we least expect. I do believe that the Holy Spirit wants to work his miraculous power through each of us, but to do that, we need to respond to his voice.

I want to leave you with some questions to consider:

(1)How do we learn to practice the gifts of the Holy Spirit? Including healing and speaking in tongues?

(2)Our confession mentions: (a) Fruits of the Spirit, (b) gifts of the Spirit, (c) guidance of the Spirit, (d) and power of the Spirit. Do you know how to identify and differentiate these different parts of the Spirit?

(3)Do you want the power of the Holy Spirit to manifest himself in your life? Do you want the more charismatic gifts like speaking or interpreting tongues or healing? Are you afraid of the power of the Holy Spirit?

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