Christianity 201

August 14, 2011

Restricting the Holy Spirit’s Ability to Move

As a worship leader serving in local churches under various pastors, it was always crucial that I knew where the pastor/church stood on the operation of spiritual gifts — in particular gifts of utterance — since I was the one holding the microphone and controlling a good portion of the opening of each weekend service.  In once church we came up with this “policy” — with tongue firmly planted in cheek, I should stress — for dealing with tongues and interpretation:

TRUTH # 1 — People are free to give a message in tongues as long as there is someone present to interpret.
TRUTH # 2 — There is no one here to interpret.

As insane as that sounds, it’s actually reflective of how many churches deal with the issue of “the gifts” and the movement of the Holy Spirit in general.  There may not be an actual policy — or even a tongue-in-cheek one — but there are unstated rules which limit the possibilities for God to ‘break in’ to the service; and the larger the church, the more of these unstated rules exist.

  • We don’t have time in this service for that
  • We tried that once and it was a disaster
  • We’re open to that, but we do that in a group that meets on Wednesday morning at 6:30
  • People desiring that type of worship might prefer a different type of church
  • Once we do that, it opens the flood gates for similar things and then gets out of hand
  • It might intimidate or drive away visitors
  • If the service runs too long, the children’s ministry workers complain
  • It will remind everyone too much of what it was like when _________ was the pastor
  • It sends the wrong kind of message
  • Our services are carefully crafted by the planning team to fit a specific theme and format
  • It might damage the carpet

Okay, I threw that last one in rather randomly.  But the tone of argument might sound familiar to you if you’ve spent any time in church.  On the other hand, there are probably people reading this who attend house churches (or simple church) who have no idea what I’m writing about, since those smaller settings allow for a greater set of possibilities to take place. But we do create barriers to God’s Spirit moving in freedom.  Instead, we should be meeting with expectancy; leaving spaces in our worship and teaching times for unplanned things to happen.

Here’s I Thess. 5:19 in a few translations:

  • Do not stifle the Holy Spirit.  (NLT)
  • Do not quench the Spirit (NASB)
  • Do not extinguish the Spirit (RV – Spanish – trans.)
  • Don’t suppress the Spirit (MSG)
  • Do not hold back the work of the Holy Spirit  (NCV)
  • Don’t suppress the Spirit  (Common English Bible)
  • Do not dampen the Spirit (Luther – German – trans.)

Are there patterns we’ve fallen into, and unwritten rules we’re following that impede the work of the Holy Spirit in our churches?