Reflecting on My Pentecostal Heritage (and Remembering Brownsville, too)

azuzaOne of the most poignant scriptures in all of the Bible (for me) lies in Matthew 7. It says:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Verses 21 – 23).

The reason that this scripture is so striking to me is because of the Pentecostal roots of my faith in God. I came to know the Lord almost 21 years ago this Easter Sunday at an Assembly of God church in Milwaukee. Since that time, I have been taught so much about the gifts and anointing of the Holy Spirit, so much so that I could probably earn a degree in it. Oh wait, I already did that (thanks NCU).

Speaking in tongues, prophecy and other outward displays of the Spirit were things that were earnestly sought after. The church that I was a part from the time that I came to know the Lord until I moved to Minnesota in 2001, were ardent followers of the Brownsville Revival in Pensacola, Florida. We were all amazed at the amazing display of God’s Holy Spirit there, and even wondered what we were doing wrong to not have experienced the same outpouring of His Spirit in our own congregation. When I say ‘we,’ I also mean ‘me,’ because I too was captivated by this movement. I even remember laying hands on people for them to receive the Holy Spirit so that they could begin to display the same works that everyone was seeking after.

But as I look at Matthew 7, I wonder if we had it right. According to this passage, just because someone prophesies or speaks in tongues or even raises the dead, it doesn’t mean that they have a relationship with God. This seeming paradox used to confuse me as I wondered how someone could function under the gifts of the Spirit of God, and still not belong to God. Perhaps Romans 11.29 can shed some light here: the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable. To me, this means that when God determines to heal, set free, deliver, speak a Word, or do whatever else, He will do it and use whatever means that He has to in order to get it done. God speaking through a donkey (Numbers 22), didn’t mean that it had a relationship with God. It was simply God’s vehicle to get a message across to a stubborn prophet. And just because Saul began to prophesy when the Spirit of God fell upon him (I Sam 19), it didn’t mean that all of sudden he was in good with God. His prophesying was simply a means that God used to distract him from killing David. But if these outward manifestations and gifts of the Spirit are not telling on one’s relationship with God, what is?

After sharing with the church in Corinth a somewhat lengthy treatise on the gifts of the Spirit – tongues, prophecy, healing, etc – the apostle Paul urges the church to seek after something greater than all of these things. Love. In I Corinthians 13, he says that without love, all of the gifts of the Spirit are not profitable to us at all. In Galatians 5, Paul expounds on this fruit of the Spirit, and adds to it – joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. According to Paul, those who belong to Christ Jesus have these things evidenced in their life. While the giftings of the Spirit are good, and even necessary for the building up of the church, they cannot take the place of these character traits, or fruit of the Spirit, which really testify to the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

So yes, continue to seek after the gifts of the Spirit. Today, perhaps more than ever, we need people laying their hands on the sick and the dead, we need people set free from demonic oppression, we need prophesy, we need faith, we need knowledge, we need sound teaching to combat the lies that the world perpetrates. But more than this, we need a people of God who are fully functioning in the fruit of the Spirit – people who will love others across racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic divisions, people who are not necessarily happy, but full of the joy of the Holy Spirit, people who strive to live at peace with others, people who are genuinely kind, people who abide by their word, and people who are full of self-control! Why? Because while the display of the Spirit in our lives will draw people to God initially, it is the way that we treat them, and love them, that will keep them there.

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