I left last week with a question: How do you tell truth from error when you sense something is not right in your spirit about a teaching or teacher, yet your inquiring mind wants to know more? What do you do?
Those crazy Gentiles
For the first 10 years following Pentecost, the church was Jewish. It was a total shock to Peter in Acts 10 when he was telling the Romans of Cornelius' household about Jesus that they suddenly began speaking in tongues.
He had just told them Jesus was raised from the dead and anyone who believed on Him would have their sins forgiven, when it happened. Acts 10:45 says the Jews with him were 'astonished' because these Gentiles had the same Holy Spirit as they!
So now the question; Should these Gentiles obey the Jewish law? They were uncircumcised, former idolaters, promiscuous people used to having sex with temple prostitutes and/or whomever was willing, maybe some pedophiles as that was normal Greek culture for the day, certainly pork eaters, some polygamists perhaps. Doesn't God want them to have some standards such as the Mosaic law?
"And certain men came (from Judea) to Antioch where Paul and Barnabus were staying, and taught the brethren, 'Unless you get circumcised according to the law of Moses, you cannot be saved." (15:1)
They had a huge argument about it for Paul and Barnabus taught they just needed to love God with all their heart and love their neighbor as themselves, and live Godly moral lives without the requirement to go back to Jewish roots and the law. But they decided Paul and Barnabus would go to Jerusalem to the other apostles and elders to decide. Their pattern for discovering the will of the Lord is the example given us to determine the same!
Word and Spirit
Acts 15 tells us what happened: There was alot of arguing this way and that, then Peter stood up and recounted his experience with Cornelius' household of Acts 10, saying:
"God, who knew their hearts, bore them witness by giving them the Holy Spirit just as He did us; and put no difference between us and they, purifying their hearts by faith. So why are you tempting God to put a yoke on their necks which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ we will be saved, even as they." 15: 8-11
Peter acknowledges God is working among the Gentiles by the Holy Spirit, and Paul and Barnabus then tell everyone all the miracles and all the salvations among the Gentiles, so all can see what the Holy Spirit is doing among the non-Jewish people.
This is key #1 - when you hear of something new to you, a teaching or claim the Holy Spirit is moving somewhere, or in some new way - then you look around the world at the body of Christ, and look to history to see what the Holy Spirit has done in the past and ask: Is what I'm hearing consistent with the character of Jesus and what the Holy Spirit has done in the past?
For example - If you believe women should be veiled because it is mentioned in I Corinthians 11, then you have to look around the world at 2000 years of church history, all the revivals, all the moves of God, and see if the Holy Spirit regularly and consistently through the centuries imposed veils on women. No? Then it is a cultural issue, not a command from God. Will you then rearrange what you believe to line up with what the Holy Spirit has done and is doing? If He isn't commanding the women of the 200,000,000 estimated Chinese Christians to wear veils, nor did He in the famed Welsh Revival, nor did He in the Toronto Blessing - then you are faced with either sticking stubbornly to your beliefs, or changing to agree with God.
The leaders in Acts 15 heard what the Holy Spirit was doing, and saw that it was in keeping with the character of Jesus; people were being made into disciples of the Lord.
Key #2 - Maybe some thought Peter's experience with Gentiles was a fluke. How did they know Paul and Barnabus weren't lying about what the Holy Spirit is doing and has done? Knowing the Word and Spirit are One and always in agreement, James, the brother of Jesus, rose up with this determination:
"Men and brethren listen to me. Simon Peter has told us how God visited the Gentiles in his presence, to take out of the Gentiles a people for Himself. To this agree the words of the prophets (Word) as it is written..." v15
"Therefore my judgement is that we not trouble those who have turned to God from among the Gentiles. But that we write them to abstain from pollutions associated with idols, and from sexual sin, and things strangled or improperly slaughtered for from long ago the law of Moses and Jewish people have lived where they live..." v19-21
"For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you nothing more than these things..." v28
The apostles, the ones who wrote our New Testament, were present for this meeting - they looked to what the Holy Spirit was doing and had done, and to the Word to verify what was God and what was not, and to make decisions based on these things. They found the Word and Spirit in agreement.
Back to the example: So if the Holy Spirit hasn't insisted women through 2,000 years of church history wear veils, yet you understand the Word to believe it is God for women to wear veils - are you willing to change what you believe the Word to say so that Word and Spirit are in agreement in your heart? The only way to do so is to honestly acknowledge in 2,000 years the Holy Spirit hasn't insisted women wear veils, therefore you must change your understanding of scripture - are you willing to do that?
If so, you are growing in balance. If not, then you are stuck in a rut and God can't do much with you in that area because even though the Word and Spirit agree it was a cultural issue, you are un-teachable and stubborn.
Now I don't know anyone where this is an issue, that's why I use this as an example. But the willingness to adjust our understanding of God if the Spirit and our understanding of the Word don't agree, is key to growth.
Good enough for James, Paul, Peter, John, Jude - good enough for us!
Let me use some fairly modern examples. Let us say we hear of a teaching called 'the Shepherding movement' - I know, I'm taking you back to the 1970's and 80's with this, but stay with me.
The Shepherding movement started as a 1 on 1 discipleship and mentoring teaching that gained popularity very fast. Soon, like so many other core teachings, disciples of the Shepherding movement took things to a new level. If 1 on 1 accountability was good, then why not extend that to the whole church? Soon many churches taught that people in the pew couldn't change jobs, sell or buy cars, sell or buy houses and such, without first getting the approval of the elders. Church leadership controlled every aspect of life.
The trouble is that 'shepherding movement' is stamped 'God approved' so well meaning people go along with it, laying aside their common sense, losing their backbone, in the name of God. (False religion always asks people to suspend and ignore common sense, giving their own authority over to leadership)
Now...you try out that church...you go on a Sunday morning and something seems off to you but you can't quite put your finger on it. There is an uneasiness in your spirit. Your first instinct is to walk to the nearest exit, but you are curious, and the worship seems good, and the people are friendly...but there is a tension in the air and something not peaceful in your spirit. So you have the Spirit of Truth telling your spirit something is off...you need to confirm this.
Then it comes from the pulpit...the Word sounds good, but laced thoroughly with accountability at every point, too emphasized in fact and there is a growing grievance, a heaviness in your spirit. You leave with mixed emotions and that nagging in your spirit that says something isn't right. What do you do?
You examine things. The issue of mentoring from one generation to another, older men and women bringing along younger men and women in the faith is throughout the Bible...so far so good. But your spirit through the Holy Spirit isn't in agreement with the spirit in this church...so you dig further and hear that people are asking permission to change jobs and buy cars...and you can't find that kind of control in the Word, your mind suddenly knows why you felt that grievance, and you never go there again. Ta da, you just went through the same process Paul and Barnabus, Peter and James did in Acts 15. You found the balance of the Word and Spirit!
Barb and I attended a little charismatic church some dear friends attended. We thought OK, nice church, we know a few people, the service should be good. The worship was good enough though a little too 'religious' for us - mercy drops falling around and woe is me I'm a worm sort of thing - but it did turn briefly vertical to actually express love to the Lord, and then that pregnant moment of silence when you know it is OK to let a single prophecy manifest. :)
But the prophecy from a worship team member started out: "My little children, your lips say you love me, but your hearts are far from me..." and it went downhill from there. My spirit was so grieved. Barb and I looked at each other in horror. In truth, we felt terrible for our friends who thought this was a genuine word from God.
Our spirits were grieved, and we also knew the Word. In I Corinthians 14:3 it says prophecy is for "edification (building up), exhortation (encouragement), and comfort." This was none of the above as it was all condemnation - it came from the person's own spirit, their own religious mind, and wasn't God at all...it was veiled preaching to a congregation eager to hear how displeasing to God they were...they felt lower than a snake's belly when we left. So we had the Spirit and Word telling us that wasn't a word from God - but our friends were blind to it all. They laid aside common sense, the Word, and what the Spirit was saying...
I need to close out this series next week, for I've run out of space today. Until then, blessings,