A strange topic to write on as we approach Christmas 2020? I guess as perennial as the celebration of Christ’s’ incarnation can be, so it is with Pentecost! As a kind of confirmation, the well-known author Wayne Jacobsen recently posted a blog that resonated with a number of us: it was headed ‘A Fresh Wind is Blowing,’ denoting ‘a shift in the wind of the Spirit.’ In the comments section I noted, as a South African, some positive responses from Africa, although of course not exclusively. Cf. My archives for twin-blogs on ‘Revival’ (Nov. 14 &16, 2018), much frequented during the pandemic by visitors from all over the world, which perhaps confirms this ‘Fresh Wind.’
‘I baptise you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. HE will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire!’ (Mt. 3:11)
Do you recall the Jerusalem Passover incident when Jesus confronted the temple traders and loan sharks with a leather whip, up-ending their tables and chasing out the stampeding sheep and cattle? ‘Get your things out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a shopping mall!’ (Jn. 2:16/MSG). I wonder what Jesus today, tazer-in-hand, would do in the many ‘cheap fire’ dispensing sanctuaries of our world?? Imagine the perspex pulpits, humongous flower arrangements, smoke-machines and anointing-oil jars flying all over the place! Contrast this flaky, superficial stuff with the glorious and powerful baptism of the Spirit, manifested in the early Church, down through Church history and in many unlikely places today…
About three months ago, after careful study of Watchman Nee’s ‘The Normal Christian Life’ (not so ‘normal’ now), one of our house church members, over a number of weeks, expounded the implications of Christ’s death and resurrection for the body today. This study and discussion opened the door for a fresh exploration of ‘The Baptism of the Holy Spirit’ according to Scripture and in the light of Church history. She and I worked on the latter as a joint-venture. We looked at the classic Scripture passages referring to this experience. We dipped into some of the great spiritual revivals of yesterday and in more recent history: this included the 18th century evangelical awakenings in Britain, Germany (Moravians) and North America. We also checked out 19th and 20th century revivals in South Africa, Wales, North Korea, the Hebrides, East Africa, Indonesia, N. America and China. Special mention must be made of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s helpful sermon-series on our topic : what an exciting journey it’s been for our local house church, and via social media with groups in South Africa, New Zealand and Hong Kong. I made notes along the way, and now share something of our joyful journey together. We pray that these diaries will make a real difference to your personal and corporate walk with the Lord.
John the Baptiser, in preparing the way for Israel’s promised Messiah, cried out in the desert: ‘I baptize you with water in repentance. But after will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire…'” (Mt. 3:11) (cf. Mk. 1:8; Lk. 3:16; Jn. 1:33). In the book of Acts, historian-pneumatologist Luke recalled Joel’s remarkable prophecy (Jl. 2:28-29) and its fulfillment in Acts 2ff: the risen Lord sent his Spirit with wind, fire and the evangel spoken in the many languages of God-fearing Jews from every nation. A fresh reading of Acts 2 works wonders: try and do so in a translation or paraphrase you don’t normally use to get the feel of it.
Herewith a few headings from my notes…
A BAPTISM OF FIRE…
The image of fire is fascinating. Fire burns, hurting but also cauterizing. Fire purifies: think of the massive gold-smelting pots separating the gold from impurities in gold-producing countries like mine. Fire renews: in the magnificent Western Cape of South Africa our beautiful protea-bearing ‘fynbos’ (perenially earning gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show) needs an annual fire to burn away old stems, twigs and flowers – following good rain, the earth explodes with the most colourful shrubs and magnificent flora!
In another age, the apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonian assemblies urging them never to ‘quench the Spirit’ or ‘put out his fire,’ e.g. by stubborn unbelief or disobedience (1 Thess. 5:19, 23-24). By contrast many contemporary congregations and leaders remind one of those old-fashioned village fire brigades, armed with buckets and hose-pipes, quenching any semblance of fire!
We need to guard against any self-exaltation and manipulation, and especially exalting our private, personal (perhaps very valid) experiences above Scripture.
Furthermore, we must guard against human ‘control’ and Western decorum on the one hand and ecstatic circuses on the other hand. E.g. Paul addressed the spiritual excesses in the matter of spiritual gifts in the Corinthian assembly, yet he obviously recognized many of the Corinthian believers as having been genuinely ‘baptised with the Spirit.’ In my own spiritual journey and early ministry years I must confess that I was a somewhat ‘controlling Calvinist’: this was much sorted out by my marriage to a sweet, spontaneous charismatic girl, lol! Yep, we need that balance between structure and spontaneity, reason and mystery.
Pr. Riekert Botha, from the beautiful Southern Cape, has reminded his radio and YouTube followers that, in many ways, our greatest enemy is not the devil so much as the ‘flesh,’ that ego-part of us that seeks attention ad nauseum. He gives the classic example of Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8:9-25: a man who believes, succumbs to materialism and power, only to be summoned by the apostles to repent or die! I.o.w. we have to pursue personal holiness if we are grow spiritually, following the baptism of the Spirit.
My fellow researcher came across A.W. Tozer’s list of a number of subtle ‘self-sins,’ quickly quenching the Spirit’s fire: e.g. self-importance, self-pity, self-defence, egoism, pride, over-sensitivity, resentments, unforgiveness, etc. The marks of true discipleship are clearly indicated by Jesus in his call to self-denial (the ugly self) + daily cross bearing (not a necklace but self-crucifixion) + following our Lord, come what may. One of my spiritual heroes, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (who paid the ultimate price during WW2) often said ‘Salvation is free, but discipleship will cost you your life!’
THE EARLY CHURCH WAS VIBRANT!
There is no life in a graveyard, I promise you. En route to our beautiful sea-front, I pass a graveyard wherein lies our family grave: my parents, my young sister, my brother, and there’s one place left for yours truly! Graveyards are life-less and ‘as silent as the grave’: is this a picture of many a postmodern ‘church?’ The New Zealand blogger, Andrew Strom, wrote recently about how little we understand the darkness (life-lessness) of the present Church today, particularly in the West: he reckons we’ve had a millenium of gross spiritual darkness, not only in the world but in the Church! (My comment: witness the pathetic failures of the pro-Trump ‘prophets:’ you can be sure that they won’t be stoned as in Deut. 13 or rejected as in Jer. 23:9ff).
JESUS OF NAZARETH WAS/IS VIBRANT!
The evangelist Matthew, in writing about Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan river and temptation in the desert, records “As soon as Jesus was baptised, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending on him like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased‘… Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert…” (Mt. 3:13-17).
The evangelist Luke puts it like this, ‘Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit IN the desert… ‘ (Lk. 4:1-2a). Luke then tells of Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth: “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me (imagine the consternation of the very correct leaders and members), because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing! All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips…” Note the authority, the power, the courage, the gentleness, the assurance of Jesus’ words! Bonhoeffer spoke often of ‘the life of Jesus’: wherever he is, there is life, wherever he is not, there is no life. How does this reflect on our faith-communities today??
Here’s sincerely hoping you’ll join us again soon for PART 2! Wishing you the joy of Jesus over Christmas and in the New Year!
 I would highly recommend the good Doctor’s ‘Joy Unspeakable,’ criticized by some in Reformed circles but so important for the balance between good teaching and the experiential: Lloyd-Jones rightly speaks out against Reformed churches’ traditionalism, dryness and aridity. He teaches that ‘there is something more’ for the Church, and urges the Reformed Movement to dialogue with Charismatics and vice versa: apostolic ministry has not left Pentecost behind in history! We need reformation and renewal. In this regarded I re-visited once more the 1904/5 Welsh revival, under Evan Roberts. What uplifting stuff! (there is some good material available on YouTube). What is interesting is that this awakening started among the youth, was marked by the baptism of the Spirit, led to assurance, joy and bold witness among the working-class: within a relatively short time, 100,000 individuals in Wales alone had experienced God’s transforming power!