The Work of the Holy Spirit and a Search for Relevance (Sabbath School 3-25-2017)

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The Work of the Holy Spirit and a Search for Relevance (Sabbath School 3-25-2017)

A fond word in our so-called Post-modern age is “Relevance.” One way to understand this phenomenon is to see as one of its underlying tenets, that somehow what we already have is in a certain sense antiquated, or more benignly culturally inappropriate. With the advent of a highly technological society of smartphones, hybrid electric cars, touch screens tv’s, handsfree robotic vacuums, etc. it is easy to think that our “religion” needs modernizing, revising, or renovating.

Confusion abounds as Christianity becomes a binary contest of the old vs. the new. Of course, we cannot unconsciously apply all biblical counsel as if we live in the same cultural context as Bible times. Greeting each other with a holy kiss, wearing a head covering in public worship, eating food sacrificed to idols, etc. are simple examples. For good reason much attention has been paid to understanding first century cultural dynamics and the importance that such acts evoked.[1] In our search for the applicability of the Word what is often overlooked is how the simple fundamental notions of what it means to be a human, a Christian, and community under the guidance of the Holy Spirit never changes.[2] The work of the Holy Spirit cuts across our own cultural boundaries and engages us at the most fundamental level of our humanity: a created finite person with a sinful nature.

If by relevance what is meant is “our task is to show the Bible’s applicability, in the substantial sense of being the eternal Word of God, to ever changing times and places” then that’s one thing. However, engaging the modern “practical” ideologies such as the “prosperity gospel,”[3] the emerging church,[4] and dominionist movements[5] current in Christianity conjures a different sense. Typically, in these communities, which are unfortunately making inroads into Adventism, the search for relevance is often codified regarding the personal, the private, and the temporally-oriented. The work of the Holy Spirit is never couched in those terms in the Bible. All sin, righteousness, judgment, assurance and hope is public and interpersonal and biblically defined. I read an interesting and provocative question the other day, “Who will I listen to, my cultural moment or God’s eternal wisdom?” If the goalposts of faith and practice are always moved and revised, Christianity will lose its power in giving this dying world a sure word from God.

There is Nothing New Under the Sun

The seduction of contemporary society is that somehow our experience of life is new, different, or unique thus necessitating some novel approach to spirituality. The biblical teaching of the experience of the Holy Spirit’s Lordship in our lives applies to every person, in every period, in every place, and in every situation so the substance of faith never changes. The trappings of presentation and issues within a society change, but the substance of life in the Spirit remains the same for everyone. This week’s Sabbath School lesson focuses on five major activities of the Holy Spirit’s Lordship in our lives that are always pertinent to the Christian life.

The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin. Sin is the breaking of a relationship with God: (1) either against God (idolatry) or (2)  against our fellow human beings through injustice, indifference, selfishness, etc.

The Holy Spirit convicts us of righteousness. Righteousness is the expression of faith in God (worship), a Christlike disposition, and acts of love and service towards others (cf. Gal 5:22­–26).

The Holy Spirit convicts us of judgment. God holds us accountable because when we take up His name as His children we are testifying to the world that God’s Lordship is just. Satan’s attacks upon the character and law of God are proven false when we humble ourselves before God and surrender to His will.

The Holy Spirit gives us assurance. Assurance is seen in a life of rejoicing and patient endurance under trials (1 Pet 1:6–9). We can no more hide our confidence in Christ or keep it to ourselves than a light can hide under a bushel.

The Holy Spirit gives us hope. Our hope is a cause for witness. Peter said we should always be ready to give a reason for the hope that lieth within us (1 Pet 3:15), which means our knowledge and experience in the things of God are always being renewed with fresh insights into God’s character and love.

Tossed to and Fro

The Word is clear, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace… (Heb. 13:7–9). The Apostles were very concerned over the pull of novelty. Paul wrote, “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Eph 4:14).

All too often the appeal for relevance goes unexplained and is left up to subjective interpretation, where the work of the Spirit is nebulous at best. No one should ever be given the impression that the Bible is a dead letter that needs us to bring it to life, the Word is alive! (Heb 4:12, 13). If a relevant application does not lead us to confession, repentance, submission, and revival, then we are left with the elephant in the room. What kind of relevance are we talking about? Relevance in isolation with no commitment to a cause larger than our own personal benefit does not emerge from the Spirit-led, Jesus-centered study and application of His Revealed Word. In fact, Paul had something to say about this mindset that is relevant for the end of time (1 Tim 4:1, 2; 2 Tim 3:1–5).

The Holy Spirit and Community

The work of the Holy Spirit always leads to a community of believers who abide in Christ (John 15:1–11). Furthermore, a cursory survey of Paul’s imagery is usually corporate.

 

“Do you not know that You (plural) are the temple of God” (1 Cor 3:16).

“Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house” (Heb. 3:6).

“And because you (plural) are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Gal 4:6). [Emphasis added]

The attitude that somehow my purpose in life is isolated from the community of faith or that Christianity is a mantra for personal growth rather than a selfless giving for others is what kills churches, not whether it has drums or not.[6] Christian life can become my subjective application of what I deem “relevant” rather than what Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). While Jesus was describing His ultimate love, He earlier spoke of discipleship using this language, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Consider Jesus, Who wants to abide in our hearts. His love, grace, holiness, and mercy are mediated through His Spirit. The relevance that the church needs is returning to our biblical roots under the Empowering Lordship of the Holy Spirit that will sustain us regardless of the blowing winds of change.

Click the link to read the Sabbath School Lesson for this week, “The Work of the Holy Spirit.

Click here to read more commentaries on this quarter’s Adult Sabbath School lesson.

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Notes.

[1] For a general approach to Adventist bible study methods see George W. Reid, ed., Understanding Scripture: An Adventist Approach (Silver Spring: Biblical Research Institute, 2006).

[2] Books like Child Guidance, Adventist Home, Messages to Young People, and Letters to Young Lovers address issue endemic to the formative years of Christian maturation and give sound counsel on contemporary issues young people face, yet never suggest the Bible is irrelevant in dealing with modern problems. In fact, the Bible is made central in character formation. “If the youth would but make the Bible their study, would but calm their impetuous desires, and listen to the voice of their Creator and Redeemer, they would not only be at peace with God, but would find themselves ennobled and elevated.” Ellen White, Messages to Young People, p.21.

[3] The ‘Prosperity Gospel’ is a modern movement among Pentecostal and Charismatic preachers where God’s blessings of financial prosperity and other blessings from the books of Leviticus and Malachi are promised in return for offerings. See Alberto R. Timm, “Prosperity Gospel: Deceptions and Dangers,” http://www.adventistreview.org/prosperity-gospel-deceptions-and-dangers.

[4] “The ‘emerging church’ is a Christian movement of the late 20th and early 21st centuries that crosses several theological boundaries: participants are described as Protestant, post-Protestant, evangelical, post-evangelical, liberal, post-liberal, conservative, post-conservative, Anabaptist, reformed, charismatic, neo-charismatic, and post-charismatic.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emerging_church For an introduction to this movement and its practices see “A Closer Look at the Emerging Church” by Fernando Canale. http://www.perspectivedigest.org/article/121/archives/19-1/a-closer-look-at-the-emerging-church

[5] Dominion Theology is a group of Christian political ideologies that seek to institute a nation governed by Christians based on understandings of biblical law. See John Whitehead, “The Rise of Domionism and the Christian Right,” http://www.libertymagazine.org/article/the-rise-of-dominionism-and-the-christian-right; Norman Gulley, Christ is Coming: A Christ-Centered Approach to Last Day Events (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 1998), 211–234.

[6] The modern paradigm of a live church band, casual dress, and pictorial or dramatic presentations have not been shown to deepen personal spirituality in any reputable study to my knowledge. These are the accoutrements of a modern societies attempt to connect with a modern crowd, but shows no qualitative evidence that its leads to a closer relationship with Christ or love for our fellow man. According to some research by Clint Jenkin, Ph.D., vice president of research at Barna Group and the lead designer of a study states, “For instance, it might be easy to believe such a place needs to look ultra modern or chic to appeal to teens and young adults. But the reality, like so much about this generation, is more complicated—refreshingly so. Most Millennials don’t look for a church facility that caters to the whims of pop culture. They want a community that calls them to deeper meaning.” https://www.barna.com/research/designing-worship-spaces-with-millennials-in-mind/

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Jerome Skinner, earned his Ph.D as an Old Testament scholar at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. He focuses on the Psalms and Wisdom literature and on practical Christianity. Jerome is active in following American Christianity and social issues.