Theological Position Paper 21st Century Spiritual Phenomena in the EMC
We stand in the holiness tradition of original Methodism. The Pentecostal movement has its roots in our tradition, but espouses many forms of spiritual phenomena that we do not validate for our denomination. Our understanding of the evidence of the Spirit-filled life is not speaking in an unknown tongue, being slain in the Spirit, or some other type of required phenomena. It is a heart that is purified by faith (Acts 15:7-9) reflected in a holy lifestyle and an empowerment for witnessing the gospel to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). There are authentic experiences from the Spirit in the glory of His Presence that people experience. Acts 2 describes the disciples on the day of Pentecost as “drunk” in the Spirit. The glory of God filled the Temple and the priests were unable to stand. Today we are the temple of God and a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit can produce laughter, quiet peace, shouting alleluia, or being prostrate before Him. Wesley, Cartwright, Finny, and Moody all experienced in their meetings powerful moves of God that sometimes brought loud outbursts of conviction and people falling prostrate on the floor. The problem is these kinds of experiences can quickly become in the “flesh” or marketed as the “anointing” of God and taught they must occur every time the Holy Spirit is present. If people are not ‘slain in the Spirit’ then it is a below par kind of service with people who ‘do not have the anointing’. This is wrong. It produces two classes of Christians of those who ‘have it’ and those who ‘don’t’. John Wesley emphasized the inward dynamics not the outward manifestations of the Spirit in the introduction to the sermon, “Scriptural Christianity”. He said the Spirit was given “to give them… the mind which was in Christ…to endue them with faith, to enable them to crucify the flesh, with its affections and lusts, its passions and desires; and, in consequence of that inward change, to fulfill all outward righteousness; to “walk as Christ also walked…”
The following points are for further clarification:
1. The Spirit-Filled life is one lived by faith and not just by sight (i.e., experience/reason) 2 Co. 5:7. Isaiah 55:8-9 indicates the “higher” thoughts and ways of God are beyond our comprehension.
2. The Apostle Paul had several unique experiences, Acts 9 (Damascus Rd), and the “third heaven” experience in 2 Corinthians 12. Peter had ecstatic revelations and experiences in Acts 10. Both Apostles were very careful never to suggest that these were the pattern for others in their search for a deeper life or should be expected as the common every day experiences for believers. These experiences established the foundation for living out ministry beyond the theological and experiential comfort zone in opening the ministry to the Gentiles. Acts 15:8-9 sets the standard of a “heart purified by faith.”
3. The Apostle Paul’s exhortation is to seek the more excellent way of perfect love (1 Co. 13) rather than relying on phenomena and ecstasy to bolster the ministry.
4. We verify with Scripture and experience the praising of God and the glory of God being revealed to such a degree that these mere mortal bodies collapse in His Presence. Those who demand such ‘slayings in the Spirit’ as a necessary sign of the ‘anointing’ codify the unusual visitations from God into fleshly demonstrations. The error is taking valid spiritual emotional experiences from God and making them the rule of measurement for spirituality. In fact the salvation of the sinner is what makes the angels sing in heaven, not the phenomena of the Spirit or it’s counterfeit.
5. All spiritual experiences and new understandings must always be subservient and subject to the Scripture based “truths” that have persisted as reliable and orthodox shown through the history of the Church. (2 Peter 2:1-22). There are no new things God is doing but renewing some old things we have forgotten or neglected. If an experience has not been validated by proven teachings of the people of God over the centuries then we must be wary of this “new thing God is doing.”
6. Any insight or experience that diminishes or detracts from the basic tenant of orthodox faith and the primary mission of reaching the lost must be evaluated and guarded against.
7. We must guard against grieving the Holy Spirit (Isa. 63:10; Eph. 4:30), by denying His work or justifying behaviors whose source is the flesh and not the Spirit of God. Some experiences are unique and personally given for the intimacies with the Spirit and not to be required or demanded for everyone to experience. For example: Mary treasuring quietly the intimacies with the Spirit in her heart and the Apostle Paul limiting his sharing of those experiences in 2 Co. 12. The only reason we have a record of Paul’s experiences was that his Apostleship and ministry was challenged.
8. In a service of worship the worshipers will all worship in different modes and styles depending on their God given temperament. Some may shout, some will not, some may become very demonstrative, some will be less demonstrative. The key is this: does everyone love Him intensely and fully whether it is shouted out loud or quietly acknowledged by a bowed head. The purpose of this position paper is for pastoral assistance and biblical instruction for local church ministries. We acknowledge the different styles of worship in our local churches. When a denominational leaders is worshiping in a local church they do not attempt to interject their own worship preferences of contemporary and traditional formats, but fit in with the pastor and the local church. As members of the EMC people need to fit in with our understanding of the phenomena of the Spirit and support the work of Christ in that local church. We do not want to quench the Spirit’s fire, but we do not want wildfire that divides and wounds our local churches.
Written by Dr. Edward W. Williamson, General Superintendent; edited & recommended by the Cabinet of Superintendents and adopted by the General Council 2000.