February 16, 2009

Submitting to Authorities

This is not going to be a well thought out post. Indeed, most that I write in this time period in my life won't be. I don't really have the time to organize when I write right now. Still, there have been some things circling in my mind in relation to authority.

In the 1970s and 1980s, there was a movement known as the "Shepherding Movement" of the "Discipleship Movement" that affected many charismatic churches. Because I currently reside within charismatic circles, I am dealing with the aftermath of this movement. I don't really know much about the movement myself (I knew no one who was a part of it while it was still going on), but I notice that many around me place a strong emphasis on authority in their teachings.

Considering that we live in a rebellious culture, indeed a rebellious nation, it is difficult to assess the validity of my resistance to this tendency. I recognize that many in our culture use the concept of freedom is a means of licentiousness, and part of the Christian life is moral living.

Personally though, I have no real problem with the concept of authority itself, because I don't trust myself that much. I want to be ordained under a denomination to protect myself from myself. The issue is when it comes to doctrine.

Submitting to Teaching

I believe that it is much easier to submit to someone else's wisdom than it is to submit to someone else's teaching, at least for me. I can say that I trust this person's wisdom more than my own, because they are living a more successful life than I am. But what do I do if someone is teaching something I don't agree with.

If I'm merely a member in the congregation this is easy. I disagree. If they make it a point of membership, then I leave. Simple. But what if I am a teacher? If I am a teacher, than I must teach it, or at least not disagree with it. I now have a measure of authority myself, and if I disagree with the church on a doctrine, and I undermining what the church is saying.

Quite frankly, I already have this problem. When I speak on doctrinal matters, most people tend to listen and believe. It is part of my gifts. Besides, I do know a bit about that stuff. So I watch what I say.

But it is not like I can simply believe something that I don't believe. As Martin Luther can tell you, that's not really possible: "Unless I shall be convinced by the testimonies of the Scriptures or by clear reason ... I neither can nor will make any retraction, since it is neither safe nor honourable to act against conscience." Can I just shut my brain off and accept? Not really.

Assemblies of God

A big reason for dealing with this is because I am planning on being ordained. Part of being ordained is that I must adhere to the "16 Fundamental Truths". Personally, I don't like the name because of my disdain for Fundamentalism, but that's not the point of it. They are essentially the working doctrinal creed of AG, and I have no issue with that. They are as follows:
  1. The Infallibility of Scripture
  2. Monotheism
  3. Deity of Christ
  4. Human Depravity
  5. Salvation by Faith
  6. Credobaptism/ Zwinglianism
  7. Baptism of the Holy Spirit
  8. Speaking in Tongues as the Initial Evidence of Baptism in the Holy Spirit
  9. Sanctification
  10. Classic Protestant Ecclesiology
  11. Ordination
  12. Divine Healing
  13. Eventual Resurrection for all believers
  14. Millennial Reign of Christ
  15. Final Judgment: Eternal Life or Hell
  16. A New Heavens and a New Earth
Now I don't really have a problem with most of these. I'm not strictly a premillennialist, but I have not objection to it, and there are a few things that I disagree with a some finer points, but agree with the basic concept. On really good on those ideas.

Then there's number 8. Now, I do believe that there is such a thing a speaking in tongues. If you disagree, I would be happy to explain to you why. But the idea that it is thee initial evidence of being baptized in the Spirit is another matter.

Some qualification is in order real quick. In the Assemblies of God, Baptism of the Holy Spirit is not seen to happen at salvation. It is an event which occurs after salvation (maybe moments, maybe years) where the Holy Spirit anoints you with power to enable you to do the ministry of the Church. Associated with this is the presence of the miraculous. But this is not the same thing as salvation. It is a separate event. Assemblies does not teach that you need to speak in tongues to be saved.

What it does teach if that if you do not speak in tongues then you were not baptized by the Spirit. Now I just don't believe that.

My pastor says that they believe that speaking in tongues is the initial evidence because there is always a sign that one is baptized. With regular baptism, it is being wet. In spirit baptism it is speaking in tongues.

But that doesn't make sense. When you are baptized in water, the sign is that you have water on you! Thus, if you are baptized in the Spirit, the sign is that you have the Spirit on you. And what is the evidence of the Spirit? Well, first of all love. Additionally, there should be joy. And one would probably also expect peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Isn't that the evidence of the Spirit? Shouldn't those manifesting be the "initial sign"?

My experience also goes against this. There was a moment when I felt the Spirit overwhelm me, and I was filled with an impulse to do the will of God. And I possessed by the heart of the Lord. There is no other name I can call that experience than baptism, since I felt my self "immersed" in the Spirit. Yet I did not speak in tongues. 3 years later, I first spoke in tongues, and I barely felt the Spirit at all. Yet, according to my pastor, it was the 2nd of these two experiences that was the Baptism. That is completely illogical to me.

Viewing the history of the Pentecostal/charismatic movement in Gary McGee's book People of the Spirit, history doesn't really agree either. Minnie F. Abrams and Pandita Ramabai, who had powerful manifestations of the Spirit, moved in the Spirit long before they had any instances of speaking in tongues. Besides, there is no place in the Bible that insists on this either. All that is there is that speaking in tongues was a common manifestation of the Spirit in the book of Acts.

So, Dealing with my Disagreement

So, since I really disagree with Assemblies on this, how do I approach it? Do I merely consider myself wrong? Do I start to search elsewhere? Neither of these sits well with me. The first, as Martin Luther pointed out, is neither honorable or safe.
The latter is impractical. As a theologian, I will always find things that I disagree about.

There do exist some things that I am willing to part company on, like the Trinity, baptism, and certain soteriological ideas. However, I don't really care enough on this issue to do that. At the same time, I can't just simply accept it either.

Instead, I intend to employ a lesson that I learned from Star Trek: never disagree with the captain in front of the crew. When ever Riker disagreed with Picard, he followed through with the order anyway, but felt free to have some choice (though respectful) words with the captain in the ready room. This is what I intend to do. I am perfectly willing to teach this as official AG teaching, but in the meantime, write lots and lots of letters to those above me on the subject of changing it.

Now I ask anyone out there whether or not you think this is a reasonable course of action. What do you think?


Mason said...

Good to see you back on JC.
I know where you are coming from, generally and in the more specific teaching situation.

I had the opportunity to lead the High-Schoolers at my previous church, and did so for four years actually. It was a great church, and great kids, and my no longer being there has nothing to do with any of this (and isn't because of any bad experience)... but I did have some definite differences from the church's official doctrinal statement.
I struggled with that, but in the end I'm not ok with teaching these kids that I care about something that deep down I think is incorrect. It would feel like intentionally misleading them to believe things I think are quite wrong.

My solution, and I'm not saying this is what you ought to do, was to teach in a way that laid out a number of positions include the one the church taught, and then show why I think the answer was actually something else.
I got along great with the kids, and most of their parents, so I didn't expect complaints, even when they disagreed with me everyone was civil and we frutfully discussed it.

If though it had come down to the board or whoever asking me about it, I'd be very straightforward about where I differed and why, and tell them that if they needed me to stop teaching then that's their choice and I'd accept that without any controversy, but otherwise I couldn't intentionaly teach my kids anything I felt was unbiblical, and that if they wanted to discuss these issues I'd be more than happy to.
Thankfully it never was a problem, even when the pastor knew I was at odds with certain issues he saw where I was coming from and was alright with my approach.

Just for the record, I'd very much agree with you about point 8, I have no problem with tongues, but as evidence of Spirit baptism no, I wholeheartedly disagree with that and think its clearly unsupportable.

Pizza Man said...

Is there someone well respected person that you can confidentially discuss the issue with? Like a professor or pastor? This seems like a pretty minor doctrinal difference, but there is less liberty for you then there would be for a layman. The "Riker" approach sounds pretty reasonable to me. :)

Jc_Freak: said...

Thanks guys.

Mason, is there any level of doctrine that you would be comfortable with? To you, is it a matter of sureness or a matter of degree?

As far as a professor, I am already graduated, but I discussed these matters with some. They merely generally agreed that it was difficult. As for my pastor, I trust him a lot, but when it comes to things like this, it is more likely to try to correct then he is to wrestle with my issue. Still, I've talked with him a couple of times

From what I can tell though, AG is less strict about point 8 than it is about the other points. They have ordained many ministers that disagree with it. However, when they have done so, they look at other matters stricter. Personally, I think that is rather reasonable.

It is possible that things might work themselves out, and I'll be allowed to teach what I believe. In the meantime, it is good to have a game plan for how to deal with the dilemma.

Mason said...

"is there any level of doctrine that you would be comfortable with? To you, is it a matter of sureness or a matter of degree?"

Sorry JC but I don't quite get what you are asking this in relation to, your situation, my positions as I taught?

I would say that requirng tongues as a sign of Spirit baptism seems rather all or nothing, either it is or it isn't, and there is either a second baptism or there is not. Personally I don't believe there is, and that would be a matter of clarity and degree of importance.

For teaching my class, I think its a both and situation. If something was not a really important issue doctrinally (like the details of church goverment), but I thought it was very clear, I wouldn't be comfortable advising someone to belive it, but I'd be fine saying 'this is what our church teaches, here are some other approaches, take it as you want'.
Other, more core issues, I would say that if they are truly important and I doubted their biblical foundation, I'd feel obligated to say so.
Now they can take that for what its worth, they don't have any compulsion to agree with me, but I couldn't address certian topics (salvation history for example) and espouse a position I actually thought was off base.

Jc_Freak: said...

Well, after 5 years, I think I should probably add where I am at with this question. Presently, I am still hesitant on the idea that speaking in tongues is THE manifestation of the Holy Spirit. However, I would agree that Luke in Acts relates the two things very closely, and we should accept it as the most common.

Also a couple of years ago I was given a different interpretation of my experience. Apparently some teach that you can receive the gift of speaking in tongues at the baptism of the Spirit, even if you never learn to use it until much later. This strikes me as possible, and something that I am willing to teach. I am not sold on it, but I have no problems with it.