April 2013

The Holy Spirit and human responses and responsibility

Series: An edited adaptation of the book Prayer, Power, and Proclamation by C.L.Peppler published by Chrispy Publications in 2009 (ISBN 978-0-620-43583-3). Chap 3; part 8:

About 20 years ago, a so-called ‘new wave’ of the Spirit swept over large parts of the church. It started in a Vineyard church in Toronto, and people soon labelled it the ‘Toronto Blessing’. People flew in from all over the world to receive the ‘blessing’. Many would fall to the ground, ‘slain in the Spirit’, and some of them would manifest in a number of extraordinary ways. Some would lie on the ground jerking, others would remain standing, but would bend forward spasmodically and grunt, others would laugh uproariously, while yet others would make a variety of animal noises. Because of the cacophony of loud quacking, barking, braying, and grunting, critics sarcastically referred to the Toronto Vineyard as the barnyard.

A few years later, another wave swept over the charismatic churches – this time some called it the laughing revival, because the characteristics of this ‘move’ were falling on the ground and laughing. This phenomenon became so common, that sceptics facetiously labelled it ‘carpet ministry’.

What are we to make of all this? It is surely true that much of what happened, particularly as the move got a little tired, was manipulated showmanship; but not all of it was. Many people experienced a real and lasting ‘touch’ of God, some were healed, and others were saved. Yet they fell, shook, cried, and laughed.

My understanding is that when a human being comes into contact with a powerful release of spiritual energy, then the body often reacts uncontrollably. If I stuck my fingers into an electric socket and switched it on, my body would definitely react; I would fall to the ground and shake uncontrollably. If I touched the poles of a car battery, I would receive a lesser shock, which might well make me feel euphoric; I might even burst into laughter. Falling, shaking, laughing, and crying are, in my view, normal reactions to contact with a strong anointing. We should not mistake them for the actual manifestation of the Holy Spirit, and we should not focus on them as signs of blessing. However, we should not censure and criticise them either.

John 18:3-6 records this interesting account; “So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns, and weapons. Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, ‘Who is it you want?’ ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied. ‘I am he,’ Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, ‘I am he,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.” Why did they fall to the ground? I have read commentaries which state that they fell down on their knees to worship Jesus – what nonsense! They were a bunch of armed soldiers and rabble-rousers who had accompanied the officials with one purpose – to arrest Jesus. The only reasonable explanation is that they fell to the ground because they could not stand on their feet. Why? Was there an earthquake? No, there was no record of this. Why then? Because they were standing in the presence of the Son of God, and the anointing upon him was so strong that their bodies reacted, and they fell down as if struck by lightning.

Ezekiel saw the glory of the Lord and fell to the ground, pale, shaken and without strength (Ezekiel 1:28, 3:23). Daniel had a similar experience (Daniel 8:17), as did Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:4).

Acts 2:15 records Peter’s response to the derision of a section of the crowd on the day of Pentecost: “These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It is only nine in the morning!” Why would some think that the disciples were drunk, and why would Peter feel it was necessary to correct this perception?  The usual understanding of the initial Pentecostal experience is that the disciples were speaking in recognisable languages. If you consider the logistics of this then this explanations does not appear to be feasible. There was a huge crowd present; if they baptised three thousand, then there must have been many more present, say at least five thousand. There were one hundred and twenty present in the upper room when the Holy Spirit came with power. If all of these were speaking known languages, then it would have been chaotic. Only those who happened to understand the particular language spoken, and were within hearing of any particular disciple, would have comprehended what was said. The scripture however declares that each person present heard the disciples speaking in his own language (Acts 2:6). This was surely the first instance of what Paul later described as the gift of interpretation of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:10). In other words, the disciples were all speaking in indistinguishable tongues, and the Holy Spirit was giving the people in the crowd the ability to interpret what they heard. The text describes those who did not receive this interpretative gift as those who ‘made fun of them.’ To these people the disciples would seem to be babbling unintelligibly, as drunks sometimes do. Some people today take it a step further and claim that the disciples must have been staggering and laughing – drunk in the spirit. This is reading into the text what is not there. Even if they were, then this should not be the focus of attention, neither should it be the biblical reason for holding ‘spirit drinking parties’ and raising awkward and sometimes bizarre human responses to the level of ‘proofs’ of anointing.

Implications

All of the models I have presented imply a responsibility; this is particularly evident in the ‘battery’ (internal) model. Three of the many obligations are as follows:


Responsibility to minister responsibly.

If God has entrusted us with a deposit of spiritual energy, then we have a responsibility to minister that to others. If we fail to do this, then it will dissipate and will bring no glory to God.

We also have a obligation to minister responsibly. By that, I mean ministering in a way which honours God and is according to his kingdom values. It also means that we should be sensitive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and minister as and when he directs. It implies also that we should not seek our own benefit, neither should we seek anything in return.


The need for holiness

Sin limits our capacity to receive anointing. Holy living and thinking expands our capacity. If we want to minister powerfully to the glory of God, then we need to take seriously the call to holiness.


Corporate anointing

If all disciples of Jesus are capable of receiving an anointing, then we should not only ask for this, and minister this to others, but we should also seek, where possible, to minister together with other anointed believers. Believers who minister together, in faith, and with one mind, have a greater potential for good than one believer acting in isolation.

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Inanimate stores of spiritual energy

Series: An edited adaptation of the book Prayer, Power, and Proclamation by C.L.Peppler published by Chrispy Publications in 2009 (ISBN 978-0-620-43583-3). Chap 3; part 8:

The idea of storing spiritual energy departs a further step from traditional thinking with the strange account of Paul’s ‘anointed’ items of clothing. Acts 19:11-12 records that “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.I have read many attempts to explain this strange phenomenon, but none does full justice to the text. The most rational explanation which I can find, is that somehow these items of personal clothing absorbed the spiritual energy emanating from Paul. They seem to have acted as supernatural ‘batteries’, which were discharged when touched by someone in need. If this is the case, then it is not hard to understand how people can regard certain sacred things, and even places, as spiritually potent.
I used to be gently scornful of the Anglican Church’s contention that the sanctuary areas of their church buildings, and the elements of communion, are somehow ‘anointed’. I am not as sceptical now. If human beings can act as stores of spiritual energy, then why is it not possible for places and things to store spiritual energy? I am not suggesting that the Holy Spirit necessarily anoints inanimate things with power. Although, what about the Ark of the Covenant? It seems that there was enough power in that piece of golden furniture to kill! (1 Chronicles 13:9) I am, however, open to the thought that things can become ‘anointed’ by coming into frequent contact with anointed people.
The idea that spiritual energy can be stored is a big stretch for many people. I have concluded that it can be stored, because it seems to be in accordance with biblical evidence. We have spirits, and so it is reasonable to conceive of a spirit containing spiritual energy. Our bodies contain electrical energy, so it is not such a big stretch to conceive of our spirit retaining spiritual energy. But what of inanimate objects? New Age spiritualists hold that crystals can act as spiritual ‘batteries’. Could they be right? As a Bible-believing Christian, I cannot base my understanding on esoteric theories or on anecdotal evidence. My primary source of truth is Jesus Christ and his written Word, the Bible. Logic, experience, and hypothesis come into play only as means of interpreting and understanding the Christocentric biblical evidence.

The Bible does not record any incident where Jesus imparted power to an inanimate object or where he made use of a spiritually charged object.  This alone is a caution against dogmatism with regard to the subject in question. The Old Testament, however, contains at least two examples of spiritually charged objects. The Ark of the Covenant was so charged with energy that anyone touching it died. There is also the strange case of the dead man who came to life again because his corpse made contact with Elisha’s bones (2 Kings 13:21).
Let’s return to the Acts 19:11-12 passage describing Paul’s anointed sweatbands, and look at some alternative ways of understanding this intriguing account.
  1. The articles of clothing acted as stimulants to faith. The sick people knew of Paul’s ministry, and so were more inclined to believe when prayed for if presented with a token of the ‘man of God’.  
  2. God used the articles to demonstrate his superiority over the gods of the day, whose priests often used inanimate articles to effect healings.
  3. The articles of clothing absorbed Paul’s anointing, and this spiritual power transferred into the needy person and effected healing.

There is no indication in the text itself, or its context, that we should take options (1) and (2) seriously. The detail given in the text is that Paul had worn the articles of clothing or that they had touched his skin in some way. The implication is that something from Paul passed into the clothing. What could this be other than spiritual energy?
If we accept the possibility that inanimate objects can store spiritual energy, then the possibility must also exist that certain places can carry a spiritual charge. Geographical locations consist of objects such as buildings, rocks, trees, and so on. If spiritually charged people often frequent a particular place, then is it not possible that the place itself will act as a store of the energy emitted by these people? The temple in Jerusalem is an example.
Once again, the occult teachings and practices over the ages tend to prejudice us. However, even some of the most conservative churches have rituals based on the belief that certain things and places are ‘holy’. Anglican priests protect the ‘ark’ and the ‘host’ from contamination once they have consecrated them. They also regard the area behind the communion rail as holy and inaccessible to anyone other than a duly consecrated priest.
On numerous occasions, I have witnessed people stepping into our church building, stopping in their tracks, and then bursting into tears. I have seen people arriving for special prayer meetings, sitting down, and immediately starting to weep quietly. What is happening? Certainly, awareness of the presence of God is affecting them, but perhaps it is also the spiritually charged environment.
Here are some ways in which we could ‘minister’ in this regard:
  • We could walk down the rows of chairs before a Sunday service proclaiming God’s blessing on all who will later sit there. We could touch each seat and impart anointing, so that those who sit there may receive it.
  • We could seek out special ‘holy’ places for our prayer retreats and times of study and meditation; places where for many years disciples of the Lord Jesus have gathered for prayer and meditation.
  • We could lay hands on, and proclaim over, the oil we use for anointing the sick.

Sounds a little ‘out there’ doesn’t it? However, I hold that we should act in a way which is consistent with what we have come to believe.

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The role of compassion

Series: An edited adaptation of the book Prayer, Power, and Proclamation by C.L.Peppler published by Chrispy Publications in 2009 (ISBN 978-0-620-43583-3). Chap 3; part 7:


Faith is not a force, but there is a motivating agent that actives faith, and that is compassion.
The thing which moves us to engage the switch of faith seems to be the emotional power of compassion. Consider the following texts:
Matthew 9:36, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”.
Matthew 14:14, “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick”.

Matthew 15:32, “Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.’
Matthew 20:34, “Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him”.
Mark 1:41-42, “Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.”
We could define compassion as strong emotional empathy for the needs of others. It motivates us to choose to exercise faith. The will is the actual ‘force’ which moves the ‘faith switch’, but compassion motivates us to an act of the will.
As I mentioned in previous blogs in this series, the mind cannot always differentiate between internal thoughts and external events. The brain processes imagined scenarios in the same way as sensory inputs. The mind can, and often does, take as real that which the senses do not perceive. Imagination, therefore, is potentially as real as experience. Faith, according to the Hebrews 11 definition, includes the experience of a present non-sensory reality; ‘perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses’.
If I believe that I am receiving something, say spiritual energy, then I can experience it internally without the need to see, feel, or hear the evidence of its transmission. The question is, though, how do I ‘get’ faith? To use the switch analogy, how do I flip the faith switch?
Faith is the declared belief in the reality of something hoped for. We give expression to our faith by affirming verbally our conviction that what we believe is real. Faith is also the internal visualisation of the believed occurrence. For instance, I lay my hands on the sick person and proclaim in Jesus’ name that power is entering them to heal. The recipient acknowledges aloud that she believes this, and accepts this as real. I visualise a stream of healing power flowing out of me, down my arm, through my fingers and into the recipient. I encourage the person to whom I am ministering to visualise something similar. I encourage the engagement of their other senses by asking if they are feeling anything on their skin or in their body. All of these things act as a catalyst, as a ‘faith’ trigger, which releases the spiritual energy from the minister and opens the needy person to receiving it. So we don’t ‘get’ faith, we exercise and exhibit faith.
To experience something internally enables us to ‘feel’ its impact. We feel the emotional impact of an internal reality only when we ‘see’ with reasonable clarity the thing we visualise. Imagined sight is the predominant internal sense. Once we visualise accurately, we are able to internally smell, touch, hear, and taste. In this way, we can experience something internal in as real a way as if it were actualising externally.
If we believe, and internally experience, something good, then we will appreciate it as a God-given occurrence and give him thanks for it. Saying thank you to God is an affirmation of an experienced reality, not a means of creating the reality itself.
The models I have proposed so far relate only to people ministering to people. Is it possible, do you think, for non-human recipients and even for inanimate objects to store spiritual power?
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About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.