100 years of the “Spirit” – then the reformation is no longer needed

I write this fully aware that it could be considered judgmental and provocative. I hope, of course, that will not be the case, but I feel this is something that needs to be addressed as it is very important in these times. It was a hundred years ago that the modern Pentecostal Movement was born at Azusa Street, California. The twentieth century has in many ways been characterized by movements centred on the Spirit. The first half of the twentieth century saw the growth of the Pentecostal Movement, both in Sweden and around the world. Denominations and local churches were started with the emphasis on this new ‘experience’. During the fifties, sixties and seventies, the charismatic revival swept over the world, affecting practically all denominations. Now no new denominations were started as it was mostly a question of renewal within existing churches. Since the eighties there has been what is usually called the third wave of ’Spirit-centred revival’. This includes the faith movement and some other groups.

All three ‘waves’ of renewed emphasis on the Spirit of God have a number of common features, though there are also some differences. There is much that is positive to be said about this phenomenon. Firstly, we have the Pentecostal Movement to thank for the existence of any kind of faith in the Bible in Sweden today. In all surveys in recent years the Pentecostals top the list of established denominations with most confidence in the inspiration and inerrancy of the Word of God. They have undoubtedly been best at resisting liberal theology. Secondly, many elderly and middle-aged believers can testify that they have awakened spiritually and begun to seek God in earnest since coming into contact with the charismatic movement. It permeated the existing denominations. Thirdly, the faith movement (and some other groups) showed what it meant to take God seriously in an age of increasing secularization. Bible schools grew up and people went out as missionaries all over the world. For all this and much more we are (or should be) thankful.

Personally, I don’t share theses groups’ view of the Baptism of the Spirit, which is based on an incorrect interpretation of certain passages in Acts. We don’t build doctrines on the gospels and the Book of Acts, unless they are confirmed by the epistles. This view leads often to striving, rather than rest. The Christian life is not about becoming something we already are (Col 2.10). The Baptism of the Spirit is for all Christians (1 Cor 12:13) and (since the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost to the Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles in Acts) takes place immediately when a person receives Jesus as Saviour. We don’t see the Baptism of the Spirit as a later event or ‘second blessing’ when we read the epistles, which are the basis for the church’s doctrines. My ambition is not to go too deep into this just now. It would take too much space.
On 31st October, it was 499 years since Martin Luther spoke up and challenged the Catholic (‘universal’) Church. This is generally regarded as the beginning of the reformation. Sweden has been protestant since the time of Gustav Vasa. We could discuss his and many other leaders’ motives for converting, not just themselves but whole nations. Were the reasons political or spiritual? Probably a combination! Before the 500th anniversary of the reformation the Catholic Church has launched a ‘charm offensive’ in traditionally strongly protestant countries, Sweden included. The message is clear – unity among Christians. The reformation, in a sense, showed rather division and separation. This is, therefore, toned down and the focus is on what unites rather than what distinguishes and divides. Does this sound familiar? It sounds good, maybe, but is there more to be said about this? Absolutely!
What surprises me most is how Swedish Christianity (largely protestant in its traditions) apparently receives the Pope and thereby the Catholic Church’s doctrines indiscriminately, without blinking. The Catholic Church still teaches salvation by works and sacraments. Tradition has the same value as Scripture (in practice higher). The cult of Mary and the worship of saints have not been abandoned. The list could be made much longer. All this goes right against the reformation’s Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). The word of God is eternal and stands firm in the heavens (Ps 119:89) and nothing on earth can be compared with it. In addition, salvation is only by grace (Eph 2:8-9) and the reformation called it Sola Gratia (by grace alone). Finally, this grace can only be received through faith, i.e. Sola Fide (by faith alone). The Scriptures make this abundantly clear (Rom 3:20-24).
We thank God that the Catholic Church stands up for certain moral values. I am always glad when someone believes in God and Jesus. They do that in the Catholic Church and it is wonderful in view of how atheism and secular humanism is spreading. But if the truth about sinful man’s justification before a holy God doesn’t come out, one is as lost as anyone who doesn’t believe or belongs to another religion.
What is the connection between these things? Through a wrong emphasis on the Spirit, Protestantism has gone from ‘dogmatic’ to ‘experiential’ Christianity (feel what the Spirit is saying and leading). The emphasis has gone from the objective teachings of the Bible (though differences in denominations have always existed) to the subjective experience of God. The result is a clear lack of discernment. Therefore, Christianity is now flirting with teachings that are totally without foundation in the Bible. This is at least in part a legacy of emotionally-based Christianity which, unfortunately, can no longer see obvious truths and differences. Whether we are Protestants or Catholics and whether we are charismatics or not, we have to ask ourselves two questions. First, what is written in the Scriptures? Second, am I born again? If I am born again (John 3:1-6) and see the Bible as God’s inspired and infallible word (2 Tim 3:16) then tradition matters less (even though it’s not without value) and likewise denominational thinking. To all those who received Him He has given the right to be children of God (John 1:12). Wonderful, isn’t it?