March 2017: Love is a spiritual gift

The following is an excerpt from Love is a Verb: A one-year spiritual practice resource, written by Leo Hartshorn. The resource explores the 2017 convention theme Love is a Verb through the lens of Richard Foster’s six spiritual streams. Download the entire booklet from the Mennonite Church USA resource center.

The charismatic stream

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. … I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. … When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning. … Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

—John 14:15-17, 25-26; 15:26-27; 16:7-15 (NRSV)

This theme text is composed of five of the Paraclete sayings from the Gospel of John. The Greek word Paraclete can be translated as “advocate” (literally, “to call alongside”) and in its legal sense means an advocate who provides a defense. The Holy Spirit is called to our side as an assistant or advocate on our behalf. According to the text, the Paraclete will come only after Jesus departs. The disciples will not be left as orphans during their mission in a world set on persecuting and prosecuting them. The Holy Spirit will counsel them.

These texts enumerate the character of the Holy Spirit:

1) The Spirit is the author of truth in the midst of the world’s falsehood and dishonesty and guides the disciples into truth.

2) The Spirit is both with us and within us.

3) The Spirit teaches the disciples, reminding them about what Jesus said to them.

4) The Spirit witnesses for Jesus, along with the disciples.

5) The Spirit convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgment.

6) The Spirit declares what is heard from God and the things that are to come.

The charismatic stream

At the center of the charismatic stream is an emphasis upon the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. This power becomes particularly evident in praise and worship. The stream also focuses on the spiritual gifts (charisms or extraordinary powers) of the Holy Spirit, while nurturing the fruits of the Spirit (peace, joy and love). Traditionally these charismatic gifts have included speaking in tongues, prophecy, visions, ecstatic worship, miracles and healings, although the gifts of the Spirit can be considered much wider (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, 28; Ephesians 4:7-16). Historically this stream emerged with Montanus in the second century and continues today in the Franciscans, Anabaptists, Pentecostals[1] and Charismatic renewal movements.

Strengths of the charismatic stream are:

1) renewing the unpredictable wind of the Spirit among people who tend to domesticate God.

2) freeing the church from an anemic, routine, tradition-bound, cerebral religion.

3) challenging spiritual growth through exercising our spiritual gifts.

4) providing a Spirit empowerment for witness and service.

Pitfalls of the charismatic stream are:

1) rejecting reason and the intellectual side of faith.

2) separating the gifts of the Spirit from the fruit of the Spirit.

3) turning worship into spectacle and inauthentic drama.

4) depending on the spectacular and miraculous to typify the ordinary

Christian life.

5) becoming overly speculative and engaged in end times prophecy (i.e.,

eschatology).

The charismatic stream and the Anabaptist tradition

In numerous ways 16th-century Anabaptism was a charismatic renewal movement. The Spirit played a key role in Anabaptist understandings of new birth and conversion, living faithfully, empowering lay preachers, the spontaneous sharing of gifts in informal charismatic worship, communally interpreting Scripture, and facing martyrdom. Anabaptists avoided attending the Reformed state churches because worship and preaching there were captive to the isolated, trained pastor. They believed in the practice of what came to be known in Anabaptist scholarship as the Rule of Paul (see 1 Corinthians 14), where all were allowed to share their gifts and Spirit-led dialogue in worship.[2]

Jacob Hutter, father of the Hutterites, claimed a miraculous element to his ministry. Pilgram Marpeck did not limit the miraculous to the early church. Some early Anabaptists engaged in speaking in tongues, “prophetic processions,” healings and ecstatic worship. The Spiritualist wing of Anabaptism emphasized the Spirit (the inner Word) over the Letter (the outer Word). Today the Pentecostal and charismatic movements have had a wide influence on the modern Mennonite Church among both Anglo and Hispanic congregations.

Early Anabaptism also shared in some excesses of the charismatic stream. Thomas Müntzer, a revolutionary Anabaptist, encouraged dreams, visions and revelations and engaged in apocalyptic, end-times speculation, as did Melchior Hoffman. Müntzer influenced the Anabaptist Hans Hut, who was associated with similar practices. In some extreme cases Anabaptists displayed rather bizarre behavior, similar to what some charismatics today experience as the Toronto Blessing.[3]

The charismatic stream has made significant inroads into the modern Mennonite Church. Recognizing its strengths and weaknesses is important for appraising its role within the Anabaptist tradition.

The charismatic stream and Love is a Verb

The opening sentence in the six Paraclete sayings in John says, If you love me, you will keep my commandments (14:15). Devotion to Jesus after he departs and sends the Holy Spirit requires a love that not only remembers and cherishes Jesus’ words, but also enacts the teachings of Jesus. And one of his greatest commands is to love one another.

1 Corinthians 12 to 14 enumerates a variety of gifts the Spirit offers to the church. Charismatics view these gifts as still present and active. Love is listed as the greatest of the gifts of the Spirit to the church (1 Corinthians 13). In this context love is not merely a feeling of the heart, but an active stance of compassion and care toward others. Love is a gift. Love is a verb.

Because the Spirit is the source of the charisms (gifts) to the church, love also has its source in the Spirit. Therefore, charismatic love is at its heart. And a life lived in the presence and power of the Spirit will manifest itself in active love for others.

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[1] Pentecostalism began as a pacifist church tradition, but pacifism became less of a distinctive over the years. See Paul Alexander, Pentecostals and Nonviolence: Reclaiming a Heritage (Pentecostals, Peacemaking and Social Justice), Pickwick Publications, 2012.

[2] See Leo Hartshorn, Interpretation and Preaching as Communal and Dialogical Practices, Edwin Mellen Press, 2006.

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toronto_Blessing