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Let me ask you two questions. First, how open are you to fresh experiences of God in your life? Second, how ordered or structured are you in your faith approach? Maybe you could picture a spectrum in your mind stretching from one side (ordered) to the other (open). Where do you place yourself on this spectrum? If ordered is red and open is blue, what colour are you?
The interesting thing about this spectrum is that the Bible doesn’t present it as a spectrum. Rather it presents both sides as valuable…
Openness. When you read about Jesus in the gospels and about the early church in the book of Acts, it becomes so apparent that God’s move is impossible to predict. So many of the things that happened had literally never happened before! There was no form or structure with which to understand them. God brought about “new things,” because God loves new things. Consider God’s words through Isaiah: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19). Also notice Jesus’ words: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). If you try to follow Jesus by only experiencing things that have happened before or things that fit within a predictable structure, you will miss out on so much. You might not even actually be following Jesus. Because God loves and the Spirit continually brings “new things.”
Order. At the same time we realize that openness cannot stand on its own. If we admit that there is truth then there must also be falsehood, and so there must be godly boundaries to our openness. This is most prominently portrayed in writing of Paul to the church in Corinth. This church was genuinely full of Spirit-filled believers who had received incredible spiritual gifts and were operating in them publicly and regularly. My heart longs for such a church experience! BUT they were not paying attention to the limits of this openness. It was an “anything goes” environment, where some were getting drunk on communion wine, others were out of control with their sexuality, the congregation was placing more value on speaking in tongues than on clear Biblical teaching, and no one was stepping in to shepherd things in a better direction. To these things Paul teaches strongly and repetitively that, although openness to the Spirit is a critical prerequisite for an “alive” church, godly orderliness is another must-have. Paul says it simply and straightforwardly: “God is not a God of disorder but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33). In Galatians, Paul encourages us towards freedom, but teaches that this freedom should never be used to sin (Galatians 5:13). Yes, stay open to a fresh move of God’s Spirit, but never allow that openness to move you to a place of disorder or sin.
My perspective on the church (at least in North America) is that few churches (mine included) walk this tightrope well. There are many churches that are very concerned with order, so they study the scriptures scrupulously and guard right doctrine militantly. But so often these same churches are extremely closed off (whether officially or just in practice) to fresh, surprising experiences of the Holy Spirit in their midst. Other churches so strongly value openness to the Holy Spirit that they’d rather have an emotionally intense experience than (1) learn anything deeper about the truths in the Bible or (2) stop sinning. My heart hurts for both of these scenarios.
I long to be a person that lives both sides of the spectrum, and for me that is mostly a call to move towards a greater openness to the new things of the Holy Spirit. And I long to be a part of a church that loves the word of God and continually digs deeply into it, AND a church that stays exceedingly open to fresh experiences of the Holy Spirit, not just in word, but in practice. I long to see my church filled up with those that study with conviction and pray with passion and continue on towards more in both areas day after day. In Ephesians 3:18-19, Paul prays for the church in Ephesus that they would have the power to understand God’s love. And then he prays that they would also experience God’s love, though it is too great to fully understand. This is my prayer for you, for me, for your church and for mine…that we would understand and that we would experience the love of God, living with openness to the Spirit and godly order.
What about you? Do you need to grow more in godly order or in openness to the Spirit? Join the conversation below!