Category Archives: Theology
When you grow up and are involved in church life, you hear a lot of things, a lot of sayings, especially if you visit churches of a different denominational stripe than your own. I will never forget the time I heard someone use the phrase, “Catching the Holy Spirit.”
“Boy, did you see Sister So-and-So today? She caught the Holy Ghost during worship service today. She was shouting all over the place.”
“Wasn’t service awesome this morning? I saw you catch the Holy Spirit today when you were singing and crying.”
“The Holy Spirit must have really come upon you today because you were raising your hand during worship, which is something you rarely do.”
And the examples could go on and on. Am I about to strain at – what some would consider – a theological gnat in this post? I wouldn’t say that. However, I do think this issue is important enough to address because there are unhealthy spiritual and theological ramifications that could result for embracing such an idea.
But before we delve into this topic, I need to make something clear. Human emotions have a place in the worship of God. Psalms give evidence of this. This hymn book of Israel captures the affections we are to display in praise and worship to our God.
“Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.” (Psalm 32:11)
“Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!” (Psalm 47:1)
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” (Psalm 103:1)
When centered on the character, acts, and word/gospel of God, praising and worshipping God with emotion is an appropriate response. The truth of and about God must be at the wheel of our worship (and our lives). But if we allow our emotions or feelings to occupy the driver’s seat, we can easily find ourselves spiritually careening off into terrain that is dangerous and damaging to our souls. This point may seem like I have digressed from the subject at hand. I assure you I have not because it is related to this idea of “catching the Holy Spirit,” which you will see in a moment.
Here are four potential ways in which the acceptance of this phrase “Catching the Holy Spirit” is spiritually detrimental to our lives:
It equates the evidence of God the Holy Spirit being in our lives with a specific emotion, feeling, or response.
For example, there are those who, if they do not have a certain experience during corporate worship or in their personal devotional time with Jesus (i.e., crying, a warm sensation over or in their bodies, shouting, dancing, kneeling, sitting, laughter, etc.), erroneously conclude that because they did not feel, respond, or emote a certain way in those moments that maybe they missed the move of the Holy Spirit or that he was not active among them, or, even worse, that he had perhaps departed from their lives due to sin.
Brothers and sisters, there is no doubt that when the Holy Spirit impresses the truth of Scripture (whether through song or preaching) on our hearts, we will at times emote, feel, or respond with exuberance or solemnity. But the evidence of God the Holy Spirit being present in us has more to do with the fruit we exhibit in our lives (see Galatians 5:22-23) than a feeling/emotion/response we experience in a worship service.
It mistakes the person of God the Holy Spirit to be that of a force or power.
The Holy Spirit is not an it, a thing, a feeling, or a power. He is the Third Person of the Godhead or Trinity. He is not something you catch, but rather someone you obey. We are not to grieve, quench, or sin against him. We walk after him. We submit to him. We revere him.
It intimates that the presence of God the Holy Spirit is primarily outside of us rather than inside of us.
To catch the Holy Spirit implies that he is primarily present outside of us. This is not how the Scripture, specifically the New Testament, speaks of his presence in our lives. We don’t have to welcome him into the room when we gather for corporate worship as the church. He does not need to be invited into a service or into the hearts of believers. And we don’t have to worry about him leaving us. He is forever present with us because he permanently indwells us (John 14:15-17; Ephesians 1:13-14; 2 Corinthians 1:22).
It reduces, in our minds, the work of God the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Adopting this phrase, this belief can lead us to think that the Holy Spirit’s involvement in our lives takes place largely on Sunday mornings during our designated corporate worship time. This severely limits and reduces our understanding of His work in our lives as Christians. What he does in our lives is not relegated to an hour or two on weekends, nor is it solely about giving us a feeling of euphoria. He does much more than that on and beyond Sundays.
- He makes us into Jesus’ image.
- He comforts us in our affliction.
- He convicts us of our sin.
- He illuminates our minds/hearts to understand the Scriptures and the immensity of God’s love for us in Jesus.
- He strengthens us to serve the church (through general acts of service and the exercising of our specific spiritual gift or gifts that he has given us).
- He guides us into the Father’s will for our lives.
- He assures us of our salvation in Jesus.
- He prays to the Father on our behalf.
- He empowers us to preach the Good News of Jesus to the lost.
So, in light of this, I encourage you to retire the phrase, “Catching the Holy Spirit”, and embrace the concept Paul gives us in Ephesians 5:18 related to the Holy Spirit:
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit
Being filled with the Spirit has to do with allowing yourself to be led by him (according to the Scripture) on a continual basis. It is about living life under his influence. There is no need to catch him; yielding to his control in and over your life will be just fine.
I’ll never forget the time I saw a huge palate of letters containing handkerchiefs from people who were seeking healing from God through this faith-healing televangelist. As he addressed the viewers and commenced to lay hands on and pray over the cloths and for the requests that were mailed in, he referenced Acts 19:12 as justification for this part of his ministry, “so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them” (Acts 19:12; ESV). Many in charismatic circles of this stripe see this verse (and some others) as applicable to their lives and ministries – and some would even say to all our lives as believers as well – and state their conviction in words like this, “The same miracle-working power of the Holy Spirit that was at Paul’s disposal is available to us today. We, too, are able to lay hands on and pray healing over cloths and the sick will recover. We just need to have the faith to operate in this dimension.” But is this true? Is this a proper understanding of this text? Is this biblical warrant for praying that the healing power of Jesus, in some mystical way, be transferred into these cloths through the laying on of hands, so that when people receive and apply them to their ailing bodies, they will be instantaneously healed and delivered from evil spirits? I believe the answer to each question is a resounding “No.”
First, if we go back just one verse, verse eleven, it clearly says that “God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul” (Acts 19:11, emphasis mine; ESV). Nowhere else in the book of Acts are miracles said to have occurred specifically through the medium of handkerchiefs and aprons by the hands of someone other than Paul. Certainly there were other believers – like Peter, who was an apostle – used by the Lord Jesus to perform miracles, signs, and wonders. Though it was rare, God even performed miracles through believers who were not apostles. Stephen was one (Acts 6:8), and Philip was another (Acts 8:6-7). But what was reported to have happened through the apostle Paul in Acts 19:12 was unique, special. Therefore, it should not be viewed as normative and applicable to all believers, or even just to some who claim they have been called by God to be faith healers.
Second, remembering the fact that Luke was writing under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit and had a penchant for being detailed in his accounts, please note the text says that the cloths and linen garments “had touched his skin” (Acts 19:12; ESV). The way this reads is the cloths that people had on them somehow came in contact with Paul’s skin. Paul, therefore, was a passive participant. He didn’t stand up and proclaim to people that he had a special anointing exuding from his pores and they needed to bring him their handkerchiefs and aprons, so that he could touch them, and then they could take them back to the sick to be healed. Paul didn’t pray over the cloths. He didn’t lay hands on them (If Paul did “lay hands,” Luke would have plainly said so, as he did in other passages of Acts – see Acts 19:6). People had the cloths with them and they somehow touched his skin and God miraculously healed the sick when those cloths and garments were laid upon them. Also note, Paul didn’t subsequently launch a healing-in-my-skin-prayer-cloth ministry or host crusades with said name.
Third, and finally, the reason this rare occurrence in Acts 19:12 shouldn’t be seen as normative today or sought out by believers to be replicated in their ministries is because miracles were primarily designed to confirm the gospel of Jesus and the ministry of the apostles (2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:3-4) during the apostolic age and among new or unreached people groups at that time.
So to those who are sick or seeking healing from God for a loved one who is ill, keep your handkerchiefs and garments. No need to send them in to a faith healer along with your financial faith seed. If you are a believer in Jesus, you can pray to God for healing yourself (James 5:13a). If it is in his will to heal you (with or without medicine), you will be healed.
And if you just feel like you need someone to pray for you, let me suggest the following: “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the LORD will raise him up.” (James 5:14-15a; ESV)
If you’ve been around the church world for any number of years, I am sure that you have caught on to our nomenclature and sayings.
“God is good all the time. And all the time God is good.”
And the list goes on and on. But there is one term that is used quite a bit in certain church contexts and songs that, due to how it has been taught, has generated some confusion and, as it seems, has unfortunately helped to build a sort of spiritual caste system in the minds of many believers. It is the word: anointed. Just to be clear: the word “anointed” (anointing, or to anoint) is a biblical term; its use – not misuse – should therefore not be disparaged by any of us. So, how exactly is the term employed in Scripture? Here is a cursory look through both Testaments. I’ve sought to categorize my research for clarity purposes.
The anointing oil was a blend of fine spices and olive oil that was used ceremonially to consecrate the tabernacle/temple and all its items, as well as the priests for their service to God concerning the people and the tabernacle (Exodus 30:22-33, cf. also: 29:7, 40:15; Leviticus 8:10-12; Numbers 3:3).
Certain people were selected or permitted by God to serve as the kings of Israel/Judah and were therefore ceremonially anointed by a prophet or priest (1 Samuel 10:1ff, 16:1-13; 1 Kings 1:28-39; 1 Kings 19:16; the kings of Israel, particularly Saul and David, were called “the Lord’s anointed” – 1 Samuel 15:1; 2 Samuel 1:14, 1 Samuel 24:6; 2 Samuel 19:21).
God’s people as a whole – and even a pagan king – were called His anointed, communicating that they were chosen as His possession – i.e., the people of Israel – or for His purposes – i.e., Cyrus of Persia (1 Chronicles 16:22; Habakkuk 3:13; Isaiah 45:1).
People would anoint themselves with oil as a means of cleaning and refreshing their skin and perfuming their bodies (Ruth 3:3; Daniel 10:3; 2 Samuel 12:20). The Greek verb “to anoint” simply means to spread on, which, for example, is what Jesus did with the mud that he made from his saliva to place on the blind man’s eyes (John 9:6).
Jesus is said to have been anointed by God and is called the anointed one (i.e., the Messiah, Christ, Chosen One), both of which are related to his person, his ministry, and his work of redemption (Mark 14:8; Luke 4:18; Acts 4:26-28, 10:38).
And then there is the last sense (which I am not dogmatic about in terms of my interpretation of the two primary texts referenced in this paragraph) where to be anointed has to do with believers being called or chosen by God to fulfill a specific ministry, as seen in 2 Cor. 1:21 with Paul and Timothy (and Silvanus?; cf. also, 2 Cor. 3:1-6), or the universal church having received the Holy Spirit who is possibly referred to as “the anointing” in 1 John 2:20, 27 (which is where the point of application lies the most for us today; cf. also, John 14:25-26, 16:13-15; Acts 10:38; Note: The anointing in 1 John 2 could instead be understood to mean a grace work of the Holy Spirit, or the truth concerning Christ/the word of life that all believers have received.).
The point I am making is that nowhere in Scripture, particularly the New Testament, do you hear of there being different degrees, levels, or types of anointing, or that only a few elite Christians have the anointing and the rest of us do not, or that you have to go through some form of difficulty or sequence of “spiritual steps” in order to receive a deeper level of anointing. As far as I can tell, all of this type of talk or teaching has no legitimate basis in the Scripture.
So let me bottom line this article in closing: Are you as a Christian anointed? Yes…just like every other believer in Jesus.
A couple of weeks ago, I concluded my 20-plus week teaching series on the book of Ephesians. I entitled the series, “Ephesians: Our Life in Christ.” We had a wonderful time studying God’s Word, and I pray that God grows us tremendously from it.
In our last lesson, we tackled Ephesians 6:10-20, that classic passage on spiritual warfare. In addition to the six pieces of God’s armor, we discovered that prayer also plays an integral part in our standing against the schemes of the Devil and his demons. In verse 18, “praying…” is an adverbial participle that modifies the verb “take…” in verse 17. Essentially what this means is that we put on the helmet of salvation and wield the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, by means of prayer. This then – in my feeble understanding – seems to be the normative means by which we as believers guard ourselves against and fight Satan and his forces. We fight through prayer.
Does this mean then that we are to talk to or rebuke the Devil in our prayers? The short answer is: No. Here is why I say this. There is no biblical precedence for talking to the devil in the context of prayer. As Jesus taught us, our prayers should be addressed to our Triune God, with specific attention given to the Father. When it comes to dealing with Satan and his demons in our prayers, we should keep praying to the Father about them instead of talking to them (Matthew 6:9-13; also cf., John 17:15). If we stop addressing God the Father and turn to speak directly to Satan, we have ceased from praying at that point. Our prayers are to be directed to God, not Satan.
So when it comes to standing against the devil’s schemes, fending off temptation, extinguishing the flaming arrows of unbelief, protecting our minds from spiritual attacks, etc.:
1. Pray constantly (Ephesians 6:18; 1 Thess. 5:17)
2. Pray consistently with & dependently on the Spirit, according to the Bible (Ephesians 6:18; Romans 8:26)
3. Pray specifically (Ephesians 6:18 – “all prayer and supplication”)
4. Pray biblically (Acts 4:24-26)
5. Pray confidently (Hebrews 4:14-16)
6. Pray preemptively (Matthew 6:13)
“Fight all your battles on your knees.” Dr. Charles Stanley
In some cases, yes.
Dr. Roger E. Olson, my former professor of Christian Theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary (Baylor University in Waco, TX), explains how in his book, “The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform.”
“Montanus was a pagan priest in the region of Asia Minor known as Phrygia who converted to Christianity in the middle of the second-century….Montanus rejected the growing belief in special authority for bishops (as heirs of the apostles) and for apostolic writings. He considered the churches and their leaders spiritually dead and called for a ‘new prophecy’ with all the signs and wonders of the halcyon days of the early church of Pentecost. The problem for the bishops and leaders of the churches was not so much Montanus’s critique of spiritual deadness or calls for revival as his self-identification as God’s spokesman without equal. He referred to himself as ‘the Mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit’ and accused the standard church leaders of chasing the Holy Spirit into a book by trying to limit divine inspiration to apostolic writings. He strenuously opposed any such limitation or restriction and seemed to emphasize the continuous power and reality of inspired utterances such as his own…Other recent charismatic movements have emphasized an alleged difference between logos and rhema – two Greek words for ‘word’ – such that modern-day messages from God through prophecies (rhema) may supersede and even correct apostolic writings that were true and relevant for the first century (logos). Wherever and whenever prophesy is elevated in theory or practice alongside or higher than Scripture, Montanism rears its head. Like Gnosticism, Montanism challenged the early church and challenges the church in modern times to think and respond theologically in order that Christianity may not become anything and everything and thus nothing in particular.” (emphasis mine, pp. 31-33)