Are you familiar with the term “The Deeper Christian Life?” Perhaps some church history will help? The Pentecostal movement was always part of church history to a small extent, however when the great Pentecostal movement began in the early part of the 20th century it flowed around the world from a converted stable at 312 Azusa Street in Los Angeles. Please note when I refer to the Pentecostal movement I am referring to a movement marked by tongues and other spiritual gifts, not a denomination. There are numerous denominations and there have been numerous movements as part of the greater Pentecostal movement.
I remember hearing John Wimber describe what he learned from his study of church growth in the 20th century. He said plotted on a graph the Pentecostal movement had a slow and steady rise for most of the first half of the 20th century and then with the advent of the healing evangelists from 1948 on, tied to Israel becoming a nation again, the graph line changed so it looked like a rocket launching, there was explosive growth around the world and it has been the fastest growing evangelical movement ever since. All good news right?
Not necessarily. Over 100 years ago the prophecy below was released at the Azusa Street Mission.
“In the last days three things will happen in the great Pentecostal Movement. There will be an overemphasis on power rather than on righteousness. There will be an overemphasis on praise to a God they no longer pray to. There will be an overemphasis on the gifts of the Spirit, rather than on the Lordship of Christ.” (source, David Wilkerson writing)
So, while this movement has gone around the world and resulted in an incredible number of salvations and the advancement of the church there is another element. In the broader Pentecostal movement the sign of being filled with the Holy Spirit has been the experience of moving in spiritual gifts with tongues being the primary focus for many. This was a marked departure from the focus of those in the 19th century church who pursued the deeper life. There were many at that time who believed in a filling or baptism in the Spirit subsequent to conversion. However, for them the evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit was not the operation of spiritual gifts in the life of the believer, most of them had no grid for this, their focus was on a transformed holy life! This remained the focus in the early Pentecostal movement. Gifts were a sign but the fruit of the Spirit was also to be in evidence. However this was lost over time.
I do believe there will be a return to this focus in the church without losing the focus on moving in spiritual gifts. I think they are critically important. At the same time the New Testament church held up as the standard for carnality, the Corinthian church, seemed to have moved in the greatest gifts yet the least holiness. Perhaps we in the western church have come full circle? I think in many ways we have lost our focus on spiritual purity. What do we think of when we read the verse below?
21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21 (NKJV)
Are we thankful that we are free from having to pay the penalty for our own sin? That is good and right. Yet I believe much more is expressed in this verse. The nation of Israel was looking for their Messiah, a deliverer, and here He was promised. Yet Jesus came not just to deliver us from the penalty of sin, He also came to deliver us from the power of sin! The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) is clear on this point and Jesus told us to build our lives on what He taught. He reaffirmed this in Matthew 28:18-20 in what we call the Great Commission. A call to Jesus is a call to discipleship that results in practical holiness. This it is taught throughout the New Testament and below are just a few of many verses.
4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, Ephesians 1:4 (NKJV) 16 because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:16 (NKJV)
11 Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? 13 Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 2 Peter 3:11-13 (NKJV)
There is no question that the scriptures call us to holiness. What we need to address is how we get there and what holiness looks like. I think in the 20th century much of the church abandoned the pursuit of holiness because they wrongly identified it with legalism and were repelled by it. Yet the holiest person who ever walked the earth, Jesus, was attractive to people, not through physical beauty but through a winsome holiness. True holiness draws the hungry because it reveals Jesus. The way to holiness is laid out below.
22 Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, 23 having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, 1 Peter 1:22-23 (NKJV)
12 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors – not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. Romans 8:12-14 (NKJV)
The Holy Spirit is just that, holy. If we are truly intimate with Him, and obedient to Him, (intimacy and obedience cannot be separated) we too will be Holy. This was the pursuit of the deeper life movement in the 19th century, the revealing of Jesus to and through His people. I think it needs to be our focus again. Not instead of spiritual gifts, but alongside spiritual gifts. We need both. The prophecy given at Azusa street was a message and warning, not a final pronouncement. It is a clarion call for us in this present age to pursue righteousness, prayer and the Lordship of Jesus to see Him revealed in His body.
In pursuing the life of Jesus we need to recognize that gifts are just that, gifts, holiness is the character of Jesus worked into us. When we by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body, we paradoxically see the release of the life of Christ through us. Yes, death leads to life!
As we arise to pursue His presence through this death to life paradox we encounter more and more of the Holy Spirit working deeply in our lives. What an adventure – death to life to death to life – His life, gloriously revealed.
More to come…