1/12/03, Baptism of the Lord, B
Unheard Of Spirit
e could not get on The Drudge Report Friday morning because there were too many modems trying to catch the latest news. Millions of folks all around the globe, ranging from White House staffers to preachers were trying to catch up with what was happening. Matt Drudge, who first broke the Monica Lowenski scandal, and is famous for releasing "tomorrow's news today," as a lone rogue reporter, somehow manages to consistently be the first one to break the news.
News did not travel so fast in the first century. Sailing ships and runners were the technology of the first century. In our story we hear about Paul finding a small group of baptized believers in Ephesus (today's northern Turkey) who, several years after the Resurrection, had not even heard of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. They had been baptized with water; perhaps by John in the River Jordan, as a symbol of repentance and being washed clean of sin. They had possibly heard John promise that when the Messiah did come that, "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." (Mark 1:8) Yet, years had passed and they had for some reason moved a long way from Palestine and had forgotten about John the Baptist's promise of the baptism of the Holy Spirit; or more likely, they did not understand what John had originally promised. But for whatever reason, their baptism was incomplete. The indwelling Spirit of God was unheard of among them. They were cut off from the assurance of personal salvation, and of the Church wide power and fire that already had begun to ignite the world wide preaching of the Gospel.
Marilyn and I sometimes remember together the events that surrounded the controversial rediscovery of the Holy Spirit in the 1970s. Mainline church members were running around from church to church asking, "What's this about the Holy Spirit?" New denominations sprang up from such unlikely revival movements as in The Episcopal Church, the typically staid Presbyterians, and even lots of Methodists. Today's Atlanta skyline is full of steeples of churches that were born out of that sweeping movement that changed the Church forever. The largest Episcopal Church in Atlanta is still the charismatic Church of the Apostles on I-75 north. All of us still know formerly nominal church attendees who were swept up in the Pentecostal Movement and remain "on fire for the Lord."
Of course, Pentecostal groups have been around since the Great Revival movement that swept across America in the early 1900s. Pierce Harris was asked one time, perhaps by one of you, if he thought these wild-eyed Pentecostals would get into heaven. Pierce responded with his dry wit, "Yeah, if they don't run past it!" This may have captured the attitude of many that us still have. We have to give them credit for enthusiasm, but don't we Methodists already believe the same thing, without the extreme, yet dramatic, super emotionalism? And, we seem just a little bit suspicious of emotionalism without sound theological underpinnings.
During 2003 we will celebrate the 300th birthday of John Wesley, who lived through nearly the entire eighteenth century (1703-1791). Many call Wesley the founder of modern day Pentecostalism. It is true that he emphasized, and experienced similar emotional outpourings of Grace; however, Wesley also formulated a theological attitude that I personally feel is the very pinnacle of Christian Theology. We Methodists believe and experience both the Baptism with water for the symbolic washing away of sin through Repentance, and we also believe and experience the Spirit's Baptism of Fire for cleansing and empowerment. Indeed, most modern day Pentecostalism, or charismatic theology, is taken right out of the heart of Wesley.
You know the familiar story of John Wesley who found himself as a halfhearted, "nominally Christian" priest of the state Church of England. He was in a similar situation to the believers at Ephesus who had never heard of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Yet, he knew, as a part time professor of New Testament at Christ College, Oxford, that there had to be more. He just did not know how to appropriate more of God's Spirit. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit was unheard of in England three-hundred years ago: Much like Ephesus in the first century.
Professor Wesley's natural tendency was to seek the Spirit by studying more and praying more and doing more good works. All of that was good and set him on the path for rediscovery and revival. His small group of fellow seekers, including his dear younger brother, Charles, and George Whitefield, were given the barb name by fellow students, "The Bible Moths," and "The Holy Club," and later, a bunch of pietistical "Method-ists." But still, they admittedly did not feel any closer to God.
You know the story of Wesley's big adventure as a missionary to the wild untamed Colony of Georgia. Many of us have retraced his footprints from Savannah, to the Marshes of Glynn. Yet, being spiritually empty himself he had little to offer to the Native Americans and to the uncouth English colonists. He sailed back to England a failure, but he had met a group of German Pietists who seemed to have a spiritual assurance, peace, and inner power that he desired. He continued to meet with them back in London until his famous "Aldersgate Experience." The Spirit came alive in his life and he finally knew God in a personal way. And soon England began to know and then the new American nation and now the whole world.
But do we know God in that same way. Just because we are Methodists, one can't assume that we do. We have our share of "in name only" folks to whom the Holy Spirit is still unknown. The Good News is that we can come into the experience of having the Spirit in our lives, just as did the "in name only" Ephesian Christians. Note how they responded. "When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them" (v.6)
Today can be your day to experience the unheard of Spirit of God!
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor