Many of you who are Orthodox probably already regularly visit Fr Stephen Freeman’s blog. Fr Stephen is an OCA priest in East Tennessee.

He has a post today about The Spirit, the Modern World, Pentecostalism and Orthodoxy that I found particularly enlightening. He knows of what he speaks on more than just an academic level:

My wife and I met in a charismatic house Church so that I do not write as a stranger on the subject. I spent two years, as well, living in a charismatic commune. Many years ago I would have been about as hard core as they come. Today I judge the matter quite differently and see, with fear and trembling, Pentecostal thought and practice in a different light.

Though his spiritual journey does not mirror mine exactly, he has expressed the same concerns I have over a number of issues more eloquently and pastorally than I could.

9 Responses to Hindsight

  1. Erin says:

    I read the article and I agree with his concerns. But I am also concerned that He talks about Pentacostals and Charasmatics as a whole. Not all of us are big on the emotional aspect. I do believe that the “Born Again” experience is valid and does change a person on a certain level, but no, it is not the end of the journey by any means. As Christians, we are meant to continually learn and grow and strive to become as much like our Saviour as is humanly possible (with the help of the Holy Spirit, of course) and leave the rest up to God. Some of us DO realize that the emotions, while real at the time, will fade and there had better be something of lasting value spiritually that transpired at the same time. He is right that there are many Pentacostals and Charasmatics that get way off course and start trying to come up with solutions to problems that are not God. But , as in everything, there are exceptions.

  2. Dave says:

    I think that there are a lot of valid spiritual experiences mixed in with some psychologically induced ones. Where I tend to diverge from Charismatics is on defining or explaining valid experiences. I’m also concerned with the constant need for new experiences to maintain the spiritual life.

    It reminds of the era when we led worship following “the lead of the Spirit” and still managed to follow the standard Charismatic liturgy. However, I noticed that the services were no different after we began to plan the music and stick to a prepared song list. If anything, they were better because the musicianship was better. It helped when the rank-and-file were still under the impression that the Spirit was leading on the hoof, so to speak.

    I started to know something was up early on, when Dana Smith would play instrumental music during “body ministry” and people commented on how anointed a particular song was. Dana said it was “Little Martha” by the Allman Brothers. I’m not sure how anointed it was when Duane Allman wrote it for a groupie he was having an affair with. Duane claimed it came to him in a dream in which Jimi Hendrix was playing it for him in a hotel room. He woke up and started playing it.

  3. Erin says:

    I agree. We should be content to study and learn and grow without having to have the “highs”, for lack of a better term. Even if God didn’t do anything else for us after Salvation, that is enough. And yes, I also agree that the definitions of valid experiences are a really fuzzy gray area.

    As far as the worship goes, a list is great. Being prepared is not unspiritual. One must only be available and willing to vary if the Holy Spirit impresses. Our congregation knows that the worship leader has a list and seems to do fine with that knowledge. Maybe we are making progress! I think if the motives of the heart are right, God will use it.

    The other thing that I thought of last night is we (Christians as a whole) need to be careful not to let our traditions become habits or legalism. It is way too easy to just go through the motions wherever you are. This is in no way meant to be offensive to anyone of any denomination. I think in our spiritual lives, physical lives, jobs, family life, etc. it is easy to fall into a routine and in a church service that is always the same it is especially easy. I have to fight that myself. Even in a Charasmatic church where the service is described as “Spriit lead” (not to say other denominations’ services are not), there is an order of service that is always followed. It’s easy to make it a routine instead of a deeply spritual time. We all have to examine our own hearts and keep them pure toward God.

    Thanks for the conversation.

  4. Dave says:

    “Thanks for the conversation”?

    Does that mean you’re hanging up?

    I think most of the Charismatic movement has made great progress from the days of the impromptu “move of the Spirit”. Clearly I don’t have a problem with following a standard liturgy. Even with the Charismatic worship context, there is no need to change things at the last minute to follow the lead of the Spirit.

    The real issue I have is that changes in the songs invariably has to do with “what God wants to do” in the service. The focus of the service becomes much less of what I am here to do for God and more of what God is here to do for me. Worship is about the former.

    For me, the habit of liturgy, even in my personal prayers, has been a freeing exercise rather than a bondage of legalism. If I can use an analogy from back in my CEC days, the liturgy is a channel through which the Holy Spirit flows. Without its boundaries there is a tendency for the Spirit to run very wide and very shallow. For example, when I pray fixed, pre-written prayers, I find that I am able to concentrate on the words I’m praying, rather than on making up the words I want to say as I go along. God doesn’t give extra points for originality.

  5. Erin says:

    I agree with your thought that worship is an act on our part. But, I think that there is a fine line between whether a church service should be “what can I do for God” or “what will God do for me”. When we worship with right hearts, Gods meets us and does work in, and for, us during that time. I believe that a worship service is a two-way street. It opens communication lines between us and God.

    As for the way we pray, I don’t think there is one right way. I did not mean to imply that praying pre-written prayers is legalistic. I just think that some people may have the tendancy to let it become mere recitation rather than meaningful prayer. I think that there is a place for pre-written prayers, but original prayers are just as valid. For instance, when I’m in a desperate situation and send off a quick “God, please help me,” or pray for God to heal a friend, that is just as valid as when I take the time to repeat the Lord’s prayer and really concentrate on what I’m praying. I wasn’t aware that God gave points at all, much less for originality.

    Just out of curiosity, what is your stance on the gifts of the Spirit now? I know that in the Orthodox service they are not practiced publicly.

  6. Dave says:

    I hope I didn’t imply that I only pray fixed prayers. I certainly pray impromptu prayers, and I don’t think they are any less valid. Any talking to God is valid.

    With regard to those things listed in I Corinthians 12, I think that the gifts listed by St Paul are descriptive, not prescriptive. I think he is giving examples of giftings of the Spirit as way to show the unity of the Church.

    As a result, I see some of them as less supernatural than others. This goes back to what I’ve said before about defining experiences. For example, I think the need to define what is a “word of wisdom” or “word of knowledge” has led to people thinking these must be some sort of experiential thing they “receive”. I will acknowledge that I haven’t researched what the Fathers say about these things, but I do know that the common Charismatic definitions were develop without reference to them or any other ancient understanding of the them.

    On the other hand, I have seen Orthodox people (and clergy in particular) who have what Charismatics would consider to be a prophetic gift. And the Orthodox are quite big on anointing with oil and praying for healing. There are fixed services for this (for example on the Wednesday of Holy Week) and any priest (which comes from the word “presbyter” or elder) should be happy to visit the sick and follow the prescriptions of James 5.

    Being sacramental, we believe that the oil is not merely symbolic, but that it is used by the Holy Spirit. Thus, we tend to not use any old kitchen oil, but Holy Oil that has especially be prayed over. There is also oil that has been used in the lamps over the remains of particularly holy people (I think of St John of Shanghai and San Francisco) that has been found to be particularly potent in the healing process.

    So perhaps the only ones of the I Cor 12 gifts you might not find in an Orthodox service are tongues and interpretation, which often tend to be the litmus test of true Spirit-filled-ness for Charismatics.

  7. Erin says:

    I have seen the use of the Holy Oil. Especially when Scott’s brother was so sick and in the hospital. The Catholic Priest came several times to annoint him and pray for healing and to have Communion with the family. And, just for the record, I’m not big on grabbing any ole kitchen oil for use in the laying on of hands. Others in my congregation would no doubt disagree with me.

    I also haven’t studied the ancient meanings of the “word of knowledge” or “word of wisdom”. I do know that God has given me wisdom in some situations when I prayed for it, but it wasn’t anything big or ceremonial. Like we agreed earlier a lot of the definitions are fuzzy.

    I don’t believe that you must speak in tongues or have interpretations to be filled with the Spirit. I believe that the Holy Spirit works in many ways and most of the time, in a quiet, still voice. Obviosly, it doesn’t bother me when someone has a word in tongues in church (having grown up in that atmosphere), but it isn’t a standard that must be reached to prove to me that someone has the Spirit in them.

    Having been in more Catholic services in the last 6 years than I ever have been, I see that we really have more common ground than we do differences. It’s just that the differences are so easy to see, that’s where we get hung up. Scott and I have had some pretty interesting conversations regarding all of this. There are still areas that I have trouble wrapping my head around, but the main goal is our personal relationship with Christ and trying to apply His principles to our daily lives.

  8. Dave says:

    Providentially, Mary Leah has just posted an interview with Frederica Mathewes-Green from Precipice Magazine that includes the answer to: ‘I have found that many Evangelicals are surprised to hear that the Holy Spirit is so central to the experience within the Orthodox Church. I think this is because they equate a “spirit-filled” church with a charismatic, Pentecostal context. Can you describe the Orthodox understanding of what the moving of the Holy Spirit amongst the community looks like?’

    While one of the commenters to the post may not like Frederica, I think that what she says is very helpful.

  9. Erin says:

    I ended up reading most of the article. She is very well spoken. Thanks for the link.

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