The first of the four Great Awakenings in American history happened in the 1730s and 40s. Arguably America’s greatest theologian, Jonathan Edwards, was involved but grew skeptical as the Awakening worked its way out.
That movement brought great controversy. One side emphasized religious emotions as the essence; feeling the love of God was most important. The other side taught that the heart of true religion is right thinking; emotions are fickle and often lead astray.
Edwards was decidedly Word oriented. In his writing, he argued against a shallow, human-oriented view of spirituality. He taught to look for these reliable signs of the Spirit’s indwelling:
- A new spiritual sense reflected in love of God that does not come from self-interest
- A new kind of convicted knowing
- A genuine humility
- A hunger for God and a Christ-like Spirit
- Christian practice
Flipping channels, many believers occasionally come across high-intensity healing services and revivals. Most are usually turned off, sensing phoniness, and they quickly move on. Next time dwell a little longer and apply Edward’s reliable signs to identify whether the Spirit is really at work. Before judging, beware that those of us from Northern European descent are easily turned off by high emotions. But that is what many others are used to and seek.
First is whether the leaders are pursuing self-interest. Are they making money? Check on the wealth of the featured speaker/healer. Evidence of self-interest should certainly raise doubt about the Spirit’s dominance.
Is there a pervasive sense of humility? When the Spirit is at work he changes hearts to bring a new humility. The Spirit cannot do much with a person who is full of him or herself. Those truly full of the Spirit are hesitant to draw attention to themselves. Be careful with those who claim that the Spirit is telling them to do what they are doing. Be cautious with someone whose personal life does not reflect a Christ-like Spirit. Do they practice what they preach?
Cleveland has a healer who I think is genuine. Issam Nemeh is an M.D. with a practice on Cleveland’s West Side. He does prayer-for-healing services on a Saturday or Sunday at various local churches. These are made known on his website but are not advertised. He does treat patients at the normal cost for a doctor’s visit. That is how he makes his living. Many claim special relief associated with his prayers.
Since “emotions” can be a highly charged word in traditional ministry practices, we do better to talk about “affections.” That word is no longer used much in ordinary English. Edwards defined affection as strong inclinations of the soul that are manifested in thinking, feeling and acting. Affection includes a belief held with strong conviction.
Affections can be either good or bad. The difference is the good lead us toward God and the bad away from God. According to Edwards, questionable affections often go along with prideful, show-off quoting of many Scripture passages, or self-serving eloquent talk, or passionate praise for God, or pharisaical devotion to religious activities.
Consider this perspective of Martin Luther. According to scholar Simeon Zahl, “affections” and the heart are central to Martin Luther’s theology of justification and sanctification. For Luther right motivation and willingness of the heart were far more important before God than right action. Luther recognized that affections are actually transformed by the Spirit of God. “The love of God is a gift of love which is given by the Holy Spirit.”
Lee Larsen says
20+ years ago I came to the realization that I cannot do it all. I was overwhelmed and exhausted to the point I was in and out of doctor’s offices and emergency rooms. One night as I laid there thinking this was the end I gave it all over to the Lord. Take me now or if you remove my burdens from me I will serve you all the rest of my days. Well He did take away my burdens and my ills and He opened doors at our church for me to step through, opportunities to serve and grow closer to Him. The greatest thing that happened within a month or so was the Spirit working in another individual at our church to form Acts 1:8 Ministry. This came as a result of a very blessed P.A.C.K. (Planned Acts of Christian Kindness) Outreach Program that he and the pastor started. This was so successful and blessed that the Spirit moved him to give away his business and create a ministry that GIVES away the PACK program to believers around the world.
I found this the ideal way in which I could pour my heart out in thankful service to the Lord. Something as simple as giving away a small practical gift or doing a helpful task for someone, anyone, but in doing so give all the glory to the Lord. Who doesn’t want a cold drink on a hot day or something warm to drink on a cold day? The gift opens up the heart allowing the Spirit to enter in. No matter who the recipients are the Lord desires to have a close relationship with them. Through a simple act of caring and sharing of the Connect Card the recipient can feel the love of Jesus reaching out to them at a very unusual time & place. Maybe that is at the local grocery store, gas station, a nearby park or wherever the Lord sends you. The card lets them know that they are loved by God and that like the free act of kindness they just received so is the gift of grace that comes through Jesus Christ as neither can be bought or earned at any price.
On the back of the card you provide the recipient with an invite to your church/school/youth activity and so on. Places that they are most welcome and they can learn more of this special love that Jesus has for them. P.A.C.K. teaches the doer humility as you serve everyone that comes your way. We do not get to pick and choose for we are trusting in the Holy Spirit that His will will be done. The faith building comes when God reveals His plan through recipients that first appear like things are going great, that is until the Holy Spirit opens up their heart to reveal a shocking in the moment crisis they are squarely in the middle of. These moments will happen with precision timing leaving you with absolutely no doubt as to His divine presence! Great teaching moments for us all. P.A.C.K. is now at work in 109 countries around the world as we continue to share, encourage and connect our brothers & sisters in Christ to this great sharing method and it is totally free just by signing up at: https://www.acts18.org/christian-kindness-program. No catch, no spam just encouragement to share the love & message of Jesus with everyone! God bless!.
David Luecke says
What a great story and testimony. I thoroughly endorse P.A.C.K and servant evangelism. For many participants here at Royal Redeemer this kind of ministry is actually fun and they certainly feel good about it.
James Haugen says
Thank you for your blog. I just have to ask: in what way was Edwards the greatest American theologian?
David Luecke says
He was born in America and thus thoroughly American. He was a pastor of a Congregational church, which at that time was the dominant one in colonial American. He wrote extensively. He was a Calvinist, and Calvinist churches were dominant in American history. Lutherans weren’t even present then. Calvinism became the civil religion of America.
David Eisenbeisz says
Great points. With respect to the television evangelists, you have said in few words exactly what most people need to hear. The difficulty in providing a complete thought in a short composition is not lost on me, and I commend you for it. That said, how does one reconcile the aversion to emotional display that could be a result of Northern European traditions with God’s mission, which compels the church to find ways to reach the entire population? People from other parts of the world need Christ just as much as those who descend from German or Dutch ancestors.
Do we risk offending our base by seeking new ways of worship that might appeal to people from Latin America or the Pacific Islands? Or do we maintain a conservative stoic approach that seeks to reinforce the intellectual bases rather than the emotional bases to our faith? Clearly, emotion is part of God’s plan for us, so why are certain Lutherans (and probably other traditional denominations) so against worship styles that seek to include these more emotionally-centered types of people? To me, if you want to dance and raise your arms during services because you are inspired to do so by the Spirit, then by all means, GO FOR IT. I probably won’t be joining you, but I would never say you shouldn’t do it if you are so inclined and your heart is right.
David Luecke says
Thanks. I think we just do what works so long as it is consistent with our substance. Fortunately, the Formula of Concord makes very clear that how they do worship is up to each congregation.
BRUCE EDWARD RUDOLF says
Hi Dave – Good timing. I’m planning on using the summer services to encourage a deeper spiritual c ommitment. Re. this blog, Is Paul Teske known to you. A pastor from southern Ct. now retired I think. Has his own healing on DVD at a Benny Hinn revival. I’m not a fan but Paul is confident this is how he received a great healing. It changed his ministry and he has been going around Synod speaking about the Gospel having a physical healing element to it. No relation to our classmate Marty Teske who also is still active in interim ministry out of Williamsburg Va. Thanks for this and for putting a measure of intellectual respectability to the Lutheran Charismatic experience that was so meaningful to Dottie and me.
David Luecke says
Yes, I know Paul Teske and his story. It was written up as a chapter in Eric Metaxas book Miracles. I believe we had one here at Royal Redeemer through a prayer ministry. What I learned from Metaxas is that people will be more accepting of experience of people they know first hand. All his chapter of miracle stories were about people he personally knew.
I don’t know where all my writing will go, but I am glad to add some intellectual respectability. One of the members just morning said he gave my book of blogs to a priest he knows. The priest was enthusiastic about the analyses.
Mark Looman says
I am a pastor in a Baptist church in Western Mi– mid 60’s in age, 15 years in my present church. Back to the topic in question: How can you know if the Holy Spirit is present (I would also refer to this resident person as the Spirit of Jesus). In 1 Jn 4:13 the Spirit’s presence is the basis of knowing that we live in God and He in us. This verse doesn’t tells us what the signs of the Spirit’s presence are, but it certainly makes it clear that the Apostolic position is that His presence CAN BE DETECTED.
In Ezekiel 36:26-27, the prophet is basically explaining to an exiled people in Babylon why they are there (they have failed to keep the covenant/law). God’s fix for this sad situation is to grant the people the resident presence of God’s Spirit. It will seem like such a person who enjoys this blessing that they have a new heart. In verse 27 we are told that the Spirit in them will ‘move them to keep God’s commandments’. I don’t hold that anyone can be saved by keeping these commandments, but I know from Ezekiel 36:27 that those who have God’s Spirit in them will evidence a growing intention and ability to obey God. THIS is a major indicator of the presence of God’s Spirit. Paul plainly tells us that the fruit of the Spirit’s presence are the nine character markers he describes in Galatians 5:22-23. Those who evidence the works of the flesh listed just prior to these would tend to point to the opposite conclusion. In 1 Cor 2 Paul talks about the man without the Spirit and the man with the Spirit. Essentially the man with the Spirit has special access to the things that come from the Spirit. Chief among these things would, I think, have to be the book that the Spirit has written. Paul adds to this in verse 16 when he says that this Spirit-endowed person will have the ‘Mind of Christ’. I take it that such a person would think about things the same way Jesus does. You don’t have to talk to someone very long to know if his thinking, values, loves, etc are in sync with Jesus’ thinking, values, loves. I suggest that the entire question, “Is the Holy Spirit present in any certain person” is a much bigger burning issue than we think. It breaks my heart that God’s people treat this thing like it is some side issue when it is THE ISSUE. Paul says in 2 Cor 13:5 “Examine yourselves to see if you are in the faith; test yourselves. Don’t you realize that Christ Jesus is in you– unless, of course, you fail the test.” This IS A TESTABLE THING! It is a vitally important test to take and God’s people ought to keep coming back to the question. I am serving in my 4th church in my 38th year of ministry. I have gone through the candidating/interveriewing process a number of times. THE ISSUE RAISED IN THIS ARTICLE HAS NEVER EVEN BEEN BROACHED as I was being examined for my fitness for Gospel ministry.
David Luecke says
Well said. In a future blog, I write about how Paul had an evidence-based ministry-based on seeing changes for the better in the lives of people he worked with. Why the charismatic movement took off so much in mainline churches fifty years ago was that participants had evidence of the Spirit’s work in them that resulted in speaking non-rational speech. They were excited that God is at work today. I hope mainline churches and Baptists can get that excited, too.
I don’t understand Baptists very well. You are very Calvinistic in theology and he famously denied miracles today and said that ended after the New Testament church was established. There is no way you can prove Scripturally that the supernatural stopped intervening in the natural (a miracle). We Lutherans bought into that, too.