This post continues a four-part interview with arguably the most controversial contemporary charismatic minister, John Crowder. It’s worth noting that Crowder’s ministry has evolved since 2008, and that he’s recently released two new books reflecting this: Mystical Union & Seven Spirits Burning. Here we talk about whether or not Spirit-filled types are so heavenly minded that they’re no earthly good. This is an important read for anyone who listened to my Homebrewed Christianity podcast with Leif Hetland on Seeing Through Heaven’s Eyes.
I’m penning my prelude to today’s Crowder & Morrell piece while listening to Newwine Party, an album TR Post handed me today when I rendezvoused with him at the Raleigh Greyhound station. It seems that this week’s blogging series is making me new friends – and (in some cases) possibly straining old friendships! I hope new friends and would-be foes alike hear this dialogue out ’till it’s conclusion tomorrow. We’ve saved my most urgent two matters ’till last, both looking at the fruit of ministry in ‘bizarre, creative miracles’ and experiencing Spiritual inebriation.
Please note: All hyperlinks in the interview below are my fault doing.
Mike: Today we talk about something that a ton of folks have asked in the comments section – what do new-pneumatics have to say (and more importantly, do) about justice issues, compassion for the poor and widow and stranger? How does basking in the glory of God’s manifest presence enable us to live into the beloved community, as embodied in Jesus’ beatitudes?
Now before I give you the floor, let me say that I’m actually aware of a ton of ‘Spirit-filled’ folks out there whose life-paradigm seems to be soaking in prayer and worship, then expending their lives in the service of society’s least wanted. Jackie Pullinger comes to mind, as does Heidi and Roland Baker. Blood-N-Fire is a former Vineyard church movement focusing on ‘the youth, the poor and the nations;’ YWAM has manyPete Grieg and Andy Freeman‘s initiatives involving 24/7 Prayer and Boiler Rooms and missional monastic orders in the UK and US. So maybe the charge of navel-gazing is unfair. But let me put two things in your court, John – chapters focusing on lives of embodied service, as does
1.) Even with all these wonderful initiatives going on, how does the charismatic movement evolve beyond a ‘let’s give to charity’ mindset? What kind of involvement is encouraged of the average ‘pew-warmer’ beyond financial support to other people to do the work of ministry? and,
2.) What are you guys up to in this arena?
John: People who are not directly involved in prophetic/supernatural-focused ministries are rarely aware of the vast amounts of time, effort and resources being invested around the globe to improve society.
I am a strong advocate of presenting a holistic gospel. Even before we started construction of our India children’s home (this is hopefully the first of many, by the way), we were always traveling to developing nations and investing in other ministries which had a focus on orphans, widows, etc. But as you said, the vision for societal change must be embraced by the “rank and file” pew warmer. It is not enough for a few high-profile ministries to do a few projects within their own respective budgets. The average believer, by herself, could easily raise $15,000 to house a widow and 10 orphans in Africa or Asia, just by taking up collections from “secular” people at their office place. It does not take much for a citizen in the Western world to literally save lives around the globe. But most people are clueless on issues of global poverty, the sex slave trade, the AIDS crisis, etc.
Mike: Ain’t that the truth. I’ve been working with some amazing people both nationally and locally on transcending the slave trade in particular. It’s a daunting ‘issue’ with real lives at stake daily, and so much public ignorance on the matter even now.
John: Is this lethal apathy an epidemic found solely in an inward-focused charismatic stream? Is the continual desire (by Spirit-filled believers) for the next “spiritual fix” the real enemy of distraction here? Forgive me if I am blunt, but that is sheer stupidity. There are sluggards and nominalists in every denomination of Christianity, along with every sect and cult on the face of the planet. The apathy of the church is clearly not selective to the charismatic stream alone. If we are going to have a witch hunt, I think we could blame Western materialism, television idolatry or Sudoku addiction for distracting our focus. Why blame an emotional attraction to Jesus (or a distaste for sober, boring services) for the problems of a fallen world?
The root issue here is deeper. The question posed by many – “What does all this hyper-spiritual extravagance do for the poor?” – is eerily reminiscent of Judas’ question, when Mary “wasted” the costly spikenard on Jesus, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold … and given to the poor?” Jesus said “Leave her alone. … you will always have the poor among you.” Was Jesus inward and self-focused? Was He unconcerned for the poor? Was Mary wasting her time and money on a pointless “spiritual fix?”
[Editor’s note: John 12 should never be read without Deuteronomy 15 squarely in mind]
Jesus cares about the poor more than any of us. But He also understood priorities. God knows that He alone is the Source from which all of society’s problems find their resolution. I think that what Jesus says here in John 12 is this: if ever posed with the uncanny and difficult choice between feeding the poor and worshipping Him, choose rightly – you should worship Him.
As much as we may like to strike at the perceived “inwardness” of the charismatic stream (and yes, I see this with many individuals), none of us can deny that the first commandment (Love God) is still the first. And the second (Love your neighbor), is still the second. The second is like the first (and not to be forgotten! Remember the poor) – but it is still only secondary. Otherwise, what differentiates us from the pagans (just a figure of speech, emergent world – sort of)? The world is full of do-gooding do-gooders, but Christ is interested in relationship above service. I may sound fundamental here, but actions alone are not going to save the planet. Only the Glory of God is going to do that. It’s a supernatural thing (and I’m not talking about some eschatological rapture crap). What I mean is that this problem is too big for us. We need more of His presence above all. Do we sit by and twiddle our thumbs while we pray? No. But our number one priority should be to continually focus on the answer, not focus on the problem. Jesus is the answer. The more I inject Him in my veins, the more I want to go spill His love into the garbage dumps of the world, kissing lepers, feeding the hungry and bringing joy and hope to the depressed and downtrodden.
Mike: I hear you. But do you really mean to pit loving God against loving neighbor? I don’t know if Jesus’ two commandments can be prioritized; John’s gospel has Jesus conflating the two. Or as my friend Kevin Beck likes to say, “Love God by loving your neighbor.” (For more on this perspective see Kevin’s piece on Agapetheism)
John: Before I am pinned as being uncaring or enabling the problem of Christian passivity, let me make something very clear. I believe that to feed the poor is true religion and is a viable means of worshipping Jesus. But there is more. Christianity is not a moral club. The gospel is not a community ethics program. It is the “power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.” The Holy Spirit is not just a tool that inspires us with a goosebump so that we can get to the REAL work of the Kingdom, which is to go do a bunch of stuff. That is the Galatian bewitchment. Ideally, our service to humanity comes in great gobs and heaps as an overflow of God’s love working through us. When the priorities are right, we are no longer workers who happen to love God. Rather, we are lovers who do stuff. Find your primary identity as a lover, continually fixated on Him, and your heart will burn to heal the brokenness of the world more than ever was humanly possible. The work of societal transformation is an overflow, not the main focus. But the main thing has to be the main thing. Otherwise, our efforts become idolatrous grounds for boasting. The more I get tanked up on the wine of Heaven, the more love I have for the things God loves. The more I give.
In all fairness, I would also like to add that I know very many “rank and file” folks who are extremely generous, going above and beyond the call of duty. I know people who will spend weeks trashed out in an ecstatic trance on their couch [Where can I get a job that lets me do that??], apparently doing nothing for the poor, but then they will go drop $10,000 in one fell swoop into orphanage projects [I guess the same vocation that lets people do that. Sigh.]. We simply can’t judge by appearances, can we? Just because someone does not appear to be concerned for the world’s problems does not mean they aren’t part of the solution. I do not walk around depressed all day, thinking of the planet’s woes. I do my part, but not out of an anxiousness that it all relies on me. I’m just convinced that God is going to pull through on the human experiment.
Mike: I am too, John! I think God is indeed pulling through right now. Thanks for your perspective.
Ever since the milieu of the Hebrew Bible (aka the Old Testament), there has been tension between the ‘priests’ and the ‘prophets.’ (Don’t be confused by how we might be using ‘prophetic’ in these contemporary blog posts, ’cause I’m about to make the opposite point about ancient Hebrew prophets) The priests were concerned with temple plans and instruments and extravagant worship, whereas prophets were likely to rail against the worship-preoccupations of the priests. And yet there is a mystery present: God spoke in and through both. Apparently, God both inhabits the praises of his people, and yet desires mercy (justice) above sacrifice (worship). And this is precisely the tension we’re called to inhabit, living an integrated life loving God and neighbor, friend, stranger and enemy.
This was originally posted on June 3, 2008.