Day two of BICTE VII (the Baptist International Conference on Theological Eduation) focused on a continued discussion of Baptists and the Holy Spirit before turning to a discussion of ecumenical diaglogue and emerging trends in theological education.
Graham Hill, of Morling College near Sydney, Australia, spoke on the subject of healing as it relates to the atonement and one’s understanding of the Holy Spirit. Many Pentecostals and Charismatics believe the Bible promises healing to those who have sufficient faith and enough people praying for them, he said, but he knew firm believers in that teaching who also died slow and painful deaths.
Hill reviewed several texts often cited as evidence of God’s desire to heal (Isa. 53:4-6, Mat 8:16-17, and 1 Peter 2:24), and offered a critique of the claims. Texts such as “with his stripes we are healed,” spoken of the coming Messiah in Isaiah and cited in the New Testament, are largely metaphorical he said, though not entirely.
To the extent that the Messiah was expected to bring restoration to Israel-in-exile’s suffering, physical aspects could be involved.
Speaking from the perspective of an inaugurated eschatology, Hill said the Kingdom of God has present and future dimensions. Believers are spiritually healed in this life, and may experience physical healing from time to time (though with no guarantees) while awaiting the ultimate healing that will come with the bodily resurrection at the eschaton.
The church needs to develop a broader, more robust, deep, biblically sound theology of healing, Hill said. “We are so unsure of our eschatology and theology of healing that we avoid any conversation about a relationship between atonement and healing,” he said: “We are also such pragmatists that we don’t want to think too deeply about theological issues imbedded here.”
Hill called for Baptists to engage questions about atonement and healing, not just through the lens of orthodoxy that is shaped by modernity, but also through the lenses of love, worship, service, and community.
Deji Isaac Ayegboyin of the University of Ibadan in Nigeria prepared a paper on understandings of atonement and the Spirit as it relates to material prosperity, but he was not able to attend, and another attendee read his paper. Only an outline was provided, and I sometimes struggled to understand the presenter’s accent, but here are a few thoughts from the paper.
Ayegboyin noted that advocates of the prosperity gospel have become popular, promising material wealth and claiming that God wants it to be that way. The paper was mainly a critique of such views, noting that the prosperity gospel picks and chooses verses that speak of God’s desire for people to prosper while ignoring texts calling for the rich to become poor and indicating that God is often on the side of the poor.
In many cases the church has lost its prophetic voice, Ayegboyin wrote, by buying into the prosperity gospel. It is unbiblical to claim that spiritual health can be measured by material wealth. The scripture does emphasize positive use of resources, but it is dangerous to conclude that success is due to our own striving or positive thinking or other techniques typical of non-Christian prosperity teachings.
It is harmful to lead people to expect things they don’t get, for often they are lost to the church when the promises prove to be false.
This is not to say that believers should have no interest in material things, Ayegboye wrote. Jesus did not condemn the rich young ruler for his riches, but his unwillingness to let them go. Some things aren’t possible without financial resources. Without money, for example, Christianity would be exclusively a religion of the poor.
Even so, the quality of our faith is not measured by how much we have, but by how much we can do without, he suggested.
When tempted to choose between materialism and life of the spirit, Ayegboye wrote, money never satisfies, only the indwelling spirit. Jesus is calling Baptist Christians to turn away from an over-emphasis on worldly possessions in order to be more effective in transforming the world.
Ayegboye warned Baptist World Alliance members against focusing too much on a witness centered on worldly acquisitions – lest we be known as the “Baptist Worldly Alliance.”
Doug Weaver of Baylor University presented a paper on Baptists, the Holy Spirit, and corporate worship.
Early Baptists, beginning with John Smyth, spoke often of the role of the Spirit in worship, believing it was a restoration of New Testament worship. The Spirit played a role both individually and communally in Baptist worship, as seen in baptism, which is intensely personal but also a communal event.
The Baptist emphasis on experiential religion depends on a belief that the Spirit is at work in worship in every way, from the inspired scripture to preaching to prayer to music and the individual’s response. Baptists, then, had a “word/Spirit” based worship practice as opposed to one based on the Eucharist.
An emphasis on the availability of the Spirit also contributed to the Baptist emphasis on the freedom of conscience, believing that God could lead individual believers as they formed beliefs and made decisions. “A free conscience was integral to authentic worship and tied to each believer’s relationship to God,” Weaver said.
The past 100 years has seen an explosion of interest in “the explicit longing for the presence of the Holy Spirit in the experience of worship,” Weaver acknowledged, as emphasized in Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. Baptists should realize that they have absorbed several aspects of this movement, Weaver said, including contemporary worship’s emphasis on heart-touching songs and hands raised in prayer, what he called “a generic evangelical pentecostalization of worship in Baptist and other churches.”
Weaver closed by asserting that Baptists expect God to be active in worship, quoting an article by Joel Sierra in Baptist World magazine. Sierra said that God is not a spectator in worship. Rather, “God is not behaving in worship, sitting quietly like the family ‘grandma’ and having a delightful visit … Instead, God is working actively during worship. God is moving from one place to another, poking someone’s ribs, pulling someone’s sleeves … Mission starts in worship as we let God ‘misbehave’ and not remain in silent observation.” (April 2013, p. 11).
There was more, but perhaps this is enough for now … or the four “likes” the first column garnered on Facebook might dwindle to none at all …
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.