Revising How We View the Holy Spirit


I believe John Wimber was the first to use this term. Lee Grady, editor of Charisma magazine, estimated that in 1990 there were as many as ninety-two million people who described themselves as post-Charismatic. In more recent times, author Rob McAlpine has written thoughtfully on the subject. Thus, I owe parts of my definition of “post-Charismatic” to Wimber and McAlpine.

When I say that I’m a post-Charismatic (or neo-Charismatic), I mean the following:

  • I believe that the authentic gifts of the Holy Spirit are still operative in the church today. Not only do I believe in them, but I’ve also experienced them. However, I also believe that the artificial wrappings that have been attached to them should be discarded, for they distract us from Christ.
  • I believe that being “Spirit-filled” cannot be narrowly defined to refer exclusively to those people who have demonstrated one particular spiritual gift at some particular point in their lives. On that score, I had a particular experience with the Holy Spirit in 1983. Some would say that I was “filled with the Spirit” because of it. However, I would argue that I was filled with the Spirit before then as well as many times afterward (see Acts 2:4, 8, 4:31; 9:17; 13:9, 52; Eph. 5:18–20).
  • I’ve grown tired of the excesses and abuses that many modern Charismatics have fallen prey to in both practice and teaching. These excesses and abuses go way back to when the movement was spawned. It’s one of the birth defects with which Pentecostalism was born.
  • I’m against humanly engineered hype and pulpit showmanship and calling it “the moving of the Spirit.” Perhaps you’ve seen this before. You pour in the right prayers, sing the right songs with the right fervor, turn the crank, and out comes “the Spirit’s moving.”
  • I’m leery of “personal prophecies” that justify ridiculous practices and ludicrous decisions and that fly in the face of Spirit-inspired wisdom.
  • I cast a skeptical eye on the exaggerated and sometimes fabricated stories of the miraculous. That includes the puffing up of numbers when healings or saved souls are calculated. (I’ve discovered that if a Pentecostal/Charismatic reports a figure of souls saved or sicknesses healed, you might be wise to cut it in half and divide by two to get the actual number.)
  • I stand opposed to the elitist attitude conveyed by some who purport to possess spiritual gifts.
  • I’m opposed to forcing the exercise of spiritual gifts on God’s people.
  • I’m against those doctrines that promote seeking wealth and material prosperity from God at the expense of caring for the poor and relieving the sufferings of the oppressed.
  • I’m opposed to the idea that spiritual transformation normally takes place in onetime miraculous encounters rather than by a long-term process of being conformed to Christ’s image by the instrument of His cross. Transformation does not occur without suffering.
  • I’m against using the Holy Spirit and His gifts to make human beings the center of the universe.
  • I’m against promoting an intoxication with the restoration of the gifts of the Spirit. (The only thing worth being intoxicated with is Jesus Christ.)
  • I’m critical of the legalism that was injected into the bloodstream of the Pentecostal movement and which later infiltrated the Charismatic mind.
  • I’m profoundly skeptical of any activity—natural or supernatural—that claims to be a work of the Holy Spirit if it doesn’t bring attention to the Lord Jesus.
  • I believe that the real fruit of prayer is not spiritual insight, spiritual revelation, or spiritual encounter, but the transformation of character. To my mind, the product of real prayer is what Ignatius of Loyola called the instrumentum conjunctum cum Deo—an instrument shaped to the contours of the hand of God.
  • I believe that spiritual maturity is not the ability to see the extraordinary, but the ability to see the ordinary through God’s eyes. Consequently, no matter how wonderful our experience or encounter with God is, the test of its worth is in the fruit it bears in our lives and the lives of others.

All told, I believe in the supernatural operation of the Holy Spirit but without the classic Charismatic and Pentecostal trappings and wrappings. A great deal of it is artificial, learned by imitation, and detracts from the reality and primacy of Jesus Christ. So while I’m post-Charismatic, I’m certainly not post–Holy Spirit.

Restoring the Spirit’s Undefiled Work

If we need a restoration of the Holy Spirit today, it’s a restoration of His pure and undefiled work. That’s my opinion anyway.

So if I’m against all of the above, what am I for? I’m for the centrality, supremacy, and exaltation of the Lord Jesus. Period.

To my mind, the Holy Spirit has but one job: to reveal, to make known, to magnify, to glorify, and to make central and supreme the Lord Jesus Christ.

The following is a revealing quote from Frank Bartleman. Bartleman was part of the Azusa Street revival that gave birth to the modern Pentecostal/Charismatic movement in the early 1900s. To my mind, Bartleman spoke ahead of his time. He foresaw the dangers of co-opting Jesus Christ by putting the Holy Spirit on the throne. He wrote,

In the beginning of the Pentecostal work, I became very much exercised in the Spirit that Jesus should not be slighted, “lost in the temple,” by the exaltation of the Holy Ghost and of the gifts of the Spirit. There seemed to be a great danger of losing sight of the fact that Jesus was “all in all.” I endeavored to keep Him as the central theme and figure before His people. Jesus will always be the center of our preaching. All comes through and in Him. The Holy Spirit was given to “show the things of Christ.” The work of Calvary, the atonement, must be the center for our consideration. The Holy Ghost will never draw our attention from Christ to Himself, but rather reveal Christ in a fuller way. We are in the same danger today.

There is nothing deeper nor higher than to know Christ. Everything is given by God to that end. The “one Spirit” is given to that end. Christ is our salvation and our all. That we might know “the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:18–19), “having a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him” (Ephesians 1:17). It was “to know Him (Christ),” for which Paul strove.… We may not even hold a doctrine, or seek an experience, except in Christ. Many are willing to seek power from every battery they can lay their hands on in order to perform miracles, draw attention and adoration of the people to themselves, thus robbing Christ of His glory and making a fair showing in the flesh.… Religious enthusiasm easily goes to seed. The human spirit so predominates the show-off, religious spirit. But we must stick to our text—Christ. He alone can save. The attention of the people must first of all, and always, be held to Him.… Any work that exalts the Holy Ghost or the gifts of the Spirit above Jesus will finally end up in fanaticism. Whatever causes us to exalt and love Jesus is well and safe. The reverse will ruin all. The Holy Ghost is a great light, but will always be focused on Jesus for His revealing.

Being “Spirit-Filled”

One of the first churches I ever planted taught me a great lesson on this score. Their meetings were open, participatory, and indelibly centered on Jesus Christ. They had no building, no clergy, and no set order of worship.

Each member would share his or her experience and insight into Christ as a result of seeking Him the week beforehand. The church had a steady flux of visitors. Most of these visitors would remark, “All you talk about is Christ. You seem to have a deep experience of the indwelling of Jesus.”

One particular Sunday, a couple visited the church. When the meeting was over, they sat with some of the members and asked, “How come you guys don’t ever talk about the Holy Spirit? All you talk about is Christ.”

One of our young men in his early twenties answered with wisdom that exceeded his years: “Well, maybe it’s because the Holy Spirit only speaks about one thing—Jesus Christ.”

I was not present for that meeting. The story was rehearsed to me. But it’s one I shall never forget.

If you want to know if a person is full of the Holy Spirit, listen to his words and watch his life. As far as his words go, he’ll have one central focus. It will be Christ. And his life will match his words. He won’t be perfect by any means. Nor will he be above making mistakes. But he will exhibit a spirit of kindness, honesty, and an inclusive openness to all of God’s children—the outstanding marks of Christ’s character.

Awhile back a friend of mine was perplexed about a certain minister whom he had sat under for years. He said, “Frank, I don’t understand. This man’s message was Christ-centered. He talked a lot about Christ. But as I got to know him personally, I discovered that behind closed doors he lied constantly, he was always jealous of other people whom God blessed, he was astonishingly arrogant, sectarian, highly egotistical, and rewrote history to put others in a bad light. In public, he ridiculed and demeaned others subtly. He hurt many people, even though he preached passionately against hurting Christians. I just don’t understand it.”

My response was simple. A person is not Christ-centered or Spirit-filled just because they preach the centrality of Christ. If they contradict the nature of Jesus by their character (their consistent, patterned behavior), they are not Christ-centered or full of the Spirit despite the rhetoric they parade.

An Invaluable Lesson

Let me pass on a word of advice. If you ever hit a fork in the road with the people with whom you do church (whatever that looks like), there’s one sure way that the Lord can get what He wants. Drop whatever is causing the problem, and let it go into death.

There is nothing for us to cling to except the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing. So let that other thing that is causing division go into death. Give it up, and watch what the Lord can do.

This is the principle of death and resurrection. Whenever we place something into death, if it was born of Christ to begin with, it will return again. It will come forth out of the ground. But when it comes forth, it will always look different from what it looked like before it died.

Everything looks different in resurrection.

A group of Christians I was a part of did this very thing with respect to our initial differences about the Holy Spirit. One group believed in spiritual gifts and practiced them in Pentecostal/Charismatic fashion. The other group didn’t believe in the gifts. We all decided to lay our views of the gifts at the feet of the cross. We let them go into death.

The result was remarkable. In time, the gifts of the Spirit began operating in a very natural, unassuming way. There was no grandstanding or bluster. It was truly organic—out of life. The gifts didn’t look Pentecostal, Charismatic, or non-Pentecostal/Charismatic. All the old wrappings had vanished. This was a work of the Spirit that was fresh and new. We had learned the lesson of stripping down to Christ alone.

I believe the Lord desires to revise the work of His Spirit in the lives of many of His children today. It may involve a form to death to practices or beliefs we’ve held dear. But no death, no resurrection.

Excerpted from Revise Us Again by Frank Viola Author