Wednesday, June 6, 2012

weathervane of the spirit

Our assignment in South Africa is to work with the self-identified "spiritual churches".  We had, before arrival, understood this to mean that these churches put more emphasis on the leading of the Spirit than on correct doctrine.  This sounded good to us.  But our time here has given us a great appreciation for the complexity of this distinction.  While the freedom from pressure to adhere to form does bring a freedom to worship and community life, it also brings with it a great need for discernment.  Many things can be attributed to the Holy Spirit.  
As Joe has written  elsewhere, last week was full of John 3 in which Nicodemus discusses being "born again" with Jesus.  Lectionary readings are, for us, breakfast devotions, Tuesday evening bible study discussion, and often Sunday sermon.  Last week's Tuesday evening discussion was particularly fruitful as we reflected on the nature of the Spirit.  It coincided for me with reading J. Nelson Kraybill's book on Revelation, Apocalypse and Allegiancein which he delineates the sign theory of Charles Sanders Peirce.  Peirce describes three categories of signs.  Icons communicate because they directly depict the thing which they represent, e.g. a picture of a trash can on a computer screen to tell us where to dispose of unwanted items. Symbols have meaning as culture gives them meaning, e.g. we know what to do at a traffic light because we've been taught what the respective colours mean.   Indexes show the way in which they've been affected by that which they represent, so a weathervane shows wind direction because the wind itself has moved it.  
John's comparison of wind and spirit (although one and the same word in Greek, Hebrew, and in Xhosa) cause me to reflect on the nature of each.  Neither wind nor spirit can be seen apart from that which they cause to happen.  "We cannot see where the wind comes from" says John.  Nor can we see where a spirit comes from.  But if leaves blow south, we know the wind is coming from the north.  If clothing whips around on the clothesline, we know that there is a strong wind.  And so with spirit, we do not know where it comes from except by seeing the result that it has.  And Paul has laid out the test for us.  Does the spirit in question produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22)?  If yes, then the spirit has come from God.  Does the spirit produce anger, drunkenness, idolatry, or jealousy?  Then it is not from God.  The fruit is the index of the spirit from which it comes.            
Once again, we will be known by our fruits (Matthew 7:15-20).  The wind blows where it chooses, let us be in the path of the Holy Spirit and no other.                  


Kraybill, J. Nelson.  Apocalypse and Allegiance: Worship, Politics, and Devotion in the Book of Revelation.  Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2010.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

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