Speaking in tongues during Lent. That sounds like an unusual combination, doesn't it? But maybe not so much these days.
What God seems to be doing in evangelical Christians
Recently I read an article that addresses the increasing popularity of the practice of Lent among evangelical Christians. The article doesn't condemn the practice but warns believers to be careful of the dangers of legalism and counsels us to not forget the freedom we have in Christ.
Then about an hour later I had a conversation with a friend who believes that speaking in tongues and other charismatic gifts were only for the New Testament times and views speaking in tongues today as fleshly works.
These two incidences reflect the suspicion that evangelical Christians often have of both tradition and ritual and charismatic experience. But my observations lead me to believe that this is changing.
There are two trends that I have noticed happening in evangelical church circles. Firstly, evangelicals have increasingly begun practicing ancient Christian traditions such as Lent and Advent. Secondly, there seems to be a greater openness to the moving of the Holy Spirit in ways usually associated with the charismatic/Pentecostal churches. These include speaking in tongues, prophecy and miracles, signs and wonders.
It seems to me that the Spirit is stirring in many of His people and it got me reflecting on my own experiences with these types of worship.
How God has been leading me this year
Since the beginning of this year I have felt God drawing me closer to Himself. During January, I felt a longing to be less distracted and spend more time being renewed in Christ. I realized Lent was an opportunity to do this as it has been for the last couple of years that I have practiced it. I have felt God drawing me into a time of seeking Him by giving up things that often become a distraction like social media and YouTube.
During this time of practicing what is to some a dead religious ritual I have found God is renewing me and there are several things that I have found God doing in me.
Firstly,, I am being drawn to a renewed interest in the Bible and faith that God can speak to me through it.
Secondly, I am finding a renewed interest in the gifts of the Spirit such as prophecy, words of knowledge and a longing for the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. I want to see the Kingdom of God break out and Heaven come to earth. When this happens people come to Christ, the sick become healed and the poor are fed.
The thirst for tradition and a sense of continuity with the past
The practice of Lent and Advent and other forms of liturgical worship are a manifestation of something greater that is happening in the church and the wider culture. Many are longing for something bigger than modern individualism can offer us. There is the stirring that we were made for more than just the here and now. As humans, we need connection and continuity with the past and we can see the thirst for this.
We can see it manifesting in evangelicals discovering practices usually associated with high church traditions like Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican. Or there are the Neo-Reformed who are passionate about learning from the great reformers and revivalists like John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards.
Many charismatics are finding it in the Hebrew/Jewish roots of the faith and celebrating feasts like Passover.
We also see it happening in culture with renewed fervour for nationalism and traditional values.
What is the Holy Spirit saying?
I believe God wants a holistic church that values the authority of Scripture as well as acknowledging the value of tradition and our experience of the Holy Spirit.
Some say that Lent and other forms of ritualistic worship are legalistic and it could be for some. But is it not also legalistic to discourage people who genuinely find a practice like Lent to be grace-filled from practicing it? We often talk about the freedom from ritual, but what about the freedom to practice beneficial religious rituals?
For many the Holy Spirit works powerfully through ancient Christian traditions and there is no contradiction between this and the charismatic gifts and the power of the Word.
Is this 'emergent'? It is common to associate those talking about the convergence of Christian worship styles with the emerging church but there is no necessary connection with it. To the contrary I believe that in an age of liberal theology and post-modernism God is also calling us to a deeper faithfulness to Scripture.
Conor is from Adelaide South Australia. He gardens and mows lawns for a living and is involved in several ministries. He loves God, music, reading and thinking deeply about philosophy and current events in the world.
Conor Ryan’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/conor-ryan.html.