“But you are to be given power when the Holy Spirit has come to you. You will be witnesses to me, not only in Jerusalem, not only throughout Judea, not only in Samaria, but to the very ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8 (Phillips)
At that time, indeed, the Church seems to have moved in a cloud of wonders, as if the exact pattern of the Glory was for a while discerned…, as if the Paraclete had brought Heaven out, the languages and habits of Heaven seemed, for a few years, a few decades, to hover within the Church after a manner hardly realized since except occasionally and individually. There was, as it were, a Liturgy of the Holy Ghost after the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Body, a true liturgy with a Real Presence and a communion.
Charles Williams, The Descent Of The Dove
There was absolutely no one in sight. The ground over which we walked was as void of life as if it dropped from the surface of the moon. This was one of the driest deserts on Earth, receiving less than four milliliters of rain annually. Actually, there was life. Tiny little finch-like birds shadowed our progress, although what they lived on was a mystery to me. I saw no plant life.
The path ahead of us differed from the terrain on either side of us only in that there were no large rocks in it. My companion told me it was a road, but who travelled on it was as absent as the finches’ food. We were on an evangelistic sortie from one of the Mercy Ships operated by a large short-term missions agency. I was the pack mule for his sketchboard and tracts and his translator, and Jim was, well, it was difficult to say just what Jim was.
He had converted to Christ from general mid-twentieth century Mammon-worship about twenty years earlier and his wife had taken umbrage to his new orientation. She sued for a divorce (this was before no-fault), but I don’t think she got one. By the time I met Jim they had been separated twenty years. I heard that Jim decided he wanted to wait for his wife to come to faith and as long as she took, he was willing to wait. In the meantime, he would spread the Gospel. He wasn’t a member of the agency I was enrolled with. He was more of a hitchhiker with them. He had a devoted group of friends who raised his support and met his modest needs. He didn’t mingle with the rest of the ship’s company, but spent all of his time praying and reading the Bible.
I was “volunteered” to go out with Jim because I spoke Spanish and was young and strong enough to carry his baggage. Most people were a little afraid of Jim because he had a disconcerting manner about him. The only way I can explain it is how less dedicated employees feel about hanging with the guy in the shop who really takes his employer’s interests to his heart, except that the employer was Jesus.
Jim wasn’t an innovator as far as evangelical theology was concerned. His messages were straight up Navigators/ Campus Crusade fare; “Sin separates you from God – Jesus bridges the gap.” Nothing fancy, no nuances. It was very easy to translate Jim’s messages into Spanish and, I suspect, into any other language as well.
What made Jim a hard customer was his total disregard for his own comfort (which meant that he cared only marginally more about yours), and his disturbing habit of stopping every couple of hundred paces to ask the Lord if this was where he was supposed to stop and preach.
After walking for close to an hour and forty-five minutes through a landscape that varied so little you could have mounted a screen in front of you and projected a slide upon it for all the change you saw, Jim finally stopped and decided that this was the place he wanted to preach.
Nothing, nada, in sight. Rocks, sky, a finch or two. In a 360 degree panorama around us there wasn’t a soul in sight. Jim told me to set up the sketchboard. This was where he was going to preach. I lost it. “There isn’t a soul in sight, Jim,” I complained. “Who are you going to be preaching to?” Jim wrestled his sketchboard away from me and set it up himself. “Translate”, he commanded.
I did as he asked. He started in on one of his sketchboard talks illustrating how sin separated man from God and how Jesus’ death on the Cross remedied that. About five minutes into his sermon, I noticed two small dots on the horizon to the east, and another three coming down the road from the south the way we had come. By the time Jim finished his discourse, we had a group of about thirty. Not a bad congregation for the middle of nowhere.
I translated another sermon for Jim, more or less along the same lines of the one he had just finished. He made an altar call, and an old man and his wife responded. Jim prayed with them, in English, me translating. He distributed some illustrated tracts to the rest, thanking them for their time. I found out from the old woman that there were several tiny settlements of miners in the area, but that the closest ones were two or three hours away to the east and north. She and her husband were on their way to visit their niece when they came upon the small gathering and decided to stick around. She thought it very unusual that there were so many people out and about. Jim and I packed up our gear and headed back to the ship. He didn’t speak a word to me on the long walk back, but I was sufficiently cowed by him not to desire any conversation.
When I told my colleagues about what happened, they all laughed. I had been a Jim-virgin. Everybody had incredible stories to tell about Jim and his ways, how he preached in the middle of gunfights, or was invited to mayoral banquets, or held revival meetings in whorehouses. Supposedly, his goal was to preach in all 228 countries of the world, and now there remained for him only the true tough cases; Mauritania, the Maldives, Saudi Arabia, Albania, North Korea.
I heard a rumor that his wife had returned and that they had remarried, but I could find no confirmation of that story. However, according to some online sources (there have got to be some here who know who “Jim” is), Jim was able to complete his goal in the late ‘nineties when North Korea allowed a limited number of Americans to enter for a sporting event.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father. Who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified. Who spoke through the prophets.
The reason I felt compelled to tell this story about ‘Jim’ is that ‘Jim’ always struck me as a Christian who was ‘full of the Holy Spirit’. He never spoke in tongues, nor did he pray for sick people and see them get healed. If being kind and open to others is a prerequisite for holiness, ‘Jim’ was not that holy. He seldom mixed with others, and was often brusque to the point of rudeness.
His evangelism, which was the overarching passion of his life, also had something of a mechanical quality to it. After my experience with him in the Atacama Desert, I accompanied him on evangelistic sorties with some frequency. I never saw ‘Jim’ directly engage an inquirer. There was another evangelist with the agency, ‘Gary’, who had much more of a personal touch. ‘Gary’ always had time for people. He thrived on it. Going out with ‘Gary’ always meant a day-long commitment, since he could easily spend hours explaining something to someone if he felt the inquirer was sincere.
‘Jim’ was the scarier one. His sense of certainty was uncanny. “Here!” he would say about where to put the sketchboard. “I’m going to preach the parable of the sower”, he would say to me before I translated, so that I could prepare myself mentally. Judging by the number of people who responded to his invitations, ‘Jim’ was a much more effective evangelist than ‘Gary’.
‘Gary’ always seemed to me to be more like all the other Christians I knew, myself included; well-meaning, good-hearted, and sincere, but basically in a fog about how to accomplish what God wanted to accomplish through him. He did the best he could according to his lights, and left the results with God. Everybody loved ‘Gary’ and often sought his advice on personal matters.
‘Jim’, on the other hand seemed to be carried along by a certainty unseen this side of Acts 16:7. He was constantly praying under his breath, his brow puckered with what I assumed to be the effort of keeping himself in a place where he could ‘hear from God’. He always seemed to know just what to do, and when to do it. He would pray for the opportunity to visit difficult countries like Mauritania or Malta, and opportunities would present themselves. People tended to avoid him, and certainly no one sought his counsel for anything intimate.
So why do I think of ’Jim’ as being the ‘Spirit-filled’ Christian and ‘Gary’ not? I don’t think either of these men was hypocritical. I believe both of them were doing what they believed God wanted them to. It was just that ‘Jim’ seemed to have more assistance from outside the circles of the visible world than ‘Gary’, and I have always viewed ‘Jim’s’ almost shamanic relationship to the Holy Spirit to be superior to ‘Gary’s’ well-meaning hit-or-miss strategy. It is this charismatic, mystical strand in Christianity that I want to investigate, and one that I believe is deprecated unfairly because of the abuse that has resulted from an unskillful use of these charisms.
I’m sorry that most of this post was a personal reminiscence of a strange man for who I have a good deal of respect. By the permission of this board’s caretakers, I would like to spend some time discussing the Christian’s relation to the Holy Spirit, and I think there is room here for at least two more posts.
First, I want to make a brief inquiry into something Jesus said:
“It is to your benefit that I go away.”
I don’t know about you, but to me that is the strangest verse in all of the Gospels. I think that the West has tended to implement that verse in one of three ways, and this has resulted in the Roman Catholic, the confessional Protestant, and the Charismatic streams within Western Christendom, three streams that are farther apart from each other than any of them are from Eastern Orthodoxy. With the permission of Jeff and Mike and with the indulgence of the iMonk readership, I would like to make a case for the superior pneumatology of the Eastern Church.
I would also like to take my fellow Orthodox to task. You see, despite my belief that the Orthodox Church is the Church Christ established on Pentecost and the “pillar and ground of the truth”, I don’t believe the current leadership of the Orthodox Church is in a position to assist the West with her pathologies. I think Pope Francis is in a far better position, but, alas, I think Rome lost her mojo over the past, oh, thousand years. However, if the Holy Father continues the Eastward movement his two great predecessors began and continued, he may resurrect Rome’s great Orthodox heritage. Stranger things have been known to happen.
If nothing else, it could result in an interesting two weeks. Fasten your seatbelts.