I once overheard friends of mine refer to the Holy Spirit in Mennonite theology as the crazy uncle that nobody wants to talk about. You invite him to family gatherings, acknowledge his presence, but hope he doesn’t cause too much trouble. The last thing you want is for him to suddenly inspire someone to speak in tongues, speak prophetic words into someone’s life, or break people out into spontaneous energetic intercessory prayer.
I don’t think it was a piercing critique. But it was a comment that certainly got my attention simply because at the time I couldn’t remember when I witnessed someone speaking in tongues, or speak prophetic words into someone’s life within the context of a Anabaptist church. As I continued to ponder this comment, I did a quick scan of my 20 years spent in Anabaptist circles and I could certainly see how in some instances the Holy Spirit has been seen as the ‘crazy uncle’ nobody wants to talk about. The ‘crazy uncle’ can be awkward.
There are stories about this awkward ‘crazy uncle.’
I heard a story about a guy who had prophetic words spoken into his life by someone with a microphone. The microphoned prophet, inspired by the ‘spirit of God’ went on to tell this individual that he should choose a certain vocation in life because he was gifted in these areas. A few arduous years later, he finally came to the conclusion that this prophet with a mic was a bit off and he was not gifted in these areas. These were years that took a lot out of him, and ultimately years he would like to get back. But because the words came from a prophet inspired by the spirit, he had to take them seriously.
The movie Borat is a mocumentary about a reporter from Kazakhstan coming to America. Included in his journey is a pit stop at a church in the Mid-West United States. During one part of the service many of the people were speaking in tongues. He took the opportunity to do the same. He proceeded to make a mockery of the church and those around him by babbling uselessly and having people intensely praying for him. This is an example of a story caught on film. But it is a story that is not uncommon and have heard similar first hand experiences.
There is a good chance those of you who read this are thinking of a story right now… stories that are awkward or worse. This is what crazy uncles that you don’t want to talk about do. Make things awkward, so you just don’t invite him to the party anymore. Ultimately, I believe these are not the actions of a worthy to be worshipped Trinitarian God who actively loves and seeks redemption and restoration for humanity and creation. The Holy Spirit from that God is definitely invited to the party.
It becomes awkward when people take these supernatural elements of the Holy Spirit and turn it into a show for others.
Speaking in tongues and prophetic words are biblical expressions of the Holy Spirit. A quick read of 1 Corinthian’s 12:4-10 will identify these ‘supernatural’ gifts of the Spirit as good and holy. I think about what my friends said about the Holy Spirit in Mennonite circles being the crazy uncle, are they accurate? Are these expressions vacant from the Anabaptist world because we treat the Holy Spirit like a crazy uncle?
The Holy Spirit is not limited to these supernatural forms mentioned above. To say so would be to limit God’s interaction with the world. This is why the critique was not so concerning to me. God’s Spirit is active within Anabaptism. There isn’t an overall disassociation with the Holy Spirit because it is the ‘crazy uncle.’ I just haven’t seen anyone speak in tongues or speak prophetic words into someone’s life. The void of this in some Anabaptist circles is definitely worth exploring and will speak to some of the distinctives of the Anabaptism that we see today.
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