Spiritual Power And Cultural Sensitivity


Seeker Friendly Western Sensitivity

Sometimes cultural sensitivity and spiritual power are incompatible. There is a specific orientation in the Western world that seeks civility at the price of spiritual power. In the Church world, this has produced a seeker sensitive orientation in formerly charismatic churches, resulting in a ban on Holy Spirit manifestations. The change has been dramatic. There is no emphasis on prayer and the laying on of hands for being filled with the Spirit in the services, or prophecy, or tongues and interpretation and absolutely no untoward manifestations. This is an adjustment for cultural sensitivity since we are told that seekers will be “turned off” by the strange things that could happen in a meeting where Holy Spirit manifestations are welcome.

Messianic Jewish Seeker Friendly Sensitivity

We as Messianic Jews have our own variety of seeker friendly cultural sensitivity too. Far be it for me to decry cultural sensitivity; on the contrary, I encourage people to learn to be sensitive. For example, when we do traditional prayers, let’s learn to do them well. Let’s respect religious objects. Do not put a Bible or a prayer book on the floor. Do not bring a tallit (prayer shawl) into the rest room. These are Jewish norms and there is no reason for us to not learn better sensitivity. One woman that I was acquainted with would dance with a tallit as if it was a long kerchief and sometimes in a manner that was a bit sensual. This, of course, can be very offensive. We can be creative in using Jewish expressions, but should avoid being weird.

However, some have embraced the view that we should not engage in any Holy Spirit expressions that would be foreign in the average synagogue. This means that a host of things cannot be done. Prophecy can be strange to a visitor (we can teach the person bringing the word to speak in an ordinary tone of voice and language!). Speaking in tongues and interpretation could seem really strange. If someone appears to be shaking, or even falling under what is professed to be the power of the Spirit, we are really said to be breaking the rules of cultural sensitivity or seeker friendly norms.

Cultural sensitivity in this last sense is supposed to help us win new adherents. What does the record show? It seems that in spite of our sensitivity we are not impressing people and they are not embracing Yeshua. A true seeker is looking for the reality of God. At least if there is a testimony of a convincing answer to prayer, a healing or an accurate prophecy, there could be an attraction to the power of God.

I have come to the conclusion that there is a judicious balance between cultural sensitivity and the power of God. This requires discernment in the Spirit as to where God is really leading. Much can be done in the flesh that is nevertheless claimed by some to be a manifestation of the Spirit. However, some things really happen due to God’s Spirit moving in a sovereign way that some will claim is of the flesh. There is a somewhat paradoxical relationship between cultural sensitivity and the power of God. If one errs too much in the direction of cultural sensitivity, the power of God will be lost. If one errs too much towards insensitivity, people will react and not receive the reality brought to them in a context of spiritual power.

Some twenty three years ago, God tested me on this. It was a Rosh Hashanah service, with many guests from the Jewish community, and I had determined to be really sensitive. However, God had other plans. I thought it would be best not to have any manifestations for the sake of Jewish visitors. Yet an especially powerful supernatural prophetic word came forth that stunned and deeply impressed all the Jewish visitors. Through the intervention of an elder, I allowed this to happen. God then spoke to me that I was never to lead any gathering of professing Spirit-filled believers where I would preclude prophecy or manifestations of the Spirit. We learned to govern with greater wisdom. I came to believe that it was better to err on the side of spiritual power while still keeping a commitment to sensitivity. Anointing and spiritual power are keys to spiritual results. Without these our results are meager.

The Bible’s Teaching On Spiritual Power

Scripture has much to say on this, and we ignore it to our own peril. Again and again, the great shaliach Sha’ul (the apostle Paul) notes that his ministry came with spiritual power. It was the key to his success.

“My message and preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith may not rest on men’s wisdom but on God’s power.” (I Cor. 2:4,5 see also, I Thes. 1:4,5)

In I Corinthians 12 and 14 Paul exhorts us to seek the best spiritual gifts with the motive being love (chapter 13). He assumes that spiritual gifts will be in operation and emphasizes that prophecy can be effective in revealing secrets and so moving the unbeliever to conclude that God is really among us (14:25). I have seen this happen many times. Furthermore the signs and wonders in the ministries of Yeshua and the first apostles were proof that the Kingdom really had broken into this age and that Yeshua was the Messiah.

It is interesting that in the Christianity of the Southern Hemisphere, spiritual power and supernatural manifestations are more easily embraced and less contrary to their cultural sensitivities. Some of our problem in experiencing spiritual power may be cultural. The supernatural is so foreign to us. It may prevent us from really praying for effective power.

I am convinced that our effectiveness in presenting the Gospel to our people has more to do with spiritual power than cultural sensitivity. Yes, we value such sensitivity but we are also seeking to show the truth that Jewish followers of Yeshua continue to identify and live as Jews. Because of all the biblical evidence and from personal experience, I want to err on the side of openness to the manifestations of God’s power.