Holy spirit

The Holy Spirit: Signs, Wonders, and Righteousness

The Holy Spirit is on your side!

We live in a time of self-obsession.

But one of the great characteristics of Christianity is that personal spiritual renewal is always about the world we live in and not just about our own individual lives. It is a lesson of the charismatic renewal of a century ago that we must pass on to a new generation.

In the spring of 1906, a series of revivals broke out in a Los Angeles neighborhood. People spoke in tongues, miracles took place, and many reported experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit. At the center of it all was the great African-American preacher William Seymour.

Today, millions of Christians trace the history of their faith back to the days of this Los Angeles neighborhood. Known as the Azusa Street Revival, this revival – along with other similar events in Asia, Europe and Latin America – sparked the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements, which today number more than 630 million people.

As a shameless and avowed Charismatic Bishop of India, I believe that global Christianity owes a huge debt to the pioneers of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement. The movement highlighted how physical, emotional, and spiritual needs are met through baptism or infilling with the Spirit. He insisted that the Spirit of God is present in our world and that we can expect to see its manifestations in our lives.

It was a much needed reform. Christianity, under the influence of modernism, had grown to reject the experiential dimensions of the Kingdom of God and the holistic needs of the human person. Modernism had transformed rationalism into a new god, a point defended and well developed by the late great scholar of ancient Christianity, Thomas Oden.

Indeed, the church had moved towards belief in an absent God and had missed the present, vibrant, living nature of the gospel of the Kingdom of God. For this reason, the charismatic movement has been particularly effective in countries of the South, where the spirit world is as real as the physical world.

Yet, watching this movement over the past four decades, I have wondered if it has ever overlooked the call of justice and righteousness in the gospel of the Kingdom of God. Of course, Charismatics and Pentecostals emphasize that divine power and gifts are available to meet present human needs. But the gospel call to justice and righteousness goes beyond personal renewal, healing, or deliverance.

Much of human pain and tragedy occurs because of structures of oppression, exploitation and destruction. While people can find personal deliverance from afflictions, these man-made structures perpetuate injustice and suffering.

The work of justice is as old as the story of creation. When God spoke of Abel’s blood crying out, it was for justice. When God gave Moses the power to deliver the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, it was for justice. Throughout the Old Testament, God raised up prophets and leaders who confronted evil and stood up for the poor, afflicted, and oppressed. Setting the world in order is at the heart of God’s plan of redemption.

Jesus picked up this thread in the beatitudes when he said happy are those who thirst for justice. He was not just talking about personal justice but about justice in the world. Bliss promises the satisfaction of this thirst and this is possible through a baptism of the Spirit of righteousness or justice if you will.

The good news is that the answer to the confrontation of the forces of evil and social sin in our world is the same powerful baptism of the Spirit. The Spirit is the God of truth, compassion and justice. He is the author and initiator of all efforts for justice and reconciliation.

However, the work of justice requires enormous courage, conviction and the ability to resist evil. We see it in God’s greatest act of reconciliation: the death and resurrection of Jesus. It should come as no surprise, then, that Jesus warned us against persecution not only because of people experiencing personal renewal, but because his followers would oppose systems of oppression and injustice.

Christianity has a long and rich history of courageous believers doing this. For example, Archbishop Oscar Romero defied the bloody dictatorship in El Salvador and paid for it with his life. Dietrich Bonhoeffer exposed the evil of Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany, and he too was killed for it. Martin Luther King Jr was also killed by someone who opposed his march for justice, which King said came from the scriptures and the power of the Spirit.

A religion solely focused on self-renewal will have no impact on the world. A religion about the renewal of our neighbor – the oppressed, the victims, the poor and those who suffer from persistent injustices in an unjust world – will change the world.

God still wants to give his people the power of his Spirit today to continue this work of justice. We need to ask ourselves what our role should be when we witness injustice and oppression. Do we pray for the war in Ukraine? Moreover, do we hold those responsible for the suffering – be it President Vladimir Putin or the Russian Orthodox Church in his complicity – accountable for the wanton murder of innocent civilians, pregnant women and children?

We must remember that we work and live in the Spirit of power and not of helplessness. He is more than capable of ending this war and making justice, righteousness and reconciliation flourish even in the darkest of situations.

Joseph D’Souza is the founder of Dignity Freedom Network, which provides humanitarian aid to the marginalized and excluded in South Asia. He is Archbishop of the Anglican Good Shepherd Church of India and President of the All India Christian Council.