The Holy Spirit as Bubble Tape
It’s six feet of bubble gum–for you, not them!
I was born in the early 1980s, so Bubble Tape and it’s wacky commercials on Nickelodeon were a regular part of my youth. Throughout my TV time, I would be reminded of all the things grownups couldn’t do that cool, extreme kids like me could do (I actually didn’t do any of them either…). Of course, the grand finale of adult failure was their unwillingness to try Bubble Tape. Thus, it gave birth to this aggressive and possessive slogan: It’s six feet of bubble gum–for you, not them!
When I look at conflicts in the church, both in my own denomination and in the wider, universal Church, I wonder if we aren’t treating the Holy Spirit like Bubble Tape.
The Scripture for my sermon this past Sunday was Acts 15:1-11, which recounts part of the narrative of the Council at Jerusalem. One of the things that stood out to me was that the account doesn’t include a full, blow-by-blow of the entire
argument dissension and debate. Instead, Luke only includes one argument. Perhaps it was his favorite argument, or perhaps it was the one that finally brought consensus, but either way, it is the one that ended up in what we hold to be the Word of God as God intended us to receive it.
The early church leaders debated whether they should hold new Gentile believers to the Law and in particular circumcision. A thumbnail sketch of the resolution is that they chose not to hold Gentiles to the full law but did select a few regulations that would allow for fellowship and relationship building between Jew and Gentile believers. The core of the only argument that is recorded is found in verses 8-9:
And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between them and us. (NRSV)
In the arguments today, how many times do people claim supremacy for their perspective by trying to point out where the Holy Spirit is present and active in the people that believe like they do? The unstated implication is often that the “other side” does not have the Holy Spirit. Six feet of Holy Spirit–for us, not them.
Yet, Peter’s approach was that the Holy Spirit could be found in people on all sides of the issue. This perspective–that God had “made no distinction between them and us”–paved the way for consensus and unity. They felt affirmed enough to declare that it “seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28).
Again, this council did not throw out all rules, regulations, and structures for holy living. Christianity did not become a free-for-all. Rather they settled on a standard that fostered fellowship and relationship–not one that built walls and denied the presence of the Holy Spirit in others.
What would it look like if we applied this perspective to the dissensions and debates our churches face–from social issues to worship styles to carpet colors? What if we resolved this year to not treat the Holy Spirit like Bubble Tape? Because at the end of the day, the Holy Spirit is for us and them.