The convergence of word and spirit

As we consider the person and power of the Holy Spirit – in particular the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church – it is helpful to draw out the implications of two articles in the Christ Church Affirmation of Faith.

  1. First, our statement on Scripture includes the statement: “We believe that Scripture is the complete, sufficient, clear, and necessary revelation of God’s will. God’s intentions, revealed in the Bible, are the supreme and final authority in testing all claims about what is true and what is right. In matters not addressed by the Bible, what is true and right is assessed by criteria consistent with the teachings of Scripture.”
  2. Second, our doctrine of the Holy Spirit includes: “We believe that the newness of this era is marked by the unprecedented mission of the Spirit to glorify the crucified and risen Christ. This He does by…by manifesting Himself in spiritual gifts (being sovereignly free to dispense, as he wills, all the gifts of 1 Corinthians 12:8-10) for the upbuilding of the body of Christ and the confirmation of His Word.”

We can be more explicit regarding the contemporary ministry of the Spirit “manifesting Himself in spiritual gifts.” We believe that the ministry of the Spirit in signs and wonders continues to be as broad, tangible, and powerful among believers today as it was in the early church. We also believe that all the biblical gifts of the Spirit continue to be distributed by the Spirit today; that these gifts are divine provisions central to spiritual growth and effective ministry; and that these gifts are to be eagerly desired, faithfully developed, and lovingly exercised according to biblical guidelines (John 14:12; Acts 2:14-21; 4:29-30; Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:7-11; 12:28-31; 14:1-33; Galatians 3:1-5). Please note that the issue of Scriptural-level revelation is not under discussion here since it is never described as a gift given to the church as a whole in any age, but uniquely accompanied the apostolic call.

Thus, Christ Church joyfully affirms both the sufficiency of Scripture and the continued revelatory ministry of the Holy Spirit. It will not come as a surprise that there are a good number of Christians who argue that this is an untenable position. Instead, they argue that if we truly embrace the authority and finality and sufficiency of Scripture, we cannot believe that the Holy Spirit still bestows gifts such as prophecy and tongues and word of knowledge and discerning of spirits. Further, they argue that if we are the kind of Christian who enjoys digging deeply into God’s Word and thinking deeply about biblical truth, we can’t be open to the possibility of miracles and healing and prophetic revelation.

This viewpoint is accepted so uncritically and so commonly that people will often walk into Christ Church and be surprised by what they discover. They discover a people devoted to the written Word of God; teaching it, preaching it, counseling with it, living under its authority, and governing our lives, both individually and corporately, according to its principles. The bewilderment comes when they also discover that we are free and exuberant in worship and that we prayerfully expect the Lord to speak to us prophetically and to work among us through all the spiritual gifts described in the Bible. They wonder how it is that a church can maintain its sanity when we both preach the Bible verse-by-verse and then pray for the sick to be healed and for God to reveal himself to us through words of knowledge and prophecy.

Whichever “side” of the spectrum they represent, most Christians expect us eventually to move in the direction of one of these two emphases to the exclusion of the other. They assume that, given enough time, either our emphasis on Scripture will quench the Holy Spirit, or our openness to the supernatural will lure us away from God’s Word into the land of sensationalism and subjectivity. Both sides, then, insist on the following dichotomy: you must chose to be wholly and sincerely and thoroughly committed to either the Word and to the Spirit.

But we find this manufactured tension between Word and Spirit to be unbiblical for at least two reasons:

  1. First, the Word of God is a dead letter without the inspiring/illuminating ministry of the Spirit, and the Spirit always works in and through the preaching of the Word. That is to say, the Word needs the Spirit, and the Spirit uses the Word. They never work in isolation from each other. Thus we are called both to be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18) and to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly (Col. 3:16). The context indicates these fillings happen together! Our Statement of Faith attempts to celebrate this union between Word and Spirit by drawing attention to the fact that “We believe the Holy Spirit does this saving work in connection with the presentation of the Gospel of the glory of Christ” (8.4); and “We believe that faith is awakened and sustained by God’s Spirit through His Word” (11.1).
  2. Second, the words of Scripture itself, inspired by God the Holy Spirit, teach us that the church is to eagerly desire any and every good thing our Father will give us through His sovereign Spirit, until the Perfect comes (1 Cor. 12:11; 13:8-12).

Put simply, Christ Church is wholly committed to the convergence of both Word and Spirit, not simply as a theological statement but as a way of life and ministry. Our aim in all that we do, whether in corporate assembly, community group gatherings, discipleship, or missional outreach, is to serve in accordance with the Word of God through the power of the Spirit of God. For more information on the way this commitment works itself out in our worship, please reference the documents The Way We Worship, and You are Safe Here on our website.