We Baptists have some genuine strengths. We tend to love and (in theory, at least) be moored to the word of God. We have programs, curricula, and ministry resources that are unmatched in the denominational or parachurch world. Our Sunday Schools, VBS ministries, youth and discipleship ministries are used even by other denominations. In spite of our statistical woes, we still love the Gospel, the word, and we still preach Christ crucified. Of course, there is the Cooperative program and a sterling worldwide missions program.
But the Holy Spirit? Him, we struggle with. We don’t like to admit it, and our confessions clearly affirm our belief in the Third Person of the Trinity, but talking about him can cause angst amongst us. Have you ever noticed that many Baptists today talk about “the gospel” the way the Bible talks about the Holy Spirit? Instead of praying for and seeking the Spirit’s transformational power they speak of the gospel’s power. Of course, there is no conflict between the gospel and the Spirit, but the fact that we substitute “the gospel” when the Bible speaks of the Holy Spirit says something about us. The whole Holy Spirit thing is just uncomfortable.
Our pneumatology has been reactive, formed in response to those who self-designate as “Spirit-filled” and have strayed into a bizarre world of charismatic excess. We react against the prosperity gospel, against so-called revivals with increasingly weird manifestations, prophetic utterances taken as authoritative revelation, huckster healers putting on arena shows to fleece the gullible, and a healthy dose of biblical ignorance and hermeneutical violence. Since this is all done under the banner of the Holy Spirit it is often hard not to be suspicious of those who talk about being spirit-filled. Having touched the stove of charismatic chaos we are reluctant to stand near the Spirit’s fire. During my lifetime, liberal has been the worst insult a Baptist preacher could receive. Charismatic is the second worst.
But the Bible is not reluctant to declare the importance of the Spirit. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you…” Jesus told the disciples in his farewell discourse that it would be better for them to have the Spirit indwelling them than it was to have him with them. Paul commanded us to be continually filled with the Spirit. We can accomplish nothing of value without the fullness and power of the Spirit working in us and through us. Ignorance of the Spirit is fatal to spiritual effectiveness.
An SBC revivalist in my youth indicted the SBC by saying, “We are so well programmed and organized that if God removed the Spirit from the SBC entirely it would be five years before we would notice the difference.” Was that true back in the 70s when he said that? I don’t know. I was a college and seminary student. Is it true today? I certainly hope not. But if there is any truth to it at all there can be no worse accusation. The Spirit of God is the oxygen of the Body of Christ and we can no more operate without his fullness than I can live without air in my lungs.
Charismatics and many evangelicals have created a false dichotomy between biblical and spiritual Christianity. Some are led by the Bible and others walk in the Spirit. This is unfortunate and destructive.
Yes, it is true that a division exists between the extremes on the two sides. There are charismatics and Pentecostals who ignore Scripture and operate by prophetic utterances, dreams, and their own feelings and impressions. And there are evangelicals who rule out just about any personal ministry of the spirit other than regeneration and the illumination of Scripture. My friend Joel Rainey tweeted something that amused me, but will likely anger a lot of folks on the poles of this debate. He said,
Some Charismatics replace the Bible with the Spirit. Some Cessationists replace the Spirit with the Bible.
He was poking fun, but he was also making make a point, and both charismatics and cessationists would deny the accusation, hopefully without offense. But there is some truth there. There are charismatics who operate “in the Spirit” and refuse any grounding in the word on God. And there are cessationists who limit the work of the Spirit severely, using withering ridicule against anyone who claims to have been led of the Spirit to do something, or who claims God spoke to him about anything. They reject any personal, subjective, inner work of the Spirit. We read the Bible and try to obey it. The Spirit helps us understand and obey. He is the silent inner power of God.
But there is no conflict biblically between the power of the Word and the work of the Spirit. He illumines the Scriptures and works within us to empower us to obey and to conform us to Christ. He guides us in the world in line with God’s word and communicates God’s truth to our souls. The motto of my ministry for years has been,
The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to do the Work of God in the People of God.
The Spirit and the Word are cooperative not combative as we are conformed to Christ. My goal is to explore that cooperative in depth.
Baptist in the Spirit: Introductory Notes.’
This study began several years ago when I examined every mention of the Spirit in the Bible. I asked simple questions. Who is the Spirit? What does the Spirit do? It is tautological to say that I let my view be formed by Bible study. Everyone claims that. I admit that I am not a scholar, just a student of the Bible. Those of you with academic backgrounds will likely find flaws in my methods and conclusions. But I attempted to gather and categorize the biblical evident on the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
I have some conclusions I have come to that I’ve not seen elsewhere, and I approach those with trepidation. I will present those as my conclusions, theories to be examined and discussed, not as dogma which I consider beyond debate. Of course, I believe what I present and will argue it as the best conclusion based on the biblical evidence, but I recognize that in the realm of “spiritual things” there is going to be room for godly men and women to disagree.
I ask first of all for a fair and honest hearing. You do not owe me that – you are perfectly free to ignore my writings and move on. But if you are going to engage in this discussion, I would ask for this honor. Please read what I write and interact with it.
Obviously, I would love it if everyone, even those with differing positions, joined together to agree with me, starting with a slow clap, crescendoing into massive applause, acknowledging that I have solved every question relating to spiritual things and given the definitive interpretations of all these matters. Sorry, I drifted off for a minute there.
Abandoning the pipe dream, I would ratchet down my expectations a little. As a continuationist, one who believes that the manifestations of the Spirit continue today, I have been exposed to some harsh and judgmental words by some of the more ardent cessationists. And yes, I realize that some of us have said some unkind things about cessationists as well. I hope our discussions can avoid that kind of vituperation and derogation. But my goal would be to show cessationists that continuationism is not a position based on a disrespect for Scripture, but a sincere difference in interpretation by those who take the Bible seriously and love it passionately. If I can at least give cessationists a measure of respect for the continuationist position so that we are not longer dismissed as those who deny the sufficiency of Scripture, who embrace charismatic excess, who value emotion over exposition, and who are prone to listening to some inner voice over the sure and certain word of God, I will consider this exercise a success.
We will study the unfolding revelation of the person and work of the Spirit from the Old Testament to the Gospels to Acts to the Epistles. Many doctrines are progressively revealed, but the newer revelation expands on the old, it never negates it. What the New Testament teaches does not nullify the Old Testament, it only reveals it fully, in all its glory. Truth in Genesis is still true when Revelation comes to an end. What the Old Testament revealed about the Spirit’s person and work is still true, but our understanding becomes more clear as the canon is completed.
What is clear from the beginning, when the Spirit is hovering over creation, is that the Spirit is real and powerful, and that we cannot be what God wants us to be or do what God calls us to do unless we walk daily in the power of the Spirit. We must let nothing deter us from seeking the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Posting Plan
Currently, I intend to have 12 posts, or post sections. This is the second. The first already posted. Some of these will become multiple posts – for some reason, people ridicule me when my posts reach 3000 words or more. Go figure.
1. One Thing Changed – posted 8/28
2. Introduction and Overview – This post
3. The Spirit of God in the Old Testament
Coming next, likely 3 posts. We will examine the 4 major roles of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament.
4. The Spirit of God in the Gospels.
We will see how the Old Testament roles of the Spirit continued and were altered in the life of Jesus, examine how Jesus walked in the fullness of the Spirit and what Jesus said about the coming of the Spirit on the church.
5. The Spirit of God in Acts.
We will examine the crucial role the Spirit played in the establishment of the church, the baptism of the Spirit in Acts 2 and the follow-up passages in Acts 8, Acts 10, and Acts 19. We will also look at several individual episodes of the Spirit’s role in communicating details to the church.
6. The Spirit of God in the Epistles.
We will summarize the teachings of the Spirit, especially focusing on the New Testament fulfillments of the Old Testament roles of the Spirit.
7. Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14
A summary of my exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14, especially chapter 12, forms the basis of one of my theories that I will broach later.
8. Exposition of other key passages
Romans 12, Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 5 – other passages relating to spiritual gifts and spiritual things will be examined in detail.
9. The Baptism of the Spirit: Who, What, When, and Why?
Going back to Acts and 1 Corinthians 12, the doctrine of the Baptism of the Spirit will be examined, and the first of my theories on this will be put forward.
10. The Gifts and Manifestations of the Spirit
Looking at the passages we have already examined in more depth, I will put forward my theory on the gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit.
11. Tongues: Much Ado about Nothing (or How to Make Mountains out of Molehills)
We will talk about (but not likely in) tongues.
12. The Word of God and the Voice of the Spirit
The key point in all of this for me – Does the Spirit speak to the human heart today?