Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

A Challenging Day in Church

Zacchaeus Stained GlassGoing to church can be a bit of a challenge, especially for those not used to the practice. The environment is unfamiliar, as are the people, and what goes on. Even those who attend regularly can find it a challenge, for a variety of reasons.

I found it a challenge last week, but in a different kind of way. After a time of congregational worship, three of the younger pastors shared their reflections on what has been the month’s preaching theme: The Table. Each of the pastors anchored their reflections in a story from the gospels. Josh spoke of Jesus and Zacchaeus having a meal together, and of its resulting in Zacchaeus’s repentance (Luke 19). Jess spoke of the rich, young ruler whose “table” was too full for Jesus to have a place, even though he was hungry for eternal life (Luke 18). Andrew referred to Jesus eating at the home of Matthew the tax-collector (Matthew 9) as the on-lookers asked, “Why does Jesus eat with such scum?” (NLT)

The short reflections circled around coming to Jesus, making space for him in our lives, and following him. I was challenged, however, arrested even, by these gospel texts. In the Zacchaeus story Jesus proclaims “Today salvation has come to this house.” What is this salvation of which Jesus speaks? For Zacchaeus, his repentance was a concrete turning from greed to give to the poor. His turning to the poor was, for Jesus, a sign of his turning to God.

So, too, the rich young ruler came to Jesus seeking eternal life. Jesus’ answer: “Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come, follow me.” Again, the link between “salvation” and generosity to the poor is evident. Finally, Andrew’s reflection showed Jesus amongst the outcast (though these tax-collectors were not poor in the economic sense), the “sick”, the morally bankrupt, sharing the table, enjoying friendship, joining them and calling them to himself.

So what is “salvation” or “eternal life”? What does it look like? What is the nature of this salvation that Jesus came to bring? It involves more than a simple “sinner’s prayer.”

Much more could and probably needs to said to answer these questions adequately. As is often the case, however, it was not so much what the preachers were saying, but what the Holy Spirit was saying through them as they opened Scripture for the congregation. The Holy Spirit was challenging me. That’s one of the main reasons I still go to church week-after-week: to gather with the people of God in a place where the Word of God is heard and the Spirit of God is active. I don’t think I would still be a Christian without this (sometimes challenging) spiritual practice.

And so I went home challenged.

And also grateful for the ministry of Josh, Jess and Andrew—all Vose students past or present—who serve God by serving his people. As another year at Vose is about to commence, I hope that many more students and graduates will take up the humbling call to serve God in Word and Spirit and congregation—and wherever else the Lord may call.

Baptized in the Spirit 5 (Frank Macchia)

Baptized in the SpiritChapter 5 Toward a Spirit-Baptized Ecclesiology

At 101-pages, this is easily the longest chapter in the book. The first half of the chapter is devoted to a number of sections in which Macchia details the approach he takes to ecclesiology, before an exploration of the classic marks of the church, and a consideration of preaching, sacraments and charismatic fullness as additional marks of the Spirit-baptised church. “The central thesis of this chapter is thus that Spirit baptism gave rise to the global church and remains the very substance of the church’s life in the Spirit, including its charismatic life and mission” (155, original emphasis).

Macchia begins with two sections that argue for a relational ecclesiology, in which koinonia is the central motif. The Holy Spirit is the mediator of communion both within the divine trinity and between God and humanity. Spirit-baptism is fundamentally a relational event which issues in the creation of the church as a new community with renewed human sociality. The church is to echo and embody the relationality and open hospitality of the holy Trinity.

The Spirit is the Spirit of communion. Spirit baptism implies communion. This is why it leads to a shared love, a shared meal, a shared mission, and the proliferation/enhancement of an interactive charismatic life. Spirit baptism thus implies a relationship of unity between the Lord and the church that is not fundamentally one of identity but rather communion. … Spirit baptism has a relational structure that has communion at its essence, the communion of self-giving love (156-157, 160).

Thus, “Baptism in the Spirit is baptism into an ecclesial dynamic, the ecclesial Spirit” (167, original emphasis). The church, grounded in the gift of the Spirit, is a network of “graced relationships,” a foretaste of the redemption to come. The ecclesial Spirit sanctifies and transforms us. The power of the Spirit for witness is not some external naked energy which comes upon the church for mighty works, but is primarily “the power of love at work among us” (177).

Koinonia is not simply a matter of redemption, for human being is ontologically relational—this is part of what it means to be in the imago Dei. Yet this relationally has been decisively distorted by sin. In redemption, the self is not obliterated but renewed. Macchia develops a relational and ecclesial anthropology in which the dialectic of the self-in-relation and the self-in-solitude (before God) constitutes true and free human being, and which issues in non-oppressive relations. Spirit-baptism decentres the self, renewing and re-establishing it on a new foundation in the love of God.

The Spirit is the one in the many. This Spirit brings people into the common life of the divine communion in a way that does not abolish their otherness but rather enhances and fulfills it. They are stripped of their self-centered tendencies and liberated to be all that they were meant to be in the midst of their uniqueness (176).

A second set of sections deals with problematic matters in ecclesiology, the challenge of pluralism on the one hand, and the relation of church and kingdom on the other. With respect to the challenge of pluralism, Macchia insists that the claim of the church is grounded in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who, as the risen and ascended Lord, is the Spirit-Baptizer, the one alone who can and does bring us into fellowship with God. His gift of the Spirit demonstrates and confirms his deity, and hence his uniqueness and pre-eminence.

Yet, the Pentecost event is also inherently and radically plural and inclusive—as witnessed in the gift of tongues from all nations. Thus, the church also is a plural and inclusive company, rather than a hierarchical and domineering institution. Macchia insists that ecclesiology must be both christological and pneumatological. To emphasise only one side or the other is to lose the dynamic of the church which is grounded in the pre-eminence of Christ as the saving revelation of God, and/or the diversity and relationality of the church grounded in the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

At Pentecost, the legitimate reaching for God implied in various cultures and religious expressions finds fulfillment in the grace of God revealed in the crucified and risen Christ as the one who imparts the Spirit in the latter days. Their differences and past histories are not dissolved but affirmed and granted a new loyalty and a new direction. In the process all idols are forsaken and the cultures are pruned. But the critical pruning is demanded of the church as well. Though the church is the central locus of the kingdom of God in the world, the church is also a loving fellow traveler with the world’s religions while pointing them to the superiority of Christ. Spirit baptism can be developed so as to respond to [the] critique of ecclesiastical superiority in the world but in a way that rejects [the] reduction of Jesus to simply one symbol of the sacred among others (188).

The offence of the Christian claim remains:

Drawing the boundaries of the Spirit Baptizer to Christ alone is exclusivistic Christologically, but…we deal here with an exclusivism of Christ “and not with the self-serving principle of sectarianism.” It is an exclusivism of the one who is uniquely inclusive on the ecclesiological level. … There is simply no way of eliminating the risen Christ as the Spirit Baptizer from the gospel without affirming another gospel (189, original emphasis).

Finally, Macchia argues that the relation of the church to the kingdom must be understood dialectically, whereby there can be neither separation nor identification of these two realities. The church is not the kingdom, but is established by the kingdom as its witness and sign (191-192; cf. 165).

There is no critical dialectic between Jesus and the Spirit. He is the king and the Spirit the kingdom. But, as noted above, there is such a dialectic between the Spirit/kingdom and the church. Thus, the church is not the final word but a penultimate witness to the word of the kingdom who is Christ (192).

Indeed, Macchia suggests that the church will ultimately “exhaust” its purpose when in the eschaton it is “caught up in the more expansive new Jerusalem” (166). This eschatological reserve, together with the knowledge that the church is the church of the Crucified, helps keep the church from being triumphalist. Any continuity between the kingdom and the church is established as a gift by divine grace and is never the possession of the church in itself. The church may strive toward the kingdom, but does so in a spirit of repentance, witness and obedience (197).

Baptized in the Spirit 2 (Frank Macchia)

Baptized in the SpiritChapter Three: The Kingdom and the Power

In this chapter Macchia redefines Spirit-baptism to more broadly incorporate initatory, sacramental and Pentecostal concerns. Spirit-baptism is a matter of Christian initiation, a divine act of new life through the gospel, but it cannot be limited to this. Grace is not a “deposit” received, but initiation into a new relationship with a living Lord—the Spirit. The presence of the Spirit is nurtured and opened out sacramentally and in new experiences or “releases” of the Spirit for sanctification and empowerment towards witnessing for Christ. Spirit-baptism transcends personal, individual and ecclesial concerns for it is oriented toward the eschatological kingdom of God.

Macchia departs somewhat from the classic Pentecostal “second-blessing” theology to argue that Spirit-baptism occurs at conversion as part of the gospel promise and proclamation, and its reception by the believer in faith. He also distinguishes his position from that of Karl Barth and James Dunn who limit Spirit-baptism to the work of God in conversion, and retain water baptism as human response to divine grace and a symbol of that faith and repentance. Rather, Macchia argues that (a) the symbol participates in the reality symbolised, so that water baptism is both a divine and a human act by which we participate in the reality symbolised, and (b) that the eschatological nature of Spirit-baptism means it cannot be limited to Christian initiation, but opens up to ever-renewed participation in the missio Dei and thus new gifts and experiences (64-72). The Holy Spirit does use and is mediated via the sacraments, but as the free and living Spirit, is not tied to them.

There is no question but that the witness of Acts is not just about how the Spirit brings one to faith in Christ or seals that commitment in baptism. There is something more than a hidden mystery to be affirmed by faith at work in this narrative, but also the fulfillment of faith through inspired witness and the confirmation of faith in signs of the new creation in Christ. … Pentecostals do well to highlight the empowerment for prophetic witness in their understanding of Spirit baptism. They focus not on one’s initial conversion to Christ but on becoming the church for the world (75, 76).

Macchia acknowledges the practical concern that Pentecostals have

to preserve the need for Christians to seek a definite work of the Spirit in their lives that will give them experiences analogous to those described in the book of Acts. They feel that without a “Spirit baptism” to be sought among Christians, the Lukan experience of empowered witness accompanied by a proliferation of extraordinary spiritual gifts could be lost to the churches (78).

However he is critical of the reductionist way in which early Pentecostals distinguished sanctification from empowerment.

The bottom line is that Spirit baptism as an experience of charismatic power and enrichment cannot be separated from regeneration/sanctification and Christian initiation. The experience of Spirit baptism is inseparable from its broader pneumatological framework in the constitution of the church and the fulfillment of the kingdom of God. Spirit baptism in Pentecostal experience is a “release” of the Spirit in life for concrete experiences of consecration and charismatic enrichment/power (84).

Thus Macchia will allow some element of “subsequence” with respect to the Christian’s experience of the Spirit (in accordance with the classic Pentecostal position), but not “separation.” It is worth noting, however, that he does not use this language. Rather, by appealing to the eschatological nature of Spirit-baptism, and to the notion of participation, he suggests an ongoing encounter with the Spirit in the life of the church and the believer in which,

The experience of new life in faith, hope, and love in the context of the gospel, the sacraments, and the Pentecostal experience of prophetic consecration (with charismatic signs following) allows one to participate already in a Spirit baptism that is yet to come. It is always present and coming, emerging and encountering (87).

Baptized in the Spirit (Frank Macchia)

Baptized in the SpiritFrank Macchia, professor of theology at Vanguard University, is a leading Pentecostal theologian and author of many books and articles on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. I read about half of his Baptized in the Spirit: A Global Pentecostal Theology (Zondervan, 2006) when it was first released, and began reading it a second time before my lecture at Princeton earlier this year. Over the next few weeks I will post some chapter summaries from this important work in which Macchia explores and extends this central Pentecostal theme.

Introduction

In his brief introduction Macchia argues that “For all their talk about the importance of pneumatology, Pentecostals have yet to couch their narrow pneumatological interest in charismatic/missionary empowerment within a broader pneumatological framework” (18, original emphasis). His aim is to provide just such a framework, expanding understanding of the Baptism with the Holy Spirit (BHS) beyond the narrow confines he finds in the Pentecostal doctrine. He refuses to set the writings of Luke over against those of Paul as some Pentecostals have done. “One needs help from Paul and other canonical voices to negotiate a broader and more integrated conception of Spirit baptism as an eschatological event that is complex in nature” (15). Thus, Macchia defines Spirit-baptism as an eschatological act of the Trinity, its nature being an outpouring of divine love, an experiential reality in the life of God’s people, and functioning toward the witness (and establishing?) of God’s kingdom.

Chapter Two: Spirit Baptism and Pentecostal Theology

In this chapter Macchia argues that Spirit-baptism is the major Pentecostal theological distinctive, but that this distinctive has been marginalised in recent Pentecostal theology. He suggests four reasons for this:

  1. The inability to coherently relate the sanctifying and empowering work of the Spirit;
  2. The doctrinal and practical diversity of Pentecostalism;
  3. The supplanting of the Spirit-baptism metaphor by eschatology in recent Pentecostal theology; and,
  4. The locating of Pentecostal distinctiveness in theological method.

Macchia does not find any of these reasons compelling but also seeks to recast the Pentecostal doctrine of Spirit-baptism in light of these realities. Specifically, he wants to view Spirit-baptism as a trinitarian eschatological act that both purifies and empowers, whose essential nature is participation in the love of God. He accepts the exegetical stance of Pentecostal biblical scholars such as Roger Stronstadt and Robert Menzies who focus their understanding of Spirit-baptism on Luke’s writings, but wants to expand it in more holistic directions. This is necessary if Pentecostalism is to contribute its unique grace-given accents to the ecumenical theological table.

Pentecostalism has been blessed and gifted by God with certain theological and spiritual accents. We do other Christian families a disservice if we do not preserve and cherish these and seek to bless others with them. Thus, ideal would be a reworking of our distinctives in a way that cherishes our unique accents but expands them in response to the broader contours of the biblical witness and diversity of voices at the ecumenical table (25).

Macchia’s discussion in this chapter provides an excellent overview of recent moves in Pentecostal theology, and argues for a “return” to Pentecostalism’s central distinctive. The only clarification I would make here would be to argue against Menzies and even Stronstadt, that the pneumatology of Acts is actually soteric in nature and not simply charismatic. Their view of Luke’s pneumatology is unnecessarily narrow, and drives a wedge between ideas that in Luke are as one. Luke’s pneumatology is both soteriological and charismatic, and his view of the Christian life is thoroughly pneumatological, empowered by the Spirit, and so missional. Here, Macchia’s view of Spirit-baptism as participation in the life of the triune God could prove a helpful corrective to this deficiency in Pentecostal thought.

A Sermon on Sunday

Bubble-bursts-at-the-right-moment-resizecrop--Today I am preaching for the first time at my own church, where we have been attending for about the last two years. The theme this month is Seek, and intends to explore what it means to live a Spirit-directed life. Here is an outline of my message which intends to (a) lay a biblical foundation for being led by the Spirit, and (b) to illustrate this biblical truth with stories from my own life and that of others. My hope is that the congregation will be encouraged to reflect on their own experiences in order to identify how they have experienced the Spirit’s leading in times past, and so with greater confidence, be open and responsive to the Spirit’s continued work in their lives. In the end I ran out of time before I ran out of examples. But hopefully, the message will bear fruit in the people’s lives. Inglewood Church have put the sermon up online if you want to listen to it.

*****

Three Key Texts

John 10:1-5, 27         
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” …

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

One of the most precious promises the believer has, is that the Good Shepherd not only finds and saves us, but calls us by name, knows us and leads us. The blessing of divine guidance is not about experiences, but about knowing the Guide. My sheep hear my voice…and they follow me. This is one of the ways in which God draws close to us, and draws us close to himself. It is one of the ways in which he draws the Christian to participate in his own life and work.

Proverbs 20:27
The human spirit is the lamp of the Lord, searching every innermost part.

Spiritual guidance is spiritually received. We err if we seek to ‘hear God’ by means of the physical senses—seeing something, hearing something, etc. Through the senses we contact the physical world. The world of the Holy Spirit is discerned spiritually. One way in which God  enlightens us is via the spiritual dimension of our life, and so it is necessary that we become spiritually attuned to ‘the still, small voice; the gentle whisper.’

Romans 8:12-16; 9:1 
 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons and daughters, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. …

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit…

In this text we gain some specific insight into how the ‘still, small voice’ comes to us, and so how we might recognise and name it in our experience. The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit. … My conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit.

My contention: if Christians can learn to recognise the promptings and intuitions—the ‘voice’—of their own conscience, they can learn to be led by the Holy Spirit.

  • This is not for a moment to identify the divine and human spirit, but to insist that somehow, the Holy Spirit touches the human spirit and a communication takes place whereby we know what we previously had no way of knowing. Image: a fragment is transferred from the hard-drive to the floppy drive.

This ‘inner witness’ might be likened to a hunch, an intuition, an inner prompting or urging, an awareness, a perception or premonition. Further, verse 13 shows that one of the primary ways in which we can begin to learn this way of the Spirit is via the common experience of conviction: “if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body…”

Learning the Way of the Spirit

In the second part of the sermon I simply tell a range of stories from my own life and that of others which illustrate a variety of ways in which the ‘inner witness’ might be experienced, so that listeners can begin to identify in their own experience how and when the Spirit may have spoken to them. Some of these ways include:

  1. A text of Scripture coming to mind at just the right time
  2. An inner conviction, prompting or urging
  3. A ‘burden’ and strong sense of urging, especially to do with prayer
  4. A movement of compassion towards others
  5. An inner unease or restlessness concerning something specific
  6. A picture, image or impression
  7. An inner ‘voice’ in which specific words are heard

Worship on Sunday – Veni Creator Spiritus

Raban-Maur_Alcuin_OtgarNext week is Pentecost Sunday – perhaps this medieval hymn will help us prepare. Said to be written by Rabanus Maurus (c. 776-856), a Benedictine monk and archbishop of Mainz, the hymn has beautiful, faith-filled words, and here is chanted in the Latin:

Veni Creator Spiritus
Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest,

and in our hearts take up Thy rest;
come with Thy grace and heav’nly aid,
To fill the hearts which Thou hast made.

O Comforter, to Thee we cry,
Thou heav’nly gift of God most high,
Thou Fount of life, and Fire of love,
and sweet anointing from above.

O Finger of the hand divine,
the sevenfold gifts of grace are thine;
true promise of the Father thou,
who dost the tongue with power endow.

Thy light to every sense impart,
and shed thy love in every heart;
thine own unfailing might supply
to strengthen our infirmity.

Drive far away our ghostly foe,
and thine abiding peace bestow;
if thou be our preventing Guide,
no evil can our steps betide.

Praise we the Father and the Son
and Holy Spirit with them One;
and may the Son on us bestow
the gifts that from the Spirit flow.

On Retreat

17-SEP-Open_Leeroy-Todd-Sleepy-Eyes-740x500For a couple of days I am on retreat with the West Australian Baptist pastors. These retreats are always a quite restful and fun few days, as we catch up with old friends, enjoy some meals together and receive some input from the Conference speaker. This year’s speaker is Allan Demond, an inspirational Baptist pastor from Melbourne.

Allan is like a breath of fresh air, bringing a simple message on the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the busy life of a pastor. He began his sessions by telling of coming to Australia from Canada in 1995 to take up pastoral leadership of the church where he continues to serve. Early in his ministry he was asked by another pastor whether he served in the ‘charismatic’ or ‘anti-charismatic’ church in his suburb. He bristled at the characterisation. He rejected the fundamental premise that his ministry and the church should be captured in so limiting a label. Yet, upon researching the history of his new congregation, he found that the church had earned a reputation for opposing certain works and activity of the Holy Spirit, and so determined to explore this issue and ‘hold open a space’ in which the church could enter into dialogue around what it means to be the people of God. “Who can be anti-charismatic,” he asks, “Anti-gift?”

And so began a decades long endeavour to ‘live out of a quiet and surrendered centre,’ to nurture a ‘deep and rich spirituality’ in his own life and in the congregation, and to learn the ways of the Paraclete, as he leads the church into the ways and ministry of Jesus. He discovered to his deep surprise and amazement, that the Spirit continues to author the ministry of God’s people in unique and powerful ways, speaking to and leading his people. His advice to the pastors: become aware of and recognise how the Spirit continues to be present and speak in your own life and context, and own it, and grow it. That is, thank God for his presence and gift and ask him for more.

Refreshing stuff from a humble guide.

Scripture on Sunday – Exodus 31:1-11

Supermarket WorkerAs I was reading the Bible one morning this week, I had “a moment.” Not a major moment, a life-transforming moment, not a remember-this-for-the-rest-of-my-life-because-God-spoke-to-me moment, not a spiritual experience moment, but a moment nonetheless. The passage I was reading was Exodus 31, where the Lord tells Moses about Bezalel and Oholiab, two master craftsmen who are to take charge in the construction of all that God has commanded Moses to build with respect to the tabernacle and its furniture, as well as the high priest’s garments and accoutrements.

I love these kinds of moments—an “ah-ha” moment, a moment of inspiration or understanding, of fresh vision, of renewed understanding, of seeing something I had not quite seen before in the scriptures. It came simply as an insight or an idea, yet perhaps from the one Spirit who not only inspired the scriptures in ages past but continues to confirm them and speak through them afresh in every generation. The passage tells of God equipping Bezalel with his Spirit. I have heard that this is the first occasion in the Hebrew Bible in which a person has been said to be “filled with the Spirit of God” (v. 3). The whole passage reads,

The Lord spoke to Moses: See, I have called by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability, intelligence, and knowledge in every kind of craft, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, in every kind of craft. Moreover, I have appointed with him Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and I have given skill to all the skilful, so that they may make all that I have commanded you. … They shall do just as I have commanded you.

The question raised by this passage concerns whether this infilling of the Holy Spirit was given to Bezalel specifically for the task of construction of the tabernacle and all that that involved, or whether it was a more general filling which enabled him to become the craftsman he was.

I have always simply assumed that God was equipping Bezalel for this particular task. This view understands the anointing of the Spirit as the empowerment of God’s people for particular forms of service, mainly leadership or prophecy in the Old Testament, or a broader range of activities in the New Testament. In particular, then, this work of the Spirit falls under the redemptive work of the Spirit in the lives of those who are already God’s people.

The “moment” I had last week was a sudden realisation that what we often understand as the innate talents and abilities of a person—which must be developed, honed and trained, to be sure—are, or at least may be, the very specific gifts of the Holy Spirit to each individual. This passage suggests that in the case of Bezalel, Oholiab and “all the skilful,” the very skills that these possess, as well, therefore, as the initial abilities which make such skill development possible, are the gift of the Holy Spirit. This indicates further the creational presence of the Holy Spirit with every person, assuming, legitimately I believe, that every person has some skill, some talent, some orientation or ability which singles them out as gifted and unique. It may be an ability in the realm of mathematics, sports or colours, of abstract thought or mechanics, of music, comedy, baking, or any other innumerable possibilities.

If my meditation has any validity, this verse suggests that

  1. There is no person devoid of the Spirit’s grace in a creational if not a redemptive sense. Given that the divine ruah is the life principle in humanity (see Genesis 2:7; Psalm 104:29-30), there is no person outside of the Spirit’s creational ministry in any case; but this adds an additional layer of meaning to that ministry.
  2. The talents and abilities of people are not simply natural gifts, but gifts of grace given by the creator Spirit. These may be distinguished, of course, from the “spiritual gifts” in passages such as 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, which are special gifts given to members of the body of Christ for evangelism and edification. But they are gracious gifts nonetheless.
  3. God gives these gifts as means by which we might join God in his creative work. Each of the abilities mentioned in the text are creative expressions, intended for the worship, service and glory of God. More broadly, however, they are also the kinds of work which contribute to the common good of the community generally.
  4. Although the text speaks particularly of various crafts, the idea might legitimately be extended to other arts, and to all forms of work which add to the commonwealth.
  5. The gifts, talents and abilities of others are gifts to be welcomed and celebrated as the diverse and empowering grace of the Spirit—with the acknowledgement, of course, that such gifts can be turned in directions never intended by the Spirit.
  6. Our gifts and talents are to be nurtured and developed so that we might become skilful in our work, contributing as best we can as valuable members of our society—though our value as persons can never be reduced to the contribution we are able—or unable—to make.
  7. That our work—when we are using and developing the grace given to us—is divine service and divine stewardship, a means of glorifying God. While we should never worship our work, our work may indeed become worship.

In sum, work is a dignified activity, a means by which we not only express the innate and developed gifts with which we have been endowed, but contribute to the common good and glorify the God who has so graced us. Work, then, as a “structure” within the created order, is to be welcomed and celebrated. Further, if at all possible, our work should be an expression of those particular gifts that we have received. I suspect that then we will not only make a contribution, but will find a degree of satisfaction and joy in our work that may otherwise escape us. This is not always possible in formal employment. If so, perhaps we can find other ways of bringing these gifts to expression in life-affirming, community-building and God-glorifying ways.

The Deity of the Holy Spirit

basil-the-greatI love this epigram from Basil of Caesarea in his little letter to Eupaterius and his daughter, thought to have been written about 373. Basil here asserts the divinity of the Holy Spirit together with a rationale for it, in as brief a statement as I have ever seen:

As we were baptized, so we believe. As we believe, so also we offer praise. As then baptism has been given us by the Saviour, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, so, in accordance with our baptism, we make the confession of our faith, and we worship in accordance with our faith. We glorify the Holy Spirit together with the Father and Son from the conviction that he is not separated from the divine nature; for that which is foreign by nature does not share in the same honours.

One thing worth noting here is Basil’s theological method and authority: he resorts to Jesus’ saying as recorded in the gospel of Matthew and deduces his position from that passage.

(From: Letter CLIX, Basil: Letters and Select Works NPNF volume 8, second series, 212, amended).

Millard Erickson on Spiritual Gifts

Spiritual-Gifts-SermonIn his chapter on the work of the Holy Spirit Erickson surveys the work of the Spirit in the Old Testament and in the life of Jesus, before turning to the work of the Spirit with respect to the commencement and continuation of Christian life. In the Old Testament the work of the Spirit is predominantly understood in terms of the Spirit’s anointing whether for leadership, service or prophecy, and as a sanctifying presence producing the moral and spiritual qualities of holiness and goodness in the lives of those upon whom his presence comes. This work continues in the Christian experience of new covenant believers where the key aspects of the Spirit’s work include illumination, sanctification and empowering. Erickson concludes the chapter with an unconvincing and somewhat ambivalent discussion of the contemporary manifestation of the miraculous gifts.

In my judgment it is not possible to determine with any certainty whether the contemporary charismatic phenomena are indeed gifts of the Holy Spirit. … What we must do, then, is to evaluate each case on its own merits (801).

Erickson’s cautious approach to the topic is not inappropriate though it does require the work of the Spirit to exhibit a degree of rationality and proof that seems unwarranted. Because the kinds of religious phenomena associated with charismatic spirituality can also be explained by appeal to psychological or even demonic causation, caution is in order; nevertheless,

No conclusive case can be made for the contention that such gifts are not for today and cannot occur at the present time….In fact, it may be downright dangerous, in light of Jesus’s warning regarding  blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, to attribute specific phenomena to demonic activity (802).

Nevertheless Erickson immediately continues,

In the final analysis, whether the Bible teaches that the Spirit dispenses special gifts today is not an issue of great practical consequence. For even if he does, we are not to set our lives to seeking them. He bestows them sovereignly; he alone determines the recipients (1 Cor. 12:11). If he chooses to give us a special gift, he will do so regardless of whether we expect it or seek it (802).

I find this statement to be quite unlike Erickson and assume that he can make it only by granting his experience priority over the biblical testimony which he is so scrupulous to follow elsewhere. I cannot imagine him using this rationale with respect to conversion or the preaching of the gospel. No, indeed! Erickson will passionately and persuasively exhort people to believe, to preach the gospel, etc. Paul, of course, does tell the church to earnestly desire spiritual gifts and especially that they might prophesy (1 Cor. 14:1, 39). He exhorts them to seek to excel in the building up of the church for it is precisely for this reason that the Spirit gives the gifts (1 Cor. 14:12; cf. 12:7).

If the Spirit intends that every believer experience his manifestation for the benefit of all, then surely it is something we should prayerfully, humbly and diligently expect and seek. Might it be that we do not experience as much of the manifestation of the Spirit as we might wish precisely because we do not prayerfully expect or seek his presence and activity?