The Holy Spirit in Our Church, Part 1

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Today begins a multi-part post about the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit, specifically with respect to the “gifts of the Holy Spirit” that seem to stir up so much controversy.  This is an especially important issue here in Indonesia, where it seems like there are two major categories of churches between which there is a great deal of mistrust and criticism.

Generally, we want to be a church that strives to be biblical in our theology and practice.  We don’t operate in a vacuum- we look at tradition and modern developments, but our main source is the Bible.  So when people ask me, “Is HMCC charismatic or reformed?” I often hesitate because I most likely will not know what they mean by those terms and we might misunderstand each other on some of these issues that surround being labelled in these camps.

I think much of the confusion comes out of the lack of clarity of what it means to be “reformed” and what it means to be “charismatic.”  For this reason, in the past I’ve tried to avoid theological such labels: if you ask twenty different “regular-Joe Christians” what “reformed” means, you’ll probably get twenty different definitions; if you ask twenty different “regular-Joe Christians” what “charismatic” means, you’ll probably get twenty different definitions.

This is why I wrote a two-part post, “How Our Theology is Reformed” (here are the links to part 1 and part 2) to clearly define reformed theology and explain how it is believed and expressed in our church.  This is what I also hope to do in “The Holy Spirit in Our Church.”

  • First, I’ll go over who the Holy Spirit is and what his role is in God’s covenant of grace to save the people in the world and build up his church.
  • Second, I’ll explain what “gifts of the Holy Spirit” are, lay out the different views regarding these gifts, and share what we believe as a local church about them.
  • Third, I’ll present a step-by-step explanation of 1 Corinthians 12-14, the most extensive material in the Bible about “gifts of the Holy Spirit,” and share my interpretations of how this is applied in today’s church.

Disclaimer: I think I will be making a lot of disclaimers in this post! There is a lot of possible common ground between churches from “reformed” and “charismatic” traditions and I hope to be able to “reach across the aisle” to highlight the unity we share.  Many points will be compatible with a lot of reformed and charismatic churches.  Inevitably, there will be some differences, and I don’t mean to disparage any tradition.  Rather, I’m praying that these issues are handled graciously and that we can respectfully agree to disagree on some points.

Who is the Holy Spirit and What Does He Do?

There is a lot of confusion about the Holy Spirit, so let me first lay down a brief foundational theology about Him.

The Holy Spirit is a third person of the Trinity, meaning He is equally and fully God himself along with God the Father and God the Son (Jesus Christ).  The Bible speaks of the Holy Spirit in personal terms, such as in Acts 5:3-4 when Peter confronted Ananias about falsely claiming to give all of the proceeds from selling his land: Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit…You have not lied to man but to God.

Notice that the apostle used “Holy Spirit” and “God” synonymously and that he described the Holy Spirit as a personal being who can be told the truth or lied to.

The Holy Spirit is present in both the Old Testament (see Genesis 1:2, Exodus 31:3, 1 Samuel 11:6, Psalm 51:11 and 139:7-8, Isaiah 42:1, Ezekiel 2:2) and in the New Testament.  The Scriptures describe how the Holy Spirit is the person who particularly manifests his presence in the new covenant age.  Here are two samples of this, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament:

  • Ezekiel 36:26-27 (ESV): And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
  • John 16:7-8 (ESV): Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.

The start of this “new covenant age” was predicted by the Lord Jesus in Acts 1:8 and happened in Acts 2:1-13, which was a special event (it was a one-time event that had specific meaning and purpose).  The apostle Peter interpreted the events that happened on that Pentecost as the beginning of what the Old Testament prophets (like Joel and Ezekiel) were told would happen and what Jesus himself said would happen.  When we look in the rest of the book of Acts, we see the Holy Spirit continuing the work handed off by Jesus Christ to his church.

Wayne Grudem, in his book Systematic Theology, presents four main ministries of the Holy Spirit:

First, the Holy Spirit empowers. He gives physical life (Psalm 104:30) and spiritual life (John 3:6-7).  He also gives power for service.  He anointed and empowered Jesus as the Messiah (Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22).  He also empowered Jesus’ disciples for various kinds of ministry (Acts 1:8).  He also gives spiritual gifts to equip Christians for ministry (1 Corinthians 12:11).  The Holy Spirit empowers prayer (Romans 8:26) and helps his people overcome spiritual opposition to the preaching of the Gospel and to God’s work in people’s lives (Matthew 12:28, Acts 13:9-11).

(I know we’re already touching upon some of the “controversial” issues here.  I’ll expand upon them in part 2!)

Second, the Holy Spirit purifies. He does the initial cleansing work in people when they first believe (1 Corinthians 6:11) and produces in believers of Jesus Christ growth in holiness of life (Galatians 5:22-23).

Third, the Holy Spirit reveals. He gave revelation to the prophets and apostles that in turn would become our canon of Scriptures.  The Holy Spirit also gives evidence of God’s presence (see Numbers 11:25-26, John 1:32, Acts 2:2-3), most significantly bearing witness within our souls that we are children of God (Romans 8:16).  He provides a “God-like” atmosphere when he manifests his presence, which specifically looks like the following: bringing conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8-11); bringing God’s love into our hearts (Romans 5:5, 15:30); and bringing peace into situations (1 Corinthians 14:33).

He guides and directs God’s people, which can be in dramatic and compelling ways (see Acts 8:29, 39-40) or most usually in day-to-day “leading” (Romans 8:14, Galatians 5:18) and “walking” (Romans 8:4, Galatians 5:16) in Him.

Fourth, the Holy Spirit unifies. The Holy Spirit created a new community marked by unprecedented unity (see Acts 2:44-47).  We see that He deepens the fellowship among believers (2 Corinthians 13:14).

Before I wrap this post up, I want to just reflect upon the person of the Holy Spirit and the various ways he ministers to His people.  The amazing truth is that God is with all believers, working in them and through them through the person of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus Christ sent the Holy Spirit to the church, so that in this era of salvation history we can continue God’s mission to declare the Gospel and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20).

Just like the covenant of grace , this is an extremely unevenly sided partnership: we serve the Lord Jesus in our lives and somehow God uses our service; the real force behind any advance of God’s Kingdom is the Holy Spirit, who empowers, purifies, reveals, and unifies.  This gives great hope for myself and our church, as weak, faulty instruments of God!

Part 2 will cover what the “gifts of the Holy Spirit” are, the different views regarding these gifts among churches today, and what we believe about them as a church.