Creation A Sacrament? (Horton)

Rediscovering the Holy Spirit: God's Perfecting Presence in Creation, Redemption, and Everyday Life

The apostle Peter said that Christians have been born again by the word of God, which is the preaching of the gospel (1 Pet. 1:23, 25). The Holy Spirit gives life to dead hearts through the preaching of good news: Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The Spirit uses the words, sounds, speaking, and hearing the gospel to bring life. Preaching is a means of grace. Michael Horton comments well on this:

“This defense of the Spirit’s operations through creaturely means should not lead us to a general theory of the sacramentality of creation. In an effort to affirm the goodness of creation, it is often argued that everything is a medium of God’s saving revelation. The difficulty with this view lies not in its appropriate affirmation of created matter as capable of being taken up by God as a means of grace. After all, affirming this point is a major burden of this chapter [chapter 10] and, indeed, much of what I have said thus far.”

“Rather, the problem lies in failing to distinguish common grace and saving grace, general and special revelation. The world displays God’s invisible attributes and his law, but only the gospel reveals his way of salvation. The world is not intrinsically holy and revelatory of saving grace. Rather, God freely and deliberately sets apart certain elements of his creation in the act of binding us to himself. It is his use – that is, his word and promise – that makes them holy, and the Spirit’s agency that makes them effectual.”

“While creation announces God’s manifold wisdom and power, the gospel is a surprising announcement that God made after humans rebelled against God and his natural order. This gospel must be brought by a herald. God himself must tell us where to find him: in the manger, at the cross, and at church.”

“On the one hand, therefore, we should avoid assimilating the Spirit to the means of grace as if they were the efficient cause of saving blessings. On the other hand, we should not separate what God has joined together….”

Michael Horton, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), p. 253-254.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Christ’s Spirit, the OT Prophets, and Sobriety in Learning (Calvin)

Calvin’s Commentaries (46 vols.)Of the various aspects of John Calvin’s writings that I appreciate, I always love to hear him talk about modesty and humility when it comes to the study and interpretation of God’s Word.  More than a few times he mentions how we should never go further than God’s Word because that’s dangerous territory.  Here’s a similar exhortation from his commentary on 1 Peter 1:10-12:

…He [Peter] does not say that the prophets searched according to their own understanding as to the time when Christ’s kingdom would come, but that they applied their minds to the revelation of the Spirit. Thus they have taught us by their example a sobriety in learning, for they did not go beyond what the Spirit taught them. And doubtless there will be no limits to man’s curiosity, except the Spirit of God presides over their minds, so that they may not desire anything else than to speak from him. And further, the spiritual kingdom is a higher subject than what the human mind can succeed in investigating, except the Spirit be the guide. May we also therefore submit to his guidance.

John Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 39.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Spirit, the Church, and Mission (Horton)

 I always appreciate Michael Horton’s balanced approach to biblical doctrine and theology.  Here’s one example of how Horton strikes a biblical balance concerning the topics of church, mission, and the work of the Holy Spirit. Note how he explains that we cannot separate the institutional church from work of the Holy Spirit in missions:

For many Christians today, even those in more liturgical traditions, the notion that the Spirit is at work visibly wherever the Word is faithfully preached and the sacraments are administered according to Christ’s institution is no longer intuitive.  For many, it seems, the only way of redeeming the term ‘church’ is to identify it exclusively with the invisible church, that is, the spiritual fellowship of all God’s elect in all times and places rather than the visible and concrete institution that in its various manifestations it somehow thought to be endowed with real authority from Christ and genuine power from the Spirit.  The Spirit is associated with mission, often in some tension (if not outright contrast) with the church’s ministry of preaching, sacrament, and discipline.

But this is a glaring misapprehension of the economic operations of the Trinity in general and the incarnation in particular.  The Father sent the Son, and the Spirit clothed the Son in our nature; the Father and the Son sent the Spirit into our hearts, regenerating and uniting us to Christ the living vine.  The Spirit’s work is consistently associated with that which is public and tangible in history, as we have seen. Furthermore, the Spirit equips the church to be an official and creaturely embassy of Christ’s reign and sends us out on his mission to bring the liberating word of the King to the ends of the earth.  The sending of the church therefore belongs to the same economy as a Father sending of the Son as well as the sending of the Spirit by the Father and the Son.

Consequently, to divide Spirit-filled mission from the institutional church is to misunderstand at a fundamental level who the Spirit is, how he works ordinarily, and what we are called to do and be in the world today.  I fear that we are creeping toward a Gnosticism that views the visible church as the prison house of the invisible church.

Michael Horton, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit, p. 300-301.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Spirit-Baptism, Second Blessing??

 Some people talk about a “second blessing” or a “baptism of the Spirit” that not all Christians receive.  This view is based on several places in Acts where some people were baptized and then later received the Holy Spirit.  For example, in Acts 19 a group of people from Ephesus were baptized into John’s baptism but had never heard about the Holy Spirit.  So they were baptized in the name of Jesus,  the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.  I appreciate how John Stott comments on this story in Acts 19:

…They experienced a mini-Pentecost. Better, Pentecost caught up on them. Better still, they were caught up into it, as its promised blessings became theirs.  The norm of Christian experience, then, is a cluster of four things: repentance, faith in Jesus, water baptism and the gift of the Spirit. Though the perceived order may vary a little, the four belong together and are universal in Christian initiation. The laying-on of apostolic hands, however, together with tongue-speaking and prophesying, were special to Ephesus, as to Samaria, in order to demonstrate visibly and publicly that particular groups were incorporated into Christ by the Spirit; the New Testament does not universalize them. There are no Samaritans or disciples of John the Baptist left in the world today.

These instances in Acts take place during a very unique and unrepeatable period of redemptive history.  Michael Horton agrees with Stott:

In this foundation-laying era of the extraordinary ministry of the apostles (in Acts), we would expect extraordinary foundation-laying episodes that are not normative for our era of the ordinary ministry.

The book of Acts is less a blueprint than it is the announcement of the acts of Christ by his Spirit through the apostles, of whom there are no living successors.  There is no reason to assume that all of the marvelous signs of the Spirit’s outpouring in the apostolic era are normative today.  This is true especially when the norm for all Christians is spelled out so clearly in the Epistles, which teach that baptism into Christ is the Spirit’s baptism and that all those who are in Christ share in his anointing.

The above quotes are found here:

John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts: The Spirit, the Church & the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 304–305.

Michael Horton, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017), 192-195.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54002

Ongoing Inspirations from the Holy Spirit? (Van Mastricht)

 In the years following the Protestant Reformation there were groups who believed that God was still speaking directly and immediately to them.  thought that this inner word from God was equal to or sometimes even above Scripture, so they would follow and submit to the inner word.  Luther and Calvin, along with other Reformers, were very critical of these enthusiasts.  In fact, historical Reformed theology has always been critical of such claims and movements.  One example is Petrus Van Mastricht (d. 1706) who gave a helpful summary of the enthusiast position and a biblical refutation of it:

…We [the Reformed] dispute whether believers now, after the canon has been sealed, possess enthusiasms, or inspirations, of the Holy Spirit.  These inspirations are to them [the enthusiasts] the most certain word of God, to which one must submit just as much, if not in fact more, than to the Scriptures. …Indeed, they acknowledge that Scripture is the Word of God, but it is not to be understood except according to the breathings or the inspirations of their Spirit, a certain sort of internal word, as it were.

The Reformed acknowledge that in the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, there were true enthusiasms, and that in all ordinary believers there are indeed operations of the Holy Spirit that illuminate, convert, and sanctify, but there are no enthusiasms, no inspirations, in the sense of the infallible direction of the Holy Spirit, [infallible direction] which has now been removed from all men.  This heresy is refuted by a destruction of this twofold false hypothesis:

First, they claim that Scripture is not a complete and sufficient rule of faith and morals in itself.  For if Scripture’s sufficiency stands enthusiasm falls on its own.  Now, its sufficiency stands by those things that we have said in favor of the perfection of Scripture in section 19 above….

Second, they claim that even now enthusiasms are infallible revelations of the Spirit are given, which are different from the scriptural enthusiasms, and with the help of which the Scriptures must be interpreted. However, the sacred page does not know of such revelations; indeed, it even rejects them, since it is perfect, and sufficient of itself in every respect; and it pronounces that they are joined with the most pressing danger of seduction (2 Cor. 11:14; 2 Thes. 2:2; 1 John 4:1-2).

…[Indeed,] there are passages that speak of revelation and of the illumination of the Holy Spirit. I respond that those passages are not speaking about the kind of enthusiasms that direct [us] infallibly and that reveal other objects to us, different from those things (indeed, even contrary to those things) that Scripture holds, but rather, those that bring light to the intellect, so that we might be able to discern and distinguish the things revealed in the Scriptures (Eph. 1:17-18).

This complete section (which I’ve edited slightly) can be found on pages 153-154 of Van Mastricht’s Theoretical-Practical Theology.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Concerning Sin Against the Holy Spirit (Ursinus)

The Commentary of Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism Zacharius Ursinus, the primary author of the Heidelberg Catechism, wrote a helpful explanation of the sin against the Holy Spirit (Mt. 12:31).  The title of one part of this section is called “Certain Rules to be observed in relation to the Sin against the Holy Ghost.”  Here they are:

1. The sin against the Holy Ghost is not found in every wicked person; but only in those who have been enlightened by the Holy Ghost, and who have been fully convinced of the truth, as Saul, Judas, etc.

2. Every sin which is against the Holy Ghost is reigning sin, and a sin against conscience, but not the reverse [e.g. sin that does not reign in a person and sin that is not against the conscience – spl]. For it may occur that some one may, either ignorantly, or even knowingly and willingly, hold certain errors, or violate some of the commandments of God, from weakness, or torture, or from fear of danger, and yet not purposely and maliciously impugn the truth, or totally fall from holiness, and continue in sensuality and a contempt of all that is sacred; but he may return unto God and repent of his sin. These forms of sin differ, therefore, as genus and species.

3. The sin against the Holy Ghost is not committed by the elect, or those who are truly converted. They can never perish; for Christ safely preserves and saves them. “They shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hands. (John 10:28. Also, 2 Tim. 2:19. 1 Pet. 1:5. 1 John 5:15.) Hence those who sin against the Holy Ghost were never truly converted and called. They went out from us, because they were not of us.

4. No one should decide hastily or rashly concerning the sin against the Holy Ghost; yea, judgment should in no case be passed upon any one, unless it be a posteriori, for the reason that we do not know what is in the heart of man. 

 Ursinus, Z., & Williard, G. W. (1888). The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (p. 47). Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church, OPC
Hammond, WI, 54015

Modalism and Modern Worship (Horton)

 One of the many blessings of a liturgy shaped by biblical truths and phrases is that it gets in you.  If a liturgy is full of biblical truth, it teaches the truth.  Both kids and adults learn good theology from a good liturgy.  On the other hand, if a liturgy doesn’t closely follow Scripture or biblical truths, the opposite happens: people absorb not-so-good theology or even unbiblical theology that is very man-centered.  And, of course, every church has a liturgy!  The only question is: how biblical is it?  Michael Horton explains one aspect of liturgy in the following section of his 2017 publication, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit.

It is in the public service – the weekly gathering of the communion of saints – where this [Trinitarian] faith is won or lost.  Whatever is received, done, or said there shapes our personal relationship with the Father, in the Son, by the Spirit.  In the fourth century Basil of Caesarea revised the liturgy then in widespread use to more intentionally inculcate a full Trinitarianism, calling pastors ‘to keep the Spirit undivided from the Father and the Son, preserving, both in confession of faith and in the doxology, the doctrine taught them at their baptism.’  One example was Basil’s introduction of what we know as the Gloria Patri: ‘Glory be to the Father, and do the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,’ which stirred no small controversy among those who denied the appropriateness of worshiping the Spirit.  It is not only a creedal rule that the Holy Spirit is to be ‘worshiped and glorified’ together with the Father and the Son; these liturgies lead us to invoke the Father, in the Son, by the Spirit.

However, in many churches today prayers and songs have been stripped of Trinitarian references that had in earlier generations been woven into the warp and woof of worship.  Not surprisingly, the result is often extemporaneous prayers that reflect our default setting of modalism.  Even in doctrinally orthodox circles, one hears prayers that are confusing, as if the persons of the Trinity were interchangeable – perhaps even the same person.  At least it seems that the person being addressed shifts back and forth without any specification.  Sometimes the Father is thanked for coming into the world to save us, for dying for our sins, for indwelling us, or as the one who will return again.  Very frequently, prayers conclude with ‘in your name, amen.’  In whose name?  Scripture teaches us to pray to the Father in the name of Christ: it is not the Father or the Spirit but the Son who is our mediator.

Some contemporary praise choruses reflect and reinforce this confusion of the persons, with praises directed to the Father for specific acts of the Son or to the Son for specific acts that the Scripture attributes to the Spirit, and so forth.  For example. in the popular chorus, ‘You Alone,’ believers are led to pray as if they were Arians: ‘You alone are Father / and You alone are good / You alone are Savior / and You alone are God.’

[However], worship songs are intended not merely to facilitate personal expression of one’s feelings, but to sing the truth deeply into our hearts: ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,’ Paul exhorts, ‘teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God’ (Col 3:16)….

Michael Horton, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit, p. 23-24.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015