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

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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

Tongues Now Passed Away (Augustine)

Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers First Series, Volume VII I enjoy reading Augustine’s various writings.  Even though I don’t always agree with him, his insight is helpful, his writing is stimulating, and he was gifted to explain the truth in a captivating way.  This morning when I was reading his comments on 1 John 3:23-24 I was struck by how Augustine spoke about the work and gift of the Holy Spirit in history.  He basically says that at first, the Spirit gifted God’s people to speak in tongues (Acts 2 for example).  However, Augustine notes, that time is passed and now the evidence of the Spirit’s work is in our love for one another.  Here are his comments:

In the earliest times, “the Holy Ghost fell upon them that believed: and they spake with tongues,” which they had not learned, “as the Spirit gave them utterance” [Acts 2:4].  These were signs adapted to the time. For there behooved to be that betokening of the Holy Spirit in all tongues, to show that the Gospel of God was to run through all tongues over the whole earth. That thing was done for a betokening, and it passed away.

In the laying on of hands now, that persons may receive the Holy Ghost, do we look that they should speak with tongues? Or when we laid the hand on these infants [new believers], did each one of you look to see whether they would speak with tongues, and, when he saw that they did not speak with tongues, was any of you so wrong-minded as to say, ‘These have not received the Holy Ghost; for, had they received, they would speak with tongues as was the case in those times?’

If then the witness of the presence of the Holy Ghost be not now given through these miracles, by what is it given, by what does one get to know that he has received the Holy Ghost? Let him question his own heart. If he love his brother, the Spirit of God dwelleth in him.  …Question thine heart. If love of thy brethren be there, set thy mind at rest. There cannot be love without the Spirit of God: since Paul cries, “The love of God is shed abroad in your hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us.”

 Augustine of Hippo, “Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John,” in St. Augustin: Homilies on the Gospel of John, Homilies on the First Epistle of John, Soliloquies, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. H. Browne and Joseph H. Myers, vol. 7, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 497–498.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Christ Still Teaches (Murray)

  In the first few sentences of Acts, Luke said that in his former book (which we now call the Gospel of Luke), he wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach… (Acts 1:1 NIV).  One thing this means is that the book we now call Acts (Luke’s second book) is a record of what Jesus continued to do and teach even though he had ascended into heaven.  As John Murray wrote, Jesus “is ever active in the exercise of his prophetic, priestly, and kingly offices.”

The fact that Jesus continued to teach after his ascension is of paramount importance for the authority of Christ in the teaching of the apostles and in the books of the New Testament.  Prior to his ascension Christ’s teaching was directly by word of mouth.  But afterwards he taught by a different mode.  He taught by the ministry of appointed witnesses and inspired writers.  The New Testament, all of which was written after Jesus’ ascension, is not one whit less the teaching of our Lord than that delivered verbally during the days of his flesh.  How utterly false it is to set up a contrast between the authority of Jesus’ spoken words and the authority of the New Testament as Scripture.  The latter is the teaching of Christ given in his own appointed way after his ascension.

We are reminded of Jesus’ word to the disciples: ‘I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, comes he will guide you into all truth’ (John 16:12, 13).  It is from his own lips the certification of Luke’s statement in our text (Acts 1:1-2).  The guiding of the Holy Spirit into all truth does not suspend Jesus’ own speaking.  ‘I have yet many things to say to you.’  But he says these things through the Holy Spirit and thus there is the seal of both divine persons, the Son and the Spirit.

So we don’t need a red-letter Bible, nor do we need to put Jesus’ spoken words on a higher level than the Spirit-inspired words of Paul (or the other human authors of the New Testament)!  Murray ends the paragraph like this:

Let us prize with the ardor of our soul what Jesus continues to do, and teach.  He is the living, acting, and teaching Lord.

John Murray, Collected Writings, volume 1, pages 41-41.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI