Theological discourse has changed in some significant ways in the past few decades. In the 1980’s, serious debate existed between scholars as to the relevance and reality of the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. Some scholars, holding to a viewpoint known as ”Cessationism,” suggested that the miraculous & supernatural aspects of the Holy Spirit’s work were no longer available to the Church and had ”ceased” at the end of the first century at the death of the Apostles and when Scripture became more widely available. Other scholars, known as ”Continuationists,” noted that nowhere in the Bible was the cessationist viewpoint suggested and that one had to do some exegetical gymnastics, not to mention some really bad theology.
These days, few scholars hold to Cessationism and while that does not prove a perspective is correct, it’s worth noting that the impact and influence of Pentecostals & Charismatics amongst global Christians is impressive. Deemed by many church historians and sociologists as the fastest growing religious expression, millions of Christians anticipate and long for an outpouring of God’s Spirit!
For those of us in the Vineyard, we say, ”yes and amen” to such a desire! After all, we’ve long prayed the words ”Come Holy Spirit” as our favorite prayer. We’ve long laid our hands on the sick to ask for God’s gift of healing and we’ve done our best to hear from God so we can share those prophetic revelations to others in order to ”strengthen, comfort, and encourage” (1 Cor. 14:3). Put simply, we are a people of the Spirit. We love the Holy Spirit. We’ve long agreed with Clark Pinnock’s assessment:
“The Spirit is elusive but profound and worthy of adoration. If Father points to ultimate reality and Son supplies the clue to the divine mystery, Spirit epitomizes the nearness of the power and presence of God.”Clark Pinnock, Flame of Love
The nearness of God’s power and presence… what a wonderful summary of the Holy Spirit’s identity. Power and presence, key concepts for we Charismatics and likely why we so easily connect the Spirit to our worship expressions and naturally supernatural ministry times.
But what if there is more?
Developing a Thicker Pneumatology
Assuming that one of our goals is to develop a theology that is rooted and grounded in the full teachings of Scripture, we should do our best to form a thick understanding of a truth rather than a thin or thick approach. Pentecostals and Charismatics have been great at waving a flag to the larger Church and saying, ”Hey, the Holy Spirit is currently at work and miracles are possible and let’s ask for God’s presence to come and bring healing” But we have seemingly ignored many of the other aspects of the Spirit’s work.
As I’ve suggested elsewhere, our theology is trinitarian, which is to suggest that Christianity is founded upon the love of God, the work of Christ, and the power of the Spirit. The Triune God is one while also existing as three, mystery upon mystery. So in the same way that the Church is founded on the identity of Christ, it is also founded upon the identity of the Spirit. And what’s beautiful is that being rooted in a pneumatological identity, we become more rooted in a Christological identity because the Spirit’s work is centrally about pointing the world to Jesus!
While conservative evangelicals have been great at pointing out the Spirit’s work inspiring the writing of Scripture and the necessity of Spirit birth in relation to salvation, Pentecostal and Charismatics have been great at pointing to the Holy Spirit in relation to spiritual gifts, worship, and mission, there’s a lot more that the Bible connects to the Holy Spirit!
For example, the Spirit is involved in Creation, the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist, sanctification, discipleship, apologetics, and so much more! Any theology that simply relegates the work of the Spirit to a few bullet points overlooks the scope of the Spirit’s work! So while many of us have learned to ask how things point to Jesus, we also need to discern what the Spirit’s doing and where the Spirit is at work, both currently and in the larger scheme of the Church’s ”big picture.”
Meeting the Spirit at the Lord’s Table.
One important observation I think we Charismatics need to note is that in one of the Apostle Paul’s most famous passages on the spiritual gifts is written in the context of the Lord’s Supper. If we recall that Paul did not include chapter or verse numbers, we’ll realize that Paul goes from writing about “breaking Bread” as we ”share (koinonia) in the Body of Christ, laying out his Eucharistic theology (1 Cor. 11), and then transitions to writing about how to express the more controversial spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12, 14), which is all grounded in the need to be loving (1 Cor. 13). For Paul, the work of the Spirit is connected to all things in the life of the Church, from the sacraments to the spiritual gifts.
This, I think, should change our value for Communion and should likely challenge a lot of our assumptions that have either overlooked or minimized the work of the Spirit in all areas of the Church’s identity. Surely we pastors need to thicken our theology of the Spirit in order to encourage those we serve to know that even in the midst of terrible suffering, God’s Spirit is present and at work. The question remains for us to wrestle with — how? How is the Spirit at work? Where is the Spirit at work? What is the Spirit doing?
What do you think? How do you see the Spirit at work in uncommon ways?
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.