Advocating back-to-the-Bible Restorationism towards unified, undenominational Christianity. Conservative in Biblical exegesis and theology (not necessarily in traditional dogmatics). Appreciative of careful scholarship. Interested in "pistis Christou", the New Perspective on Paul, and covenant.
the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins;
ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Are churches of Christ
in trouble over the Holy Spirit?There
are two viewpoints within our fellowships.Some believe that we are indwelt by the
Spirit of God; that the Holy Spirit resides in our hearts—personally,
directly, literally, and actually.But
others deny the indwelling.Sometimes
the denial is outright.It may be
acknowledged that there actually is a “third member of the Godhead” known as
the Holy Spirit, however some will say that He does not indwell us—personally,
directly, literally, and actually.
Some would deny that
there is any meaningful difference between the two perspectives.In fact, some see a fundamental “agreement”
between them:“Both sides believe in
the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, they just disagree over how the Spirit
indwells.”The real issue may be
nothing more than semantics—with each side using peculiar language (a mere “shibboleth”)
that is unfamiliar to the other side.With this communication barrier between them, they just imagine there is
a real disagreement when, in reality, they are both sharing a lot of common
ground in their beliefs.
Another analysis of
the conflict is to admit that the two sides have serious differences in their
belief systems, but then suggest that the two beliefs can co-exist in complete
compatibility in church fellowship.In other words, this issue is seen as
essentially inconsequential.The apostle
Paul discussed issues that were simply “matters of opinion” (rather than
“matters of faith”), and this Holy Spirit debate is seen as one of these.
Still others may feel
that all matters of Bible belief are trivial.The truest concerns of the church are all
social, while matters of theology are meaningless.You can believe what you want about God, and
Satan, and angels, and demons, and miracles.Or, you can believe none of it.What really matters is that we love one another.Others, of course, see theological matters
having priority over those that are social.In any conflict situation, people are driven—in varying strengths—by
·Low regard for both
principles and people (so they simply avoid conflict).
·High regard for
people, but low regard for principles (as long as people are kept
together, they will comply without fussing over principles).
·High regard for
principles, but low regard for people (so they enter conflict as s
competition and expect to win, even if people get hurt).
·Moderate regard for
both people and principles (to hold some minimal concern in each
area brings a conflict style of compromise).
·High regard both for
people and for principles(they insist that keeping people
together requires building relationships on solid principles).
Each of these conflict styles
is appropriate under certain circumstances.However, each of them—with the exception of the last one—may also
be quite inappropriate in certain circumstances.As you read this book, you will be challenged
to place appropriate value on both the people and on the principles involved in
this matter of the Holy Spirit within our churches of Christ.
all can come to agreement on our valuation of Bible beliefs and of love for
Christians, we will find ourselves in a strong position to move forward
together.Otherwise, if our values
are fundamentally different, it will be undeniably plain that churches of
Christ really are in trouble over the Holy Spirit.
American Restoration Movement
The discussion that follows assumes
as valid—and even as crucial—the goal that has driven the American
Restoration Movement since it began in the late 18th and early 19th
centuries: uniting Christians from
all denominations in a fellowship joined in complete unity by going
back-to-the-Bible to find a suitable platform on which such unity may be built.This has been the goal and
the dream that has driven the unique identity of churches of Christ across many
decades and a few centuries.
Although arising in
relatively late in history, our “non-denominational” stance finds its first
impulse in the NT, where the “church of Christ” is launched
on a journey through the centuries.When
the church began her journey, unity of fellowship characterized the entire
membership.This is our true heritage in
churches of Christ (we did not originate only in the 1700’s or 1800’s).
But what began well, led to
the “denominationalism” that began with a departure from Biblical foundations
by Catholicism and ended with the rise of Protestantism (which “protested”
against Catholiciscm).The indivisible
church of the NT became the indivisible Catholicism (for a period of
centuries), which became a Christendom divided into more Protestant
“denominations” than can be counted.Anyone with an eye for Christian unity will see this as a monstrous
Although some will
refuse to recognize any problem with denominational Christianity, it has led to
divisions that prevent Christians from worshiping and cooperating together.Each denomination retains an exclusive
identity, that marks out “one of us” from “one of them.”Each group tends to have its own set of
peculiar beliefs (formerly expressed in “creeds”), that further reinforce the
separation between one believer and another.Not only is it obvious that “all” of these differing beliefs cannot be
true and valid reflections of the NT revelation in the Bible, but some of the
issues have direct implications for salvation.If these issues are not gotten right, someone is going to lose his/her
Churches of Christ have
responded to this recent history that has generated a fractured and fragmented
fellowship.We want—and are willing to
“restore” the unity of the church that Jesus died to save.This is the reason we call ourselves the
“Restoration Movement.”Such unity is
important to us because it is important to our Lord. This book advocates Restoration as a
noble and worthy goal for those who wear the name of Christ Jesus.
Holy Spirit and Restoration
The Holy Spirit is
vitally important to the work of “restoration.”In the first place, the Christianity we seek
to restore has the Spirit as its power source.Without this power, we cannot succeed.In the second place, the issue has to potential to divide our
fellowship.That is to say, it may
oppose our essential goal and dream, rather than advance it!Restoration itself hangs in the balance.
The issue discussed in
this book is, therefore, an “internal issue” for our fellowship, for churches
of Christ, for the American Restoration Movement.But note carefully that it is also an
“external issue” that has ramifications for our relations with those outside of
our fellowship.As we
seek to enter undivided union with believers from denominational backgrounds,
by going “back-to-the-Bible”, this issue could well become a “sticking point”
in that process!
For example, the big sticking
point, historically, has been disagreement over baptism as a factor in
Christian conversion and salvation.What
happens if we are able to resolve this conundrum (as we will discuss, it looks
like tremendous progress is being made here, even as we speak)?What happens if those, who were on opposite
sides of the baptism-issue but now agree, are ready to take the next step
towards securing unity together in Christ?What happens if our denominational friends (who assuredly believe in the
indwelling Spirit) discover that we in churches of Christ (or, at least, some
of us) do not share their beliefs?Will
we be able to take the “next step” together?Or will this issue, if unresolved now, then be a “sticking point” that
derails the big dream of Restorationism, just at the time when God seemed to
have finally made our dream a reality?I hope every reader shares with me a sense of dread at such failure.
There are precious people in
the balance; there are precious principles of belief and conviction in the
balance.This book is a challenge to
embrace them both.It dares to challenge
us with a terribly vital question:Are churches of Christ in trouble over the HolySpirit?
 An excellent analysis
of church conflict based on these two factors is offered by James Hinkle and
Tim Woodroof, Among Friends:You can
help make your church a warmer place (Colorado Springs, CO:NavPress, 1989), pp. 125-146.
Three remarkable events:one in the beginning of Genesis, one in the
beginning of two Gospels, and one in the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles.The Holy Spirit features in vital “conceptions”
and “births” across the revelation of the Bible (which the Spirit also conceived
through “inspiration”, giving birth to the Word of God).Each event occurs in an age in which a
different member of the Trinity predominates:
·In Genesis, the
age dominated by God the Father opens with the Spirit giving “conception”
and “birth” to the new Creation—the cosmos.
·Then, when God the Son
takes center stage in the next age of Divine history, at the beginning of the Gospels
of Matthew and Luke, the Holy Spirit works the “conception” and “birth” of
Jesus in the womb of Mary.
·When, finally, the
Spirit is given His own age as the “front-man” of the Godhead, in the opening
chapters of Acts, the passing is marked by an event so sublimely spectacular:the Pentecostal outpouring, called “the
baptism in/with/by the Holy Spirit.”When
the Spirit descends—sent by Father and by Son—He gives “conception” and
“birth” to the church of Christ.
In each case, Supernatural
begets something in the natural realm—cosmos, then Christ, then church.
Cosmos, Christ, Church—no
small achievements for the Third Member of the Trinity!May our hearts be swept into wondrous
worship!After this it is small wonder
indeed, that the creation of each individual Christian involves a supernatural “conception”
and “birth.”Our baptism, parallel
to the baptism of Jesus, is a birth “of water and of Spirit”, a “new birth”
into a living hope.
However, more astonishing
than all of this, is that some in churches of Christ are denying the Holy
Spirit an indwelling, sanctifying, empowering presence in the heart of
indwelling Presence is denied outright by some, but others deny the Spirit a
place in the heart by claiming that He dwells there “only through the Word.”This is a painful and embarrassing admission.
For many Christians,
the Holy Spirit is like our appendix (the mysterious organ appended to our
believe we have one, but we don’t have a clue what it does in there!This book speaks where the Bible
speaks on such matters.Yet it must be
admitted that such doctrinal knowledge is only the starting point for exploring
the work of the Spirit.While writing
the letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul found himself struggling
with the limitations of language and speech when trying to set forth the full
scope of the activity of the Spirit.The
most far-reaching superlatives just don’t go far enough!We therefore cannot claim that this book
reaches boundaries for the Spirit’s working, beyond which He cannot pass!Indeed, we strongly suspect that He might
fill our personal experiences in Christ Jesus in ways that transcend Biblical
description.God can be depended upon to
act in concert with—so as to never violate—His written Word, but the
possibilities opened by the Scriptures are tantalizingly broad and suggestive.
Recognition of the
Holy Spirit’s role and function secures Christianity as a truly supernatural
live in a sadly secular age that denies the supernatural at every turn.Strange enough, but how can we explain the
patently "anti-supernatural" spirituality that is found in (some) modern
churches?Contrary to this Zeitgeist,
Biblical revelation insists there exists another, invisible realm—somehow ”beyond”
and “above” the one we inhabit.Moreover,
the Bible insists this realm is the domain of spiritual beings—the Triune-God
(Father, Son, and Spirit), Satan, angels, and demons.It insists these metaphysical inhabitants of
this spiritual realm, both good and evil, reach into our own physical
realm and tug at us, sometimes with terrifying power, to pull us to one
side or the other of the cosmic battle between God and His enemies.The Holy Spirit is active in the spiritual
warfare, and we dare not deny Him! Before we deny the supernatural, we should
remember the words of William R. Inge, “Whoever marries the spirit of this
age [i.e. Zeitgeist] will find himself a widower in the next.”
This book started with
conflict.It ends with hope.The doctrine expressed in this book was not
produced merely from a backlash in the bitterness of conflict.It had been woven into my beliefs long before
trouble started. My hope is that we will
positively embrace the Holy Spirit, reaching heights of experience with God
that go beyond what we have known before—individually, congregationally, and as
universal church of Christ.
also found hope, under stress and persecution, from God’s words of comfort
are ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of
evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is
your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets that were before you
When trouble came, we who
believe in the Spirit were outnumbered in the church.It would have been easier to avoid the
conflict.But the indwelling Spirit did
not give His sword—the Bible—only for us to let it rust in its sheath.We knew we had to act.True Christians would do what we did.Several of us in that church suffered.We had nothing to gain.Then afterward, we found comfort from God.
We began with hope revealed
in Scripture, and see signs of hope also in the events unfolding in our day, in
our place in history.The
author is a committed Restorationist, lifelong.Uniting Christians, from all denominations, into a single, undivided fellowship
in Christ (and in His Spirit) under God has been my heartbeat since the
baptismal waters flooded over my head.Progress has been stalled for long decades of history, but there are
signs that God finds this present day to be His time to act and move.Let’s consider some reasons for optimism here.
First, there is a
trend in Bible studies called “the new perspective on Paul” (see
my article “An Offstage Perspective on the NPP” at http://conservativerestorationist.blogspot.com/2011/10/offstage-perspective-on-npp-by-john-g.html, or
ask me for the 2011 DVD presentation produced by James Wong and myself, “A
New Perspective on the Restoration Movement”).In short, a new discovery in the teachings of
the apostle Paul is now removing the largest barrier to acceptance of the saving
role of baptism by our denominational friends.Many in denominational circles are reclaiming the truth about baptism
(even while some of my own brethren in churches of Christ are going wobbly on
the issue).Historically, this has been
our biggest sticking point and God is now resolving it.
Second, it looks like
the Holy Spirit is capturing the minds and hearts of believers in our day and
in a new way.I
offer Francis Chan as evidence.Chan
preaches Acts 2:38 like a Restorationist.But he is not one of us, at least by affiliation.He is one of us, however, through the kinship
of shared beliefs.The preacher in the
church we just left would quote only half of Acts 2:38—leaving off the concluding
part about the Holy Spirit as a gift to baptized believers!Chan believes the whole verse—just as
churches of Christ have done historically, and still do in the majority.He believes in the indwelling Spirit.But, Chan is careful to reject those aspects
of Pentecostalism that put some of our people in a backlash mode so
fierce, that they rejected—not just Pentecostalism—but the Holy Spirit
himself!But Chan does
believe in a Spirit that both indwells us and projects power.He and I may come by different paths of
affiliation—but we have come to the same place in Bible belief.It is sufficient for me to gladly extend to
him the right hand of fellowship.
Francis Chan is my brother in
Christ.We share the same Spirit, the
same Lord.Worship the same God.This book is a call-back to those who
have rejected the Spirit, to unite on the truth of Bible revelation with any
and all who will join us here.
And Chan is not alone; he
stands representatively for the multitudes of believers, of different stripes,
who have been separated from us (in churches of Christ) by the confusion of
competing denominations.In the past,
Protestant denominations resisted baptism, as a necessity in salvation, with
all their strength.The “new perspective”
is changing this and making opportunity for the fellowship we should share in
Christ.It is this most curious
convergence of interest in the Holy Spirit—inside and outside of churches of
Christ—with a renewed respect for baptism—inside and outside of our
churches—that seems to carry the promise of a big harvest among those of us
driven nobly in God’s service to a “Restoration of the Ancient Order.”This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous
in our eyes!
As I put the final touches on
this book, I am buoyant upon this hope.And, in hope, I set it before my readers.