The Bottom Line

The Christian church is deeply divided into communities that rehearse different histories and embody divergent aesthetic preferences. Any lasting cease-fire in these worship wars is not likely to emerge from a resolution of the so-called culture wars which feed them, or from large-scale conversions of taste, or from carefully buttressed historical arguments about ancient liturgical precedents. Finally, such a cease-fire can only issue from the depth and mystery of the gospel which Christians proclaim. Christian worship is strongest when it is integrally and self-consciously related to the person and work of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. The study of Christian worship is most helpful to Christian communities when it demonstrates how this has happened in the past and how it might happen in the future in more profound ways.

—John D. Witvliet, “The Trinitarian DNA of Christian Worship: Perennial Themes in Recent Theological Literature,” 18

Come, Holy Spirit (5)

The Spirit makes known the personal presence in and with the Christian and the church of the risen, reigning Saviour, the Jesus of history, who is the Christ of faith. Scripture shows . . . that since the Pentecost of Acts 2 this, essentially, is what the Spirit is doing all the time as He empowers, enables, purges, and leads generation after generation of sinners to face the reality of God. And He does it in order that Christ may be known, loved, trusted, honored and praised, which is the Spirit’s aim and purpose throughout as it is the aim and purpose of God the Father, too. This is what, in the last analysis, the Spirit’s new covenant ministry is all about. . . . The distinctive, constant, basic ministry of the Holy Spirit under the new covenant is so to mediate Christ’s presence to believers—that is, to give them the knowledge of His presence with them as their Saviour, Lord, and God—that three things keep happening:

First, personal fellowship with Jesus . . . becomes a reality of experience, even though Jesus is now not here on earth in bodily form, but is enthroned in heaven’s glory.

Second, personal transformation of character into Jesus’ likeness starts to take place as, looking to Jesus, their model, for strength, believers worship and adore Him and learn to lay out and, indeed, lay down their lives for Him and for others.

Third, the Spirit-given certainty of being loved, redeemed, and adopted through Christ into the Father’s family, so as to be “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17), makes gratitude, delight, hope, and confidence—in a word, assurance-blossom in believers’ hearts.

By these phenomena of experience, Spirit-given knowledge of Christ’s presence . . . shows itself.

J. I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit, 47,49

Come, Holy Spirit (4)

[Acts 2] forms something of a parallel, in Acts, to the baptism of Jesus in the gospel, and thus demands to be understood not simply as a fascinating and initiatory incident in the very early life of the church but as the story which must be held in the mind as a kind of running heading for all that is to follow. Just as Jesus’ baptism and anointing with the Spirit in Luke 3 is to be understood as standing behind and explaining everything else, from His “Messianic” proclamation in Luke 4 to His messianic death and resurrection, so that coming of the Spirit in Acts 2 is to be understood as standing behind and explaining everything else that the church then does, particularly its worship, its mission and its bold stand in obeying God rather than human authorities. Thus, when Luke later tells us that the Christians gathered together were all filled with the Spirit and spoke God’s word with boldness, this should be understood not as a fresh and momentary filling, repeating Pentecost as it were on a strictly temporary basis, but as a fresh manifestation of what had been the case all along since Pentecost itself. The church from Acts 2 onwards is the Spirit-led church, with worship as a integral part of its proper life.

—N. T. Wright, “Worship and the Spirit in the New Testament,” 4

Come, Holy Spirit (3)

The need for a theology about the Day of Pentecost is seen by reflecting on how readily Christians misunderstand the nature of the church. For many people the church is a voluntary organization of individuals and exists primarily for reasons that relate to efficiency. Concerning worship, for example, it is tacitly suspected that in principle each Christian household could stay at home and have a pastor come to them to instruct them, administer the sacraments, and so on. But this would be too costly and probably would require more clergy than could be recruited. So it is more efficient for a number of households to contract together, and to establish a central meeting place and time at which the scriptures can be interpreted and the sacraments administered by someone trained in these tasks. Further, since most worship gives a central place to music, it is more effective to have a number of people sing with the support of a choir and a good musical instrument than for four or five people in a home to attempt to sing, probably unaccompanied. Because such a gathering is purely voluntary, people feel free to participate when they wish (particularly when they “need” to “get something out of it”), and to do otherwise the rest of the time.

A proper theology of the Day of Pentecost says a resounding “No!” to such popular ideas. The church is a community called together by the Spirit of the Risen One. It is not something we choose to do (and equally well could choose not to do), but something to which we are summoned. The Greek word for church (ekklēsia from which we derive “ecclesiastical”) means “those who have been called forth or summoned,” much as one is summoned to appear in a court of law. And we are called as a body of interdependent parts, not as separable individuals. The free-spirited individualism of our age is a manifestation of Babel, not Pentecost, as should be evident from the intransigent divisions and intractable conflicts such individualism fosters. The Risen One, who is present at all times and in all places, seeks to bind together by the action of the Spirit all things that have been wrongly separated. Participation therefore is not something we do on the basis of personal choice or need; participation in the Body of Christ is inherent in being Christian. The church, not the individual, is the irreducible unit of Christianity. Further, the church is to be a sign of the future: No matter how haltingly and imperfectly, the church seeks to enact in the present world the justice and grace that characterize the eternal reign of God. Therefore Christians participate in the church not so much for what they can get as for what they can give, for what they can offer as an alternative to the dominant ways of the world.

—Laurence Hill Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, 76-77

Come, Holy Spirit (2)

Think of it this way. It is as if the Spirit stands behind us, throwing light over our shoulder, on Jesus, who stands facing us. The Spirit’s message is never, “Look at Me; listen to Me; come to Me; get to know Me,’ but always, ‘Look at Him, and see His glory; listen to Him, and hear Him word; go to Him, and have life; get to know Him, and taste His gift of joy and peace.” The Spirit, we might say, is the matchmaker, the celestial marriage broker, whose role it is to bring us and Christ together and ensure that we stay together.

—J. I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit, 66

Come, Holy Spirit

If we ask the New Testament authors, “What is the nature of the Spirit’s work?” we receive a plethora of information. It is the Holy Spirit, for example, who is the One who makes God’s love real for us—”God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 5:5). In a sense, it is He who stands at the threshold of the Christian life, for only He can enable us to embrace Christ as Savior and Lord—”no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). Then, it is the Spirit who gives us the boldness to come into the presence of the awesome and almighty Maker of heaven and earth and call Him “Dear Father”—”God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Gal. 4:6). It is the Spirit who enables believers, from various racial, social and religious backgrounds, to find true unity in Christ and together worship God (Eph. 2:18). In fact, without the Spirit, worship and the glorification of Jesus Christ cannot take place (Phil. 3:3). And it is the Spirit who is the true Guarantor of orthodoxy (2 Tim. 1:14).

An excellent summary statement of the range of the Spirit’s work is Galatians 5:25, which speaks so plainly about the Spirit as the Source from which we are to live our lives: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” The Spirit thus undergirds and empowers the entirety of our lives as Christians. To paraphrase John 15:5: apart from the Holy Spirit, we can do nothing of any true eternal value.

—Michael A. G. Haykin, The God Who Draws Near: An Introduction To Biblical Spirituality, xix-xx