/ Jared Olivetti

A Spirit-Led Church

How often the charge is laid that reformed churches are the frozen chosen, devoid of passion and the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit. And, as stereotypes go, this one is not always wrong. Our demeanor and preaching don't always reflect the joy of our salvation. But before we hang our heads in shame, this charge is worth a closer look.

When we think about being a Spirit-led church, we need to think about who the Holy Spirit is and what we can know about Him and His work. Here, the wise words of Abraham Kuyper are helpful:

The need of divine guidance is never more deeply felt than when one undertakes to give instruction in the work of the Holy Spirit—so unspeakably tender is the subject, touching the inmost secrets of God and the soul’s deepest mysteries.

…Greater delicacy befits our approach to the holy mystery of our soul’s intimacy with the living God. Indeed, we can scarcely find words to express it, for it touches a domain far below the social life where language is formed and usage determines the meaning of words.

Glimpses of this life have been revealed, but the greater part has been withheld. It is like the life of Him who did not cry, nor lift up nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. And that which was heard was whispered rather than spoken—a soul-breath, soft but voiceless, or rather a radiating of the soul’s own blessed warmth. Sometimes the stillness has been broken by a cry or a raptured shout; but there has been mainly a silent working, a ministering of stern rebuke or of sweet comfort by that wonderful Being in the Holy Trinity whom with stammering tongue we adore as the Holy Spirit.

Spiritual experience can furnish no basis for instruction; for such experience rests on that which took place in our own soul. Certainly this has value, influence, voice in the matter. But what guarantees correctness and fidelity in interpreting such experience? And again, how can we distinguish its various sources—from ourselves, from without, or from the Holy Spirit? …

Altho there is no subject in whose treatment the soul inclines more to draw upon its own experience, there is none that demands more that our sole source of knowledge be the Word given us by the Holy Spirit. After that, human experience may be heard, attesting what the lips have confessed; even affording glimpses into the Spirit’s blessed mysteries, which are unspeakable and of which the Scripture therefore does not speak. But this can not be the ground of instruction to others.
(Kuyper, Work of the Holy Spirit, ch. 1)

At the beginning of his book about the Spirit, Kuyper makes two important points: first, these truths are more precious and mysterious than almost any others we might consider. Second, the ground of our understanding of the Spirit must be the Word of God alone. Without denying the powerful ways in which the Spirit moves in and among us, the only way to agree on truth about Him is to study His Word--not because our experience is unimportant, but because experience cannot be the foundation of doctrine.

We don't need to rank the works of the Holy Spirit in terms of importance, but it is good to see the main arenas of His operations from God's Word: the Spirit has vital roles in creation (Gen. 1:1-2), in salvation (Titus 3:5) and in illumination (Jn. 14:26).

If we "live and move and have our being" in God (Acts 17:28), it is particularly the role of the Spirit who hovered over early creation, being the breath of God's life breathed into the nostrils of man. If our union with Jesus is the source of our redemption, then the Spirit's work in that union is vital and necessary if we are to be saved (1 Cor. 12:12-13).

And if we are to understand anything about God through His Word, it is the work of the Spirit to shine those truths in our hearts. In some of His final teaching to His apostles, Jesus made clear that one of the Spirit's greatest gifts would be His work of illumination, teaching them and reminding them of what Jesus and God's Word had already recorded (Jn. 14:26; 16:13).

So, while many Christians seek a "direct" experience of the Holy Spirit apart from the Word of God, it stands to Biblical reason that those churches holding most dear to God's Word can claim with full conviction to be Spirit-led churches. To be Spirit-led means to be a student of God's Word, to be a church that preaches and sings God's Word, to be people who read, study and memorize God's Word, and to pray confidently for the Spirit to illuminate that Word to us in as many wonderful and powerful ways as He wishes.

Sinclair Ferguson reinforces our passion for the Spirit's work of illumination in three ways:

First, Jesus experienced it! See Isaiah 50:4-11 for how the Spirit helped the Son to learn and know the Word of God.

Second, the Spirit's work of illumination is what leads to authentic Christian growth, as the Spirit uses God's Word to renew both our minds and our hearts.

Third, "The result of the Spirit working with the Word of God to illumine and transform our thinking is the development of a godly instinct that operates in sometimes surprising ways." Those who know and believe the Word the most will be those with the most spiritual minds and the ability to discern between good and bad, wise and foolish.

Yes, many of our congregations could stand to be more concerned with the Holy Spirit. But are we Spirit-led churches or not? If we are studying, preaching, learning God's Word, then we are, by definition, being led by the Holy Spirit of God!

Jared Olivetti

Jared Olivetti

I'm a pastor at Immanuel RPC in West Lafayette, Indiana. God has blessed me with a wonderful wife, six kids and a loving church family.

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