We are currently going through a verse by verse sermon series through the Book of Acts and we’ve been talking a lot about the need to be filled with the Holy Spirit so that we can live out the purposes of God in the “now but not yet Kingdom”. As I’ve been thinking about how different churches approach this topic I’m acutely aware that there are extremes and imbalances: in some circles, talking too much about the Holy Spirit causes anxiety about “what is going to happen next” or they might even question your theological convictions; in other circles just the mention of the Holy Spirit might cause people to expect certain physical manifestations. Those of us in the “pneumatological middle” (trying hold both the authority of the Bible and the experience of the Spirit in tension) can be scared to go too deep in our experience of the Spirit’s presence and power because we’ve seen other people go to extremes at the same time being scared that we might end up dry, powerless and worn out trying to live victorious lives in our strength (not to mention that our very biblical convictions have led us to believe in the dynamic working of the Spirit today).
So what is the pneumatological middle and how do we fight for it?
1. Middle: seek the Spirit and the Word
Let me be clear: seeking an experience with the Holy Spirit apart from God’s Word leads people into dangerous territory. If we start listening to “voices in our hearts” or “burnings” or “signs” from heaven that contradict the clear teaching of God’s Word we are in error. But look …. sometimes these are just expressions that use a poor theological vocabulary – and as such we rush to the other extreme and end up minimizing any expectation of hearing from God’s Spirit or experiencing Him at all.
We believe that God’s written Word, The Bible, was written by the Holy Spirit as He “moved” men to write. It is the only authority for faith and practice. Therefore, any experience that we have with the Holy Spirit should line up, and come under the same authority, because He is the same Holy Spirit.
Let me say a quick word about this term “only authority”: we believe that God speaks today. We believe that God wrote a book and that everything that we need is written in it. This is not to say that church leaders, life group leaders, parents etc have no authority, but that they authority they DO have comes under the authority (is less than) the authority of the Bible. ALL of our experience (and I pray that they are many and deep) should be verified by the Bible and nothing else.
2. Fight: seek the Spirit and the Word
I know it sounds like I just wrote the same thing, and I did, for a reason. How do we fight for “pneumatological middle” ground? By seeking the Spirit and the Word! For me, this is a beautiful thing: we get the authority AND the power of God so that we can live out the purpose of God in this “now but not yet Kingdom”. Paul described the kingdom of God like this:
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
According to this verse, the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy. Let’s comment briefly about these three things:
Righteousness – this is Jesus Christ’s righteousness (right standing with God) given to us in salvation. Essentially, because of Jesus, we now stand guiltless befree God. Paul wrote:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation
as a result of this, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the righteous behaviour that belongs to Jesus, is also becoming ours. Paul wrote:
… the fruit of the Spirit is
and then Paul goes on to describe Jesus! this means that the Holy Spirit is working in us to transform our character and behaviour into that of Jesus’.
Peace – because of this righteousness, God is no longer an enemy but a Father.
… to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
Joy – this is what is the result of the other two! We have joy, because of the Holy Spirit’s work in us.
Too often, we associate the work of the Holy Spirit with some crazy manifestations that are happening in “that other church”. Too often we associate the topic of the Holy Spirit with division in the church. Romans 14:17 turns this upside down and challenges us to hold this middle ground …. to focus not on distracting and self-focused practices of holiness, but on the righteousness of God’s kingdom … to focus not division but on the peace that we have with God (and our extended family of Christians) …. to focus not on fear but on joy.