An Open Letter About the Work of the Holy Spirit
Dear Gospel Preachers and saints of God,
I must take exception to what I am hearing you preach more and more often. The Holy Spirit’s direct influence is not needed and is not given beyond the word to help humanity understand and obey God. We may have our different understandings about the specifics relating to the Spirit’s indwelling and influence. And on most of those issues I am quite content to live at peace with you on them. But I refuse to continue to sit quietly while a watered-down version of the doctrine of divine illumination is taught in the Lord’s church. The position is itself wrong and has no principled, textual reason to stop its progress short of full-blown Calvinism. I hear you and accept that you believe the grace you are proclaiming the Spirit provides is resistible, while Calvinistic grace is irresistible. I hear you say it. I just don’t believe the text will support the fine distinction you are drawing. If a direct influence of grace on the human soul is allowed in understanding and obedience, please someone show me in the text, where the resistible/irresistible distinction is made. I cannot find it. I do not believe it is there. It is your burden to show the book, chapter, and verse that supports your theory. What you are teaching is wrong, dangerous, and harmful to the Lord’s church – both now and more so in the future.
The scripture is clear on several matters:
- Knowledge and Understanding Come from the Mouth of God – God’s Spirit reveals the mind of God in words (1 Cor. 2:13). The only source of divine knowledge comes from God’s lips – “For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. . .” (Proverbs 2:6).
- God has Chosen to Proclaim His Knowledge from Human Preaching – Paul makes this clear – “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21). Without God’s knowledge delivered in the words (spoken or written), no person would ever be saved. The Spirit saves no one apart from the word.
- The Power of Salvation is in the Gospel – God delivered the gospel through the fullness of the Holy Spirit’s power. It is inherently infused with all the influence possible to convert and transform the soul (Short of commandeering man’s free will). The preached gospel is the only power of God in the present in the world for salvation – “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).
- The Task of Preaching is the Duty of Man – Paul states that responsibility of preaching is contained in “jars of clay” (2 Corinthians 4:7). Even in the day of the height of prophetic revelation by the Spirit. The Spirit still used only the preached word to convert the soul. That’s Paul’s statement. The Spirit did not intervene with the Ethiopian; he sent Phillip, a human preacher, to use the scripture to preach Jesus to the lost. Did the Spirit lack the ability to convert the Ethiopian? Of course not, He is God. But the declaration of God is that all who would be saved are saved by the gospel preached from man to man. That is the only path that God has provided.
- Faith is the Response of Hearing – I know you’re tired of old preachers “proof-texting.” But the words of scripture, on occasion, do prove things by the words of the verses in which they are found. On this point, we have a verse which settles this matter: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Is there anything hard to understand in that verse? The one and only source of faith is the hearing of the word of God. There is not now, nor has there ever been, in any person faith that came from any other source than the word of God. The Spirit has never and will never create faith directly in man’s heart.
- Faith from the Preached Word is Able to Save and Transform – Accepting the preached word of God is able to make you wise unto salvation (2 Timothy 3:15), build you up (Acts 20:32), give you an inheritance among the sanctified (Acts 20:32), equip you to every good work (2 Timothy 3:16), facilitate your spiritual growth (1 Peter 2:2), and so on. There is not a single verse in scripture that indicates man is incapable of understanding the preached word or the word of God is insufficient in any way to affect the transformation of man that God desires. There is simply no need of, space for or promise of the Spirit’s direct intervention to cause this.
- God’s Word can Keep Us from Sin – David knew nothing of and never experienced the indwelling of the Spirit (since I am told that began in Acts 2). He knew nothing of the experience of the indwelling that reportedly gives us the power to obey the gospel. Yet somehow, he knew of a different path to avoid sin: “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalms 119:11). David simply thought he could read and learn God’s word and avoid sin it. God believed that saints like Abraham, Moses, Noah, Daniel, Job, David, Asa, Josiah, Elizabeth, Zechariah, and Simeon could all avoid sin without the direct intervention of the Spirit (for each of those Old Testament saints a specific endorsement of their lives before Acts 2 can be found). All the saints of Hebrews 11 died in faith never having experienced the indwelling of the Spirit preached today. And all of them did under worse covenants with worse promises delivered by worse mediators than every single Christian has known under the better covenant of Jesus. Yet, I am now asked to believe that the direct influence of the Spirit is needed for me to remain wholly faithful. I am sorry, I simply don’t see. I can find no biblical support for your position.
Not many years ago, the points I have just listed above would have been accepted by all but the most liberal preachers among us. Even as we disagreed about the Spirit, we never violated our commitment to the all-sufficiency to the word of God. Many of us, intentionally or not (in my opinion) have. I am not in the same place as many preachers today. I have no real connection to the principles I am hearing taught. This is not simply a matter of a doctrinal dispute. This is a sea change in our understanding of the scripture and man. It will result in a transformative change in churches of Christ. It is a change we will not survive as the true church of Christ. My plea is that brethren will stop and think about what we are teaching about the Spirit in the Lord’s church.