Blogtext: Sola Scriptura


(This blogpost contains seven chapters and about 69 A4-pages. The whole document is available for download here. Your sincerely, Ted Sjovall, admin)

1. The Bible alone
2. Sola scriptura. A biblical term?
3. The Word and The Spirit
4. Quench not The Holy Spirit
5. The spirit of the Lord and liberty
6. When you come together
7. Post scriptum


“The Bible alone”

Some phrases and expressions become so entrenched in the life of every association of people that virtually nobody dares questions them. They become ’axiomatic’ i e, things that need not be defined or understood but belong to the very basics and are to be taken at face value. In deed to question them is to be hair-raisingly close to being a ”heretick”. And what could be worse than that? 

The phrase ’Sola Scriptura’ is one of those sacrosanct catch phrases which must not be dragged out into the light unless who ever does it wants to get into serious trouble. And that is itself a warning sign: here lies a dead dog buried. The phrase as originally coined has long left those moorings against which it ought to be understood and has become a banner for all manner of usage to defend many different positions relative to theology. The origins are very clear. 

Martin Luther lived and struggled with his relationship to God in a Church that had placed virtually every ecclesiastical authority above the Bible. Rulings of Counsels and Synods, Church Father’s opinions, Pope’s Ex Cathedra proclamations and emendations and changes of the written words of the Bible, were the reality in which Luther lived. So solid was this superstructure that the Bible itself had been submerged under the ”Church” and the word was not commonly accessible or encouraged, in fact it was forbidden for the laymen to read, on pain of death. 

Then the monk Martin Luther discovered the Bible, first 1 Samuel, then eventually Galatians and Paul’s letter to the Romans. Laying aside all other authorities, indeed even denying that they had any authority over the word, he allowed the Word of God to be interpreted to himself by the Holy Spirit. Immediately the glaring discrepancy between the practice of the Church and the teaching of the Word became painfully apparent to this feisty German. The rest is reformation history. 

Returning to the Bible alone was succinctly caught in the latin phrase: ”Sola Scriptura” variously rendered ”Only the Bible, Scripture Alone” etc. In protest to the fiendish idea that the truth was the sole property of the Church and it’s doctors, Martin Luther cried ’Murder’ against the entire Church. He saw that the Bible was like the man robbed and bleeding on the road to Samaria and he saw how the official church tiptoed past the wounded body. Especially the priests. So a ’good samaritan’ deed was sorely needed. A Bible Translation in the German vernacular was his most important contribution to the healing of the wounds. 

But that complete bible translation was not ready for the public until 1534 which is many years after he first set eyes on a copy of the Latin Bible. His own words: ”I was 20 years old before I had ever seen a Bible, I had no notion that there existed any other gospels or epistles except those used in the service. He was amazed at how small a proportion of it ever came to the ears of the people.” He was ordained a priest in 1507 and then became doctor of divinity in Wittenberg by 1517. All Saints day that year saw his thesis on the issue of the indulgencies nailed to the Church Door, in 95 statements he opposed the entire business of selling forgiveness of sins in exchange for cash. Cash which was then to be used for the Church of St Peter in Rome. That set an avalanche in motion which we now call the Reformation. 

But the core of it all was the restoration of the Word of God to the people and for the people, and if Rome disagreed, then Rome was left behind. No Pope, No Bulla, No Church doctrine.. nothing must be put on par with the word of God, not to speak of becoming a measuring stick against which the Word was to be censored. The sole rule of the church, said Luther, was the Word and this Word was manifest and made alive by the Spirit of God. Without the Word there was no Spirit and without the Spirit the Word was void. 

”The Holy Ghost goes first and before what pertains to teaching; but in what concerns hearing, the Word goes first and before, and then the Holy Ghost follows after. For we must first hear the Word, and then afterwards the Holy Ghost works in our hearts. He works in the hearts of whom he will and how he will, but never without the Word.” M L Tabletalk 241 

So the phrase ”Sola Scriptura” is the result of this return to the Bible as being the sole arbiter and rule for the Church. In the constitutions of many many church fellowships an opening statement to the effect that this Church believes in the supremacy of the Bible is readily found. Few are without such a statement on their websites and membership documents. 

However: this phrase is essentially meaningless on it’s own and needs qualifying since it can be readily shown that neither Luther nor the lutheran churches abide by that rule. Luther’s take on the ’Sola Scriptura’ left us with paedobaptism, which cannot be upheld from the totality of the testimony of the scriptures, it left us a hierarchic church structure which is impossible to defend scripturally, it left us with an ecclesiology in direct contradiction to the New Testament, it wavered on the brink of stupidity in being unable to cast off the notion of catholic ”transubstantialism” in favor of the utterly muddled concept of ”consubstantialism”, he left us a church that chops up the bible according to extrabiblical imaginations about a ”church year” with prescribed texts for every Sunday instead of showing the whole truth on every vital topic, irrespective of where the various bits are found in the WHOLE WORD, Luther himself provides the core of the false ”Replacement theology” saying that the Church has now been substituted for the nation of Israel and the Jews are of no further account, Luther himself is the root of lutheran antisemitism etc etc etc.. If that is what the terms means then ”Sola Scriptura” needs a lot of qualifying and modifying according to the scriptures. Still we owe great gratitude to him. 

What he did dig out was that Salvation is by faith alone, not by works or purchased merits. A monumentally important rediscovery of what the Word has always said but what the very theologians had hidden from sight. Not bad, but far from the end of what the Bible teaches. And truly: only if the Bible is allowed to stand on it’s own can we declare that Justification is by faith in the grace of God alone. But Luther also only saw in part, and dragged much of his catholic luggage into what much later became the lutheran Church, removing what he saw being wrong, but missing many of the marks which later generations now see for what they are: a halfbaked reformation. (Luther is no more to be blamed for the Lutheran church of today than Wesley for what became of Methodism.) 

Filters galore 

Lutherans filter the bible through the eyes of Luther and subsequent synods of that Church body. Calvinists and Zwinglians, Moravian and Plymouth brethren do the same through variously ”reformed” theologies. Weslyans do the same filtering as does every other body of believers. Anglicans and Baptists do it, Pentecostals and Unitarians do it. We are all easy preys to it and all have eloquent reasons for maintaining it that way. That is no excuse but a fact. As we all see in part only, not being close enough to each other in the Church to share our parts with all, leaves us making majors out of minors. 

On a historical note: the puritans, whose theology still has an impact on many churches today were from the start adverse to conforming to the Church of the nation. But if we think that they among themselves held the peace, we are sadly mistaken. After 1640 they were disbanded and within decades they had split up into the forebears of a number of denominations. Thereby effectively causing what Paul decried when he said ’Is Christ divided”. And they split along their theology, effectively slaughtering the Bible on the altar of ungodliness. 

Faith in the sufficiency of Scripture and the Holy Spirit alone is the rarest bird in the theological jungle. When modern day preachers only feel safe in an exposition of a passage of scripture while heavily leaning on some other voice from the past, they unwittingly pass on to the listeners that the Bible is not selfsufficient, not selfinterpreting nor reliable, without the accreditation from whatever theology is at the roots of that church. Faith in the Word alone and in His Holy Spirit it is not. The message is clear: you ordinary believer dare not trust your own understanding. 

The Spirit and the Word 

Listening to the scriptures on their own is seemingly the most difficult thing of all. But what Christ left to the Church was exactly only that: his Word and His Spirit. To each generation this is His gift to the Church. And moreover: he left that to the entire body of the Church, not merely to a handful of speaking professionals. He never said that subsequent revelations of truth would be different than what has been given once and for all. The truth is not evolving through theology, the church is not emerging as we forsake that which is written. Understanding of the truth, a deepening of appreciation of it, grows by practicing it. He did not place the truth into fallible human hands for them to embellish, add or subtract what they wanted. He did not ever foresee an ’infallible’ church taking over the explanation of the truth. He sent the Spirit of Truth. He sends what must be received afresh in each generation. Traditions and theologies are merely supporting trellises if the plant is too weak to stand on it’s own as yet. Nobody races to the Chelsea Flower show to show forth his trellises. The church in many places prides itself of them. But where is the rose of Sharon? 

”And they said to the woman, It is no longer becauseof what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Saviour of the World” John 4:42

The fundamental fact is that unless the Word becomes flesh it is but more words. 

”No other testing has come your way..”

The Church of Christ is always in crisis somewhere in the world. We should not expect to be exempt. We struggle with lots of challenges as they are now called, although some of them are merely the old sins with new names. A glib saying of almost cliché character is the idea that every crisis is an opportunity for growth. But to my mind it goes further than that. It can be a turning point of huge importance. Let me explain. 

The Church and it’s building

Applying then the ”Sola Scriptura principle”, the entire church should get together and a printout of every relevant passage in the bible (Starting at Genesis and ending in Revelation) about the church as a spiritual temple and the various physical temples in which it met should be given to all. Then the church should get together and digest the Scriptures alone. Aided by nothing but the Spirit whom all members must have received, or they would not be members of the Body of Christ. To exercise faith in the revelation of truth in the Bible goes hand in hand with a submission to the Head of the Church. He exercises that headship sublimely and solely by the Spirit and the Word. 

Let the Church speak and ponder the scriptures on this issue. It may take weeks to do so. But a crisis cannot be ignored, it does afford an opportunity to go back to basics and actually do what is there in plain print in the Church constitution. Faith in the Word is so important that it is presented to every visitor to some churches as they enter the porch. It is a good confession only as long as it fits the life of the Church. So why not do it?Halting the regular flow of the set program and taking stock would bring a fresh view of what we mean by our statement of faith in the Scriptures. And it may be the end of the crisis and a beginning of a solution. Nobody thinks of shoving such a major issue under the carpet. So get it up on the table. It is a matter for the whole church, not just for the oversight, so the whole church should be involved in finding the many individual aspects as they will present themselves to us if we submit to the Word and the Spirit. There may be nothing wrong with our theology, but unless it is practiced it is merely print on a paper. 

If the principle of ”Sola Scriptura” has any meaning at all, it must have a meaning for today, not for something in the distant past. To maintain it as an ideal only is to ignore it really. Only what can be put into practice shows that the Church is obedient to the Lord. 

Did the Lord maintain the Sola Scriptura principle?

”You search the scriptures, because you think that in the you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me, and you are unwilling to come to Me that you may have the life” John 5:39-40 

Did the Apostles maintain the Sola Scriptura principle?

”And such is the confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is of God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” 2 Cor 3:4-6 

Revival has always had the same basic mark: back to the basics. What they are? The reformers put it the way the illustration on top of page one says. And they would have been shocked to find that we dare not trust those declarations as they are expressed by the Spirit in the Scriptures and applied by the Spirit on the Church of the Born again. 


Is ”Sola Scriptura” even a biblical term? 

The question falls squarely in the category of ’rhetorical’ questions. One that either need not or cannot be replied to. Much akin to similar questions as ’Is the Pope a Catholic’? But whereas the latter will be assumed to be answered by ”yes” the former will have an unspoken but unequivocal ”No” as a silent response. The Bible speaks no more of ’Sola Scriptura’ than of toothpaste or church buildings as ”Church”. Nor does it speak of any doctrine of ”the Trinity” or of ”Eternal Security”. 

Because we are all more or less tinctured in theological jargon we easily read into the Bible texts what we have been accustomed to believe about it from sources very often outside the written text. 

It is in the nature of the case that the Bible does not speak of itself as if it stood aside from itself and looked at itself from the outside. What the Bible clearly speaks of is the ”Truth” contained within it. A library speaks not of itself but allows the writers speak through the books in it. I have tried to make the point that ”Sola Scriptura” must be understood in it’s historical context and that it stands for a vital return to the entire Bible for the whole Church in all times and all circumstances. Excluding all other books from being authorized along side in order to know the Truth about God and Man. ”But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preaced to you, let him be accursed.” Gal 1:8 

The Scriptures are the sole source of knowledge about the Truth, and one of the major truths about the truth is the statement made in various ways that it is the Spirit of Truth that safeguards the truth as it is written. Without the application of the Holy Spirit the Word is without power. The meaning of Eph 6:17 goes a long way to emphasize this: ”And take the Helmet of Salvation, and the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” Separate the Word from the Spirit and you have effectively removed yourself from any access to the Truth. 

”How can I understand..?” 

If we are agreed on this pivotal point then the next question is on the agenda. How do we understand what is written? The real key to any faithful interpretation will be found in the scriptures themselves. It is another catch phrase well known to all who have ever grappled with the issue. 

”Scripture is explained by scripture” 

It takes no genius to see that this is inextricably enforced right through the life of the early church as seen in the writings of all the Apostles. But it has it’s first anchor in the way Our Lord and Saviour demonstrated the principle when, as the heavenly accepted Son of God was tempted by Satan after 40 days of fasting. He met every temptation with a direct qoute from Deuteronomy. When challenged by a direct qoute from Psalm 91 the same principle applies. ”On the other hand, it is also written” Matt 4:7 The history of the divisions within the church is written with the bloodied ink of ignoring this basic understanding of Truth. ”The sum of thy word is truth” Psa 119:160 

On a historical note: Martin Luther’s view of the Lords Supper was challenged by the Swiss Reformer Huldreich Zwingli. A major disputation was arranged at Marburg in Germany 1-4th October 1529 by Philip I of Hessen. He tried to unite the reformation by getting all important people to this meeting. The two main personae in the fray were Luther and Zwingli. They agreed on 14 points out of 15. But on the last one about the presence of the literal body of Christ in the bread of communion they disagreed. And what could have been a united battle front against Rome was divided for ever. The reason? Luther had written with white chalk on his black velvet pulpit cloth ’Scripsit: Hoc est Corpus meum.” Meaning in latin: It is written: this is my body.” 

For four days Luther kept repeating this one line of the scripture into the face of the swiss Doctor irrespective of what other scriptures Zwingli brought to bear on the issue. How could it be rationally defended that Jesus held his own body in his hands? Did Christ literally mean that he was Bread and fruit from the Vine? Did he like other gates swing from a doorpost? And so on and so on.. But to no avail at all. The bulldog from Wittenberg had bitten into the bread and could not let it go. The scriptures forbid the drinking of blood. They forbid cannibalism. To defend his theology Luther ignored virtually all other scripture for that one morsel. It is the downside of theology and has caused the shipwreck of a thousand church efforts. 

You may pursue the event at your leisure: 

“When the two sides departed, Zwingli cried out in tears, “There are no people on earth with whom I would rather be at one than the [Lutheran] Wittenbergers.”Because of the differences, Luther initially refused to acknowledge Zwingli and his followers as Christians, though following the colloquy the two Reformers showed relatively more mutual respect in their writings.

But the damage was done and the two forces never joined, not even to this day. 

If this principle is taken into account then it follows that no exposition of one single passage can ever claim to be the truth about any topic in the Word. All the more so since it repeatedly is emphasized that no matter in the Church is determined by one voice only: Two or three witnesses must agree on any matter of importance. Only when all that pertains to a matter has been laid open to scrutiny and careful study can a matter be declared to be ’According to scripture’. 

How many times are the live words of Christ corroborated by scripture? Well 72 times in the New Testament we are referred to an OT saying relevant to the fulfiment of Prophesy about Christ or things to be watched for in the Church of Christ. How do the apostles teach? Look in Romans 9 as one example: Standing up for his own people Paul explains why they cannot be ignored or given up. Threading into his defense he uses Genesis 21, 18, 25, Malachi 1, Exodus 33, 9, Hosea 1, Isaiah 22, 10, 1, 8.. That is just one example of many. They taught the truth by using the whole Word of God. They taught topically and hardly ever did they expound one text only. (I know of not one example.) Because it is simply impossible to lock the truth into one text, or to unlock the meaning of that truth from one passage. Heresies thrive on small plots. On the small plot only one plant can grow at any one time. 

Read Romans 15: 3 ”as it is written”, verse 9 ”as it is written”, v 10 ”and again he says”, v 11 ” and again”, and v 12: ”and again Isaiah says”. Again and again the written word stated, related to the present situation and sealed by more of the Word. And then confirmed: ”For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.” Rom 15:18-19 

Demonstration in Spirit and power comes into full force again in 1 Corinthians 2:4 Resulting in obedience! And Paul shows also how the word and the Spirit interact. And further more he expresses the very process by which the written word becomes part of that which is delivered to the listener. 1 Cor 2:9-13 

”..but just as it is written, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, And which have not entered the heart of man, All that God has prepared for those who love Him.” For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.” The meaning of that passage of the scripture is made known to the believer directly by the Holy Spirit. 

Sola scriptura? No way if that means ’only what is written’. But Oh yes if it is taken in the sense: The Word given through the Spirit operative in the teacher by the Holy Spirit to bring truth, and spiritually discerned thoughts based on the Truth, to bear on the Church or assembly. The members of which are expected to be walking by faith in the Spirit. 

The importance of a general and broad store of Bible knowledge in every believer cannot be overstated. Only believers who know the Word can be filled with goodness and knowledge so that they are able to admonish and encourage and build one another up, (Rom 15:14) on that most holy faith based on the teaching of the prophets and the apostles. And to clinch the deal: to be so noble in mind and able to listen, receive and independently test and try the words spoken from the pulpit. The Berean issue is impossibly out of reach if the hearers are intimidated and limited by their ignorance. Or if they have a misplaced faith in the superiority of the leadership leading them away from personal understanding of the Truth and nothing but the truth. 

Many years ago a friend of mine asked a congregation to turn with him to a passage of scripture. Not a leaf was turned. They had no habit of reading the scripture in church. He chided them for it and a voice from the ’floor’ said:” We trust our pastor to always tell the truth so we don’t need to check his message or read the Bible.” (sic) 

When the preaching and teaching of the church remains inactive and never manages to produce what the Word promises there is a serious issue to be raised. The remaining two verses of 1 Cor 2 say it loud and clear. 

”But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he is appraised by no man. ”For who has known the Mind of the Lord, that he should instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” 

When the natural, once-only-born man or woman tries to understand the scriptures without the Spirit of truth then neither Spirit nor Truth remain. Bible bashing frequently follows in the wake.” 

The words may reach us on an intellectual level. But that is only the husk of the seed. That husk will never germinate if that is all that is sown. Only the good seed can germinate, and then not even that guarantees growth to 60 or 100 fold return on investment. Because there is also the matter of the quality of the soil. Only one fourth of the soils, although all equally seeded with the words of God, produce fruit with perseverance. Luke 8:11 

There ought to be little discussion about wether we should have teaching and preaching to the whole Church by the chosen leadership as well as continual personal and small group bible study. We should attend to both. The significant statement about the practice of the early church must not be shoved unto the back shelf of Church history. ”They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. .. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Acts 2:42, 46-47 .. how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both jews and greeks..” Acts 20:20-21 

A matter of body knowledge to support and build the body 

We are bricks in the building. But if the bricks are unbaked? Even a rain of blessing will dissolve them. Can there be any hope of the Church being a building of living stones? If we only have heard by the hearing of the ear but never seen the glory of the Lord? If all we have is so many loose and disjointed snippets of Bible and lack the wider view. How can we then stand in the coming trials and tribulation? 

”Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, Who seek the Lord:
Look to the rock from which you were hewn
And to the quarry from which you were dug.
Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness,
“Look to Abraham your father
And to Sarah who gave birth to you in pain;
When he was but one I called him,
Then I blessed him and multiplied him.”
Indeed, the Lord will comfort Zion;
He will comfort all her waste places.
And her wilderness He will make like Eden,
And her desert like the garden of the Lord;
Joy and gladness will be found in her,
Thanksgiving and sound of a melody. Isaiah 51:1f 

The quarry we were hewn from was one where the word of God richly dwelled in every member of the Church, where the Bible was given full credit and the Holy Spirit was obeyed. Was! I fear that if what is left is in the past tense only then we are a dying breed. A hunger to hear the word of the Lord must needs come while it is still to be found. (Heeding the sinister warning in Amos 8:11-12) Not next year, next year.. but soon, actually already yesterday. 

I ask myself why I have this urgency in my heart about this matter. And the answer is awesome and simple in itself. The difficulties that many churches are facing today are a foreboding of what will come. Our Lord expressed the same concern when he said: “And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” Luke 18:6f 

If faith comes from hearing and hearing by the word of Christ as Paul declared in Romans 10:17 then there will be a direct relationship between the expected lack of faith at His coming and the fragile knowledge of the word among the believers. If only the word of Christ is valid then the church needs to weed out the words of men from the words of Christ. Only the latter bring salvation. Only the word itself feeds faith. That is the meaning of ”Sola Scriptura”. 

As I was coming to the end of this consideration on the topic something else filled my field of inner vision. It seemed that I was being asked a set of questions about what we as the Church really believe. I have no answers but will put the questions down. They have a haunting urgency. 

·       ”Can it be that your dependance on all kinds of human authorities is mistrust of Me?”
·       ”Can it be that the lack of searching the scriptures is mistrust in My word?”
·       ”Can it be that your reluctance to allow all believers to partake in the ministry of the Word also shows a mistrust of the members of the body?”
·       ”Can it be that your low esteem of the communal study of the Word is mistrust of my Spirit?” 

Each of these questions came on the wings of a dove as it were. 

“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.” John 14:1

”Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Luke 24:44-46 

...but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel:
‘And it shall be in the last days,’ God says,
‘That I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
And your young men shall see visions,
And your old men shall dream dreams;
Even on My bondslaves, both men and women,
I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit
And they shall prophesy.” Acts 2:16-18

”But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. As for you, let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father.” 1 John 2:20-24 

I for one dare not leave these questions unanswered.

Lord have mercy on us. 

The Days ahead 

The Church of tomorrow is being produced today. I fear that tomorrow there will be no church buildings, no ’one person leaderships’, no single shepherds whose removal will cause the shutdown of the church. There will be no ’consumer of sermons’ style organisation left alive when the hunger after the word of God, unmet, has left the church dead. What is not an organic Church in ful recognition of the Headship of Christ will not exist when all the other Church organisations have become slaves to the dictates of a godless anti-Christian society. 

It will again be as in the beginning. A Church of Christ suffering, but victorious because she believes every word that comes out of the Mouth of God. Is that a prediction? Is it a prophecy? Is it an appraisal of the way things are going? Yes, all of that and, no not only. It is an echo of the Lord’s own question: Will there be faith on earth when I come?

”Sola Fide” was another of the five Solas coined by the reformers. By Faith alone! But faith has until now never existed without the Word. Even a false faith was until now always based on at least a misapprehension of the Scripture. But now we have faith without any bonds to the Word. Today faith in faith itself has usurped the place of the ”Faith once and for all delivered to the saints.” Jude 3. 

That, if nothing else, raises a clarion call to take stock and act accordingly. 

If we only want tomorrow what we already have today, then let us just go on in exactly the same footsteps as today. But let us also realize that it is what we do today that creates what we will see tomorrow. 

Who was it that said that the time is short?


The Word and the Spirit, eternally the same. 

This is my third consideration concerning ’Scripture alone’. I have spent a few days reading up on the events in Europe between 1400 and 1650. I have re-aquainted myself with lots of important names from Wycliffe to Luther to Tyndale to John Calvin and with the battle for the reformation and against it. Some impressions are indelible: firstly, politics had much more to say and conditioned much of what the reformers did. Secondly the manifest lack of the Fruit of the Spirit in the Reformers and their opposite numbers screams out from every page of the books. Both from the pages of the historians and from their own writings. If the language used by Luther about Thomas More and that of Thomas More against Luther was used in any context today we would have written them both off as unregenerate. 

Thirdly it is an unavoidable conclusion that neither one of the major branches of the reformation should be raised to the rafters as pure and wholesome fare for the Church in our time. The horrendous reality is that none of the reformations ever reformed much if by reformation we look for the reclaiming of the Spiritual man. They rewrote theology for sure. But did they curb sin in sinners? Martin Luther condoned the bigamous marriage of his Protector. John Calvin not only acceded to the murder of His Opponents Michael Servetus and other likeminded, but he virtually skirted round the New Covenant and delivered more of the old and Abrahamic and therefore redundant old covenant to the swiss theocracy of Geneva. Zwingly died on the battlefield but not before he had ’purged’ the church of anabaptists by drowning them in the river under the battle cry,”By water they sin, by water they shall pay for their sins’. While Luther translated the Bible into a vernacular german, ”so german that the reader would never suspect that Moses was a jew”, Tyndale wrote and created the foundations of modern English as well as giving us his translation efforts of holy Scripture. For which he was brutally martyred in Brussels at the instigation of men like Thomas More and Bishop Fisher. (Who in turn were killed by other political abusers of ”divine right”.) 

The much hailed ’return to scripture’ which is often brandished as a banner over the reformation period, has to be taken with a monumental pinch of Salt. They returned to some very important truths pertaining to salvation, but they also ”rediscovered” or recreated those doctrines that were needed to bring approval for their worldy and political ends. Doctrines of the most unscriptural kind did not only survive the reformation but have become inextricably imbedded in what is left of the Church of Christ to this day. Calvinism, Lutheranism, Anglicanism, Roman Catholic Church (In itself a creation of the Council of Trent from the middle of 1600) as well as the Anabaptists are the edifices of church politics far more than the result of a spiritual rediscovery of the Truth that sets men free. Calvinism for instance, is essentially a humanistic watering down of the Bible to suit an unholy mixing of earthly authority with the Sovereignty of God. It can be argued that each of those systems have widely missed the marks of the New Testament and the content of the New Covenant. To claim that those reformations were true moves of The Holy Ghost is not only questionable, it can be shown to be most unscriptural in many parts. 

The Legacy of Christ to the Church 

We need to return to the Scriptures to see what Christ equipped the church with in order to understand the issue at large. There are to my understanding four major trains of thought here. They cannot all be right, but it is possible that a combination of two might be useful. But it cannot be any two of these as they are somewhat mutually exclusive. 

1 Evolving truth. 

In various shapes and with varying strength the idea that what Christ has done was only a commencement and that therefore the church must allow and indeed embrace the natural evolution of religion as it keeps step with the times in which it lives. The Bible describes the beginnings only but has no say on the direction into which those starting ripples will point. Scripture is only as authoritative as a rivulet in the high mountain defines the Amazon River in full flow, i. e. not at all, because equal attention must be given to every tributary along the way and although the original trickle was water in motion, as a river it was as yet in its infancy and incomplete and needs the confluence of every generation to understand the river as it eventually meets the universal sea of truth. Unless it merges with the sea of limitless truth it will have failed as a river. Scripture is not then authoritative for anything but the way it stays between it’s banks while it inexorably flows to the widening in the sea. Only when it has converged with all other truth will it be fulfilled. This view is a theological byproduct of the evolutionary hypothesis as applied to the natural world. Faith in the inevitability of development, improvement and advancement lies at the bottom of it. The upward evolution of the Church is considered to be an immutable law. As the river must forsake the banks of the rivulet so the church must grow out of the limitations of the Bible. If she wants to be relevant she must go with the flow. 

2 ”Hark back to some distant past, but not to the beginning” 

This is by far the most common denominator of many churches, irrespective of denominational colour or self designation. It is an”eyes fixed on rear view mirror” moving forward as little and as reluctantly as possible. (”Forward” is the moot point here. If we don’t know where we are heading any road is the right one, or indeed, none at all.) The defining reference point is either the founding gremium of the church or some ’great name’ or some cataclysmic event which has defined the movement for it’s future. Staying within the safe limitations posed by the beginning of the organisation effectively defines whatever roads it dare take. ”What we have never done before, we will not do tomorrow.” 

That is the defining battle cry. In these settings there are immutable foundations that must not ever be questioned. Not even if they prove to have grown firmly and solidly away from any other authority than that given by the Movement to whichever source arbitrarily chosen. The names of Luther, Calvin, Wesley etc etc appear to safeguard the truth by their very venerable standing. But if truth were told Luther and Calvin and Wesley would be most embarrassed to be used in that manner. They have to carry the dead albatross of ossified religion rather than be the beacons of light in the prow of the ship called Church, sailing very dark waters. They were only men, and, more or less, men of the world and men of God at the same time. Their followers set out to major on their godward sides but often find themselves majoring on their all too human failings. 

The interesting thing is that although they are all conservative and even pride themselves of a most honourable stability, they hardly ever go back to the beginning. And if they go back to the beginning, it is only to find support for their position now, oftimes ignoring what else the scriptures say on that topic. They go back, back, back to this or other point but ignore all that was before that point. They pick a raisin or two out of the cake of revelation but ignore the cake as a whole. 

In view of the absolute fact that nothing ever comes out of nothing (barring the creation of God) it remains an oddity that the choice of a starting point becomes so holy that whatever preceeds it is rarely analysed. Every move of God happens in time and is a product of it’s time because it addresses specific situations in time. How can it be said that a theology created in very specific circumstances 500 years ago should be relevant and useful today? (Scripture is not theology until it has been filtered through some human mind.) If a tool is used for the wrong purpose a good result is not guaranteed. You would not use a trowel to dry yourself after a bath. Unless the issues addressed are the same, the tool of the past is part of the museum. ”You need not act as fossils just because you will live for ever.” The number of churches that have left empty buildings behind testify to the problems of this method of forward motion. The gospel must not be thought of as something that can be inherited from the past. It must be rediscovered by each successive generation. The insights of the past are useful but not essential. As I said in a previous writing: ”Yesterday’s manna breeds worms.” 

Synods, Church Fathers, Puritans, Reformers, Evangelists, and so on, are chosen to verify the status quo. But do they hold water? Does God empower this with the power of the Holy Spirit? I mentioned the rather frekvent and blatant lack of the Fruit of the Spirit in many of the ’great’ men of the distant past. How would we know of the Power of the Holy Spirit if such fruit is missing? 

3 ”The restitutionist” 

The battle cry here is simple. ”We must go back to the New Testament Church” and we must live as if we were in that same time frame and frame of mind. We must copy as closely as possible what they did and went through or else the power of God will not manifest in our time. It involves a lot of reading into the story of Acts what wishfully ought to be there in order for us to recreate those similar outward conditions. The call to this sort of ’go back to the beginnings’ is very alluring and has seen whole Church movements exist and remain in a sort of frozen tableau of those things. The Mennonite and Amish communities base their communal lifestyles on such frozen templates. But these also can readily be shown to pick and chose what they want to be seen as paramount. 

In the Hutterite wake of Zinzendorf we have the Bruderhof community spirit. Reading into the events of Acts a mandate for communism of the most fundamental kind they claim that this is the communion proper. No private ownership, all things in common, therefore no economical inequality among the believers etc etc. Blithely ignoring that the rest of the New Testament breathes not a single word of approval or teaching on this matter, on the contrary: every time there is a collection made for the poor it is always and only the poor in Judea and Jerusalem that are the recipients. Nothing impoverishes the Church as rapidly as persecution. The only church openly persecuted was the one in Jerusalem. Their leader James was killed and the communal coffer most likely confiscated. The entire church was dispersed except the apostles, who while they were with Christ had forsaken all and followed Him, but had been promised a hundredfold already in this life. 

The Pentecostals have variously claimed to have the only correct mode of Baptism based on Acts ch 2, ignoring that in subsequent chapters various modes of Baptism are also exemplified with no individual form praised or elevated over the others. The order of the elements of Baptism is fluid, but the elements are always there. Personal Faith, Repentance and the washing off of the old man and the reception of the risen Life of Christ by the Baptism of Christ, the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Where the latter was not in evidence the waterbaptism was held to be void. The only Baptism Jesus Christ came to bring to pass was a Baptism with The Holy Spirit. Without it there is neither Fruit of the Spirit nor the gifts for ministry by the Spirit. 

The idea sounds good but it is lacking in several ways. Nobody in the rest of the NT has a single word to say in that direction. Growth towards and a possible stature of maturity is indicated in a manner that goes way beyond the first flailing and faltering steps. The manifold witness to the very variety of the individual churches shows that no single pattern existed. In fact not one Apostle planted a Jerusalem Church any where. They planted Churches of Christ in every place, fully cognizant of the fact that local, social and personal and cultural elements would by necessity shape the church where it was born and lived. Not one church is a copy of any other. This is borne out tremendously in the Pauline correspondance. It is also astonishingly clear from the letters from Christ to the seven churches in Revelation. Different situations, challenges and confrontations called for different teaching even when the churches were only a few miles apart in the geography. 

The NT does not begin by laying down a simple template to then tell us: ”Repeat this or be found guilty.” However it does indicate what foundations have been laid for any Spiritual house called the ”Ecclesia”. The legacy of Christ to the Church is not an outward visible structure. Not a mould into which all must be poured to set. 

4 ”Not by might, nor by power but by my Spirit says the Lord.” 

The living head of the Church left a double legacy for every generation. The Word and the Spirit. Neither He Himself nor any of His Apostles pointed the church towards either of the three previously mentioned modes of being Church. The Scripture over and over again points to the total sufficiency of the living word and the Spirit of Truth in cooperation. It points to the Body of the Church and tells of His equipment for that body. And there is every indicator that this was to safeguard the Church throughout the ages to come ”Until I come”. 

Jesus himself and his apostles stood against the idea of an evolution of the church by firmly raising the alarm of false Messiahs, or ravenous Wolves, of societal changes that would make the life of faith very much more difficult than it always was. No such thing as a glorious future where the Church would rule the world was ever once indicated. ”My Kingdom is not of this world”. The entire politic theology of Augustinus, Luther, Calvin etc has no real foundation in the understanding and prophecy of anybody in the NT. The dependance on Church Father’s is a broken reed. They were not even in their own time universally heeded voices. Luther found them bland and often appalingly colorless. Many of them were accused of heresy by the others. Some of the most wellknown names are only known because they twisted scripture and produced new doctrines that were way beyond what scripture witness allows. 

Not only did He give us that legacy, he also declared how it was to be established in terms of flesh and blood, generation by generation. He told his people that He would apply his own resurrection power in the life of the Church. He let us know through his appointed teacher that inherited traditions were of irrelevant nature. He did not expect them to be harking back into the distant past but promised His personal presence in every age. Hear this: He promised his presence in the life of the Church by the presence of Himself in the believer. He is Himself the Living Word given to the entire church and He, the indwelling Lord is by the Spirit his own interpreter of that Word to the world through that body of believers. 

Will He, when He comes, find faith on the Earth? 

Large swathes of the Church speaks about Him ”in absentia”. Whistfully perhaps, longingly, perhaps, but not in the faith that is that of the New Covenant people. They do not know the head. The people of Israel once lost the Ark of the Covenant to the Philistines. They mourned it for 20 years. But could not be bothered to go and find it. 

But they continued their religious exercises as if nothing had happened. 

It is remarkable that the Church of 2020 is ready to repeat and affirm that Jesus is the greatest Teacher that ever lived while digging around for any snippets of half hearted insight from any but the Lord Himself. He who finished being with them in body and sent His Spirit to glorify Him in His bodily absence, promised His presence whenever they met together in His name. The whole Counsel of God available through the entire scriptures were given to them all. And from each one the same Spirit can and will draw out sustaining support for them all. To leave the sharing of the Word into the hands of the few will empowerish the whole body. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. 

”I have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when he, the Spirit of truth comes he will guide you into all truth, for He will not speak of his own initiative but whatever he hears, He will speak, and he will disclose what is to come. He shall glorify me.” 

Everything written in the Bible up to the day of Pentecost paves the way and prepares for the New Covenant. This covenant is expressed through the Church born on that Harvest day, and all that the Spirit gives to this People under the new covenant is what is given from Acts ch 2 onwards. The Spirit expressly explaining the words of the Lord to the Church. 

Not then a going back to some arbitrary point in the past, or to a part of the History of the Church and it’s dogmas, or bowing to some great names, but a laying hold of the presence of Christ the Rabbi through the ministry of the Spirit of Truth in us and among us. It is not taught in the seminaries nor in the Churches. Until it is, we will continue to be baffled by the distance between what the Word says and what the Church does. 

For saying things like this Tynedale and many others were burnt at the stake. Lord have mercy! Everything that the Spirit told men and women in the past He can and will speak to us. ”He that has an ear let Him hear what the Spirit says to the Churches.” 


”Quench not the Holy Spirit” 

This is the fourth portion of considerations about the ”Sola Scriptura” and deals largely with the conspicuos silence about the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church Body after the day of Pentecost. It has been said, not only by me, but by the reformers themselves, that the principle of ’Sola Scriptura’ must needs give credit to what scripture says about everything before any other voice is considered on any matter of faith and life in the Church. This chapter will show that this principle is not applied to the New Testament witness about the vital role of the Holy Spirit in the Body, and the evidence of that fundamental omission is there for all to see. 

Firstly: the creeds of the Church

The creeds of the Church of Christ are matters of expediency and often urgency and they are nearly always a response to aberations from the teaching of the Bible. They all have a polemic target. To defend the faith against voices who deny this or other part of what the Church taught. Because of their very nature they never claim to be ’ the full monty’ but a spearhead against the opposition of the time. This is true of the Nicean and Athanasian and every other creed or Confession of faith ever written. It is also true of the Apostles creed of which the earliest forms were produced middle of 3rd Century but in the present day form was not finalized until about 750.

About the Holy Spirit we are told no more than this: ”I believe in Christ Jesus, the only Son, who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,...And I believe in the Holy Ghost” In a sixth Century Roman creed we learn no more. ”I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Catholic Church..” The Church council at Nicea was called together to deal with what is known as the Arian heresy. A long text about the inner relationships within the Trinity deal mostly with Father and Son and then, as an afterthought adds: ”And in the Holy Spirit.” The so called Nicene Creed was approved in Chalcedon 451 reads ”And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and the Life Giver that proceedeth from the Father..” 

Irrespective of where you look in the various statements of the church and/or council decisions, there is precious little understanding or evidene of the work of the Spirit in the life of the church. There is a lot about the Work of the Spirit in bringing people to salvation and His work in conversion and sanctification of the individual. But very little, if any, evidence of His work in and through the collective body of the Church. 

The Reformation writings

”But surely this is adressed by the reformers and has been rectified by them?” You wish! But having dug through the major texts of the Westminster confession, Luther’s Catechism, Calvins Institutes and the Literature around the English Church documents I can confidently say that they afford less than minimal insight into what the New Testament shows. 

A few voices: ” ..yet not withstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts” WC ch 2 §5 

Again: ” ”The whole counsel of God concerning all things... may be deduced from the scriptures, unto which nothing at any times is to be added, wether by new Revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men... Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be neccessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word...” WC ch 2 §6 

And what about the teaching about the Spirit in the chapter about ”The Church”? Well the entire chapter 25 has one sentence about the Spirit. One.. ”§3. Unto this catholic visible Church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints in this life, to the end of the world; and doth by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, make them effectual thereunto.” 

What about Martin Luther and the Holy Ghost? Does He know anything about the work of the Spirit in the body of the Church? In his Table Talks he allows a twofold ministry of the Spirit. ”First, He is a Spirit of Grace, that makes God gracious to us, and receives us as acceptable children, for Christ’s sake. Secondly, He is a Spirit of prayer, that prays for us, and for the whole world, to the end that all evil may be turned from us, and that all good may happen to us...It is one thing to have the Holy Spirit as the spirit of prophecy, and another to have the revealing of the same; for many have had the Spirit before the Birth of Christ, and yet he was not revealed to them.” 

What about Luther in the Catechism? There is not one word about the work of the Spirit in the body collective in either the smaller or larger Catechism. That is the more remarkable in that the Catechisms are the mainstay of lutheran Church membership. What is written and proclaimed there are the ”Ten commandments, The Apostolic Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, The Sacraments, Prayers and blessings and household rules for the family.” 

What about Calvin and his Institutes? This is an exerpt and summary: 

So what does Calvin have to say about the Holy Spirit? Here are four things that come from book 3, chapter 1 of his magnum opus The Institutes of the Christian Religion

1. The Holy Spirit is the bond that unites us to Christ 

Calvin points out where Paul and Peter agree about the role of the Spirit. He speaks about the “testimony of the Spirit” being a seal engraved on our hearts “with the result that it seals the cleansing sacrifice of Christ. Go to 1 Peter 1:2 and 1 Corinthians 6:11 to see how the Spirit is involved in our union with Christ.

2. Christ came with the Spirit for two reasons 

Calvin points out two things Christ sends the Holy Spirit to accomplish. One is to separate his people from the world. The other is to gather them into the hope of an eternal inheritance. Those are broad categories that define the work of the Spirit sent by Jesus. 

3. The Bible gives several titles to the Spirit 

One of my favorite titles that Calvin mentions is “guarantee and seal.” The Holy Spirit is called this “because from heaven he so gives life to us, on pilgrimage in the world and resembling dead men, as to assure us that our salvation is safe in God’s unfailing care.” He is also called “water” and “fire.” 

4. Faith is the principal work of the Spirit 

In Ephesians 1:3 Paul tells us that we are “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.” Most Christians believe that faith is the gift of God as the Bible teaches. Calvin puts together several Scriptures that show this. He also has this to say: Paul shows the Spirit to be the inner teacher by whose effort the promise of salvation penetrates into our minds, a promise that would otherwise only strike the air or beat upon our ears.” 

But what about the role of the Spirit in the collective body? Mostly silence from all of the reformation heroes. What about the Puritans? Here is a link that summarizes a lot about that. spirit-by-dr-c-matthew-mcmahon/ 

Well they follow the same track. Lots of writings about the work of the Spirit in the individual believer, but very little about the collective reality of the work of the Spirit in the Body of the Church. In fact the topic is so seldom taught to the ordinary members of the church that few have more than the vaguest idea. Those expositions of the topic found in Systematic Theology books or in Commentaries on individual books of the Bible are well and truly filtered out before the laiety are preached to. 

What are the predictable consequences of this vacuum?

Now looking at all the church traditions that have arisen from the teaching across the board a few things follow. First: they all have a view of the church that allows a distinct class of lay people who are not expected to know more than they need to be a good supporting cast of the leadership of the church. The ”Clerics and the laiety” are a product of the ignorance about the Bible Teaching on the indwelling Spirit in the whole Church. 

Secondly the matter of the one Baptism that Christ came to give: the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is glossed over or ignored. The confusions over Baptism is a dark chapter in the History of the Church. Made none the easier by a slew of doctrines about the purported evidence of that Baptism in the charismatic or maybe better said, charismaniac circles. 

It has created a view of the Church that deviates from everything the New Testament plainly says about it. It allows ”priesthoods” in opposition to the laiety, it accepts the ”20-80” divison between those ’initiated’ and the ’rest”. It allows use and abuse of power over the church and it’s member of the rankest kind. It claims ’anointed’ ministers three feet above scrutiny and reprimand. The anointing of Christ is not exclusive to the appointed leaders. The priesthood is the business of all believers. (Who would think so from the way we act Church?) It allows orthodoxy without orthopraxy. It allows the dismissal of virtually every supernatural presence by the Spirit in the Church. It knows nothing of spiritual discernment as distinct from rational reasoning. And it does so on the strength of the ignorance of the ordinary believer. They believe only what they have been taught! If a church in forty years has never had a faithful presentation of the Doctrine of the Life of the Spirit in the Church Body, then there is every reason to expect that this Church knows nothing of the reality . 

But ”Sola Scriptura” it is not! 

It is ’Sola scriptura’ filtered through a finemeshed sieve created by something in the past, or by ’spiritual robbers’ of the present age. But true faith arises only out of a humble faith in the Spirit of Christ and the guidance of the Word of Christ. A faith fed by and active in all those born again who together form the Church proper. A faith that grows as each member is empowered and taught by the Spirit and the Word through other parts of the body and through the leadership appointed by Christ in the Church. 
So I have spent days rereading every passage in the New Testament about the work of the Spirit in the Body of believers. I have so to speak loaded my guns and am taking aim at the ignorance of centuries by delivering a volley of insights from the Word. My selection is of course not particularly inspired, but it is true all the same. After all I believe in the ”sola Scriptura” as it is qualified by scripture itself by making every approach to an understanding of the Word impossible without the Spirit of the Living God. 

The legacy of Christ to the church is His own Presence by the word and the Spirit. 

The Spirit in the New Testament

There are 377 references to the spirit in the NT. A portion of them, about 35-40% refer to the spirit in man. The first man Adam was made a living soul. The Second Adam was a Lifegiving Spirit. We first share the natural life of the living soul and by regeneration we become Spiritual beings. That spirit is the receptacle of the Spirit of God and the operative base from within which the Spirit operates within us. 

The remaining 60 to 65% speak of The Holy Spirit, the third person of the trinity, the Teacher, the Comforter, The Life Giver, the guardian of truth, the worker of miracles, the giver of Gifts to whom he will, the one who will reject that which is unholy from the Church, the one who takes the words of Christ and makes them available to our understanding and obedience. 

Even before there is a single line of the New Testament is written the Word of God was upheld, and maintained and protected. That is: before there was a consciously ’scripture preserving’ organisation the Holy Spirit kept the faith vibrant and consistent. It was off course maintained by the same Spirit who inspired every word of the Tanahk, the Old Testament, as we know it. All Scripture was given by the breath of God. The Church councils did not create the Bible, they ratified what was accepted by the majority of the Churches in existence.

The earliest written gospel is thought to be Matthew’s. It must have been written down by the latest AD 70 when Jerusalem was destroyed. (A fragment of Marks gospel has been dated as early as ca 65 AD) From the year 30 or thereabouts, the content of all the gospels was kept alive for at least one life span, 30 years, in the believers and their leadership without the aid of anything written. The Church depends on the Scriptures, not the other way round, and the scriptures are safeguarded as to their content by the Spirit of truth. That is how the Church in generation after generation has rediscovered the word of God and been given revelation insights which have given new impetus to the gospel work. The Church (read into that various still existing Churches) has made it all but impossible to read the scriptures for many of it’s members for hundreds of years. They read on pain of death! 

Today the same is done by elevating formal theological learning so high above the ordinary people so as to solidly undermine the ordinary believer’s faith in them being able to understand the Word of God. The end is the same, only the methods differ. There is but a small step from ”you must not read” to ”you may read, but don’t think that you can understand”! Then the pulpit no longer instructs but intimidates. 

Church structures have never been able to prevent one form or other of corruption and defection from the Truth once and for all given to the Saints. Thereunto the Reformations testify with unbattened eyelids. I note that Revivals rarely do much Reformation work. And because they do not, the happy fugitives from the oppressive church are soon roped back into the fold. And as with the house cleared of one demon, seven worse demons take up the house left by the first. (What are the remaining effects of the Welsh Revival in Wales? Where is the Toronto blessing? Where did the Cambuslang wark go after the departure of Whitfield? What happened to the folks from Azusa Street?) Every form of life creates it’s own form. But form is no more than the byproduct of life, and life can have fled while the form remains. That is the ultimate testimony of every fossil. 

The Lord Jesus Christ will Baptize in the Spirit Mark 1:8, John 1:25, Acts 1:5, Acts 2:28, Acts 11:16, 19:3-4 It is possible to have been baptized in water for the remission of sin, but the new life is given consciously to them that will receive. It is evidently possible to be properly baptised in water but not know the Life of Christ within. 

The Fruit and outcome of the Spiritual Baptism is manifold. You know that God is your father and that you have inheritance in the Kingdom. You know that your sins are forgiven and that you cannot add to the saving work of Christ. You have the love of God poured out in your heart. You avoid, detest and hate the sins of the flesh and you pursue that which is from above, no longer fulfilling the lust of the flesh. Romans 5, 6, 8, Gal 5. You ”walk as you have received”, you allow the regular infilling of the Spirit and you never quench the Spirit on whom your christian life depends entirely. To call the work of the Spirit the work of Satan is the one and only unpardonable sin. 

The law within

The most significant effect of the Baptism in the Spirit is the change over from an outward set of dos and don’ts to an inward presence of the Spiritual law. Both the Prophet and the Apostle are totally agreed on this issue. It is remarkable that the teaching is so clear but the follow through of those scriptures are all but invisible in the history of the actual churches, all dogmas and systematic theology set aside. Morality of an outward manner can be enjoined, demanded and conformed to. Conformation in the inner man can never be accomplished by external coersion. It begins with his or her regeneration and is maintained by walking in the Spirit. Being sanctified by the Spirit and the Word. 

Hear the Prophet’s words first: Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man and with the seed of beast. As I have watched over them to pluck up, to break down, to overthrow, to destroy and to bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,” declares the Lord.
“In those days they will not say again,
‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes,
And the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ 
But everyone will die for his own iniquity; each man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth will be set on edge.
Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”Jer 31:27-34 
The Apostle knows full well that this is the paramount difference between the covenants. The old was based on laws externally written on tables of stone. The new is internally written on tablets of flesh in the inner man. 

” Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you? You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 

Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” 2 Cor 3:1-6 

And the entire 7th chapter of Romans is the high and crystal clear declaration of the relationship between the old law aimed at the flesh and the new law within as it feeds the spirit in me. ”For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.” Rom 7:22-23 

In Galatians the entire letter deals with that very conflict between the law written inside us and the struggle resulting from the war between flesh and Spirit. ” But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another. Gal 5:16-26 

This life is the resurrection life of Christ in the born again who at their Baptism shed off the old man and buried it with Christ in His death and now have been given the Holy Spirit of God the Father and Christ the Son to become like the Son by that inward presence. Theology splits these things into different things often dealt with as if they did not belong together. Life is not given on an instalment plan but as a whole. The only thing that is added from birth to glorious passing into eternity is spiritual food. (In church also, you become what you eat.) 

”Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Holy Spirit.” Such transformation is not incidental or accidental, it is what goes on in the Body of Christ as each member is fitted into the whole building and receives the benefit of the contribution of all members to the whole. It is the very aim of spiritual fellowship.

Dismembered limbs do not grow nor do they go on in ’works beforehand prepared’. Ignoring the work of the Spirit in the Church is to first quench the Spirit, secondly to extinguish it, and lastly to lose it. Begin now from the back end: what is happening in the Church that must needs have only the Spirit of God as explanation, cause and origin for it’s life and work?

The Spirit speaks to the Church, words that were never written in the Bible, says the Bible. When the ”sola scriptura” tune is sung in the wrong way then we will deny that the Spirit speaks to the church after the end of the New Testament except in biblical statements. This idea cannot be found in the New Testament Church life. And in reality the history of the church is full of spiritual events for which there is no biblical precedent while still being recognized by all as a work of the Spirit. A few examples... 

In Acts ch 5 we are given to understand the very powerful presence of the Spirit in monitoring righteousness and actually calling back the life from the sinner, resulting in imediate death of the one attempting to lie to the Spirit of truth. 

Deacons/servers in the Church were not merely created by the ordination to the task, but were first equipped by the Spirit for the task. Gifts of the Spirit for ministry are given by the Spirit and then recognized by the Church. That these serving gifts are not static is seen in the life of Philip who begins as a deacon to serve Greek widows but soon find himself being an evangelist in Samaria before hastily becoming a teacher of the Word to a man seeking God. The ministering gifts are given relative to the task at hand. Not on the basis of merit or desire by the servant. The sovereignty of the Spirit over the gifts must not be lost sight of. Given the need, any gift can operate through any person at any time, and even anywhere. 

At the execution of Stephen, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, comes to the man and shows him a heavenly vision. ”He saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” Many martyrs since have similarily been strengthened by such extraordinary events. But there are those who deny that the Spirit still works that way today. I suppose they say that because they have not yet been stoned. Then again, the vapid testimony of the spiritless simply does not qualify them for such witnessing. (’Martus’, from which we derive the English ”martyr” means ’witness’ in greek.) 

The Deacon Philip was remarkably snatched away and transported miles from his point of takeoff to be forced to pass through lands as yet unreached by the gospel. Modern transportation cannot hold a candle to that luminous carriage. (Similarily transported was the apostle John during the Revelation on Patmos.) 

Peter the apostle has an encounter with the Holy Spirit in Acts ch 10. The hungry apostle sees a vision and hears a voice which he identifies as the Lord. (As the Holy Spirit will only always take the words of Christ and give them to us there is no difficulty in this.) While reflecting on the vision the Holy Spirit told him to get off the roof and meet the deputation. A deputation sent by the Spirit himself. 

The visit to Cornelius is a visit to the first non Jewish believer. And while Peter is speaking, the Spirit is poured out over the hearers. And a repetition of the events ”as on us in the beginning”, referring to the day of Pentecost ocurs. Prophetic ministry occurred in the city of Antioch where the prophet Agabus ”by the Spirit” presented the preview of a famine to come. The Church rallied in making a contribution to Jerusalem, hardest hit congregation. Specific, situationrelated applications of revelation knowledge guided the Church. Then and at many many occasions since then. 

Paul goes up to Jerusalem after years of ministry in order to have his ministry confirmed. He did not go to be licensed for doing what he had done so faithfully for most of fourteen years, but ”because of a revelation I went up”. Christ speaking to him again as on the road to Damascus? As Christ had given him private tuition in the matter of the Lord’s supper according to 1 Corintians 11? 

Some of the theologies to which I have referred deny that the Spirit of God will still be doing things like that today. When and why that castration or self-isolation of the Spirit is supposed to have happened and why is not shown to be according to ’Sola Scriptura’. The cessationist position on the supernatural work of the Spirit is based on the seriously misinterpreted portion in 1 Cor 13. I may return to that. 

The Spirit continued to work long past the supposed martyrdom of Paul. The first three chapters in the Revelation of John adress the Churches with the same sort of phraseology as when the Church in Antioch in Acts ch 13 was told by the Spirit:”separate unto me Paul and Barnabas for the work to which I have called them”. I note that this was an experience of a Church that spent time in prayer and fasting. ”Hear what the Spirit says to the churches..” Almost the last phrase of the Bible says ”The Spirit and the Bride say ”come”. And let the one who hears it say ”come”. And let the one who is thirsty come, let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.” 
John was alive at least 40 years later than Paul. 

Let us be absolutely clear on this: wether the Spirit has stopped all such activities or not has been one of the sharpest dividers within the Church. The suppression of the Active Presence of the Spirit is theological hardware. Whole denominations adhere to it, defend it and are willing to die for it. On the other hand that very suppression of what the word still proclaims has led to the growth of whole other denominations in wilder or milder pursuit of the very things which have been ejected by theology from the written Word. This counter-movement has been given the most vile abuse over the centuries, and has in part deserved those epitets because of it’s equally blind refusal to pursue the whole truth about the gifts and ministries. The pendulum swings, and like a game of table skittles will not stop until all skittles have been knocked down. 

But at what cost? A deeply divided Church actively denying the Unity of the Church, vilifieng Christ and trampling the gospel of Grace underfoot. And the world does not see Christ because it does not see the one thing Christ said would prove His coming to the world. ” As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.”John 17:20-21 

Or: by ignoring the Holy Spirit’s teaching about the Body of Christ . I suggest, on good Scriptural evidence, that where the Holy Spirit is absent from the Body, there the Spirit has been quenched. But well may you ask: What is the evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit? 

Sola scriptura answers: ”Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.

But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” 

Theology ought to be ”Word of God” to the people, but it is in a Babylonian captivity to it’s opposite: ”The people’s words about God”. And the Holy Spirit does not now, nor ever, stand behind the words of man. Frozen in dead theologies it cannot be mistaken for ”the living word”, because the living word produces life, not theology. The Apostles and the Prophets made it plain that the Christian faith is faith in Christ alone, the cornerstone. Ah, says the Church universal, in one form or the other: but Christ cannot be understood outside the church and /or it’s theology. 

Christ himself did not think so. Nor did his apostles. Right and sound doctrine is not in words only but in the power of the Life that Christ gives to them who by the Scriptures have come to Him. Doctrine is the greek word ”didaskalia”, meaning ”teaching”. Teaching is never accomplished until it has produced the life of which the teaching speaks. It is not the information given in the teaching, but the life produced by it that is sound doctrine. 

”Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.” Rom 14:16-18 

Until we have as great a yearning for doing right in the Lord as being correct in the words we say about Him, we do not need the Spirit ministering among us at all. The obverse side of that coin is this: if we do not do what we see in the Word, then the Spirit, the executive member of the Trinity, is effectively silenced and quenched. 

I wish I was wrong. 


”Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” 

Having spent a few pages on a discussion about the much applauded but also rather complex concept of ”Sola Scriptura”, this last chapter must needs attempt a redressing of some balance by stating and declaring what we could be doing in the Churches at the end of the ages. For surely we must be close to the end of the ”Times of the Gentiles”. 

”How should we then live?” 

”But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.
Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.

Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. 2 Peter 3:10-18 

The thoughts about the imminent return of the Lord caused many Christians to bow out from the ordinary world and from all responsibility in both social and spiritual life. This is the reason why Paul in Thessalonians gives serious reprimands to those who squander their time in a chiliastic frenzy of being busybodies and sloths and being useful to neither fellow man nor God. The right attitude to any understanding of the end times is not panic, not a surrender to speculation or fear or any of the machinations of religious manipulations. The attitude of Martin Luther seems eminently recommendable: ”If I was told that the World would end tomorrow, then today I would plant an apple tree.” (I am not even sure that Luther actually said that, but he can have credit for it. He was very astute in so many ways.) 

So in one sense: when you see the signs, be ready, and in the other sense: business as usual. And so what is business as usual in the Body of Christ? 

Understanding the relationship between the Head and the Body

Eph 1:15-23 is the drawer to be opened and it’s content unpacked. Paul addresses those who have faith in the Lord Jesus. He asumes their love for one another. ”Agapatä allelous”, (John 13:34, twice) love one another is the indicator for that which equals the ligaments in the ordinary body. Church history shows that assumption to be rather unfounded. According to Romans 5:10 the evidence of the Holy Spirit at home in the Church is ”.. and hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Rom 5:5 If that love is not present then the outpouring of the Spirit may not as yet have happened. ”Seek ye the Lord While He may be found.” What was given by God may however not have been received by us. We certainly cannot claim to have it if it is not present. And should anyone doubt what Love looks like then Paul also provides the meaning and content of Love, of ”Agapä”, in that famous chapter 13 in 1 Cor. 

The Love of God does not look for something in us to love based on our value to Him. But He creates value in the one whom He loves. Moses stumbled into that mystery and shared his understanding with us: ”For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 

“The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the Lord loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the Lord brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” Deuteronomy 7:6-7 He loves you because He loves You, for no other reason. That is the depth of mercy and depository of God’s Grace. We will never be able to thank Him enough. 

It is always easy to love those who do us a good turn. That is also a kind of fraternal love, but the Love of God goes beyond that. ”But God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” If the love on show in any Church is only for the likeminded and acceptable, then it is not yet the love of God. What comes natural is not the Love of God by the Spirit. 

The importance of the phrase in Eph ch 1:19-23 is another real eye opener about the Church life. 

”These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. ” 

What does it mean to agree to the Sovereign headship of Christ in all things in the whole universe, and most certainly in the Congregation of the saints? By Baptism the individual is raised from the dead by the same power that raised Christ from the dead. That is where the real proof stone is. Not merely in the saving work of the individual but in the building up of the body of which Christ is the sovereign Head. To ignore what the Bible teaches about the life of the body while teaching the sovereignty of God is to deny the Head a body at all. Election and predestination are not ends in themselves, but they select the building blocks for the Spiritual temple, they produce the individual limbs of the body. And these are predestined to conformity with Christ! 

As in the human body every cell is the bearer of the image of the whole body, so in Christ every believer carries the image of Christ and is perfected in that development until the conformity with Christ is fully matured. There is no difference in kind between believers, only difference in their role in the Body. And certainly in their growth to spiritual maturity. ” Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. I John 3:2-3 

It may be unkind, but will be very true all the same, to speak of the headless body called ”church”. Not that the universal Church is Headless, but many local ones perform as if they were. Wether there is a meaningful distinction to made between the Universal Church and the local has always been a debated topic. But as local churches are formed and then eventually disappear into historical oblivion, the Universal Church never dies. God Himself safeguards the presence of His name on earth whatever Church politics say. ”Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.” 1 Ki 19:18 If a Rapture removes the universal Church from earth, Churches may continue to exist as powerless and as devoid of the Cross of Christ as they already are today. 

There has been a considerable struggle in the history of Christianity as to the role of the visible Church. From ”Nullam ecclesiam, nullam salus” (no church, no salvation) to ”we don’t need the Church at all’ and everything in between. To my understanding the confusion arises from the inability to understand that the only legitimate ”Ecclesia” is the living body of Christ, not the local ecclesiastical organisation. (For an ingenius attempt to soften the claim of the Church of Rome regarding the matter see: salvation-outside-the-church-means

But having said that, no real life is ever without form. So the question about the outer church organisation cannot be waved aside. Any fellowship of believers (all the way down to the ’two or three gathered in my Name,’) is part of the Universal Church. There is not one Church blue print that is recreated in every place where the Church is planted. Church life consists of real human bodies present in a certain location and therefore it cannot be without form. The Word became flesh, was it not so? How that form is organised depends on the life of the Spirit within it. Two or three witnesses are needed for any matter to be settled in both Church life and in the matter of interpretation of the scriptures, and what two or three agree on in prayer stands better before God than that of the individual prayer.

The most prevalent form of many Churches is one that can be expressed by the letters P P P, meaning, Pulpet, Preacher, Program. Hold that up to the teaching in Pauls letters and it is ’mene, mene tekel’. ”Reckoned and come to an end, weighed and found deficit” (Dan 5:25) It is not entirely wrong, but too little. It is akin to manning a Cambridge Eight with only two oars. The progress will be considerably less than that of the Oxford Eight. Any bets on Cambridge winning? What would the odds be? 1000 to 1? 
The Head has given to the Body a set of working ministries. Is it not so? Ephesians 4:11-13 ”And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” In fact there is no example of a Church built on the foundations of the Prophets and Apostles that does not have a multitude of ministries and therefore ministers. As servants of the manifold gifts of the Spirit the Church is a body where some parts will receive greater honor by their work in the Church, but they are not a different or higher class. Church History is a splendid exposition of a class society where the few are elevated above the many. 

The defining factor of any minister is found in the last verse cited above. ”To the building up of the body of Christ, until we all attain to the Unity of the Faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” How does anyone imagine that a one voice leadership can do that alone? It was impossible in the early church, it is impossible today. But two thousand years after the start ”two oar” eights are still drifting down the stream. (The coxswain is left on shore.) And the seminaries continue to turn out soloists when choristers are needed. 

The elders, pastors, missionaries, prophets are not there to be employed by the Church to be paid to do a myriad of jobs in lieu of the membership. They are there to train the saints to do their work. That means that every minister is in the process of raising up more ministers, teaches others so that when the work is done, the teacher can move on to a new place where the daisy chain of five generation leadership can restart. This is what the Bible shows. Teaching is the task: skilled workers the result. Teachers are one fifth of the gifts of Christ to the Church. Where are they today? For an explanation of what I mean by daisy chain teaching see 2 Tim 2:2. Do not confuse Preacher with Teacher. Preach is either ”euangelizo”, ”kerusso” et al, meaning proclaim, exhort, herald forth, et al. The Preacher is the ”kerux” who does the work of ”kerygma”. The Holy Spirit who inspired every word of the whole Bible never made the mistake of mixing or mistaking the preacher for the teacher, neither does He pretend that they are the same. 

Teacher is something totally other than preacher but they are equally important in the life of the body. The preacher mans one pair of oars. The Teacher another. Teach is ”didasko”, give instruction, ”paideuo”, instruct and train, ”katecheo” to inform. For discipling another word is used: ”mathetuo” and it is used in Matthew 28, ”make disciples of all nations by teaching”. Preaching does not make disciples, it makes listeners and hearers. Disciples are instructed to do. The single most grevious mistake is to equate membership with discipleship. The Preacher proclaims the gospel so that the Holy Spirit can begin the work of conviction of sin and therefore leads to the need for salvation. The teacher teaches the saved how to walk in the Salvation. The Church is the fellowship of those who are being saved and so the teacher is essential for growth. 

The Spirit of Christ appoints Elders in every church. Elders/presbyters is a collective term for leaders of the Church. A multiple and spiritually gifted leadership is evidence of the presence of the Spirit of Christ. The Head rules the Church by the many, not by the one. Why? Because ”we all see in part, in many matters we all fail”. Each minister in the Church is held accountable before Christ by the others, no dictators can grow in the Church of Christ. No man or woman is ever gifted for the whole. However skilled the person is by comparison to the rest of the Church, the Spirit gives His gifts to whomever He will. There is not one example of any minister in the Church over two thousand years who had been given more than a smattering of the gifts needed for the needs of the entire Church. The Whole Body needs all the Gifts, and they are never given to one man only. Never.

Holding fast to the Head.

The body is never quicker, more lively, more effective it it’s work than the hold it has on the Head. All that Christ is and has flows from the head out into the body. This Paul also adressed in no uncertain terms, and he did so in the power of insight and discernment given by the Holy Spirit. Col 2:18-20

”Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.” 

If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, do not touch, do not handle...”Growth is expected but can be thwarted.

The true ministry of the shepherd is to see to it that every sheep in the flock is close to the Chief Shepherd of the Sheep. The Sheep are to be taught to hear the voice of the Shepherd who calls them by name. The shepherd can only do the work if himself close to the Shepherd, and not simply a hireling concerned more with his wages than the Sheep, which belong to another to whom the pastor is only a servant. Hence the dire warning to the leadership in both Acts ch 20 and 1 Peter 5.
”Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; ” 

”Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. 

Does anything seem unclear? What is the evidence of the presence of the Spirit in the Church? Would not the answer be obvious? A plural leadership appointed by and energized by the Chief Shepherd through the Holy Spirit. 

Your Body and mine

The major NT image is that of the living body which is also a living temple, and Paul has set out the way we ought to think of ourselves very clearly in his letter to the Corinthians. The first and totally game changing insight is that the believer never ceases to be ”Church”. And therefore the believers are the Church on the road, not to ”Church” as in ”building” but towards the Kingdom of God of which the Church is a harbinger. (How far from home can the garden snail go?) 

This insight is the opposite to ”Sunday Christianity”. And it challenges every notion of ’going to church’ if what that means is that we are something else when in congregation than when in our home within our smaller circle. As a Christian never ceases to be that so the Church is never less than the invisible reality of the Body of which Christ is the head. To identify the Church only with the visible congregation is as false as seeing mushrooms in the forest and believing the above ground bodies to be the actual mushroom. They are not, they are the fruit of the invisble organism. 

As no member of the physical body can survive one hour if detached so the church body cannot be divided up into it’s components unless also the whole Body suffers. This teaching is so central to what the Holy Spirit taught through the apostle that it is virtually inconceivable how Church organisation has largely replaced the Body consciousness. It never becomes more evident than when you consider that Church meetings deal 99.99% with earthly matters but hardly at all with the need of the Spiritual body of the believers. 

Not so the New Testament church. The division into clergy and laiety has been the most harmful and unscriptural ’cutting asunder of the Body’ and the practice has far-reaching consequences. The ”priesthood of all believers” is primarily expressed by the most unlikely person of all: The Apostle Peter, on whom the Roman Church and to a lesser but equally pernicious extent, the major reformed Churches, base everything from Popery to the Single Pastor leadership. 

I reprint the key concept from 1 Peter 2:1-9 The quenching of the Spirit of truth is never seen more clearly than when one compares what ”Churches” do and what the Word of God says that Church is.
”Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.

And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For this is contained in Scripture:
“Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”
This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, 

“The stone which the builders rejected,
This became the very corner stone,”

“A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense”;
for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed. 

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are a people of God, you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy.” 

The passage warrants a deep exegesis for which there is no space here. But enough is visible and should be noted by all. The indvidual’s trust in the Salvation and faith in the completed work of the Saviour cannot be separated from the concept of what that salvation must lead to: the priesthood of all believers. The upbuilding of the Body into a holy temple whithin which the same status is accorded to the smallest member as to the most prominent. It is a most unscriptural thing to spend most of the work and energy to get people to come to Christ and then ignoring what they come to Christ for. It is not a matter of either or, but of both and. 

Nota bene: the priesthood of believers in no way does away with leadership within the Church. But it drastically changes the way that leadership operates.

In stark opposition to the pyramidal hierarchy of the most common Churches the Church of Christ stands that Pyramid on it’s head. The servant ministry has very little attraction for the ambition of the flesh to lead. ”Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.”

Historically the empowering of the people has always been seen by the clergy as a threat to them. Having travelled through a few hundred pages of reformation history and listened to them all from Luther to Zwingly to More to Tunstall and dozens of other actors I know how fiercely the likes of those who maintain the insights from every one in the entire New Testament, from the day of Pentecost forwards have been shunned, cursed and vilified. While most revivals have come back to those insights, once the revival Spirit was shut down for one reason or other, official clerkdom and clergy has taken over again. The statistics of ”one man pastor dropouts” from Churches and one person leaderships that lead whole Churches into fallacy and error are rarely spoken of. 

The very reality of Pentecost was the outpouring without respecting of persons on all flesh. They have all received the anointing. Whereas the Old Covenant is clear on the anoiting of Priest, Prophet and King, the only anoited one in the New Covenant is he who is the King of Kings, The High Priest over all, and the Prophet of Prophets. Those who are in him are partakers of His anointing, again with no exceptions. The ”HaMeshiach” is Christ the ”Anointed”, and by their spiritual union those who are in Him share in a common anointing.

2 Corinthians 1:20-24
”For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us. Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge. 

But I call God as witness to my soul, that to spare you I did not come again to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but are workers with you for your joy; for in your faith you are standing firm.”
Who are the ’us’ anointed in God? The very same who where sealed by the same spirit. The only other passage in the entire NT about the anointing is from 1 John 2:20, 27-29 

”But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know!
”As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him. 

Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming. If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him.” 

Those who are in Christ and in whom Christ lives are the anointed ones. All of them. So says ”sola Scriptura”. 

I remarked in the previous text about the major difference between the Old and the New Covenant being that the new places the law inside of the believer. And that therefore much of the teaching of the believer comes by the indwelling Spirit and allows the believer to be confident that the Spirit will take the Words of Christ and give them to those who believe in Christ. The author of the Scripture is also the inward interpreter of it. In the same vein and train of thought Paul writes to the Church in Rome, which he only knows by hearsay, and unashamedly confirms what the Spirit spoke to Jeremiah. It is expected by the Lord and His Spirit that the word of Christ will dwell richly in all believers. It is expected that all questions arising from their individual reading would be answered by the teachers, and pastors of the Church. The leadership being there for a major and most critical role: that of equipping the saints! 

”I for myself, am absolutely convinced that you are all filled with goodness and knowledge and are well able to admonish one another.” Rom 15:14 Paul had no other understanding about the ordinary believers when writing about the way the Spirit gave gifts to the entire collective of the Church in Romans 12 and most defintely in 1 Corinthians ch 12-14. In deed Church assembly is the business of what each member comes to contribute to the upbuilding of the whole body. As part of the content of the Early Church as shown in acts 2:42 there were four essential elements. Some involved the leadership: following the apostles teaching, some were the collective ministering to each other both practically and spiritually, and the summarizing elements of the Breaking of bread and the prayers. 

A scenario where the people come to sit for a goodly hour to be merely spoken to has no likeness to anything produced by the Holy Spirit. And if what is said from the pulpit never touches on what the Church could be, it is most unlikely that it ever will become what it should. Emergency rations cause little growth or hope for a different future. 

The evidence of the Church endowed by the gifts of the Spirit is in the multitude of the working gifts and in the conscious and deliberate teaching of the entire counsel/purpose of God. Acts 20:26-28. The curtailing of the gifts is also the limitation of the Spirit: a quenching. 

”Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. ”

What was the one and decisive task of the Disciples? You have all heard it so often that it is almost an embarrassment to have to repeat it. But what other way is there except to repeat what is not done but in part. Matthew 28:18-20 ”And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” 

Making disciples, (not merely members) preaching and proclaiming the coming Kingdom. His Authority backs up His purpose. Submitting the world to the operation of the Holy Spirit by the proclamation of the Truth. Making men miserable before making them blessed. Making sure that they die from the life of Sin and rise to newness of life in Christ which is the effect of the Spirit indwelling all believers and equipping them with gifts for ministry, not for their indvidual glory. That is what Baptism is for. And then teaching them everything that Christ commanded. And the Presence of Christ Himself by the Holy Spirit is the prerequisite for any of those tasks.

Why are these things not on the lips of every believer? Because by and large their preachers do not teach it. But here is one of the real offensive abuses of the living word evident. While denying the Church an understanding of what the Church is in the eyes of God, preachers will chide those who stop going to their ”Church” by citing Hebrews 10:25 but almost always ignoring the context and other content of v19-25. 

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” 

What about Sola Scriptura? 

I began by questioning the phrase ”Sola Scriptura”. What I have written in every section of this thesis is squarely backed up by what the Scripture actually says. But it could not have been said unless we accept that ’Sola Scriptura’ cannot stand alone, not even in the light of Scripture. Unless the Holy Spirit uses the written word it will not accomplish much more than satisfying theological curiosity.

Unless the word is received by active faith in the indvidual the word remains ineffective 

Unless the whole word of God is give to the whole church in all times it will not be what it was called into existence for. 

Unless the Word in all parts is honestly allowed to be what it claims to be, there is little reason to believe that the presence of Christ will be evident. The Word of God does not stand behind the mere words of men. 

There is no holiness without the Holy Spirit. There is no efficacy of the spoken Word without the full support of the Holy Spirit. But if the Word is arbitrarily truncated in any way, then the Spirit is quenched, and there is no liberty, no ministry, and no evidence of the coming of Christ into the world. 

Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, Solus Spiritu Santo, Soli Deo Gloria, that is the message of the Scriptures. ”Scripture, alone, Faith alone, Grace alone, Christ alone, The Spirit alone, The Glory of God alone.” But only if seen together. Just like the living assembly of the Firstborn: the Church of Christ. Alone in repentance, conversion, new birth and Baptism, together in the life of Faith. ”For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; (Not male and female actually) for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” 

Kyrie Eleison! 


”When you come together” 

What could the Church in 2020 be when it has understood what has been written in the the whole Scripture? How would the Body of believers interact and be built up? If we understand that the Church is the physical body that Christ has taken up as his new Humanity instead of the body that was crucified, what would that mean for our seeing ourselves as a Body? We know that he left his own human frame behind at the death on the cross. But then the resurrection from the dead raised Him up to a new and different quality of life, a life which He then imparts to his earthly body so that ”as I am in the world so are you”! You are the light of the world as I was that light while I was with you. But now you all with unveiled faces are looking towards me constantly and my glory will be reflected from you to the world that is shivering in the darkness of anxious fear, waiting for the morning.” ”Fear not little flock, it has pleased the Father to give the kingdom to you.” 

The church includes all those who are born again in every locality. But the visible church cannot be all together in one place or express the whole life of the body in large numbers. Only certain things can be done by the many, many things must be done by and among the few. The biblical organisation of the ”church in the wilderness” was set up, with ”leaders of thousands, of hundreds, and of fifties and of tens”. That is a division of responsiblity and the basis of accountability by the ”select and able men who fear God, men of truth who hate dishonest gain.” The new testament church changes nothing in that eminent advise by Jethro to Moses. Nay rather, it upholds it entirely by the plurality of elders. 

Elders do not as such grow on apple trees but must be trained and encouraged. As in the book of Daniel men were chosen with an aptitude to learn and to lead, so Timothy in his time was set to appoint and train the needed leadership. Leaders of the Church grew up in the Church, were recognized as leadership material and trained in the Church. The principle being that locally grown leadership knows the sheep, being on of them. Paul and Barnabas were one year in Antioch and in that time they made themselves superfluous by raising up ”Teachers and prophets”. The normal church is constantly working on multiplying it’s leadership because it anticipates growth numerically, but only mature christians attract to the church, only trained and mature christians will at every moment be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in them. 

”Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.” 

”But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. ” 

These things are not automatic, nor accidental, they must deliberately be taught in the Church, by example, by preaching and by teaching and by practicing. The teaching is formal and informal, in the whole church and in the smaller subdivisions down to the home. This is the nitty gritty business of the whole church, not just some officers in it. (Every section of the smaller Catechism of Luther starts: ”As the head of the family should teach them in a simple way to his household ”). 

As previously mentioned the church is it’s living membership and wherever it meets there the Head of the Church blesses every member of the body, within the body, for the body and through the body to the world. So we find that nobody ever mistakes the meeting place for the meeting, no body thinks less of a small house group meeting than of the whole church gathered together. Different needs are met in appropriate places. Prayergroups by the river, the church in your house, the assembled believers in the synagoges of the jews, (until they were thrown out), in the temples of the time, but irrespective of where they met or how many they were, they were the Church of Christ. The building never defines, limits or qualifies the Church. But it is fitted to specific tasks. The ultimate insight of the Church is that it is itself a holy temple. Entirely dependant on the Holy One of God. 

”Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? [....] Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. ” 

”So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” 

”Onward Christian soldiers”
One of the major streaks of teaching about the Church is in the terminology of an army. As much as all of the peace of God which passes understanding is the inherited right if the Church, this peace is not available in the absence of struggle but a condition for success in it. From Monday to Saturday every single member of the church is out there in the world facing the schemes and viles and ruses and attacks of the Evil One. Not one of them sails through those onslaughts unscathed and unharmed. ”In many matters we all fail”.

We may ask: where are we equipped for that battle? And the answer ought to be unanimous and irrefutable. At the feet of Him who is the Commander of the armies of the Lord, The Yahweh Sabaoth! The armory of the army-Church is also the field hospital of the Church-army. A chilling reality which has been the deepest chagrin of many is the fact that the indvidual is often seen going alone into battle with ofttime unsuitable armor (such as when king Saul tried to dress up David in his own xxxl gear), only to be forsaken at the critical moment by the rest of the army. The fate of Uriah the Hittite in the army of David is well known in the Church. No other army sends it’s soldiers alone into the battle and then punishes them for being struck down by the enemy. 

The meeting together is both for ’debriefing’ after battle, and preparation for the next round. It is for sharing of victory and defeat. It is for binding up the wounds and replenishing munition. It is resting place and refurbishing and rearming and sending again after failure with renemed faith in the meaningfulness of the strife. How badly Paul must have felt: ”At my first defense no one stood by me.” It cannot be an accident that Christ never sent anyone on their own. But the truth is that when we are left alone He will stand by, and have us sing, even with tears in our eyes. ”In Christ alone...” 

But that is his expeditionary force, not the well trained army of the Church. The teaching of Paul in Ephesians chapter 6:10-19 is not a subdivision of the extreme life of some church, it is the base and boot camp of every division of the army of the Lord. Facing the enemy without the armour is not what God allows. So the Church must make room for this constant need of re-armament and preparation for battle, for every member, however young in the battle. If it does not, then it might as well open the next page in the book of casualties. 

Courage to fight and perseverance to stand firm are fruit of the Spirit. The armour is always lacking in protection for those who turn from the battle and are ’shot in a cinch in the armour’ like king Ahab. Paul himself severely castigated the young Mark for folding under pressure and would have nothing to do with a coward. However Barnabas picked Mark and and picked him up. Leave no soldier alone. Least of all if he is wounded.. 

But how can the Church support unless it knows what enemies are gathered on my battle front? It is rather hard to see how the teaching and prayer ministry of the Leadership of the Church can adress and meet the needs of the people when it does not give a space for the voice of the people to make your needs known’. (One pastor to know all sixtyfive sheep?) 

The Church is sometimes accused of ’answering questions nobody asks any longer” and that happens when the ministry of the word is disconnected from the life in and of the Body. Here is a serious problem. On the one hand the Church must teach the whole Purpose of God which does not depend on what people are facing in real life, but rather lays the foundation of the Prophets and the Apostles under the edifice of the spiritual temple. On the other hand it has a prophetic ministry to adress the actual issues faced by the Church when they are not in ”the church building”. 

”Prophecy” means ’to speak before, in front of”, and is the software application of the eternal word of God to real situations, it is the ’cutting edge’ where the Church meets the world. It is where the word comes to expression to the world through the Church. The interface between the Church, which is not of the world but still in it, needs the prophetic ministry to apply the Word over against what the world is doing. The best NT example is how Paul meets and speaks to the Athenians. To them he cannot present the scriptures as such, which is easy when he is among the Jews, so here the Word steps into the actual mental and intellectual milieu and cuts through the waffle of philosophy and religion and brings home the central message with not a word of reference to the written word. 

But every word of what he said was prophetic, in that it said what is true from the Bible in front of the Athenians. So he needed not to justify what he said by referring to chapter and verse, for the truth contained therein can be said in other words if the needs of the public are such. It is part and parcel of the removing of stumbling blocks other than the cross. 

”So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” 

Preaching” that is relevant adresses real life issues with which people grapple. Too often it is simply a rambling homily on anything and everything leaving nothing to remember or do something with or even something that elicits anything in the way of a response. I was most deeply impressed and embarrassed recently when a speaker in Norway came to a huge gathering of people for a second time and was expected to bring another ’rousing and cheering’ sermon. The Speaker sat along while in the chair after the nod was given for the ’preaching slot on the program’. When finally standing at the pulpit, more silence. The auditorium filled with the rustling of uneasy shiftings in the comfortable chairs. Then the speaker raised the head and said: ”I have been much challenged by what I should say today. I have been appealing to the Lord to give me something for you. But all He has said to me is this: ”Why should I again give this people of my precious word when they have not done anything with what I gave them last time.” Curtain call... 

All the five ministering gifts given by Christ to the Church have a ’ministry of the Word and prayer.” To discern what the ”apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers do is to see that they are word-workers in different ways and on different levels within the Body. Basically they correspond to the various targets that the ”godbreathed scriptures” have in the life of the Body. 

You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” Rare indeed is the one worker who is equipped with all those gifts. But many, because they are employed by those who do not see the difference between these giftings, demand all of them while paying for only one. 

When the Church no longer sees it’s task as equipping the saints then of course there is no need for all of the voices of this panoply. Then mere emergency ration preaching is what is left. The variety of ministries of the Word are directly proportional to the aim of the Church Body. ”Where there is no vision/revelation, the people are unrestrained/perish.” The unwanted gifts are not given, and if given and not recognized they will be withdrawn, and those who have that calling and equipment will leave that local fellowship. Or God will give them another field to plow. 

One Body of believers? 

If the word of God be true, there is one church in every city. In every city of our experince there are many churches. All of them have mostly only one pastor. Go listen to them and you may hear that each of them has a distinct emphasis along the lines of ’apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher. So this person is one fifth of the gifts of Christ to His Church in our town. But the other four fifths are only available to each their own fold. And so no part of the Church has more than a fifth of all that Christ gave. A church planting apostle is not much use without an evangelist to win souls, an evangelist who knows how to bring them in but not how to feed them to stay and grow is of little use, since those who walk away disgruntled give the church a bad name. A teacher is left high and dry if he has too few to teach unless he is also an evangelist, and what can a pastor do who has no other than a small flock full of sores and wounds that are never healed? What can a prophet accomplish if the Church does not live what it believes? To proclaim the word to the world demands that there is a church that lives what it speaks. 

All these things are experiential, not merely theoretical. What would happen if the Church in any location saw that is was but a part of a whole! And that it’s poverty was due to its individuality and separateness from the rest of the Body of Christ? The single most painful passage in Scripture outside of the actual crucifixion of our Lord is the lament of Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:10-13 

”Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” 

I ask you, as gently as I can, does not shame blossom on our faces when we are asked if Christ is divided? And would not our shame deepen if we found out that we are keeping busy maintaining those divisions? 

When you come together

This is the hottest potatoe of them all. There is truly very little room in the normal evangelical church program for the very important aspect of the Body building itself up by the contributions of each member to the whole. The ”program” is so limited that only a few ever ”perform” on the ”platform”. What does the scripture say? 

For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; 8 or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. ” 

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. 

For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body is not one member, but many.” 

What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and one must interpret; but if there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, the first one must keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.

As we all know nothing has broken the peace among brothers, all claiming to be in the Lord, more effectively that the ”charismatic gifts”. Large tracts of the Church deny them and consequently these gifts are not allowed in their assemblies. They insist that the Holy Spirit, whose gifts they are, distributed them for a while, but then, without telling the Church anything about it, closed his gift bag and what we have today is all that he now liberally gives to the Church. Which is what anybody can see and hear for themselves. But apart from the missing gifts there is another serious issue: the missing growth of the Church to it’s proper spiritual maturity. There could reasonably be a connection between these two. 

But here is the obverse side of the coin: few things have shown up so much immaturity as the matter of ’charismata’ either. What passes for ’the work of the Spirit’ in some parts of the world is so embarrasingly inane, so childish and even so down right blasphemous as to leave no doubt: this must be of the Devil. Aye there’s the rub. 

Why does Satan expend so much energy on imitating and disfiguring and invalidating the gifts that belong to the Spirit? Now, where would you hide a precious diamond if not in a sea of cut glass baubles? Where would you hide a precious tree of healing properties for the nations but in a wood of poison Ivy? Satan has copy-catted every good and godly thing God ever made and counterfeited it. Every single thing. There is only one thing that He cannot copy. The Cross of Christ. I am convinced today that both those who deny the gifts and those who abuse them serve Satan’s purposes. They would be shocked to realize it. But these extremes aside, they do not invalidate the originals nor can it be brought out of Scripture that the gifts have ceased. The unchanging character of God goes for all the members in the Trinity. Why would the Holy Spirit suddenly cast away two thirds of his gifts to the church? Why would the outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh suddenly cease? Is there not an endless new stream of ’all flesh’ that needs a life in the fullness of the Spirit?

There was never a ’best before date’ stamped on them. To use the text about the ”perfect to come” as a proof that the gifts therefore must have ceased is to play into the hands of the enemy. The perfect can by no means be said to have come. Because it is neither perfect nor even a little like what God gave to the Church through us in the Scripture. Hold up the plumbline of the word against what is called Church today and try not to stutter when you declare that what You see is all you’re going to get. 

Those whose only experience of some of the gifts of the Spirit are purely negative, never have any such reactions to some of the other gifts. By what criteria this selection is made is rather woolly. I would not discount the gift of teaching because I did not like this or that message. But when it comes to these gifts the axt falls fast. They never deny that the gifts for service are gone, or the gift of teaching or whatever it is. But the gifts specifically speaking of that which ’builds up the church’ they are no more, so they claim. But that can only mean one of two things: one: the church does not need building up, or two: It is already so built up that it is perfect. But if the perfect has come, then the superior gift of love would be what defines the Church. Sandwiched between 1 Cor 12 and 14 is ch 13. Do not tell me that the outpouring of love has taken over from the prophesying, from all mysteries and knowledge of them. If the perfect has come we would no longer see in part, we would all be full of all truth. We are manifestly not. If the perfect has come, then I dont know what the perfect is. And the world is in absolute agreement with me. The perfect has not come by a far stretch.

”Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.” ” One who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation.” He does not babble futuristic fear scenarios, does not serve self interests by disguising greed in ’prophetic utterances’. His prophesy is subject to him and to others for evaluation and scrutiny. If that is not allowed, it is not the prophetic gift of the Spirit. It is not so hard to see how the Spirit not only gives the gifts to whom he will, but also how the Spirit has built in checks against abuse. Ignore them and things go haywire. Pentecostalism as well as ”charismania” largely majors on the gifts but ignores the checks.

But the Church suffers heavily from allowing the counterfeit to tarnish and shame the real. Many a baby has been thrown out with the proverbial bath water. And by that trickery of soiling the ”good and perfect gifts from on high” suspicion of them have empoverished the Body. The gifts must be used according to scripture. Where they are not there the work of the Spirit in the Church has been and is diminished and perverted. But only what is good and right ever needs perverting. 

Starvation rations keep a man or a Church alive. But both will forever suspect that someone has deprived them of that which would have made all the difference. Without revelation the Church knows not a way ahead. And if you do not know where you are going, any road is right. The ministry within the Church is for the work of the Church. It has an interface with the dying world outside it’s stainglass windows. 

A normal christian Church is characterized by the clauses of ”the four selves” 

1.   It is Self governing, after inital coming to life through the work of the missionary apostle it quickly develops it’s own leadership. It is led by the Spirit because it walks in the Spirit. It will accept help where help is needed, but it will not for long be beholden to external authorities.

2.   It is Self supporting, it finds the means within it’s ranks to support what is needed in the ways of finances within it self. For a while it may need help in various times, but as it grows to a healthy size it never takes on more expenses than the faith and labour of the Church can carry. 

3.   It is Self propagating. It builds up a rapport with the community within which it lives so that there is always some area of the life of the Church in direct contact with the world for which Christ died. It is always on the button to share what it believes. And to serve where it can. 

4.   It is Self perpetuating in it’s leadership training. The daisy chain starts when one who knows a little passes it on to someone else. In basic paedagogics we are told that one learns as one teaches. Who in turn does the same with another who then tags on another daisy to the chain. This church will not collapse if one link in the chain is removed. 

I have a dream 

“It will come about after this
That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.
“Even on the male and female servants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days. 

No not like Martin Luther King, although his dream may have been inspired by the Spirit of God too. My dream is to be alive to see the Church being what it could be in the wake of the promise made by God the Almighty to his people. What Joel prophesied was , as you all know, fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. Everything that happened at the Birth of the Church was there in essense in the beginning. 

A holy convocation where the Church once again held a day (not just an hour or what is allowed by the strictures of the old habits) holy for congregating around the four pillars of body life. Where the first part of the convocation, the calling together, was to give voice to the church members in smaller groups around a cuppa or drink, to share ’the blessings’ and the ’trials’ of the past week. Issues raised in each group, issues which each group felt needed to be brought to the attention of the leadership for input and further teaching, noted down by whom the group had appointed as their speaker and by them passed on to the elders. As each group has an overseeing elder present it would be held to what the church knows about the good order that is present where the Lord Himself reign is present. God is not a God of Chaos but or order. And the church is the fellowship of self control and of a sound mind. 

After this time of fellowship and interaction where admonishing and comforting and encouraging was done, giving each member the opportunity to partake either as receiver or contributor, the whole church convenes to the apostles’ teaching. The teaching begins with that worship which consists of ”Through him, then let us continually offer up a sacrfice to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to his name. To the Lord, always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ will be within the scope of and freedom of ”Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalems and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father, and be subject to one another in the reverential and respectful fear of the Lord.” 

Then the teaching can commence in which the broad issues raised in past small group meetings had been prepared by the teaching elders and will now be taught from the Word of God. That may be done by one of the elders/pastors/teachers or by someone else appointed by the leadership. 

The teaching will be set forth to facilitate doing and responding to those issues that are close to those who come for worship. This is communication based on the one authority that the Church has recognized: the whole word of God. The communion of the saints is always invited to respond to the teaching along the noble mindset of the Berean church. What is taught is the basis for the smaller midweek groups for prayer and fellowship into which every member of the church has a lead. The leadership of the church anticipates and welcomes the feedback either in oral reporting or in written form. 

The meeting now may convene to the breaking of bread and prayers. During the communion time may be given for individual testimony and prayer and praise. Co-related to the needs of the Church in each moment of time. If a fellowship meal is prepared for the church that may well be the last part of the ’holy convocation’. 

Different and depending on the need of the Church, the evening assembly may be for topical teaching and conversation in preparation for the week ahead. This is also when the teachings of the Apostles and Prophets are held up side by side and the Church continually be diving deeper and deeper into the whole purpose of God. This is maybe when the public reading of scripture can be done as well as the praying according to scripture, or a time of more reverent worship based on the wonders seen in the word. 

During the week then the church will follow through on the teaching and challenges to the Church, gathering fire wood for the next holy convocation. 

The people of Israel left Egypt and came to a place called ”Mara”. It means and was ’bitter’. Undrinkable water and a thirsty nation did not bode well for the ’shepherd’. God found that of all the people who had praised God for one deed a while before, not one of them knew how to give thanks in all things, nor any who held to the content of their worship in times of trouble. They could sing what the believed but not walk the talk. They were taught a lesson there and the sovereignty of the Lord in his ability to heal was firmly established. So they moved along to Elim. They found an oasis in their wilderness consisting of 12 wells of water and a happy 70 trees lapping it up. It was yet another mirror to them. ”You can chose to be a society where the few will constantly serve the many or you can become my church in the wilderness which counts on all of you to do your part.”

They stayed there only long enough to be refreshed for a time. Then they left Elim.

I have a dream of an exodus from Elim for every fellowship of believers.. 

There is a long and winding road ahead. And every journey of a thousand miles starts with one step.

What must be the first and next step? 


A postscript to ”sola Scriptura” 

Well then, what should we do first? I suggest that we should take a collective look at what is written in the following.

”God speaks to the One who cares” 

Some Notes on the vexed matter of listening to the Voice of God in our day and age. 

”Speak Lord for your servant hears.” 1 Sam 3:10 

Setting out on a quest for what it may mean to ’hear the voice of Godbrings to light several seemingly independant issues. Until you begin to see how they must needs converge into the one major statement made by the very Word of God. Hebrews 1:1-3 

”God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, ..” 

Several hot points to be noticed: 

1.   The certainty that God wants to communicate with those who want to know God.
2.   The assurance that it will be done in many ways and in various portions.
3.   The core reality of this communication being related to the Son and through the Son.
4.   The assurance that this communication is not merely local nor limited in time.
5.   The ability to hear God is related to a moral purification in the listener. 

The ”Sh’muel” of 1 Sam 3 is the illustration of the basic requirements for any man to hear the voice of God. The name itself means ”God has heard my prayer concerning him”. And thus the very existence of the boy is a testimony to God speaking. And the answer to Hannah’s prayer is an ”incarnation”. In turn forshadowing the Word of God which in the beginning was with God and was God. In the Acts of the Apostles we see that principle repeated. ”You shall be my witnesses” Acts 1:8. The power of the christian message is that it is neither information nor knowledge alone, but knowledge and communication turned into living beings. ”The word became flesh and tabernacled among us.”John 1:14 And again as the Spirit gave utterance to the same thought through the apostle. ”See 2 Cor 5:17-21 The ambassadors for Christ have become new creatures in Christ before they can say anything about Christ. 

It is written 

All we know of Samuel, Jesus, Paul and the life of the people eager to hear the voice of God is written down for us. But unless all this had left the bondage of the print we would not know it on any meaningful level. Until the story leaves the page and is transported into us, it is of no real importance. Mere text on the paper has no saving power. Merely learning the text and being able to recite it in our sleep is of no other avail than accolades for having a good memory. 

That raises the very infected question about our view of the Bible. Where we position ourselves along a line between two extremities will determine how we think about God’s voice to us today. 

The one end of the scale is this: The Bible is the Word of God and is to be literally obeyed in everything it says. In other words: the very words of it are always the voice of God. In this very ultra fundamentalist view the written text equals the revealed will of God so all we need to do is know and obey that which is written.

And the corollary to that is often that God will not say anything more because the Bible is seen as comprehensive and self explanatory. On this end of the spectrum it is really a matter of ’bibliolatry’, i e: the worship of the Bible as such (and for sure it is mostly the 1611 KJV version of it, although I think that an updated version of Tyndales would have been better and sufficient).  

The other end of that scale is utterly different. ”We may hear the voice of God in parts of the bible, but not exclusively so.” What I ’receive’ privately from the Word is God speaking. If the first and ”bibliolatrist” extreme makes the written word the sole arbiter of truth then this other existentialist extreme makes the listener the sole arbiter of what God can say. God is reduced to saying only what man says. An unwavering faith in one’s own ability to determine what is divine is paramount. Truth is what you perceive as truth. There is no universal truth, no binding understanding of anything just because it was written. Truth is only found in small flecks, each seeker finds his or her own, and the bible is just one of many rocks that bear the flecks of gold. 

Between these two ulterior extremes, indeed between an impregnable Rock and a quicksand like Swamp, all other positions will be found. 

What is the testimony of the Scriptures themselves? 

There is an abundance of evidence that ”the word of the Lord came unto..” various people at different times. And that they came both inwardly in dreams and visions of the night and in response to them having observed a natural event in creation and then been given a spiritual interpretation of the seen object. Every prophet is like a moth brought to the flame by the light and must speak what he or she has heard God say in one way or other. And dare not say anything else, even at the cost of his or her life. Their convictions are so strong that to dismiss them is to run a very dangerous race. ”These things were written as a warning to us who have the end times upon us, so that we should not do what they did and so provoke the Lord to anger.” 1 Cor 10 in summary. 

Suffice to say: that which is written down came nearly always first as a God to man communication. It was first told before it was written. How was that communication done? But it seems an inescapable conclusion that those who later read the written were impressed by the same urgency as that which caused the writing in the first place. See how often the written document of the words of God were rediscovred by later generations and brought the readers to heel and repentance. Daniel being a case in point as he discovers what God had told Jeremiah. Or Esra as he discovered the content of the law and strictly adhered to it at great cost and lament from the people. 

Every spiritual reformation in the world has begun by taking the written word at it’s full value. But the unseen corollary to that is the work of the Holy Spirit in interpretation and application of that which is written. The printed page of the Bible accomplishes nothing as such. It may give various forms of information, add to basic knowledge but it does not produce what it promises unless the second dimension is effectuated by God himself. 

The power of John 5:38-39 is inescapable: ”You read in the scriptures words that are pointing at the life eternal. But it is not the written word that gives that life on its own, not even the knowing of it and ability to recite it from memory.” ”But you will not come to me to get that life!” This is the true meaning of ”The letter kills but the spirit gives life.” 2 Cor 3:5-7 ”Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. ” 

Even the words of God as given in writing are powerless to do anything more than inform the mind, quite irrelevant wether that mind knows God or not. But if the word is not to return void to God it must be received by faith in them that hear it. That is the punchline of Hebrews 4:2. ” ”Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard. ” Connect that to a later statement in Hebrews 11:6 ”Without faith it is impossible to please God.” 

”God tells the man who cares.” That is a phrase which is born out right through the Bible. ”Shall I do something and not tell my servants”? Or as Amos succinctly phrases this insight: ”Surely the Lord God does nothing, unless He reveals His secret counsel to His servants the prophets. A lion has roared! Who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken! Who can but prophesy?” Amos 3:6-8 

There can be no doubt that God has spoken. All agree on that. The question that concerns us however is another: ”Does God still speak to those who care today?” And if so then how? 

The major outstanding statement about the words of God is made by the Word of God, that is Jesus the Christ himself. ”What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him.” John 6:62-64

Against unwillingness to believe even the Holy Spirit is powerless. The work of the Spirit with the word is not a matter of intellectual assent but of spiritual faith. My words, says the Word of God, are spirit and life and cannot bring life unless recieved as such. Unbelief in Him closes the book. (Unbelief was the root cause of Christ himself becoming limited in his own work. Matt 13:57-58.) 

This means that an understanding of the written words follows on from a relationship to the living Word by faith. Christ is not only the key to an understanding of the word of God (Bible) He himself is also the guarded entry, the gate to the Word of Life. If man will not come by Him then angels with flaming swords protect the garden from the re-entry of the fallen nature. 

Right through both covenants we are faced with ”God speaking”. And men and women hearing and chosing to obey God on the basis of what they understood from those meetings with God. (Hardly ever based on the approval of their surrounding environment, nor ever based on a majority vote.) The rather significant arrival of the new birth changes the means of communication in a dramatic fashion. Whereas the OT shows God speaking instructively and mostly externally the new birth brings about a new mode of interaction. Intuitive and internal presence of Christ in the believer takes precedence for those ”in Christ”. 

·       How did the Holy Spirit tell Peter that Ananias and Sapphira were lying?
·       How did Paul perceive the Holy Spirit forbidding his entrance to this or that country?
·       How did the Spirit warn and signify to Paul his imminent imprisonment in Jerusalem?
·       How did the Holy Spirit speak to the Church in Antioch about their next mission enterprise?
·       How did the Holy Spirit allow Paul to be present at church meetings hundreds of miles from where Paul was holed out in prison cells? 

I venture to claim that none of those instructions came out of a study of the OT (the only bible they as yet had) but of revealed knowledge to either the individual or to the collected body of Christ.

Significant revelations are given to Peter when he understood who Jesus was, and Jesus revealed himself to Paul and gave the same instructions that the other apostles had received at the ’Last supper’ privately later on. It was on account of a direct revelation that Paul went up to Jerusalem to square his teaching with that of the other apostles. The church is divided on the issue of wether such revelations occur today. 

God speaking and man hearing are not the same thing. A not uncommon phrase in the scriptures deals with the possibility of hearing but not hearing at the same time. ”With hearing ears they hear not”. God Himself struggles with man’s selective deafness, and even when He speaks His voice ay be mistaken for some earthly phenomenon which is then brushed aside. John 12:28-29 ”Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came out of heaven: “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” So the crowd of people who stood by and heard it were saying that it had thundered; others were saying, “An angel has spoken to Him.” Jesus answered and said, “This voice has not come for My sake, but for your sakes.” It is apparent that even when God speaks directly in the language of the people, some hear some don’t. What their disposition is of the heart determines the result of the communication. The manner in which God speaks appears to be very different with different individuals. It cannot be assumed that all shall hear the same way. 

So how should we approach the issue of hearing God speak? 

We have by biblical definition become partakers of the mind of Christ. 1 Cor 2:16. Coupling that with obedience to the word of the apostles saying: ”let the words of Christ dwell in your richly”, Col 3:16 we may well be aware that given those two vast resources recognizing ”what the good and perfect will of God is” Rom 12:2, cannot be limited to a select class of people among the born again, but pertains to all. But the proviso is the new birth and the deliberate appropriation of the written words of God. And it is furthermore not up to the individual understanding of one member of the body, but to the body collective. 

The uniqe properties of the body of Christ allow the full impact of selfless individuality alongside the utter dependance on and recognition of our own limited understanding, and following on from that comes the insight of our need of the rest of the body. To this collective body we bring ourselves minus our sinful quest for independance. A comittment to Christ is also a comittment to the body of Christ. ”In many matters we all stumble”James 3:2 , ”We all see in part” 1 Cor 13:12. The body will only be built up by the individual contributions made by all the various members. 

Carefully read: Rom 12:5, 1 Cor 10:16, 12:12, Eph 3:6, 4:12 Col 3:15 

The Father- Son relationship is the crucial nerve of the christian life. The Father sends the Son and the they send the Spirit and through the Spirit the Son takes upon Himself a new humanity called the ’church’ or ’called out ones’ or ’body of Christ’. What do the children inherit? The characteristics of their Father? Does not the will of the father become known to the children as they communicate with the father by the Spirit? Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” ” I do nothing by myself but only what I see the Father doing, the words are speak are not mine but His who sent me.”  

What was the reason for the mission of the Holy Spirit? “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.” The matter in plain view is that God does not stop speaking at the bookend of the Bible. The Spirit will go on declaring the meaning of the words of Christ to each successive generation of the born again, age after age. “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” John 17:20-21 

At the Crossroads 

This is where there is a definite watershed in the body of Christ universal. Various and very divergent positions are take up by different traditions and theologies. 

The Rocky road

Some who trust this view would claim that the Bible is a closed book and that nothing can be claimed to be the word of God outside what is in plain writing. The assumption is made that every issue that we face is adequately answered by that which is written. We only need to know the exact and well researched words and by proper handling of the teaching we shall know the perfect will of God. God is now silent, for God has spoken his final word in the Bible. ”Don’t expect to hear God unless it is written.” And as a corollary: if God appears to be silent it is because you do not know the Bible.

It is easy to see how defendants of that position will have no truck with anything to do with God speaking to us by dreams, visions, revelations or whatever means. The word of God bears real bonds in that field of Christianity. The written word is in bondage to any number of theological schools, scholars, reformers past or present. One thing is always certain: it never stands alone with nothing but the Living Spirit as it’s interpreter. And it is highly dependant on human authorities who validify the Word. (If in doubt, consult John Calvin, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Matthew Henry or C H Spurgeon, ad inf.) It often follows from this view of the issue that the spiritual gifts given by the Spirit and the Lord to the church have all ceased at the time of the apostles. 

The slippery road

A seemingly absolute opposite is found in the ”charismatic end” of the spectrum. The claim is that the written words of God are subservient to the spoken words apart from the Bible. The written letters kill, but the spoken words to us now are the truth. It is claimed that we must distinguish between the ”logos” words and the ”rhema” words. The latter are God’s individually spoken words given to us apart from what is written. In those circles you will frequently hear things like:’The Lord spoke to me and said’. (Less kindly expressed: If you do not do what I say I will prophesy. And to go against me is going against God Himself!)

Revelation is not finished, the bible is still being written and we will be right in setting the original Bible aside because what it said then is of little use to us now. We must have new revelations for the new age. Sentences like: ”The Bible says..” will frequently be met by: ”Yes I know the Bible says so, but God has not given that word to me yet.” 

In contrast to the previous position there are no discernible limits to what can be claimed to be ’God speaking’, but neither is there any means to distinguish between what men want, think and say and why they say it, and what God actually said, nor can we ascertain what may be irrevocable truth. Truth is no longer our common understanding, but ultimately rests only on who has the loudest voice and the heftiest clout. Might becomes right once again. A brief study of the use of ”Rhema” and ”Logos” does simply not bear out the distinction made by this ideology. It cannot be called theology at all, because it makes the ’logos’ of God a matter for individual interpretation, not by ’theos’ wiz God himself, but by man. It is merely godless anthropology when drawn to it’s logical conclusion. So it is but a man centered variant of the above view. 

And sure enough: this end of the Church majors on signs, miracles and all the overtly spectacular gifts of the Spirit. That is what is most eagerly pursued in these circles. Whereas the explicit promise to the church was ”greater things than these you will do in my name” this move has gone the whole gamut to the end and claims miracles as a matter of course. 

A middle road

There is always a middle road between extremes. But we know from human experience that the pendulum must swing and seems to have great difficulty in resting still between the outer reaches of the pendulum. There is an obvious hatred for the middle mean in theological circles. The reason becomes clear when you look at the issue from this angle: What God has left for us in every age and in every place in the world are two things. He has created the written word which is the sum of truth and needs no future embellishments, addenda or modifications. And the very means by which it was created, i e The third person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit, is given to be the sole arbiter and interpreter of the word in every age at all times. The word must become flesh in each generation. Each generation faces a different world. The word, the hardware as it were, remains the same, but the software, the mode of application of the word is not the same in every place in every time. What God used to create in the great reformers then is exactly what God can use in us today.

But God does no ask us to resuscitate them. 

Every spiritual awakening has begun with a return to the Word and to submission to the Spirit of God. Every revival has produced theology, in vast voluminous quantity, but it was not the theology that begat the revival. It was a hunger for God that created the life of prayer and obedience out of which the awakening came. And it was hardly a hunger that awoke in the most erudite or scholarly, but rather often in weak vessels with limited schooling. 

Untrammeled by the bondage to the past the Spirit broke through into the now. Every revival has also seen extraordinary events and supernatural happenings beyond the expectations of common man. In deed ’enthusiasm’ is one acccusation made against every revival movement. None have happened without a resurgence of those things that also happened in the First church. ”Enthusiasm” is another word for when the events are no longer controllable by the ecclesiastical authorities. Revival breaks out from the predictable and conformed. Mission history tells another story also: every time the Gospel breaks into a new people, nation, tribe or tongue, similar outbreaks of charismatic fervor accompany the breach from darkness to light. 

From a recent visit to Epworth I carry the reminder of John Wesley being forbidden to speak in his Father’s church, so he stood on his fathers grave stone and preached. He was barred from the church because he was an ’Enthusiast”. (Sic)  

No generation has ever managed to repeat the pre-revival conditions and neither has any generation repeated a revival. They were all heavily limited by a ’best before buy date’. Leave yesterday’s manna alone, it only breeds worms. 

How then do we listen to God?

Many years ago I wrote a book in Swedish called ’I believe therefore I speak’. In it I listed the above mentioned outer extremes in bible interpretation and gave a third, middle of the road, alternative. I called it Pneumatic orthodoxy in contrast to the ”traditional orthodoxy” and the ”emotional non-orthodoxy”. Orthodoxy is a catch word meaning ’straight teaching’ or ’sound doctrine’ depending on how reformed your views are. The discovery in the very words of Jesus that many will call him Lord Lord, based on their view of orthodoxy, but will not meet with his approval, jolted my life into a realization that if we do not do what we teach then our theology, our orthodoxy, is of less value than the drop of oil absorbed by the desert sand. ”I knew you not”. 

A truer concept of the theology of the New Testament than ”Orthodoxy” is ”Orthopraxy”. James 3:22-25 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.” And in the words of Christ himself: Matt 12:49-50 And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” Where there is no orthopraxy, there is neither any orthodoxy. Matthew 24:31-46 is a loud and warning bell. 

Pneumatic orthodoxy

The Lutheran reformation of the Church went along the lines of the ’sola scriptura’, so did the Calvinian, the Zwinglian and many other less known. Because it was always a return to the whole Word of God that was the driving power behind the reformative work. The word made available to all believers was the gigantic task of Luther in Germany and the Tyndale in England. And once the cat was out of the bag authoritarian Churches shivered. Empowering the people is dangerous only for those who rule without the consent of the people. Still today the blissful ignorance of the people is what allows abyssmal abuse of the Church by false leaders. 

But what few ever write about is the absolute necessary work of the Spirit through the word. ”We do not separate the Holy Ghost from faith; neither do we teach that he is against faith; for he is the certainty itself in the world, that makes us sure and certain of the Word; so that without all wavering or doubting, we certainly believe that it is even so and no otherwise than as God’s word says and is delivered to us. But the Holy Ghost is given to none without the Word.” Martin Luther. Table Talks. 

Scripture needs careful handling. It demands careful interpretation. But neither can be done except by the operation of the Spirit. In other words: listening to the voice of God is listening to both the written word and the Living Spirit. Because the living Spirit will always and only present Christ and work for the glory of Christ and never allows the church to take it’s eyes of the cross of Christ. Every interpretation of the scriptures claiming to be in the Spirit must absolutely bring glory to Him alone. Not ever to the Holy Ghost himself.  

But here is the knot. When the voice of the Spirit speaking today is made subservient to what the Spirit spoke in the past, rather than on what the Word speaks of irrespective of time, then the Spirit is quenched and fettered by tradition. If it is an interpretation that in no way agrees with what Christ is and was and did and does then it is neither the Truth nor the Spirit. 

That is why the image of the plumb line which Amos saw is so relevant for today. ”Thus He showed me, and behold, the Lord was standing by a vertical wall with a plumb line in His hand. The Lord said to me, “What do you see, Amos?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said, “Behold I am about to put a plumb line in the midst of My people Israel. I will spare them no longer.” Amos 7:7-8 The ultimate arbiter is the Word of God, the written as declared and expressed by the Spirit through the living body of the church in unity. Whoever attempts to set the speaking of the Spirit in the Church of today in opposition to the Word, which we are assured was in every word ’theopneustos’ i e God breathed, has left the field of truth. 

They are then not playing Soccer on a Rugby field, but rather are playing Tennis in a Swiming pool. The Sprit that gave the written word will not contradict Himself by giving revelation that nullifies the written word. There is one major obstacle to unity in the church. The rampant disobedience against what is written exists in all camps. We stand guilty all of us. 

No private interpretation

2 Pet 1:19-21So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. 

Who would now claim that the ministry of the Word in the Church today is any less than that done by ”men moved by the Holy Spirit to speak the word of God.”? And not this time in order to write down the word of God on parchments and vellum, because that is finished, but to write it into the hearts of all men by the same Spirit. Faith will be paper thin when the words of God are left on the printed page. 

Interpreting the voice of God is a collective business. It is not the solo-voiced prophet who has the truth. Speaking forth the word of God into the present time is never seen as a megaphone of one man or woman in the Scripture. Paul expresses his desire that all should be able to admonish the rest, because Paul knows of them that they are filled with goodness and knowledge. Rom 15:14 He instructs that prophecy should be enjoined and that if possible all in the church should do that, for the edification of all needs the input from all. But even then everything that is spoken is to be tested by the written words. If the church after decades of being in existence still has very little either goodness or knowledge then something is very very wrong, and if people are not empowered to partake in the ministry of all the saints then the leadership fails to be up to the Apostolic standard in Eph 4:10-15. 

Many situations around which the church may have to come to consideration and conclusion have no actual precedent in the scriptures and must then be determined on the consensus of the church as it ’walks and talks’ in the Spirit. The evidence for being in the Spirit is unity in faith, hope and purpose. Therefore the church, even when it has no direct word in scripture to fall back on may be safe in being guided in it’s decisions by the Spirit, and therefore being guided by the Word itself. So the church at Antioch was serving the Lord and the Spirit spoke explicitly: ”Separate unto me Paul and Barnabas to do the work to which I have called them.”Acts 13:2  

·       I notice an assembly gathered together for an explicit purpose. ”To minister to God.”
·       I notice their preparation for this ministry. ”In prayer and fasting.”
·       I notice the obvious awareness of the clear communication of the Spirit to the church. ”Separate unto me.”
·       I notice the unambiguity of the identity of the speaker. ”I, says he, am the Spirit.” 

The church did not vote. It agreed unanimously to the distinct communication of God by the Spirit. 

On yet another occasion the express statement goes even further in showing the faith of the church in it’s ability to listen to the voice of God. Again a most certain collective expression was put on parchment for all the other churches to receive and hear and affirm. The matter was absolutly a core issue for the church. Paul and Barnabas had been minstering for years starting Church after Church but felt constrained to find out if they were on the right track. So they journey to Jerusalem. They step into the venerated circle of the remaining original apostles and first believers from the day of Pentecost and present their case to the ”mother Church” as it were. 

Acts 15:6 ”And the apostles and the elders came together to look into this matter.”
Acts 15:7 ”And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up...” 

Free discussion, open debate in front of the whole multitude of the church. Acts 15:12 But then time to make a decision. Again, no recourse to any OT precepts or instructions but a consensus in the Spirit. James speaks up after Peter, Paul and Barnabas: ”Therefore it is my judgment that...” Acts 15:19 and in summary Acts 15:22 ”And it seemed good to the apostles and the elders with the whole Church...” They wrote a letter to be brought by hand of four men to the Churches in Asia Minor and they dared be so positive about how the entire collective process of hearing the voice of God had happened, even without OT precendent, that they could declare: ”It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no further burden on you..”Acts 15:28 It seemed good because it did not conflict with what is written nor was outside the scope of ”Christ and him crucified.” If held up to the plumb line it proved to be straight. 

Unity in entirety

Unity in the decision was not there before their deliberation was done. They started with lack of initial unity and only became united when as many as would and could speak had had their say. But no decision was made before the Unity of the body was established. It is the unanimous voice of the body that echoes the One head where Father, Son and Holy Ghost speak to the church that cares to listen. The democratic 51-49 vote is a spiritual monstrosity. Nothing shows how far the church is from the unity in one faith than the way it acts in these matters. 

”I will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on me”
”I will guide you with mine eye.”
”For such is God,our God forever and ever; He will guide us until death.” 

God is not far off unless we have moved out of His grace by deafening our ears through sin. God has not stopped speaking, we have become hard of hearing. If we deny that God speaks through us then Yahweh has been muted. Not by himself but by our traditions and our limitations put on Him and His Spirit. We extinguish the Spirit, we quench the Spirit when we proscribe to God how He may speak. As if the eternal God only wrote a book and then laid his hand on his mouth and said, I will speak no more.  

The balance

When we strike the balance between what is eternally true and firmly written, and the hearing of the voice of the Spirit today, then the active voice of God in and through the church is again heard in it’s fullness. His gifts to the church are gifts of passing on what is heard by individuals in the church, for the express purpose of the building up of the church. But in the normal Christian church the one is never heard without the other. Public reading of the scriptures is enjoined, spending time in it at all times is commanded. Using all of it for teaching and instruction and warning and correction is not done much. But if we are neither walking in the fullness of the Word of Christ dwelling in us richly, nor trusting ourselves to be guided by Him as we listen to him speaking to all of the church on every matter of importance, we are therefore empoverished and meagerly fed. And spiritual growth is directly proportionate to ’hearing as a disciple does’. 

Listening to God is not either ’the Bible’ or ’The Spirit’. But eternally both, because the written cannot be understood without the Spirit. ”Faith comes by hearing and hearing comes by the word of Christ.” Rom 10:17 ”Many other signs therefore Jesus performed in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book, but these are have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:30-31 

The proof of the pudding has always been found in the eating of it. When the word of God does not produce the life of God as seen in the scriptures, then it is neither the word of God nor life. The things God has put together no man should put asunder. This is primarily aimed at the male- female union in marriage. But it is no less vital in the matter of the Written and the Applied word where that which is written is only half the truth, becoming the full truth only when ’eaten’ and producing the life of which it speaks. It is not the hearers of the word but the doers that are counted as righteous. 
”The Word became flesh and dwelled among us.” ”When you come together, each one of you has something to bring.” 

That is ’body talk’ in a living church where each member is holding fast to the head individually and communally there for the other members. That is what the Spirit speaks to the church. Hear hear... But only those who truly affirm the extended meaning of ’Sola Scriptura’ will bother to give heed. 

Teddy Donobauer March 2020 


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