A Theological Pilgrimage: Chapter 8
By Dr. J. Rodman Williams
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11 | 12 | 13
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15 | 16 | Conclusion
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GOD'S MIGHTY ACTS
The Mighty Acts of the Triune God
It is urgent that the whole church become freshly aware of the mighty
acts of the Triune God. The creation of the universe from nothing, the
incarnation of the eternal Son, and the effusion of the Holy Spirit:
herein is the essential series of God's mighty acts. It is this climactic
act of the outpouring of the Spirit that, following upon the other two,
presses today for our attention.
Let us focus upon the role of the Triune God in these mighty acts.
Creation is peculiarly the act of God the Father, although both Son
and Spirit are also involved: God the Father as fountainhead and source,
God the Son as instrument (the eternal Word), and God the Spirit as
lifegiving power. Incarnation is peculiarly the act of God the Son,
although God the Father is initiator and God the Spirit the effecter
(the power of the Incarnation). Effusion is peculiarly the act of God
the Holy Spirit, although God the Father is the promiser/sender and
God the Son the one who "pours forth" the Spirit. None of
these acts is to be identified with or subsumed under another, yet all
are essential actions of the one God.
A Trinitarian theological imbalance occurs whenever there is an over-
or under-emphasis on one of the persons and/or acts of the Triune God.
There may, for example, be a focus on God the Father and His activity
in creation with a devaluation of God the Son and Spirit to the status
of divine attributes (such as wisdom or power), or to creaturely and
impersonal manifestations. The same thing practically occurs in the
case of an exaggerated Christocentrism wherein Jesus Christ is the total
focus of worship and reflection1 or with an overblown
pneumatism in which the Holy Spirit (Spirit of God, eternal Spirit,
etc.) is the center of concern.2 In all these cases,
either explicitly or implicitly, God as Trinity is not adequately recognized.
These are actually instances of a theological/practical unitarianism:
whether of the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit.
There may also be a focus on God the Father and the Son-an implicit
binitarianism-that largely disregards the Holy Spirit or subordinates
Him to Father and/or Son. Theologically this occurred early in the life
of the church when consequent to Arianism (with its denial of the eternal
Son) there were the Semi-Arians (Pneumatomachi) who insisted on the
creaturehood of the Holy Spirit. While this deviation was corrected
in the Constantinopolitan Creed of A.D. 381 which recognized the Holy
Spirit in His essential deity as one who "proceeds from the Father"
and is "worshiped and glorified together with the Father and Son,"
and sees in Him "the Lord and life-giver" (in relation to
creation), and as the potency of the incarnation (the Lord Jesus Christ
"incarnate by the Holy Spirit"), there is nothing said about
the effusion of the Spirit, nor the attendant results. The later Western
filioque addition brings the Son into the procession-"who proceeds
from the Father and the Son"-while pointing in the direction of
the effusion of the Spirit, does not really make much progress. That
is to say, the nature of this effusion-its dimensions, its significance,
its results-is neglected; and this corresponds to a continuing lack
in the church, especially in the West, of sensitivity to the presence
and power of the Holy Spirit.3 Thus the implicitly
theological binitarianism is of a piece with inadequately formed Christian
The Purpose of God's Mighty Acts
We turn next to a study of what stands at the heart of each of these
mighty acts of the Triune God. Creation is for the purpose of bringing
into existence those to whom God can communicate His glory, who may
become knowledgeable of His love and holiness, and share His ineffable
presence. Incarnation-the event of Jesus Christ's life, death, and resurrection-is
for the purpose of redeeming a lost creation. Effusion is for the purpose
of filling those renewed in Christ with the Holy Spirit so that all
things may manifest His presence and power. Each of the complex of acts-works4
presupposes what has gone before. Without creation and communication
there would be no incarnation and redemption; without incarnation and
the ensuing redemption there would be no outpouring of God's fulfilling
Before noting the matter of purpose in more detail, it is important
to observe that, despite orthodox formulation of the ontological equality
of the Holy Spirit with Son and Father, there has tended to be a functional
subordination. The Holy Spirit has been largely understood as "Creator
Spirit"-the life-giving and life-sustaining power in creation and
providence-and as the One who applies the redemption wrought by God
the Son. In the latter case the Holy Spirit is viewed as the convicter
of sin, the regenerator of the heart, and the One who unites to Christ
through faith; whereas His further and peculiar activity in effusion
is inadequately recognized. Thus the Holy Spirit's work is functionally
subordinated to that of Christ and is viewed as a work of applicative
instrumentality.5 It is insufficiently recognized that
not only does the Spirit point to Christ but also Christ to the Spirit,
and that beyond the Spirit's work in uniting to Christ is Christ's mediation
of the Spirit. Indeed, this latter act of mediation, from the Father
through the Son, is that climactic act of the effusion of the Holy Spirit.
This act, presupposing redemption, represents the bestowal of the Spirit
upon a redeemed humanity. It is as distinctive and unique an act as
that of creation and incarnation, of communication and redemption.
It is quickly to be added that while Christianity is a Triune faith
it is also Christ-centered. Christian faith focuses on Jesus Christ
in whom "the whole fullness of the deity dwells bodily" (Col.
2:9). Hence, while it is the case that incarnation/redemption is Christ's
primary role, He is also the way back to the Father's work in creation
and communication, and the way forward to the work of the Holy Spirit
in the manifestation of God's presence and power. No one comes to the
Father but by the Son, and no one is baptized with the Spirit except
by the Son's mediation.6 Thus Christian faith is both
Triune and Christocentric.
Returning to the third of God's mighty acts, the effusion of the Spirit,
we have already observed that the act of effusion is that wherein the
fullness of God's presence and power is poured out. It is apparent that
this act of God the Holy Spirit takes place in relation to a redeemed
creation. As long as humanity is dominated by sin and evil there is
no effusion of the Holy Spirit, but when the power of darkness is overcome
by the victory of Christ at the cross and in the resurrection, then
the mighty act of effusion may occur. It is upon a humanity, a creation
made new in Christ, that God bestows His Holy Spirit and becomes the
In further consideration of the purpose of the divine effusion, it
is important to add that the intention is that God in Christ may fulfill
His own will and purpose on earth as in heaven. God in the effusion
of the Spirit enters into such a dynamic interaction with man that new
powers are released to praise God, to witness boldly in the name of
Christ, to perform "signs and wonders," to be living demonstrations
of the reality of God's kingdom-thus the essential penetration and fulfilling
of all things whereby they may more and more be resplendent with the
presence and glory of God.
The purpose, it may be added, is not primarily sanctification. In the
redemption effected through Jesus Christ there is both justification
and sanctification. Through the work of redemption both forgiveness
and holiness are imparted. In this holiness, or sanctification, one
is to grow and increasingly be conformed to the likeness of Christ.
The Holy Spirit is surely at work in sanctification (He is the "Spiritus
Sanctus"), and thereby He is carrying forward the redemptive work
of Christ to its fulfillment. But the effusion of the Spirit is for
another purpose, namely, that the human vessel may be so possessed by
the divine as to be an instrument through which God may fulfill His
will and purpose. This, though not unrelated to sanctification, is not
identical with it, for God may fill with His Spirit even those who have
known little of the process of sanctification. Also there may be marked
increase of sanctification for those filled with God's Spirit, since
there is great influx of spiritual power. The point, however, is that
the effusion of the Spirit carries the recipient beyond Christian living
(in its various ramifications of justification, regeneration, sanctification,
and the like) into the dimension of Christian witness.
What is basically being described here is the enablement of the church
to fulfill the ministry of the gospel. The church, which is the community
of those who in Christ have experienced the Father's goodness in creation,
and the Son's grace in redemption, is called upon to be the avenue of
Father and Son in carrying forward the gospel. The effusion of the Spirit
bestows upon the community of the redeemed the presence and power of
the Holy Spirit whereby the church becomes a living demonstration of
the Triune God.
The Appropriation of God's Mighty Acts by Faith
It is now important to stress that all the mighty acts-works of God
are to be recognized and appropriated by faith in Jesus Christ. Creation
which intends communication is fulfilled in communion and fellowship
between God and man; it is in faith that the creature may respond to
God's paternal love and care. However, due to man's alienation from
God through sin, such communication was not fully realized until the
advent of Jesus Christ, and the way back to the Father was revealed:
"I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the
Father, but by me"(John 14:6). Through faith in Jesus Christ the
way is opened afresh to a filial relationship in which God the Father
is known in His intimate, providential, sustaining grace and thereby
the purpose of creation is fulfilled. Incarnation, which is for the
purpose of redemption of a fallen creation, attains its end with those
who in faith and repentance accept Christ as Savior. More than sharing
the Father, which Jesus did in his life and teachings, thereby leading
many into deeper understanding of the Creator, Jesus brought about a
transformation in human nature. By faith in Christ people are forgiven,
made new creatures, and set upon the path of eternal life. Effusion,
wherein the Holy Spirit is poured forth upon a redeemed creation, becomes
effective with those believing in Jesus Christ who are ready and open
to receive it. Thereby they are enabled to be a forceful witness to
Christ, do mighty works in His name, and to be channels for many operations
and manifestations of the Holy Spirit.
In Jesus Christ all these blessings are found-the goodness of God the
Father in creation, the grace of God the Son in redemption, the glory
of God the Spirit in effusion-all these through faith in Him. Faith
is directed to Jesus Christ, for in Him is all fullness of Godhead and
all blessings ("every spiritual blessing" [Eph. 1:3]). However,
the very faith directed to Jesus Christ may be a faith in movement,
whereby there is a step-by-step unfolding of God as Father, Son, and
Holy Spirit, and an accompanying realization of God's creative, redemptive,
and effusive activity.
The prime example of this step-by-step unfolding of God as Father,
Son, and Holy Spirit is found in the case of Jesus' first disciples.
Jesus Himself was the center of their devotion, and as they followed
Him day by day they first became increasingly aware of God as Father.
The teachings of Jesus had much to do with this, for He frequently spoke
of God as Father and taught His disciples to pray, "Our Father...."
In many sayings and parables Jesus depicted God's paternal care. More
than this, the disciples came to experience God as Father through sharing
with Jesus His trust, assurance, and confidence in the Father's will.
God as Son, Jesus Christ, in His forgiving, redemptive activity-the
disciples increasingly experienced as the years went by. Thus it was
that they came to life in Him. By His death and resurrection they were
raised up and experienced what it was to be new creatures. Through faith
in Jesus as the Son of God they received the wonder of forgiveness and
entered into eternal life. Finally, they came to know God as Holy Spirit
as He was poured out upon them at Pentecost, and thereafter, filled
with God's presence and power they bore mighty witness to the truth
of the gospel. Again it was through faith in Jesus who had promised
the Holy Spirit that this took place. But it did not happen all at once:
it occurred over a period of time.
We may note in more detail that the effusion, or outpouring, of the
Holy Spirit occurred some fifty days after the disciples had experienced
the death and resurrection of Jesus through which they had come to new
life in Him. With a living faith in Jesus they also believed in the
promise of His Spirit, and waited in prayer until the Spirit was poured
out from on high. The effusion of the Spirit, like the redemption they
had experienced, was an act of grace: it was the gift of the Holy Spirit.
They also told those who would repent and believe in Christ for forgiveness
of their sins that the same gift of the Spirit was available, not only
to them but to the generations thereafter. "Repent and be baptized
every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of
your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the
promise [of the Spirit] is to you and to your children and to all that
are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him" (Acts
2:38-39).7 The gift is promised to all who are "called"
(= calling to salvation), and is received, even as forgiveness, by faith.
It is apparent from the account in Acts that the gift of the Spirit
was sometimes received concurrent with saving faith in Jesus Christ,
and on other occasions was received later. It is also clear that apostles
such as Peter, John, and Paul were not satisfied until believers in
Jesus had also received this gift: the bestowal of the Holy Spirit.
Variously there was baptism and the laying on of hands, but the single
most important preparation (as with the original disciples before Pentecost)
was prayer. In prayer there doubtless was present the atmosphere of
openness, expectancy, even readiness for the bestowal of the Spirit.
Thus it was, throughout the New Testament church, believers in Jesus
by faith participated in the third mighty act of God, the effusion of
the Holy Spirit.
Finally, it is important to emphasize again that the gift of the Spirit
was not limited to the New Testament period. It is a continuing promise
to the people of God. This also signifies that the effusion of the Spirit
was not a once for all matter, but occurs ever and again where there
are those receptive to God's gracious gift. By no means-it should be
added-was the gift of the Spirit given once for all at Pentecost, so
that the church in some sense has become possessor of the Holy Spirit
and thereby needs no longer to look forward to the receipt of God's
gift. Indeed, there may be special need in our day for the church to
pray earnestly for the outpouring of God's Spirit. If the church lacks
here, there is no possible way of adequately fulfilling the Great Commission.
Christian Baptism: Sign and Seal of God's Mighty Acts
It is important next to note that Christian baptism-baptism in the
name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-is both sign and seal of God's
mighty acts-works appropriated by faith.
The words of Jesus in Matthew 28:19-"Go therefore and make disciples
of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the
Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have
commanded you"-have been recognized as mandate for the church since
the earliest times. Three things are herein expressed: first, the making
of disciples, which signifies bringing to faith, that is, Christianizing;
second, that along with bringing to faith there is to be a baptizing
in the Triune Name; and third, teaching is imperative for all who are
made disciples and baptized. Baptism is thereby closely connected with
discipleship and faith, and is as much a part of the Great Commission
as the teaching that follows it.
Regarding baptism it is relevant to observe that it is a visible sign
or symbol and seal of discipleship entered into, and it is background
for teaching to follow. Baptizing is to be done in the name of Father,
Son, and Holy Spirit, and thereby demonstration is given of what discipleship,
Christianization, faith are all about. The disciple is one who has been
set on the way of faith-a faith that, while surely focusing on Jesus,
represents entrance into the full reality of God as Father, Son, and
Holy Spirit and His work in creation, redemption, and effusion.
Since baptism is in the Triune name, then the fullness of faith includes
relationship to God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Likewise since
baptism by definition suggests immersion, the reality of faith thereby
signified is that of immersion in, participation in, the activity of
the Triune God. Thus if baptism, for example, is in the name of the
Son, the spiritual reality is that of baptism into Christ (which is
the meaning of faith as identification) whereby new life is received;
if baptism is in the name of the Holy Spirit, then the spiritual reality
is that of baptism in the Holy Spirit by which power for ministry is
given. In other words, the full reality of faith-or discipleship-includes
immersion in the Triune God's threefold action of creation, redemption,
It is significant to note that baptism in the Book of Acts is in the
name of Jesus only. Such baptism clearly refers to the forgiveness of
sins which comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Faith in Jesus which
mediates forgiveness is actually a baptism or participation of which
water baptism is visible sign or seal. There is no mention of practice
of triune baptism in Acts. However, on several occasions there is an
additional rite of laying on of hands subsequent to baptism in the name
of Jesus. Such a rite is in relation to receiving the Holy Spirit and
thus completes the full range of entrance into Christian discipleship.
Those receiving the Holy Spirit in Acts are thereby baptized in the
Holy Spirit (as a study of parallel passages shows). Such spiritual
baptism is none other than the immersion of those who believe in the
presence and power of the Holy Spirit whereby they become effective
witnesses for Jesus Christ. Christian discipleship is completed by baptism
in (or in the name of) the Holy Spirit; however, the purpose of such
spiritual baptism is more clearly specified in the Book of Acts than
Several observations about the record in Acts are relevant. First,
two different spiritual realities are being attested. On the one hand
there is the forgiveness of sins given through faith in Jesus Christ
to which baptism in the name of Jesus is related; on the other, the
empowering presence of the Holy Spirit-baptism in the Holy Spirit-with
which laying on of hands is connected. Second, both baptism in water
and laying on of hands, while sign and seal of the spiritual realities
attested, are not so identical with these realities that they (forgiveness
of sins and empowering presence) may not occur without them. Third,
both forgiveness of sins and the empowering gift occur through faith
in Jesus Christ; He is the One who both redeems from sins and baptizes
in the Holy Spirit. Fourth, baptism in the Holy Spirit is not the other
(spiritual) side of baptism in water. Baptism in water in the name of
Jesus Christ, as noted, is for (or "unto") forgiveness of
sins; baptism in the Spirit signifies the reality of empowering presence
(with which laying on of hands, not water baptism, may be connected).
Fifth, baptism in the Holy Spirit may occur simultaneously with faith
in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins (of which water baptism is sign
and seal), or it may occur at a later time. However, not until both
spiritual realities are experienced is Christian discipleship fully
Now in returning to the Great Commission in Matthew it is apparent
that the whole of Christian discipleship (or initiation) is comprehended
in the formula of Triune baptism-"in the name of the Father and
of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." There is no suggestion either
of baptizing in the name of Jesus only or of an additional act of hands
for receiving the Holy Spirit. However, in shorthand fashion all is
included, so that Triune baptism represents the sign and seal of the
fullness of initiation into Christian discipleship.
What then does baptizing in the Triune name signify? Let us be quite
specific: Through discipleship to Jesus ("Go...make disciples")
we enter into a relationship to the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy
Spirit wherein there is immersion in the reality of God in His creative,
redemptive, and effusive activity. Even as God is one and not three,
Christian discipleship is a unity, related basically to the reality
of Jesus Christ. Hence, there is "one Lord, one faith, one baptism"
(i.e. in the Triune name) (Eph. 4:5). However as God is one God in three
persons, and accordingly three basic mighty acts, Christian discipleship/initiation
may occur in a process, possibly over an extended period of time. Baptism
in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit may-as
the Book of Acts attests-happen all at once, and in separate moments.
Still there is a unity, one initiation (not several), no matter how
long the process may take.
The command, or commission, in Matthew may then well include -"in
the name of the Holy Spirit"-the bringing of people into the climax
of their initiation, namely, to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. It is
sometimes said that there is no New Testament command regarding baptism
in the Holy Spirit (except for the original disciples in Acts 1:1-5).
However, there is the command to baptize in the name of the Holy Spirit,
which could mean essentially the same thing (even as to baptize in the
name of the Son = to baptize in the name of Jesus). Certainly this ought
not to be identified with baptism in the name of the Son, which is the
second part or aspect of the baptismal formula. What the third part
of the formula quite likely is dealing with is the anointing or empowering
of the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, there is nothing in Jesus' words of the
Great Commission relating to this highly important matter.
Let us pursue this matter a step further by comparing with Luke's Gospel.
In Luke 24 nothing is said about baptizing, but two critical things
are affirmed: (1) that "repentance and forgiveness of sins should
be preached in his name to all nations" (v. 47); (2) that the disciples
are "to stay in the city, until...clothed with power from on high"
(v. 49). The last two elements of the Matthean baptismal formula, it
would clearly seem, are there: repentance and forgiveness of sins to
which baptism in the name of the Son points, and the endowment of power
to which baptism in the name of the Holy Spirit may well refer. The
difference-and a highly important one for us today-is that the command
in Matthew unmistakably extends to all thereafter who are to become
Triune baptism-to sum up-actually covers the whole of God's mighty
acts and the totality of Christian initiation. There is no mention of
laying on of hands (which would be in order if baptism were in the name
of the Son only), for triune baptism symbolically includes that to which
laying on of hands points. This does not mean that laying on of hands
for baptism in the Holy Spirit (as is frequently practiced) is wrong;
indeed, the action may be helpful, but it adds nothing to what is conveyed
in triune baptism. The important thing, however, is not water baptism
but entrance into the reality of a filial relation with the Father,
forgiveness in the Son, and empowering through the Holy Spirit. Triune
baptism should follow upon (as sign) and in connection with (as seal)
the fullness of Christian discipleship.
A proper understanding of Christian baptism as sign and seal of the
mighty acts of God is essential for the progress of the church in our
time. As sign and seal of the grace of the Triune God, it is both a
challenge to enter into the fullness of discipleship and at the same
time the assurance of God's prevenient grace already at work in the
lives of those who belong to Christ. It is to be hoped that by some
such understanding the church today will be able better to enter into
the fullness of its inheritance. However, people often simply do not
know what is means to be baptized in the name of the Father, and of
the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and are not challenged to move ahead
and fully participate in the mighty works of God. United by faith in
Jesus Christ and baptism in the Triune name, the whole church of Christ
may now look forward to entering upon the fullness of what God is doing
in our time. We can ill afford to delay any longer. May the Lord give
all of us the grace and the vision to be fully a part of the glorious
fulfillment of God's purpose in history.
God's Mighty Acts: Summary and Reflection
It has become increasingly apparent that both our theology and our
experience have been insufficiently Trinitarian. The church, with some
difficulty, came to speak in orthodox manner of the divinity and equality
of each person in the Godhead, but throughout history the church has
had great difficulty in recognizing just what this signifies. Especially
has the Holy Spirit had a hard time coming into His own, and being recognized
as unique in His person and activity as are Father and Son. To be sure,
the Holy Spirit glorifies the Son, even as the Son glorifies the Father,
but this does not mean that either Son or Spirit is to be ontologically
or functionally subordinated to any other person in the Trinity. Though
all persons participate fully in every action of the Godhead, each has
His own proper function to which the other persons in the Trinity relate.
Especially it is the case that in our day the particular role and function
of the Holy Spirit in effusion is coming to light, and what all of this
implies for the church in its life and mission.
It should be clear by now that the third mighty act of God-the effusion
of the Holy Spirit-is by no means limited to the first century of the
history of the church. Unlike the Incarnation, which is a once for all
matter, effusion of the Spirit occurs again and again throughout history.
This mighty work of God does not so much belong to salvation-history
(Heilsgeschichte) as it does to pneumatic history. The Holy Spirit,
as we have noted, is involved along with the Father and Son in the work
of salvation, but this must not be confused with the outpouring of the
Holy Spirit which is for a distinctly different purpose. It is God's
sovereign action upon a people renewed in Jesus Christ, whereby their
whole life and community are claimed by the presence and power of God.
As we have observed, this brings about a situation of intensification
of praise, proclamation, mighty works, boldness, and courage that may
lead even to martyrdom. Without this special anointing of the Holy Spirit
the church is still the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, but it may
be severely limited in its ability to witness effectively. It might
be added that especially in our time when there is such a preponderance
of evil in the world, of secularism, blatant atheism, and rampant immorality,
the church needs to move in all the power that God the Holy Spirit can
give. Surely there has never been a time in history when the third mighty
act of God-the effusion of the Holy Spirit-so much needs recognition
and appropriation for both the rejuvenation and empowering of the people
of God, and for the world to receive the impact of the gospel message.
Accordingly, we must avoid many of the mistakes that the church has
made in relation to the Holy Spirit. For example, it is a critical mistake
to relegate Pentecost to an event of the past, and thereby to close
off the possibility of the effusion of the Spirit in our time. It is
equally devastating to affirm that at Pentecost the Holy Spirit was
given once for all to the church, so that there is no need to expect
or pray for the fullness of God's Holy Spirit to be poured out again.
Of like seriousness is the mistake frequently made of identifying effusion
of the Holy Spirit either with regeneration or with sanctification.
Each of these areas of salvation (regeneration and sanctification) represents
an important aspect of the Holy Spirit's work in relationship to Jesus
Christ, but the effusion of the Spirit is something quite different.
Also the mistake is sometimes made to think of the gift of the Holy
Spirit as given automatically along with salvation. On the contrary,
it is important to recognize that the promise of the Holy Spirit always
accompanies redemption, forgiveness of sins, baptism into Jesus; but
the promise is not the gift itself. It is to be received rather by those
who through faith in Jesus Christ look expectantly for the promise to
be fulfilled, in order that the fullness of the Holy Spirit may be at
work to carry forward the mission of Christ.
We must also avoid any such language as a "second work of grace"
(or "third work of grace"), for in Jesus Christ we have received
"grace upon grace" (John 1:16). Accordingly the effusion of
the Holy Spirit is not an additional work of grace-as if something were
lacking in what we have received from Jesus Christ-but it is the outpouring
of God's Spirit upon those who have known grace beyond measure. If anything,
the effusion of the Holy Spirit belongs not to the dimension of grace
but to the dimension of glory, whereby God glorifies His people that
they may more truly and fully glorify His name! Any suggestion, furthermore,
that to experience the effusion of the Holy Spirit is to enter into
a kind of superspirituality or super-Christianity must be totally repudiated.
Indeed, normal discipleship-as the Great Commission attests-includes
baptism in the Triune name, and therefore the true disciple of Jesus
is one who knows the reality of baptism in the Triune name. What has
happened in the church too often is that we have accepted as normal
what is actually subnormal. The church has not lived up to its potential,
and as a result both church and world have suffered thereby.
Nothing has been said in this address about the charismatic gifts.
The reason is that the gift of the Holy Spirit-its understanding and
reception-is of more basic importance than the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Where the gift is welcomed and received, there the charismata tend to
flourish. For the gifts of the Holy Spirit are nothing other than manifestation
of the outpouring of God's Holy Spirit whereby the whole community of
faith becomes the arena of the Holy Spirit's activity. One cannot emphasize
too strongly the importance of the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the
life of the church, and how weakened much of the church has become through
its failure to know and experience them, but the crucial matter for
the church in our day remains the effusion or outpouring of the Holy
Spirit. The important thing at Corinth, for example, was not that they
had experienced all the gifts (which indeed they had) but that, as Paul
writes, "in every way you were enriched in him...so that you are
not lacking in any spiritual gift" (1 Cor. 1:5, 7), or as an early
noncanonical writer says, there was a "full outpouring of the Holy
Spirit upon you all."8 There was much carnality
in the Corinthian situation, but they did repent of their sins, and
continued to remain open to the fullness of whatever God had to give.
What in our day is so desperately needed is openness to the fullness
of what God has to give to His people, and thereby not only to participate
in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but also to make a life-changing impact
on the world.
We live in an extraordinary time-the time by God's sovereign disposition
of the outpouring of His Holy Spirit around the world. Let us not hesitate
to summon the whole church to be receptive to what God is now doing,
and to be constantly open to God's renewal for effective witness in
our day and generation. And to God be the praise and the glory! Amen.
1Theologically there are elements of this in Karl Barth's
writings, for example in his doctrine of election where Jesus Christ
is both the "electing God" and the "elected man"
(see his Church Dogmatics, II/2, "Jesus Christ, Electing and Elected,"
94-127). On the popular level the "Jesus Movement," with a
concentration on Jesus-almost to the neglect of God the Father-is a
2This may be found in some mystical forms of Christianity
(with parallels in various religions of the East) and among enthusiasts
and pneumatics appearing at various times in the life of the Church.
3The Faith and Order Commission of the World Council
of Churches, in referring to Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, speaks
thus: "Theology and practice of these churches has to a large extent
neglected the Holy Spirit, except for some standard affirmations about
His continuing presence. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit and even more
the sensitivity to His active presence in the Church and the world were
and still are underdeveloped in the western tradition of Christianity"
(see Faith and Order: Louvain, 1971, paper 59, pp. 117, 131-132).
4"Act-works" refers to the combination of
creation/communication, incarnation/ redemption, and effusion/fulfillment.
5See my book The Era of the Spirit on the matter of
"applicative instrumentality" (53-54). Attention is also called
therein to Hendrikus Berkhof's dissatisfaction with what he calls "the
main pneumatological trend in ecclesiastical theology...[wherein] the
Spirit is customarily treated in noetical, applicative, subjective terms.
He is that power which directs our attention to Christ and opens our
eyes to His works....So the Spirit is a second reality besides Christ,
but entirely subordinate to Him, serving in the application of His atoning
work." Berkhof expresses his disagreement with this trend, and
adds that "the Spirit is far more than an instrumental entity,
the subjective reverse of Christ's work" (quotations from Berkhof's
The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, 23). This is my own opinion as well.
6John 1 conveys in a special way this threefold mediation
of Jesus Christ: the Word through whom all things were made (v. 3),
the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (v. 29), and the
One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit (v. 33).
7See, in addition to Acts 2:38-39, Galatians 3:13-14:
"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a
curse for us...that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come
upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through
81 Clement, 2:2.
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15 | 16 | Conclusion
Content Copyright 2003 by J. Rodman Williams,
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