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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Having Not the Spirit …

These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit. Jude 19

In the final days of His ministry on earth, with His disciples gathered with Him, Christ told them that they would not be left as orphans. Rather, Christ says, the Spirit of truth “who proceeds from the Father” will come to you and teach you all things. St. Luke gives us more in the prologue to Acts as He has Christ saying to the disciples after His resurrection “but you shall receive power after that the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be witnesses unto me…unto the uttermost part of the earth.” This was fulfilled with thunderous power at the feast of Pentecost, bringing about the birth of the Church and shaking the foundations of history.
Nearly two thousand years later we have modern Christians who, in this way or that, want to deny and limit the action of the Holy Spirit in the Church today. This takes on many forms and is based on many unfortunate ideas. Then end result is the same however, a Church without the Holy Spirit. Perhaps they have forgotten that James told us that a body without the spirit is dead…
The development of this idea is nuanced, and we are compelled to deal with it at its root. Essentially the idea comes from the idea that the scripture alone is the “rule of faith and practice” for the Church. The concept is called sola scriptura and became a major emphasis in the fracture between Rome and early Protestants. The purpose of this stance is to place the writings of the scripture above the authority of the Papacy. In the end, however, it tends to remove the Pope of Rome and make every man his own Pope. This is not to disparage the scripture, which is Holy and Inspired of God, but rather to admit that the scripture has always been in the care of the Church of God. Rather than the scripture alone/sola scripture, prudence, reason and Christian tradition call for prima scriptura or the scripture in first place. To come to a clear and fast point, the same Holy Spirit that gave us the scriptures, gave them to us through the Church. In order to accept the inspiration of the scripture by the Spirit, we must acknowledge that this same Holy Spirit can and has worked through the Church in all ages bringing men into its light. We stand at a crossroads at this point. We must either deny the working of the Holy Spirit in the Church through the ages, or admit that the Spirit abides in the Body of Christ. Sadly, many have taken the former road to the extreme point that they have a Church with no Paraclete, a body with no spirit.
No where is this seen more than in Full Preterist circles.[1] In a recent conversation on social media I was asked whether I believed that the Revelation was the “final testimony of Christ.” To this I adamantly replied no! God forbid! Think of the logical conclusion of such an idea. Paul says to the Romans “how shall they hear without a preacher, and how shall he preach unless he be sent…then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” If the “final witness” was in 70AD, then who could be saved today?
Of course, to this I am sure that they will reply that they refer to a closed canon of scripture. And we do not deny that the canon is closed (but we might ask them when does the canon itself tell us that it is closed? Without the witness of the Spirit through the Church how would they know?) Yet I myself affirm a closed canon of Holy Scripture, but I also just as adamantly affirm the ongoing and ever-present witness of Christ in the life of His Church. In every missionary and evangelist. In every hospital, orphanage and half-way house. In the sacred worship and life of the Church and in the private prayers and devotion of the faithful. In hymns and prayers. In persecution and prosperity. In every time and every age in all of the world, the Gospel is preached and I rejoice. The Holy Spirit is present in every action of the Church – and wherever there is salvation, there is the Church.
Perhaps it is the tendency to reduce the Gospel to ideas and concepts that help foster this unfortunate idea. Perhaps a long history of emphasizing believing the right things, rather than living the right way. Not that what we believe is unimportant (it certainly is), but that Christ says “take up your cross and follow me”. Follow – imitate. Live as I live. Perhaps in such a sterile environment reducing the Gospel and Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ to dusty historical facts seems perfectly natural. Everything is past – fulfilled. And the Holy Spirit confined to prison … like the headless horseman of Ichabod’s night ride, not daring to pass the threshold of 70AD. Ichabod[2] is appropriate to write over such ideas. What does St. Paul say “the gifts and callings of God are irrevocable”! As long as the Church remains in the world, the Tabernacle of God with men, then she will be graced with the Holy Spirit and power. But then perhaps this is why so many deny the Church as well. The 70AD teaching becomes the final resting place of the foul bird of unbelief. No Church, no Holy Spirit and no faith. This is where many have ended up. Shipwrecked on the rocks of error.
I realize the words above are strong, and that there are many teaching the 70AD doctrine that are devout in faith, if misguided in understanding. But I hope to stir you to repentance here. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that if Christ rises not, then our faith is in vain. I challenge that if the Church is no more and the Holy Spirit not with us, then we have no hope in the world. It is time to truly consider the things which we affirm, and turn to sound doctrine from the winds of teachings that toss so many about. May the Lord have mercy…and on me first, the chief of sinners.
[1] Full Preterism is a recent eschatological view that contends that the second advent of Christ is a past event. While some allow some ongoing presence of the Church today, many deny that the Apostolic Church exists beyond 70AD.

[2] In the OT the name Ichabod was said to mean “the Spirit of the Lord has departed.”

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