Equipping the Saints: The Synergy of Spirit & Word

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It wasn’t the best of mornings when you get down to it.

My wife had an appointment scheduled that put her on edge because it had the potential to determine the course of the rest of her life. Jangly nerves and a tremor in her voice all said, “I really need you to pay attention to me right now.”

My son, watching his summer vacation slipping away, fell into that desperate state of attempting to pack as much living into five days as was humanly possible. Flubber had nothing on the kid. He was bouncing around the house begging for things to do, his sole mission to get me to pay attention to him right now.

Meanwhile, I’d awakened to a malfunctioning Internet connection and a deadline to meet. As the materials had to be emailed, that posed a bit of a dilemma. With my IT background, I normally don’t blanch when tech things go awry. But after some computer finagling, I came to the terrible realization that it was nothing on my end that I could correct; my ISP was down, no matter what the blinking lights on the modem said. It was the kind of situation I needed to deal with right now if I was to make my deadline.

And right at that moment of stark tech realization, kid yelling, wife anxious, the doorbell rang.

“Dad, there’s two people standing at the door,” my son added to his tirade.

I knew in that second exactly who it was.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses.

While that’s enough to start some people hyperventilating, I greatly enjoy talking to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I know their theology very well, know what verses to share with them out of their own (flawed) New World Translation bible, and generally throw a box full of monkey wrenches into the cogs of their apologetics. In short, I know exactly what to say to them. And I do it in a very neighborly and loving way.

Most times, that is.

Normally, I would invite them in, but the hyperactive son and the anxious wife who had to leave for her appointment in a few minutes did not make for the best environment. So I offered to have them sit down on our front porch in our three porch chairs—except two of the three chairs seemed to have gone missing.

So we stood around. Ugh.

I then began to commit a series of errors. Instead of steering the conversation toward the divinity of Jesus (as the JWs believe Jesus is a created being, the archangel Michael), I let myself get dragged to the end of that discussion prematurely, as we somehow jumped right to the Trinity, which requires nearly a full overview of Scripture to present accurately (as the JWs do well at dismantling piecemeal Scriptures on the Trinity, especially when presented standing around on someone’s front porch). When I attempted to go back to the issue of Jesus’ divinity, I asked for the junior JW’s New World Translation and immediately realized I couldn’t read it; the words were too small. This meant going to find either of the two pair of reading glasses I now own—of course, both eluded me. Then, I got the “brilliant” idea while looking for my glasses to pull out my Aland Greek New Testament in case we stumbled into differences between the NWT and the genuine text. Five minutes later, I think, I got back outside, hoping to talk more about the tirpartite nature of man and how it reflects the Trinitarian nature of God, but somehow I spent most of that time thumbing my way through my Greek NT and not enough concentrating on the tripartite explanation. Meanwhile, the truth of Jesus’ divinity was receding into the murky past of the conversation. At this point, my wife informed us that she must leave and the JWs’ car was blocking our driveway. Seeing this as the perfect out, the senior JW said it was obvious they and I were at completely different places and were never going to come to any agreement on anything, so so long, buh-bye.

And with that, there was no joy in Mudville; mighty Casey had struck out.

The postmortem of this moment doesn’t need the team from CSI to enunciate what went wrong. Anyone want to venture the answer?

It wasn’t that I was stressed by the events of the morning.

It wasn’t the time crunch or the blocked driveway.

It wasn’t an inadequate knowledge of the theology of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

And it wasn’t an inadequate knowledge of Christian doctrine.

What made the morning less than stellar was that I left the Holy Spirit out of that golden opportunity.

We’ve been talking for the last few weeks about what it’s going to take to get the American Church educated in the deep truths of the Faith, but what I want to add right now is that all the Bible-learnin’ in the world is pointless without the Holy Spirit to pull it all together and make it scintillate in our spirits.

I know plenty of Christians who can handle the Bible well. I know plenty of Christians who claim to know the voice of the Holy Spirit. But the kind of Christian I rarely meet is the one who puts both together.

Word of God speak by Your Holy SpiritYou have on one side the intellectuals with their systematic theologies who could mount an apologetic that rolls like thunder but are tone deaf when it comes to listening to instructions from the Holy Spirit. On the other side are the charismatics who are always talking about the revelation they’re receiving by the Holy Spirit but who will search for hours if you ask them to locate the Book of Hezekiah in their Bibles.

My problem that August morning was that I didn’t ask the Holy Spirit to take charge of the time and guide me His way. I barged ahead like one of those deaf intellectuals, smug in my learnin’.

If we’re to make a difference in the education of Christians in America, we have got to start bridging the gap between the word of God and the Spirit of God. Because in truth, the only gap that exists in that gapless relationship occurs because of you and me. We’re the problem. The Spirit and the Scriptures are perfect.

And so I ask, what churches out there are teaching people how to listen to the Holy Spirit when it comes to correctly handling the Scriptures?

Because it doesn’t work if we know the Bible but can’t hear the voice of the Spirit tell us how to understand and use it. And it doesn’t work if charismatics go on and on about their spiritual gifts but then don’t give the Spirit of God the fodder of His learned word to work from.

If you are in a church that does a great job teaching the Bible but not listening to the Spirit, then you may be getting only part of the story. And chances are, your use of the Bible in those cases when you really need it are going to fall under the label of “the flesh,” and your effectiveness will be diminished. Likewise, if you are in a charismatic church that teaches how to hear the Holy Spirit, yet the average person can’t string together five verses to show why Jesus is God, then you are not putting it all together, either.

If we are to be effective ministers of the Gospel, we have to rely on the voice of the Spirit to lead us in all situations, especially in how to correctly handle the Bible. And we have got to ensure we know the Bible if we are to give the Holy Spirit living in us the free access to the discipline of our study.

Jesus didn’t drop Biblical knowledge into the heads of the disciples at Pentecost. He made what was already there more clear and more transformational. The Spirit brought to mind the time those men had shared with Jesus and amplified the Savior’s teachings. The Spirit made use of what had already been implanted.

And so it must be with us. It’s not enough to know the Bible or say we have the Spirit living in us. Unless we learn the synergy of the Spirit and the word (and—unlike me—ALWAYS rely on it), we’re going to whiff again and again.

11 thoughts on “Equipping the Saints: The Synergy of Spirit & Word

  1. Amazing post Dan. I am blessed to have a balanced church where I am learning to lean on the spirit and properly USE all that book learning.

    If you ever do find the book of Hezekiah let me know. I must have misplaced it. 🙂

    I hope your wife is doing well, and you are in my thoughts and prayers often.

  2. Sulan

    Dan, thanks for a great subject, one more time.

    When I left the organized church in 1996, I was all alone with God, and a couple of TV preachers — Joyce Meyer being one of them.

    I had bought a book titled How to Listen to God, back in 1988, so I got into reading and absorbing that, and just began to practice.

    You are right, it is so necessary.

    Have I whiffed? Time and time again, and will in the future.

  3. bob pinto

    I certainly agree to the package deal of having both,not one or the other.

    Where did I hear this story : The preacher embarked on a great African crusade but not just to have a giant meeting. The problem he understood to be was lack of follow-up.

    If a great revival occurred then without followup teaching, the converts would revert to some christian – pagan hybrid beliefs.

    The JW incident might fall under a different category of know your opponent. I associated with them for nearly 2 years but never fully converted.

    It’s not hard to get into a spiritual ping-pong game but here are a couple of stumpers (this first one worked):

    Their bible says ” This Jesus, God did raise up.” They quote that often. But try to answer what does it mean when Jesus says “Tear down this temple and I will rebuild it in three days”? Christ later says He had the power to lay down his life and then take it up again.

    Also, according to them a great apostasy took place some years after the apostles and then when Christ came in 1914 only JW were the faithful and discreet slave. All other denominations failed.

    Ask them where was Jehovah’s earthly organization in the centuries long interim between the apostles and 1914?

    When has Jehovah ever had no earthly organization on earth, especially prior to JW origins?

    These teachings are heavily emphasized, trust me.

    • Bob,

      The first place to start with the Jehovah’s Witnesses is by smashing down their contention that Jesus is a created, angelic being who is not on par with God the Father (or Jehovah God, as they say). You will not get anywhere else if you don’t deal with this first. One problem is that the New World Translation they use has mangled many of the important deity statements about Jesus and the Trinity. What makes it harder for us is that the deity verses they’ve left intact are often those used in conjunction with Jesus being “firstborn,” which in their lack of comprehension of that concept they apply to their contention that Jesus is created.

      The best way to start on this issue of the divinity of Jesus is to go to Revelation 1 in their NWT. Ask the Witness who is speaking in this verse:

      “I am the Alpha and the O·mega, says Jehovah God, “the One who is and who was and who is coming, the Almighty.
      —Revelation 1:8

      They will say Jehovah God.
      Now ask them to read this verse:

      And he laid his right hand upon me and said: “Do not be fearful. I am the First and the Last, and the living one; and I became dead, but, look! I am living forever and ever, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.”
      —Revelation 1:17-18 (NWT)

      Again, ask them who is speaking. They will say Jehovah God.

      Then ask the question, “When did Jehovah God die?” (I have yet to hear a good response to this.) You can then say, “Jesus died, but He rose again and lives forever. Jesus is speaking here. Jesus is Jehovah God.” You can also point out the eternal nature of Jesus (as opposed to having been created) by emphasizing the speaker claims to be the First and Last, the Alpha and Omega.

      At this point, you are the one leading the conversation. (Though this is nearly always the direction I am led to take, I wasn’t listening to the Spirit, which is why the conversation did not yield the fruit I was hoping for.)

      I would also go after the contention of theirs that Jesus is the archangel Michael by asking them to show you where it says that in the Bible. They struggle with this, as Michael is rarely mentioned. From there, you can point out passages, especially in Colossians and Hebrews, that dismantle the idea of Jesus being an angel. I would also emphasize the need for Jesus to be fully man and fully God so that He could perfectly atone for our sins. JWs also like to raise issues of the sonship of Jesus as making Him a lesser, but this is easily countered by appealing to the difference in nature of angels from Jehovah God. Angels are distinctly different beings, therefore they cannot be called sons because they do not share the same nature as God (ask the Witnesses if they have sons and then ask which of their sons is not a human being like they are).

      All the legalism they preach is easily bypassed if you can make the conversation revolve around who Jesus is and what His relationship to the Father and the Spirit is. (Because like all pseudo-Christian cults, the JWs do not believe in the Trinity.)

      Also, Jehovah’s Witnesses usually go out in pairs, with one senior person and one junior. Always speak primarily to the junior person, as this puts the senior at the disadvantage of having to monitor the junior person’s responses. The senior one is less able to steer the conversation in favor of the JW position as a result.

  4. Ronnie

    At a moment in time when I was leaning heavily toward the house church movement, the Spirit directed me to contact a pastor who I was only slightly familiar with. From that meeting my life was redirected into one of the (organized) churches that seek to find a balance between the three historic streams of Christianity. You have hit on two of them, the charismatic and the evangelical. The third, according to this perspective of church history, is the liturgical/sacramental stream.

    One of our pastors (we even call them priests) is a graduate of Beeson Divinity School and has also been referred to by some as “one of the most intune with the Spirit” person when giving counsel. I see him as a role mode who esteems the virtues you have espoused so well in this post.

    I love your blog but at times it seems you come down too hard on yourself and the church. Our Father knows we are but dust and just how weak our flesh is and He couldn’t love us more.

    • Ronnie,

      No matter how much God loves us, He does not excuse idolatry and disobedience. This is why I am hard on myself and the American (and Western) Church.

      If you think I’m hard, just wait until Judgment Day. Many people lulled into the sense that God loves them so they get a free pass to live for themselves are going to find themselves labeled “goats” and not sheep. Or they are going to watch burn in holy fires the stubble of a life devoted to the pursuit of the American Dream over that of the Kingdom of God.

      We simply are not serious about following Jesus in this country. His name is on our lips, but our hearts are far from Him.

      That’s why Cerulean Sanctum exists. I write because I believe the Church in the country can be living far more like the Church in Acts. I write because there are people sitting in their churches right now wondering, Is this all there is? I want those people to know that what they are being sold is not all there is. Jesus holds out so much more, but it’s going to take everything we are to take ahold of it.

      If you don’t believe me, compare the average Christian under 30 with the young man found in a book called The Journals of Jim Elliot. Read that young man’s life and then count how many young Christian men like him you know today. Ask yourself if the Christianity as depicted in practice in that book bears any likeness to what we consider Christianity today. Truth is, the difference is appalling.

      And that’s why I’m hard on myself and on the American Church. We simply are not seeking the Kingdom first. And we are poorer for it.

  5. David

    What was that possibly untrue but non-the-less quote attributed to Martin Luther…”I pray for an hour every morning, but if I’m going to be busy, I pray two hours.”

    It’s easy to move God aside and say “I’ll handle this, Lord.” I do it every day.

  6. I recall our Vineyard church in Florida hosted a Word, Spirit and Power conference a few years back. The speakers were, if memory serves, Baptists-turned-charismatics. The premise was that you need both knowledge of the Bible and the Holy Spirit to be effective.

    Your classic Baptist knows his Bible inside-and-out but lacks the driving force of the Spirit. Spirit-centric charismatics (Todd Bentley is a truck-size pinata to whack at here) lack the guidance of Scripture and become loose cannons.

    When you have both the Word and Spirit, you give that cannon GPS targeting.

  7. Ronnie

    Wow. I really hit a nerve, huh? I just added that last comment to say, sometimes we need to lighten up and not take our self so seriously. But this form of communication not ideal for being able to convey the tone and emotion of a comment, whether or not there is some hidden meaning implied or just an off the cuff thought.

    I agree that we as fallible human beings (whether in the western church or not) fall short of living up to God’s standard, and do not mean that we should be content to stay as we are. However trying harder is not the answer, see Tim Keller’s book, The Prodigal God for more on this. In it he quotes a seminary professor teaching on the prodigal son, “It’s not our sin that’s separating us from God, it’s our damnable good works.

    Finding atonement through repentance is the answer. And as you have pointed out, the way to that is through diligent study until the truth of scripture, through the work of the Holy Spirit, takes a hold of us and brings us to the place where we recognize of our weakness and inability to change and cry out to God. (Ps 43:3.)

    In his book review of Francis Chan’s book, Crazy Love, Tim Challies says, “There are two ways of critiquing the church. We can critique out of love or out of disgust. We have to work hard to make sure those who read our words, without being about to hear the tone of our voice or see our facial expressions, do not take words given out of our love for the church as instead flowing out of disgust.

    I almost did not post this reply, again because I am not a very gifted writer and somehow I know these words fail miserably at conveying what I mean to say. And the harder I try, the longer this reply becomes. And because I would rather this be a personal conversation we shared over a cup of coffee rather than an electronic message in a public arena.

    God bless you, Dan.

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