Many years ago I was having a meal in London with a well-known minister whose emphasis had been in the area of signs, wonders and the prophetic. I said to him: “You need my theology, I need your power.” My words no doubt sound pompous since they imply that my teaching is necessarily right. Nevertheless, this conversation was the beginning of a new focus in my own ministry, namely, that the Word and Spirit need to come together.
We need both the sun and rain to give beauty and balance in nature. Likewise we need both the Word and the Spirit in order to understand God and his ways. The word is like the sun; the Spirit is like rain. One without the other can result in a natural disaster. It has been said before: “All Word and no Spirit, we dry up; all Spirit and no Word, we blow up; but with both Word and Spirit we grow up.”
It’s interesting that Jesus said to the Sadducees: “You know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29, ESV). He accused them of being ignorant of both the Word and Spirit. But it seems to me that the situation is rather different in the Church today; it is a case of knowing one, but not the other. Sadly we don’t seem to learn from each other.
A silent divorce
I first spoke of the silent divorce between the Word and Spirit during a conference chaired by Lyndon Bowring at the Wembley Conference Centre in 1992. Graham Kendrick led the worship and introduced ‘Jesus, restore to us again’ – a song he’d written asking God to restore “The gospel of your holy name / That comes with power, not words alone.”
When there is a divorce, sometimes the children stay with the mother; sometimes they stay with the father. In this divorce there are those on the Word side, and there are those on the Spirit side. I call it a “silent” divorce because it is impossible to know when or how this happened.
What’s the message of those on the Word side? It is straightforward: the honour of God’s name is at stake. His honour will not be restored, say those on the Word side, until we get back to the faith “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3, ESV). We must get back to the doctrine of the apostles. We need clear Bible teaching in the pulpit. We must embrace the theology that was rediscovered during the Great Reformation of the 16th Century – which turned the Western world upside down: justification by faith alone; the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit by which we know that the Bible is the word of God; and a robust view of the sovereignty of God.
What is wrong with that emphasis? Nothing at all. It is, in my opinion, exactly right.
Then consider the example of those on the Spirit side. What is their message? It is straightforward: the honour of God’s name is at stake. It will not be restored until we get back to the experience of the apostles as demonstrated in the book of Acts: there were signs, wonders and miracles; the gifts of the Spirit were in operation; when they had a prayer meeting the place was shaken; if you got into Peter’s shadow you were healed; if you lied to the Holy Spirit you were struck dead right on the spot. And until we rediscover and experience that level of power, the Church will continue to have minimal, if any, influence in the world.
What is wrong with that emphasis? Nothing at all. It is, in my opinion, exactly right.
The problem is that whenever we go to church we find either one or the other.
Longing for more
In my old age I have been privileged to travel much of the world, and I believe that what I said nearly 30 years ago continues – sadly – to be a correct diagnosis. True, there are those who make every effort to incorporate both, and I will not enter into a debate about which preacher, prophet, church or denomination has got it right. But I believe many need to hear this message – myself included! I long to preach with power and authority. I have personally experienced that kind of power and authority only once or twice so far in my lifetime. I have seen some true miracles and healings over the years –but very few.
True miracles and verifiable healings are exceedingly rare. The common denominator of charismatics was once the gifts of the Spirit. Today it is prosperity teaching. Those people who run to church because they know they will be riveted by exciting and fearless preaching are hard to find. So much of what comes from Word pulpits is “perfectly orthodox, perfectly useless”, as Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones used to say.
You might ask: “Whatever is the point of writing like this?” I answer: Those who read this may – just may– be gripped to lament and repent over our situation and intelligently pray that the honour of God’s name, which has long been behind a cloud will be restored. The world does not respect the Church. There is no fear of God in the land or in the Church. The world thumbs its nose at us and we are not bothered. Things that once caused outrage have been accepted by nearly all.
Jesus said that in the last days the Church – even the best of its members – would be asleep: wise and foolish alike (Matthew 25:1-5). That is the most apt description of today’s Church that I can think of. Indeed, we are in a deep, deep sleep with little or no expectancy and no great concern or outrage over conditions around us. The scary thing about sleep is that we don’t know we are asleep until we wake up. We do things and tolerate things in our sleep we certainly would not permit when awake.
Is there hope? I believe there is. There are three responses I am praying for.
First, that we will all see the urgent need for both the Word and the Spirit to come together as in the book of Acts. There needs to be both the Word and Spirit demonstrated in equal measure. We should be concerned for more of the Word and more of the Spirit with equal burden and vision.
Secondly, that there will be very urgent praying as in the book of Acts. The early Church prayed in desperation because of the threats of the Sanhedrin (the ruling council of the Jews). “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your Word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:29-30, ESV). The urgency plus the presence of both the Word and Spirit is clearly obvious in this prayer. And that is when the “place” in which they were assembled was “shaken” – “and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (v31, ESV). We should be as threatened by the Church’s lack of power and influence today as the early Christians were threatened by the Sanhedrin 2,000 years ago.
Thirdly, that both Word people and Spirit people will become vulnerable (not defensive) and admit their need. The problem with the Laodiceans in the book of Revelation was not only that they were lukewarm– “neither hot nor cold” – but that they saw no need in themselves. They were rich, enjoyed prosperity and felt that they “needed nothing” (Revelation 3:16-17). You know the expression: “You can always tell a successful man but you can’t tell him much” – so it is with a church that becomes unteachable. When we are safely in our comfort zones we don’t usually welcome any notion that we should move outside them.
My experience has been that many Word people honestly feel no need for more of the Spirit than they already have. My experience with many Spirit people is that they often want more time for worship rather than preaching and are quite comfortable with hearing ‘feel-good’ sermons rather than solid biblical preaching. And yet fewer and fewer Christians nowadays read and know their Bibles. I have also very good reason to believe that both Word people and Spirit people spend less and less time alone with God. Martin Luther prayed for two hours a day. John Wesley prayed for two hours a day. But where are the Luthers today? Where are the Wesleys today? The average church leader probably prays just minutes daily. Dare I ask, how much do you pray?
This year is the 70th anniversary of the Hebrides Revival in Scotland (1949-52). The fear of God fell on often remote places in those days. Unusual manifestations appeared. Hundreds of spontaneous conversions took place in churches or as people walked down a road. Most of the converts were teenagers or adults under the age of 40. On at least one occasion a house shook (dishes even fell off tables) when people met for prayer and worship. It was a sovereign work of the Spirit and yet it was preceded by people praying –particularly two old ladies in their 80s who wouldn’t give up, but who cried out: “Lord, your honour is at stake.” I find this encouraging.
I truly believe that the Word and Spirit are going to come together, maybe soon. If Smith Wigglesworth has been quoted correctly, we are long overdue to see his 1947 prophecy fulfilled. He reportedly forecast that the Word and Spirit would come together and that this move of God would eclipse the Wesleyan and Welsh revivals and spread all over the world.
Most of my own preaching over the years – I wish it were not true– has been almost entirely Word preaching with little power. When people listened to me they would say: “Thank you for your Word.” That is what they came for, that is what they got. They did not come to see anything; they came to hear. But the simultaneous combination of the Word and Spirit coalescing in great measure will result in spontaneous combustion. And when that happens, as Lyndon Bowring put it, “those who come to see will hear and those who come to hear will see”.