This blog records my transition from the Churches of Christ to Eastern Orthodoxy.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Spirit Working "Only Through The Word"

There are quite a few within the CoC who feel that as it stands, the Holy Spirit works but "only through the word." And there are quite a few who take great opposition to such an idea and insist that the Holy Spirit works in other ways in the present day.

i'm not writing a blog to grapple with whether the Holy Spirit does or doesn't work only through the word. To be frank, i have very few settled convictions about the Holy Spirit and what He does or doesn't do. And from what little i've read of the debate, it appears to me that both sides are neglecting more systemic issues that underlie the debate and thus largely talk past each other.

But something did occur to me the other day as a tangent to something i was reading. What exactly could the Holy Spirit do through the word? i take it that many people throw a fuss about this "only through the word" business because it sounds like such a crippling limitation on the Spirit's abilities and powers. i take it that many people feel safe saying "only through the word" because it creates the illusion of safety from doctrines they feel are dangerous (calvinism or pentecostalism or whatever). So both parties have a notion that this "only through the word" is a very limiting concept.

But why? Again, i am not saying i think the Spirit operates only through the word. i genuinely don't have a definite opinion about the matter. What occurred to me though was to question the notion that "only through the word" is so limiting of a concept. Why is it so limiting?

Maybe it's assumed that "only through the word" implies that the only thing the Holy Spirit "does" in our day and time occurs when information from the Canon is transmitted to a person in either written or verbal form. The end. If the "only through the word" people are right, then that's all the Holy Spirit does.

Now i'm genuinely not meaning to caricature or oversimplify. Some proponent of the "only through the word" position may wish to say something about the Spirit convicting and convincing people; but i take it at the end of the day this means nothing more than that a person was informed of certain facts pertaining to spiritual matters, and chose rationally to believe them and act on them. And the Holy Spirit's "work" is really restricted to that informing process. Now if that's a gross misrepresentation, i'm certainly willing to be corrected. However, i doubt it's a gross misrepresentation of everyone's position who feel that the Spirit works "only through the word."

So my question(s) is: Why should we think that the only thing the Holy Spirit can do through the word is inform? Why couldn't there be a great many other things the Holy Spirit can do through the word that we're not even aware of or able to measure? What if something sacramental takes place in hearing/reading the Scriptures?

So to the opponents of the "only through the word" position: if you think that the "only through the word" position unduly limits the Spirit's work and power, are you not also unduly limiting the Spirit's work and power by assuming that He can't do much of anything "through the word"?

Or to the proponents of the "only through the word" position: if you think it's safe to assume from the "only through the word" claim that several seemingly dangerous doctrines about the Holy Spirit are false, is that really a safe assumption? Who's to say the Spirit can't "do" what it is you fear in those other doctrines, but do it "through the word"?


Kurt Willems said...

I have heard this argument about "only through the word" but have failed to see any evidence of it THROUGH THE WORD!!!!! I feel sorry for those whose experience with God is only intellectual and only from words on a page. good post

reborn1995 said...

You certainly hear a lot of language thrown around about the Spirit which isn't ever found in scripture. "nudging," "direct operation," "indirect operation," "only through the word," "non-miraculous indwelling," etc. etc. i'm not condemning using terms that don't occur in the text; but it seems strange to me how saturated talk of the Spirit is with non-biblical language. i may be wrong, but it at least hints to me that a great many of our ideas about the matter are off-base. More than this, it suggests, i think, that the subject is no less mysterious to us than it was prior to all the non-biblical terms we've concocted.

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