The Century of the Holy Spirit

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The same Spirit who gives us his overabundant life has also given us doctrine. Scripture and Spirit cannot be put in opposition to each other.

This is an excerpt from Chapter 3 of “Reclaiming the Reformation: Christ for You in Community” by Magnus Persson (1517 Publishing, 2021).

To be a Christian is to participate in the life of the Holy Spirit who emanates from the gospel and flows through the means of grace. So, all Christians become “living stones” who are “being built up as a spiritual house” (1 Pet. 2:5), where we “serve each other, as each has received a gift of grace, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Pet. 4:10). Therefore, the whole Christian life is a life in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus speaks about this in the following way: “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:38–39). It is not my intention to present a complete doctrine of the Spirit in this chapter. The focus of this book is on the marks of the church, but as an introduction and because of my background as a Pentecostal pastor, I briefly want to address my current view on the charismatic dimension and how I understand the presence of the Spirit and his activity in and through Christ’s church.

In the third article of the creed, the church says: “We believe in the Holy Spirit, and in one Holy, Christian Church.” So, the church is a work of the Spirit, and the people of God are a people of the Spirit. Despite this, a person could still possibly call this last century the century of the Holy Spirit. Not because the Holy Spirit has been inactive during the earlier history of the church, but during the twentieth century, we have been able to see the fire of the Pentecostal movement sweep over the entire world and the charismatic renewal find paths into the different historic churches. Today, it is estimated that there are around 600 million charismatic Christians. So, today the charismatic expression and the gifts of the Spirit are affirmed far outside the Pentecostal camps. The charismatic movement is, to a large degree, now found within traditional church bodies, not the least within the Roman Catholic church. These churches have not given any exclusivity to charismatic life alone; charismatic expressions exist side by side with the sacramental life.

We find testimonies of the charismatic life in early church history, not the least among the church fathers. There are descriptions of charismatic gifts that came into expression as a sign of God giving the gift of the Spirit in connection with the intercession for the newly baptized, in accord with what happened when Paul came to Ephesus (Acts 19:5–6).2 Origen speaks about water baptism as a spring from which the gifts of the Spirit flow, an approach that seems to agree with the catholic Christian faith of that time.3 Irenaeus, who was bishop of Lyon during the third century, says the following concerning the charismatic life: “We also hear that many brothers in the church have these gifts. They speak in all sorts of spirit-given tongues and in a healthy way bring to light that which is hidden from men and reveal God’s mystery.”4 Both Augustine of Hippo, one of the church’s greatest theologians, and St. Francis of Assisi, one of the church’s most venerated saints, describe many supernatural miracles and signs in their writings. The charismatic aspect of the Christian life seems to have diminished as the church did away with and rejected various unhealthy movements that abused the gifts. Montanism, an early church-era movement started by a man named Montanus, is probably the most known movement. Montanus was eventually dismissed as a heretic for advocating all kinds of charismatic peculiarities, hard-driven asceticism, and prophetic speculations.5 This danger is always found where one overemphasizes the charismatic and simultaneously diminishes the Scriptures, where one exalts in one’s own spirituality and pulls away from the orthodoxy of faith. Yet the charismatic aspect of faith has never completely ceased in the history of the church, and, during the previous century, the embers were stoked and the whole church experienced renewal.

My spiritual roots are in the Swedish Pentecostal Movement. Today I would describe myself as an open, but cautious charismatic. I am no “cessationist,” that is, a person who believes that gifts of the Spirit ceased after the days of the Apostles. I am a “continuationist,” who believes that the gifts of the Spirit are continually bestowed upon the church throughout history. This proceeds from a theological conviction that I describe later on in this chapter, but also from my experience within a charismatic congregation. It is within the Pentecostal movement that the foundation of my spiritual life and service was laid and formed. Its emphasis on being filled by the Spirit has created a warm fellowship, passionate worship, and fiery prayers, fostering a devotion characterized by bold initiatives, but above all an eagerness for evangelism and missions. Surely, my experiences of the charismatic are mixed. There are still unhealthy inclinations and abuses in the wake of the charismatic movement. At the same time, there are few other contexts where I have witnessed such a beautiful and warm Christianity that is so eager for the expansion of God’s kingdom. Here too it is not an either/or, but a both/and. Charismatic Christians must then be anchored in good theology and good catholic order; one cannot build a church on charismatic experience alone. Genuine spiritual renewal never happens at the expense of theological development. The same Spirit who gives us his overabundant life has also given us doctrine. Scripture and Spirit cannot be put in opposition to each other.

We learn from the first page of the Bible that God’s Word and Spirit are not in conflict, that God created through the Word and the Spirit. “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Gen. 1:2–3). So, Jesus and the Spirit belong and go together. Jesus does nothing without the Spirit and the Spirit does nothing without Jesus. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Mary was informed by the angel that, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, and the Spirit testified by descending upon in him the form of a dove (Luke 3:22). Filled with the Holy Spirit, Christ was led out into the desert by the Spirit and returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee after forty days (Luke 4:1, 14). In the Synagogue in Nazareth, he read from the book of Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18–19). And then proclaimed, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). With that, Jesus began his ministry in the power of the Spirit. Peter summarizes the ministry of Christ in the following way: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10:38). The preaching of Jesus was different from that of the scribes: “And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes . . . A new teaching with authority!

He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him” (Mark 1:22, 27). Jesus suffered, died, and was buried, but God raised him from the dead by the Spirit (Rom. 8:11). He ascended to the right hand of the Father, and the Spirit descended upon the church (Christ’s body). The apostles then carried out the great commission in the power of the Spirit (Acts 1:8; 3:29–31). So, the Spirit is active throughout the history of the church up to our day.

As I see it, there are four great streams within Christ’s church: the Catholic, the Orthodox, the Evangelical (that is Lutheran), and the Charismatic. When these streams meet each other and are united, a river is formed with strong and rich floods that can give true renewal to the whole of Christ’s church.

This is an excerpt from Chapter 3 of “Reclaiming the Reformation: Christ for You in Community” by Magnus Persson (1517 Publishing, 2021), pgs 32-36.

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