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As with any divorce, sometimes the children stay with the mother, and sometimes they stay with the father. In this divorce, some have embraced the Spirit and others the Word. However, I believe that our teaching and preaching will only be effective if it is firmly grounded in the Word of God and entirely saturated with the Spirit of God.
What is the difference? Those on the "Word" side emphasize sound doctrine, expository preaching, contending for the faith. "We need to get back to the teaching of the Reformation," they say, "to rediscover the doctrine of justification by faith, the sovereignty of God and to know the God of Jonathan Edwards."
Those on the "Spirit" side emphasize the prophetic word, signs, wonders, miracles and the power demonstrated in the book of Acts. "Until we see that dimension of the Spirit that is seen in the early church--with all the gifts of the Spirit in operation--the honor of God's name will not be restored, nor will the world take any real notice of the church," these people say.
It is not one or the other that is needed, but both. This simultaneous combination will result in spontaneous combustion. It is only then that the revival for which we pray and another Great Awakening, which is sorely needed, will take place.
VALUING THE WORD
In the Old Testament, God has revealed Himself in essentially two ways: His Word and His name. His Word is the infallible expression of who He is and what He declares to be true. His Word is His integrity put on the line. His name reveals His identity, His power and His reputation.
When I teach, I sometimes ask people to vote for which, in their opinion, is the more important of the two to God Himself: His Word or His name? In my experience, most people believe that God's name is more important to Him than His Word.
The answer is actually provided by David in Psalm 138:2: "Thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name" (KJV).
Why? First, His Word came prior to the disclosure of His name. It was His Word that spoke creation into existence (see Gen. 1:3), and it was the way He revealed Himself to the patriarchs. This is evident in His words to Moses: "'I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord [Yahweh] I did not make myself known to them'" (Ex. 6:3, NIV).
Similarly, the disclosure of God's name in Exodus 3:14 was almost immediately followed by signs, wonders and miracles. With the possible exception of the birth of Isaac, supernatural events were largely withheld from the patriarchs until the era of Moses' ministry (his rod turning into a serpent, the plagues on Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea and the provision of manna).
Second, God's Word is to be magnified above His name because the Word is an integral part of the plan of salvation. We are saved in precisely the same way Abraham was saved: by believing God's promise--His Word. In fact, Abraham became Paul's chief example of justification by faith.
Abraham's justification occurred long before the signs and wonders that he experienced (the provision of a son and a sacrificial ram). Instead, Abraham was justified when he placed faith in the promises of God (see Gen. 15:6). Ultimately, we are not saved by signs and wonders but by believing the Word--the promise. That, in a word, is the gospel.
And yet a third--and deeper--reason for God's exaltation of His Word above His name may be that we might get to know God for who He is in Himself. This takes time. It means devouring His Word--the Scriptures--just in order to know Him.
If you want to know God, it is required that you spend time with Him alone in prayer and spend time in His Word--not just to see what will "preach" or "teach" or give you a quick sense of direction.
A recent poll of pastors, church leaders and clergymen on both sides of the Atlantic revealed that the average church leader spends 4 minutes a day in quiet time and personal devotions. And we wonder why the church is powerless?
Martin Luther wrote in his journal, "I have a very busy day today; must spend not two, but three, hours in prayer." John Wesley was on his knees every day at 4 a.m. for two hours. But where are the Wesleys and Luthers?
We are all too busy, so getting to know God for His own sake has less appeal nowadays. We prefer the quick prophetic word to personal wrestling with Him in prayer and intercession--and devouring His Word as it is revealed in Scripture.
I recently watched a religious program on television, which began something like this: "You will be glad you stayed tuned because we have a word--a rhema for you!"
That is what we all seem to want, myself included. Rhema is a biblical word--used 70 times in the New Testament--sometimes indicating what is prophetic, personal and immediate. For this reason, many prefer the prophetic word to the expository word that emerges in preaching and teaching.
Sometimes I think that a preoccupation with the rhema word rather than the written Word is like going to McDonald's or Burger King: quick, fast food which makes us flabby, but not very healthful.
KNOWING THE AUTHOR
One of my predecessors at Westminster Chapel, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, has published many books of sermons. He graciously made himself available to me during the first four years I was at Westminster Chapel. There were two ways of learning from him: reading his books and asking him questions.
Most people did not have the latter privilege as I did. But the way I showed the most respect and appreciation for this man was to have read his books first before asking him his view about this or that verse in the Bible. To talk with him was like getting his rhema word, but to read his books is what truly enabled me to know him.
God is gracious to us, too. He understands how we want--and sometimes need--a word fitly spoken in a time of stress. "He knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust" (Ps. 103:14). But to those who sit at His feet and learn of Him, the reward is incalculable.
Jesus told the disciples that the Holy Spirit would remind them of what He had taught them (see John 14:26). I suspect the disciples often thought, Will I remember this? when they were hearing Him teach or give a parable. The problem is, if we haven't learned anything, there will be nothing in our heads to be reminded of!
If you are empty-headed when you receive the laying on of hands, you will be empty-headed when you get off the floor! It is the promise of the Holy Spirit that should motivate us to receive good teaching, give good teaching and memorize scripture verses (an art that has almost perished from the earth). The coming of the Holy Spirit in power makes the discipline of receiving teaching, memorizing Scripture and wrestling with His Word all worthwhile.
A few years ago the late John Wimber invited me to have a meal with him in London. The same day I was to meet him the Spirit gave me a word for him. It made me a little nervous. In fact, I did not eat when I sat with him and his wife, Carol, that evening.
I waited for the right moment to say, "I have a word for you." He looked at me and said, "Shoot." I did.
"John, when I heard you speak at Royal Albert Hall on Monday evening I agreed with what you said," I began.
I then reminded him of his own words: "Luther and Calvin gave us the Word in the 16th century, but God wants us to do the works in the 20th century." He agreed that is what he said.
"John," I said with some fear and trembling, "you are teaching Pharaohs who knew not Joseph. In other words, people in the 20th century don't know the Word to begin with."
He dropped his knife and fork, pointed to his chest and said, "You have just touched in the very vortex of where I am." He went on to say, "I receive your word."
A clear understanding of the gospel should be prior to the prophetic word or signs and wonders. I wish it were not the case, but most people cannot write in a sentence--much less a paragraph--what justification by faith means. Some ministers and church leaders would have the same problem.
And, yet, it is also true that the Word alone is not enough. There are those who have the purest theology on the planet who are--as Lloyd-Jones used to say--"Perfectly orthodox, perfectly useless."
That is why the Word must be joined by the Spirit. When Paul said that his gospel came not in word only, he implied that it could have been that way. But he was able to say that it came also with power (see 1 Thess. 1:5). I fear that too much of my own preaching and teaching have been simply with words.
That is not good enough. We need the Spirit to produce the power that not only applies the Word effectually, but also which accompanies the Word with what is unmistakably supernatural. Then--and only then--will we see the world turned upside down.
ISHMAEL OR ISAAC?
One way I have described the relationship of the emphases of the Spirit and the Word is the relationship between Ishmael and Isaac.
So obsessed was he with making God's promises come to pass, Abraham took matters into his own hands and impregnated his servant, Hagar. Abraham believed that Ishmael was to be the promised son, but he was wrong.
Then came the wonderful news: Sarah was pregnant. But was this good news for Abraham? He now had to completely adjust to the idea of Ishmael not being the promised son. The thought of Sarah being pregnant was not only laughable, but disrupting.
It is my view that what we have largely seen in the church up until now is Ishmael. God had a definite plan for Ishmael--and it is my own opinion that we have hardly begun to see what God had in mind.
And, yet, Ishmael, though loved by Abraham, was not what God ultimately had in mind. God had Isaac in mind from the beginning but waited a good while before he revealed this.
God declared that His covenant would be established with Isaac--an "everlasting covenant" (see Gen. 17:19). Through Isaac, Abraham would be "heir of the world" and a father "of many nations" (see Rom. 4:13,17).
Ishmael represents what those on both the Word side and the Spirit side have understood as the ultimate promise of what God wants to do.
Those on the Word side tend to see sound doctrine and faithful expository preaching as being "as good as it gets." Those on the Spirit side tend to see the movement of the Spirit in Pentecostal and charismatic circles of the last century as being "as good as it gets."
I believe that both perspectives are wrong. Isaac is coming. He is being birthed as you read these lines. Moreover, the promise concerning the spontaneous combustion of the Word and the Spirit will be in proportion to the original promise about Isaac--far greater than the one regarding Ishmael.
For the Word without the Spirit and the Spirit without the Word--though achieving a lot--hardly compare with what is coming when the two are joined once again. It is then that the ministers of God will stand where no one has stood since the days of the early church.
This message probably offends some. It offended Abraham when he first heard it. "Word" people may say, "Are you telling us we don't have a place for the Holy Spirit?" I would answer that most evangelicals have a "soteriological" doctrine of the Spirit (the Spirit applies the Word but does not manifest Himself immediately and directly).
Spirit people may say, "Are you telling us we don't preach the Word?" I would answer that too many charismatics and Pentecostals stress the rhema of the prophetic but often seem utterly bored with the logos of expository preaching.
I humbly plead with you to consider these lines. Would you not agree that we need more than what we have at the moment? The world is going to hell, taking almost no notice of the church, and we delude ourselves if we say that what we have is "as good as it gets."
There is more. Let us fall to our knees and look to heaven with the Bible in one hand and the other reaching out to all God will give us. And it just may be that He will look down on us with pity and bless us. The result will be that both sound theology and the supernatural be re-wed in our time.
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