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February 1, 2015

“You Didn’t Get It Here”


“Amen!” The sound rang out from the back of the sanctuary when the preacher made a particularly salient point. Horrified ushers hurried to the scene of the crime and gently but firmly informed the visiting perpetrator, “We don’t do that sort of thing here. Please listen quietly during the sermon.”

A few minutes later, however, when the preacher said something stirring, the guest intoned, “Preach it!” Again the ushers asked the guest kindly to hold his peace. Almost predictably, when the climax of the sermon came, the visitor sprang to his feet and cried, “Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!” At this the head usher marched over to the guest and said, “Listen, we’ve asked you twice to please be quiet. If you’re going to disturb the service, you’ll have to leave.”

“I’m sorry,” the visitor explained, “but I can’t help it. I’ve got the Holy Ghost!”

“Well that may be,” the usher replied, “but this is a Presbyterian church, and you didn’t get it here!”

Surely that story is apocryphal. It isn’t even true to life. I know many Presbyterian congregations where the Holy Spirit is welcome and clearly at work. In fact it’s my privilege to serve such a church. Last night our Session spent an hour in corporate listening prayer, seeking the Lord’s guidance before we got down to the docket’s business. As usual, I left the Session meeting fired up and inspired. In worship last Sunday at least three people had encouraging words from the Lord that they wanted to share with the congregation. Only one of them got to speak. His life is being transformed as he has been free from tobacco, alcohol, and drugs for over 100 days now since he started worshiping with us.

You may be wondering the same thing an Assemblies of God brother once asked an elder and me, “Is Woodbury a charismatic church?” Before I could formulate an answer that adequately addressed the complexities of the question, the elder gave the perfect reply, “No, just Spirit-filled.”

Fully Trinitarian

I like another term as well: Fully trinitarian. In some congregations, God the Father is glorified, God the Son is magnified, and God the Holy Spirit sometimes gets honorable mention. We talk about Him (or worse, “it!”) in creeds and some hymns, but we really don’t expect Him to do anything. Instead, we try to “do church” on our own power. We trust our education and talents and earthly resources to build and serve Christ’s Body, though Scripture teaches that it is the Holy Spirit who brings people to saving faith in Jesus Christ, transforms us into Christ’s likeness, empowers disciples to be effective witnesses for Jesus, and unites us into a koinonia (fellowship of Christ-like love). Too many churches are functionally bi-nitarian.

When Tim Keller addressed the ECO gathering in Colorado Springs in 2012 he said something like this. “Today’s culture has become so much like the Grec0-Roman culture that, almost without hermeneutic, the Book of Acts is now the Mission Manual for the Church.” The good doctor demurred too much on the supernatural manifestations we see in Scripture, but apart from that his words expressed a sense that had been growing strong in me.

I personally have found great help for Spirit-filled ministry in the resources provided by Presbyterian Reformed Ministries International. The exegetical precision and theological integrity of their Dunamis Project is quite remarkable. An excellent summary and application of their teaching is found in Growing the Church in the Power of the Holy Spirit. I recommend that book and the conference that has grown out of it.

In 2006 I asked then Moderator of the PC(USA) General Assembly Joan Gray what one message she would like to convey to the Church. You’ll love her answer:

“The church is a sailboat, not a rowboat.”

She meant, of course, that we try to accomplish by our own strength and sweat what the wind of the Holy Spirit can do far more effectively.

I have no desire to be part of a “charismatic” denomination. Nevertheless, my deep burning passion is for ECO to be Spirit-filled in every good sense of the term. Pray with me for this fledgling denomination, this fresh movement of God always to be radically open to the powerful transforming work and wind of the Holy Spirit.

May ECO ever be fully Trinitarian; in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen!

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