The neglected member of the Trinity – because of Pentecostalism

One of the commonplace messages of the “Charismatic Renewal” was that the Church had neglected the Spirit – the third Person of the Trinity – since sub-apostolic times, and that it was high time his role was acknowledged. It seems to me this history is very far from true. In fact it is the Charismatic/Pentecostal teaching that has severely restricted the role of the Spirit to a purveyor of power encounters and spiritual gifts. In some cases, like Jenn Johnson’s (worship leader of Bethel’s) comparison of the Spirit of Holiness to “a sneaky, blue genie-of-the-lamp,” it even blasphemes him.

For a start, Pentecostalism’s emphasis on the Holy Spirit was not new, because it grew out of Wesleyan Holiness movements, in which dramatic manifestations of the Spirit actually multiplied over a century and a half or more before Pentecostalism arose. The early Pentecostals themselves believed in a three-fold experience of the Spirit.

The Puritans of the seventeenth century had laid great stress on regeneration, and seem often to have made this a formulaic experiential thing to the extent that, unless one felt oneself to be literally overcome with remorse for sin (with weeping), one’s salvation was in doubt. The literature is full of people “under conviction,” sometimes for years before the experience of saving regeneration – a far cry from Acts, where it appears repentance and faith are immediate and simple responses to the gospel.

Wesley’s and Whitefield’s Great Awakening took this to whole new levels, so that Jonathan Edwards had to give guidance on distinguishing between dramatic manifestations of the Spirit, and those of the flesh, to assess the validity of conversions.

But Wesley also developed a new doctrine of a “second blessing” of the Spirit called “sinless perfection,” following on some long period after conversion, and this subsequent dramatic experience, in a theologically nuanced form, became the basis of the “entire sanctification” of the nineteenth century Holiness Movements.

The early Pentecostals retained these two, but also sought a third bolus-dose of the Holy Spirit, the baptism therein and therewith, through which (they believed) came supernatural spiritual gifts and power for service. It is interesting how, in the Charismatic movement’s better-educated streams, that sequential theology has changed: Scripture is recognised to teach that regeneration and baptism with the Spirit are simultaneous with faith, and that sanctification (though often neglected) is an active lifelong process, not a passive event.

Accordingly the “filling with the Spirit” has become divorced from Scriptural initiation events, and though sought as a vital experience has a rather loose justification from the Bible. It seems to me that this divorce from its quasi-biblical support gives the excuse for the ever more extravagant manifestations of what is really the same Kundalini experience: you might have fallen down and barked at the Toronto Blessing years after your baptism in the Spirit, when you fell down and spoke in tongues, but that was decades ago, and God’s new thing is to fall down and prophesy at IHOPKC, or whatever replaces that once the balloon of scandal goes up.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I was converted several years before becoming aware of the Charismatic movement, so I’ve been asking myself recently if the Church really did ignore the Holy Spirit back then. Or did I just swallow the narrative again? One problem here is that I was converted through a Bible Class for young boys, with the focus on proclaiming salvation through the blood of Jesus in the simplest way possible. Trinitarian nuances were perhaps reserved for adult Church experience.

Some of the CSSM choruses we sang suggest that this simplification might have been a wider trend in Evangelicalism then. For example, the popular chorus He lives, he lives!, extracted from a hymn by Alfred Ackley, is about Christ Jesus and ends:

You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart.

and On the Victory Side assures us that:

With Christ within, the fight we’ll win

This elision of Christ with the indwelling Spirit lives on in the evangelist’s “Ask Jesus into your heart,” but it is not actually that misleading: the Holy Spirit is the indwelling Spirit of Christ after all (see 1 Peter 1:11), so that Paul can speak of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

Other choruses speak more clearly of the Spirit. Having no copy of the CSSM book to hand, I’m relying on memory. But I’m feeding on the living bread quotes Jesus’s words on the Spirit to the woman of Samaria; Let the beauty of Jesus asks the Spirit to refine our nature; Help me, O Lord, thy word to read asks God to make the Bible “come alive” to us through the Spirit; and of course Spirit of the living God asks the Spirit to “fall afresh on me.”

Incidentally, that last chorus reveals its roots in the Holiness Movement: apart from the Spirit “falling,” which I don’t recall from Scripture, and the direct address to the Spirit, rather than to Christ the giver, the song invites him to “Break me…” which is very much a Holiness theme, again not found as such in Scripture. That makes the chorus conducive to the Charismatic mindset, which is why it has recently been revived in a “new worship song.” But the other three choruses cover themes seldom seen in today’s worship songs: the role of the Spirit in continually mediating Christ to us; his work of sanctification; and his unlocking of the Bible to believers.

Apart from the Bible Class, we always sang hymns at school and in adult church (even if attendance was only at Scout church parades). I’ve been looking through my old English Hymnal, a pretty broad outlook on twentieth century hymnody, to see what it teaches about the Holy Spirit, and particularly in the hymns I often sang.

To start with, the section on Pentecost (or “Whitsuntide”) in “The Christian Year” has eight Pentecost hymns, compared to eighteen for Easter and nine for Ascension. The themes they cover are many, and include the Holy Spirit as invisible Comforter; the Pentecost gift intended “to kindle every heart, and fervour for the Word impart”, and “to teach, convince, subdue”; the exclusivity of the Spirit to all the elect; tongues (ie eloquence and boldness) given to make words of proclamation effective, and fire to make them loving; the Spirit destroying passions to replace them with virtue; the Spirit as Creator; the Spirit as giver of grace, eternal life, obedience, peace, purity, holiness, physical health and “all gifts”; the Spirit to give victory over Satan and sin, spiritual fruit; the Spirit filling the Church, and now filling the sinful world around. That is quite a portfolio compared to electric shocks and glossolalia!

I only know two of those eight hymns. To address them in more detail, Come down O Love divine (Bianco da Siena d.1434) – is about the Spirit burning passions away to produce virtue. And Come Holy Ghost, our souls inspire (Bishop Cosin 1594-1672) is more comprehensive still, citing sevenfold gifts (from Isaiah 11), then comfort, life, love, peace, guidance, wisdom, and knowledge of the unity of Spirit with Father and Son.

A number of hymns in the book (like the well-known Holy, holy, holy) honour the Trinity as a whole, and Trinitarian doxologies comprise the last verse of many hymns. Several hymns have a verse on each member of the Trinity and his particular offices, which provide a good idea of the theology of the Spirit over time. At this point, I will append a list of hymns from The English Hymnal I know from childhood, which include the Spirit specifically, together with summaries of what they teach. Note, as you scan it, how the list takes us from the eighth century through to the nineteenth, the twentieth already being represented in my CSSM choruses. The Spirit has not been forgotten at all in past ages!

  • Alleluia sing to Jesus (W. Chatterton Dix, 1837-98) – celebrates the implicit presence of Jesus through the Spirit, by quoting Jesus’s “not as orphans…” from John 14:18.
  • Eternal Father, strong to save (W. Whiting, 1825-78) – Trinitarian: the Spirit is described as Creator, and as giver of light, life and peace.
  • Father of heaven (E. Cooper, 1770-1833) – Trinitarian: in v3 the Spirit accomplishes the regeneration of sinners.
  • Glorious things of thee are spoken (John Newton, 1725-1807) – has a verse on the living waters of the Spirit, “streams of living water” satisfying spiritual thirst.
  • Gracious Spirit, Holy Ghost (Bishop Wordsworth, 1807-85) – the most valuable of all gifts of Pentecost is love (referencing 1 Cor 13).
  • He who would valiant be (adapted from John Bunyan) – the Spirit is our defender and our assurer of eternal life.
  • Holy Ghost, come down upon thy children (F W Faber, 1814-63) – a children’s hymn, teaching the Spirit’s role in converting grace, in holiness, and in being our forbearing comforter.
  • Lead us heavenly Father (Edmeston 1791-1867) – Trinitarian: the Spirit brings joy by converting all our passions through love.
  • Love Divine (Charles Wesley, 1707-88) – here love is a Wesleyan placeholder for the Spirit, being the source of joy, salvation, and all mercies.
  • My Spirit longs for thee (J. Byrom 1692-1763) – the Spirit is again implied as our divine indwelling Guest, providing rest and love.
  • O for a closer walk (W. Cowper, 1731-1800) – the Spirit here is the holy Dove, our rest, sanctifier, and divine companion.
  • O Holy Spirit (C .Coffin, 1676-1749) – the Spirit is the source of love, and our motivator, also modelling Trinitarian love to the saints.
  • O King enthroned on high (Pentecostarion, 8th century) – the Spirit is the divine King – interestingly described as enthroned in heaven, yet also our comforter, source of truth, of life, of peace, and of all treasure. He is also our sanctifier, through love.
  • O Love, who formest me to wear… (J. Scheffleer, 1624-77) – the Holy Spirit, like the Word, spiritual life, and power, is imparted through Christ’s love, for truth, light, love and power in our lives.
  • O thou who camest from above (C. Wesley, 1707-88) – the Spirit is given for love, witness and obedience.
  • Sweet Spirit, comfort me (Robert Herrick, 1591-1674) – the Spirit our comforter in all afflictions.
  • Thou whose almighty Word (J. Marriott, 1780-1825) – Trinitarian: the Spirit is the giver of truth, love, light. He is also Creator, giver of grace, and bringer of light to earth’s darkness.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts how John Owen wrote a large tome on the Holy Spirit, and it would seem that a fair number of his themes are included in the popular hymns of old. It is rather sad that the same is not true of modern worship songs, for all that they call on the Spirit to break through, to take control, to unravel us, to do miracles and so on, some of which are a minor part of his role in Scripture, and some of which are not in the Bible at all and antithetical to his work. I suspect that if we were to recover a fully-orbed pneumatology, we would talk about the Spirit less, and honour him more.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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