Article for the May 2018 edition of The Hillside Messenger
“The Holy Spirit and the Call to Evangelism”
The coming of the Holy Spirit on the disciples on the Day of Pentecost was a very significant event in the life of the Church. Some have called it the birthday of the Church. In Anglicanism, the Feast of Pentecost has often been overshadowed by Trinity Sunday, which follows it. Even in the tenth century, the Feast of the Trinity had begun to displace the celebration of the Octave (eight day period) of Pentecost. The name “Pentecost” was adopted from Judaism, and means “fiftieth” day. The Jews knew the festival as the Feast of Weeks, a time of thanksgiving for the wheat harvest. In our Lord’s time, the Jews also commemorated at this feast the giving of the Law, and the foundation of the Jewish community. The English and other northern European people gave this day the name of “White Sunday” (conflated to “Whitsunday”) because of the white clothing worn by the newly baptized on this day. The climate in these northern regions was more suitable for baptisms at Pentecost than on Easter Day.
The Collect for Whitsunday in the historic Prayer Books conveys the traditional Anglican understanding of the Holy Spirit, that He provides illumination to Christians (“the light of the Holy Spirit”), as well as the grace to discern the truth accurately (“by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things”). He also strengthens and empowers Christians for work and witness (suggested by the phrase “and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort”). Collects for Pentecost in prayer books more recent than the 1928 Prayer Book in various provinces of the Anglican Communion tend to emphasize more boldly the role of the Holy Spirit in enabling the effective proclamation of the Gospel. We must realize that historically, Anglicans have viewed the Holy Spirit as enlightening the reason, wisdom and understanding. This view was the traditional Catholic view of the Holy Spirit for many centuries, and derives from Isaiah 11:1-2. Pentecostal Churches have majored on the charismata, or gifts of the Holy Spirit listed in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12. Our view of the Holy Spirit and his role need not be tied to Isaiah 11:1-2, or to any single passage of Holy Scripture. Instead we should take in the breadth of understanding of the Holy Spirit that we find from Genesis to Revelation.
One of the most refreshing insights about the Holy Spirit is to be found both in his gifts of grace (“charismata” in 1 Corinthians 12:4) and in his fruit, or harvest, in our lives (Gal. 5:22-23). The gifts and the fruit of the Holy Spirit need to be set in balance in our lives. Some traditions have emphasized the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and others the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Cessationists have even maintained that the gifts of the Holy Spirit lasted only for the Apostolic age, after which they were no longer used or required for the growth of the Church. However, there is no teaching in the New Testament itself that indicates that any of the gifts will cease except when the knowledge of all believers is made perfect, and perfect knowledge replaces partial knowledge (1 Corinthians 13:8-10). On the other hand, the gifts of the Holy Spirit must not be so emphasized that we lose sight of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, the virtues of the Spirit, and the need for godly character, the result of the sanctifying work of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Connected with this balance in our view of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is the insight given us through St. Paul, that none of us in the Body of Christ can claim superiority, or inferiority for that matter, to others on the basis of our gifts, or even on any basis at all, but the gifts of all are needed for the Body to function properly and to be wholly united in love (1 Corinthians 12:14-30). All of our gifts have the purpose of edifying one another and the Church, giving glory to God, the Giver of the gifts.
The “more excellent way,” as St. Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 13, is the way of divine love, the practice of which should be our highest goal, for without divine love, or charity, we amount to nothing in God’s view, even if we have received many spiritual gifts which we use effectively (1 Corinthians 13:2). Love is the most excellent gift and virtue, since it abides forever, together with faith and hope (1 Corinthians 13:13). This reminds me of the first and last stanzas of Christopher Wordsworth’s Hymn (379 in our Hymnal):
Gracious Spirit, Holy Ghost,
Taught by thee we covet most
Of thy gifts at Pentecost,
Holy, heavenly love.
Faith and hope and love we see,
Joining hand in hand, agree,
But the greatest of the three,
And the best, is love.
On Sunday May 6th, one our parishioners, Noah Cummings, will be confirmed. In the Sacrament of Confirmation, after Noah has affirmed his Baptismal vows and promised to follow Jesus Christ as Lord, Bishop Bill Ilgenfritz will lay hands on him and pray for him to be strengthened by the Holy Spirit. The strengthening gift of the Holy Spirit is essential for effective witness to the Lord Jesus Christ and to His Gospel, as well as to leading a sincere and holy Christian life. I pray that the Bishop’s administration of this Sacrament will lead us all to appreciate the meaning of our own Confirmation and our life of service and witness to Christ. I pray also that any who have not yet been confirmed will be encouraged by Noah’s example to take this important step towards being empowered for faithful witness, ministry and service.
Both the Sacrament of Confirmation and the Festival of Pentecost (May 20 th this year) speak to us of the transforming and energizing power of the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, what would the Church’s witness to the Gospel have been like? The Holy Spirit led the Church to proclaim the Gospel through the preaching of the Apostles and Evangelists, and many others. Ordinary people were emboldened to share the Gospel with friends, family and strangers, and through the preaching of St. Paul and others, it spread quickly through the lands around the Mediterranean Sea.
How will God use you and the spiritual gifts He has given you to reach out to unbelievers to bring them to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ?
Let the power of the Holy Spirit transform us also, at whatever stage of our lives we may find ourselves, so that American society may be re-claimed with the power of the Lord Jesus Christ, and many be saved from bondage and sin!
May God bless you all as you live in the power of the Holy Spirit and by his direction and illumination!