The Fork in the Road: “The Way of UNITY between “Christian Churches” and Churches of Christ,” Part 10

Greg Tidwell quoted the great missionary Tolbert Fanning,

In plain words, the idea of professedly new revelations, or guidance of the Spirit, beyond what is written in the Bible, tends very much to satisfy all under the influence of the recent spiritual light, that the sacred Scriptures are of little or no value to the world. Moreover, for long observation, we are satisfied that such as look for direct spiritual light, will sooner or later renounce all confidence in the Scriptures of truth.

I’ve never understood this attitude toward works of the Spirit. For example, James tells us to pray for wisdom and God will grant it (James 1:5). Is this promise still true today? Why not just read the Bible and learn wisdom entirely on my own? What does the prayer add if not God’s own work within my mind and heart?

Of course, all true wisdom is built on scripture, but is the promise solely that I can the read the Bible and learn wisdom on my own?

And consider,

(1Co 10:13 ESV) 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

How does God help me cope with temptation? Solely by reading the Bible? Or does he work within me — in concert with scripture?

(Phi 4:7 ESV) 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

If this peace is beyond understanding, then it obviously doesn’t come about solely by understanding what has been written. God must do something more than inspire the scriptures for this promise to be true.

We teach our children to sing about “the peace that passes understanding down in my heart.” Did the promise expire at the end of the apostolic age? Should we instead sing “the peace that comes from understanding using my mind”?

Many still pray that God “guard, guide, and direct us” and “give the preacher a ready recollection.” We pray that the sermon will touch our hearts and that we will apply it to our lives. Are these vain words? Or do we insist that God does this by some means other than through the Spirit?

We have this bias against the Spirit being active today in our hearts and minds, but we’re willing to let God do what the scriptures often credit to the Spirit. We are delighted to pray to God for wisdom, but we’d damn as apostate someone claiming to have the gift of understanding from the Spirit. We pray for God to direct and shape our hearts and minds and then become apoplectic at the thought that God might do exactly that through the Spirit.

Since you quoted Fanning, I’ll quote his student, David Lipscomb —

The Holy Spirit actually dwells in every obedient believer. (Acts 2:38; 5:32.) …

Those thus led are already in Christ, and in them the Holy Spirit dwells. The leading is both internal and external. To whatever extent the Holy Spirit by its indwelling strengthens the human spirit to enable it to control the flesh, to that extent the leading is internal; to whatever extent the motives of “the law of the Spirit,” when brought to bear on the heart in the New Testament, enlighten and strengthen, and so enable it to keep the body in subjection, to that extent the leading is external. The leading, then, consists of the whole of the influences of every kind exercised by the Holy Spirit on the human spirit, enabling it to keep the body under. Hence, the exhortation is given: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:12,13.)]

David Lipscomb, A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles: Romans, speaking of Romans 8:11 and 14 in the Gospel Advocate Commentary series (emphasis added). (The comments in the second quoted paragraph could be the words of J. W. Shepherd. His comments are supposed to be in brackets, but there is no open bracket in this paragraph to indicate where they begin.)

I agree with Lipscomb and Shepherd. The Spirit actually dwells within the Christian and that “the Holy Spirit by its indwelling strengthens the human spirit to enable it to control the flesh” by internal operation. That’s my reading, too. After all, to “control the flesh” is to resist our fleshly nature and instead by led by the Spirit — which is a leading to become more like Christ (Rom. 12, especially v. 1).

I suppose the final objection would have to be: If we can agree that God does these things, why does it matter that we don’t agree that God sometimes does these things through the Spirit?

Well, because I’ve seen the fruit of the Spirit-is-retired theory. It cuts chapters and chapters out of the Bible — both testaments — making much of the Bible inscrutable and irrelevant. I mean, if Romans 8 responds to the problem of sin, and the Spirit is on leave of absence, the problem of sin remains unsolved! And this leads to a type of perfectionism that causes many of our fellow church members to doubt their salvation.

And our members, suffering through sermons teaching the absence of the Spirit in today’s life, hear that God himself is absent. After all, every argument that declares the prospect of an active Spirit heretical could just as easily be applied to condemn belief in an active Father. Indeed, there are Church of Christ preachers who insist that God does not answer prayers that require the laws of nature to be violated — because that would be a miracle.

This leads to a sort of near-Deistic determinism — that we must work out our salvation all on our own. And, like Alabama John, I grow weary of talking to the sick and elderly who pray “I hope I’ve done enough.”

What a sad, sad religion Christianity is without the Spirit.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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20 Responses to The Fork in the Road: “The Way of UNITY between “Christian Churches” and Churches of Christ,” Part 10

  1. Gregory Alan Tidwell says:

    “THERE is no subject more important in religion than that of the Holy Spirit. Unless this be properly understood, a large portion of the Bible, and especially of the New Testament, must remain unintelligible. On the other hand, a just view of it will do more than a knowledge of any other particular topic to give harmony, clearness, and consistency to what may be learned of all other matters presented in the Word of God. That Word has been itself dictated by the Spirit, and the better our knowledge of the Author, the more correct will be our comprehension of the entire volume. That the subject is, from its very nature, difficult and mysterious in many respects, is freely admitted; but it is equally true that, so far as it is treated at all in Scripture, it is a legitimate subject of human inquiry, and an essential portion of religious truth.”
    — Robert Richardson,
    The Office of the Holy Spirit. (Bosworth, Chase and Hall, Cincinnati: 1872) p. 11.

  2. Price says:

    Why anyone would attempt to live a Christ-like existence without depending on the Holy Spirit for counsel and direction is beyond me… To be honest, at least in my estimation, it is considerably arrogant to suggest that we could do so… And, just from looking at the “fruit” it appears that those that rely on their own abilities are doomed to division… I find it odd that there is One Lord, One faith and One baptism, but 25 or better sects within the CoC who claim the Word as their authority.. Either the Spirit is totally confused or perhaps we are…

  3. God defines righteousness, and one of the meanings of righteous is “perfect balance.” The Spirit could be considered the author of the scriptures, but the Holy Spirit testifies about Jesus. Being Holy Spirit-centered is as unbalanced as being in denial about the Holy Spirit’s work.

    By God’s grace, the Holy Spirit was active in my life even when I believed that it was only through the word. It’s a matter of degree; I have a choke valve. How much power to grow into the image of the invisible God do I want? If I center on Christ and believe for the power, it will be there as promised. If I center on the power, I may have an interesting ride, but I will miss the target.

    There is infinite water pressure at the pump of the living water, but I control the faucet and I have limited pipe capacity. If I submit in obedience to God and turn on the spigot to the max and if I pray for greater wisdom and understand to get a larger diameter pipe, maybe I can experience “my cup runneth over” instead of “drip-drip-drip.”

  4. stephen says:

    What are your actual thoughts on the matter (without qouting the magazine you edit)?

  5. aBasnar says:

    As far as I understood it, Greg meant to say: If we want to know more about the Spirit, we still cannot go beyond His self-revelation in the scriptures he authored. I understand that many view this as a “very dry” approach, because it involves serious and intense study of written letters, words and grammar. That’s one side of the story, and I see no alternative to diligent study.

    The other side is our human tendency to rationalize what goes against our experience and hermeneutical traditions. Scripture contains more about a Spirit-filled life than many theologians would strive for personally. Church traditions and various dispensational systemens limit our access to the promises in ways that are most likely very saddening for God. That’s the other side of the story which heavily influences the first side of it (in the 1st paragraph).

    Paragraph two in connection with paragraph one therefore leads us in circles. It is a way to conserve the theological insights of past generations regardless whether they understood God’s word properly or not.

    So, basically, I agree that we cannot go beyond what is written; but we also must be aware of our written and unwritten traditions, bias and prejudices; as well as our natural tendency to confirm our status quo, experience and understanding. The latter implies that we already came to the full knowledge (or our fathers did), that there is nothing more to learn from scripture, that all we can do is repeat and memorize what we have already learned. I doubt that this is really the case, because then the churches (and our own lives) would look quite different …


  6. Bob Brandon says:

    This is turning into an extended game of Internet Whack-A-Mole. Greg responds in the comments, Jay then advances his argument further. Greg then persists in commenting more. Greg is now reduced to posting extended swathes of Tolbert Fanning in rebuttal.

  7. Jerry says:

    Some time ago I posted an article in which I suggested that if the Devil has power to tempt us to evil then surely the Holy Spirit has the power to tempt us to good. If this is not a current activity of the Holy Spirit, then all of the good that we do is of ourselves, and we are able to boast – unlike Paul, who gave all of the glory to God.

  8. Laymond says:

    I grow weary of talking to the sick and elderly who pray “I hope I’ve done enough.”

    elpis — hope–1) joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation
    Even Paul lived in hope.
    Rom 5:1 Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:
    Rom 5:2 By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
    Rom 5:3 And not only [so], but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;
    Rom 5:4 And patience, experience; and experience, hope:
    Rom 5:5 And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.

  9. Laymond says:

    Jerry, do you believe God is stronger than Satan? if so do you believe in exorcism, of evil spirits by good? do you believe insane people are indwelled by an evil spirit? as was believed in Jesus day. If you believe you are indwelled by the same spirit as the apostles were , Please, please go to the asylums and release those people from the hell they live in every day.
    My daughter worked as a Regestered Nurse in the state hospital for children in Salem Oregon for five years — she quit, she said dad I had to quit because I was becoming an athest. You couldn’t find a more devout Christian when she started. When we talk, which is often, she still mentions those children. Please if you people truly believe you are indwelled by the third person of God, put it to use. there is no lack of need for your gift. or is it only for your own selfish use.

  10. God the Father worked with and through His unique Son while the Son was on earth. The Son promised that He would send the Spirit to continue the work begun by the Son. Are we agreed so far? A question arises. Does the Spirit work in persons who are not “in Christ?” What we might be able to agree on is that the Spirit is given to those who are reborn of water and spirit. Acts 2:38 makes the promise. We believe that Peter, very soon prior to making that promise, had received the promised Spirit in baptismal measure. We surmise that Peter was speaking truth when he promised that the Spirit WOULD be given to each believer who repented and was baptized into Christ.

    We would likely agree that God is not limited by our understandings. If He chooses to give His Spirit to others who have NOT been reborn of water and spirit, He can do so. But we should not doubt that God will keep His promises. So we don’t doubt but that the Spirit IS given to all believers who have repented and have been baptized. At least it can be supposed that we all would agree. But so far as I know there is no promise that the Spirit will be poured out on “all flesh” including those who are not in Christ.

    So then we come to the present conundrum: Are we who have received the gift of the Spirit actually helped by the Spirit to learn and recognize truth even more than was revealed in the writings we consider to be apostolic? I note that the promise of being led into all truth was made ONLY to the apostles. I hear some claiming that the Spirit is leading them into new and different (from apostolic) truth. Is He doing so? If the “new truth” differs from apostolic revelation, I feel it is not from the Holy Spirit that “new truth” has come. That it comes from a spirit I don’t doubt.

    And I believe that unity in Christ can only come from us all being loyal to Jesus and the Spirit He sent to continue His work on earth. I choose to not obey worship laws based on what God didn’t say through the Son and His apostles. I see no hope for unity except in accepting Jesus as LORD of all, and accepting the books selected by early Christians as representing the unchanging will of the Master.

    But how important it is to “rightly divide” (correctly understand) the inspired writings. Unity is impossible between ones who accept a regulative principle with its worship laws and those of us who reject CENI as being a way to understand the Way of the Christ. It surely works well to understand any code of laws. But the Christian way is not a legal system. Alexander speaks well of careful study of grammatical constructions as necessary to understand. I doubt that the writers intended deep and hidden meanings which had to be extracted by scholars. Instead, I believe the words were chosen and written to be understood by “common people” rather than scholars. My prejudice is based on my not being myself a scholar, of course.

  11. Pingback: The Fork in the Road: “The Way of UNITY between “Christian Churches” and Churches of Christ,” Part 11 | One In Jesus

  12. Charles McLean says:

    Laymond, I am disappointed. Not only do you demonstrate no interest in freeing the oppressed yourself, you actually exhibit a certain smug personal satisfaction when they are not. Your words reflect the hearts of men like the Sanhedrin, King Herod, the unpenitent thief on the cross, and the crowd around its base. I find little difference between the spirit of your comments and the motivation behind, “If you are who you say you are, come down!” Does anyone really believe that the jeering crowd was actually hoping to see God act? No, that crowd was no different then than it is now.

  13. Ray

    On another blog, I am painstakingly developing in about five separate posts, of probably 1500-2000 words each, what you succinctly said in one sentence.

    “And I believe that unity in Christ can only come from us all being loyal to Jesus and the Spirit He sent to continue His work on earth.”

    That is the bottom line, and the top line, as well. If we could keep our focus on this goal, other interpretations and differences will fall into better perspective.

    Thank you.

    Could I have permission to quote your sentence above, with appropriate reference link?

  14. Laymond,

    I, too, am disappointed in your post. I have written, and deleted, probably a dozen, at least, responses to some of your comments over the last six months or longer — deleted because my response showed evidence of an impatience with a continual supercalcification of attitude. I may regret letting this comment slip through.

    Your comments are difficult to respond to, because they are too often illogical and self-contradictory, make faulty connections between different passages that only happen to use the same word, and toss around unsupported negative platitudes. I think, even worse, you seem to not recognize this. Brother, I feel compelled to point this out, because these spirit-quenching comments are in the public domain and will carry influence on someone who may be affected more by opinion than truth.

    Please consider Mark 6: 4-6. “And Jesus said to them, only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 And he was amazed at their lack of faith.”

    Think about it, Laymond. Jesus is our relative, our elder brother; Jesus is in His own house, dwelling within us. Is Jesus a prophet without honor in our house? Can He do no miracles (dunamis = power)? Is He amazed at our lack of faith? Where do your comments fit with this passage, or did this passage die out with the apostles, also?

    Could these hometown people have said to Jesus, “If you think you’ve got God all packaged up, let’s see you come over and cast the demons out of these mentally imbalanced people. Hey! Come on over here, everybody, we’re going to have a show!” The Jews demanded a sign; but even when they got one, they still didn’t believe. Jesus’ power responds to faith in God, not to faithless demands.

    I understand because I’ve been there, brother. Many years ago, I’ve said things like what you have said. I pray that God, through His grace and mercy, will teach you as He has done and continues to do for me. God had to whack me to get my attention. I hope you can learn more easily.

    But please consider and pray about this matter before making more spirit-draining comments. God will hold us accountable for careless words. We all must continually pray that our words will be metered by God’s revelation. I wouldn’t want to have to answer for some comments you have made, but I have plenty of my own to repent of.

  15. Doug says:

    Laymond, your statement “do you believe insane people are indwelled by an evil spirit?” is just unbelievably unbeleivable. If evil spirits were the cause of mental illness, what good would anitpsychotic medications be in treatment for mental illness. And yet, they are. So no, I don’t believe as people did in Jesus time that mental illness is necessarily demonic possession. Sometimes, it’s just a medical disorder of the brain. The more you know about the brain, the more amazing it is that any of us are sane. It takes a real master designer to make a brain functional.

  16. Charles McLean says:

    Doug, I appreciate your judicious use of the term “necessarily” in this post. What is described as mental illness IS sometimes indicative of demonic oppression, but this is not necessarily the case. We have need of discernment here. As I have noted before, one cannot “cast out” a tramatic childhood, nor counsel away a serotonin uptake imbalance. And demons don’t give a rip about lithium or Haldol.

    I have had experience in dealing with people who fall into each category, and some whose troubles fell into multiple categories. We need more discernment and less diagnosis, less judgment of the person’s actions and more of the healing power of God.

  17. Doug and Charles are describing a frontier of both physical and spiritual knowledge. God has created enormous potential within the physical human mind, particularly if that mind can discern the Holy Spirit as He searches and reveals the mind of God. As a Christian who believes that the unlimited power of the Creator works today and that God gives us the permission and authority to use that power to grow into Him, who believes that the church has the mandate from the anointing of Jesus to overcome oppression and evil, who has had a life career of neurochemical research, and who has been a pharmacist for over 46 years, I have given no little thought to the relationship between brain and spirit and how the dynamic of this blends to breach the interface between the physical and spiritual realms. After many years of thought, I have many more questions than answers. Most questions seem pretty profound; most answers seem pretty weak.

    Charles is right; there is no simple explanation and no “one size fits all” theory. There is often an overlap of symptoms expressed by neurochemical imbalance and demonic influence. In general, I think that demonic/evil spirits are like an opportunistic infection, but that the person has to voluntarily turn authority over to them, even to invite them in. This can happen when the physical substrate, the brain, has some compromise by chemical imbalances from environment (eg, early childhood), injury (eg, accident or drug use), or genetic predisposition. Modification of the chemical imbalance with medications can help strengthen the physical substrate of the brain just as a good immune system can fend off infection. However, God has also given us a charge over our own destiny, and our own thoughts and attitudes can over time modify our neurochemistry. A healthy spiritual relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ is like a vaccine, building up our spiritual strength against attack and letting us even go on the offensive against the gates of hell. Counseling, prayer, Christian support, carrying one another’s burdens are all important. God can also by His will make supernatural modifications. I have personally seen all of these things happen.

    This is a very interesting and challenging area to understand, and the old attitudes and stigmas associated with mental illness in any degree are inappropriate. One should be humbled before the awesomeness of God’s creation and all that God has predestined to happen before the universe was made. Incredible.

  18. Brian B. says:


    The word hope can be used in many ways:

    1. I hope Santa Claus brings me a pony.
    2. I hope I don’t get kicked out of school for cheating.
    3. I hope the Dodgers with the world series.
    4. I hope to go the chili supper tonight at 7:00.

    Number 1 is based on fantasy and naivete. Number 2 is a fearful desire not to receive appropriate consequences. Number 3 is a wishful desire, but I have no idea if it will come true. Number 4 is a confident expectation.

    Now, when Jay mentions older people who say they “hope they’ve done enough”, in which sense do you think they are saying it? I imagine that Jay and others who have heard that phrase have heard it used along the lines of number 3 and maybe number 2.

    Now how do Paul and the New Testament use hope? Hope in the New Testament is the hope expressed in number four: a confident expectation.

    The Hebrew writer says that faith is confidence in that which we hope for and assurance in that which we cannot see. So when Paul speaks of hope in Romans 5, he is talking about a confident expectation because we have the Spirit in our hearts.

    The ironic thing about your post is your verse demonstrates exactly what Jay was trying to say in this post. Paul says in Romans that we can have confidence in not being ashamed because God is given to us in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which is “given unto us”. But tragically, because our tradition has tried to limit the workings of the Spirit to word only, we end up with people on their death beds hoping they’ve done enough. In other words, they don’t have the confidence to not be ashamed because they have been taught that the Spirit does not actually do anything for them.

    Jay listed a number of examples where limiting the Spirit’s work to only the word does not make sense and deprives people of the benefits of faith in Christ. Romans 5 is just another example that Jay could have included in his list.

  19. aBasnar says:

    God did not call us just to be saved, but to bring fruit. A focus on our assurance of salvation often overlooks the purpose of our salvation. There are so many examples of how God deals with fruitless vineyards, fig-trees or vines; or with servants who simply buried their gift instead of increasing it.

    The concern: “I hope I have done enough” therefore has some validity that should not be belittled. Aren’t there too many fruitless vines around us who boast of their salvation?

    Most of us do agree that we can fall away from faith and then be lost. But I believe that’s just one way to lose your salvation. The other way – and I fear this will occur much more often! – is fruitlessness.

    While fruit comes entirely from the seed, there is a lot we can do to further or hinder the growth of what God has planted in us. We all know the parable of the various soils:

    One group did not even understand the Gospel, and Satan picked away the seed before it could start growing. In this case no salvation or new birth ever took place.

    The others received it but they did not grow deep roots – they fall away quickly. But the growth of the seed until then was real! They were saved and truly born again – and still their new life died because of superficiality.

    The third group allowed weeds to grow beside the Heavenly Plant. These weeds are characterized as worries, the deceit of Mammon and the joys of the world. All of these choke the new life, and truly born again and saved persons remain fruitless because their spiritual life dies. While those who actually fall away will surely leave the church, these people will most likely for a long time continue to be with us. They will even have some admirers, because they are (in a worldly sense) often quite successful people, who seemingly enjoy their lives. But they are fruitless and – although they still have the name to be alive they are dead.

    The seed has all the power in itself to bring forth an abundance of fruit. When you look at a chestnut you can say: “This is all I need to feed generations of horses!” But the way we nourish and care for the plant is crucial for the result. What distinguished those who brought fruit from those who did not bring fruit?

    Mat 13:23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
    Mar 4:20 But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”
    Luk 8:15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.

    When we ask ourselves whether we have done enough only at our death bed, it might be way too late. We should ask ourselves regularly whether we lead lives that are fruitful, or whether we just “rest in our assuarce of salvation” while pursuing the world and its pleasures.

    It’s also true that we always could have done more than we did. That’s why some bring more and others bring less fruit. I’d also be hesitant to boast of my fruit BTW, because it is all by God and for his glory: He planted it it, and He will harvest. He will be my judge who evaluates my efforts, not me nor anyone else. But we should take care for one another and address fruitlessness, helping one another to deal with the weeds or to grow deep roots in Christ.


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