The Fork in the Road: “The Way of UNITY between “Christian Churches” and Churches of Christ,” Part 11

In response to my comments on the Holy Spirit, Greg Tidwell posted an extensive quote from Robert Richardson, The Office of the Holy Spirit (Bosworth, Chase and Hall, Cincinnati: 1872), p. 11. You cannot imagine my delight in learning that Greg and I are both fans of Richardson.

Dr. Richardson was a great intellect and skilled writer. Indeed, Alexander Campbell appointed him as co-editor of Campbell’s Millennial Harbinger, eventually succeeding Campbell as editor after his death.

Had Richardson had the opportunity to lead the Restoration Movement as Campbell’s successor, the Movement would have been much less factious and legalistic. Unfortunately, Richardson’s health and the Civil War prevented this, and the leadership of the Movement descended to other periodicals, portending the divisions that were to follow.

As it turned out, the a cappella Churches of Christ have largely ignored Richardson. After all, his theology is quite different from that taught in the 20th Century Churches of Christ.

Consider his views on the Holy Spirit —

It is sufficient to know that literally there is no such thing as a “pouring out” of the Spirit, or a “drinking” of the Spirit, or a “baptism” in the Spirit, but that these are all alike metaphors, designed, by the resemblances they suggest, to present to the mind, in various aspects and from various points of view, the most lively and correct ideas possible of a fact, which, in whatever form or imagery it may be clothed, itself always remains the same, and is simply and unfiguratively the impartation or gift of the Holy Spirit to those who believe.

The Office of the Holy Spirit, pp. 103-104. (In each case, underlining reflects italics in the original; bold is mine.)

In other words, as I’ve been teaching here, “baptism in the Spirit,” the “outpouring of the Spirit,” and the “gift of the Holy Spirit” are all the same thing — contrary to the theorizing of H. Leo Boles and subsequent Church of Christ thinkers.

Contrary our church practice and teaching, Richardson criticizes efforts to reduce the Spirit to sheer intellectualism, to remove the emotional work of the Spirit from our hearts —

There has been, unhappily, with many, a systematic and continuous effort to disparage religious feeling, and to oppose all expression of it, as savoring of enthusiasm, and incompatible with their philosophy of religion. This extreme, is but the counterview of that theory of special “spiritual operations” now prevailing, which has been productive of so many disorders and extravagancies in religious society, to the discredit of both reason and religion. There has, hence, arisen a dislike to all excitement, and to every manifestation of emotion, as if religion were designed for the intellect alone. The advocates of modern revivalism, on the other hand, seem to regard religion as consisting altogether in certain excitements of feeling. But the religion of Christ is designed both for the head and for the heart. It is intended to embrace the whole man in body, soul, and spirit, and to secure to every faculty and every department of human nature its appropriate office and its most harmonious development. It is, hence, absurd to attempt to establish any contrariety between the religion of the heart and the religion of the head, or to seek to exalt the one to the depreciation of the other. Much more is it criminal to exalt either against the religion of the Bible.

The Office of the Holy Spirit, pp. 195-196.

Richardson accuses the “word only” advocates of Socinianism, a heresy that treats the Spirit and God as one person. He further ridicules the notion that the Spirit could have worked solely through the pages of the New Testament when the New Testament had not yet been written!

Great pains have been taken, by rationalistic and Socinian interpreters, to pervert and explain away this important and plain statement of Paul [in Romans 8:26]. … Or, again, others admitting that the Spirit of God indeed bears the witness, affirm that it is by the written word or gospel, and not as dwelling in the heart, These pseudo-critics who would exalt the word of the Spirit against the Spirit himself, seem incapable of placing themselves in the position of those to whom Paul wrote, and they talk of the “written word” bearing witness to them, as if the Bible Society was then in full operation, and every disciple in Rome had a New Testament in his pocket! In their eagerness to sustain a theory, they overlook the fact that the New Testament was not then written, and that there was no “written word” to bear the witness they imagine. It is not likely that the church at Rome had a single written document of any kind on the subject of Christianity, when Paul wrote his Epistle, nor could his language be then at all understood as applying to any thing but that internal witness of the Spirit familiar to all.

The Office of the Holy Spirit, pp. 200-201.

Richardson insists that the Spirit has both an external influence, through the word, and an internal influence through its indwelling presence.

The work of the Holy Spirit in the salvation of men hence naturally divides itself into two chapters–1. The influence He exerts from without in the production of faith and conversion; and, 2. The influence he exerts from within, as the Comforter, Helper and Sanctifier of the obedient believer.

The Office of the Holy Spirit, p. 321.

Finally, Richardson concludes that the solution to the need for unity is not theologizing but the Spirit! Indeed, Richardson declares that the Restoration Movement is futile without the empowering work of the Spirit within us.

But, in order to the manifestation of the fruits of the Spirit, the presence of the Spirit himself is necessary. In vain do men weary themselves and the world with plans of reformation; with systems of belief; with schemes of union based on human wisdom. In vain do they imagine themselves to have discovered the secret of the power of the primitive church in its freedom from priestly rule; or in its supernatural gifts; or in any other exterior characteristic. That power was, indeed, wondrous. It was truly a secret, because an interior power, and its secret was the indwelling of the Spirit of God, giving unity, imparting energy, evolving the glorious fruits of Christianity, and presenting to the world, in every disciple, an illustration of the life of Christ–a life of love, and of labor, and of sacrifice for humanity. It is the presence now of this blessed Spirit, in a fuller measure, that is the true want of the Church; but, in order to its attainment, the demons of bigotry and of denominationalism must first be exorcised. The religious world must come and sit at the feet of Jesus, freed from its legion of theologies, and in its right mind, before it can receive his teachings. Men must return to the simple faith of primitive times, and cease forever from those discords and dissensions which, in banishing peace, and substituting human speculations for Divine truth, have largely banished the Holy Spirit from the hearts of religious professors.

The Office of the Holy Spirit, p. 223-224. Richardson concludes that the strength of the early church was not in its primitive “exterior characteristic” but in the inner Spirit.

It’s not the pattern of worship but the Spirit’s transformative work on the heart that empowered the early church! We cannot hope to truly restore the First Century church if we reject the work of Spirit within us to transform us into the image of Christ.

Would that today’s professors spend far more time in the writings of Richardson!

And I pray for the day that the Gospel Advocate teaches the truth as clearly as Richardson does.

I look forward to one day spending time (if that word even applies) in eternity talking with Stone, the Campbells, and Scott. But I imagine I’ll most enjoy sharing thoughts with Dr. Robert Richardson.

PS — After many years of zealously denying the personal indwelling, the Gospel Advocate has been strangely silent on the Spirit for years. The result has been to leave the Churches believing in a powerless Christianity in which our intellects are the sole hope of sufficient obedience and hiding the extraordinary comfort of knowing that God, through his Spirit, has come to live within us to help us make it to the end.

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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8 Responses to The Fork in the Road: “The Way of UNITY between “Christian Churches” and Churches of Christ,” Part 11

  1. stephen says:

    I’m so thankful Jesus has given the Holy Spirit to me. Rivers of living water flowing out of my heart (John 7:37-39), despite others best efforts to quench him. I’m sure they don’t mean to, but they ought to stop (1 thess 5:19).

  2. Why have we been taught traditional conclusions over source material? Thank you for sharing. Dr. Richardsons’ writing has brought fresh water to clear the mud of tradition from my convictions that have been fighting tradition. Now I know a little more as to why.

  3. Charles McLean says:

    I continue to be interested in Greg’s own views of the subjects being presented. The mere posting of the words of others is singularly unsatisfying. One can only hope that the combination of preaching and publishing has not finally entirely replaced dialog with monologue.

  4. *In other words, as I’ve been teaching here, “baptism in the Spirit,” the “outpouring of the Spirit,” and the “gift of the Holy Spirit” are all the same thing — contrary to the theorizing of H. Leo Boles and subsequent Church of Christ thinkers.* And RAY REMARKS: How peculiar it is for anyone to claim that the baptism in the Spirit is identical to the gift of the Spirit promised to every believer. Why peculiar?

    Jesus commissioned humans to perform a baptism. John the Baptist was led to prophesy that Jesus Himself would baptize with/in the Spirit. Jesus is not the disciples of Jesus. We could not possibly baptize with/in the Spirit. The baptism commanded by Jesus is not performed by Jesus. Yet here are two teachers who claim the two baptisms are exactly the same. They’re performed by different baptizers for different purposes. Yet they’re the same, some say.

    What was the purpose for baptism with the Spirit. It was to EMPOWER the apostles. What is the purpose for baptism in water. It’s to complete the new birth of water and spirit which results in remission of sins and to receive the GIFT of the Spirit. Identical? No. Totally different? Yes. The one is “for the remission of sins and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The other is to empower the apostles for the work to which they were called and for which they were trained by Jesus. And now we’re told the baptisms are identical. No, they are not identical. One is to wash away sin. The other has no such application.

    The task assigned to the apostles was immense. They were promised a helper for that task. We are not apostles. Our work is far less important for the Kingdom than was that of the apostles. But the Spirit is given to us to help us also. Our baptism is in water. The apostles were immersed in the Spirit, but no mention is made that their baptism, for which they were to tarry in the city of Jerusalem, had anything to do with an immersion in water or with remission of sins.

    It should be obvious to us all that the baptism Jesus commands us to perform for the remission of sins of the one being baptized is in no way similar to the apostles’ baptism in the Spirit. The fact is that there are differences in gifts of the Spirit. The promise made to the apostles was that they would be helped to remember what Jesus had taught them in person and that they would be led into all truth. No such promise is attached to the gift of the Spirit which comes to every Christian. Why would any sane student make a claim that they were identical? It could only be in an attempt to minimize the authority and uniqueness of the apostles of Jesus Christ. Or does someone see some other reason why the quite different gifts would be claimed to be identical?

  5. stephen says:

    Good point, Charles. 😀

  6. Richardson was indeed a man of the Spirit. His Communings in the Sanctuary are food for the mind and the heart. Within those pages the sweet air of holiness and SPIRITuality flows … what a blessing.

  7. “PS — After many years of zealously denying the personal indwelling, the Gospel Advocate has been strangely silent on the Spirit for years. The result has been to leave the Churches believing…”

    I don’t give this much power over “the Churches” to the Gospel Advocate or any other publication. I believe that the publications are read and taken to heart by the people who write them and few others.

  8. Richardson is quoted: *But, in order to the manifestation of the fruits of the Spirit, the presence of the Spirit himself is necessary.* I note that the apostle is contrasting flesh and spirit in the passage under consideration. This is human flesh and human spirit. Many fine people who are not in Christ manifest some of (most of) the listed gifts “of the spirit.” The apostle is not speaking of something God does to us or for us, but of what we because we love Jesus seek to do ourselves. Peter urges that we (that’s WE) add to our faith similar characteristics as those Paul lists as gifts of the spirit. Neither apostle urges us to pray that God will gift us with those characteristics. I’m sure they are NOT gifts of “the Spirit.” If they were, and if we all are walking in the Spirit, wouldn’t we ALL show those gifts? Do we? We do not. They are obviously gifts of the spiritual nature of us who are human.

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