Sunday, April 02, 2006


"The Spirit and the Word" - Ern Baxter at Dunstable.

Last Friday I shared a sketch from Dr Ern Baxter's history involving his dilemma between what he called "The Spirit and the Word" - or Reformed Doctrine and Charismatic Experience. An interesting discussion developed and I promised I would transcribe as much as I felt necessary from his sermon on this subject. It is interesting to note that he preached this sermon on the 23rd March 1991 on what was to be his final visit to Dunstable. We can very often learn a lot from a servant of God's final words - they are often his passions, what he desperately wants to impart to a group of people before he is taken home to glory. This is often seen in the Bible and I suspect it was true here of Ern Baxter.

His text: Mark 12:24 - "Jesus answered and said to them, 'Are you not therefore mistaken becuase you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?'".

"Christ seems here to be defining the basis of all error - an ignorance of the Scriptures and the power of God. This century has presented a great demonstration of life and power. The classical Pentecostal movement in th early part of the century, following by the Healing Movement and the Latter Rain Movement, then right upto the present day Charismatic Movement. This has made this century distinctive. There has been more charismatic ministry in this century than there has in any other since the days of the apostles.

A choice is required. Does one soft-peddle a charismatic dimension and go back into the evangelical circles or do you soft-peddle reformed theology and go into the Pentecostal/Charismatic circles? There is a possibility! To hold this tension between the Word and the Spirit. The call may not be attractive in the aesthetic sense but the freedom will be there to hold this tension; a man speaking in tongues but teaching reformed theology! This isn't a personal success but God honouring the tension being held between His Word and His Spirit. An ignorance of the power of God or the Word of God will lead to error and we are still facing the challenge of living in the tension between the freedom and power of the Spirit and the clear cut directives of the Word of God.

Jesus spoke of being "in error". Are we in error? The only way the church can be saved from error is knowing both of these. A scholar said, "Both are necessary and one without the other will lead to imbalance". Enthusiasm needs a balance of careful doctrine - sober forms of Christianity need a dynamic brought about by the power of the Spirit. Word and Spirit exist together and must be experienced in tandem in the life of the community. The isolation of the Spirit from the Word leads to pneumatic excess whereas the isolation of the Word from the Spirit leads to bibliolatry.

A troubling fact is that we don't seem to realise that these two are not enemies. The tendency is for charismatic people to see Bible people as their enemies and that they don't want us to have fun! On the other hand Bible people tend to see charismatics as not having any sense. For over 60 years, I (Ern) have held to the tension - and it is costly and lonely. When you receive the Holy Spirit, you don't receive Him as intelligence. Once you receive Him - no matter how dynamic your experience, you do not become a biblical scholar over night. It is a common fact that people who are filled with or baptised in the Holy Spirit can do stupid things! Hence why we need the necessity of the supremacy of the Word of God.

When you are sealed with the Spirit, you have received the dynamic - now you require the direction. The Bible is the mind of the Spirit! The Corinthians were an example of just such a point. They were misbehaving in the realm of their charismatic dimension - but they were full of the Holy Ghost! The Corinthians, it has been recognised, were known for two things: spiritual gifts and sin. 1 Corinthians is an example of charismatic people who have not stayed under the government of the Word of God. That is why Paul said, "Let the Word of God dwell in you richly". Note this! When Paul wrote to the Corinthians to correct them on the matter of tongues and prophecy he never once suggested that their gifts were diabolical. Not once! The authenticity of the gifts are not in question - yet the instruction is to bring them under the government of the Word of God!

"The reason that I have been a charismatic for the last 60 years is that I have had the most delightful and powerful manifestations of the Holy Spirit in my life and ministry that I wouldn't change for anything!".

The Word of God nowhere puts the Spirit and the Word against each other. This union is present right from the beginning. (Genesis 1:2). The Spirit was silently hovering over the waters - He is waiting for His companion. When God spoke a Word, He moved into action. Sometimes aspects of the Charismatic Movement are the Spirit moving over a mess. He is waiting for a Word - that God will speak to bring the two together. In Creation both the Spirit and the Word act together! (Psalm 33:6). What Jesus did at the beginning of the New Covenant with His disciples was similar to what God did to the first Adam. They were both breathed on. The breath of the New Covenant is active in the New Creation (James 1:8) but not alone - with the Word also.

The Day of Pentecost was another case in point. "This is that!". Pentecost was very dramatic! "There came a sound from heaven ... as the Spirit gave them utterance". They were not whispering their praise! There was noise abroad! But the judgement was made by some - they are drunk. Note this: It is very dangerous to try and make a sense evaluatioon of a divine event. The difference was Peter's words. God Almighty through Peter put a word on that event and validated it. "This is that". If God hadn't put a word on it, we wouldn't have known about it! Isn't it important not to judge just by unassisted traditions - there may be a Word that we are not aware of. This is that which was spoken. Pentecost was in accord with the Word of God!

"See ... and hear". It is a tragic shame when you ask some Christians whether they have received the Holy Spirit, that they have to reply, "I was told I had". It is STILL something that you see and hear! A Christian is STILL someone who should be able to experience the Spirit in such a way that they can say, "Let me tell you about it - I was there!". When the Spirit operates and there is a Word on it, you must understand that God has ordained it! The concern is that because of the excesses of some charismatic people, many good people are prepared to say, "They're drunk" - without looking seriously and saying, "Does God do these things still?". And yes - God DOES do these things still!

Even the Gospel sees a necessary tension between the Spirit and the Word. (1 Thess 1:4, 5). The gospel did not come simply with words, but with power. There is no question that the Word of God is propositional. They are not complete in themselves because they are designed to produce a result in you and me that has everything to do with the Holy Spirit. We have a right to know the Spirit experientially. Worship - again the tension must hold. "Spirit and in truth". True worship must indeed accord with reality. Only validity affirms our worship. Covenant charisma - we protect our traditions maybe, but read Paul; "One hath a ... one hath a ... one hath a ...". Have we fully entered into the God-ordained, Word-affirmed contribution to to the Body? Or do our traditions and our comfort rule still?

In our sanctification we have both a dynamic and a directive to walk in victory. Word and Spirit combine to give us a godly walk. In warfare we are instructed to take up the "Sword of the Spirit" - which is? "The Word of God". The Bible is the sword - the Spirit is the swordsmaster. It is good to have a technical knowledge of your sword, but without a competent swordsmaster, it lies there useless. How much do charismatics need the Word of God to keep them from silliness. But how much do scholars need a little moisture on the manna! Don't be turned off by pedants or fanatics. Walk in the gentle joy of the power of the Spirit under the light of the direction of the Word of God".

3 comments:

Hugh Griffiths said...

Thanks for continuing to post these sketches. This one on Mark 12:24 is again excellent.

Ollie said...

That's a beautiful pulpit that Dr Baxter is preaching from. Is it still at the church?

Baxter's Boy said...

Alas no, that beautiful hand crafted pulpit was a mark of Dr Stanley Jebb's ministry. His successor got rid of it - for reasons known only to himself. What a tragedy.