In his lecture series The Holy Spirit and Ourselves, J.I. Packer describes the unique characteristics of the historical evangelical understanding of the Spirit and how it is a helpful contribution to global Christianity today:
The doctrine of the Holy Spirit as evangelicals have understood it down the centuries poses to the whole Church throughout the world today five questions which the Church must live with in every generation if it’s going to be healthy:
- Reality – Orthodoxy isn’t enough; what of the reality of communion with God? Have we got it? Is it deep enough? Are we settling for mere orthodoxy where we ought to be seeking life?
- Restraint in evangelism and pastoral care – Do we honor the Holy Spirit as the One who changes hearts and lives, and in our teaching and preaching and pastoral care do we look to the Spirit to work and give Him leave to work? Or do we settle for programs – organized and managed by men – supposing that these of themselves will generate spiritual life in men’s hearts? Are we looking day by day and year in and year out for a work of God in the lives of men and women to create and maintain spiritual life?
- Radicalism in church order and structures – Some of our churches are wedded to their traditions and because they are evangelical churches with evangelical traditions, they suppose that it’s very important to maintain those traditions unchanged. But some traditions can be Spirit-quenching, and some traditions which were liberating at one period of history can become Spirit-quenching if carried on into another. So we have to live with the principle that anything in the organized life of our churches which doesn’t further work of the Spirit, but which does rather tend to quench that work, must be changed. Our charismatic friends are very clear on this; we all of us need to learn the same lesson.
- Repentance – In an era like our own in which it cannot be said that the Church shows the life and the power which the Church showed in the New Testament times, it is necessary to say, “Something is quenching the Spirit. Something is keeping the Church’s level of life below the New Testament standards. What’s doing it?” And are we not called to repent once we find what’s doing it, and lay aside that which is doing it? In every generation the Church is called to repent of Spirit-quenching things which have crept into its life. Are we as clear as we need to be on the Church’s need to repent?
- Revival as a meaningful hope – Dare we look forward to renewal by the Holy Spirit in our churches in our day? Evangelicals have a strong doctrine of the Holy Spirit which leads to a strong doctrine of revival. Many churches are not living with a thought given from one year’s end to another about revival, and they are living in fact at a very low level of spiritual life and they’re not seeking any sort of quickening from God at all. That’s tragic. Churches must ask themselves constantly, “Are our expectations too low? Shouldn’t we be seeking from God more in the way of life than we have at the moment?”
Churches are only ever healthy as they live with these questions.
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