“We may have strategies for church growth, a five-year plan and a building programme, and ways for increasing the giving. A pastor for this responsibility and a pastor for that. All these things are under human control. But there is no church without the work of the Spirit in regeneration and renewal. And that work is manifestly not within human control.” Paul Helm
So I came across a Reformed article today on the Word and Spirit! I’d put myself solidly in the Reformed camp, besides my views on continuance of spiritual gifts [Reformed people may need to keep reforming], but the Reformed approach to the Spirit needs tweaking, and I think Helm hits the nail on the head in his post “The Word, the Spirit and the churches.” Allow me to quote Helm at some length:
In the central Reformation motif of ‘Word and Spirit’ the two elements can only be linked together rather uneasily. The reason is this: matters to do with ‘the Word’ can be humanly organised. But matters to do with ‘the Spirit’ are divinely sovereign and free, out of human hands. Matters to do with the Word may be dispensed through secondary, creaturely agency alone, but matters to do with the Spirit can never be so dispensed. People can be trained for the Christian ministry, study the Bible, and preach it. Churches can be set up, pastors, teachers and deacons appointed, the sacraments may be administered, people catechised, and the unruly disciplined. All this can be undertaken in a routine, institutional way. All very orderly, in the Calvinian manner. All this is, we might say, (ecclesiastically speaking) concerns the area of ‘the Word’.
But what of ‘the Spirit’? Here there is a dramatic difference. For God the Spirit, though he attends the Word, is free not to do so. Nowhere, as far as I know, does the Reformed faith teach that the linkage between Word and Spirit is automatic or necessary, or that God is under a covenanted obligation always to accompany the Word with the salvific influence of the Spirit. No such covenant has been established. It is true that in general terms God has covenanted to accompany his Word by His Spirit, but the exact distribution of the Spirit’s saving influences are at his disposal.
My beef with many Reformed people nowadays is they get so focused on perfecting the Word side of things, shorthand in this context for areas of Christian life under human control, that they nearly overlook the Spirit side – the critical part – in practice. I call this “assuming the Spirit.” The assumption is made that our job is simply to get the Word side – doctrine, worship, government, and so on – as perfect as we can, and the result will be God’s best. In practice, this means there is little point in seeking after God in prayer, because the Spirit is assumed to already be working. Why cry out to God for something you assume he’s already giving you? As Helm points out, this isn’t necessarily true, and therefore can’t be assumed.
Presbyterians are best when they are perfecting systems, but even the best system is a broken one in this age. The Spirit moving in power alongside a bad system trumps good systems without the power of the Spirit every day of the week. As Helm concludes, ‘These things you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.’ Please get your church government right, but be far more concerned about your prayer life and your congregation’s.