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A Theological Pilgrimage: Chapter 8

By Dr. J. Rodman Williams

Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | Conclusion
Preface | Abbreviations | Bibliography

Chapter Eight


The Mighty Acts of the Triune God

It is urgent that the whole church become freshly aware of the mighty acts of the Triune God. The creation of the universe from nothing, the incarnation of the eternal Son, and the effusion of the Holy Spirit: herein is the essential series of God's mighty acts. It is this climactic act of the outpouring of the Spirit that, following upon the other two, presses today for our attention.

Let us focus upon the role of the Triune God in these mighty acts. Creation is peculiarly the act of God the Father, although both Son and Spirit are also involved: God the Father as fountainhead and source, God the Son as instrument (the eternal Word), and God the Spirit as lifegiving power. Incarnation is peculiarly the act of God the Son, although God the Father is initiator and God the Spirit the effecter (the power of the Incarnation). Effusion is peculiarly the act of God the Holy Spirit, although God the Father is the promiser/sender and God the Son the one who "pours forth" the Spirit. None of these acts is to be identified with or subsumed under another, yet all are essential actions of the one God.

A Trinitarian theological imbalance occurs whenever there is an over- or under-emphasis on one of the persons and/or acts of the Triune God. There may, for example, be a focus on God the Father and His activity in creation with a devaluation of God the Son and Spirit to the status of divine attributes (such as wisdom or power), or to creaturely and impersonal manifestations. The same thing practically occurs in the case of an exaggerated Christocentrism wherein Jesus Christ is the total focus of worship and reflection1 or with an overblown pneumatism in which the Holy Spirit (Spirit of God, eternal Spirit, etc.) is the center of concern.2 In all these cases, either explicitly or implicitly, God as Trinity is not adequately recognized. These are actually instances of a theological/practical unitarianism: whether of the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit.

There may also be a focus on God the Father and the Son-an implicit binitarianism-that largely disregards the Holy Spirit or subordinates Him to Father and/or Son. Theologically this occurred early in the life of the church when consequent to Arianism (with its denial of the eternal Son) there were the Semi-Arians (Pneumatomachi) who insisted on the creaturehood of the Holy Spirit. While this deviation was corrected in the Constantinopolitan Creed of A.D. 381 which recognized the Holy Spirit in His essential deity as one who "proceeds from the Father" and is "worshiped and glorified together with the Father and Son," and sees in Him "the Lord and life-giver" (in relation to creation), and as the potency of the incarnation (the Lord Jesus Christ "incarnate by the Holy Spirit"), there is nothing said about the effusion of the Spirit, nor the attendant results. The later Western filioque addition brings the Son into the procession-"who proceeds from the Father and the Son"-while pointing in the direction of the effusion of the Spirit, does not really make much progress. That is to say, the nature of this effusion-its dimensions, its significance, its results-is neglected; and this corresponds to a continuing lack in the church, especially in the West, of sensitivity to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.3 Thus the implicitly theological binitarianism is of a piece with inadequately formed Christian experience.

The Purpose of God's Mighty Acts

We turn next to a study of what stands at the heart of each of these mighty acts of the Triune God. Creation is for the purpose of bringing into existence those to whom God can communicate His glory, who may become knowledgeable of His love and holiness, and share His ineffable presence. Incarnation-the event of Jesus Christ's life, death, and resurrection-is for the purpose of redeeming a lost creation. Effusion is for the purpose of filling those renewed in Christ with the Holy Spirit so that all things may manifest His presence and power. Each of the complex of acts-works4 presupposes what has gone before. Without creation and communication there would be no incarnation and redemption; without incarnation and the ensuing redemption there would be no outpouring of God's fulfilling Spirit.

Before noting the matter of purpose in more detail, it is important to observe that, despite orthodox formulation of the ontological equality of the Holy Spirit with Son and Father, there has tended to be a functional subordination. The Holy Spirit has been largely understood as "Creator Spirit"-the life-giving and life-sustaining power in creation and providence-and as the One who applies the redemption wrought by God the Son. In the latter case the Holy Spirit is viewed as the convicter of sin, the regenerator of the heart, and the One who unites to Christ through faith; whereas His further and peculiar activity in effusion is inadequately recognized. Thus the Holy Spirit's work is functionally subordinated to that of Christ and is viewed as a work of applicative instrumentality.5 It is insufficiently recognized that not only does the Spirit point to Christ but also Christ to the Spirit, and that beyond the Spirit's work in uniting to Christ is Christ's mediation of the Spirit. Indeed, this latter act of mediation, from the Father through the Son, is that climactic act of the effusion of the Holy Spirit. This act, presupposing redemption, represents the bestowal of the Spirit upon a redeemed humanity. It is as distinctive and unique an act as that of creation and incarnation, of communication and redemption.

It is quickly to be added that while Christianity is a Triune faith it is also Christ-centered. Christian faith focuses on Jesus Christ in whom "the whole fullness of the deity dwells bodily" (Col. 2:9). Hence, while it is the case that incarnation/redemption is Christ's primary role, He is also the way back to the Father's work in creation and communication, and the way forward to the work of the Holy Spirit in the manifestation of God's presence and power. No one comes to the Father but by the Son, and no one is baptized with the Spirit except by the Son's mediation.6 Thus Christian faith is both Triune and Christocentric.

Returning to the third of God's mighty acts, the effusion of the Spirit, we have already observed that the act of effusion is that wherein the fullness of God's presence and power is poured out. It is apparent that this act of God the Holy Spirit takes place in relation to a redeemed creation. As long as humanity is dominated by sin and evil there is no effusion of the Holy Spirit, but when the power of darkness is overcome by the victory of Christ at the cross and in the resurrection, then the mighty act of effusion may occur. It is upon a humanity, a creation made new in Christ, that God bestows His Holy Spirit and becomes the fulfilling power.

In further consideration of the purpose of the divine effusion, it is important to add that the intention is that God in Christ may fulfill His own will and purpose on earth as in heaven. God in the effusion of the Spirit enters into such a dynamic interaction with man that new powers are released to praise God, to witness boldly in the name of Christ, to perform "signs and wonders," to be living demonstrations of the reality of God's kingdom-thus the essential penetration and fulfilling of all things whereby they may more and more be resplendent with the presence and glory of God.

The purpose, it may be added, is not primarily sanctification. In the redemption effected through Jesus Christ there is both justification and sanctification. Through the work of redemption both forgiveness and holiness are imparted. In this holiness, or sanctification, one is to grow and increasingly be conformed to the likeness of Christ. The Holy Spirit is surely at work in sanctification (He is the "Spiritus Sanctus"), and thereby He is carrying forward the redemptive work of Christ to its fulfillment. But the effusion of the Spirit is for another purpose, namely, that the human vessel may be so possessed by the divine as to be an instrument through which God may fulfill His will and purpose. This, though not unrelated to sanctification, is not identical with it, for God may fill with His Spirit even those who have known little of the process of sanctification. Also there may be marked increase of sanctification for those filled with God's Spirit, since there is great influx of spiritual power. The point, however, is that the effusion of the Spirit carries the recipient beyond Christian living (in its various ramifications of justification, regeneration, sanctification, and the like) into the dimension of Christian witness.

What is basically being described here is the enablement of the church to fulfill the ministry of the gospel. The church, which is the community of those who in Christ have experienced the Father's goodness in creation, and the Son's grace in redemption, is called upon to be the avenue of Father and Son in carrying forward the gospel. The effusion of the Spirit bestows upon the community of the redeemed the presence and power of the Holy Spirit whereby the church becomes a living demonstration of the Triune God.

The Appropriation of God's Mighty Acts by Faith

It is now important to stress that all the mighty acts-works of God are to be recognized and appropriated by faith in Jesus Christ. Creation which intends communication is fulfilled in communion and fellowship between God and man; it is in faith that the creature may respond to God's paternal love and care. However, due to man's alienation from God through sin, such communication was not fully realized until the advent of Jesus Christ, and the way back to the Father was revealed: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me"(John 14:6). Through faith in Jesus Christ the way is opened afresh to a filial relationship in which God the Father is known in His intimate, providential, sustaining grace and thereby the purpose of creation is fulfilled. Incarnation, which is for the purpose of redemption of a fallen creation, attains its end with those who in faith and repentance accept Christ as Savior. More than sharing the Father, which Jesus did in his life and teachings, thereby leading many into deeper understanding of the Creator, Jesus brought about a transformation in human nature. By faith in Christ people are forgiven, made new creatures, and set upon the path of eternal life. Effusion, wherein the Holy Spirit is poured forth upon a redeemed creation, becomes effective with those believing in Jesus Christ who are ready and open to receive it. Thereby they are enabled to be a forceful witness to Christ, do mighty works in His name, and to be channels for many operations and manifestations of the Holy Spirit.

In Jesus Christ all these blessings are found-the goodness of God the Father in creation, the grace of God the Son in redemption, the glory of God the Spirit in effusion-all these through faith in Him. Faith is directed to Jesus Christ, for in Him is all fullness of Godhead and all blessings ("every spiritual blessing" [Eph. 1:3]). However, the very faith directed to Jesus Christ may be a faith in movement, whereby there is a step-by-step unfolding of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and an accompanying realization of God's creative, redemptive, and effusive activity.

The prime example of this step-by-step unfolding of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is found in the case of Jesus' first disciples. Jesus Himself was the center of their devotion, and as they followed Him day by day they first became increasingly aware of God as Father. The teachings of Jesus had much to do with this, for He frequently spoke of God as Father and taught His disciples to pray, "Our Father...." In many sayings and parables Jesus depicted God's paternal care. More than this, the disciples came to experience God as Father through sharing with Jesus His trust, assurance, and confidence in the Father's will. God as Son, Jesus Christ, in His forgiving, redemptive activity-the disciples increasingly experienced as the years went by. Thus it was that they came to life in Him. By His death and resurrection they were raised up and experienced what it was to be new creatures. Through faith in Jesus as the Son of God they received the wonder of forgiveness and entered into eternal life. Finally, they came to know God as Holy Spirit as He was poured out upon them at Pentecost, and thereafter, filled with God's presence and power they bore mighty witness to the truth of the gospel. Again it was through faith in Jesus who had promised the Holy Spirit that this took place. But it did not happen all at once: it occurred over a period of time.

We may note in more detail that the effusion, or outpouring, of the Holy Spirit occurred some fifty days after the disciples had experienced the death and resurrection of Jesus through which they had come to new life in Him. With a living faith in Jesus they also believed in the promise of His Spirit, and waited in prayer until the Spirit was poured out from on high. The effusion of the Spirit, like the redemption they had experienced, was an act of grace: it was the gift of the Holy Spirit. They also told those who would repent and believe in Christ for forgiveness of their sins that the same gift of the Spirit was available, not only to them but to the generations thereafter. "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise [of the Spirit] is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him" (Acts 2:38-39).7 The gift is promised to all who are "called" (= calling to salvation), and is received, even as forgiveness, by faith.

It is apparent from the account in Acts that the gift of the Spirit was sometimes received concurrent with saving faith in Jesus Christ, and on other occasions was received later. It is also clear that apostles such as Peter, John, and Paul were not satisfied until believers in Jesus had also received this gift: the bestowal of the Holy Spirit. Variously there was baptism and the laying on of hands, but the single most important preparation (as with the original disciples before Pentecost) was prayer. In prayer there doubtless was present the atmosphere of openness, expectancy, even readiness for the bestowal of the Spirit. Thus it was, throughout the New Testament church, believers in Jesus by faith participated in the third mighty act of God, the effusion of the Holy Spirit.

Finally, it is important to emphasize again that the gift of the Spirit was not limited to the New Testament period. It is a continuing promise to the people of God. This also signifies that the effusion of the Spirit was not a once for all matter, but occurs ever and again where there are those receptive to God's gracious gift. By no means-it should be added-was the gift of the Spirit given once for all at Pentecost, so that the church in some sense has become possessor of the Holy Spirit and thereby needs no longer to look forward to the receipt of God's gift. Indeed, there may be special need in our day for the church to pray earnestly for the outpouring of God's Spirit. If the church lacks here, there is no possible way of adequately fulfilling the Great Commission.

Christian Baptism: Sign and Seal of God's Mighty Acts

It is important next to note that Christian baptism-baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-is both sign and seal of God's mighty acts-works appropriated by faith.

The words of Jesus in Matthew 28:19-"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you"-have been recognized as mandate for the church since the earliest times. Three things are herein expressed: first, the making of disciples, which signifies bringing to faith, that is, Christianizing; second, that along with bringing to faith there is to be a baptizing in the Triune Name; and third, teaching is imperative for all who are made disciples and baptized. Baptism is thereby closely connected with discipleship and faith, and is as much a part of the Great Commission as the teaching that follows it.

Regarding baptism it is relevant to observe that it is a visible sign or symbol and seal of discipleship entered into, and it is background for teaching to follow. Baptizing is to be done in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and thereby demonstration is given of what discipleship, Christianization, faith are all about. The disciple is one who has been set on the way of faith-a faith that, while surely focusing on Jesus, represents entrance into the full reality of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and His work in creation, redemption, and effusion.

Since baptism is in the Triune name, then the fullness of faith includes relationship to God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Likewise since baptism by definition suggests immersion, the reality of faith thereby signified is that of immersion in, participation in, the activity of the Triune God. Thus if baptism, for example, is in the name of the Son, the spiritual reality is that of baptism into Christ (which is the meaning of faith as identification) whereby new life is received; if baptism is in the name of the Holy Spirit, then the spiritual reality is that of baptism in the Holy Spirit by which power for ministry is given. In other words, the full reality of faith-or discipleship-includes immersion in the Triune God's threefold action of creation, redemption, and effusion.

It is significant to note that baptism in the Book of Acts is in the name of Jesus only. Such baptism clearly refers to the forgiveness of sins which comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Faith in Jesus which mediates forgiveness is actually a baptism or participation of which water baptism is visible sign or seal. There is no mention of practice of triune baptism in Acts. However, on several occasions there is an additional rite of laying on of hands subsequent to baptism in the name of Jesus. Such a rite is in relation to receiving the Holy Spirit and thus completes the full range of entrance into Christian discipleship. Those receiving the Holy Spirit in Acts are thereby baptized in the Holy Spirit (as a study of parallel passages shows). Such spiritual baptism is none other than the immersion of those who believe in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit whereby they become effective witnesses for Jesus Christ. Christian discipleship is completed by baptism in (or in the name of) the Holy Spirit; however, the purpose of such spiritual baptism is more clearly specified in the Book of Acts than in Matthew.

Several observations about the record in Acts are relevant. First, two different spiritual realities are being attested. On the one hand there is the forgiveness of sins given through faith in Jesus Christ to which baptism in the name of Jesus is related; on the other, the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit-baptism in the Holy Spirit-with which laying on of hands is connected. Second, both baptism in water and laying on of hands, while sign and seal of the spiritual realities attested, are not so identical with these realities that they (forgiveness of sins and empowering presence) may not occur without them. Third, both forgiveness of sins and the empowering gift occur through faith in Jesus Christ; He is the One who both redeems from sins and baptizes in the Holy Spirit. Fourth, baptism in the Holy Spirit is not the other (spiritual) side of baptism in water. Baptism in water in the name of Jesus Christ, as noted, is for (or "unto") forgiveness of sins; baptism in the Spirit signifies the reality of empowering presence (with which laying on of hands, not water baptism, may be connected). Fifth, baptism in the Holy Spirit may occur simultaneously with faith in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins (of which water baptism is sign and seal), or it may occur at a later time. However, not until both spiritual realities are experienced is Christian discipleship fully entered upon.

Now in returning to the Great Commission in Matthew it is apparent that the whole of Christian discipleship (or initiation) is comprehended in the formula of Triune baptism-"in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." There is no suggestion either of baptizing in the name of Jesus only or of an additional act of hands for receiving the Holy Spirit. However, in shorthand fashion all is included, so that Triune baptism represents the sign and seal of the fullness of initiation into Christian discipleship.

What then does baptizing in the Triune name signify? Let us be quite specific: Through discipleship to Jesus ("Go...make disciples") we enter into a relationship to the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit wherein there is immersion in the reality of God in His creative, redemptive, and effusive activity. Even as God is one and not three, Christian discipleship is a unity, related basically to the reality of Jesus Christ. Hence, there is "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (i.e. in the Triune name) (Eph. 4:5). However as God is one God in three persons, and accordingly three basic mighty acts, Christian discipleship/initiation may occur in a process, possibly over an extended period of time. Baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit may-as the Book of Acts attests-happen all at once, and in separate moments. Still there is a unity, one initiation (not several), no matter how long the process may take.

The command, or commission, in Matthew may then well include -"in the name of the Holy Spirit"-the bringing of people into the climax of their initiation, namely, to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. It is sometimes said that there is no New Testament command regarding baptism in the Holy Spirit (except for the original disciples in Acts 1:1-5). However, there is the command to baptize in the name of the Holy Spirit, which could mean essentially the same thing (even as to baptize in the name of the Son = to baptize in the name of Jesus). Certainly this ought not to be identified with baptism in the name of the Son, which is the second part or aspect of the baptismal formula. What the third part of the formula quite likely is dealing with is the anointing or empowering of the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, there is nothing in Jesus' words of the Great Commission relating to this highly important matter.

Let us pursue this matter a step further by comparing with Luke's Gospel. In Luke 24 nothing is said about baptizing, but two critical things are affirmed: (1) that "repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations" (v. 47); (2) that the disciples are "to stay in the city, until...clothed with power from on high" (v. 49). The last two elements of the Matthean baptismal formula, it would clearly seem, are there: repentance and forgiveness of sins to which baptism in the name of the Son points, and the endowment of power to which baptism in the name of the Holy Spirit may well refer. The difference-and a highly important one for us today-is that the command in Matthew unmistakably extends to all thereafter who are to become disciples!

Triune baptism-to sum up-actually covers the whole of God's mighty acts and the totality of Christian initiation. There is no mention of laying on of hands (which would be in order if baptism were in the name of the Son only), for triune baptism symbolically includes that to which laying on of hands points. This does not mean that laying on of hands for baptism in the Holy Spirit (as is frequently practiced) is wrong; indeed, the action may be helpful, but it adds nothing to what is conveyed in triune baptism. The important thing, however, is not water baptism but entrance into the reality of a filial relation with the Father, forgiveness in the Son, and empowering through the Holy Spirit. Triune baptism should follow upon (as sign) and in connection with (as seal) the fullness of Christian discipleship.

A proper understanding of Christian baptism as sign and seal of the mighty acts of God is essential for the progress of the church in our time. As sign and seal of the grace of the Triune God, it is both a challenge to enter into the fullness of discipleship and at the same time the assurance of God's prevenient grace already at work in the lives of those who belong to Christ. It is to be hoped that by some such understanding the church today will be able better to enter into the fullness of its inheritance. However, people often simply do not know what is means to be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and are not challenged to move ahead and fully participate in the mighty works of God. United by faith in Jesus Christ and baptism in the Triune name, the whole church of Christ may now look forward to entering upon the fullness of what God is doing in our time. We can ill afford to delay any longer. May the Lord give all of us the grace and the vision to be fully a part of the glorious fulfillment of God's purpose in history.

God's Mighty Acts: Summary and Reflection

It has become increasingly apparent that both our theology and our experience have been insufficiently Trinitarian. The church, with some difficulty, came to speak in orthodox manner of the divinity and equality of each person in the Godhead, but throughout history the church has had great difficulty in recognizing just what this signifies. Especially has the Holy Spirit had a hard time coming into His own, and being recognized as unique in His person and activity as are Father and Son. To be sure, the Holy Spirit glorifies the Son, even as the Son glorifies the Father, but this does not mean that either Son or Spirit is to be ontologically or functionally subordinated to any other person in the Trinity. Though all persons participate fully in every action of the Godhead, each has His own proper function to which the other persons in the Trinity relate. Especially it is the case that in our day the particular role and function of the Holy Spirit in effusion is coming to light, and what all of this implies for the church in its life and mission.

It should be clear by now that the third mighty act of God-the effusion of the Holy Spirit-is by no means limited to the first century of the history of the church. Unlike the Incarnation, which is a once for all matter, effusion of the Spirit occurs again and again throughout history. This mighty work of God does not so much belong to salvation-history (Heilsgeschichte) as it does to pneumatic history. The Holy Spirit, as we have noted, is involved along with the Father and Son in the work of salvation, but this must not be confused with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit which is for a distinctly different purpose. It is God's sovereign action upon a people renewed in Jesus Christ, whereby their whole life and community are claimed by the presence and power of God. As we have observed, this brings about a situation of intensification of praise, proclamation, mighty works, boldness, and courage that may lead even to martyrdom. Without this special anointing of the Holy Spirit the church is still the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, but it may be severely limited in its ability to witness effectively. It might be added that especially in our time when there is such a preponderance of evil in the world, of secularism, blatant atheism, and rampant immorality, the church needs to move in all the power that God the Holy Spirit can give. Surely there has never been a time in history when the third mighty act of God-the effusion of the Holy Spirit-so much needs recognition and appropriation for both the rejuvenation and empowering of the people of God, and for the world to receive the impact of the gospel message.

Accordingly, we must avoid many of the mistakes that the church has made in relation to the Holy Spirit. For example, it is a critical mistake to relegate Pentecost to an event of the past, and thereby to close off the possibility of the effusion of the Spirit in our time. It is equally devastating to affirm that at Pentecost the Holy Spirit was given once for all to the church, so that there is no need to expect or pray for the fullness of God's Holy Spirit to be poured out again. Of like seriousness is the mistake frequently made of identifying effusion of the Holy Spirit either with regeneration or with sanctification. Each of these areas of salvation (regeneration and sanctification) represents an important aspect of the Holy Spirit's work in relationship to Jesus Christ, but the effusion of the Spirit is something quite different. Also the mistake is sometimes made to think of the gift of the Holy Spirit as given automatically along with salvation. On the contrary, it is important to recognize that the promise of the Holy Spirit always accompanies redemption, forgiveness of sins, baptism into Jesus; but the promise is not the gift itself. It is to be received rather by those who through faith in Jesus Christ look expectantly for the promise to be fulfilled, in order that the fullness of the Holy Spirit may be at work to carry forward the mission of Christ.

We must also avoid any such language as a "second work of grace" (or "third work of grace"), for in Jesus Christ we have received "grace upon grace" (John 1:16). Accordingly the effusion of the Holy Spirit is not an additional work of grace-as if something were lacking in what we have received from Jesus Christ-but it is the outpouring of God's Spirit upon those who have known grace beyond measure. If anything, the effusion of the Holy Spirit belongs not to the dimension of grace but to the dimension of glory, whereby God glorifies His people that they may more truly and fully glorify His name! Any suggestion, furthermore, that to experience the effusion of the Holy Spirit is to enter into a kind of superspirituality or super-Christianity must be totally repudiated. Indeed, normal discipleship-as the Great Commission attests-includes baptism in the Triune name, and therefore the true disciple of Jesus is one who knows the reality of baptism in the Triune name. What has happened in the church too often is that we have accepted as normal what is actually subnormal. The church has not lived up to its potential, and as a result both church and world have suffered thereby.


Nothing has been said in this address about the charismatic gifts. The reason is that the gift of the Holy Spirit-its understanding and reception-is of more basic importance than the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Where the gift is welcomed and received, there the charismata tend to flourish. For the gifts of the Holy Spirit are nothing other than manifestation of the outpouring of God's Holy Spirit whereby the whole community of faith becomes the arena of the Holy Spirit's activity. One cannot emphasize too strongly the importance of the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the life of the church, and how weakened much of the church has become through its failure to know and experience them, but the crucial matter for the church in our day remains the effusion or outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The important thing at Corinth, for example, was not that they had experienced all the gifts (which indeed they had) but that, as Paul writes, "in every way you were enriched in that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift" (1 Cor. 1:5, 7), or as an early noncanonical writer says, there was a "full outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon you all."8 There was much carnality in the Corinthian situation, but they did repent of their sins, and continued to remain open to the fullness of whatever God had to give. What in our day is so desperately needed is openness to the fullness of what God has to give to His people, and thereby not only to participate in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but also to make a life-changing impact on the world.


We live in an extraordinary time-the time by God's sovereign disposition of the outpouring of His Holy Spirit around the world. Let us not hesitate to summon the whole church to be receptive to what God is now doing, and to be constantly open to God's renewal for effective witness in our day and generation. And to God be the praise and the glory! Amen.


1Theologically there are elements of this in Karl Barth's writings, for example in his doctrine of election where Jesus Christ is both the "electing God" and the "elected man" (see his Church Dogmatics, II/2, "Jesus Christ, Electing and Elected," 94-127). On the popular level the "Jesus Movement," with a concentration on Jesus-almost to the neglect of God the Father-is a recent example.

2This may be found in some mystical forms of Christianity (with parallels in various religions of the East) and among enthusiasts and pneumatics appearing at various times in the life of the Church.

3The Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches, in referring to Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, speaks thus: "Theology and practice of these churches has to a large extent neglected the Holy Spirit, except for some standard affirmations about His continuing presence. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit and even more the sensitivity to His active presence in the Church and the world were and still are underdeveloped in the western tradition of Christianity" (see Faith and Order: Louvain, 1971, paper 59, pp. 117, 131-132).

4"Act-works" refers to the combination of creation/communication, incarnation/ redemption, and effusion/fulfillment.

5See my book The Era of the Spirit on the matter of "applicative instrumentality" (53-54). Attention is also called therein to Hendrikus Berkhof's dissatisfaction with what he calls "the main pneumatological trend in ecclesiastical theology...[wherein] the Spirit is customarily treated in noetical, applicative, subjective terms. He is that power which directs our attention to Christ and opens our eyes to His works....So the Spirit is a second reality besides Christ, but entirely subordinate to Him, serving in the application of His atoning work." Berkhof expresses his disagreement with this trend, and adds that "the Spirit is far more than an instrumental entity, the subjective reverse of Christ's work" (quotations from Berkhof's The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, 23). This is my own opinion as well.

6John 1 conveys in a special way this threefold mediation of Jesus Christ: the Word through whom all things were made (v. 3), the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (v. 29), and the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit (v. 33).

7See, in addition to Acts 2:38-39, Galatians 3:13-14: "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us...that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith."

81 Clement, 2:2.

Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | Conclusion
Preface | Abbreviations | Bibliography

Content Copyright 2003 by J. Rodman Williams, Ph.D.

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