How should we balance the Holy Spirit with God’s word in our assemblies?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture 

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Question: When Paul visited and established the Galatian church, he was with them for approximately 3 -4 months. He then left for two years before he went back. During those two years, these believers most likely had nothing in writing to instruct them. In fact, it was twenty years after Pentecost Paul wrote Galatians. They didn’t have the Old Testament or their own copy. I believe the Pharisees guarded their sacred text and was not about to loan them to a bunch of Gentiles. 

So my question is, how did they live the Christian life? The only conclusion I could come to is by the direction and leading of the Holy Spirit. Paul reprimanded them about beginning in the Spirit and ending in the flesh. If what I stated is true, why would it be any different for the Church? Paul never referred to anything in writing that they had easy access to. 

I know this is far out there, but if they lived by the Spirit before Paul wrote to them, then how about us today? Do we need Scripture to live the Christian life? Love is the determining factor... and that is what the Holy Spirit is best at. Paul never told them to read the Bible, or directed them to follow biblical principles. He directed them to the Holy Spirit. When he did write to them he told them to “walk in the Spirit.”

Answer: Greetings, friend. I don’t think your idea is too “far out there.” In fact, I largely agree with it. After all, the Church was established for forty-plus years before the early books like Galatians, James and the Gospel of Mark were even written. But I think you underestimated the availability and the impact of the Jewish Scripture in the Christian church.

Remember, the seminal church was called “the Way” (Acts 24:14), and it was merely a Jewish sect. So, not only did the Church’s founding members have knowledge of the Hebrew Scripture, they likely had access to some materials before and after the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. The New Testament writers quoted from the Septuagint, so they either had access to some copies of it — or they had very good memories!

We don’t know for sure what documents Paul had access to, but we are sure there were some. We suspect that the complete book of Isaiah was in his collection of “books” (for lack of a better term) because he quoted from Isaiah often.

“When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.” (2 Timothy 4:13, NIV)

Remember, Paul preached Jesus — and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2)… but he also preached the Old Testament. One of his methods was to try to convince both the Jews and the Greeks that Jesus was the Messiah — that he was the person who fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies.

“Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.” (Acts 18:4, NIV)

“For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.” (Acts 18:28, NIV)

Therefore, the Church Age was not the end of the Hebrew Scripture. It was merely the completion of its story. In fact, although Paul did indeed give a lot of instructions that emphasize the Holy Spirit’s working in the new churches, he gave the Old Testament Scripture the highest honors. The implication is that all believers — both Jews and Greeks — should read it and take it into their hearts.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:16, NIV)

Note also that in spite of having never met Jesus during his corporal ministry, Paul was a “student” of Jesus. He emphasized that Jesus was the Christ — the Messiah — but that all that Jesus did was according to the Scripture.

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:3, NIV)

I know your question involves the early church after the arrival of the Holy Spirit, but in the latter stages of the first generation church, Paul’s letters were considered to be on par with the Old Testament Scriptures. That is, they had the weight of Scripture in the New Testament church.

“[Paul] writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16, NIV)

As you can see, Paul had the highest possible view of the Old Testament Scripture… and since he understood that he was getting revelations directly from God (Galatians 1:12), he probably understood on some level that the Holy Spirit was helping him write those documents when he was addressing his churches.

Note also that Jesus referenced a lot of the Old Testament Scripture while he was with us. I understand that Jesus was “pre-Church” (and pre-Holy Spirit) and the time of your question is “early church,” but Paul’s references to and interpretation of Jesus’ corporal ministry cannot be set aside. Part of being more Christlike is being scripturally astute. In fact, Jesus cited the Old Testament Scripture over seventy times.

(Follow this link to see a chart with Jesus’ citations: http://kgsvr.net/xn/scriptures.Jesus.used.html )

We must remember also that, although Jesus was not alive during the Church Age, he was the Head of the Church (Ephesians 5:23) — and he said during his public ministry that he came to fulfill the law, not abolish it (Matthew 5:17). This implies that we who purport to follow Christ should know the Old Testament Scripture and follow its commands.  

Now, I agree that the Holy Spirit was the primary agent of movement in the early churches. In fact, we have Scripture showing us how church members cooperated with the Holy Spirit during public worship.

“Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.” (1 Corinthians 14:29–33, NIV)

However, this is not how things work in a typical American evangelical church today. You’ll find this more in the Charismatic and Pentecostal churches which are more overtly spiritual; they are not afraid to share the occasional “word from God” during a service. But I’m more comfortable attending churches that are in the middle of the evangelical tradition… and I have reasons for this beyond the fact that they are a personality match.

That being said, I do take the “rap” on us evangelicals seriously. People on the Reformed end of the spectrum — many of whom claim to have a profound corporate worship experience — describe the evangelical service as being “a concert followed by a lecture.” Well... if you take the Holy Spirit out of the equation, I would agree! But we understand that the Holy Spirit is with us — even when we “control” the utterances of that fact.

Now, here’s how I agree with your premise: the indwelling Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16) operates behind the scenes in the preparation of the worship service. As such, his “fruit” is manifest in God’s people — both individually and collectively. Therefore, I do not think it anti-spiritual to foster a culture where we praise God through well-performed music or honor God through a well-organized sermon.

I will admit that this style of worship discourages “words from God’ on the fly. But I like to think that prayer-driven Bible-study gives us all every word God wants for us — and this is more than we can handle! My point is that, although this might not look overtly spiritually driven, it is indeed spiritually driven… because in this age, the Spirit works through the believers and the word to teach the truth.

Besides, how we comport ourselves in church today is the natural result of doing things decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40). But when it comes to knowledge, we should not consider ourselves merely equal with the early church. Today’s theology is informed by two thousand years of Christian experience, scholarship… and the civilizing effect that the Judeo-Christian laws and ethics have had upon the world.

But even though the typical Evangelicals do not run their church services so that people may jump up and give a “word from God” … this is because we believe that we have a “word from God” already. In fact, we have the word of God — and part of our doctrine is that this Scripture is sufficient. That being said, without the indwelling Holy Spirit, the Scripture would not be enough.

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26, NIV)

Thanks for asking. Thanks for listening... and thanks for listening to the Holy Spirit.

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article about the Holy Spirit — consider doing so at the following link: 20200824 How should we balance a "word from God" with God’s word in our assemblies?).

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