The Spirit-Filled Church Is Known By Hearing, Eating and Drinking

400692_10200333338390075_680213184_n“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from or where it goes, so it is with those who are born of the Spirit,” the Lord Jesus said in His evening catechesis with the Pharisee Nicodemus on Holy Baptism.    There is a union between the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.   The Spirit is known by hearing with the ears.   This is not an internalized activity.  Even at the New Testament Pentecost in Jerusalem, the Spirit comes with the sound of a great rushing wind.   But Jesus is quite clear that the Holy Spirit is not separate from the working or presence of the Father and the Son (cf. John 1:14).   The sense here is hearing.  The preaching and teaching of the Word of God is where the Holy Spirit is at work for us to be filled with Him in Christ.  Consider these words of Jesus:

John 15:26 – But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.

John 16:13-15 – However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.

The Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, is of one indivisible essence with the Father and the Son.   The way the Holy Spirit is often spoken of in pop American Christianity and in liberal mainline Protestantism is that He is somehow separated, off on His own, only there to depart from what has gone before, to confuse or distract us from Jesus and the Gospel of salvation in His death and resurrection.   But Jesus says just the opposite.  The Spirit is the “Spirit of truth.”   And as St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14: “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.”

If there is a new revelation or a claim of new revelation, the Spirit does not contradict Himself, especially not the Holy Scriptures.  Whether it be a sincere Christian coming with a claim of a “word of prophecy,” or a leadership-driven pastor claiming to have a binding “vision for ministry” that is a new missional revelation of the Holy Spirit, we cannot separate the Holy Spirit from the Word of God (externum verbum).  All teachers are bound to the canonical Scriptures to function within them as foundation and skin for the church.   “Vision casting” simply isn’t biblical and such leadership notions borrowed from the corporate world slathered in the candy-coating of charismatic verbiage.  Vision casting certainly can’t be squared with the Lutheran Confessions that speak this way:

In a word, enthusiasm inheres in Adam and his children from the beginning [from the first fall] to the end of the world, [its poison] having been implanted and infused into them by the old dragon, and is the origin, power [life], and strength of all heresy, especially of that of the Papacy and Mahomet. Therefore we ought and must constantly maintain this point, that God does not wish to deal with us otherwise than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments. It is the devil himself whatsoever is extolled as Spirit without the Word and Sacraments.  [Smalcald Articles]

This “enthusiasm” is internalizing the source of divine revelation so that it is indistinguishable from one’s desires, imagination, sentiment, or will to power.   Theologically it is the Old Adam claiming divine inspiration and dogmatically separating the Holy Spirit from the external Word.   In Trinitarian terms such “enthusiasm” (schwaermerei) divides the substance of the Trinity in theological assumptions, to borrow the language of the Athanasian Creed.  The Holy Spirit calls us to faith “by the Gospel” which is to say through the Word and Sacraments of Christ.   The Holy Spirit is all about delivering to us Jesus in the means that Jesus provided and bringing to our remembrance the words of Jesus.

To separate the Spirit from the Word in teaching and practice is to open the doors of the Church to a darkness and a spirit of darkness and deception that is, as we cited Luther above, “the source, power, and strength of all heresy.”  It is akin to the occult.   The utterances of the Holy Spirit are not simply the echo of our own longings and spiritual self-expression.  Here motives are not enough.   So what is the answer in this, for those who want to be Spirit-filled as churches?

First of all, the answer is not in what we’re often told.   Those who claim to major in the Holy Spirit are at best confused.   As in the Spirit’s work of sanctification, it doesn’t happen chiefly by talking about it.   To be filled with the Holy Spirit individually and as a congregation is to be filled with Jesus.  For that is the work of the Holy Spirit.   The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son in eternity but this is reflected also in how the Holy Spirit comes to us in the here and now in the means of grace.   The Holy Spirit is sent in Jesus’ name, in the proclamation, in the catechesis, in the sacraments, to deliver all the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we receive in faith.

The work of the Holy Spirit is not measured by a mood or feeling.   That doesn’t mean feelings are bad, but they aren’t the measure of what’s true.   God’s promise and history of faithfulness tells us what is most certainly true.  To be a Spirit-filled Church, then, is to be a church that is abundantly rich in the Word and the Sacrament as they are taught and delivered, most especially in the Divine Service but also during the week in the study of Scripture, confession and absolution, and so on.   To be a Spirit-filled Church the way the New Testament speaks of it is to be a clearly law and gospel preaching Church, a church that celebrates Holy Baptism, a church which offers confession and absolution regularly, and a church with a strong grasp of the Lord’s Supper as it is offered frequently.   To be Spirit-filled is to see that these things cannot be on the side or merely occasional but as central and of the essence of the church.  For these are also the marks of the church.  He (the Holy Spirit is not “it”), the Holy Spirit, works in them for faith.

Don’t be fooled by what we’re often told is “more-spiritual” or Spirit-filled.  We do not engineer or use group dynamics or entertainment to direct the Spirit.   The Holy Spirit creates faith when and where He pleases in those who hear the Gospel.  To be sure, sometimes even “conservative” churches could use a stronger focus on the true source of being Spirit-filled (see Revelation 3:20).  The seventh letter in the book of Revelation to the church in Laodicea was written to a church that thought it was well-off and rich in itself, but was really putting the Lord’s Supper on the side.   But they were missing so much.   We think of times in our history in America when the Lord’s Supper was only offered once a month or four times a year in many places.   The proclamation of the Spirit in the Scriptures leads us to rejoice in the full use of the Lord’s means of grace, especially the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood frequently, so that faith may be fed and the Church be made strong in this world.    Jesus sends our Lord, the Holy Spirit, that He may deliver the forgiveness, life and salvation, that was obtained through the cross and resurrection of Jesus.  This is what it means to be a Spirit-filled Church, rich in the Word and Sacraments, the means of the Spirit.

About Pastor John Frahm III

Rev. John A. Frahm is pastor of Gloria Christi Lutheran Church in Greeley, Colorado, where he has served since 2006. He has previously served parishes in the Midwest. He is a 1998 graduate of Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada and was ordained by Dr. Ray Hartwig in 1998. He was editor of the former website Reformation Today, and has published articles in The Bride of Christ, Logia, and The Lutheran Witness magazines and is a charter member of The Augustana Ministerium. He has also been a guest on Issues Etc. In college years, he was active in Lutheran campus ministry activities and was the first president of Region 4 of Lutheran Student Fellowship, helping to organize the first LSF national gathering for college students. Pastor Frahm was born in Arlington Heights, Illinois and was raised in southern Minnesota. He is married to Jennifer, a Michigan native, whom he met while on vicarage in Michigan. Jennifer currently works as an instructional designer at a college in Greeley. He and Jennifer are the proud parents of Wyatt, who was stillborn and called home to heaven, at nearly full term in 2008. They look forward to seeing him again in heaven and they look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Pastor Frahm believes our biblical, confessional, and liturgical heritage is an asset to be boldly and forthrightly applied and used for the mission of the church.


The Spirit-Filled Church Is Known By Hearing, Eating and Drinking — 10 Comments

  1. “[W]e cannot separate the Holy Spirit from the Word of God. “

    Does the Holy Spirit ever move where the Word is not being read or spoken? (Genesis 1:2)

    Comparing the Spirit to the wind, Jesus said plainly, “You cannot tell where it comes from or where it goes.” But we can observe the words of Scripture coming and going because they are spoken and heard, written and read.

    “The Spirit is known by hearing with the ears.”

    Since hearing does not necessarily result in understanding, is it not, rather, that only the Spirit can make the hearing fruitful? (Luke 8:4-15; Galatians 5:22-23)

    “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” James 1:22

    “’Vision casting” simply isn’t biblical….”

    People use many terms not found in Scripture; that in itself does not make the concepts expressed by those terms bad. Vision casting has proven to be useful for many types of organizations, including churches.

    And it is not difficult to find examples of vision casting in Scripture. These come readily to mind: Jeremiah 29:11, Matthew 4:19, 1 Peter 2:9, Matthew 5:14-16. Indeed, vision casting can be thoroughly biblical.

    The statements in the Smalcald Articles (quoted in main post above) are written against those “who boast that they have the Spirit without and before the Word, and accordingly judge Scripture or the spoken Word….” Is that what pastors praying with their congregations for vision are doing?

    “To be a Spirit-filled church ….”

    Could it mean this?: “…be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph. 5:18-21)

    And this?: “…they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:31)

    Law and gospel preaching, baptism, confession and absolution, the Lord’s Supper offered frequently — “these are also the marks of the church.”

    Is there not another mark?: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

  2. The Holy Spirit and the Word come together because what God has joined together we may not separate. In the ultimate sense, the Word is Jesus.

    The Holy Spirit creates faith when and where He pleases in those who hear the Gospel.

    Vision casting is not only an unbiblical term the idea is unbiblical and harmful. We do not cast visions. It could never be something we do on command or that we engineer. Plans (“visions”) need to be tested against the Word of God and our common understanding of it in the Lutheran Confessions. The separation of the Holy Spirit from the Word of God and claiming an internal revelation takes equal status in the life of the church may be spiritual but it is not from the Holy Spirit.

    The Holy Spirit’s instruments for delivering faith, forgiveness, salvation are in the Word and Sacraments. Love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. As a mark of the church, love is not an infallible mark in this world as long as we all have an Old Adam.

  3. Should we be grateful for what’s happening in Latin America?   Though Pentecostalism can at times have its excesses, the Gospel is being spread to those who often followed a supersticious, nominal form of catholicism.  Do confessional Lutherans think this trend in Latin America is an improvement?   Thanks.

  4. @John Rixe #3
    the Gospel is being spread to those who often followed a supersticious, nominal form of catholicism.

    So a superstitious, nominal form of Christianity, aka “Pentecostalism”, is better?
    Where are the marks of the church in that?

  5. I don’t know much about Pentecostalism but I have Pentecostal friends.  They are God’s own children and are neither superstitious nor nominal.  I rejoice that their names are written in heaven. They admit there are fringe extremes in their denominations.

    I’m not intending to defend Pentecostalism. I’m just interested in what confessional Lutherans think about Pentecostal efforts in Latin America. Would it be better for them to stay home?

  6. @John Rixe #5
    I’m not intending to defend Pentecostalism. I’m just interested in what confessional Lutherans think about Pentecostal efforts in Latin America. Would it be better for them to stay home?

    According to wikipedia (limited personal experience) the Pentecostals who believe baptism is required don’t believe it is a [means of grace] (Lutheran terminology) and don’t believe in the Trinity, so they don’t use the Trinitarian formula. The Lord’s Supper is a command, but also just a “remembrance”.

    Wiki admits that you can’t define Pentecostalism, because it is its own cluster of sects.

    If it is true that Pentecostalists do not accept baptism or the Lord’s Supper as instituted for the forgiveness of sins, I’m afraid you’ll have to answer your own question. I’m surprised that a Lutheran asks it.

    Luther is reported to have said he’d rather drink blood with the Pope than wine (grape juice now) with the Schwaermerei. I have not been taught that you could deny the Trinity and be saved because you are a “nice person”. See the Athanasian Creed. :(

  7. “The Assemblies of God (AG), officially the World Assemblies of God Fellowship, is a group of over 140 autonomous but loosely associated national groupings of churches which together form the world’s largest Pentecostal denomination.  With over 300,000 ministers and outstations in over 212 countries and territories serving approximately 57 to 60 million adherents worldwide, it is the sixth largest international Christian group of denominations.

    The doctrinal position of the Assemblies of God is framed in a classical Pentecostal and an evangelical context. The AG is Trinitarian and holds the Bible as divinely inspired and the infallible authoritative rule of faith and conduct. Baptism by immersion is practiced as an ordinance instituted by Christ for those who have been saved. Baptism is understood as an outward sign of an inward change, the change from being dead in sin to being alive in Christ. As an ordinance, Communion is also practiced. The Assemblies of God also places a strong emphasis on the fulfillment of the Great Commission and believes that this is the main calling of the church.

    In whose name will I be baptized? “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). These words express an understanding of the triune God while recognizing the person and work of Christ.”

    Again, I am not intending to defend Pentecostalism. I understand they aren’t Lutherans. For example, they feel baptism and communion are only symbolic. Do confessional Lutherans think their missionaries are doing nothing worthwhile? Would it be better to not reach the lost?

  8. @helen #6

    @John Rixe #7

    Helen, the Pentecostals you are describing are “Oneness Pentecostals” who are predominately represented by the United Pentecostal Church International. Oneness Pentecostals teach the heresy of modalism which is a rejection of the Holy Trinity.

    The Pentecostals John refers to are the Assemblies of God. Way back around the early part of the 20th century, the Assemblies of God excommunicated the “Oneness Pentecostals” due to their rejection of the Holy Trinity. The Assemblies of God confess the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

    John, we should be grateful to God for the workings of the Holy Spirit through His Word despite those preaching it. The false doctrine coming out of the Assemblies of God is intolerable and can’t be justified.

  9. “John, we should be grateful to God for the workings of the Holy Spirit through His Word despite those preaching it.”


    “The false doctrine coming out of the Assemblies of God is intolerable and can’t be justified.”

    The AOG would say the same thing about Lutherans, but maybe with a bit more brotherly charity. NO one does spiritual-snobbery like the ‘confessional’ Lutheran. I though Cavinists were bad, but they are pikers in teh spiritual snobbery category compared to some of us Lutherans.

    The AOG are quite correct that the Lord’s Supper is a memorial meal.Those were our Lord’s words: “Do this in remembrance of Me”. Their trouble is that they stop there. God will forgive if their faith is true, just as He forgives us our doctrinal sin (I know, I know…we don’t HAVE any). 😉

  10. @Jim Pierce #8

    “John, we should be grateful to God for the workings of the Holy Spirit through His Word despite those preaching it.”

    Well said.  I’m hoping confessional Lutherans share this constructive view and pray for all Christian missionary families.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.