#4 A Healthy Understanding of the Person and Role of the Holy Spirit

This is Part 5 of the series "A MISSIONARY ECCLESIOLOGY FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY". Originally presented in 2005, the relevance is current.


by R. Bruce Carlton

Emphasis 4 - A Healthy Understanding of the Person and Role of the Holy Spirit


Not only has the Pentecostal movement brought to the attention of the church the importance of prayer and spiritual warfare and its significant role in the growth and expansion of the church, it also has contributed greatly to the church’s understanding of the person and work of the Holy Spirit in mission. At times, the Pentecostal movement has overemphasized the external manifestations of glossalia and spiritual gifts. Nevertheless, McClung reminds us that the Pentecostal churches have understood that the book of Acts can have a “didactic, intentional purpose for today’s Christian,” and that has been a major contribution to mission in the twentieth century.


For the most part, evangelical missiologists have tended to neglect the person and role of the Holy Spirit in mission. The result of this neglect has had serious consequences in evangelical missionary efforts throughout the modern missionary movement. Wagner highlights one such consequence being the subjugation of faith to rationalism and secular humanism, leaving missionaries out of touch with the worlds of spirits and demons and out of touch with the realities in which most people of the Two-Thirds World live.


This often led to a denial of signs and wonders as a genuine expression of mission. Much of evangelicals’ reaction against signs and wonders has come from the excesses often seen in those who espouse power evangelism and assert that signs and wonders are a requirement for a genuine Christian experience; however, the excesses should not deter us from acknowledging the reality that this is one way in which the Holy Spirit continues to work in many places of our world today.


One of the key roles of the Holy Spirit is to help believers understand all truth (John 14:26). Another consequence of neglecting the person and work of the Holy Spirit in mission has been that missionaries have often failed to teach new disciples how to trust the Holy Spirit to guide them in understanding the truth of God’s word. The result has been dependence on the missionary as the source of authority rather than studying and interpreting God’s word under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Allen analyzing the work of Paul as he planted churches concluded that the secret to Paul’s success was his reliance upon the Holy Spirit to guide new Christians. Many missionaries indeed are guilty of the charges that Allen levels:

In everything we have taught our converts to turn to us, to accept our guidance. We have asked nothing of them but obedience. We have educated our converts to put us in the place of Christ. We believe that it is the Holy Spirit of Christ which inspires and guides us; we cannot believe that the same Holy Spirit will guide and inspire them. We believe that the Holy Spirit has taught us and is teaching us the true conceptions of morality, doctrine, ritual: we cannot believe that the same Spirit will teach them.…The Holy Ghost is given to Christians that He may guide them, and that they may learn His power to guide them, not that they may be stupidly obedient to the voice of authority…If we have no faith in the power of the Holy Spirit in them, they will not learn to have faith in the power of the Holy Spirit in themselves.


One of the characteristics seen in many churches throughout Asia is a healthy understanding of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. This understanding often avoids the extremes of some within the traditional Pentecostal churches and the traditional, conservative evangelical churches. Excesses do remain. Yet, the reality is that the Holy Spirit continues to work through signs and wonders and it is the Holy Spirit that guides the church in understanding the truth of God’s word. This mysterious dimension of the work of the Holy Spirit in mission must be included in a missionary ecclesiology if the church effectively wants to impact the world of the twenty-first century.


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