Monday, September 29, 2003

The Withdrawal of the Spirit

Does the Spirit withdraw itself? This is a risky but necessary question, because we traditionally understand the Spirit to be present where the Word is preached, at the very least... So from the large catechism we read,

"43] For where He does not cause [the gospel] to be preached and made alive in the heart, so that it is understood, it is lost, as was the case under the Papacy, where faith was entirely put under the bench, and no one recognized Christ as his Lord or the Holy Ghost as his Sanctifier, that is, no one believed that Christ is our Lord in the sense that He has acquired this treasure for us, without our works and merit, and made us acceptable to the Father. What, then, was lacking? 44] This, that the Holy Ghost was not there to reveal it and cause it to be preached; but men and evil spirits were there, who taught us to obtain grace and be saved by our works. 45] Therefore it is not a Christian Church either; for where Christ is not preached, there is no Holy Ghost who creates, calls, and gathers the Christian Church, without which no one can come to Christ the Lord."

We'd be hard pressed to believe that in the church that Luther is critiquing, nobody was naming Christ, so the issue isn't the pure naming of Christ in the preaching or liturgy, but rather, the gospel is not being preached, and the Holy Spirit is not there! "Where Christ is not preached, there is no Holy Ghost who...". The very gathering of the church is dependent on the work of the Holy Spirit, and without it no one can come to Christ the Lord.

There's a danger oft noted in the modern church, and it is this. Because we have developed and studied in great detail marketing strategies, methods for getting people in the door and (with lesser skill) keeping them there, we likely have come to the point where method is confused with the Holy Spirit. The problem for me as one who works in the church but also seeks to confess as a Lutheran theologian the operative primacy of the Holy Spirit is this- since I know some of the methods, publicity, energy, etc., should I use them, or for the sake of the Gospel should I avoid using them and simply set up times and places as a pastor where the Gospel will be preached, and then pray for the Holy Spirit to do its work. Is this abandoning my proper office work? It is a stunningly heavy burden to distinguish between these things, for I always want the numbers, I want the people in the door, but if I have to change the gospel in order for them to come, am I not at risk of doing the very thing I don't wish to do?

And in a church that works harder and harder to try and accomplish the work of the Holy Spirit rather than placing their trust in it and the preaching of the Word, is there the double danger that the Spirit might withdraw, for the sake of the very Gospel to which it draws?

This is not an esoteric question. I will look forward to comments.

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