Come, Holy Ghost, our hearts inspire,
let us thine influence prove;
source of the old prophetic fire,
fountain of life and love.
Come, Holy Ghost (for moved by thee
the prophets wrote and spoke),
unlock the truth, thyself the key,
unseal the sacred book.
Expand thy wings, celestial Dove,
brood o’er our nature’s night;
on our disordered spirits move,
and let there now be light.
God, through the Spirit we shall know
if thou within us shine,
and sound, with all thy saints below,
the depths of love divine.
– Charles Wesley
The Holy Spirit is probably the least discussed member of the Trinity and this is most likely related to our lack of clear understanding on the nature and role of the Holy Spirit. Since we don’t know how to understand the Holy Spirit or the modes in which the Spirit moves and works it is often easier to simply avoid the topic. The ties of the Pentecostal church/movement with the Holy Spirit, and the abuses and heresy often associated with this movement and its leaders, also make people skeptical about the topic. Even personal experience can influence our view on the Holy Spirit and for me this is most often tied to the work of healing that is often characterized as the work of the Holy Spirit. The question becomes if God can heal then why do people die, especially the young?
The church in Acts had no problem with the Holy Spirit and conversions were often followed by “baptism of the Holy Spirit” and evangelism was tied to signs and wonders. The movement of the Holy Spirit in the early church and among those to whom the Gospel was proclaimed functioned as fuel for the wildfire growth of the church throughout the Roman Empire. It is easy to focus on the miraculous and the extraordinary and many people do. This can lead to questions like: Why aren’t we seeing miracles today? or How can the church see this demonstrations of the Spirit again? This misses the original point of the miraculous in the early church.
If we read closely the text it becomes clear that the miraculous work of the Spirit was not done for show but for the advancement of the message of the Gospel. In Acts 4 we encounter a story about Peter and John being arrested for their sharing of the Gospel and after being released gathering with the believers to pray. After which: “When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.” The powerful presence of the Holy Spirit was meant to validate the ministry of the church and to exhort the believers to continue in the work of evangelism. The Holy Spirit functioned to facilitate this ministry through whatever means was necessary. Which is exactly the role of the Spirit. When Jesus revealed the coming of the Holy Spirit in the the Gospel of John he said: “the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” Jesus reveals the Holy Spirit using words like Advocate and Helper. The ministry of Christ would be continued by his body the church empowered and assisted by the Holy Spirit.
So how does this help us understand the Holy Spirit and its role in the church today? It allows us to take our focus of the signs and wonders. It helps us to look past and obsession with the “gifts” or figuring our the hows and whys of the Holy Spirit and helps us to understand the true purpose of the Holy Spirit which is to guide the church, empower its ministry of the Gospel, and bring believers into spiritual maturity. That is the purpose of the Holy Spirit and that purpose if completed in various ways and manners as needed. Is it possible for God to heal? Yes, but we must remember that even when Jesus Christ walked the earth in his earthly ministry that the majority of the sick still died. Even the miracles that he performed where used as examples by which people could understand who he was and the Gospel he proclaimed.
I believe that instead of trying to recreate the signs and wonders found in the book of Acts we as the church should be listening to the Holy Spirit as we are guided into effective ministry in the present and future. The same Holy Spirit that enabled and empowered Peter and Paul is moving still and God still desires that people hear of the Gospel and come to faith in his Son Jesus Christ. The see the rapid growth recorded in the book of Acts is not dependent on a miracle but on the people of God faithfully responding and trusting in the Spirit wherever that may lead. Let us take the binders off of the Holy Spirit with our expectations of what it must do and instead be prepared to go boldly into an unbelieving world trusting that God is able to support the ministry to which we are called. If you ask me that is a miracle.