Most mainline churches just don’t know what to do with the Holy Ghost. For years, our weakest Confirmation lesson was the one on the Holy Spirit. We are comfortable talking about God the Father and Christ the Son, but when it comes to the Holy Spirit, we just start talking about God’s grace. Grace is amazing, but when our language disconnects grace from the Holy Spirit, the Gospel can become just another nice message to make us feel positive about ourselves. Instead of creating congregations engaged in transformative prayer, we generate groups of people who would much rather be busy with excellent programs.
Before Charles Wesley’s heart conversion, he rarely spoke of the Holy Spirit. He complained of a spiritual “coldness” which he believed was due to a youthful complacency towards God. He said, “One who like myself has for almost 13 years been utterly inattentive at public prayers can’t expect to find there that warmth he has never known at his first seeking; he must knock oftener than once before ’tis opened to him; and this is (I think) in some measure answerable for a heartlessness of which he himself is the cause.” But Charles continued to knock, and he experienced a powerful conversion of the heart that he attributed to the work of the Holy Spirit. From then on, any language about God’s grace is always attributed to the power of the Holy Spirit. The Methodist movement began as a religion of the heart transformed through intimate encounters with the presence of the Holy Spirit. The church today is growing fastest and strongest in the Southern Hemisphere, where the Holy Spirit is front and center as people passionately fall in love with God.
The Spirit is really the only way we can know God, and I am convinced that whether it causes us to grow in numbers or not, we need to recover a strong theology of the Holy Spirit that leads our faith communities to deeply trust in God. Charles’ hymn, Spirit of Faith, Come Down, reveals how important the Holy Spirit is to our faith, we can’t even know Jesus without the Spirit.
Spirit of Faith, Come Down / Reveal the things of God /
And make to us the Godhead known / And witness with the blood.
‘Tis thine the blood to apply / And give us eyes to see /
Who did for every sinner die / Hath surely died for me.
No one can truly say / That Jesus is the Lord /
Unless thou take the veil away / And breathe the living Word.
Then, only then, we feel / Our interest in his blood /
And cry with joy unspeakable / “Thou art my Lord, My God!”