Word and Spirit
There is a prophecy attributed to Smith Wigglesworth which he purportedly gave near the end of his life, wherein he expressed that when the Word and the Spirit come together, there would be an unprecedented move of God which would bring us into a significant new phase of the end times. Some have made it the course of debate as to whether this was really ever spoken by Wigglesworth. But a reading of his sermons (of which many are in print) should help us to realise that at least the words are not too far out of line with his general statements about what God was doing with the church.
What he meant by this was that when the church really got a full hold both of the Scripture and of the Holy Spirit (rather than simply swinging one way or the other in its emphasis), it would be this radically balanced fusion that would facilitate a greater move of God than we have yet seen.
It is indeed true that especially since the enlightenment, we have seen churches and movements choose either to emphasise the authority of Scripture – and in turn inadvertently (or perhaps sometimes intentionally) rule out Spiritual activity in the church; or they have majorly emphasised the role and gift of the Spirit, at the expense of some Scriptural guidelines and doctrine.
This is a bit of a generalisation and the situation actually isn’t as polarised as all that in most of the UK (or indeed the rest of the world especially the post-enlightenment West). But we have gained this unfortunate legacy that comes with years of polarisation within the society itself overall.
These thoughts – I should explain – are not entirely of my own inspiration. I have just come away from a seminar where I was listening to a Christian clinical psychologist, Roger Bretherton, saying pretty much what I have said above, and some of what I will say below also. He referred to Wigglesworth’s prophecy and began to expound his thoughts on what this prophetic word might mean by distinguishing ‘Word and Spirit’.
His thoughts were that the church has divided these two by the different directions that its denominations have taken, in the same way that society has divided itself in many respects: into the objective and the subjective. The Word – the Bible, Scripture, and all the things that usually are associated with it like doctrine – is the object of the objective. It provides a standpoint, and firm and solid ground from which to view and do life. This is absolutely typical of the way that we view the Bible and it is not without truth or relevance. Jesus said that if anyone heard His words and did them, they would be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. Jesus’ words provide that rock for us.
The Spirit, on the other hand, has perhaps even more thoroughly become associated with subjectivity – in the negative with dodgy activities, Christian or otherwise, or with flaky people, or with false ministers; in the positive with the necessity to subject prophetic words and other things given by the Spirit, to the object of the Word of God.
Again this is not without accuracy. As my latter example hints, Scripture itself advises that prophetic words be weighed and tested, and so to be tested there needs to be some sort of measure, which Scripture is typically understood to provide.
As I have said, this diamteric distinction pervades our social and psychological analyses more than we perhaps realise. I remember when I studied Media for a couple of years, becoming aware for the first time of the difference between objectivity and subjectivity, understanding that the media had very little power to be objective, as a single camera shot or singly-authored article could in so many subtle ways hide things that the audience may not see. It could have all the appearance of objectivity but, even with effort, would not really be able to achieve it.
It goes too with the distinction between the logical and the intuitive, between the practical and the creative, between the arts and science, between the right brain and the left brain, between the masculine and the feminine – and I’m sure I don’t need to inform the reader of the constant tensions that can often be played out in societies because of the differences between these outlooks.
What is interesting to note, and what Bretherton began to touch on in his seminar, is that just as Wigglesworth prophesied a ‘coming together’ of these two things, so in society we are beginning to see worldviews depolarising, as disciplines and fields begin to combine understanding of the objective and the subjective, to the benefit of their fields.
This excites me because I have, in discussion with others, become aware of this myself. There is a caricatured picture provided by radical atheists such as Richard Dawkins, in which religion (that which is, in their view, subjective – or perhaps less, simply ridiculously unbelievable) is no longer viable and Science, in which everything is objective – measurable and quantifiable – is now the best means by which to understand life and the world. But this is far from where many disciplines are now at. Indeed within the field of science, one doctor by the name of Philip Kilner reports of how he found significant breakthrough in his area of cardiology because of intuitive, rather than quantified, research. His page can be found here along with a BBC radio interview which details how he came across his findings.
Faith Forster too has pursued some research into masculine and feminine brains – meaning not strictly brains belonging to men and those belonging to women, because there can be men who are quite feminine in their thinking and vice versa. But after a few years, many hours of counselling, and lots of thought, she was interested to find her conclusions confirmed by the research of another psychologist, who did an in-depth study into the hormonal balances and so on that affect the percentage to which a person is more or less male or female-minded – and the results in life habits and ideals. Her application of course in sharing her findings along with those of the psychologist, are that we need to work at becoming more balanced people in order to most understand one another and accommodate one another, and to lead healthy lives.
This to me represents the exciting shift which, indeed it is possible, even a prophecy from the likes of Wigglesworth might be hinting at. It involves far more than just conservative evangelicals, and way-out charismatics, coming to agree with each other. It involves our worldview shifting to understand that we can’t simply be content to understand life one way or the other. It’s not a case that either we just deal with life as evidence, examination and results tell us, or ‘go with the flow’ in a way that is entirely emotionally driven. Somehow we have to find ways to balance the two. I certainly think this can happen in church, with how we involve both the ministry of the Word and the ministry of the Spirit. But I think we can affect our society too by adjusting our outlook on life.