Is the Holy Spirit’s Work Characteristically Extraordinary Experience?
Last week I presented a brief survey of the Holy Spirit’s activity throughout Scripture, which helps to lay an important foundation for assessing his work in worship, especially what Christians should expect his ordinary work to be. In order to arrive at conclusions regarding that expectation, I will next consider broadly how to characterize the Holy Spirit’s ordinary activity, and then I will narrow the focus specifically to how the New Testament characterizes his work in worship.
Taking all of the biblical data concerning the Holy Spirit’s work throughout history into account, there is no doubt that he sometimes works in extraordinary ways. Yet extraordinary works of the Spirit are not the ordinary way God works his sovereign will through the course of biblical history. When extraordinary experiences occur, they happen during significant transitional stages in the outworking of God’s plan. Sinclair Ferguson helpfully explains:
In the Scriptures themselves, extraordinary gifts appear to be limited to a few brief periods in biblical history, in which they serve as confirmatory signs of new revelation and its ambassadors, and as a means of establishing and defending the kingdom of God in epochally significant ways. . . . Outbreaks of the miraculous sign gifts in the Old Testament were, generally speaking, limited to those periods of redemptive history in which a new stage of covenantal revelation was reached. . . . But these sign-deeds were never normative. Nor does the Old Testament suggest they should have continued unabated even throughout the redemptive-historical epoch they inaugurated. . . . Consistent with this pattern, the work of Christ and the apostles was confirmed by “signs and wonders.”1
In other words, to focus on the relatively few cases in biblical history of extraordinary works of the Holy Spirit and draw from those a theology that assumes this to be his regular activity fails to take into account the purpose of these works in the overarching plan of God. Furthermore, even the extraordinary works of the Spirit in Scripture, such as giving revelation or empowering for service, hardly resemble the kinds of extraordinary experiences contemporary worshipers have come to associate with the Holy Spirit, such as emotional euphoria or “atmosphere.” Even if Christians in the present age should expect extraordinary works of the Spirit to regularly occur, what most contemporary evangelicals have come to expect does not fit the biblical pattern.
About Scott Aniol
Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.
- Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Holy Spirit (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1997), 224–225. [↩]