In general, the ministries of traditional mainline churches are done without conscious belief in the Holy Spirit—a belief that goes beyond mouthing the Creed. We mostly rely on the Father and the Son. But ministries lose their effectiveness over time without reliance on the power of the Spirit. Our ministries cannot remain effective without a firm belief in the Holy Spirit and the role he performs. Luther describes how the Spirit “calls me by the Gospel, enlightens me with his gifts, sanctifies and keeps me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth.”
Those roles are the essence of the ministries and church life we try to guide and develop. How can we do that effectively if we are not looking for and expecting the Spirit’s power to accomplish what we are trying to do on our own? Believing in just the Father and the Son is like trying to do ministry with one arm tied behind your back. Without the Spirit, tradition too easily turns into traditionalism.
The Bible word paraklete, with but one exception, always refers to the Spirit. Sometimes it describes his identity, but most times it describes his role. The distinctive role of the Father right now is to create us and provide physical things for us and to defend us. The distinctive role of the Son right now to be our advocate (paraclete) before the Father (1 John 2:1) since our salvation has been achieved. The distinctive role of the Spirit is to be the Father’s and Son’s advocate (paraklete) for what they, the Father and the Son, want done in our churches and daily living.
The Spirit’s role is also to give energy for what the First and Second Persons want to see happen. The Spirit is Christ’s presence among us as he himself remains sitting in heaven at God’s right hand. The apostle Paul frequently describes what happens “in Christ.” Eleven times he assigns that same function to the Spirit. Thus, he uses the two names interchangeably. In all his letters he uses “in Christ” 81 times but “by the Spirit” 143 times. The justification by grace through faith accomplished by Christ is central to Paul’s writing. But even more central is “by the power of the Spirit.”
Reformation theology did not develop all the biblical evidence for what the Spirit does and consequently lost appreciation for how important he is in church ministry. Besides, their key issue then was theology, not church life, which remained strong because it was mandated. In Gordon Fee’s 1994 study God’s Empowering Presence, he unpacks each of Paul’s 143 references to the Spirit. If you doubt any of my interpretations, read Fee’s “Part II Synthesis” of the biblically-based research he did.
The Spirit is Christ’s Presence Today
Whether or not the Spirit is sent also from the Son was the major issue that divided Eastern Orthodox churches from western Roman Catholics in 1054. It was called the “filioque” (“and the son”) controversy. Is the Holy Spirit the Father’s advocate? Or is the Spirit also Christ’s advocate? We are in the western tradition. The Spirit is Christ’s presence with us now. Resisting filioque (and the Son) wording led the Eastern Orthodox Church to split off from the western church in 1054. The Son’s role with the Spirit is that important.
We Christians in both the Roman Catholic tradition and the Protestant reform of it see the Spirit as Christ’s presence in our daily life. So, if you want to see Christ today, pay close attention to what his Spirit is doing around us right now. Look where an exceptional number of people are being called by the Gospel, enlightened with the Spirit’s gifts, sanctified and kept in the true faith.
Are you concerned about improving your church ministry? Then watch how the Spirit is blessing the nearby ministries that are focused on the Spirit. It so happens that right now the most effective ministries are in churches that emphasize the Spirit (Pentecostal). Those churches that focus primarily on the Father (Presbyterian and Reformed), as well as those that focus primarily on the Son (Lutheran), are in decline.
To improve the results of your ministry, learn how to recognize or spot the Spirit at work. What are the experiences that trigger the Spirit’s work? Do more of those experiences that have more of those triggers. Many of those trigger experiences are different today than they were fifty years ago.