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The Holy Spirit Works … to Magnify Jesus
By Ronald E. Wright
In How Pentecost Came to Los Angeles Frank Bartleman wrote: “Many are willing to seek power from every battery they can lay their hands on in order to perform miracles, draw the attention and adoration of the people to themselves, thus robbing Christ of His glory and making a fair show in the flesh. … Religious enthusiasm easily goes to seed. The human spirit so predominates, the show-off, religious spirit. But we must stick to our text, Christ. He alone can save. … Any work that exalts the Holy Ghost or the gifts above Jesus will finally land up in fanaticism. … The Holy Ghost is a great light, but focused on Jesus always for His revealing.”
Literature from that historic period abounds with testimony that Jesus filled the thoughts and motivated the actions of those early Pentecostals. In Topeka, Kansas, the revival from its beginning subordinated the temporal to the eternal. The Giver was greater and more to be desired than the gift.
It was no mere coincidence that the 20th-century outpouring of the Spirit came during a time of great assault upon orthodox Christianity. Liberalism’s enthronement of reason meant Christ’s dethronement. The critical issues for Liberalism were the true identity of our Lord, the primary reason for His advent, and the nature of Scripture— the documents testifying to His Person and work. Cogent argument can be made that the Pentecostal revival was a sovereign act of God to stem the tide of religious liberalism.
Bartleman continued: “I became very much exercised in the Spirit that Jesus should not be slighted, lost in the temple, by the exaltation of the Holy Ghost and of the gifts of the Spirit. … Jesus should be the center of our preaching. All comes through and in Him. The Holy Ghost is given to show the things of Christ. The work of Calvary, the Atonement, must be the center of our consideration. The Holy Ghost never draws our attention from Christ to himself but, rather, reveals Christ in a fuller way. … There is nothing deeper nor higher than to know Christ.”
In the 21st century the church faces massive changes in society. Festering corruption, falling values, and faltering lifestyles challenge the foundations of faith. An overfascination with charismatic phenomena shifts the focus and diverts the energies from Christ.
How can the church speak truth to this generation? Only to the extent that the body of Christ divests itself of clinging institutionalism, which is not of essence to Christian faith.
Christ Is the Center of Biblical Revelation
The promises of His coming in the Old Testament and the New Testament’s record of their fulfillment show the unity of the Scriptures. Jesus reminded the Jews that their Scriptures testify of Him. He showed that spiritual life does not exist apart from Him (John 5:39). He taught the Twelve specifically that to know Him is to know the Father — to commit one’s life to Him is to commit to God. “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
The disciples left everything to follow Jesus. Their knowledge concerning His Person and work was Spirit-born. To understand their relationship with Christ is to appreciate their incredible sense of loss when He told them of His impending death. Further, it recognizes how Jesus used the occasion to link His departure from the world with the Spirit’s coming into the world.
Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the second Paraclete — of the same substance as Christ, the first Paraclete. Pentecostals do well to return again and again to this lofty view recorded in John’s writings.
Repeatedly Jesus spoke of His relationship with the Holy Spirit. His promise, “I will come to you” (John 14:18), did not refer to His Second Coming but to the coming of the Spirit (compare 16:16). The advent of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was a new coming of Jesus to the believers that carried them into new relationships. “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father,” Jesus explained, “and you are in me, and I am in you” (John 14:20).
The Spirit’s relationship with Christ is seen in Jesus’ teaching that the Spirit would testify of Him (John 15:26). The Spirit would not speak from himself as source. Rather He related to the disciples what He heard from Christ (John 16:13). He brought to remembrance all that Jesus had told them.
We do not demean the work of any Person of the Trinity when we receive and proclaim what Scripture declares is the distinctive work of each — when we affirm that the Spirit’s work among men is to bring glory to Jesus, who glorifies the Father (16:14). The Holy Spirit works to recreate the image of God in each believer personally and in the church corporately.
The Doctrine of Christ is the Keystone of Christian Truth
Christian faith results through God’s revelation to man and from man’s reasoned response. Christian doctrine is the process by which we seek to understand and articulate God’s self-disclosure. The careful study of God’s revelation encounters difficulties, and the way one addresses these problems results in orthodoxy or heterodoxy.
Doctrine is developed and affirmed through a spectrum of interrelated disciplines. Truth misplaced or misemphasized becomes truth perverted — heresy. Any text of Scripture taken out of context and used as proof text becomes pretext for the most exaggerated forms of quasi-Christianity. Pentecostal phenomena — God-honoring in its rightful place — when misemphasized soon discards its intended usefulness.
God’s truth in Scripture is like an interrelated web. Students must make certain their conclusions on the doctrine and centrality of Christ are biblically derived, refined, and maintained.
Christ Is the Heart of Pentecostal Proclamation
On the Day of Pentecost the confused, inquiring crowd needed from those early believers an explanation — a rationale — for what they saw and heard. Peter’s sermon quickly turned their attention upon Jesus, the Christ (Acts 2:14). For a nation fascinated with signs (John 4:48; Matthew 12:38; 1 Corinthians 1:22), it is highly instructive that the essence of Peter’s proclamation was Jesus. Signs and wonders are important elements of the Acts narrative but only because they pointed to the Christ in, through, and by whom the newly constituted church existed.
The ongoing message of the Testament Church was that God in Christ has broken into time and space, that the mystery hidden from the ages is now revealed — Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Christ’s advent is the central and unique event in the annals of human society. “Focused on Jesus always for His revealing,” as Bartleman said, is a pertinent warning for the church today.
Ronald E. Wright is former professor of religion at Vanguard University, Costa Mesa, California.