Some Thoughts on the Convergence of Word and Spirit2
Most are probably unaware of this, but I frequently speak with people who are new to Bridgeway and I hear one of three observations. Almost all of them are somewhat surprised by what they encounter and experience here. It certainly wasn’t what they expected.
First of all, there are those who have come to Bridgeway because they are desperately hungry for the truth of God’s Word. They have spent considerable time in a church, or perhaps several churches, where the focus was either entirely on charismatic gifts or where Scripture was given, at best, token acknowledgment.
In these churches the Bible was read aloud by the preacher and held in high regard. It’s inspiration and authority were affirmed and you knew you were in a church that wouldn’t permit anything that was explicitly contrary to Scripture. But when it came down to the preaching and teaching in that church, the speaker typically used the Bible as a diving board from which to jump off into the pool of his own ideas. He would read the text and perhaps refer to it here and there during the course of his message. But no effort was made to actually explain what God was saying to us through the biblical author. The sermon eventually ended up as some version of pop psychology or relational dynamics or coping skills that sounded vaguely Christian. The bottom line is that the Bible simply didn’t factor into the message as its controlling authority.
Many that I’ve spoken with are greatly refreshed that here at Bridgeway we make it our aim that the point of every sermon is the point of whatever text we are reading. We do this because we honestly believe that God encounters us in his Word; God speaks to us in his Word; God draws near to us in his Word. God didn’t simply speak 2,000 years ago. The written Word of God is still very much alive and speaks today with no less force and life-changing power than it did when it was first received.
But those who love Bridgeway for our approach to Scripture are somewhat nervous when the music begins, and they watch people freely and joyfully express their love for Jesus Christ. They’re not used to such open and unashamed expressions of delight and gratitude, especially when those expressions become physical! Seeing someone actually move when they sing is unsettling. And seeing someone dance is downright traumatic!
And you wonder to yourself, and say to me, “How can you believe in the authority of Scripture and preach it with such detail and depth at the same time you permit and even encourage people to be free and expressive when they worship God? I’ve never seen those go hand in hand. And what makes it even more difficult for me is when you pray for the sick as if you really thought God might heal them and when you give room on occasion for prophetic words to be given. What kind of nut-house did I walk into?”
Second, there are those who come to me who’ve been stuck in a church that for all practical purposes reduced the Christian life to theological accuracy. Christian maturity and godliness, in such churches, is defined solely in terms of being doctrinally sound.
What drew you to Bridgeway was someone who told you that in this church we genuinely believe in the person and power of the Holy Spirit; that we not only affirm the validity of all spiritual gifts today but we actually do what we can to facilitate their practice; that we aren’t afraid of our affections and feelings but believe that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.
Your struggle isn’t that people are openly expressive in worship or that some speak in tongues or that we pray expectantly for the sick or that we are sensitive to the spontaneous prompting of the Spirit and are willing to interrupt the order of service to follow his leading. What eats away in your soul is that we move so effortlessly from such vibrant charismatic expressions of spiritual life into the depths of biblical truth and challenging biblical doctrines.
I’ve actually had conversations with a few who say something like: “Sam, aren’t you afraid that your preaching style will quench the Holy Spirit? Aren’t you concerned that people will leave with swelled heads and shrunken hearts? Do you really believe you can have a vibrant and intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit at the same time you dig so deeply and intensely into the Bible?” Well, in point of fact, I don’t believe it is possible to have a vibrant relationship with the Spirit unless you dig deeply into God’s Word.
Many who’ve come to Bridgeway fall into one of those two camps and you’re still more than a little suspicious about this place. You still wonder whether or not it’s possible to be so radically committed to both the principles of God’s Word and the power of God’s Spirit, to both head and heart, to both ideas and intimacy, to both facts and feelings, to both order and spontaneity, to both doctrine and experience.
I said there were three observations I typically hear from new people here at Bridgeway. The third comes from that person who often approaches me with tears in their eyes and expressions of gratitude in their hearts that what they didn’t think even existed actually does: namely, a local church that isn’t afraid of the Holy Spirit or of rigorous doctrinal dialogue; a church that refuses to let one trump the other; a church that highlights the sovereignty of God in the salvation of sinners and encourages its people to earnestly desire and seek after the full range of spiritual gifts.
The honest truth is that we aren’t the local church for some of you. If you are looking for a doctrinally orthodox church that is afraid of the supernatural, Bridgeway probably isn’t for you. You will probably never feel comfortable here. Or if you are looking for a charismatic church that gives only token attention to the truths of God’s Word, Bridgeway probably isn’t for you.
There are many Christians who say that if you truly embrace the authority and finality and sufficiency of Scripture, you can’t believe that the Holy Spirit still bestows gifts such as prophecy and tongues and word of knowledge and discerning of spirits. If you are the kind of Christian, so they say, who enjoys digging deeply into God’s Word and thinking deeply about biblical truth, you can’t be open to the possibility of miracles and healing and prophetic revelation. But what makes anyone think that God has given us the option of choosing one over the other? Where in God’s Word does it ever suggest, much less teach, that Christians should ever think that being grounded in Scripture quenches the Spirit, or being open to the Spirit undermines the authority of the Bible?
Put simply, Bridgeway is wholly committed to the convergence of both Word and Spirit, not simply as a theological statement but as a way of life and ministry. Our aim in all that we do, whether in corporate assembly, community group gatherings, discipleship, or missional outreach, is to serve in accordance with the Word of God through the power of the Spirit of God.”
There is something all of us need to recognize and embrace if we are going to make this work. What we are seeking to accomplish at Bridgeway runs directly counter to human nature. It is contrary to our most basic instincts and intuition to aim for a harmonious convergence of Word and Spirit. Human nature always prefers one over the other because it is easier, more comfortable, more predictable, and doesn’t require much effort. That’s what sin has done to us. It has caused a divorce in our thinking between the marriage of the two. Sin always leads us to embrace one virtue to the exclusion of the other. Sin always leads us to focus on one truth while demonizing another.
The fact is, it’s easier and more comfortable just to abandon yourself to spiritual experience without having to worry about whether or not its biblical. Or it’s easier and more comfortable and definitely more predictable to focus exclusively on theological accuracy and shut off the possibility of an encounter with the supernatural. But God hasn’t called us to do what is easy and comfortable and predictable. He’s called us to be biblical.