The Word and the Spirit

by RT Kendall

There are two convictions that have governed my thinking for over twenty years. The first is, the need to bring the Word and the Spirit together. It seems to me that there has been a silent divorce in the church, speaking generally, between the Word and the Spirit. When there is a divorce sometimes the children stay with the father, sometimes with the mother. In this divorce you have those on the ‘Word’ side and those on the ‘Spirit’ side.

What is the difference? Takes those on the Word side. Their emphasis is: we must earnestly contend for the faith once delivered unto the saints; we must get back to expository preaching, to the doctrines of the Reformation that once turned the world upside down – justification by faith, sovereignty of God; and until this happens the honor of God’s Name will not be restored.

What is wrong with that emphasis? Nothing. In my opinion, it is exactly right.

Take those on the Spirit side. Their emphasis is: we must get back to the book of Acts where there were signs, wonders and miracles; prayer meetings resulted in the place being shaken; if you got into Peter’s shadow and you were healed; lie to the Holy Spirit and you are struck dead; and until this kind of power returns to the Church the honor of God’s Name will not be restored.

What is wrong with that emphasis? Nothing. In my opinion, it is exactly right.

The problem is that this ‘silent divorce’ means that – almost wherever you go – it is one or the other. Not only that; neither side admits to a problem. You can’t tell Word people they don’t believe in the Holy Spirit; you can’t tell Spirit people they don’t believe in the Bible! And the great gulf is fixed and neither learn from the other, speaking generally. What is needed more than anything in the world is that we see it is not one or the other that is needed but both – simultaneously. The simultaneous combination will result in spontaneous combustion – and then the honor of God’s Name will be restored.

The second conviction that has governed my thinking is that something far, far greater is coming to the Church than most people have thought about or envisaged. I put it like this. For thirteen years Abraham sincerely believed that Ishmael was the promised child God had in mind from the beginning. God told Abraham that his seed would be as the stars in the heavens. Abraham believed it; God regarded him as righteous from then on (Gen.15:6). This became Paul’s chief example for justification by faith alone (Romans 4).

But both Abraham and Sarah were getting older. Sarah had an idea, that Abraham sleep with her maid servant Hagar. It was not a good idea. But Abraham agreed to it. Hagar conceived. Ishmael was born. Since it was a male child it fit the original promise. Abraham completely adjusted to Ishmael as being what God had in mind all along.

Wrong, said God to Abraham one day. Sarah will conceive; Isaac is coming. Abraham still insisted that the promise come through Ishmael. No. Isaac was coming – and the promise was to Isaac’s seed. As it turned out there was a plan for Ishmael and his seed. But the promise to Isaac was much, much greater than that to Ishmael. Abraham accepted it and his faith did not waver that Sarah would conceive. This became Paul’s chief example for coming into our inheritance by persistent faith (Romans 4).

It is my view that what we have seen in some quarters of the Church – wonderful though it has been in many places – is Ishmael. Many have sincerely believed that the Charismatic Movement, for example, is the ultimate demonstration of the Spirit prior to the Second Coming.

Wrong. Isaac is coming. It will result in a movement far, far greater than anything that has happened in the world. It will mean (1) a restoration of the Gospel (which has sadly passed behind a cloud) and (2) an undoubted demonstration of signs and wonders unlike anything seen since the days of the earliest church. In a word: it is what will take place when, at long last, the Word and the Spirit come together. May God hasten the day.

– R. T. Kendall