My Pentecost reading was Bishop Mack Stokes’ classic little treatise The Holy Spirit in the Wesleyan Heritage. While far from a dense theological tome, this introduction to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in Methodism is a useful and enjoyable work. Much of it is simple overviews of the person and work of the Spirit in the Biblical revelation; his most interesting observations – obviously animated by the charismatic movement that was sweeping even Mainline Protestantism at the time of his writing (1985) – have to do with the nature of Christian renewal and the Spirit’s role and bringing new life to God’s people:
“Soon after the days of the apostles the need for some kind of guidelines regarding the special gifts of the Spirit which arose. The church at its best has always been a Spirit-filled and hence a Spirit-motivated movement. But it has had to deal with the recurring tension between orderliness and vitality, structure and dynamics.” (56)
Of course, the malaise of the Mainline is that we can do structure to death. We rarely know how to do anything without six committee meetings (a system which is, of course, designed to discourage anything from happening).
But the complete opposite is also not a solution. Institutions matter because things that are successful, things that last, must be systematized. Even the most Spirit-led church cannot reinvent the wheel every Sunday.
The Spirit leads us, or rather wishes to lead us, to a kind of ordered liberty: a freedom that is not chaos, because it is structured but not ossified. The early Methodist movement was a perfect illustration of this careful balance: vital Christian living was not separate from, but tethered to, disciplined holiness. Participating in the personal and corporate means of grace – including works of piety and mercy – was encouraged and required so that the free grace of the Spirit might be all the more present in the lives of Jesus-followers.
As St. Paul told us, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Cor. 3:17)
There is also order.
Come, Holy Spirit! We need it all.