In Search of the Spirit

Daniel R. Hyde
Tuesday, July 1st 2008
Jul/Aug 2008

"EMBRACE Your Inner Pentecostal." In a recent article in Christianity Today, Chris Armstrong of Bethel Seminary (Minneapolis) and senior editor of Christian History & Biography seeks to show that "Holy Spirit religion is quietly infiltrating the church, revitalizing us all." Through the influence of Pentecostalism, he suggests, Christians across all denominational boundaries are in search of the Spirit.

How are they finding the Spirit? Many congregations have become "Pentecostalized" through contemporary worship styles, spontaneous worship services with no printed order of service, and the "priesthood of all believers," which is defined as every member being free to exercise their perceived spiritual gifts in worship as well as every member having a ministry. Yet Armstrong notes that beneath these lay the reason: the "baptism in the Holy Spirit." This experience brings a new, joyous, and personal sense of communion with a loving God.

An Age of Pentecostalism

Must we embrace our own "inner Pentecostal" to find the person and power of the Holy Spirit? Before responding so quickly-as I presume most Modern Reformation readers will with a resounding no-think about how you may have been affected unconsciously by the age of Pentecostalism. If I were to ask you what a Spirit-filled church looked like, how would you describe it to me? The twentieth-century Pentecostal movement has caused us to think of spirituality, a Spirit-filled church, and the Holy Spirit himself as things we can manipulate. We have been trained to think that the Holy Spirit is where the excitement is, where the ethos of joy, openness, and upliftedness are.

As I mentioned, this even affects us as Modern Reformation readers. For all our talk about the means of grace of preaching and sacraments, John Calvin's words still ring true of us all: "The human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols" (Institutes 1.11.8). For example, if our minister preaches the gospel week in and week out we say, "I've heard that, I'm bored." We say to ourselves, "I wish he would just mix in a few stories and have some verve in the pulpit." We think public worship is a good thing but say, "I'm burned out right now." We may even be discontented by our organ, piano, or merely our voices and desire a praise team to lift us up.

So must we embrace our "inner Pentecostal" to end our search for the Spirit? The purpose of this article is to instill confidence in you that the Holy Spirit is not found through secret mantras or merely in feel-good ways, but that he is inseparably linked to the visible ministry of preaching and the sacraments in the visible church.

I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For

Before demonstrating from Scripture and illustrating this truth from the Reformed confessions, let me interject a personal note. As a convert in a Foursquare church, then college student at a Pentecostal liberal arts college while working as a youth pastor in a Pentecostal church, I too was in search of the Spirit. I too went to church constantly, attended Bible studies on the spiritual gifts, participated in revivals, and especially sought the Spirit's power in quiet times. Yet there was something missing. There was something not quite right about my obsession with the Spirit and seeking him in my own efforts. I was at the point of despair and giving up on the church altogether.

Whereas in older days our Protestant forefathers saw this search for the Spirit revealed in the Anabaptist separation of the Spirit from the Word, the problem today is bigger than that. In our time, people are taught to search for the Spirit apart from the church. The reasoning goes a little something like this: If individual Christians are "temples of the Holy Spirit," then they are self-sufficient seekers, free to look for experiences with the Spirit and spiritually energizing moments on their own.

Finding the Spirit in the Tangible

Although I had given up on the church, she had not given up on me. While I could not find what I thought was the Holy Spirit in my own way, she brought me into contact with the Spirit through the most ordinary and tangible of ways: the visible church's media of preaching and sacraments. I was astonished to find that this is exactly what Paul told the Ephesian Christians. The Ephesians were no strangers to the world of religious experiences, but Paul said their corporate identity (not individualistic identity) was "the dwelling place of God in the Spirit" (Eph. 2:22). This means that when I assemble with the people of God, the Spirit dwells in our midst and works through this visible church-a church founded upon the prophets' and apostles' public preaching of Christ (Eph. 2:20). The church our Lord purchased with his own blood (Acts 20:28) is a Spirit-filled church. Therefore, if a local church preaches the foundational truths of Christ as cornerstone and the apostolic doctrine, then it is a Spirit-filled church.

The fact that the Spirit is found in the tangible is exemplified in Paul's use of the metaphor of a house to describe the church. This house has a foundation-the apostles and prophets; it has a cornerstone-Christ; and it has a structure-which is amazingly described as the people. The two groups of Jews and Gentiles have been made one, have been granted access to one Father, and have been made one house. Then in Ephesians 2:22, Paul says, "In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit." 1 Peter 2:5 expresses this same truth when we read: "You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house." So this house-temple has a foundation, a cornerstone, and a structure. It also has a resident: God by means of his Spirit. The church then is the fulfillment of the tabernacle and temple. Instead of being filled with fire and cloud, the church is filled with the Spirit (Exod. 40; 1 Kings 8).

What Does This Mean?

What does this mean for how we relate to and come into contact with the Holy Spirit? It means we look at the church and expect something from it that more and more professing Christians do not. In a recent study published in the pages of Leadership, nearly half of Christians do not find involvement in a local church a significant part of their daily lives. As one pastor said in response to the survey: "Faith is relevant for many people, but church is not…. People want to attend to the spiritual side of their lives, they are interested in God, but their experience of church has not been relevant." As we conclude, I would like to illustrate Paul's principle in Ephesians 2 with a survey of the role of the Holy Spirit in the means of grace as expressed by the Heidelberg Catechism (1563).


The catechism makes a vital link between the work of the Spirit and preaching. Question and answer 65 speaks of the origin of true faith as the work of the Holy Spirit "by the preaching of the holy Gospel" (Cf. Q&A 21). This means that while the Holy Spirit is the sole creator of faith, he uses the means of the Word as the way he creates this faith. In saying this, we can see that the Word and Spirit are so united that the Word can be said to be the external form of the Spirit, while the Spirit can be said to be the internal power of the Word.

Moving into question and answer 67, the catechism asks, "Are both these, then, the Word and the Sacraments, designed to direct our faith to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross as the only ground of our salvation?" In speaking of the preached Word, the Heidelberg answers, "Yes, truly; for the Holy Ghost teaches in the Gospel…that our whole salvation stands in the one sacrifice of Christ made for us on the cross" (emphasis added). We find in these words a commentary on what the catechism later describes as the "lively preaching" of the Word (Q&A 98). Preaching is the living Word of the Holy Spirit to his church. As the apostle Paul says, the preaching of Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 1:23, 2:2) is preaching that is not in "plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (1 Cor. 2:4). The Holy Spirit speaks in preaching, a point that was made in Reformed confessional literature two years earlier: "Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is preached, and received of the faithful" (Second Helvetic Confession, ch. 1.4).


The sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper are used by the same Holy Spirit primarily to confirm the faith that he has already created in the hearts of believers. Q&A 67 teaches us that the Holy Spirit condescends to work through the ordinary. According to the Heidelberg Catechism, the mission-minded, evangelistic church is found in the church that preaches the gospel in a lively way (Q&A 98) and that faithfully administers the sacraments (Q&A 65). The Spirit is found in the church that is filled with the preached Word, the waters of baptism, and the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper. Through these means, Christ's mission of bringing the evangel to the world becomes the church's mission.


Turning to each sacrament in particular, we see an indisputable fact about the Holy Spirit in the Heidelberg Catechism. The Spirit is mentioned in all six questions and answers devoted to the doctrine of baptism. What this means is that baptism is no mere symbol, nor is it a work whereby sins are forgiven just by placing water on someone ex opere operato, but is a means of the work of the Spirit in our lives.

Question 69 asks, "How is it signified and sealed unto thee in holy Baptism that thou hast part in the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross?"

Thus: that Christ instituted this outward washing with water, and has joined therewith this promise, that I am washed with his blood and Spirit from the pollution of my soul, that is, from all my sins, as certainly as I am washed outwardly with water whereby commonly the filthiness of the body is taken away.

The outward sign of water, which in human terms washes the body, signifies the parallel inner reality of the cleansing of the soul by Christ's blood and Spirit. Question and answer 70 goes on to explain this doctrine, asking, "What is it to be washed with the blood and Spirit of Christ?"

It is to have the forgiveness of sins from God, through grace, for the sake of Christ's blood, which he shed for us in his sacrifice on the cross; and also to be renewed by the Holy Ghost, and sanctified to be members of Christ, that so we may more and more die unto sin, and lead holy and unblamable lives.

Again, we notice here the theme of the double benefit of Jesus Christ in justification and sanctification. Baptism is an outward sign and seal that Christ's blood justifies, while the Holy Spirit sanctifies us by putting to death our sin and bringing us to new life.

Where, though, do the Scriptures promise this? Question 71 clearly wants catechumens to be able to locate this doctrine in Scripture, by answering with a quotation of several texts of Scripture (Matt. 28:19; Titus 3:5; Acts 22:16). Especially in reference to Titus 3:5, the catechism understands this washing as the work of the Holy Spirit. This renewal spoken of in the catechism was incorporated into the "Form of Baptism" of the Palatinate Liturgy, which explains what it means to be baptized "in the name of the Holy Ghost":

We are assured that the Holy Ghost will be the Teacher and Comforter of us and our children to all eternity, and make us true members of the body of Christ. (And further that we have fellowship with all His benefits in common with all the members of His Church, so that our sins shall be remembered no more forever, and that the corruptions and infirmities, that still cling to us may be continually mortified and a new life be commenced, which finally in the resurrection, [when our body shall be made like unto the glorious body of Christ], shall be completely revealed in us.)

At this point, the catechism in question and answer 72 takes a polemic turn, distancing itself from Rome: "Is, then, the outward washing of water itself the washing away of sins?" This question is succinctly answered, "No; for only the blood of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sin."

Question and answer 73 presses this point, no doubt to impress upon catechumens and those listening to catechetical sermons, "Why, then, doth the Holy Ghost call Baptism the washing of regeneration and the washing away of sins?" The answer:

God speaks thus not without great cause: namely, not only to teach us thereby that like as the filthiness of the body is taken away by water, so our sins also are taken away by the blood and Spirit of Christ; but much more, that by this divine pledge and token he may assure us that we are as really washed from our sins spiritually as our bodies are washed with water.

Although we know that it is the Holy Spirit who washes us from our sins, he interchanges the sign and the thing signified when he speaks. The Spirit does this because it is "through the use of the signs" that our faith is confirmed. The waters of baptism are therefore the pledge that our sins are forgiven.

The final question and answer on the topic of baptism is meant to show the catholicity of the Reformed faith by distancing itself from Anabaptism on the subject of whether infants should also be baptized. Even here the catechism mentions the Holy Spirit, saying that the "sign of the covenant" is to be given to children of believers:

Since they, as well as their parents, belong to the covenant and people of God, and both redemption from sin and the Holy Ghost, who works faith, are through the blood of Christ promised to them no less than to their parents. (Q&A 74)

As Zacharius Ursinus said about this question and answer, the Holy Spirit speaks to the children of believers through baptism "in a manner adapted to their capacity" to teach them that they belong to the covenant of God.

Lord's Supper

With its presentation of the Holy Supper, the Heidelberg Catechism avoids the technical jargon of the "mode" of Christ's "real" presence. Instead, the role of the Holy Spirit is put in place of this and any other term in three key questions and answers. In question 76 we are asked, "What is it to eat the crucified body and drink the shed blood of Christ?"

It is not only to embrace with a believing heart all the sufferings and death of Christ, and thereby to obtain the forgiveness of sins and life eternal, but moreover, also, to be so united more and more to his sacred body by the Holy Ghost, who dwells both in Christ and in us, that although he is in heaven, and we on the earth, we are nevertheless flesh of his flesh and bone of his bones, and live and are governed forever by one Spirit, as members of the same body are governed by one soul.

To eat and drink Christ is not only to believe, as St. Augustine said, but also to be united to Christ's body by the Holy Spirit. This role of the Holy Spirit in the Lord's Supper distinguished John Calvin's doctrine of the Supper from the Roman and Lutheran doctrine and that is followed by the Heidelberg. The catechism teaches a communion with the body of Christ and makes the Holy Spirit the bond of union.

This emphasis of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Lord's Supper is also expressed in question and answer 79, which asks, "Why, then, doth Christ call the bread his body, and the cup his blood, or the New Testament in his blood; and St. Paul, the communion of the body and the blood of Christ?"

Christ speaks thus not without great cause: namely, not only to teach us thereby that like as bread and wine sustain this temporal life, so also his crucified body and shed blood are the true meat and drink of our souls unto life eternal; but much more, by this visible sign and pledge to assure us that we are as really partakers of his true body and blood, through the working of the Holy Ghost, as we receive by the mouth of the body these holy tokens in remembrance of him; and that all his sufferings and obedience are as certainly our own as if we had ourselves suffered and done all in our own persons.

Again it is emphasized that Christ is received through the Holy Spirit's powerful and mysterious work. Finally, this is expressed in the controversial question and answer 80, which asks, "What difference is there between the Lord's Supper and the Popish Mass?" The answer, in part, is that we are "ingrafted into Christ" by the Holy Spirit, not by eating and drinking transformed bread and wine.


Are you in search of the Holy Spirit but can't seem to find what you are looking for? Search no longer. There is no need to continue trying to find the Spirit in direct experience upon the soul of the believer, as Pente-costalism, mysticism, and pietism teach. Instead, you can experience his presence in public worship-as that is his place of residence-by hearing his voice in the preaching of the gospel and coming into contact with his grace and power in the sacraments.

Works Cited

Christianity Today's article, "Embrace Your Inner Pentecostal," can be found at http://www.christianity's survey, "5 Kinds of Christians," can be found at 004/1.19.html.The Reformation "Form for Baptism" from the Heidelberg Catechism can be found in a slightly modified version in "Baptism of Infants: Form Number 1," Psalter Hymnal (Grand Rapids: Christian Reformed Church, 1976).The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism, trans. G. W. Williard (1852; Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, reprinted 1985).

Tuesday, July 1st 2008

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

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