During Passion Week, several enemies confronted Jesus, most of who attempted to catch him in something he said to have a basis to accuse him. The Sadducees, a theologically liberal group, who denied most Biblical accounts of the supernatural including the appearances of angels, miracles, and, of course, the resurrection, approached him. They concocted a story based upon the Torah’s instruction that if a man died before he had children, his brother was to marry his widow to preserve his seed. The Sadducees claimed that there were seven brothers among them all who died after marrying their brother’s wives. Eventually, the woman died also. Their question for Jesus was simple: In the resurrection, whose wife would she be since all seven were married to her? (Matthew 22:26).
Aware of their subterfuge, Jesus immediately pointed out their error. They were ignorant of two things: Scripture and the power of God. First, they erred due to their ignorance of the power of God, which, in the resurrection, transforms human beings to a state like the angels in which there is no longer a need for marriage. And secondly, regarding the Scriptures, they were ignorant because they did not understand God’s revelation to Moses at the burning bush where he called himself the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is not the God of the dead but of the living” (22:32).
So, in effect, Jesus says they erred in their understanding of both Scripture and the power of God. We must have both if we are to avoid error. First, we must make sure that we continually gain an increased understanding of what is written. And secondly, we must not in any way limit the power of God. If we want to be sure we do not fall into error, we must make sure we are not deficient in both.
Many churches today need to take to heart this warning. Some are committed to knowing Scripture, making sure that all that they do is found within the pages of Holy Writ. They are known for their careful exegesis of the Word, committed thoroughly to expository teaching. But if they are not careful, they can become rationalists, reducing the faith to an academic exercise.
This is most likely the case with the Church of Ephesus as recorded in the book of Revelation (Revelation 2:1-4). Their dedication to teaching assured no false apostle or heresy could gain a hearing. However, their emotions had cooled off so that they loved little. Jesus does not chide them for their commitment to objective truth but insists that their obedience to the faith be characterized by white-hot love. It is one thing to know truth but another to know the power of the truth.
In their attempt to ignore this error, some churches have fallen into the trap of mysticism; seeking after power, shorn of any commitment to objective truth. Christianity (for them) is about experiences, and they will go down any road to have it. Others may be ‘Word-bound’ but not them—they are called to freedom and will ardently pursue it. They have bought into the notion no one can argue with one who has had an experience. But they often forget a person may have an experience, which they misunderstand profoundly. How many have followed after an experience, which took them far off from the safe moorings of what the Bible teaches, only to land in some bog, far from shore?
In our day, a phenomenon is occurring whereby churches in both camps, although once looking with disdain at the other, now realize their need for both. Many Evangelicals, who once looked contemptuously at their Charismatic brethren, now realize they need their emphasis on the presence of God, the gifts of the Spirit and Spirit empowerment for prayer and service. On the other hand, many Charismatics, who once looked with disdain on Evangelicals as those committed to ‘the letter and not the Spirit,’ now recognize the emphasis on Scriptural soundness and healthy doctrine is a safeguard from error. In a word, each realizes the importance of both emphases.
I, along with many I work with, have lived our lives in both camps. I love and have come to cherish the fresh emphasis Evangelicals place on the Gospel and their dedication to Scriptural purity. I regularly read ‘dead guys’ who have left a legacy of Gospel truth in every generation. And I do so while loving and treasuring the Spirit’s power in worship, prayer, and the exercise of spiritual gifts. And regardless of what some would say, I don’t see these emphases as antithetical, but gloriously complimentary. The more I study the Scriptures and learn sound doctrine, the hungrier I become for the realized presence of God, the Spirit’s gift to the Church. And the more I experience God’s immediate presence, the more committed I am to grow theologically.
Without labeling, I pray more and more churches become ‘Word and Spirit’ churches. I do not want to give the impression that keeping the balance between these two is easy, for it is not. There are still vast differences between the camps and maturity and wisdom are needed to navigate safely between them. But I believe that in the future, more and more churches will see the need for the other and learn to live in both camps. May God hasten the day.