The Church And The Holy Spirit – A Very Brief History
Empowering The Church
Recently, I was at a clergy retreat where Bishop Bill Murdoch taught and encouraged the clergy of the Anglican Diocese of the South to operate with expectation of the leading and moving of the Holy Spirit today. In the first century Paul explained to the church how the Spirit works through believers lives more fully in 1 Corinthians 12:7 & 11.
“A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other….It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have” (verses 7 , 11).
The apostle lists several of these gifts in his letters including: wise advice, knowledge, faith, miracles and healing, prophecy and encouragement, giving and generosity, mercy and compassion, teaching, administration, hospitality, and helps, to name several.
Since Day One
When I began studying this a few years ago, I began to find that throughout history the Holy Spirit energized God’s people to do good things. There are several New Testament examples of this as we see Jesus sending out the seventy to heal and cast out demons, Peter healing the lame man, and Ananias praying for Paul, and he receiving his eyesight back. Philip was transported from one place to another to baptize the Ethiopian. Peter resurrects Tabitha, and Paul heals the boy who fell out of the window.
The Early Fathers
As you go through church history, you discover that miracles didn’t stop with the apostles but continued on. For example, in the second century Irenaeus attests that miracles happened, and that gifts continued. In the fourth century Augustine initially believed the gifts of the Holy Spirit were for the past, but then Augustine changed his mind, and he reported in The City of God that he had witnessed healing of blindness, of cancers, paralysis, and other diseases. Augustine concluded that God still moved in his day. The historian Bede reports that eighth century Saint, Cuthbert, prayed and saw illnesses healed. In another account eagles bring the saint food, and, during a local house fire, Cuthbert prayed to God and received a miracle, as it began raining which then put out the fire.
The Middle Ages
In the eleventh century it is reported that Saint Bernard healed the sick, gave a man back his speech, and that at one place the flies were so bad he excommunicated the flies, and so they all died. About the same time period Hildegard Von Bingen received visions and wrote music. Miracles come in all shapes and sizes. Saint Francis tamed a wolf that had been attacking the village people in the Umbrian city of Gubbio. He also had a vision of Jesus saying “Rebuild my church,” so he became a reformer of the church before the time of the reformation. The Franciscan renewal of the church was no less a miracle than any other.
To Our Day
Later, in the 1700s, John Wesley encountered the Holy Spirit and believed. He noted answers to prayers as well as healing and deliverance. Closer to our own time, in more recent decades, many Anglicans have experienced the renewal of the Holy Spirit, including when John Wimber, of the Vineyard Movement, ministered at Holy Trinity, Brompton.
The line between just every day “us” and us operating in the Holy Spirit’s power is often a thin one. Saint Francis was just plain old Francis, but God used him to do amazing things. It’s the same with us, all we have to do is be available to the Holy Spirit. I consider myself not particularly spiritually gifted in anything in particular, but, during my own time in ministry, I have prayed with many people, and often they will come back and report that God did something amazing with our prayers. I once led a seemingly unremarkable and routine business blessing, only for the man to tell me months later that God used that time of prayer to free him from addiction.
Each one of our churches offers prayer, perhaps has a prayer team of lay people, and we are a province which regards the Three Streams of the liturgical, the evangelical, and the spirit led. With this understanding we perform liturgy, we pray to God, we invite Him into our struggles and needs, and we expect that He actually hears us. We believe that God can do absolutely anything. As clergy and lay leaders, whenever we seek to move in the Spirit, whenever we offer prayer and blessing, we offer hope to a world desperately in need of some. Thank you, Bishop Bill, for the reminder.
Two books suggested by Bishop Murdoch are Power Healing, and Power Evangelism, by John Wimber.
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