I am a cessationist. That is to say, I believe that certain gifts of the Holy Spirit were employed in the earliest stage of Christianity to authenticate that God was doing something new. These “sign gifts”—such as the gifts of healing, tongues, miracles—ceased with the death of the last apostle. This is what I mean by “cessationism.” Some cessationists might style themselves as “soft” cessationists whereby they mean that some of the sign gifts continue, or that the sign gifts may crop up in locations where the gospel is introduced afresh,1 or that they are presently agnostic about these gifts, but are not a practicing charismatic. For purposes of argument, I will take a hard line. In this way, anything I affirm about the Holy Spirit’s ministry today should not be perceived as being generated from a closet charismatic. I wish to address some concerns that I, as a cessationist, have concerning the role of the Holy Spirit today among cessationists.
While I still consider myself a cessationist, the last few years have shown me that my spiritual life had gotten off track—that somehow I, along with many others in my theological tradition, have learned to do without the third person of the Trinity ......
Dan's essay is must-reading for all evangelicals.
I have had the privilige of fellowshipping in many diverse churches in the Body of Christ throughout the world - i.e., Southern Baptist, Assembly of God, Independent Charismatic, Vineyard, Presbyterian, United Methodist, U.S. Military "Generic" Protestant, Episcopelian, Roman Catholic, - among others. I'm puzzled by the attitude of most non-charismatic evangelicals towards the Holy Spirit. While the Father and Son are prominent in evangelical worship, the Holy Spirit is often non-existent. And yet, Jesus warned the only unpardonable sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matt 12:31-32). Of this astonishing statement by Christ, respected Christian theologian Dr. F.F. Bruce writes,
“…Speaking against the Son of man might be due to a failure to recognize Him for what He is. So Paul recalls how in his pre-Christian days he thought it his duty to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. But if, having seen the light on the Damascus road, he had deliberately closed his eyes to it and kicked out against the goad which was directing him into the true path, that would have been the sin against the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit persuades and enables men to accept Christ and enjoy the saving benefits of the gospel [John 16:8; 1 Corinthians 2:12-14; Acts 7:51], but if anyone refuses to submit to the Spirit’s gracious constraint, preferring to call good evil and evil good, how can the gospel avail for him? The deliberate refusal of the grace of God is the one sin which by its very nature is irremediable” [F.F. Bruce, Answers to Questions (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), pp. 46-47.].
The feast of Pentecost (so prominent in the book of Acts) is not celebrated or even mentioned in the vast majority of evangelical churches that I've been in. In contrast, the Roman Catholic church celebrates Pentecost Sunday in their liturgical calendar ascribing it as the third most important celebration behind Easter and Christmas. They point out that Pentecost Sunday commemorates the birth of the Church and is one of the most ancient feasts of the Church, celebrated early enough to be mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles (20:16) and Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians (16:8). It supplants the Jewish feast of Pentecost, which took place 50 days after the Passover and which celebrated the sealing of the Old Covenant on Mount Sinai.
The Eastern Orthodox church also celebrates Pentecost Sunday, while Protestant Evangelicals are strangely silent. Though fully God, the Holy Spirit is never worshipped in evangelical circles except in passing via those hymns that pay Him homage. The Holy Spirit is rarely addressed or acknowleged in prayer. He does not exist in their common vocabulary.
In an online Baptist bulletin board, someone asks here if "we Baptists" are somehow afraid of the Holy Spirit, sparking debate,
Great that we are "people of the Book". But are we willing to allow the "author" of that Book chance to do as he would so will among us?
Another board member observes,
Yes. I think we have ignored the third person of the Godhead much to our detriment. I think this manifests itself best with "seeker-sensitive" churches. Marketing replaces the Spirit empowered delivery of the Gospel for growth. I think we see it in the pressure to make our churches as little churchy as possible so that they will appeal to more people.
As noted here, Southern Baptists struggle with a unifying postion on the Holy Spirit. (Note: In 2015, the Southern Baptist board changed its position and now permits Southern Baptist missionaries to have a "private prayer language" [i.e., pray in tongues] - see here).
John Piper acknowledges here that the Holy Spirit is underemphasized in evangelical circles,
If you are asking me about right now, I would say that he is probably under attended to somewhere. Maybe in young, reformed and restless circles—or whatever this movement is called. Especially as it concerns the fullness of the work of the Holy Spirit. Not his role in effectual calling, but his gifts. His necessity for powerful witness. 'Wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes upon you... You will receive the Holy Spirit and you will be my witnesses.' So maybe we are underemphasizing the necessity and the power of the Holy Spirit for witnessing.
Also, I was just thinking the other day that we downplay the work of Holy Spirit in terms of his varied gifts. This is underemphasized too much in our reformed churches, and in typical evangelical churches.
..... Here's what hit me the other day. If there are gifts of healing. If there are gifts of faith, gifts of miracles, gifts of discernment. That means some Christians are going to be granted answers to those prayers where others aren't. So maybe the reason I'm not getting the answer to my moral struggle or my physical struggle is because I haven't asked Jane to pray for me. And Jane has the gift of healing. Or Jane has the gift of discernment of spirits and can see something here that needs to be seen.
But I've locked myself in my closet, "God save me. God help me. God strengthen me. God deliver me!" And God is saying, "Uh... I have taught you about spiritual gifts and you don't ever avail yourself of them. Don't come complaining to me saying that I haven't responded to you when I have gifts waiting for you and you never open the package."
So I think that I could do better, and we can do better at that level.
So the answer is that in various groups, various ministries of the Holy Spirit are probably underrated and underemphasized.
In my experience, this attitude tends to foster a spiritual impotence among evangelicals, who may be strong in Biblical exposition but are subsequently weak in spiritual power. Interestingly enough, in my own walk after 13 years as a Christian, it was a charismatic military Chaplain who mentored me on what it really meant to follow Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. I had never met a man more humble than him who was filled with such spiritual power that he commanded respect from all that knew him. With complete and utter dependence upon the indwelling Holy Spirit, he radiated Christ.
Scot McKnight (NIV Application Commentary on Galatians) gives us an excellent overview of how prominent the Holy Spirit is in Galatians:
(1) The Spirit of God is what the Christian receives at conversion (3:2, 3, 5, 14; 5:25), and this was evidently made known through charismatic experiences (see comments on 3:1–5). Such an experience makes the convert a “son of God” who can call God Abba (4:6). Indeed, the reception of the Spirit is what the entire Old Testament looked forward to as it came to fruition in the universal plan of God (3:13–14). To live in the Spirit is to live in the age when God inaugurates his kingdom.
(2) Those who are “in the Spirit” are persecuted by those in the “flesh” (3:4; 4:29).
(3) Those who are “in the Spirit” exercise hope for the coming establishment of God’s righteousness and their own declaration of fitness before God (5:5).
(4) Those who are “in the Spirit” are victorious over the “works of the flesh” (vv. 16–18, 19–21) and so live a life full of the manifestation of the Spirit (vv. 22–23). For this victory to occur, Christians need only submit to, or walk in step with, the Spirit (v. 25; cf. 6:8).
Galatians is about the Holy Spirit.
Chad Norris’s "Signs, Wonders, and a Baptist Preacher" is an autobiographical account of how he went from an anxiety-ridden Baptist youth preacher, to a still imperfect but joy-filled conduit of the Spirit’s power. Norris prompts us to ask good questions – and old questions – that surge during times of revival. What can we expect from the Holy Spirit, not just in theory, but in practice, on an everyday basis? What does it mean to “walk by,” “live by,” and “keep in step with” the Spirit (Gal. 5), in the midst of our routines?
At the beginning of the 5th century, near the end of his fifth oration, Gregory of Nyssa soars into an ecstatic review of the Spirit’s work and titles. His overwhelming rhetorical flood has never been surpassed,
“Christ is born; the Spirit is His Forerunner. He is baptized; the Spirit bears witness. He is tempted; the Spirit leads Him up. He works miracles; the Spirit accompanies them. He ascends; the Spirit takes His place. What great things are there in the idea of God which are not in His power? . . .
“What titles which belong to God are not applied to Him, except only Unbegotten and Begotten? For it was needful that the distinctive properties of the Father and the Son should remain peculiar to Them, lest there should be confusion in the Godhead Which brings all things, even disorder itself, into due arrangement and good order. Indeed I tremble when I think of the abundance of the titles, and how many Names they outrage who fall foul of the Spirit.
“He is called the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, the Mind of Christ, the Spirit of The Lord, and Himself The Lord, the Spirit of Adoption, of Truth, of Liberty; the Spirit of Wisdom, of Understanding, of Counsel, of Might, of Knowledge, of Godliness, of the Fear of God. For He is the Maker of all these, filling all with His Essence, containing all things, filling the world in His Essence, yet incapable of being comprehended in His power by the world; good, upright, princely, by nature not by adoption; sanctifying, not sanctified; measuring, not measured; shared, not sharing; filling, not filled; containing, not contained; inherited, glorified, reckoned with the Father and the Son; held out as a threat; the Finger of God; fire like God; to manifest, as I take it, His consubstantiality); the Creator-Spirit, Who by Baptism and by Resurrection creates anew; the Spirit That knows all things, That teaches, That blows where and to what extent He lists; That guides, talks, sends forth, separates, is angry or tempted; That reveals, illumines, quickens, or rather is the very Light and Life; That makes Temples; That deifies; That perfects so as even to anticipate Baptism, yet after Baptism to be sought as a separate gift; That does all things that God does; divided into fiery tongues; dividing gifts; making Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers; understanding manifold, clear, piercing, undefiled, unhindered, which is the same thing as Most wise and varied in His actions; and making all things clear and plain; and of independent power, unchangeable, Almighty, all-seeing, penetrating all spirits that are intelligent, pure, most subtle (the Angel Hosts I think); and also all prophetic spirits and apostolic in the same manner and not in the same places; for they lived in different places; thus showing that He is uncircumscript.”