The Spirit Calls, Gathers, Enlightens and Sanctifies God’s People
Getting Switches Turned on for Enlightenment by the Spirit
According to Martin Luther, the Spirit’s job is to call, gather, enlighten and sanctify God’s people. He explained that the Spirit enlightens with his gifts. Many church leaders fall into the trap of assuming this work is primarily their job to accomplish with their own gifts and abilities, and then too often become disappointed when the results aren’t what they expected.
Paul expanded the enlightenment concept further by asking that “the Father give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better and that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened” (Ephesians 1: 18). The Spirit of wisdom enlightens hearts as well as heads.
To illuminate is another word for the enlightenment process. It offers the image of a light bulb turning on. Houses typically have a 200-amp service box that brings electricity in from the outside. The box then routes the energy across 20 to 40 circuits to the various rooms and appliances throughout the house. To enlighten a single light bulb, the main breaker and the appropriate circuit breaker have to be on. Some individual light switches have a dimmer, which can be set for low lighting or turned all the way up for full brightness.
By analogy, the electricity is, of course, the Holy Spirit, who delivers power to the “eyes of the heart.” In ministry, what flows through the wire is Christ-centered biblical truths. Just learning the words brings low-level, dim lighting. But when Luther focused on people being enlightened with gifts of the Holy Spirit, he had in mind more than reciting biblical truths. The Spirit wants to brighten hearts and excite passions.
How does that happen through the ministries of a church? What actions can we humans take that make it easier for the Spirit to touch hearts and turn bulbs on bright? Can we identify things we do that get in the way of the flow of Spiritual energy, that keep the switch turned low?
Getting Past the Age of Enlightenment
Enlightenment is a heavy word in our Western culture. The Age of Enlightenment was a movement in the 18th century in reaction to “unreasonable” church dogma. Reason based on evidence was to prevail in making life decisions. Thomas Jefferson was a leading exponent who enshrined the Enlightenment values of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in the American Declaration of Independence. Famously, he edited the Bible to leave out references to irrational miracles and the supernatural.
Ever since that Age, Christian churches have been struggling with issues of faith and reason. American Protestantism is divided between those churches where reason prevails and supernatural miracles are explained away, on the one hand, and, on the other, churches that maintain a biblical worldview. My own observation is that those who have gone “scientific” are swiftest in decline among church bodies.
Until recent generations, resistance to Enlightenment was associated with ignorance. But now, about half of high school graduates go on to college, half graduate, and half of those go on to earn advanced degrees. The scientific approach to life is well understood and appreciated. Yet there is a widespread and growing hunger for more, for the supernatural God and his supernatural ways. This means an increasing openness to the extra-ordinary Holy Spirit and his extra-ordinary ways of enlightenment.
Moving Beyond the Medieval Model
One of the least effective ways to turn on Spiritual enlightenment switches is the religious education approach that goes back a millennium. Medieval teaching focused on the Trivium. Start by learning grammar. Then learn logic. Then put these two together in rhetoric—the art of persuasion based on logic. These were the beginning lessons, followed by the upper-level Quadrium: arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy, all of which are logic-oriented. Much less than one percent of the population would then go on to university studies in one of the three branches of theology, medicine and law. Academic theology focused on reasoning about interpreting Scriptures and logical principles for understanding divine truth. Scholastic debates were about whose logic could prevail, and those were sometimes conducted like a sport of one-up-manship.
This commitment to logic continued in catechisms for training children in church beliefs. These took the format of questions and answers. The most prominent was Luther’s Small Catechism and the Heidelberg Catechism for those in the Calvinist tradition. In my heritage, doctrinal teaching in general was done with a proof-text method of stating the doctrine and proving it with three or four Bible passages. Being inquisitive, I found that many of those texts were, at best, only tangentially related to the truth being taught. The attraction of this method was the appearance of logic.
Unasked in this traditional approach to teaching was what the students were learning about living the Christian life. For most, they learned the importance of getting the words right when talking and thinking about God. With that came reluctance to say anything about their faith lest they get the words and logic wrong. The switch to Spiritual enlightenment was on, but the bulb remained dim. Was the bulb on bright enough to receive eternal salvation? In a grace-focused church, the answer has to be yes. Yet a Spirit-shaped church has to hold out the hope that through the Spirit’s gifts the believer’s bulb will burn more brightly to illuminate a more God-pleasing life.
There Is a Better Way
This medieval approach only poorly addressed what we know today as personal motivation. Is logic alone a good motivator of the desired behavior? Is it true that all you have to do is to explain clearly what and why someone should do something, and they will agree to change their behavior accordingly? Sometimes. But this would usually be for behavior about which the person does not have a strong personal opinion or preference. Where feelings are strong, the power of logic is weak.
Reflect on Peter’s encouragement, “Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do” (1 Peter 1: 15). The logic is clear. But is this statement persuasive? Will it change behavior? It may for those who are already motivated by the Spirit to please God out of love for him. But that already assumes an advanced state of Spiritual enlightenment. Logic itself only poorly motivates love, the emotion fundamental to the Christian life.
What are some better ways to prepare the way for the Spirit to bring more of his special enlightenment to those who are considering or already know Christ? With logical truth in the background, Spiritual truth is ultimately a relationship with God. That grows best through encounters with believers who already know him and share their life experiences.
The Spirit can work especially well among those experiencing a life crisis that shakes their self-confidence, such as the death of someone dear, losing a job, or the defeat of a life ambition. Those settings are switches ready to be turned on by the Gospel conveyed in a loving way.
Jesus taught that where two or three are gathered in his name, there he is with them. After his Ascension, he is present with us now through his Spirit of enlightenment.
Where are the switches the Holy Spirit can use to illuminate believers? And how important do you feel logic is in turning on Spiritual switches?