Back in 1973 I gave a talk called, “The Word, The Spirit, and The Church.” Since then I have used the basics of that talk in many different formats. I would like to do that again here, using a slightly revised and updated version. What I want to consider are three streams or three aspects of a full Christian life. They could be called:
The Evangelical aspect…emphasizing the WORD of God;
The Pentecostal or Charismatic aspect…emphasizing the SPIRIT of God, the Holy Spirit;
The Ecclesial aspect…referring to the CHURCH that Jesus founded, which subsists in the Catholic Church (Vatican II, LG, 8)
First of all, let’s consider the Evangelical aspect, the Word of God. The Scriptures speak of the permanence and truth of the Word of God.“The Word of God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8; 1 Peter 1:25). Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away but my word will never pass away” (Mt 24:35; Lk 21:33). And Psalm 119:160 says, “All your words are true…” What are some other characteristics of an Evangelical emphasis or spirituality? I would identify these:
1. The central place of salvation through the cross and resurrection of Jesus…the Paschal Mystery.
2. Commitment to Jesus as personal Lord and Savior; a personal relationship with Christ.
3. A strong emphasis on the Scriptures…the written Word of God.
4. A strong emphasis on preaching the kerygma, the Basic Gospel Message.
The above characteristics may sound like they are associated with churches and ecclesial bodies that come out of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, and that is true. It needs to be remembered, however, that the Evangelical dimension has always been part of the Catholic Church, although perhaps at times not as prominent. There has been a kind of re-discovery and re-awakening in the 20th century through Vatican II and some ecclesial movements such as the Cursillo and the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. It is difficult to overstate the importance of the Word of God and the Evangelical dimension.
Some cautions regarding this Evangelical aspect would be Scriptural fundamentalism or private interpretation of the Scripture, apart from the doctrinal authority of the Church guided by the Holy Spirit. Have you ever heard someone say, “I just read the Bible myself and ask the Lord to tell me what it means”? I think it’s safe to say that private interpretation probably accounts for the myriads of denominations around today.
The second aspect or dimension of a healthy Christian spirituality is the Pentecostal/Charismatic, the area of the Holy Spirit. Consider this quote from Pope Benedict XVI: “The entire mission of the Messiah can be summed up in this: to baptize mankind in the Holy Spirit.” We need the Holy Spirit to relate to God as “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6) and to say, “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor. 12:3). The Holy Spirit inspires the Scriptures, reminds us of all that Jesus has said (John 14:26) and guide us into all truth (John 16:13). We receive the Holy Spirit in the sacraments but we all need a re-awakening; we need to “fan into flame the gift of the Spirit that is in us” (1 Tim 1:6). The Holy Spirit gives the sanctifying as well as the charismatic gifts. The Holy Spirit is also the source of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). We need the Holy Spirit in order to be holy. Simply put, we need the grace of the Holy Spirit in order to live a Christian life.
Some extremes to watch out for in the Pentecostal/Charismatic stream are: illuminism; subjectivism; superspiritualism; neo-Gnosticism. All of these basically have to do with believing that the Holy Spirit speaks to an individual, apart from objective discernment from Scripture and the Church. We have to make sure that we are really hearing the Holy Spirit and not our own thoughts and feelings masquerading as the voice of God!
The third dimension to be considered is the Ecclesial dimension – that of the Church. Jesus founded His Church on St. Peter: “On this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt. 16:18). There are traditionally four special marks of the Church, according to the Creed: one, holy, catholic or universal, and apostolic. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would guide the Church into all the truth (John 16:13). Jesus shared His own authority with Peter and the Apostles: “He who hears you, hears me” (Luke 10:16). Jesus promised His enduring presence to the Church: “Behold I am with you always, even to the close of the age” ( Mt. 28:20).
The twofold source of the Church’s teaching is Scripture and Tradition. The Church is not above the Word of God but serves it (Vatican II, DV, 10). Authentic Church teaching can never contradict the Word of God. The Church, and especially the shepherds of the Church, have to always guard the deposit of faith, that is, the traditional teaching of the Church regarding doctrine and morality: St. Paul warned Timothy, “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you…”(2 Tim 1:13-14).
There are Transcendentals which are applied to God, but could also be applied in some way to the Church:
True…we are attracted to the truth… this would apply to the Church’s doctrinal teaching.
Good…we are attracted to the good…this would apply to the Church’s moral teaching.
Beautiful…we are attracted to the beautiful…this would apply to the Church’s liturgy, worship, and sacraments.
One…we are attracted to unity…this would apply to the Church’s governing authority…one flock and one shepherd.
How can we summarize this teaching? For a balanced Christian spirituality, we need an integration of the Word, the Spirit, and the Church…the Evangelical, Charismatic, and the Ecclesial dimensions. Although we separate them out in order to describe them, all three aspects must work together in a harmonious way in our lives if we are to achieve a balanced Christianity.