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The Silent Partner

Pastor Robin Fish
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church  
Laurie, MO

view DOC file

Wed, May 1, 2013 

In business, when one has a silent partner, the silent one usually funds the enterprise, and reaps his or her share of the profits, but stays out of the day to day business.  Usually.  Now and again, the silent partner tires of silence, or worries about their investment, or simply wants to play the business game a little more directly, and takes advantage of the power of the purse to step in, at least behind the scenes, and give direction.  Sometimes they even stoop to micro-managing the business they are supposedly "silent" behind.

It happens.  But that has nothing to do with this newsletter article.  This month, being the month of Pentecost, it seems appropriate to look at the Holy Spirit.  I refer to Him as "The Silent Partner".  That is somewhat inaccurate, since the Holy Spirit is hardly silent, but He doesn't spend a great deal of time or energy focused on Himself.  Some who call themselves "Christian" seize upon the Holy Spirit as a cause, a focus for their entire "ministry" and doctrine precisely because the Holy Spirit draws so little attention to Himself in the Church.  We don't ignore Him, we simply follow His lead, and focus on Christ, the cross, justification by grace through faith, and the teachings of the Christian Church throughout the ages.  In this regard, He is the Silent Partner of the Trinity.

The title is not meant as a theological name, lest anyone (budding theologian or mature) be confused and think I am inventing a new title for the Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is hardly silent.  He is the preacher in every faithful, doctrinally sound sermon.  I know that I shouldn't have to attach both descriptions to a sermon, but being the age in which we live, some people will not recognize that a faithful sermon demands that it be doctrinally sound.  There is an entire movement of pastors in our Synod who believe that being faithful, even Confessional, does not require doctrine be consistent or pure, and practice is open to personal taste with no relationship (in their minds) to doctrine whatsoever.  They are mistaken.  The Holy Spirit is only active where the Word of God is being used, or quoted, or preached in a manner consistent with what the Word actually says.

But when those conditions are met, the Holy Spirit is speaking through the preacher, whomever he may be.  He teaches Bible Classes.  He preaches sermons.  He goes on evangelism calls and home visits of the shut-ins.  He is the power of the Word of God, spoken of by the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:16, For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek, and the author of Hebrews when he wrote, For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12).

I refer to the Spirit as the Silent Partner only with reference to His own mission of bringing all glory to God the Father through Jesus Christ.  When the Holy Spirit speaks, He lifts up Christ and the Gospel.  He does not ignore Himself.  You can find abundant references to the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, and so on, throughout the Scriptures - about 120 using just those three titles in my computer Bible search.  His work is recorded clearly, by reference to the Spirit, beginning in Genesis 1:2.  He is the Third Person of the Trinity, so everything God does, He is involved with it, at least as far as we can observe - opera ad extra indivisa sunt. Most of you who know me have heard me use that Latin phrase on more than one occasion.

The work of the Holy Spirit is the work we attribute to the Spirit specifically.  The word "attribute" is a specific theological usage.  It means that we assign the work to the Spirit or talk about it as though the Spirit does it alone and is alone responsible for it, but God, the entire Trinity, actually does all that is external to the Trinity Himself.  Any distinction we make between the Persons in regard to their work(s) is for the purposes of teaching, or talking and writing about it without having to write several paragraphs like this one every time we bring it up, not for the purpose of excluding the other Persons of the Trinity from that work.

A good way to get a general handle on the work attributed to the Holy Spirit is to read the creeds.  The Third Article of the Apostles' Creed (and of the Nicene Creed, for that matter) is a good place to start.  We also credit the Holy Ghost with inspiring Scriptures, for example.  We do that because the Scriptures did it.  I could quote a number of passages, but my favorite is that memory verse from my earliest Sunday School years, 2 Peter 1:21, "Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" - or, the more modern translation, "for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God."

Now this doesn't mean that neither the Father nor the Son spoke in Scriptures.  It simply means that we attribute the inspiration of Scriptures to the Person of the Spirit, generally, as we attribute our Redemption to the Son and the work of Creation to the Father, even though we can find Scriptures that speak of these works being done by other Persons of the Trinity.  It just makes speaking about the Trinity and about His (their?) works less confusing.  Let's face it, our minds are not up to comprehending the Trinity as He is as clearly as we might like.

The Apostles' Creed, to return to that thought, lists five things as the work of the Holy Spirit; the holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints, the Forgiveness of sins, the Resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.  These are the works which God does since the resurrection and ascension of Christ.  We may tend to think of some of them as the works of Christ or of the Father, but they are listed in the Creed in the article dealing with the Holy Spirit, and so we will consider them as the works of the Spirit.

The holy Christian Church is a good example.  The Holy Ghost calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts - that is, He makes us believers and enables us to see in some sense and to some degree the glorious truth of the Gospel - sanctifies us, and keeps us in the one true faith.  That is describing all the work of regeneration or conversion.  We believe because the Holy Ghost works in us through the preaching of the Gospel, which we hear, and through the works of the Sacraments (His work also) and converts us.  He changes us from one thing into another, from one who hates God into one who loves God and trusts in Him.  For most of us, the work was begun in Baptism, as We were buried with Christ by Baptism into death, and raised to new life in Christ - dead to sin and alive to God - by the working of God the Holy Ghost.  Then He keeps us in the faith by coming to dwell within each one of us that believes.

Now all of that sounds like personal stuff and not the Church, but after all of that work, Luther's Catechism says that, "He (the Holy Spirit) calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth."  The gathering part is where He draws us together into the Church, which Scriptures also call "the body of Christ".  He does this by dwelling within us and creating in us the desire to gather, to share the fellowship of Word and Sacrament, and to hear the Word which is able to keep us in faith.  The two, conversion and Church, are tied together.  There is no faith and no conversion separate from the Church.  He who works one, works the other, and He works them in tandem.

The third phrase of the Third Article, "the communion of saints", is described in our Confessions as speaking also of the Church, a fellowship, or communion, of holy people.  Luther says, in the Large Catechism:

But this is the meaning and substance of this addition: I believe that there is upon earth a little holy group and congregation of pure saints, under one head, even Christ, called together by the Holy Ghost in one faith, one mind, and understanding, with manifold gifts, yet agreeing in love, without sects or schisms. I am also a part and member of the same, a sharer and joint owner of all the goods it possesses, brought to it and incorporated into it by the Holy Ghost by having heard and continuing to hear the Word of God, which is the beginning of entering it. For formerly, before we had attained to this, we were altogether of the devil, knowing nothing of God and of Christ.  Thus, until the last day, the Holy Ghost abides with the holy congregation or Christendom, by means of which He fetches us to Christ and which He employs to teach and preach to us the Word, whereby He works and promotes sanctification, causing it [this community] daily to grow and become strong in the faith and its fruits which He produces.

The Holy Spirit also brings us the forgiveness of sins by the Absolution, by the Lord's Supper, and through Baptism as well.  He is active in us and with us through the Word and Sacraments and gives them their power, or, rather, He is the power in the Sacraments, through the Word.

Of course, some argue that He is not the "silent" partner.  They point to Pentecost, for example, and all of those Pentecostal experiences since then.  When they do that, it is important to remind them that everything the Spirit worked, in those days, was in support of the Gospel, and the ministry of the Apostles.  Pentecost itself was both a visible and audible fulfilment of the promise of Christ to send the Helper, and a tool used to gather a crowd to hear the Word proclaimed and "jump-start" the Church.  The Spirit did nothing to draw attention to Himself, except in the eyes of the Apostles who heard and saw, in the tongues of flame, that the Spirit had indeed been poured out on them.  The crowd only heard the Apostles preaching, and in a variety of real languages.  They heard the sound of the rushing winds, but did not know that it was the Holy Spirit - and it appears from Scripture that no one told them that during the event.  Instead, they preached Christ, and Him crucified.

There were a couple of other "pentecosts", according to the Bible, but such events were few, and far between.  The Pentecost of Scripture clearly involved a gift of speaking a known language, and in the presence of someone who understood that language!  The sort of "tongues speaking" touted by the charismatic and pentecostal speakers and teachers of today was not present at the great Pentecost, nor apparently at the minor, secondary pentecost-type events.  Glossolalia, or ecstatic speech, was already around in the time of the Apostles.  Paul refers to it in 1 Corinthians.  Actually, such ecstatic speech has been around a lot longer than the Christian Church, and is known to occur in many other religions.  It is, at best, an unreliable sign.  About it, Paul finally says in 1 Corinthians 14:19, "in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind, that I may instruct others also, rather than ten thousand words in a tongue."

Everything the Spirit works in the Church is worked to teach Christ and the Gospel and focuses on Christ.  His mission is to bring all glory to God the Father through Jesus Christ, just as Christ will sum up all things under Himself, and then turn them all over to the Father, just as Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 15:28, "And when all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, that God may be all in all."

Now, I know that some of what I have written here will raise the hackles of a few, who want to contend for something more for the Spirit.  I have to wonder, however, what more is there?  Generally, the "more" appears to be a distraction from the simple, basic truth about God and Christ, under which distraction some people hope to introduce something new and different (which is not really new), and escape the "shackles" of sound doctrine.  Part of the work of the Spirit is to guide us and keep us in the path of the truth, so while those 'holy ghosters' claim to be teaching us about Him and giving all glory to Him, they are really working at cross-purposes with the Holy Ghost.  To such, nothing better can be urged that the words of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:20, "Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be babes, but in your thinking be mature."

As we celebrate Pentecost this year, let us celebrate what is there, and the marvelous things God has done.  Let the red stoles and paraments remind us of the "Silent Partner" of the Trinity, and acknowledge and give thanks and praise for what it is that He actually did and does, and not imagine anything else, but join Him in His mission of bringing all glory to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yours in the Lord,

Pastor Fish

These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due. Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church's Website can be found by clicking here.

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