My family and I are adjusting to living in the population-dense city of Corona, CA. While Corona is not as populated as its neighboring Orange County or Los Angeles County residences, it is substantially more peopled than our prior residence in Bullitt County, Kentucky. There, we could not hit our neighbor’s house by throwing a rock. Here, we must be careful to turn from our neighbors when we sneeze.
At any rate, we have been fascinated to watch how Christians have responded to booming populations. In Corona, there are about 4,000 people per square mile. And there are about 2.5 churches per square mile. Driving home from our wonderful new church (FBC Norco), my wife and I noticed several church plants. In fact, there were two church plants in a single commercial distribution facility. We passed them both and noticed their names. As a kind of thought experiment, I asked my wife which of the two she would prefer.
Think about which church you would choose. The first church we came across in this industrial/commercial complex was called “Led by the Holy Spirit Worship Center.” Clearly, they desire to fulfill the spirit of Galatians 5:25, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”
The second church advertised itself as “The Word of Truth Gospel Church.” Clearly, this congregation hopes to keep in step with the spirit of Jesus’s own prayer to the Father in John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” So, which church would you choose: The one led by the Holy Spirit or the Word of Truth?
My savvy wife ended up turning the question back on me. So, here is my short reply (and admittedly a reply ignorant of any knowledge about either church beyond its name). Given only the names, I would lead my family to the “Word of Truth” church over the “led by the Holy Spirit” church. The reason is simple: One church stands or falls on experience, while the other stands or falls on an eternal, unchanging word.
I am very much in favor of being led by the Holy Spirit—without the Spirit there would be no new birth (Jn 3) and no helper to call to our minds the Word of Christ (Jn 14:26). Without the Spirit, our prayers would be impossible, for He intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words, and He reminds us that we are children of God and are thus able to cry out to our Father in heaven (Rom 8:12-27). The Holy Spirit empowers us to love and to good works. We cannot live the Christian life apart from the Spirit.
Nevertheless, the foundation for our faith is not the Spirit but the Word—the living Word of God who put on skin and came to live on the earth in the midst of a crooked and perverse, sin-filled people. The living Word of God in the person of Christ is the foundation of our faith. Christ is the eternal Word, whose work has wrought our salvation. The Holy Spirit applies, empowers, and recalls to us the work of Christ. Christ is foundational–the author of our faith.
This distinction is slightly forced because both Christ and the Holy Spirit are one unity with the Father (the Trinity). Nothing I have said should be taken to imply division between Christ and the Spirit. But it is necessary for us to keep Christ first, for some in the name of the Spirit act as though the Spirit has the right to overrule the Word. They allow experience to trump the Word.
For example, I spoke with a man who believed he should divorce his wife because she wasn’t as spiritually mature as he was. He believed the Spirit was leading him to get a divorce (his third). Another woman I know thought the Spirit was leading her to an adulterous affair. After all, God wants us to be happy, right? In both cases, experiences (and fleshly desires) were running roughshod over the clear teaching of the Scripture. The Word of God forbids such behavior (Matthew 19:1-11).
So, my conclusion is, first, to say that we ought not separate the Trinity! We need both Spirit and Word. But if you are forced to choose a Spirit church over a Word church, stick with the Word. The eternal Word of God will correct your fleshly appetites and guide you in the way of salvation. Your experiences need God’s interpretive guide—that occurs when you are led by Christ’s words, obeying all that He commands you.