Seeking the Holy Spirit Where He Can Not Be Found
“We modern Christians seek the Holy Spirit where He is not to be found. In doing this we are, however, certainly not the first. This is a danger which has always been there since the days of the apostles, and ever and again there have been Christians, indeed whole churches, that have fallen victim to it. In the second century there was Montanism. The question which then deeply troubled Christianity and divided it was whether it was actually the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, who was revealing Himself in the new prophesyings. We may recall the spiritualistic Franciscans in the Middle Ages, the Enthusiast movements of the Schwarmer against whom Luther had to battle, and in our day the various Pentecostal movements. Earnest Christians have often felt compelled to admit what leading men in the Fellowship Movement, who once acknowledged the Pentecostal Movement’s speaking in tongues, which had gone on since 1905, came to recognize: It was not the Holy Spirit.
“We are now not speaking of this danger, but of the frivolous manner in which we in the modern world speak of the experience of the Holy Spirit. The roots of this are in the English Enthusiasm of the 17th century and in the Pietism and Methodism of the 18th century. When at the Berlin Kirchentag of 1853, in a profoundly untruthful declaration, the participants declared themselves loyal to the Augsburg Confession “with heart and mouth,” but also with the reservation that the unity of the confession they were making was not to be injured by the differing views on its Article X [on the Sacrament of the Altar] that were held by the Lutherans, the Reformed, and those from Union churches, this uniting of Evangelical Germany was regarded by many as a work of the Holy Spirit. It has become almost customary at great church gatherings, and also at the big ecumenical gatherings, to perceive and solemnly proclaim the blowing of the Holy Spirit. A sort of new Pentecost is experienced in the singing of great hymns in many languages. We need to consider the mass psychology which is going on in such big gatherings, especially at a time when the world’s techniques for manipulating a crowd and its modern communications media are penetrating the church.
“What is said here is not spoken against getting things organized as such, nor against the way news can now go round the world, nor against the means of communication provided by modern technology. Of such things Vilmar already observed that they are there not only for the children of this world, but are also to be brought into the service of Christ’s church. But we are asking whether we are always aware that there can be mass psychoses also in the church. When the church does take for its use the techniques which can control or lead a crowd of people, then there is the most urgent need to pray for that great gift of grace, the discerning and the testing of the spirits.
“We seek the Holy Spirit where He is not to be found when we take it as self-evident that the way our church is developing is altogether due to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is not only Rome’s great error; it is an error found also in other churches. The “Message” of the Lambeth Conference of 1958 begins with the statement that the bishops there assembled wished to share with all members of their church in the world the experience “which has come to us, in a fresh and wonderful way, by the power of God’s Spirit among us.” “We ourselves have been knit together by the Holy Spirit in mutual understanding and trust.” “Because we ourselves have been thus drawn together, God has given us a message of reconciliation for the Church and the world.” This message then begins with the statement: “A divided Church cannot heal the wounds of a divided world.” Then God is thanked “that in Asia and Africa, as well as in Britain and America, Christian Churches are actively moving towards a greater measure of unity” (Report, pp. 1, 29). There is then nothing to wonder at in the answer given at a press conference by an Anglican bishop. He was asked why the Lambeth Conference, which had previously rejected birth control, had now approved it. He answered that it was by the guidance of the Holy Spirit! At Lambeth, then, the Holy Spirit is said to have confirmed the Anglican understanding of the church as well as the unionism in India and America. What has happened here to the Biblical: “It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us …” [Acts 15:28]? The same miracle is said to have occurred at the Barmen synod in 1934, where Karl Barth’s Bekenntnisunion was approved, and the Lutherans, the Reformed, and those of the Union churches declared that “they sought a common message for the need and temptation of the church in our day. With gratitude to God they surely believe that a common message has been put into their mouth” (Schmidt II, 92; Cochrane, The Church’s Confession Under Hitler, p. 237). What has happened here to “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth” (Jeremiah 1:9; cf. Deuteronomy 18:18)?
“What Luther has to say about all this may be found in the Smalcald Articles: All this is the old devil and the old serpent who made enthusiasts of Adam and Eve. He led them from the external Word of God to spiritualizing and to their own imaginations, and he did this through other external words…. In short, enthusiasm clings to Adam and his descendants from the beginning to the end of the world. It is a poison implanted and inoculated in man by the old dragon, and it is the source, strength,. and power of all heresy, including that of the papacy and Mohammedanism” (SA III, VIII, 5 and 9).
Hermann Sasse, Letters to Lutheran Pastors 51; Translated by Matthew C. Harrison