The local church is the mystical body of Christ made up of various people from various backgrounds. We are Jesus’ body continuing the ministry he began. Throughout the gospel we see Jesus doing three things in one context. He was preaching, teaching, and healing in the context of a community-building mission. The ministry he started was an integration of these functions which are intellectual, supernatural, and social. Therefore the ministry we carry on today through the community of faith is an integration of theology (mind) and the supernatural (spirit). Leading people into an active life with Jesus requires teaching and healing. People who are walking with Jesus need both a new kind of thinking and a new kind of experiencing. Theology and the supernatural become two broad categories in which we look at the ministry of a local church. Both are vital. Both are necessary. We need an integration—and not a bifurcation—of theology and supernatural experience.
(We also need to integrate a new kind of being and a new kind of living. “Who we are” in relation to the God we worship and “what we do” in response to that relationship are just as vital as theology and supernatural experience. Without them Christian life is incomplete, but for the sake a simplicity I want to consider how theology and the supernatural intersect.)
The Value of Theology
Theology, also called “doctrine” or “teaching,” is right thinking about God and reality. Theology is what you believe about God, relationships, the Church, morality, etc. The Scripture is the final authority in forming our theology and so we can rightly call it biblical theology. Our theology is shaped first and foremost by the Scripture, interpreting the Old Testament in light of the New Testament, which the early church called the “teaching of the apostles.” Our theology is also shaped to a lesser degree by tradition (historic theology), reason (systematic theology), and experience (spiritual theology). All Christians have a theology and do theology even if they do not like the process. Typically Christians shy away from theological exploration, because they have seen theology done poorly. The answer to bad theology is not no theology, but good theology.
References to theology, doctrine, and teaching—
1 Timothy 1:9-11; 6:3-5
2 Timothy 3:16-17
Titus 1:9-11; 2:1
The Value of the Supernatural
The supernatural—also described as heavenly realms, spirituality, or spiritual realities—refers to the world of the Spirit. The supernatural includes miracles, signs and wonders, healing, prophecy, speaking in tongues, spiritual warfare, spiritual discernment, etc. Christian spirituality, the supernatural, is our lived experience in, with, and by the Holy Spirit. While supernatural experiences and supernatural ministry are not irrational, they are certainly non-rational in that it does not depend on the power of reason. Interaction with the supernatural is absolutely necessary, because the God we serve in not merely a historical figure to study, but a living, present-day being who is not material but spirit. Furthermore, he has sent his Holy Spirit to reside in those who belong to him.
References to the supernatural, signs and wonders, heavenly realms—
Acts 4:30-31; 5:12-16
1 Corinthians 2:4-5; 1 Corinthians 2:13-14; 14:1
Ephesians 1:3; 2:6-7; 5:18-20; 6:10
2 Thessalonians 2:9-10
The Need for Integration of Theology and the Supernatural
Throughout Christian history, various groups have either chosen theology to the exclusion of the supernatural or chosen the supernatural to the exclusion of theology. Either path leads to a spiritual dead end. Our need is for an integration of both theology and the supernatural, an integration of good thinking and good experiencing, an integration of mind and spirit. God has not made us either a mind or a spirit, but a complex and integrated being of body, soul, creativity, conscience, emotions, relationships and indeed mind and spirit.
References to an integration of theology and the supernatural—
Matthew 4:23; 9:35
Acts 2:4, 42-43; 14:3
1 Corinthians 12:28; 14:14-15
1 Timothy 4:13-16
2 Timothy 1:13-14
Leading in the Integration
In the dance between theology and the supernatural, the leading partner must be a theology firmly grounded in the Scripture. The word “teaching” is in the NIV Bible people 88 times. The word “healing” appears 28 times.
(The phrase “signs and wonders” appears 18 times and the word “miracles” appears 37 times. We cannot make too much of the frequency of terms in the Bible. The virgin birth is mentioned only a few times in the New Testament and only once in the Old Testament and it is an extremely important doctrine. Nevertheless, it does seem to say something when we find “teaching” in the Bible more often than “healing.)
Theology, sound doctrine, and our reasonable understanding of the Scripture must guide us in the supernatural life. Our theology is shaped by spiritual experiences, but they must be subordinate to the teachings of Scripture. Certainly, there are facets to God’s nature that we cannot understand. His ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts are infinitely higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9). We ought to embrace the mysteries of God and incorporate them into our theology. The unknowable aspects of God keep us humble; it keeps our faith living and active.
The primary problem with allowing the supernatural, especially spiritual knowledge, to be the leader is that supernatural experiences are subjective and are virtually unverifiable if allowed to dominate biblical theology. It is not that the Holy Spirit himself is unreliable or untrustworthy, but rather it is our subjective and fallen perceptibility of what the Holy Spirit may or may not be saying that is called into question. The Holy Spirit speaks perfectly, but I do not always hear him perfectly.
To allow the spirit to dominate the mind leads us down the road towards one of the early Christian heresies—Montanism (2nd century AD). Montanus was a traveling Christian prophet who was given to visions and the gift of prophecy. His message included the soon return of Christ and the need to connect to apostolic Christianity. Montanus felt that the church had become institutionalized and needed renewal. He felt that he had a direct spiritual connection to the Apostles. He even declared that he himself was the promised paraklete Jesus talked about in the book of John (See John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). He interpreted the Scripture according to his own spiritual interpretations, instead of subjecting his prophecies to biblical and historical theology. (For more information go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montanism)
Allowing the supernatural to lead, and ultimately trump, theology and reason can lead to a pragmatic hermeneutic–(i.e. interpreting Scripture in terms of what works). Often Christians do this when they feel the Holy Spirit is leading them in a direction that does not fit squarely within biblical revelation and historic Christianity, but they feel like it is God and they feel justified when they see results. A similar hermeneutic is used by Mormons. They tell people to read the book of Mormon and then pray, asking God to give them the “burning of bosom” – a spiritual confirmation of the truth of their book.
There is no room to discern the truth of a spiritual experience when the supernatural is valued over theology. Division is often the result. Paul urged the church in Rome to beware of those who cause division by not keeping with biblical teaching: I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them (Romans 16:17). The division begins with an argument that has been played and replayed throughout church history.
Person 1 proclaims, “God told me….”
Person 2 says, “That doesn’t seem right.”
Person 1, “Yes it is.”
Person 2, “No it isn’t.”
And round and round they go. Without pointing to the objective truth in God’s written word, there is no way to discern the supernatural. Division can certainly happen over different interpretations of Scripture, but without biblical theology we have no standard by which to discern any kind of spiritual experience.
Such a decline in biblical authority led in part to the 16th century Reformation. One of the essential doctrines of the Reformation was sola scriptura, “by Scripture alone.” Martin Luther and others promoted sola scriptura in a time when mysticism and superstitious had gnawed away at the heart of the Church. Sola scriptura is the first of five “solas” which form the cornerstone of evangelical faith:
1) Sola scriptura (“by Scripture alone”)
2) Sola fide (“by faith alone”)
3) Sola gratia (“by grace alone”)
4) Solus Christus (“Christ alone”)
5) Soli Deo gloria (“glory to God alone”)
The Pentecostal/charismatic tradition would add Sola Spiritu, “by the Spirit alone.” One of the weaknesses of the Protestant Reformation was their underdeveloped view of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, the 5 (or 6) “solas” reveal that Scripture is not the only means by which God communicates his truth, but it is the first, the foremost, and the leading partner in all other means of God’s revelation.
Good references on an integrated approach to Christian life and ministry
Word and Power Church by David Banister
Bible Doctrine by Wayne Grudem
Spirit and Power: Foundations of Pentecostal Experience by William & Robert Menzies
Truth Aflame by Larry Hart
Surprised by the Power of the Spirit by Jack Deere
Steams of Living Water by Richard Foster
Spiritual Theology by Simon Chan
“The More Excellent Way” (Sermon 89) by John Wesley