This is a slightly revised version of something I posted in 2011.
This Monday, I’ll be packing up my Bible, a few copies of the RCA’s Book of Church Order and Robert’s Rules, a bag of clothing, several bags of candy, and a half-a-dozen pounds of freshly roasted coffee, and my family in preparation for a week-long trip to Pella, IA where I’ll be facilitating the Seminarian Seminar during our annual General Synod.
The Seminarian Seminar (affectionately known as “GS3”) is a unique group. It is, as far as I know, the only annual gathering of students from all three of our denominational ministry-preparation oversight agencies (the Ministerial Formation Certification Agency, New Brunswick Theological Seminary, and Western Theological Seminary). Over the course of our time together, these students will develop cross-agency relationships, learn about the generic work and ministry of the denomination and, of course, study the specific business taken up by this year’s Synod. Every year, my goal is to ensure that they are better prepared and better informed than many of the delegates will be.
As important as it is for them to understand the denomination’s work and polity, there is one lesson I believe is even more important: I hope they go home with a refocused pneumatology.
Pneumatology is the study (talk) of the Holy Spirit (pneuma= “spirit,” logos= “the study of”).
Many people are surprised to learn that the Reformed understanding of the Holy Spirit is slightly different than that taught by most Pentecostals (and assumed by most American Christians). I am not suggesting that either one is necessarily “right” or “wrong,” rather that our traditions emphasize different aspects of the Spirit’s work. Pentecostals tend to focus on the work of the Holy Spirit in the personal life of the individual. Reformed theology, on the other hand, tends to emphasize the work of God’s Spirit in the body of believers. Whereas a Pentecostal Christian would say “I have received a word from God,” a Reformed Christian is more likely to say “we have discerned God’s will together.”
I believe that this communal understanding of the Holy Spirit is one of the most beautiful aspects of our tradition. Even more importantly, I believe that the contemporary, American church needs to recapture it if we ever hope to mitigate against the disturbing overemphasis of the individual and underemphasis of the body.
There is no question that the Holy Spirit pours out gifts upon each of us; nor is there question that the Holy Spirit can and does work in (and through) each of us. As a body, however, we are able to see past personal blind spots and discern God’s voice even when – as individuals – we are unable (or unwilling) to hear it.
General Synod isn’t merely a gathering of “those people,” it is a gathering of “us” (I say this even though I’m not a delegate, do not have voice, and cannot vote). As the Synod worships, prays, works, discerns, and votes, it is doing them on our behalf. Please keep the delegates and staff in your prayers as they prepare, travel, gather, and work.
Grace and peace,