Why be afraid of the Spirit?

“Discernment, Community and the Spirit”
Doug Heidebrecht

One of the key questions that the task of hermeneutics ought to bring up is a very pragmatic one:

“Under the guidance of the Spirit, how does the Body of Christ engage with the written Word of God?”

Our Confession of Faith notes that the corporeal process involves not merely the presentation of biblical truth, but also the work of the Holy Spirit and the work of discernment by a gathered community.

Drawing on both the model presented at this conference as well as extensive historical and confessional theology, Doug Heidebrecht took those gathered at Equip 2019’s Friday morning session on a journey through three movements:

Movement One
History: Communal Discernment in MB Confessions and Conference Resolutions

Part of the DNA that we have received from our early Anabaptist forbearers involves a process of not merely hearing the Word but responding to it and to one other.

Early leaders encouraged dialogue and interaction by calling people to search the Scriptures for themselves to see if what was being taught was correct. Doug noted, for example, that Menno Simons was emphatic that “the believing fellowship must serve as a check against personal interpretation.”

Walking us through various historic confessions and resolutions of the MB church, Doug demonstrated that there has been a long-shared understanding that it is the Spirit who guides the gathered community to discern what the Bible is saying to us about how to live and respond as disciples in the era in which we live.

The image used was the Spirit of God being the light on the pathway that is the written Word of God, the Bible, so that were know where and how to walk.

Movement 2
Case Studies with Jesus and Paul

But this still doesn’t necessary answer the question of HOW this process functions. Doug could have resorted to a list or bullet points, but instead, he drew us into the text of the Bible for several case studies with a specific focus on the rule of Christ and the Rule of Paul.

In a discussion on binding and loosing, Doug reminded us that “we sometimes fear that talking about the Spirit will take us in directions that are different. This is not the promise of Christ in John 16. What the Spirit shows us is always congruent with what the Bible teaches us.”

This helps us not give in to fear or high control because we trust that the Spirit is speaking to each and every believer, all the while allowing for these impressions and interpretations to be weighed by those with gifts of discernment, teaching, and maturity.

Movement 3
A biblical vision for discerning together

Intriguingly, Doug was the only presenter over the course of the study conference to take us more deeply into one of the early church’s moments of interpretative conflicts.

He explored Acts 15 and reminded us that what we agree and disagree on “is a messy kind of conversation,” but one very much worth having as a family. It will involve not only speaking lucidly about theology but also listening clearly to the Spirit and to one another.

Doug closed with a timely and helpful reminder that “as we engage with each other, we need a renewed experience of the family of God. We are called together to live a life of love. There has to be a reflection of it in our lives if we are calling others to reconciliation.”

Even, or perhaps especially, when we disagree on what the Spirit is saying to the church, we look to others and say “we need you” you are part of us. And we keep the conversation going.

Brad Sumner
is pastor at Jericho Ridge Community Church, Langley, B.C.

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