Through the past 37 plus years of serving and believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, I have come to understand a very important truth. That the Holy Spirit is not only needed to heal the sick, preach with authority, and fill us with His fruits of the spirit, but to function as the greatest teacher and guide of the church.
This statement is coming from a person (myself) who has spent countless hours studying theological, historical, philosophical books as well as the Bible. When I first came to Christ I actually stopped my professional career in music so I can spend eight to twelve hours per day studying the Scriptures and biblically related books.
At that point I did not have much of a prayer life and so much of the Bible knowledge I accumulated stayed in my mind and never made it into my spirit. However I had enough of the Holy Spirit through salvation that I was able to understand the Bible for the first time in my life. The words of Saint Paul spoke powerfully to me when he said that the natural man cannot understand the things of the spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:14), which explained to me why the Bible bored me before my conversion to Christ in January 1978.
However, my understanding of the things of God went to a whole new level after I was filled with the Holy Spirit several months after my conversion. The greatest thing that happened to me after this experience was that my prayer life jumped from praying a few minutes per day to being capable of praying many hours per day. This Holy Spirit in-filling allowed me to walk in the presence of God in a way I never dreamed. Perhaps the greatest part of this new prayer life was the way the Holy Spirit fellowshipped with me and taught me truths in the word of God. It was so amazing that God would even give me an understanding of the original language meaning of certain words that I would later verify when I would use Hebrew/Greek Bible language tools.
This goes in line with what the Bible teaches us regarding one of the primary roles of the Holy Spirit. In John 14:26 Jesus said the Holy Spirit would be our counselor or helper, who would teach us all things. In 1 John 2:27 the apostle John says that the anointing that abides inside of us will teach us about everything and that we would have no need for man to teach us (of course the anointing oil stands for the operation of the Holy Spirit inside of and upon believers).
Also, in Proverbs 1:23 it teaches us that God will reveal His words unto us after the Spirit is poured out upon us. In spite of all of these passages and many more, many serious Bible scholars I have observed have shallow prayer lives and depend almost solely on their own understanding to exegete Scripture. (I also believe in exegeting scripture utilizing the historical, cultural, grammatical method. However it lacks the deep rooted insight needed if not combined with the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit.
As a new Christian I was shocked to attend a Bible institute and have brilliant teachers implore us to spend at least five minutes per day (or week) in prayer while they encouraged us to spend several hours per day studying Bible doctrine. Even though I was a biblical novice, I noticed that although these instructors were very good Bible teachers they lacked the power and conviction of the Holy Spirit when they taught.
However, I was not confused because the Lord taught me out of Psalm 119:99 that I could have more understanding than my teachers if I meditated upon His Word. Jesus also said that in John 5:39-40 that it is possible to study the scriptures without coming to God in a personal way. I also remember during that year away in Bible school that I would spend about six hours per day praying and then another three hours studying theology and Bible doctrine. After all those hours of prayer the words of those books and the Scriptures would explode off the page and resonate within my soul with great meaning and insight! I learned that when I attempted to study without being filled with the Holy Spirit, the words of the Scriptures were dry and became head knowledge that was soon to be lost (because the natural or fleshly man cannot understand the things of the Spirit of God according to 1 Corinthians 2:14).
However, when I studied while in fellowship with the Holy Spirit, I was filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding (Colossians 1:9).
The reason why meditation in the word of God is so essential for our success and obedience (Joshua 1:8-9) is because musing over Scriptures gives opportunity for the Holy Spirit to commune with our spirit and teach us. The third person of the Godhead interprets spiritual things to those who are spiritual (1 Corinthians 2:13). Consequently, we need to give space to the Spirit as our teacher who was sent that we might understand the things freely given to us by God (1 Corinthians 2:12). This is why Paul says we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16).
Merely cramming our heads with book knowledge does not give the Holy Spirit His proper place as our counselor/teacher. Truly, with the study of many books there is no end (Ecclesiastes 12:12). Consequently, when theologians, academics and professors in Christian universities and seminaries only emphasize the studying of books, original languages, and the historical grammatical method, they are attempting to nurture Christian leaders by replacing the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit with the Enlightenment method of rationalism, which is why we are not producing enough earth shaking leaders in our seminaries and why many seminaries have sometimes been referred to as cemeteries.
I write this article as someone with an earned doctor of ministry degree, who was also in a PHD program for one year, who has participated in a THD program, and also as one who loves theological study. I would be the first to tell pastors they are called to be scholars and the first to encourage all disciples of Christ to engage in serious ordered learning of the Scriptures. But I do not think the life of the mind should in any way conflict with our call as Christians to a life in the spirit (Galatians 5:16-17).
I remember, not long ago several theologians heard me teach on the Kingdom of God and one of them, who was mentored by one of the world’s greatest living theologians, asked me how I learned so much. His question, at first, took me back because of who he was affiliated with. However, then I realized why he asked me that question and I told him that the answer to that question would come if he would read my book on prayer called “Travail to Prevail”. (In this book I talk about the call and benefits of living a life of prayer and intercession.) I think he was probably shocked at my response! But my answer to him is rooted in my deep conviction of allowing the Holy Spirit to be our primary biblical teacher.
Of course I am well aware of the subjective excess that has resulted in strange doctrines by some leaders who were allegedly taught personally by the Holy Spirit. Even some church fathers who existed in the first centuries of the church (for example Origen, who seemed to sway between orthodoxy and heresy depending upon which scholar you read), did not follow proper principles of biblical hermeneutics and taught an allegorical method of interpreting the world. (The allegorical method teaches that the primary meaning of Scripture is hidden beneath the letter of the word and is mystical and allegorical.) This allegorical method dangerously guts the Bible of its literal meaning and power. (Also, Jewish mystics who practice Kabbalah, and those who adhere to the so called Gnostic gospels have a highly subjective mystical approach to interpreting sacred writings.) This is why I am a big proponent of understanding the biblical author’s original intent (through the historical, cultural and grammatical method), before I attach any secondary meaning or insight to a passage of Scripture. If my insight into the scripture contradicts the original intent of the biblical author, then my insight is not from the Holy Spirit.
Furthermore, I also believe that we need to pray, interpret, and apply the word to the world with a community of other biblically grounded teachers and scholars, to counterbalance any possible erroneous subjective doctrine an individual may come up with in the name of being led by the Holy Spirit. (For example Bishop Carlton Pearson who said that the Holy Spirit told him that all people will ultimately be saved irrespective of whether or not they are followers of Jesus Christ.) We should also read the writings of the church fathers and read the major councils and creeds of the church to see how the church in the past grappled with theological issues.
In closing, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that the magisterium of the church is the final authority when it comes to faith and doctrine. This magisterium (when the pope speaks ex cathedra or from his official throne or seat of power) is sometimes infallible depending upon the circumstances (according to the Roman Catholic doctrine). However, I want to end this article by saying I believe that Jesus declared the Holy Spirit to be the Only True, Infallible, Magisterium of the church and that any individual, church, or denomination that attempts to correctly interpret the Scriptures without His divine illumination will greatly err!
Oh come, Holy Spirit, in power and also in sound doctrine and teaching.