In Truth and Spirit
By Andrew Gross
One of Bethel Christian Fellowship’s most enduring slogans over the decades has been “True to the Word, Alive in the Spirit.” It’s a catchy phrase, but what does it actually mean?
This phrase comes out of an era in the middle of the last century. In those years, many in the broader Evangelical movement regularly accused Pentecostal churches like ours of teaching incorrect doctrine because of our special emphasis on the activity of the Holy Spirit. They would say that while we fancied ourselves “alive in the Spirit,” we were unfaithful to the truth of God revealed in the Bible. In response, some Pentecostals accused the broader Evangelical movement of being “dead” apart from the life-giving work in the Holy Spirit, despite its efforts to faithful to the Bible.
In those days, Pentecostals stood out in sharp relief from other Evangelicals because we insisted that the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, is powerfully present with the church today. We have taught that the Holy Spirit wasn’t only a distant memory from the stories in the Book of Acts. Rather, He is alive and active now; He continues to give amazing signs and He continues to radically touch and transform all who believe in Jesus. In summary, the Book of Acts, along with all its miracles and wonders, never stopped. It continues up to the present day.
Pentecostals still insist on these truths, but at times our insistence led us to be judgmental and even condemning of those we felt weren’t “alive in the Spirit.” Some non-Pentecostal Evangelicals responds with similar judgmentalism and condemnation because they felt we went too far in our teaching and practice. They worried that Pentecostal churches were in danger of going off the rails with false doctrine. The caricature of Pentecostals promoted by some of our Christian brothers and sisters was of wild meetings where people use “prophecy” as a cover to teach unbiblical ideas. In this stereotype, Pentecostals would say, “I’m being led by the Spirit” but only as an excuse to do and to believe whatever they wanted, even if it left the Bible in the rearview mirror.
And this stereotype wasn’t entirely unfounded. In the Pentecostal movement, there have been some people who use the idea of the Spirit’s leading to get away with a variety of abuses and wrong, non-biblical teachings. While these abuses have been perpetrated by a minority of people within the movement, whenever they happen, they added to the alarm over Pentecostalism felt by some in larger Evangelicalism.
So, in order to counteract these stereotypes, Bethel Christian Fellowship adopted this phrase “True to the Word and Alive in the Spirit.” By it, we mean that our beliefs and our practice are deeply shaped by and grounded in the Scripture. We mean that we take faithfulness to Scripture to be at the core of our belief system. But at the same time, we fully recognize the activity of the Holy Spirit among us. We mean that following Jesus includes attention to both the Bible and to the present leading of the Spirit. It isn’t supposed to be either the Spirit OR the Bible. Rather, the Christian life is about embracing both!
Since those days in the middle of the 20th Century, most of Evangelicalism has warmed up to the core ideas of Pentecostalism and has become overall a little humbler about interpreting the Bible. And Pentecostals have also been on a journey of humility, becoming more careful than ever to found our beliefs and practices in Scripture. But we still use the phrase “True to the Word and alive in the Spirit” because it reminds us of the absolute necessity of faithfulness to both.