Lutheranism and the Holy Spirit

Not only do our Lutheran Confessions proclaim the Spirit-breathed theology of Scripture, not only do they reveal the Spirit-filled life and testimony of their authors, but they emphasize throughout in a remarkable manner the saving and comforting work of the Spirit in the life of every believer and throughout the church.

Robert Preus, Getting Into the Theology of Concord

For the last of this trio of Pentecost posts (see previous posts 1 | 2), some links to posts I’ve done in the past on the work of the Holy Spirit, in particular as that work is understood by the Lutheran tradition.

At the heart of this understanding is the following statement from Article V of the Augsburg Confession, which I’ve previously described as the engine-room of Lutheran spirituality, providing the crucial link between justification by faith (Article IV) and the life of faith (Article VI):

So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the gospel and administering the sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and the sacraments as through instruments the Holy Spirit is given, who effects faith where and when it pleases God in those who hear the Gospel

Both sides of this statement need to be kept together: first, the Word and sacraments cannot be separated from the work of the Holy Spirit, as if they had some inherent power distinct from the Spirit’s work; second, the principal way in which the Holy Spirit works in us is through the Word and sacraments, rather than through “direct” means separate from those instruments.

Sometimes Lutherans speak so highly of Word and sacrament that we forget to speak of the Spirit whose instruments they are. Sometimes Christians from other traditions (especially from the charismatic tradition) see the Word and sacraments as almost in opposition (or at least stark contrast) to the life-giving work of the Spirit. Article V is a corrective to both groups.

In 2008 I wrote a couple of further posts on the Holy Spirit in the Lutheran confessions:

  • Part 1, looking at who the Holy Spirit is and what he does (drawing in particular from the Small Catechism).
  • Part 2, looking at how the Holy Spirit carries out his work of calling, enlightening, sanctifying and keeping us, forgiving our sins and raising us on the last day (drawing on Article V of the Augsburg Confession and expanding on the brief comments made above).

The last word, though, goes to Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The Augsburg Confession places the work of the Spirit squarely in the communal life of the church. A Spirit who works through Word and sacrament is necessarily a Spirit who creates (and works through) community, rather than individualistically. As Bonhoeffer writes (in The Way to Freedom, quoted in this post):

It will again be found in the fact that it pleased the Holy Spirit to promise himself not to the individual, but to the gathering. It is the visible gathering which receives the Spirit and which is brought to koinonia through the Spirit.

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