Church: Spirit, Word, and Sacrament

If we take Act 2:42-47 as the ideal picture of the church, then we can surmise that the ideal life of the church is one that is nurtured on Spirit, Word, and Sacrament. We need a diet of all three to have a healthy and holistic Christian community.

Many churches are very logocentric, they have a heavy priority on the teaching and preaching of the Word, but at the neglect of the other of the means of grace. The problem is that, if you have a church so fixated on the Word, with no room for the Spirit to move, and no place for the sacraments, then you’ve effectively turned the Church into a Mosque. Islam is all about “word,” the Qu’ran is a dictated revelation and that is it, there is no symbol or sacrament of God to draw us closer, no Spirit of God to move in our midst, it is just word, word, word.

If you have a church that is all for the Spirit, seeking to be filled with the Spirit, trying to walk in the Spirit, yet pays lip service to the Word, and ignore the sacraments, then you’ve effectively moved into Mysticism. The emotional release of worship and the empowering of the Spirit for work become disconnected from instruction in the Word that the spiritual life thirsts for. The Spirit binds together worship, word, and sacraments, so a healthy yearning for the Spirit should naturally leave us hungering for God’s Holy Word and the signs of his grace.

If you have a church that is focused almost exclusively on the sacrament, which explains away the Spirit, and reduces the Word to little sound bites of good advice, then you’ve reduced the service to Magic show. Here God becomes a jack-in-the-box, who jumps out when the bread and the wine land on the table. The elements become substitutes for faith and obedience. The sacraments only have their power in the union of Word and Spirit, so feasting on the blood and body of Christ is possible only by the Spirit that connects us together with Christ, and by the Word by which the elements are given their true meaning.

A healthy church needs a steady diet of Spirit, Word, and Sacrament. A church without the Word, without good biblically-based preaching, will soon have a shrivelled mind, then a wayward heart, next an unquiet soul, and finally a misdirected strength.[1] Without the Word you’ll be starved of learning, you won’t be challenged, and they’ll be no discipleship. A church without the Spirit will be boring and banal. After that it will degenerate into a tomb that is lush and pretty on the outside, but be spiritually dead on the inside. Apart from the Spirit we are left to waiver and work in our own insufficient strength that will quickly die out. Without the Spirit you’ll be starved of spiritual vitality, devoid of divine empowerment, and end up in a lethargic spiritual wasteland. You’ll end up with a bibliolatrous Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Bible. A church without the Sacraments will be hungry for fellowship and be lacking in the unity provided by the Lord’s Table. The church that eats together and prays together, stays together. Without the Sacraments you’ll be starved of godly fellowship and spiritual nourishment.


[1] N.T. Wright, Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship (London: SPCK, 1997), xi.

  • Duncan B

    Hi Mike,

    I agree with everything you’ve typed, but just wonder if you’ve missed another equally important area. In the middle of the passage you cite we read, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” For a healthy church should there not also be a strong focus on displaying the values of God’s Kingdom which includes the social dimension?

    Thanks for the help in keeping us thinking.

  • Duncan B

    Hi Mike,

    I agree with everything you’ve typed, but just wonder if you’ve missed another equally important area. In the middle of the passage you cite we read, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” For a healthy church should there not also be a strong focus on displaying the values of God’s Kingdom which includes the social dimension?

    Thanks for the help in keeping us thinking.

  • Ian Paul

    Michael, I am due to do a session on ‘Word and Spirit’ at New Wine this year. (Also one on ‘natural and supernatural’). Can you suggest any reading?

    • Michael Bird

      Ian, I’m rather partial to Donald Bloesch on Word and Spirit, though browsing over Calvin and Barth on this would be profitable. On natural and supernatural, nothing comes to mind, but probably McGrath has done something helpful on this before.

  • Ian Paul

    Michael, I am due to do a session on ‘Word and Spirit’ at New Wine this year. (Also one on ‘natural and supernatural’). Can you suggest any reading?

    • Michael Bird

      Ian, I’m rather partial to Donald Bloesch on Word and Spirit, though browsing over Calvin and Barth on this would be profitable. On natural and supernatural, nothing comes to mind, but probably McGrath has done something helpful on this before.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X