The Music Exchange from Richard Simpkin: I couldn’t move a fly!

Music Exchange

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The letters column struck back!

Thank you to Dave Kimber for the response to my previous article, which shows that the Word versus Spirit issue is very much alive and kicking.

I need to answer a couple of points, in which I may have been misunderstood. First, I’m not sure from my article that anyone could deduce that I’m a cessationist. I’m very much convinced that the gifts of the Spirit are as useful for the building up of the church as they have ever been. As I said, I prayed earnestly for the gift of tongues. The prayer may have been answered in the negative, but I don’t know yet! All I know is that if it would useful for the building-up of the church, then the Lord will equip me with whatever gift is needed to glorify him.

Romans cures doubt

Second, is a defence of my use of Romans 8.16. Dave suggested that this is a non-Word reference to the work of the Spirit. However, I chose this verse because Romans 8.16 is very much the Word of God. In Romans 8.16 the Spirit is stating clearly in the Word of God that I am born of God. It was Romans 8.16 that I needed at my time of doubt. The Spirit may have spoken to me outside the Word of God to convince me, but as David Cook (Australian preacher) said to me just last week, ‘anything you hear outside the Word of God is a hunch’. Just a hunch. Only the Word of God tells me that I am a child of God because Christ has made me righteous by his blood. Praise the Lord that his Spirit, through the Word, gives us real assurance and therefore real life.

Can’t sing? Not a Christian?

I’m keen to follow this up because, as a church musician, I’ve seen countless young people who have their assurance of sonship based solely on a musician’s definition of the Holy Spirit – one chap doubted he was a Christian because he couldn’t sing, so didn’t experience the presence of God in the same way all his friends seemed to. Even more seriously, if our definition of the work of the Spirit is derived by any other means than God’s Word, we are in serious danger of creating God in our own image.

Of course, we are all limited and fallen in our understanding, especially me (as Dave Kimber correctly implies) but as I said in the last article, I’m going to hold on to the truth that Jesus’s words are spirit and life, because I don’t trust the other ‘spirits’ who try and convince me otherwise. A hunch is worse than second best. However, holding to the sufficiency of the Word of God as the way the Spirit works gives freedom rather than constraint.

Stott stood firm

The Word/Spirit dichotomy was well illustrated in a book by Jean-Jacques Suurmond, called Word and Spirit at Play, where the Word and Spirit play a game together – the Word brings order, and the Spirit brings life and vigour. The same idea was encouraged in the UK when a chap called Michael Harper (1931-2010) believed he had received the baptism of the Spirit in 1962 (a second baptism, as he was already converted). Noticing dull and lifeless worship in evangelical churches, he was keen to encourage these churches to become more open to the Spirit to bring things to life. Fortunately, John Stott and others stood firm and kept their confidence in the Word of God as the means by which the Spirit works, although others followed Harper’s lead. Harper himself ended up as an Archpriest in the Antiochan Greek Orthodox Church.

Spirit at work

Church musicians, when the Word of God is spoken or sung, the Spirit is powerfully at work, whether there is any immediate outward manifestation or not. I’m deeply thankful for this assurance, because sometimes I feel the music I produce wouldn’t move a fly sitting on the piano strings, let alone a tired and discouraged congregation member. His Word will not return to him empty, so keep teaching and singing the Word of God, because ‘the words I speak to you are spirit and life’, (John 6.63, ESV).

Richard Simpkin is Director of Music at St. Helen’s Church, Bishopsgate, London.

This article was first published in the April 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to EN for monthly updates.