Why Don't Lutherans Talk More about the Holy Spirit?
I’ve been asked this question before, and I’ve actually asked it of other Lutheran pastors to see how they respond to it. It’s a common perception that Lutherans don’t have much to say about the Holy Spirit. Perhaps this is because we’re not a very excitable bunch. Or maybe it’s because we’d rather just talk about Jesus. Or it’s possible that we don’t even understand our own doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Whatever the reason may be, the perception is out there.
It’s time to challenge it. The question is based on a false premise. When someone asks you a bad question, it’s perfectly acceptable to challenge the question. For example, if someone asks you, “Why does black coffee taste so gross?” it’s perfectly acceptable to stand up for coffee’s reputation and say, “It’s not! Black coffee is delicious!” And when someone says, “Why don’t Lutherans talk more about the Holy Spirit?” it’s perfectly acceptable to say, “But we do.”
Lutherans actually have a very robust doctrine of the Holy Spirit. In fact, I suggest to you that, out of all Christian denominations, Lutherans have the most robust doctrine of the Holy Spirit. That includes the Pentecostal denominations. I know it doesn’t always seem this way. That’s because we have often bought into the false notion that the Holy Spirit is most active where people are outwardly excited and emotional. We’ve confused “emotional” for “spiritual” and assumed this is the Holy Spirit’s work.
Now the Holy Spirit can certainly affect our emotions. If we have absolutely no feeling for the things the Holy Spirit does, there is probably something wrong. But we don’t look for evidence of the Holy Spirit in our emotions. Rather, we look to the Scriptures to see what the Holy Spirit does. There we see that the primary work of the Holy Spirit is to testify of Jesus Christ (John 15:26). So the true mark of a Spirit-driven church is when Jesus is proclaimed as the Savior of the world.
This is one of the reasons Lutherans are falsely accused of being weak on the Holy Spirit. We admittedly spend more time talking about Jesus. And this, actually, is the way the Holy Spirit wants it to be. Because of this the Holy Spirit has often been called “the shy member of the Trinity.” That’s sort of true, but not quite. I think it’s actually better to think of the Holy Spirit as “the chatty member of the Trinity,” because the Holy Spirit is the one who does most of the talking. He inspired the Scriptures (2 Peter 1:21), so he obviously has a lot to say. He likes to talk, and he likes to be active in and among us; he just doesn’t talk about himself as much as he talks about Christ.
So we find the Holy Spirit working through certain means to proclaim Christ. Namely, in the Word and Sacraments. When the Scriptures are read and when Law and Gospel are proclaimed, the Holy Spirit is working repentance in our hearts. When sinners are baptized, the Holy Spirit is creating new life. When the Lord’s Supper is received, the Holy Spirit is forgiving sins and strengthening faith. Maybe it seems less exciting, but these are the objective means God has instituted, so we have confidence the Holy Spirit is at work in these things. We really can’t say the same thing about our emotions.
Remember this: whenever we talk about Scripture, Law and Gospel, Baptism, or the Lord’s Supper, we’re talking about the Holy Spirit, because this is his work. When you listen for this, you will see that Lutherans actually talk about the Holy Spirit quite a bit. The Word and Sacraments are the tools he uses to call, gather, enlighten, sanctify, and preserve us in the Christian faith. Everything we have in this Christian life is the work of the Holy Spirit. Our faith—we didn’t create it. The forgiveness of sins—we didn’t find it. Preservation in the faith—we don’t do it. All of this is the work of the Holy Spirit. This is why I say that Lutherans have the most robust doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Everything we have in this Christian life is delivered by him. We would not know Christ if the Holy Spirit hadn’t revealed him to us. But he has, so we rejoice in the work of the Holy Spirit, which is to say, we rejoice in Jesus Christ.