by George Bailey.
I did not know anything about Samuel Chadwick (1860-1932) until I joined Cliff College four years ago. He was a prominent Wesleyan minister with a passion for evangelism, stationed for 16 years in Leeds, and influential principal of Cliff College from 1913 until his death.
Chadwick’s theological focus was the Holy Spirit – how does the Spirit empower us for prayer, holiness and following Christ? The way he saw the life of the Spirit in individuals provokes questions about our collective church experience of the Spirit.
Chadwick called for rediscovery of the Holy Spirit as the focus of personal encounter with God and the essential agent in our transformation by grace towards holiness. One of the ways Chadwick often does this is unusual. Novelty in theology may be problematic, or may be fruitful… I am not completely sure about this one, but I am enjoying its suggestive possibilities. Chadwick promotes an unusual reading of Judges 6:34, based on a marginal note in the 1885 Revised Version translation: “the Spirit of the Lord clothed Himself with Gideon.” This is referring to a possible reading of the Hebrew which is usually disregarded in favour of a more normal English rendering, hence: “the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon” (KJV, cf NIV), or, reflecting both perspectives, “the spirit of the Lord took possession of Gideon” (NRSV).
Chadwick applies this clothing image to the life of ordinary Christians. The Spirit is, on this reading, a primary mover in the life of the person whom the Spirit takes as clothing. In the life and lifestyle of the Christian, we see the Spirit. He also applies this wearing of humanity by the Spirit to understand the incarnation, and so, through Christological models, maintains distinction between the Spirit and the individual. His theology of the incarnation goes together with his theology of Spirit-led sanctification.
“Spirit clothing itself with humanity is the miracle of the Incarnation. A body is as necessary to the Spirit as to the Son. For the Son a Body was prepared by the Spirit; for the Spirit a Body is made possible by the Son. The Spirit lived in and through Gideon. The life of Gideon became the life of the Spirit. The man was endued and the Spirit was clothed. The Spirit thought through Gideon’s brain, felt through Gideon’s heart, looked through Gideon’s eyes, spake through Gideon’s voice, wrought by Gideon’s hands, and yet all the time Gideon was still Gideon and the Spirit was still the Spirit.”[i]
Just one significant aspect of this argument is the ecclesiological implications. We know the Holy Spirit by looking at each other – the Spirit is in the church. Great expectation is placed upon church life – the way we live together has the potential to reveal the Spirit at work; equally, we could quench the Spirit (cf 1 Thess 5:19). As each person is able to be open to the Spirit, diversity and equality are central principles. Yet church life, if Spirit-led, also has divine direction and purpose. How is direction discerned? 1 Corinthians 12 helps – though all are equal before God, not all receive the same gifts; some gifts of the Spirit to particular people help guide and shape the church’s direction.
Such issues will be in Methodist minds this week as Conference meets; how do we select people for leadership positions, what authority do we give them and how does the Spirit work through them? The life of the Spirit in the church includes both the sum total (or is it multiplication?) of the relationships between the Spirit and each individual, and also specific endowments of gifts for leadership (cf Eph. 4:11) which offer direction to the church. Our structures need to recognise, encourage, and control each of these impulses; both hearing from everyone and also listening to Spirit-given counsel. British Methodist ecclesial structures are generally weighted in favour of collegial democratic listening and less towards “personal aspects of oversight.”[ii] There are legitimate concerns that maintain this position, ably expressed in this blog by Roberta Topham a few weeks ago. However, can the anticipation that our leaders will be indwelt as if the Spirit was wearing a garment, as the Spirit put on Gideon, encourage us to seek new ways to ask the Lord to guide through appointed people? God did not give the same gift to all the Israelites and then hold a vote to decide direction, but chose one person to be led, and so to lead, by the Spirit. Discerning those being enabled to lead by the Spirit is a task for the whole Spirit-filled church and needs to be a process which listens equally and without prejudice to all voices – but it also needs to then release and empower people to exercise Spirit-gifts of leadership for the good of the church and the world.
Chadwick was president of the Wesleyan Methodist conference in 1918-19, a year dominated by recovery from the war, and the discernment of social action and evangelism sensitive to that context, led by the Spirit. Perhaps his call for the church to deepen engagement with the Holy Spirit could help us in our context?
“It is for the Church to explore the resources of the Spirit. The resources of the world are futile. The resources of the Church within herself are futile. In the fullness of the Spirit there is an abundance of wisdom, resources, and power; but a human-managed, world-annexing, priest-pretending Church can never save the world or fulfil the mission of Christ.”[iii]
[i] Samuel Chadwick, Way to Pentecost, Sheffield: Cliff College Publishing (1996), p.51
[iii] Way to Pentecost, p. 18 (altered: “human-managed” replacing “man-managed”)