The Christian world seems to be split into two broad camps. On the one hand are those who have cultivated the study of theology over centuries, exploring the profound disclosure of God and his relation to us which is given in the scriptures; and on the other are various groups and communities which desire, celebrate and seek to demonstrate the working of the Holy Spirit.
The ministry of Christ was a demonstration of the Spirit and power. He taught about life in God’s kingdom, but he also healed the sick. He gave us the Sermon on the Mount, but he also raised Lazarus from the dead. At a point, John the Baptist even sent his disciples to enquire of Jesus whether he was truly the awaited Messiah or not. The response was stunning:
In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Luke 7:21-23)
Christ pointed John to demonstrations of power, physical signs of the coming of the kingdom.
Over the past two thousand years, the development of Christianity in much of the Western world, as well as other regions which have been influenced by Western christianity, has tended more toward unfolding the display of God’s wisdom in Christ. Riding on the intellectual heritage of Greek philosophy which played a crucial role in the early church, Christians have cultivated a robust edifice of truth and wisdom about God, man, and the grand story of reconciliation between the two. Sermons, treatises, poems, music, art, and a host of other creative works have explored the truths of scripture and unveiled its richness across an entire civilization.
The Western church did not neglect the power of God; as long as there are changed lives through its witness, the power of God is present. However, its orientation has been more towards wisdom. We also see this neglect of God’s power in the general attitude towards the miraculous and spiritual gifts. Coupled with this was a general neglect of the person and operations of the Holy Spirit for much of Christian history.
Probably not until the rise of the Pentecostal movement in the early twentieth century and the Charismatic movement in the latter half of the century, has there been a widespread interest in this dimension of God’s redemptive revelation. And in much of the church in Africa, there is a distinct focus on healings, miracles, and supernatural activities. Sadly, this often exists without proportionate attention to biblical theology. So we have a reappropriation of power, but not with an adequate grasp of the guidance provided by his wisdom.
The urgent need is for both streams to come together and allow their respective channels to enrich one another. The Nigerian Church (and the rest of the continent) should give careful attention to Christian theology. It needs to cultivate a matured approach to God’s word, in light of the discussions which have gone on for the past two millennia. But it need not abandon the appreciation for the power of God which it already possesses. Likewise, the western Church, and every other church, denomination or body which has been shaped by the grand tapestry of Christian belief and doctrine, should recover the living power of God in its varying manifestations.
Christ came in the power of the Spirit, unfolding to us the love, righteousness, and justice which are pillars of God’s kingdom. In him, both the wisdom and the power of God are displayed. We must not pit one against the other.