Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Holy Spirit - Part 2: When and Where?

In my last post I took issue with common Christian creeds' trinitarian characterization of the Holy Spirit.  This time I'm going to take a look at another element of common Evangelical statements of faith: the claim that the Holy Spirit "indwells every believer."  This teaching makes the claim that the Holy Spirit is bestowed upon everyone who "believes in Christ" (a phrase fraught with its own baggage), and essentially dwells in the believer for life.

As with most required doctrines, this one doesn't stand up well to comparison with what scripture actually says.  Let's start with the most obvious evidence, two historical accounts in Acts.  Acts 8:14-17 relates how Peter and John were sent to Samaria, to a group who had believed in Jesus, who were even "baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus," but who did not receive the Holy Spirit until the prayer of Peter and John.  The second account is Acts 19:1-7, in which a group of "disciples" had already received the baptism of John (and given the use of the term "disciples," one would believe already accepted the message of Jesus' lordship), but who had not even heard of the Holy Spirit, which was given to them when Paul laid his hands on them after baptism.  The evidence is pretty straightforward: unless we accept a dispensational interpretation nowhere supported in the New Testament, it is possible both to believe in Jesus and to be baptised in his name, and yet not have received the Holy Spirit.

The second part of this doctrine is the implicit notion that whatever receiving the Holy Spirit means, it's a once-and-done event.  Here, too, the scriptural evidence would suggest otherwise.  There are, of course, numerous accounts in the Old Testament (particularly the books of Samuel and Kings) where the Spirit of God seems to come and go from the same individuals...usually kings or minor prophets.  But even in Acts, it is interesting to note that the same people are shown to have been "filled with the Holy Spirit" at least twice:  see Acts 2:4 and Acts 4:31.  Furthermore, we learn in Acts 6:3-5 that a condition for selecting the men to serve as the first deacons (this is when Stephen was ordained), was that these be men "full of the Spirit."   This requirement is nonsensical, unless there is either (1) such a thing as a believer who has not received the Spirit at all, or (2) at least varying degrees of "filledness" with the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps as intriguing as anything, though, is Paul's statement in 1 Cor. 7:40 that, in relation to a command he's just given, "I think I, too, have the Spirit of God."  This claim truly makes no sense if every believer is always-and-forever indwelt by the Spirit.

The principal reason I believe this error matters, is that it allows us to cop out of a major self-examination desperately needed by both individual believers and the church as a body.  Here's what I mean:  throughout the Bible, when the Breath of God moves in and through an individual or a group, something big happens--and by "big" I do not mean people get teary-eyed or feel a major case of the warm fuzzies.  Countless times, it results in the individual prophesying (Num. 11:25, 1 Sam. 10:10, 1 Sam. 19:20, Luke 1:67, Acts 19:6).  It can result in people speaking in languages other than their own (Acts 2:4, Acts 10:46).  It can also result in superhuman strength (Judges 15:14) or even physical transportation (Acts 8:39).  The Spirit of God doesn't always make a splash; Isaiah 11:2 refers to the overall anointing of Messiah's life (though when this actually happened (Luke 3:22 and parallels) it was certainly obvious enough.
An interesting aside here--if the conventional notion of the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ being persons of the Trinity were true, why does scripture report the Holy Spirit coming on Jesus, not only in Luke 3:22, but also his self-proclamation in Luke 4:18-19?  How can one "person" of a "godhead" receive another "person?"
Anyhow, my point here is, what is the evidence of the Breath of God blowing through our churches today?  It is my stubborn belief that, if God's mighty wind were to blow in our midst, we wouldn't have to do mental gymnastics to believe it, we'd have the evidence smacking us in the face!  And if, as I regretfully suspect, those who lead the Body of Christ have so thoroughly quenched the spirit that God has taken his action elsewhere, what are we--what are you--what am I--going to do about it?

3 comments:

betweenleafandsky said...

Then another question is, may someone be breathed on by God,or be around the breath of God, but not yet know Christ?

I think the obvious answer is yes. That's because none of us go seeking God, but He seeks us. I think that's what is meant. There are times in our lives when God breathes on us...but we can accept it or not.

As for filledness, does it take another person to fill you? I doubt it, since John the Baptist was filled with the Spirit from birth, right? Or before? He leapt in the womb recognizing Jesus's approach in Mary's womb.

I do think all Christians carry a trickle...if we're born again, we must, because it's by God's own breath, right? We are temples of the Holy Spirit...what about the rivers of living water? Don't we carry/incarnate God wherever we go?

Or only to that measure we submit to the Breath of God?

I don't think one has to disbelieve the trinity to see the truth of what you're saying. I would hedge some people know this anyways.

I also like it, because I only want HIM...and I've always cringed when people sang songs of praise to the Holy Spirit--just seemed wrong. Perhaps I know why now.

Back to people reacting to the breath of God...those that love nature, the earth, all the good green things, and are returning to the simple life, I believe are reacting to the creative breath of God that yet washes over the earth. The enemy would confuse them that it's something else, and Christians would tell them such a thing is not possible, but I believe that maybe if we did do a better job of explaining and knowing this aspect of God, we could disciple these people into full knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Just a thought.

Dan Martin said...

I think you're on the right track, betweenleafeandsky. I don't intend to say that this understanding of the Breath of God precludes belief in the Trinity...but rather that the trinitarian insistance on the "personhood" of the Holy Spirit masks a much broader and deeper sense of the dynamic nature of God's Breath at work.

To your question, I think you're dancing around the same issue I tried to raise, but perhaps from the other side. Does everyone who believes in Christ carry at least a "trickle" of that holy Breath? Maybe...but the more I look at how the Breath is portrayed throughout scripture, the more compelled I am by the notion that the presense of the Wind of the Almighty doesn't operate by stealth...or to put it another way, I don't think it's possible to squash the fruit of the Spirit except by squeezing the Spirit out.

In other words, I suspect that the behavior of Christians, both individually and collectively, is empirical evidence that the Spirit of God is emphatically not present in everyone who "believes." To the extent I'm right on this, a more honest understanding of the Spirit would force us into some pretty serious self-examination (again, both individually and collectively) to ask the question "if not, then why not?" Rather than risk the uncomfortable answers such difficult questions might raise, it seems to me the church has begged the question by merely shouting the louder, that all Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and should just shut up and believe it.

Dan Martin said...

And yes, to the other point you raise..."The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes." (John 3:8). That word "wind" is identical to the word for "spirit" in the same passage, and it unquestionably blows through many who have yet to hear, or understand, or accept, the word of Jesus.