What I Believe: The Holy Spirit

Pneumatology is the study of the Holy Spirit. It might also be defined, if we take on the mood of the writer of Ecclesiastes, as a chasing of the wind. However, there is much written about the Holy Spirit in Scripture to help us understand the nature and role of this third person of the Trinity. Despite all the information, we still do not seem to be given a concrete image for our minds except that of, occasionally, a dove.

The word Holy signifies that the Holy Spirit is divine. The words used in the original languages for Spirit have various meanings and always refer to something invisible. Some of these meanings are wind, life, energy or power. All of these meanings designate something outside human control or capture. In other words, the Holy Spirit goes where he will and does what he chooses as far as our wills are concerned, just as the other persons of the Trinity do. At the same time, just as the Son serves the purposes of the Father so the Holy Spirit moves to shape creation, history and people to the will of the Father and Son.

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What I Believe: The Person of Jesus Christ

Angels came from heaven to sing of the glory of Jesus’s coming to earth. Shepherds came in from the fields to worship the new-born-child. Eight days later Jesus was taken to the Temple for the ritual required by the Law. Two or three years later the Wise Men showed up to provide the means for the Holy Family to live in exile until the danger from Herod and his sons had passed.

When Jesus was twelve years he went to Jerusalem with his family and then stayed to talk theology with the priests and rabbis. This was not normal but it was natural for someone coming into their identity as the Son of God.

About eighteen years later, Jesus knows who he is and what he has come to do. He is the second person of the Trinity, truly God and truly human. He has the same power as created the world and he knows he is to fulfill all the prophecies in the Old Testament concerning the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. I believe Jesus is fully God—of one being with the Father and Holy Spirit as one person of the Holy Trinity.

Jesus used providential opportunities given him to show his power to perform miracles and thus demonstrate both his nature as deity and God’s care for his creatures. I like the account of the raising from the dead of the son of a widow just outside the Town of Nain (Luke 7:11-15). Jesus is moved by the sorrow of the widow and so does what he can do in the situation. Can you imagine her son sitting up and yelling, “Get me out of this shroud”! Awe followed and the news spread but the event was not a publicity stunt. It was a showing of Jesus as who he is.

It took an intricate weaving of events to get the Old Testament prophecies fulfilled. I started with Jesus’ birth but the fulfillment began nine months before that and lasted until Jesus died on the cross, and then was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven. In this time frame Jesus fully demonstrated he was the one described in Isaiah 9:6-7. Jesus was the child born who by the end of his life on earth could lay claim to being Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace whose power would have no end.

Jesus also used his time of earthly ministry to teach his disciples, and the crowds, about himself, about the Father and Holy Spirit, and about their human natures. In addition he spoke often of the kingdom of heaven (kingdom of God) that was soon to arrive. I think that soon was in human time and not “God time.” In other words, some of the people he was speaking to would experience its arrival. I believe the kingdom of heaven came to us at Pentecost as the Holy Spirit inaugurated a body of believers who would live, starting with their rebirth, forever. We start on earth and then continue our existence in heaven.

We need to remember that the human nature of Christ was fully present in him during his time on earth. When he obeyed the Father, as we must, in seeking baptism, the Holy Spirit came upon him and made his human spirit immortal. This is a picture of our redemption and was necessary so that Christ would be first among his brothers and sisters.

When Jesus was tempted in the desert, Satan’s offers of food, acclamation by the world, and earthly power were directed at his human nature. They were not an attack on his divine nature but directed at a person in a redeemed condition like ours. That is, he had trust in God and had faith in what was written in Scripture but nonetheless he was susceptible to the possibility of sin. It was a real test. Needless to say, but I will write it anyway, Jesus passed this test and overcame all the other temptations that came his way.

Jesus was one with us in his human nature and he is the One who is making us like him in that nature so I believe he should always be recognized as at the center of our Christianity.

What I Believe: Non-Christian Views of God

One non-Christian view of God is that held, in different ways, by Unitarianism and Islam. This is the idea that God has a unity as one person and which denies the deity of Jesus and the deity and personality of the Holy Spirit.

Deism sees God as out there somewhere (transcendent) and having once acted as creator is not further active in earthly affairs (immanent).

Pantheism goes the other direction. It sees God in all that exists and all that exists in God.

Polytheism is any religious system than contains more than one god. Hinduism is an example. So are the various pagan religious ideas that occur all over the world.

Buddhism has at the center of its beliefs nothingness (Nirvana).

Other systems of thought that do not contain a God are Agnosticism which believes that God is either unknowable or unprovable, and Atheism and various secular ideologies which deny the existence of God.

There are belief systems that have their roots in Christianity but whose ideas are not orthodox. These beliefs are rejected by implication in the Nicene Creed.

These beliefs are not alternate paths to God as some people think. I believe they lead people away from the true knowledge of the triune God.

What I Believe: More About the Trinity

Let me put in here something more about the Trinity. This is not from my own thinking but from the Nicene Creed, a fifteen-hundred year old interpretation of Scripture accepted by most churches. The Trinity functions as three distinct persons though all share the full nature of God. Here is what the creed has to say about the character and roles of the three persons.

 

“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.”

What I Believe: The Trinity

The triune God of Christianity is absolutely unique. Except for offshoots of Christianity, other religions have no god, one god, many gods or everything as god. The Trinity is one God existing in the persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Bible adequately shows the truth of God in three persons and in one being. This mystery was revealed most fully in the person of Jesus and the writings of the New Testament. Jesus had authority to teach us about this because he was one of the persons. Thus, he was able to tell his disciples what they could understand about the Trinity and promised them another person, the Holy Spirit, would help them by providing further knowledge.

This knowledge of the Trinity has not given us the answer to “How can this be?” I believe it is meant to be this way so that we who believe can stand in awe and unbelievers will simply sound foolish when they claim the Trinity is a human invention. As written above, the only person once on earth who might lay claim to the invention of the reality of the Trinity was one of them.

What I Believe: Sufficiency

Even verses, even short passages, even chapters, even individual books are sufficient to bring people to faith in Jesus Christ, as was the Ethiopian. (I once met a man who said he came to faith in Jesus Christ by reading the book of Job.) I am sure some people have come to faith through less than perfect translations into indigenous languages. The inspired Word and the work of the Holy Spirit make whatever we may have of the written revelation of God sufficient for our needs.

You might ask why if a little bit of Scripture is sufficient for redemption there is so much of it in the Bible. Here I think we need to go back to the idea of Scripture being a creation of the Holy Spirit. Like physical creation the Bible has depth beyond the understanding of any single human mind and in its total richness is deeper than the collective mind of humanity is able to understand.

This is the other side of sufficiency. You may have noticed that serious Bible commentaries take up a good part of a bookshelf or even more. This is because the immense content of the Bible is sufficient to provide material for endless study for even the most diligent Bible scholar. The Scriptures are, I believe, a well of wisdom that never goes dry.

What I Believe: Inspiration

When we use the word “inspiration” we are using the English form of the verb inspiro which comes from the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible. The form of the word might make us think that God did something to words that already existed. However, the Greek word theopneustos used in the New Testament means “God-breathed.” This should remind us of the work of the Holy Spirit in physical creation. In other words, Scripture is a creation of God and can be compared to physical creation as a mystery of God’s intentions.

The common source, the Holy Spirit, of both the Old and New Testaments is shown by the linkages between them. Jesus and the writers of the New Testament cited the Old Testament as foundational to an understanding of the new covenant that Jesus had brought into existence.

I regard “The Holy Scriptures are the only sufficient, certain, and infallible standard of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience (2 Timothy 3:15-17; Luke 16:29, 31; Ephesians 2:20).” If this is true, then inspiration is how they got that way.

Inspiration is inextricably intertwined with special revelation and providence. Let me illustrate. Paul’s letters were written to various people and groups of people at different places and times. The circumstances that prompted his writing resulted from the working of God’s providence. The teaching of Christianity, particularly when Paul used the word mystery, was him transmitting the special revelations he received from Jesus Christ. However, when Paul wrote letters he did not intend to create Scripture. That part of it is the Holy Spirit shaping Paul’s writings to Christ’s purposes.

Inspiration is the work of the Holy Spirit in the creation of each of the books. Each book has a unique history of its formation. Jeremiah received God’s special revelation and Baruch wrote it down to give us the book of Jeremiah. The Psalms are an anthology of Jewish music presumably assembled by one of the leaders of the Temple singers. Inspiration guided the selection of songs to be included—special revelation and providence provided the songs.

There are other people who contributed to the coming into existence of the books of the canon in addition to the people whose names are on the books or who are credited with their writing. These are the scribes, collators, copyists, editors, redactors, and all others who contributed to providing us the Holy Bible. These also were inspired by the Holy Spirit. “As inspired, the Scriptures were not produced by human will (2 Peter 1:21).”

I believe grace provides us with the faith we need to understand the inspired words of the Bible. For instance, as new Christians we may have found a favorite verse that had a special meaning for us at that stage of our Christian walk. Perhaps, after a long walk of faith we will find in the begats (those listings of ancient lineages) a richness that eluded us when we first encountered them in our Bible reading. I believe God energizes his Word through the faith and needs of its readers. Where there is much faith there is much finding of inspiration. Where there is no faith we get things such as courses like “The Bible As Literature.”

What I believe is that without faith no one can discover the inspiration of Scripture just as no one can know creation without faith (Hebrews 11:3). This does not excuse anyone for not seeking to find the truth of God’s word in the Bible any more than there is any exemption for people who do not seek God in creation from their responsibility to worship him.

 

What I Believe: Redemption

Redemption has many facets. It is not enough that people know about good and evil. This understanding is insufficient to do the two things necessary to bring us to God. The first is to free us of the condemnation we have as heirs of Adam’s sin and the second is to free us from our own sinful condition.

 

Freeing us and others from the eternal consequences of Adam’s sin required a life of perfect obedience to the Father that Adam could not accomplish. Jesus lived out for us the perfect life that is beyond our own capabilities. Thus, by faith in Jesus we can be freed from the bondage and consequences of Adam’s sin.

 

What has been provided to Christians through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was offered, I believe, to some people before Jesus came to earth through the means we read about in the Old Testament.

 

When Abram’s name was changed to Abraham it began the process of widening God’s offer of faith and forgiveness to larger groups of people. When we get to Moses, God’s offer continues to widen. However, the fundamental requirements of faith and forgiveness continue. Paul tells us that the Mosaic Law does not save anyone but directs people to the need for faith and forgiveness.

 

The Mosaic Law stayed in effect until Jesus fulfilled it. Now we have a New Covenant but, I believe, it is as impossible for me to live up to it on my own as it would be for me to completely obey the Mosaic Law. The extent to which I am able to fulfill it depends on Christ’s gifts to me of faith, forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit.

 

For our own sins a sacrifice was required. This sacrifice Jesus offered for us by going to the Cross. What Jesus did is made effective in us by our repentance for our sins, our acknowledgment we are not able to present ourselves righteous before God by our own efforts, and our belief the Jesus Christ is the living Son of God. It is in this way we come to redemption.

Electronic Christianity Two

I think that eChristianity needs a solid foundation to build on. After all, Jesus told us we were to build on rock and not sand. The Nicene Creed is possibly the rock we should build on. It has stood as a basic statement of Christian belief for about fifteen centuries and during that time has withstood the assaults of many, many alternative opinions. A version from a contemporary prayer book follows.

The Nicene Creed

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.Through him all things were made.

For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

 

It is appropriate that the majority of the creed focuses on the person of Jesus Christ since he should be the center of all Christian expressions. In addition to giving due respect to the person of the Son of God, there are other things about the creed that we should note. It is meant to be a creed for all of Christianity. This, I think, includes eChristianity. It is sufficient. It is all we need to believe to count ourselves Christians.

We should also think some about what is not there. It speaks of one baptism for the forgiveness of sins but says nothing about how, when or for whom. The Lord’s Supper/Communion/Holy Eucharist (for this sacrament we do not have a common name and yet we all, presumably, participate) is not mentioned.

The creed also says nothing about our human attributes. What counts in the creed is our “We believe” so we can be part of the eternal world to come. It is good it is this way because just as none of us are in the same place physically, none of us are in the same place spiritually. Each of us has our own spiritual “About” yet we can be united in a common faith as presented in the creed.

Electronic Christianity

The secular dreams of those who thought the Internet might bring about a better world might be partially fulfilled if it is used by Christians to bring our religion into the electronic age in a way that unites us in a common purpose and hope.

I think the future of American Christianity should lie in what I would call electronic Christianity. What I would give as a name for this new form of Christianity is the term eChristianity. I was surprised when my Google search came up empty for the label. I would have thought someone would have already used it. Perhaps eChristianity is simply too obvious or, perhaps, rather too broad for people’s implementations of Christianity on the Internet. Of course, all of you who read this post are participating in some form of electronic Christianity.

What I hope eChristianity will do is provide a form of Christianity without the current limits of geography, institutions or traditions. This does not mean that it would be without a common core of belief centered on the person of Jesus Christ. The various beliefs of eChristians would be tested in the electronic community by standards of conformity to the Bible, objective truth, rationality, common sense, and reality. I would hope that the form eChristianity takes allows us freedom of faith and understanding in the areas where there is some latitude while restricting the spread of unhelpful concepts of Christianity.

An eChristianity community can bring into being a tangible presence of a people set apart from the rest of the Internet while at the same time providing an actual unity of Christ’s people. Our relationship to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will have an actualization in the oneness of a Christian community joined in electronic communication.

There is further benefit to a form of Christianity imbedded in an electronic community. In our present culture it is far easier to interact with people electronically than it is face-to-face or in other physical ways. Also, almost anybody, Christian or not, is accessible to electronic communication. This fact allows for both a great enhancement of the activities currently conducted in churches and a far more widespread proclamation of the gospel (good news) of Jesus to unbelievers.

This new form of Christian community would not keep groups of Christians from coming together to participate in various activities helpful in their localities, and to join together in celebrations of what Christ has done for us.

The success of eChristianity will require a sacrifice of some part of our status quo from all us who participate. Though this is a small thing compared to the sacrifice of their lives required of some Christians, it is still no small thing. We like our freedom and independence, and our present situation. Unfortunately, unless we do something positive about the state of American Christianity what we like may not matter. Please let me know what you think about eChristianity.