Poverty of the Holy Spirit

It is true that the doctrine of the Holy Spirit receives less attention than other doctrines.  Historically, the institutional church looked (and still looks) upon the appeal by the masses to the Spirit as potentially subversive and in need of control.  Maybe that’s partly why pneumatology is the “odd-ology” (Fabricius).

In Faith Seeking Understanding, Daniel Migliore writes,

migliore“Routine neglect and suspicion of the work of the Holy Spirit has damaging effects on both Christian life and Christian theology.  It can lead to distortions in the understanding of God, the doctrine of Scripture, the significance of the natural order, the value of human culture, the interpretation of Christ and his work, the nature of the church, the freedom of the Christian, and the hope of the final fulfillment of life.  When the work of the Holy Spirit is forgotten or suppressed, the power of God is apt to be understood as distant, hierarchical, and coercive (emphasis mine);

Christocentric faith deteriorates into Christomonism; the authority of Scripture becomes Spiritless and heteronomous; the church is seen as a rigid power structure in which some members rule over others; and the sacraments degenerate into almost magical rites under the control of a clerical elite . . . .

Migliore goes on to say,

. . . To know God as Spirit is to experience God as liberating rather than coercive power.”

And,

“A true gift of the Spirit builds up the community and contributes to the common good rather than serving only the self-promotion of a few.”

When “we” get the Holy Spirit wrong, we are prone to wander into all sorts of theological misadventures that hurt us.  It is interesting to me that God allows the out-working of sloppy theology to “play-out” over time, whether a lifetime or longer!

It is as if we need to keep learning, and even in this, God isn’t mocked (“We need to learn, because we’re stupid and easily damaged” Jordan Peterson).  Rather, God is a faithful lover, waiting for His beloved to return, eyes fixated on the horizon willing that our returning form break out between land and sky.

This tells me there is such a wideness in His patient mercy, “not willing that any should perish,” and so holding out the eschatological hope in God’s present and willing it for His wayward humanity.

Yet it is not without warning or danger, Migliore quotes James Dunn (and I now quote them both),

“A Church that seeks to restrict and control the Spirit, as too dangerous and unpredictable, may be safe, but it has signed its own death warrant.  A church that seeks to follow where the Spirit leads will have to expect the unexpected and be prepared to be shaken to its core.  But that’s life, the life of the Spirit.”

If we mis-use the Holy Spirit, misunderstand or simply marginalise (what 1 Thessalonians calls “Quenching the Spirit”), we are all the poorer for it in our churches.  We will most certainly lack for poverty of the Holy Spirit, and live with the consequences:  ‘Dead Church Walking’ is no epitaph I want to be associated with!  God can redeem even that, of course, I mean, He raises the dead as standard for goodness sake; but why should we lose out now because of ignorance, laziness, and ambivalence.

The Holy Spirit is “The Beyond who is within” (Anthony Thiselton), speaking of the Spirit’s transcendence and immanence.  So to prevent quenching (“When the work of the Holy Spirit is forgotten or suppressed, the power of God is apt to be understood as distant, hierarchical, and coercive”), the work of the Holy Spirit is seen and discovered in the outworking of the love of the Father for the Son.

For the world, it means the love between the Father and Son is the work of God making the Church; not just in making the Church, but the Church is the work of the Holy Spirit; and the work of the Holy Spirit is the implementation of the plan of God in making the Church, so that the Church can be His faithful witness and spotless Bride in proclaiming the Gospel of Freedom to a world in the chains of sin’s dark nowhere, and a safe haven for sin weary souls and a transcendent joy to all who enter.

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