Sunday, May 10, 2009

The role of the Spirit in salvation


Here is a possible topic for conversation. What exactly is the role of the Holy Spirit in the work of salvation? Is anyone aware of any theological works on this subject? I know that this is one of the significant differences between Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theology -- I'm guessing that Protestantism is more "Western" having thrown out a lot of 'pre-modern' Catholic tradition but did not add back in a profound theology of the Spirit -- at least not until the rise of pneumacentric protestantism (Pentecostal and Charismatic) in the twentieth century.

Deb was reading to me this morning from Matthew 12 and I was struck by a passage I have read many times, but had not heard before in The Message version:

Matt 12: 31-32 "There's nothing done or said that can't be forgiven. But if you deliberately persist in your slanders against God's Spirit, you are repudiating the very One who forgives. If you reject the Son of Man out of some misunderstanding, the Holy Spirit can forgive you, but when you reject the Holy Spirit, you're sawing off the branch on which you're sitting, severing by your own perversity all connection with the One who forgives.

What struck me in this is the part about someone rejecting the Son of Man. Such a one can be forgiven. Hmmm…. What does that mean?

However, if someone rejects the Holy Spirit, how can they be forgiven? By rejecting the Holy Spirit, they are rejecting the dynamic active agent of God … the one who draws them, convicts them of sin, imparts faith to them and teaches them the things of Christ. The one who gives the revelation that Jesus is the Messiah, the Holy One of God (Peter, the Rock) The one that is the active executor of forgiveness of sins.

Does this mean that an honest Hindu or Muslim with a good heart, who rejects or neglects the divinity of Christ out of “some cultural misunderstanding” but who continues to respond affirmatively to the inner workings of the Spirit can be saved? (through the redemptive work of Christ of course, but perhaps in cognitive ignorance of that work). It is certainly worth considering and discussing.

More to the point, in my own dealings with agnostics and deists in our weekly god-party, most of them do not affirm the divinity of Christ, but they keep coming to our hang-out, and in a couple of cases, I see unmistakable traces of the work of the Spirit in their lives. So is it more important that I work to overcome their intellectual resistance to acknowledging that Jesus is the Christ?, or rather should I set that aside (temporarily) to affirm the work of the Spirit in them and to extend the ‘friendship’ of Christ in me the hope of Glory to them? In the second approach, I choose not to try to persuade them to believe a set of propositions about Christ, but instead I attempt to facilitate the work of the Spirit in them until they reach the point that St. Peter did, where the Spirit reveals the truth about Jesus to them.

What do you think? Is this a possible area that needs some theological re-formation?

29 comments:

John M. said...

Wow Joseph, this one could go a hundred different directions! You put a lot of issues and questions out there!

IMHO, Christendom in general, and protestantism in particular (with the exceptions you mentioned) have pretty much ignored, fled, and been afraid of the blessed Third Member of the Trinity.

I think the H.S. has definitely continued the sufferings of Christ, in that he has been rejected by "His own" in most quarters for at least 1800 or 1900 years -- perhaps longer.

Orthodox Christian doctrine affirms him in propositional truth, but then runs the other way and utiizes "enlightened rationalism" as soon as the concept of direct experience arises. What does that say about Matt 12:31-32, but that the rejection of the Holy Spirit can't? I don't know, but the implications, not for individuals, but for institutions and denominations are scary.

I like the questions you raise about the Hindu in India and the folks you are befriending in Miami. I think that the fact that you meet them where they are, and do not require anything of them at first is indicitive of the approach you are already taking. Perhaps you're asking if we think it's a good approach.

The corollary of your question is even more provocative. If someone congnitively acknowledges an "orthodox" creedal or doctrinal statments, and affirms belief in certain, "stock" salvation scriptures, but rejects the Holy Sprit, is that person "saved"?

Doesn't the "new birth" require an inter regeneration by the Spirit? How does Jesus get "into" us unless His Spirit comes to dewll within? How does the blood of Jesus wash away our sins unless the Spirit applies it to our hearts? Is this too pietistic?

Perhaps the H.S. overrides our disbelief and does his work anyway, which is probably true on many levels. He certainly tends to show up where he is not recognized and where much of his work and gifts are rejected. He seems to be willing to fit into the boxes we create for him, while simultaneously being just as evidently at work outside them. Who but God...?

Hebrews 9:14 has always intrigued me and pretty much ties the Spirit into the atonement, "...will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unbemished to God...[on he cross]"

Then there is the "kenosis", the "emptying" (Phil. 2) of Jesus of his divine rights and privileges (not his divinity, his right to act from it), which means that everythig he did on earth was done as a Spirit-filled man in the "power of the Spirit".

Regarding theological works, Gordon Fee's "God's Empowering Presece, The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul", examines every Pauline text related to the Spirit. It's a big book -- well over 900 pages! Fee is Professor Emeritus of New Testament Studies at Regent College, Vanciuver, B.C.

The "Global Dictionary of Theology", c.2008 by IVP and recently recommended by Scot McKnight, has a ten-page article on Pneumatology.

Sorry, I don't know how to embed links to these works in the text.
I wish we could get Dow in on some of these more theological conversations. I would love to draw from his wide-read perspective. Wonder what he thinks of N.T. Wright?

just joe said...

Global Dictionary of Theology Gordon Fee:
God's Empowering Presence Fee also has a couple of other books on the Spirit and Paul.

Listening to the Spirit in the Text And

Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God I don’t know if you knew it, but Dow has not been recovering well from the infection around his pace maker. They have had trouble getting rid of the infection.

By-the-way, did you comment on the possibility that someone might be forgiven for rejecting Christ? That line has me curious.

Brian Emmet said...

Not to chase a different set of rabbits, but we should be careful about building too much from The Message. Much as I love it, it's good to remember it's much more of a paraphrase than a translation.

More to Joseph's points: we have grown accustomed to feeling like we can draw a bright line that clearly marks out when a person has passed from death to life through faith in Jesus. It is probably necessary, and no doubt good as well, that we back away from that way of feeling certain about who's "in" or "out." At the same time, I think the NT is more than pretty clear that it is through faith in Jesus Christ (as opposed to faith in the Holy Spirit)that we are reconciled to God. While we can't reduce the faith to "rational propositionalism"--there is more to union with Christ than intellectually perceived 'content'--we don't do ourselves or those we seek to reach any service by denying or minimizing the propositional aspects and content of the Gospel. That said, we should recognize that coming to faith is a process, and sometimes a lengthy one, so we should follow Joseph in seeking to discern the movings of the Spirit in a person's life and doing all we can to support, cultivate, nurture, and encourage greater attentiveness and receptivity to that work. I think what we want to do is to help them connect those Spirit-experiences with the Christ whom the Spirit comes to reveal to us, in us, and through us.

Patrick said...

I studied theology for a little while. I found it to be a little impractical for learning how to live amongst pot heads. IMHO

In other news, the following is a story about one of my friends:

I have a friend, Chris, who is gay, but is very outspoken about having a relationship with Jesus. I've always questioned the validity of his walk, because he's openly gay. I know God can love anyone. The issue is hearing Him speak and obeying. How is it that God would speak to a gay man about things other than homosexuality? (rhetorical)

A few weeks ago Chris had some kind of surgery, not too major, I think it was a cyst or something. The hospital bill was $17,000. Because he was in between jobs, he had no health insurance. He was bummed.

A couple nights later, he had a dream. In that dream, God lifted him up over the earth and spoke to him. He said, "Don't worry, I am your Provider."

I'm not a big dreamer myself, but I have learned to respect some as legit. The following week, Chris was downtown and he ran into a friend who gave him a phone # for a job lead, that he ended up getting. Shortly after that, he got a letter in the mail from the hospital regarding his bills. It simply stated that his account had been taken care of and was closed.

After he told me that story, later in our conversation, that he had problems with a God that didn't extend salvation to everyone. I explained to him that Jesus died for everyone, as long as they believe. i.e., how could you and I be friends if you didn't believe that I am even alive? It's simple. I then went on to say that in his dream, it was through Jesus that God spoke to him. As he heard that, he realized that who Jesus is and who he thinks Jesus is are two different things.

I think people actually have run-ins with God, and interact with Him through Jesus, and in ignorance. His Spirit's imprint is on many cultures throughout history, as well.

John M. said...

Patrick, awesome story! Sounds like He wants him to be sure and know how much He loves him. God could have been speaking to him directly in the dream, or through Jesus, or through the Holy Spirit...that's where theology comes in!

I have heard so many stories like this, of God reaching out and revealing Himself through dreams and visions to Muslims, tribal peoples, in this case a gay, guy, pot-heads, acid-heads -- and sometimes even believers! He seems to reveal himself to people outside our catagories, without our permission. I'm really glad He's that way...

Patrick, some pot-heads are theologians when they're high. Others, I know who are former pot-heads and coke-heads became theologians when they got sober. The Orthodox (E.O.) have a saying, "He who prays is a theologian."

Thanks for the links Joseph.

Brian, good thoughts. I agree that "The Message" needs to be checked before being used to form a doctrinal point. Here Peterson is pretty accurate. The NIV says, "Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come."

Wow! One thing is evident, Jesus is making clear that you better not mess with the Holy Spirit -- sounds like what he said to Saul on the Damascus Road. "Saul, why are you persecuting me?" [refering to the Church] Sounds like Jesus takes it personally when someone touches His Bride or His eternal compatriot. What would be an appropriate adjetive to describe Jesus and the Holy Spirit's eternal relationship? Compatriot seems really weak -- mate, dancing partner?...words fail quickly. More theology Patrick... :)

I know this begs the larger issues, but regarding them... I don't haave a clue... anyone else?

John M. said...

John Norton, good to see you on the blog! Didn't mean to igore your post, yours came in ahead of mine. I kept getting interruped so it took me awhile to get it up.

"Sounds like He wants him to be sure and know how much He loves him." Hmmm, that is a sentence a 7th grader would write and I would jump all over... How about? "Sound like God wants your friend to be sure to know how much God loves him."

just joe said...

what about the revelatory role of the H.S. in the conversion process? I'm thinking of St. Peter's revelation of the Messianic role of Christ "flesh and blood did not reveal this to you" ... "Upon this rock I will build my church."

John Wesley's "heart warming" experience also occurs to me.

Sean said...

Hey guys!

So, what actually SAVES us? It is a simple transaction:

Permanent, once-and-for-all substiutionary atonement by the blood of Christ.

The Holy Spirit gives us the faith to believe in this substiutionary atonement.

No blood - no salvation. It is the blood of Christ that actually saves us, because His sacrifice wipes us clean. It is bloody.

The Matthew 12 passage:
The word is blasphemia - which means "to vilify" or "blasphemy, evil speaking, railing" usually in the context of "against God."

How do you know you're blaspheming the Holy Spirit? If you vilify the work of the Holy Spirit by calling his work a work of Satan...did the interlocutors speakng with Jesus actually blaspheme the Holy Spirit? Maybe...maybe not. Jesus was warning them perhaps? Satan does blaspheme the Holy Spirit when he lies and tells people that his evil work is really the Holy Spirit's work - we see this, for example, among some New Agers perhaps, who are 'inspired' by the "Holy Spirit" - or cult leaders.

The Holy Spirit brings glory to the Son of God, not Himself, jus as Jesus brings glory to the Father, not Himself. I think this is the pattern. Anything other than this is error.

The Holy Spirit seals our conviction about the Son and His sacrifice.

John M. said...

Hey Sean, good to hear from you! You must be done with the term!

I'm pretty sure I agree with everything you've said, but a couple questions about what else might be said about the H.S.'s work/role.

What about the "regeneration" that the scriptures speak of, the "new creaation" that God works within us? In your view is that part of sanctification instead of salvation? I know it all depends on Jesus bloody sacrifiece on the cross, but is it possible to cognitively believe that Jesus died for your sins, but still not be "born from above", regenerated...?

Also, what about the "veil" that the scriptures speak of blinding the Jews from seeing Messiah and the truth of the Gospel? IMHO, there is a "veil" over the eyes of many other groups of people in the world: Muslims, some pantheists and pagans, many secular people in Western culture. But that's beside the point.

What is the Holy Spirit's role in lifting the veil so the Jews and others can see who Jesus is and what he has done for them? I think Joseph is asking the same thing in his questsion about the revelation or revealing of Christ to individuals and groups.

Sean said...

Yes, summer is here - graduation has come and gone - the Lord has been overly abundant in blessing...it's like 'dayenu' during Passover - 'more than enough'...

Whenever we talk of 'regeneration' or being 'born from above' the conversation is ultimately going to turn to the Arminian-Reformed debate. I think regeneration is what God does after we trust (which is a stronger word than just cognitive acknowledgment) in Jesus' sacrifice. This trust involves repentance. I think God grants us that repentance (Acts/Philippians). Sure I think it is possible to believe cognitively that Jesus died for sins but not be born-again. "The demons believe, and shudder..." The word "believe" here is key though...and it could mean a host of things. How do you know who is born-again and who isn't? It's still a question that doesn't have a clear answer. I think a *follower* of the resurrected Christ who has been granted repentance and has the Holy Spirit within them as a seal is a true believer. I know this opens up all sorts of questions.

I think Jesus in the Gospels is a confrontational Jesus who is quite demanding in some ways. People who are His followers do actaully follow Him. What 'following Christ' means exactly is difficult - but I think true believers follow Christ. If we read the Gospels closely, we get a picture of Jesus that is quite radical - both in zeal and in love. He didn't talk about love - he loved radically. He pushed to envelope constantly with his hearers. People called in a madman at times (accusing him of having a demon)...this accusation may be quite understandable in some sense. If you were a Jew in the first century and a man came around declaring that anyone who doesn't hate their father, mother, sister and brother and their own life isn't worthy to follow him - you might think he's somewhat crazy as well. In John 6 people just simply walk away. Following Jesus is a crazy thing to do. And it isn't safe at all (C.S. Lewis being correct).

So, the transaction between God and the human being re: salvation is somewhat mysterious I think. I think repentance is involved. The only way anyone else knows you're a believer in Jesus is by what they can see, because they can't see inside.

To answer your question about the Jews or anyone really, I think the Holy Spirit's role is to produce repentance and affirmation in the truth re: Christ's sacrifice.

Sean said...

There are a few type-o's in the above post, but I think y'all will be able to navigate through them. Sorry!

John M. said...

Sean,first CONGRATULATIONS! Seems inmpossible you've been there long enough to graduate.

I have no probem with your post, actually, I like it -- especially the last two paragraphs.

You're right about us only being able to tell someone's heart from their actions and fruit.

I agree that there's mystery. And, it would be fruitless to have a debate about the role of the Spirit. We all know he has a vital role, as does the whole trinity. And we also know that the fulcrum and lynch pin of salvation/justification/new birth is the cross and resurrection of Jesus.

The actual details of roles (other than the obvious specifics of scripture) turn into mere semantics. I would wager that God as Trinity is involved in every aspect. It's our little, slightly enlightened minds that tend to dissect everything into catagories.

How it all works is interesting to think about and discuss, but that discussion is worth nothing without an actual salvific transaction taking place in which we transfer Kingdoms, families, and identities to become His followers.

The Good News is that we are icons of the Trinity. The Good News is that the icons are severyly and seriously broken. The Good News is that the cracked icons can be restored!

just joe said...

I remember a message by Ern Baxter about the theological neglect of the Holy Spirit through church history. He actually went through the early creeds and traced the void of commentary on the role of the Holy Spirit.

I'm thinking that one of the areas for fresh and fruitful theological work will be on pneumatology, especially with regards to the work of salvation and the work of mission.

One of the problems of excessive certainty and confidence in our variations of systematic theology, which I think is especially prevalent among evangelicals, and even more so among the neo-reformed or neo-calvinists, is the lack of appreciation for the mystery and infinitude of God, Father, Son and Spirit.

After all, if John 21:15says that the Bible could not contain all that Jesus said or did, how much more true is that of the marvelous workings of the infinite Spirit of God? Who is conjunction with the Son of Man is running the entire universe ... and possible other parallel universes.

I would have to say that the Reformers also neglected developing a robust theology of the Spirit, in addition to a theology of mission. If we are moving through a 500-year “rummage sale” as Phyllis Tickle seems to think, one of the essential areas for doing new theological work will be in the person and role of the Spirit of God. This is perhaps one area where the Eastern Orthodox tradition might be helpful to us (John? Steve? I just tossed you an easy softball – hit it out of the park).

John M. said...

Joseph, I agree with you about the lack of attention given by the Church and the Reformers to the Holy Spirit and His role in God's Big Story. The mystery and marvel of the eternal Trinitarian dance is to me the most exciting theological topic imaginable.

God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is to theology and to God's people what a unified theory is for science. The difference is that God exists. He is the unified theory. It's all there in Him. He is the foundation for all other theology and practice.

Regarding Eastern Orthodoxy and the Spirit: A few years ago I was talking to an E.O. priest here in Lex. about liturgy and worship. I made the comment that I really appreciate the Liturgy but couldn't see how to synthesize it with the more free worship style to which I was accustomed. His response was that there's already a place for free worhsip and exercise of the Gifts of the Spirit in the liturgy. He said that in more ancient times the preist would pause and give the people a chance to exercise spiritual gifts, sing 'in the spirt', etc. He said that there was really no time limit, and when that finished then the priest would go on with the liturgy.

I have never tried to verify his statements as I had no reason to doubt him, but it would make a good research topic. He said that the practice has pretty much died out, and that in most E.O. liturgies today is ignored, partly because the full liturgy can last nearly three hours, and adding more time to that isn't real popular in the 21st century. But the point he made is that there is still room for "free worship" in the liturgy.

Another interesting thing is that many of the individuals, protestant local churches and movements of churches that have converted to E.O. in the last several years, in the states at least, have been charismatically oriented. At first glance it looks oxymoronic, but there is an affinity and attraction of some sort.

It is significant that E.O. has never forbidden the Gifts of the Spirit, nor spoken against them. Even though they may not be "mainstreamed" or emphasized, there is still room for them. Many of the E.O. mystics, monks and hermits have/do experience quite dramatic encounters with the Holy Spirit, often preceed by sometimes years of dark night of the soul.

I heard another E.O. priest say that the Church had no problem with worship concerts, small worshipping goups etc. as long as they weren't called The Divine Liturgy and didn't include the Eucharist. They even have a name for those types of gatherings, but I can't remember what it is. So members of E.O. can freely particiapte in any Christian,(Protestant) event, icluding a Pentecostal worhip service, as long as it doesn't involve Eucharist (Communion), and doesn't replace participation in the Divine Liturgy.

Sean said...

Joseph:
Calvin does write about the Holy Spirit in his Institutes...I think the current reformed tradition focuses on the Spirit's work within us as well as His work within the world - convicting people of sin...

It is dispensationalists who deny the manifestations of the Spirit of God in believers more than any other: their theological structure does not allow for a continuation of the gifts of the Spirit after the apostolic age...

Covenant theology does not necessarily place restrictions upon the Spirit like this.

What evidence from the NT should guide our discussion? I think the mystery surrounding the Spirit is partly deliberate. What might help us is how we perceive the Trinity - how we imagine it. I don't pray to the Spirit I guess, but in the Spirit. I don't pray to the Son, but rather through the Son and in the Son's name. I pray to the Father. That's what any good Messianic Jew would do. I address Adonai - blessed be His Name - who is eternal. But I do feel the Spirit and I do acknowledge the Son's kingship over the whole earth...

The Ruach ha-Kodesh (the Holy Spirit) is the Spirit of Christ and the Spirit of the Father. I guess it might be how 'compartmentalized' one views the Godhead. I tend not to compartmentalize them at all - or try not to. Anyways, I might not be making sense, since it's 6:22 a.m. and I haven't went to sleep yet (my schedule is WAY OFF!)...

John, interesting about the liturgy among the E.O. I think litrugy is vital. Messianic Jews tend to be big on litrugy: we follow the readings of the synagogue - of course we add NT texts to it. We recite a Torah blessing every service, and face the east and call out to Israel:

"Sh'ma, Yisrael: Adonai eloheinu Adonai echad!"
(Listen Israel! The LORD your GOD is One LORD!)

We often sing this prayer - it is a call to Israel across the sea to repent and turn to the Messiah. It can be very moving - full of the Spirit. Sometimes I want to even weep when I think of my lost brethren across the oceans, dwelling in the land where Jesus walked among them at one time...

just joe said...

hey Sean,
5.13.2009

Doing a historiography of the theology of the Holy Spirit from Calvin and Luther through Wesley and Edwards would make an awesome thesis or dissertation for someone.

Thanks for the correction. What I meant to say was that the Protestant world has focused much more on Christ than on the Spirit, at least up until the 20th century.

After writing the above, I remembered an unread book laying somewhere in my ridiculously overgrown “to-be-read” pile. The title is Ecstasy and Intimacy: When the Holy Spirit Meets the Human Spirit, by New Testament scholar Edith M. Humphrey. I have not read it, but I ordered it a while back when Scot McKnight was reviewing it on his blog. It has a forward from Eugene Peterson.

Here is what Peterson and John Chryssavgis (Holy School of Theology) say about the back cover:

Peterson: “I find Ecstasy and Intimacy both fresh and refreshing—an outstanding new voice in the field of Christian spirituality, which is in need of fresh voices … a remarkable achievement—a serious work on spiritual theology that is accessible to congregations and their pastors; a competent scholarly treatment of spiritual theology that combines intellectual vigor with the life of prayer…this is a much-needed ‘bridge book’ at a time when interest in spirituality is high and competent, mature wisdom is low.”

Chryssavgis: “Ecstasy and Intimacy is a book of reawakening and rediscovery, of prose and poetry. It discerns the mystical in the traditional, the spiritual in the secular, drawing wisdom from the ‘communion of the saints.’ It reflects on the spiritual dimensions of faith, love and the creation in a refreshing way, deriving insights from ‘the communion of the Holy Spirit.’”

I think I will start on this book tonight.

Sean said...

I agree - the Protestant world has been focused much more on Christ than the Holy Spirit. After thinking about it, there might be a reason for this.

The debates of the 16th century revolved around Christ. In England, whether one believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist or whether it was symbolic could determine whether you were burned at the stake or not.

Justification centered around Christ's finished work on the cross, Protestants argued. Catholics didn't disagree about Christ's work - but cooperating with grace remained central, and justification was at the end of one's journey on earth.

English morality and miracle plays (14th-16th century) give almost sole attention to Christ. Why? Because of the Mass, the Eucharist, and Images. You cannot make an image of the Holy Spirit, but you can make one of the Virgin and of Christ and of course numerous saints.

This is a good topic Joe. You're right about the Holy Spirit not getting any attention. I wonder if the Puritans did focus on the Holy Spirit...many of them focused on morality and repentance. I have some Puritan examples from 17th century England that I'll look at.

Laurel Long said...

Dear brothers,
I have skimmed over your comments and I am amazed at the dispassionate tone in most posts, especially when siting the prevailing views of the Reformers and their historic actions.
Though the testimonies are quite wonderful, still most everything is academic and intellectual.
I am quite sure you guys know and understand what it cost those (Luther, Zwingli, Calvin) who experimented with scripture during that time to bring a new and more liberal understanding of the Word of God? It cost lives!!!!! Hundreds of them, including women and children!!!!!!
You must forgive me but I have just in the past few days read over Luther's life for the umteenth time. I am still having a hard time with the fact that he finally and reluctantly sanctioned the burning, drowning,and torture, etc., of Baptist believers, those who disagreed with him about Baptism and few other miner sacraments. So, what is the good of theology?
While Luther died a peaceful, natural death at his home in Wittenburg, those who believed his message paid for it with their lives on a pyre. I am reminded of one woman who was burned who was the mother of five children.
"Real theology" (faith) is based and formulated on the acts of those who are willing to be tried by fire. What would Scripture be without those who died for Jesus? What would the Reformation have been without its precious martyrs? Every single nation state of Europe at the time sacrificed lives to the alter of "the just shall live by faith." I wish it would not have been necessary but those precious lives paid for the spiritual freedom we enjoy on this blog today., in a very far reaching way. We can say anything we like without fear of reprisal, or burning.
Just tagging along,
Laurel

John M. said...

Joseph, that would be on heckuva big thesis. I think the advisors first comment would be how can we narrow this? But it would be a worthy goal -- and I may be wrong about my assumption.

Sean, I've heard you address Jesus personally many times in prayer. Has being part of the Messianic Jewish comunity influenced your theology of prayer?

I like your emphasis on not compartmetalizing God. He is ONE: Father, Son and Holy Spirit...

Good observations about why the Holy Spirit may have been "neglected" over the centuries. Not only was the debate in the 16th century over Christology. It was also the debate during the second century with major church councils debating Christ's two natures, the Incarnation and the work of Christ.

Was there ever a Church Council dedicated primarily to the Holy Spirit and his role within the Trinity. Obviously the Church Councils debating Christology discussed the nature of the Trinity, but the focus was Jesus, not the Spirit.

Maybe the Church is due for a "Council" emphasizing the nature, person, and work of the Holly Spirit. I wonder how you do that? We have the technology for a universal church council, but who would be willing to grant an ad hoc body any authority? Who would call it? Who would chair it?

Perhaps it's impossible for good reason. The very nature of the Holy Spirit does not lend itself to disscetion and theological compartmentalization. He does't readily fit in our categories. He can't be boxed or contained. He is always moving, always active -- relentlessly leading us forward to know and synchronize with God's purposes.

Laurel, thanks for pointing out the sacrifices made for truths we take for granted, as were sacrifices made for the availability of the scriptures prior to the Refomation, whose leaders made them (the scriptures) central.

As you mentioned it is very sad, and indicitive of who far we've fallen and how nasty sectarianism and rigid doctinare positions can become. Both Luther and Calvin sanctioned the drowning of anabaptists who were as serious and committed to Christ as any of the other reformers.

Joseph, I thought you had read "Ecstacy and Intimacy". I bought it about the same time you did, read a little and haven't gotten back to it.

Laurel Long said...

HEy Joseph,
Maybe your thesis should be- Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad, Catholic Church?
It is still a spiritual big brother that we all treat as a nemesis and with not a little contempt. Like it or not we all used to be Catholic! And our continued discussion of its relevance illustrates this "guilt"?
Laurel

Sean said...

Laurel,
I think I know what you're trying to say when you say that we all used to be Catholic: Protestants shouldn't degrade Catholicism since many roots of Protestantism stem from Catholicism.

Of course, this is really a complicated historical puzzle to figure out.

5th century Christianity and 16th century Roman Catholicism have similarities, but I think are quite different animals. Medieval Catholicism is different as well. Catholicism has change, adjusted, evolved - although some things have not changed (or supposedly have nto changed). Priests used to get married in the Catholic Church. The sacredness of the Eucharist - the actual element - became really important during the late medieval period. It was important before, but in the late medieval period the Eucharist/Body of Christ (they were not distinguishable theologically) was elevated to a level never before previously seen...so much so that to steal and torture the sacred host (which is what many people accused Jews of doing) meant the death penalty...

John M. said...

I want to claim full membership in the Holy Catholic Church just like the creed says!

If you rewind we were once all Orthodox -- at least if you accpet their take on church history and the schism, which makes a lot of sense. Not to mention if you rewind far enough, all Christians have a direct lineage to Jesus and the Apostles!

Here you go Joseph regarding the EO approach to the Holy Spirit:

Technically, the Roman Church split, or was excommunicated (They both excommunicated each other simultaneously, or mutually.) from the Eastern Church because of the issue over the procession of the Holy Spirit. The Pope in Rome declared that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son. This is called the "Filioque" or "double processon of the Spirit. The Othodox contend(ed) that the H.S. proceeds only form the Father.

It sounds trivial perhaps, but is directly related to our present discussion, because it is an outworking of the Augustinian idea of "rank" within the God-head.

The Filioque has the effect of relegating the Holy Spirt to a "third-rate" role. It sees the Holy Sprit as subordinate to the Father and the Son, rather than in co-equal unity with Trinity and willingly submitting Himself to be poured out on earth.

The Orthodox believe that the Son is eternally begotton by the Father, and that the Holy Spirit eeternally proceeds from the Father.

According to Bishop Kallistos (Timothy) Ware in his book, "The Orthoox Church", The Filioque "confuses the persons [of the Trinity], and destroys the proper balance between unity and diversity in the Godhead, The oneness of the deity is emphasized at the expense of His threeness. God is regarded too much in terms of abstract essence and too litle in terms of specific personality."

Ware continues, "The Holy Spirit in western thought has become subordinated to the Son -- if not in theory, then at any rate in practice. The West pays insufficient attention to the work of the Spirit in the world, in the Church, [and] in the daily life of each person."

There were also jurisdictional issues. EO saw the Pope as the Biship of Rome, and was willing to grant him "first among equals status", while the Roman Church adopted the position that he was infallable over the entire Church world-wide. The Orthodox could accept neither the idea of universal jurisdiction nor infallibilty and believed both to be unscriptural.

At least on paper, up until the
10th century there was only one church. That's the one I want to claim membership in. I want to embrace my whole Catholic heritage, which, of course also includes all the Reformation Churches. Obviously, this is only conceptual (mystical?), but it has real meaning for me personally and "feels" concrete to me.

Some may draw a circle that is exclusive, but we can choose to draw one that includes all our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Hope this is coherent. I'm addressing two very large issues simultaneously. The place of the Holy Spirit and our Catholic heretige.

just joe said...

Thanks John, I would have to side with the Orthodox views on both the role of the Spirit, and the role of the Bishop of Rome.

I continue to disagree, however, with the view that there was only one visible church before the tenth century. I don’t believe there was one church after the first century, and probably not even after the persecution in Jerusalem. The Orthodox-Catholic view of one historical united church fails to take into account the Eastern or Syrian/Coptic churches, or the Baptist version of church history. If I am not mistaken, the “Donatist” heresy that Augustine combated in the fifth century was simply a group of believers who were super strict in their moral and ethical life. So, in order to sustain the myth of one single undivided institutional church, the keepers of dogma have to filter out all of the dissidents and heretics. I don’t buy it.

That is not our present topic, however. I can see how the E. Orthodox view of parity between the Son and the Spirit could translate into a deep understanding of the balance between the Word and the Spirit.

Have any of you ever considered getting a graduate degree in E. Orthodox “Spiritual Theology”? It strikes me that those of us in our late 50s and early 60s are more useful as mentors and advisors (theologians?) at this point to the younger generation, rather than as activists-missionaries.

just joe said...

I found the first couple of chapters to Humphrey's Ecstay adn Intimacy to be a bit dull -- so I jumped to the conclusion this morning and found it to be worth the price of admission. here is one quote:

"Our answer to today's seeker after spiritual truth need not be, in the first place, of the dangers and absurdity of pluralism, nor to dwell on the securities of orthodoxy—though we must understand these things, and may indeed come to speak of them with our friends in time, as we note them among ourselves. Our first answer will be to respect the image of God in the face of the one with whom we speak, and like Paul, to ‘proclaim that Jesus is Lord’ because he was a servant! It is not ourselves, nor our systems, that we commend, but Jesus himself, who is the Truth, and who is (through the Spirit) capable of moving the heart and removing the veil that is over the eyes of the blind.” (Humphrey: p. 276).

John M. said...

Regarding the unified ten-century church, that's why I said "on paper at least". I probably should have said, "in theory at least".

There have always been groups functioning on the fringes and outside the visible institutions. In fact most of us would probably identify with many of those groups than with the visible structures and institutions that make the history books.

My identifioation with the "whole Church" is more in line with the idea of the communion of the saints, both liviing and departed. It's mystical and subjective, but, to me at least, it's real.

Back to our subject. I, too, agree with the Orthodox position on the procession of the Holy Spirit. I think it can be supported by scripture. The so-called double procession (Filioque) is an interpolation that the Bishop of Rome arbitrarily inserted, under political and theological pressure. Some think it may have been an intetional move to percipitate a crisis with the East.

But the effect has been as stated. Just like their basic ecclesiology, I think it's an idea that the Reformers transported pretty much wholesale from Roman Catholicism into Reforation theology and thinking. So, when we talk about "the West" it includes the Reformation churches as well as the Catholic Church.

That's why I was fascinated a couple years ago by the book, "Light from the Christian East", by James R. Payton Jr.
Payton is a Protestant who has studied E.O. extensively and has been in dialogue with E.O. leaders for several years. He a PhD and is a college history professor.

This is not a "testimony" of someone who has converted to E.O., but rather a serious comparison of the East and West. Payton remains a Protestant, and does not try to deconsturct Protestantism or Reformation theology, so much as he attempt to enrich, and increase (sometime to correct) our Reformation theology -- to keep us ever Reforming.

I recommend the book for anyone who wants to pursue what we're talking about here in more depth. I would also recommend the book I quoted from in my last post by Ware. It is written from and Orthodox, but irenic, perspective to explain Orthodoxy to Protestant, Orthodox Laity, and new converts to E.O. It is the best I have read -- one of the few books I have read more than once, and will probably read again.

More books! (Groan)

Steve, where are you? Your wisdom and insight would be very helpful in this discussion.

John M. said...

Here's a quote from "Light From the Christian East", page 203.
Payton is addressing the way the Orthodox view Tradition, but it gives a flavor of how E.O. views the Holy Spirit's role.

"Thus, the Spirit who guides the church and keeps it faithful to the apostolic heretage superintends tradition; it is not the product of hman ingenuity or ecclesiastical bureaucratism, but the living and dynamic presence of the Spirit within the church.

"For Otrhodoxy, tradition is not someting frozen or mechanical. The Holy Spirit does not work that way. The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed delares tht the Holly Spirit is 'the Lord and Giver of life'; his presence with the churh assures that tradition remains dynamic and flexible, rather than static and rigid...

"While Orthodoxy has as much trouble measuring up to this as any other Christian communion, Orthodoxy never-the-less recognizes that faithflness to tradition is something other than a barren repetition of the past...

"While many churches within Western Christendom claim not to follow tradition, as soon as one tries to change the order of the morning worship service, one will find out just how firmly comitted to tradition even such a church is."

Laurel Long said...

John and JOseph,
Either on paper or in theory, whether or not we were or were not one unified entity, that is the way we are perceived and defined by historians. Discussing our imagine in those terms may be more helpful and useful? Thank God it is Jesus's responsibility to separate the tares from the wheat.
I am reminded of the parable ( I have to fall back on scripture because I can;t quote biblical scholars) of the farmer who sowed- and while he slept, both wheat and tares grew together and were nearly indistinguishable from one another. This parable may illustrate the panorama and epic proportions of Church history, with all its ingrowth and outgrowth, good fruit, bad fruit, and no fruit. I know that scripture does distinguish between the "true Church" and the one who disguises itself as the Church. Until Jesus makes the distinction, I agree with both views that we were all Catholics. There is no way of knowing who was a true Christian and who was not.
Laurel

Laurel Long said...

Sean,
Thank for your comments. Yes, I do in some ways respect the Catholic Church for two reasons. My very first memory of being in church was at a Catholic Church in Palm Springs, Ca. with my mother. The other reason is that in my study of Western Civ. I realized that the Church is governed by the Lord Himself and not bad popes, good popes, division, heresy, controversy, persecutions, etc. If you know Him, one can recognize His magnificent Power and Sovereignty in and through it all, though I must admit that some of the periods break my heart with tears.
It is also amazing, or maybe amusing, that the same dynamics are still at work today and the same carnal methods will never resolve the carnal issues they used then and now to distract believers from truly following the Lord and doing His will. At least that is my take on it.

Additionally, I am currently helping to lead a Beth Moore Bible study at the church I attend. The Church is pastored by a couple who come from the Word of Faith background and of course Billy and I were grafted into the Covenant movement. How's that for a conglomeration of theology? This study has challenged me to confront the very Dispensationalism that you referred to in one of your posts without undermining the Truth that is abundant in the study. It is, however, difficult to encourage the principles of the study while at the same time knowing that the underlying belief of the author adheres to a very, very, Baptist point of view.
Hmmmmmmm, the Holy Spirit shows up because we ask Him to and so the Lord is using it to teach the women in the group. Church history in the making.
For now,
Laurel

just joe said...

John, great quote from the book on Orthodoxy.

Laurel: the parable of the wheat and the tares is very appropriate for any discussion about the church.