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Bloggin’ the 28: Holy Spirit


God the eternal Spirit was active with the Father and the Son in Creation, incarnation, and redemption. He inspired the writers of Scripture. He filled Christ’s life with power. He draws and convicts human beings; and those who respond He renews and transforms into the image of God. Sent by the Father and the Son to be always with His children, He extends spiritual gifts to the church, empowers it to bear witness to Christ, and in harmony with the Scriptures leads it into all truth. (Gen. 1:1, 2; Luke 1:35; 4:18; Acts 10:38; 2 Peter 1:21; 2 Cor. 3:18; Eph. 4:11, 12; Acts 1:8; John 14:16-18, 26; 15:26, 27; 16:7-13.)

I’m starting to notice how various facets of orthodox Christian beliefs get affirmed and then filtered through Seventh-day Adventist experience. In fact, the plethora of doctrines in Adventism appears to be due in part to our historical recontextualization of Christianity. For instance, perhaps due to the anti-Trinitarian ideas of some pioneers, we spend four beliefs defining God. The last belief I discussed was the Son of God—Jesus the Christ. Still to come we have: Christ’s Ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary, Growing in Christ, Unity in the Body of Christ, and Second Coming of Christ. We actually have five fundamental beliefs involving Christ.

Now, drawing on our definition of the Holy Spirit, we also have another belief—Spiritual Gifts and Ministries. Oddly, “spiritual gifts” is mentioned in this belief and then broken out in another belief, and then just one of those gifts—The Gift of Prophecy—gets its own discussion. (See diagram.)

It appears that we’ve confused fundamental Christian doctrine with Adventist applications. This conflation of belief and application might be driving some of the tensions over Adventist identity. The fact that the two major recent public fights at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary have been over spirituality and ecumenism shows that too many of our leaders and laity are insecure about both. Significantly, the Holy Spirit is central to both of these controversies. A proper understanding of the Holy Spirit draws us toward our Christian brothers and sisters (“bear witness to Christ”) and it leads us into (“all truth”) deeper spiritual expression.

In much of the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is the opposite of human flesh. Often this gets misapplied to treat the human body as inimical to spirituality. The Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics summarizes a leading charismatic evangelical scholar on the pneumatological. “Gordon Fee understands Paul’s antithesis of flesh versus Spirit not as a constant struggle within the believer, but as contrasting two modes of existence: kata pneuma, ‘according to the Spirit,’ refers to the believer’s new eschatological existence, and kata sarka, ‘according to the flesh,’ to a person’s preconversion existence. Thus, with two modes of existence, and his exhortation not to live according to the flesh is directed toward those who entered the new eschatological life in the Spirit but now argue for a life based on Torah obedience, which implies living again according to the norms of the past—the flesh” (367). This has significant ethical implications. Judging ones spirituality through a legalistic, deontological paradigm is, by definition, unspiritual. Rather, as good science and great mystics reveal, the more we become in tune with our bodies, the more spiritually alive we become. And yet, paradoxically we also become more self-aware.

In his exploration of the Spirit, Flame of Love, Clark Pinnock writes: “I like the term ecstasy for Spirit. It means ‘standing outside oneself,’ which suggests that Spirit is the ecstasy that makes the triune life an open circle and a source of pure abundance. Spirit embodies and triggers the overflow of God’s pure benevolence, fosters its ecstatic character and opens it up to history” (38). This ecstatic self-awareness, both embodied and historical, get to the reality of spiritual awakening.

The Spirit moves our time forward, renewing and transforming the human self into the image of God. Ecumenism and spiritual discipline are part of fostering this journey. Expressing the ethical implications of this spiritual ecstasty, Jürgen Moltmann writes in his theology of pneumatology, The Spirit of Life:

To experience the fellowship of the Spirit inevitably carries Christianity beyond itself into the greater fellowship of all God’s creatures. For the community of creation, in which all created things exist with one another, for one another and in one another, is also the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Both experiences of the Spirit bring the church today into solidarity with the cosmos, which is so mortally threatened. Faced with ‘the end of nature’, the churches will either discover the cosmic significance of Christ and the Spirit, or they will share the guilt for the annihilation of God’s earthly creation. In earlier times, contempt for life, hostility towards the body, and detachment from the world was merely an inward attitude of mind. Now it has become an everyday reality in the cynicism of the progressive destruction of nature. Discovery of the cosmic breadth of God’s Spirit leads in the opposite direction—to respect for the dignity of all created things, in which God is present through his Spirit.

Some Adventists choose to live according to the norms of the past; others join this forward movement of the Spirit. Where is it going? To remix Martin Luther King: Spiritual history bends toward the eschatological existence of the Imago Dei—justice, beauty and love. The active, ecstatic Adventist becomes part of this spiritual reality. 

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