Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Spirit, the Holy Spirit, and the Word (2)

In my previous post I referred to a theory advanced by one Christadelphian writer and widespread in Christadelphianism that the Bible uses the term Spirit to mean a "mental and moral likeness of the Lord Jesus created by the impact of the gospel on an individual" while the term Holy Spirit means "God's power ... given in the first century for specific purposes".

This theory does not explain the many Scriptures I quoted in my previous post where the terms "the Spirit" and "the Holy Spirit" are used interchangeably. But if we accept the theory as reasonable for a moment and apply that writer's definitions to the parallel Gospel accounts then we will see that it is impossible for these texts to have both meanings at the same time.

For example, in Matt 3:16 we read that after Jesus' baptism they saw "the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. " If the popular Christadelphian theory is correct then Matthew meant that a "mental and moral likeness of the Lord Jesus (or God) created by the impact of the gospel on an individual" descended on Jesus. That would hardly make sense, and would be difficult to reconcile with the parallel account (Luke 3:22) which says that "the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove" and would therefore mean that "God's power ... given in the first century for specific purposes" descended on Him. So what was it that descended on Jesus? Was it God's power, given for specific purposes, or was it a "mental and moral likeness of the Lord Jesus (or God) created by the impact of the gospel on an individual"?

As another example, Matt 12:43 refers to "David, speaking by the Spirit" while Mark 12:36 says David was speaking by the Holy Spirit. So was David speaking by God's power, given for specific purposes, or by a "mental and moral likeness of the Lord Jesus (or God) created by the impact of the gospel on an individual"?

John 7:39 refers to "the Spirit, which those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified." How could this mean the "mental and moral likeness of the Lord Jesus created by the impact of the gospel on an individual" and not the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost or "God's power ... given in the first century for specific purposes"?

In John 14:17, 26; 16:15 the "Counsellor" (parakletos) is also called "the Spirit of truth", simply "the Spirit" and "the Holy Spirit". How could the Counsellor be both a "mental and moral likeness of the Lord Jesus created by the impact of the gospel on an individual" and "God's power ... given in the first century for specific purposes" at the same time? How we are able to tell when the Counsellor is "a mental and moral disposition" and when it is "God's power", or can it be both at the same time?

When Jesus said "But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Matt 12:28) did He drive out demons by the "mental and moral likeness" of God, or by "the power of God"? If the latter, then why did our Lord use a term that we should understand to mean "a mental and moral likeness"?

Once we put this theory to the test we see that the Christadelphian distinction between Spirit and Holy Spirit cannot be applied consistently through Scripture and that in many instances an attempt to apply the distinguishing definitions makes the texts nonsensical.

2 comments:

ntbrierly said...

Steve,

IN all fairness to the "spirit-wordists", most of the ones I've talked to will acknowledge a supernatural Holy

Spirit at work in Christ, and also in the early Church. For the early Church this is believed by them to be the

"spirit gifts" only, such as healing, tongues (always understood as having a sort of "universal translator"

ability), what one might call the miraculous gifts. But according to their theology, all of this disappeared from

the early Church after a century or so, because the early church apostatised and were no longer true Christians.
Passages which seem to be speaking of CHristians having the Spirit are interpreted as you mentioned in your post,

as being the "mental and moral likeness of the Lord Jesus created by the impact of the gospel on an individual".

The idea being that with the Spirit no longer directly involved, all we have left is the Word. But that the Word is powerful and is able to make us holy if we but hear and obey it.

However, the spirit-word theory has some gaping holes in it.

There is little or no biblical evidence that the Spirit would ever be withdrawn entirely. There are perhaps hints

that the "miraculous gifts" would be withdrawn, but there is no evidence scripturally that what is meant by

"Spirit" would ever cease referring to the supernatural gift of the Spirit and then come to mean "mental and moral

likeness of the Lord Jesus created by the impact of the gospel on an individual". This is a radical shift, and

without Biblical evidence for it, it is exceedingly risky to make.

The spirit-word theory fails to draw a distinction which I feel is crucial to understanding this topic. In my understanding there are two different ways the Holy Spirit has worked in the church. There is the gift of the Spirit, which is given to all Christians in all times, and there are the "gifts of the Spirit", the miraculous gifts which were given in the first century and may have only been given to some, and were probably withdrawn in later years. They were withdrawn perhaps because the church apostasized, or perhaps just because they were no longer needed and had served their purpose.

A study on how the Spirit works in the New Testament will reveal that the Spirit's work is very much

involved in the spiritual development of the believer, but also of the church itself. Everything that applies to

the individual believer applies to the church he goes to as well. But the primary purpose of the Spirit is to be

active in us, in the New Creation, just as it was in the original Creation. There is much more that could be said here...

The reality that most people find when they seriously attempt holiness, is that the Bible is not enough. The Bible

tells us what we should be, but it alone, working in our flawed minds, is not sufficient to produce holiness. For

those with mental illnesses, with brains that are even more flawed, the problem is compounded. The Bible is

relatively easy to "hear" and understand, but much harder to obey. And this is where the power of the SPirit comes

into play. It alone can give us the strength, wisdom, endurance, courage and so forth that we need to obey God.

The Bible is only one of a number of "resources for righteousness" that God has made available to us, with the

greatest being the Holy Spirit. The "spirit-word" concept places too much emphasis on the role our minds play,

indeed places too much faith on the mind, and not enough on the true source of holiness. The glory tends to go to us, rather than God.

If you don't mind Steve, I'd like to refer your readers to a website I've developed called "WeLiveByTheSpirit.org". THe URL is http://www.WeLiveByTheSpirit.org and there are a number of resources there on the Holy Spirit which I think your readers will find helpful.

Steve said...

Trevor,

Thanks for your excellent comments.