Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Spirit, the Holy Spirit, and the Word (3)

Some Christadelphians argue that the Holy Spirit was given to certain people in Biblical times so that they could perform miraculous signs to prove that their message was truly from God. They then go on to argue that seeing as we now have the Word of God in its final and complete form (i.e. in the Bible), there is no further need for these authenticating miraculous signs, and therefore no further need for the Holy Spirit.

However, this argument lacks Scriptural support.

For example, John the Baptist (of whom Jesus said: "among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist" [Matthew 11:11]) was "full of the Holy Spirit even from birth" (Luke 1:15). If the Holy Spirit was given to individuals for the purpose of authenticating their message through miraculous signs then we should expect that this man who was the greatest of the prophets (and indeed the greatest among those born of women!) and who was full of the Holy Spirit from birth would have performed some outstanding miraculous signs. Yet we are told very specifically in Scripture that "John never performed a miraculous sign" (John 10:41).

A couple of things puzzle me. The Christadelphian writer I quoted in an earlier post also wrote: "When God pours out his Spirit, He gives unmistakable signs so that others can see and believe."

However, this is not what I see in Scripture. David had the Holy Spirit (Psalm 51:11; Mark 12:36; Acts 1:16; 4:25), but what "unmistakable signs" did he do "so that others can see and believe"? John the Baptist was full of the Holy Spirit from birth, but what "unmistakable signs" did he do "so that others can see and believe"? What about those in the early Corinthian church who Paul quite specifically said could not speak in tongues or perform miraculous signs, yet were filled with the Holy Spirit? What "unmistakable signs" could they do "so that others can see and believe"?

Some Christadelphians resort to emotional arguments when it becomes clear that their position lacks Biblical evidence. For example, I've had Christadelphians say to me "if you have the Holy Spirit then why don't you go into hospitals and heal everyone? If you were truly a loving and compassionate person you would use this gift to eradicate suffering." This question and its accompanying comment not only lack logic, they actually ignore the Biblical evidence. If anyone could go into hospitals and heal all the sick then it would have been our Lord Himself. Yet Jesus didn't heal all the sick people He encountered, even when He had the opportunity. In Acts 3:1-10 we read of a man who had been crippled from birth and who was carried every day to the Beautiful Gate at the Jerusalem Temple. Anyone going into the Temple had to pass through this gate. It was the perfect place to beg. This would have meant that Jesus passed him every time He went into the Temple, and every time He passed up the opportunity to heal this man. Did Jesus lack love and compassion?

In 2 Timothy 4:20 we read Paul saying that "I left Trophimus sick in Miletus". Paul clearly had the Holy Spirit, yet he didn't use this gift to heal a fellow-missionary who was sick. Either he couldn't heal him, or he wouldn't. Did Paul lack compassion?

The assertion that someone who has the Holy Spirit should go into hospitals and heal all the sick is not only contrary to the examples of people full of the Holy Spirit such as Jesus, Paul and John the Baptist, but is based on the false assumption that the Holy Spirit enables its recipients to perform miracles and to heal the sick. John didn't perform miracles, and Jesus and Paul didn't heal all the sick they encountered. Paul explained very clearly to the Corinthians that while all believers have the [Holy] Spirit, they do not have the same kinds of gifts: "There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit" (1 Cor 12:4). He explained that there are different "manifestations" of the Spirit. Through some people the Spirit is manifested in miracles, through another in healings, through others in faith, words of wisdom, or knowledge. Paul went on to ask the questions "Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?" (vv. 29-30). Obviously not everyone can work miracles. Not everyone speaks in tongues. We can't all heal the sick. Yet everyone in the body of Christ has the [Holy] Spirit (e.g. see verses 3 and 7).

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.

The Spirit, the Holy Spirit, and the Word (1)

There is a theory which is widespread throughout Christadelphianism that in the Bible the terms "Spirit" and "Holy Spirit" mean different things. One Christadelphian writer explained the perceived difference this way:
The Spirit is a "mental and moral likeness of the Lord Jesus created by the impact of the gospel on an individual" while the Holy Spirit is "God's power ... given in the first century for specific purposes".
In this post I'd like to dispel these myths and demonstrate that the Bible uses the terms "Spirit" and "Holy Spirit" interchangeably and that any distinction between them is artificial and unBiblical.

By comparing the following parallel accounts in the Gospels we see that the Gospel-writers understood "Spirit" and "Holy Spirit" to mean the same thing.

1. Matt 3:16 "As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. " (cp. John 1:32 "Then John gave this testimony: "I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him.")

cp. Luke 3:22 "and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. "

2. Matt 4:1 "Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil."

cp. Luke 4:1 "Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert."

3. Matt 10:20 "for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you."

cp. Luke 12:12 "for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.

4. Matt 12:31 "And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. ."

cp. Mark 3:29 "But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin." (cp. also Luke 12:10).

5. Matt 12:43 "He said to them, "How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him 'Lord'?"

cp. Mark 12:36 David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared: " 'The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet." '.

6. Luke 2:26 "It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ."

cp. the next verse (27) "Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts."

When we read further in the New Testament we see that other writers also meant the same thing by the terms "Spirit" and "Holy Spirit".

For example, 1 Cor 12:3 "Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus be cursed," and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit."

Also, Jude 20 "But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit." Cp. Eph 6:18 "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions."

Again, 2 Cor 1:21-22 "Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come." Cp. Eph 1:13-14 "And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, which is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession--to the praise of his glory."

The similarity between these passages is striking. The writers obviously saw no difference between 'the Spirit (of God)' and 'the Holy Spirit.'

The following passage shows that some other terms have the same meaning and are also used interchangeably:

Rom 8:9-11 "You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, which lives in you."

I believe therefore that it is demonstrable that in Scripture these terms have the same meaning:

• the Spirit
• the Holy Spirit
• the Spirit of God
• the Spirit of Christ
• Christ in you

Other texts show that the NT writers thought of 'the Spirit of God' or 'Holy Spirit' as the same as 'the Spirit of Christ' or 'Spirit of Jesus'. For example:

Acts 16:7 "When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to." Cp. the previous verse "Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia."

Also, Phil 1:19 refers to "the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ." Are we to conclude that this is a diffferent 'Spirit' to the help-giving Spirit referred to elsewhere? e.g. Rom 8:26 "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness"; 2 Tim 1:14 "Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you–guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit which lives in us."

Consequently, I believe that to say God dwells in us, or Christ dwells in us, is the same as saying the Holy Spirit dwells in us. This is confirmed by the following texts:

John 14:16-18 "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever-- the Spirit of truth (referred to as "the Holy Spirit" in verse 26). The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you."

It is through the parakletos, the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit, that Jesus comes to us. Cf. verse 23 "Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him."

The same concept (i.e. that God 'dwells' in the church and the believer through the Holy Spirit) is found in the following places:

• 1 Cor 3:16-17 "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple."

• cp. 1 Cor 6:19-21 "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, which is in you, which you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body."

• cp. 2 Cor 6:16 "What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people."

• Eph 2:22 "And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit."

• Cp. Eph 3:16-17 "I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith."

• 1 John 4:13 "We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit."

This selection is by no means exhaustive, but it is more than adequate to demonstrate that it is quite wrong to make an artificial distinction between the Spirit of God and the Holy Spirit. The Bible uses both terms to mean the same thing, but never uses the term "Spirit" to mean "the Bible" (more on that later).

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Permission needed to start a new ecclesia - IMPORTANT UPDATE

I reported earlier that a motion has been proposed for the Business session of the 2008 Australian Christadelphian Conference which would require new ecclesias to obtain the permission of five other local ecclesias in order to be recognised as a bona fide ecclesia meeting on the basis of the Unity Agreement.

Fortunately common sense has prevailed and the ecclesia proposing this has now withdrawn their motion.

This is very encouraging indeed. It tells me that we don't have to put up with the bullying intimidation of a vocal minority, and that the voices of moderate Christadelphians can still have an effect in stopping the progressive spread of extremism and fundamentalism in the Christadelphian community.

I've also heard that one or two ecclesias in the Brisbane area who were previously members of the G13 have now distanced themselves from that pressure group. The G13 was a group which met to discuss other (uninvited) ecclesias to devise ways of either bringing them into line with their own views or excluding them from the wider fellowship of the Christadelphian community. Such groups are described in clause 44 of the Ecclesial Guide as "collective despotism which would interfere with the free growth and the true objects of ecclesial life".

It's very encouraging to see that some ecclesias which were previously associated with this bunch of bullies have come to their senses and withdrawn from the group.

I am sure that these two recent developments have partially come about as a result of blogs like this and the considerable number of Christadelphians who have been saying "enough is enough" and making it clear that such conduct is un-Christadelphian and unacceptable. Let's hope that these moderate Christadelphians will have an even louder voice in the future and that the controlling and intimidating elements in the Christadelphian community will eventually be silenced.