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11 December 2018

Christians who don’t know the Holy Spirit.

Shouldn’t be such creatures, but there are.

Recently I was checking out a local Baptist church’s faith statement on their website. These faith statements come in handy when you wanna know what an individual church emphasizes. Not all Baptists are alike, y’know. Pretty much the only thing they have in common is they’re Protestant, and they insist you gotta believe in Jesus before you’re baptized; they won’t baptize babies. Beyond that, they could be liturgical or loose, run by elders or by popular vote, Calvinist or Pelagian, egalitarian or sexist or racist—any stripe of Christian you can imagine.

In this specific Baptist church, turns out they don’t know the Holy Spirit.

I know; you’re thinking, “What Christian doesn’t know who the Holy Spirit is?” Well, heretic Christians. And you’re gonna find this particular heresy is surprisingly common. Too many Christians don’t understand who the Spirit is and what he does in their lives—that he’s probably the only person of God’s trinity they’ve ever interacted with!—because their churches simply don’t know anything about him, and therefore don’t teach on him.

In my experience, these Christians tend to worship the bible instead. Holy Bible substitutes for Holy Spirit. They don’t know to follow the Spirit’s guidance, so they turn to the scriptures instead. Which of course they won’t understand correctly, ’cause they’re not listening to the Spirit!

So, how’d I tell from their faith statement they don’t know the Spirit? First, the only time he gets a mention (on the whole website) is in this line about Jesus:

He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.

Comes straight from the Apostles Creed. But name-dropping the Spirit doesn’t automatically mean they know him. If you know him, you’d know what he does, and obviously they don’t. Go down a few paragraphs and it says this about Jesus:

He now dwells in all believers as the living and ever present Lord.

Actually no he doesn’t. Jesus is seated at the Father’s right hand, ruling over all, Ep 1.20-23 and speaking to the Father on our behalf. 1Jn 2.2 (Their faith statement actually declares as much in the previous paragraph!) The person of the trinity who dwells in all believers? That’s the Spirit. Ep 1.13-16

So what does this church think the Holy Spirit does? Apparently nothing. They may believe God’s a trinity (though their faith statement doesn’t say so), but functionally they treat him as a duonity: There’s the Father and the Son, and both of them have “a holy spirit,” a spirit kinda like our spirits, which they use as a force to make stuff happen. He’s a thing, not a person.

Now. I remind you the faith statement is what the leadership of a church believes, and what they strive to teach in their sermons, messages, and classes. But a church is its people, not the leaders: The people might be totally orthodox, know who the Spirit is, and follow him. Problem is, the people don’t lead! If new Christians attend that church and wanna learn about God, they’re gonna listen to the leaders. And if the leaders don’t know squat about the Holy Spirit, the newbies aren’t gonna learn about God. Not accurately.

Which you know is gonna create all sorts of problems. Problems in the way we relate to God, in the expectations we have for him, in the way we worship him together, in the fruit we produce, in the things we teach. That’s what heresy does: Poisons everything. It doesn’t mean we’re not saved, or not really Christian… unless it blocks our relationship with Jesus entirely, like Islam can.

You can be saved despite not knowing the Holy Spirit Ac 19.1-2 —even though he’s the very One who applies God’s salvation to your life. But man alive is your Christianity gonna be defective.

Denying the Spirit’s entire purpose.

What does the Holy Spirit do? All sorts of stuff! Theologians sometimes call him “the executive of the trinity” ’cause he’s the one who gets stuff done. He empowers every miracle. When he speaks to us, it’s revelation. When he expects us to pass those messages along, it’s prophecy. When we follow him, he grows good fruit in us. Conversely when we don’t follow him—and don’t even know he’s around—what we frequently wind up with is fake fruit… and dark Christianity.

Not that there aren’t dark Christians among Christians who do profess miracles. Just because you believe the Spirit still works, doesn’t mean you’re any good at following him. But charismatic misbehavior doesn’t justify the belief none of this stuff comes from God. In fact claiming any act of God is actually a devilish trick, is by definition blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Mk 3.29-30 Most Christians believe there’s no repenting of that one. And in practice, many who’ve taken that stance never do recant it. Pride, y’know.

Even so, too many Christians have adopted a belief in cessationism, the view God turned off the miracles after bible times. And if the Spirit’s the one who does all the miracles—but you insist there are no miracles in the present day—you’ve basically decided there’s no more Holy Spirit either. Take away his entire purpose, and you’re kinda denying he even exists.

So of course anti-supernaturalist Christians don’t know anything about the Holy Spirit.

He does exist though. When they became Christian (if they legitimately became Christian) he did enter their lives, does apply salvation to them, does try to grow good fruit in ’em, does try to talk to them and empower them and otherwise work on them. Not easy to do when they’re constantly quenching and stifling and grieving him, but lucky for us God is far more longsuffering than we.

And despite their unbelief, the Spirit sometimes slips miracles past them. True, in their churches you’re never gonna see any supernatural gifts. The Spirit empowers them, but if you don’t believe the Spirit empowers anything anymore, you’re either gonna deny the gifts happen, or you’re gonna invent non-supernatural definitions of them. Even when they happen right in front of you, like when Jesus cured the guy with the paralyzed hand in front of a bunch of unbelieving Pharisees, you’re gonna insist there’s some non-miraculous explanation for what just happened. Yet the Spirit empowers such miracles regardless, because he’s trying to make us doubt our unbelief. And when we’re in a serious enough jam, sometimes we ditch our unbelief and ask God for a miracle anyway—and often he answers yes! Because the Holy Spirit is here among us, despite the naysayers.

Like I said previously, the church leadership might believe one thing, and the people another. Visit any cessationist church and talk with the people, get ’em to really open up and tell you the truth, and I guarantee you a lot of them are gonna have a story about when God performed a bona fide miracle in their lives. But they’re never ever gonna share these stories with their churches. Because they fear to. The leadership suppresses the Holy Spirit, and the people are pretty sure the leadership is gonna suppress them too, or think they’re crazy, so they keep their mouths shut.

(You do realize a church which keeps its people in line through intimidation is a cult, right? Just saying.)

So why are these churches and these leaders so adamant against the Spirit’s activity in their churches? ’Cause it’s about power. They covet it, same as all humans. They wanna be in charge of their churches, not the Spirit. They wanna claim Jesus reigns, or God is sovereign… but if he actually shows up and does stuff among them, as the Spirit totally will, they simply can’t abide that.

They don’t want his correction; they know it all already. They don’t want his prophecies; they wanna figure the bible out for themselves, and twist it to suit them without anyone calling out their hypocrisy. They don’t want tongues; they wanna pray what they wanna pray. They don’t want healing and miracles; they want an orderly, predictable universe without a constantly-interfering God undoing its fallen nature. They wanna be the ones we follow.

And they don‘t like Christians who pursue the Holy Spirit with all our might. Not just because of the “charismania,” which is a legitimate problem, and their usual excuse. But because it’s not easy to claim you’re God’s kids around people who obviously have a closer relationship with God than you do. After all he does stuff with his Spirit-filled kids… and wants to do stuff with his Spirit-denying kids, if only they’d let him. Pity they’re such prigs.

Detecting the Spirit-denying Christians.

Yes it is heresy to not believe in the Holy Spirit. The creeds say we do believe in him. He proceeds from the Father (and if you’re western, the creeds say he proceeds from the Son too). He, same as the Father and Son, is adored and glorified. And worshiped, and followed, and called upon.

Christians who never mention him, never point to the things he does, or even reassigns those acts to Jesus or the Father, are simply demonstrating their ignorance of him. It’s not necessarily a rejection of him. Most of the time they don’t know any better; nobody taught them better. Correct them kindly. Not, “Wrong!—the Holy Spirit does that,” but “Isn’t that more accurately one of the things the Spirit does?” And then you can have a discussion about all the things the Spirit actually does do. (Don’t forget to throw in the appropriate proof texts; if they’re big on bible they’ll appreciate it.)

Christians who blatantly downplay him, reduce him to a force instead of a person, insist, “Oh we don’t pray to him; we only pray to the Father,” ignore his voice, or reject his acts, are resisting God. The Spirit’s not an optional person of the trinity. He’s YHWH. He’s our LORD God.

Yeah, these Christians really have no idea how blasphemous they’ve become. We gotta warn them!

And don’t repeat their folly. If they state something incorrect about the Spirit, don’t repeat it simply because you wanna get along, or don’t wanna pick a fight. Don’t be passive-aggressive; never be unkind; but defend the truth as lovingly as you can. You want ’em to know and follow their God. It’s not gonna happen if you abandon them to their ignorance—or to their rebellion.