Christians who don’t know the Holy Spirit.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 September

A few years ago 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, be run by elders or by popular vote, be Calvinist or Pelagian; be 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. Thing is, you’re gonna find this particular heresy is startlingly 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 have swapped Holy Bible for Holy Spirit, and make a big to-do about following that instead of following him. Often it descends into full-on bible worship. They don’t know to follow the Spirit’s guidance, but they do know how to obey biblical commands… or, instead of actual biblical commands, “biblical principles” which the leadership might make ’em obey instead.

But of course they’re not gonna follow the bible correctly—because they’re not listening to the Spirit!

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

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

That comes straight from the Apostles Creed. But name-dropping the Spirit doesn’t automatically mean they know him. If you know him, you know what he does—and a few paragraphs down it demonstrates they totally don’t. ’Cause they say this about Jesus:

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

And in fact he doesn’t. That’s the Holy Spirit dwelling in all believers. Ep 1.13-16 Whereas 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 declared as much in their previous paragraph!)

So what does this church think the Holy Spirit does? Apparently nothing. They may believe God’s a trinity—their faith statement doesn’t explicitly say so, but they use trinitarian language. But functionally they treat God as a duonity: There’s Father and Son. And both of ’em wield “the holy spirit,” not capitalized, not even really a person, as kinda a force to make stuff happen. He’s not someone you have a relationship with; he’s the power ring which turns us Christians into Green Lanterns.

Now. I remind you the faith statement is what the leadership of a church believes, and what the leaders strive to teach in their sermons, messages, and classes. But properly a church is people. Not the leaders who write the faith statements. The people might have entirely different ideas. I’ve been to many! The leaders want to reach the world with the gospel, but the people wanna sit in comfortable chairs, listen to enjoyable music, listen to an invigorating message, have the kids not complain about how boring the children’s service is, and be out of there by 11:30 so they can make it to the restaurants before the after-church crowds hit. Conversely, as I’ve seen in other churches, the people are totally orthodox but the new pastor has been reading the latest Rob Bell or Greg Boyd or Bart Ehrman book, and has some radical new heterodoxies (or outright heresies) he wants to try out on ’em.

So at this particular Baptist church, the people might totally know who the Spirit is and follow him… but they don’t lead! The leaders do. And when brand-new Christians attend that church and wanna learn about God, they’re usually gonna listen to the leaders, not the people… and when the leaders don’t know 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 person who gets stuff done. He empowers every miracle. He speaks to us—or in Christianese, he gives us revelation. When he expects us to pass these revelations 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 do is relabel our bad behaviors as “fruit,” and produce dark Christianity.

Not that there aren’t dark Christians among Christians who do profess miracles. Just because we believe the Spirit’s still hard at work, doesn’t mean we’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. Since the Spirit’s the one who does all the miracles—but you insist there are no more miracles—you’ve kinda 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 we became Christian (assuming we legitimately became Christian) he did enter our lives. Does apply salvation to us. Does try to grow good fruit in us. Does try to talk to us and empower us and otherwise work on us. Not easy to do when people are constantly quenching and stifling and grieving him! But lucky for us God is far more longsuffering than we.

And despite Christians’ unbelief, the Spirit sometimes slips miracles past us. True, in cessationist churches you’re never gonna see supernatural gifts, because the leadership rebukes and stifles it… so the continuationists have to go underground. But ask around at such churches, and you’ll find the continuationists. We’re everywhere.

The Spirit empowers every miracle. But if you insist the Spirit doesn’t empower any such thing anymore, you’re gonna deny such gifts happen, invent non-supernatural definitions for all these gifts, and deny ’em even when they happen right in front of you. Jesus cured a guy with a paralyzed hand right in front of a bunch of unbelieving Pharisees. How’d they deal with it? Denial. Claims that Jesus tapped devilish power. Any other non-miraculous explanation for what just happened. Yet Jesus cured the guy regardless. And the Spirit still empowers miracles regardless—because he’s trying to make us doubt our unbelief. When we’re in a serious enough jam, sometimes we ditch this 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, a church’s leadership might believe one thing, and the people another. Visit any church which is officially cessationist, gain the trust of some longtime members, and they will have a miracle story or two—or many!—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 know 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? It’s all about power. They covet it, same as all humans. They wanna be in charge of their churches, not the Holy Spirit. They wanna claim Jesus reigns, or God is sovereign… but if he actually shows up and takes over, as the Spirit totally will, they absolutely can’t abide that.

They don’t want his correction; they’re entirely sure they know best. They don’t want his prophecies; they wanna figure out the bible without him, ’cause without his correction it’s much easier to twist it to suit their hypocrisies. 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 charismania, of Christians behaving badly and falsely blaming it on the Spirit taking ’em over. That’s a legitimate problem. But because it’s not easy to claim we’re God’s kids around people whom God clearly granted power to, who obviously have a closer relationship with God than we… well, they get jealous. And lash out. And suppress.

Y’know, the Holy Spirit wants to do stuff with all his kids. Including the Spirit-denying ones. 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 also say he proceeds from the Son). 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 these acts to Jesus or the Father, are simply demonstrating their ignorance. It’s not necessarily rejection. 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 it more biblically accurate to say the Holy Spirit does that?” 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, or reduce him to a force instead of a person, or insist, “Oh we don’t pray to him; we only pray to the Father,” or 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.