Sometimes I wonder, how is it that we all Christians, being led and part of one unified body led by one Spirit –The Spirit of God, can take so diverse and often opposite positions on key issues? And the irony of all ironies is, we have such opposite views on the role of The Holy Spirit –our unifier.
Are some decisively wrong in their interpretations? or, is there perhaps a middle ground that unites us all, whether we see it or not?
My Background: I was born in a Catholic family. Soon after, as I grew up in a Catholic society, my parents became Christian (protestant evangelical) and thus I grew up as a Christian. In my teenage years, I turned to Catholicism and even pursued being a priest (yeah, imagine that!). Thankfully, my deep desires to one day be married and have kids, got enlightened and relieved by reading 1 Timothy 4 and then I understood that God really didn’t want me to give up on family, if I wanted to serve Him. Around my mid teens I was part of a Pentecostal church where I technically and officially accepted Jesus as my personal savior. Towards my 20’s, I joined and serve actively in a Charismatic church for a few years. Fast-forward a few years more and find me in United States listening to, reading, and sitting throughout the years under the teaching of, and somehow participating, in churches of all tendencies: Baptist, Traditional Anglican, Wesleyan, center, Reformed, and non-denominational –with all the flavors they come in.
As I read the Bible, research, compare, dig and have listened to multiple presentations and explanations of doctrines about the Holy Spirit, I can’t help but conclude that there are a lot of concepts that I just don’t see easily fitting with what the Bible clearly teaches. By that I mean, their interpretation seems to me to be ‘too forced’ to what an open minded non-biased neutral first time reader would understand. Furthermore, some practices and experiences were neither commanded in the Bible, nor shown in the lives of the church in Acts, The Apostles or Jesus. Although I am completely open to the possibility that my understanding could be wrong, and be corrected –and in many issues that has been the case, I tend to go with what the text seems to say plainly; I tend to think that God wouldn’t expect us to go through a complicated process and seminary degrees to understand His will. With all that said, and acknowledging that the Bible does leave open the possibility of the existence of anything from a soft or innocent misunderstanding, to hardcore false teaching and doctrines of demons, I want to focus on the common grounds.
My ‘beliefs’: I completely understand and agree that The Bible plainly teaches that Christians have the Holy Spirit. There are no degrees or levels of Christians, where the ‘better ones’ have a better version of the Holy Spirit –Christians 2.0?. No rank or preference, we Christians all do have and receive the Holy Spirit from God at the moment of conversion. We are sealed once and forever as children of God, and the Holy Spirit is that seal of promise of what is to come. No ‘tongues’ needed for salvation, no halfway salvation, we have the Holy Spirit indwelling in us forever. It’s what I gather from simply reading these passages: Romans 8:9-11; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19-20; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; Ephesians 1:13-14; 4:25-32; Titus 3:4-7.
Nevertheless, when I read other passages, I can’t help but get the idea that some of our more Pentecostal/Charismatic brothers may be on to something as well, in spite of other areas we may not agree on.
When I read of Jesus in John 14-17-18, telling to His disciples, in the evening before the crucifixion, that The Holy Spirit dwelt “with” them (present tense at that time), and also He (the Holy Spirit) would be “in” them (some point in the future), I get the idea Jesus was talking about the same Holy Spirit but in two different ‘positions’ (“with” and “in”) in terms of the believer. Later after the resurrection and before the ascension, Jesus did a couple of interesting things: First, He breathed in them, and said “receive The Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). I guess it would be safe to say that before, the Holy Spirit was “with” them (outside?), but now the Holy Spirit is “in” them (inside, much like our conversion), fulfilling what He said earlier.
Later, right before leaving, Jesus tells them to “go and make disciples”.. but not yet. First they needed power to be witnesses, and then Jesus said “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come “upon” you…” (Acts 1:8). It sounds as if now He was referring to a third position, “upon”. Why would Jesus use three separate and distinct prepositions in referring to the Holy Spirit? Why would the Holy Spirit inspire the writers of the New Testament to use these distinct propositions to consistently describe similar experiences? If the preposition “with” (Greek g3306 μένω menō ‘para’) describes the position of the Holy Spirit in relation to people before conversion; and “in” (Greek g1722 ἐν en: ‘in’) describes the indwelling of the Holy Spirit for regeneration and sealing as evidence of salvation, would it be possible that “upon” (Greek g1909 ἐπί epi: upon, over, on) describes and additional empowerment or overflowing of the Holy Spirit specifically for the purposes of doing God’s work (making disciples, preaching, signs, wisdom), sometimes at conversion and sometimes soon after conversion as shown, not only once, but in some instances happening several times to the same person in the book of Acts?
Could this be what some people label ‘the Baptism or filling of the Holy Spirit’? Is it possible that many who don’t adhere to this doctrine, are indeed filled at times to do effectively the work of God? After all, God doesn’t care about the label anyway.
If we do get at conversion all the Holy Spirit we are ever going to get:
- What sense does Luke 11:13 make? Why would Christians –God’s children, ask for the Holy Spirit?
- Why is Peter mentioned to be “filled with the Holy Spirit” three separate times and Paul a couple more, if they were not separate events? Wouldn’t it be redundant? (i.e. “Then Peter, the Christian, ….)
- Why is it a requirement for the deacons to be “filled with the Holy Spirit” (like Stephen) if all Christians were supposed to be anyway?
- Why does Paul mention to be filled with the Spirit–if we already are?
Is there more? As John Piper suggested, something very visible happened at conversion –or shortly afterwards, in the book of Acts. It wasn’t just a prayer and a walk-down-the-aisle, there was more than that going on, to the point that Simon “saw” and wanted that power (Acts 8:15-19).
My conclusion: I don’t suggest we all seek to speak in tongues and make people fall just by raising our hands and act crazy barking or having golden teeth (As seen on TV :)). However, if there is the possibility that there is an extra power from God –beyond salvation, to supernaturally enable us to be witnesses; to preach like Paul and Philip, maybe to see a prayer answered or miracle or two like Peter and John, to be a strong servant and bold defender of the Gospel like Stephen, I don’t think God would be upset with me for wanting so, and I definitely need it, no matter what the theological and doctrinal label might be.
What say you?