Holy Spirit Part 1: Why We Don’t Discuss It

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1. Doctrinal Whiplash

In the Church of Christ we tend to have what I think of as “doctrinal whiplash.” The Baptists talk about witnessing so we don’t like that term any more. The Pentecostals emphasize the Holy Spirit so we shy away from it. And so on. That can be very detrimental to our own understanding of scripture and even our relationship with God. I believe that is one reason we have said little concerning the work of the Holy Spirit.

2. Lock box Mentality

I think another reason we don’t talk about the Holy Spirit as much in Churches of Christ is because we have been very logical thinkers and like our understanding of things to be locked down with little room for any differences. The Holy Spirit doesn’t play by our rules. The Spirit is not something you can memorize or gain control over. In essence, the Holy Spirit is more of a wild card and I think that has frightened many to the point of just leaving the Spirit out entirely. We are much more comfortable with scripture because we know what is there, we can study it, and think we can just about master it and get it locked down. In essence, to gain control of it rather than letting it gain control of us. We can’t lock the Spirit down and so we have left the Spirit out. Thank goodness the Spirit hasn’t left us out for doing so!

3. Forming Opinions Before Approaching the Text:

A third reason we don’t discuss the Spirit is paradoxical. We pride ourselves on how seriously we take scripture but when it comes to the Holy Spirit many have just ignored what is there. Or almost as bad, many have decided what they think about the Holy Spirit by what was mentioned in reason one. They look to other groups and don’t like what they see so they form an opinion that the Holy Spirit can’t have much to do with us today. They form their opinion before approaching scripture rather than letting scripture form their opinion.

So let’s face the music and have a little discussion on the Holy Spirit!

0 Responses

  1. Matt, I really appreciate your thoughts and comments along these lines.

    Personally, I have been struggling with some areas in my “faith” lately. My studies have led me to some conclusion that aren’t typical “COC” conclusions and such has, for the lack of a better word, frightened me. Not because I am worried about what others will think of me for believing a certain way, but rather because stepping out of the “locked box” that has been a source of comfort is a difficult thing to do. Letting go of the controls and turning them over to God, which should be typical practice for all who profess to be childen of God, is a scary thing because God doesn’t work or think the way we do. Letting him lead, which should be comforting, is a scary thing because we aren’t in control.

    In the church, my opinion here, we have developed too many of our actions and attitudes because we don’t want to resemble other groups who we have felt were wrong in understanding of Biblical text. We have disagreed with the use of instruments in worship to the point that we don’t want to do anything, even if correct, that resembles that group. The same is true with our understanding of the Spirit, as raising hands is an abomination because those “spirit led” groups raise their hands.

    Enough babble from me for now, thanks for the thoughts today.

  2. Good description, Matt, of some things that many people will recognize and identify with. You place “doctrinal whiplash” (had to smile at that one) at the beginning. I think that’s the right position for that point.

    Wanting/needing to be right, over against other Christian groups with whom we are “in competition”; how that must grieve the Holy Spirit. Because Christians have failed to maintain the unity of the Spirit, there have been many casualties, including the Spirit himself (!) . . . if that were possible. Thank God, it’s not.

    On a different note, I think it’s the case that even with believers who have a good understanding of and openness to the Spirit, there will sometimes not be a lot talk about the Spirit, due to his “position” in the divine plan. I’m thinking about passages like John 16:14 where Jesus describes the Spirit’s role, “He will bring glory to me by taking what is mine and making it know to you.” Along this line, I think that decidedly “Holy Spirit churches” are just as open to critique as, say, “Bible churches.”

  3. don’t forget the powerful and lingering effects of modernism…

    we (churches) fought against evolution and attacks on the miracles in the Bible and Inspiration, but along the same time, it seems any belief in angels, the Holy Spirit, spirits, etc. became taboo…..

    many are neo-sadducees (acts 23:8)

  4. I think overall, we are getting better about this, and more people are open to the discussion. I think the single most helpful thing I ever read about the HS was that we have the Spirit so that he can make us more Christ-like. He’s not there to make us do magic shows or foam at the mouth. He lives within us to help us be made more into the image of Christ every day.

  5. I figured I should comment instead of just lurk in anonymity. I’m pretty interested to see what comes out of this discussion.

    All 3 points are true. I think this topic has kind of frightened me for a while because it seems to carry with it almost a theatrical aspect. But, I’m not sure this is a scriptural representation of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes it seems like the Spirit’s existence is to point to certain aspects of God’s character and not to make a show of itself. (Maybe this is why we don’t know a whole lot about it.) Anyway, I’ll keep reading. Thanks.

  6. Re: the comments by Mark and Alan . . .

    I think it was Rubel Shelley who said that when it comes to showing the Spirit, the question is not “How high did he make you jump?” The question is, “How straight did he make you walk?” 😉 Whoever coined the expression, it’s a good one.

  7. Matt,
    I think it’s also a case of our “watchdogs” who tend to jump on anything they think is out of line. I think back in the early part of the restoration there was more of an open discussion on various issues. In fact, some of our brethren today may be surprised by where some of our early thinkers stood on this issue and others. As the movement gained momentum it seemed like it gained “watchdogs” who made it their job to let everyone know what to think and believe on each issue. I do believe you are right, that we have had a tendency to take the opposite of what the denominations think.

  8. Matt,
    I have a killer migraine right now. But, I want to let you know that I think this post is great! Excellent subject that we need to discuss in the Church of Christ. I believe that we are afraid to discuss it because we afraid of the power of the Holy Spirit or we are afraid of the preachers in the past who limited the Holy Spirit and have brainwashed countless congregation to think that the wondress workings of Holy Spirit in their life is dead. I wish I could say more tonight but I have to go to bed. I will say more in the morning, Lord willing, because I have much to say about this topic. I want to thank you for bring this important topic to surface and opening it up for discussion. God bless you and this discussion as we look at what God will is for His Church today for the 21th Century Church.

  9. My migraine is gone may return after finishing this comment! 🙂

    I believe the Holy Spirit lives within us, comforts us, guides us, gives us gifts as Christians as did in the first century to minister within the Church and help advance the gospel of Jesus Christ. I believe that as the Church of Christ we have limited the Holy Spirit’s working in our lives and in the Church as a whole.

    We have had in 1930’s preacher and churches look at the pencostal church and over react limiting its power to the nothing at all. Saying that Holy Spirit is the Word of God. The preachers take the word of God out of context to use their own defense and make their own doctrine for the Church of Christ for the Holy Spirit. The example is found in 1 Corinthians 13 a chapter talking about how love is greater than the gifts that we have. They focus on 10, “but when the profection comes, the imperfect disappears.” What is the perfection that they claim? The church. Are we perfect? No. We sin. If have been to church lately it is filled with sinners. Hypocrites. The profection is the return of Christ. The preacher totally ignore the text in Chapter 14 verse 1 which ties the the chapters together, “Follow the way of low and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.

    I love what Paul says in 1 Corithains 12:12″ The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts ; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body- whether Jew or Gentile, slave or free and were all given the one Spirit to drink.” Now look at 27 ff. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it And in the church of God has appoint first of all apostles, second prophets, third tea chers, (do we still have teachers), then workers of miracles, also those having the gift of healing, those able to help others (do we have Christians today who can help others or is that gone?) the gift of administration (I don’t know about you but I know alot of elders who have this gift), and those speaking in differnt kinds of tongues.” It goes on and says do we all have the same gift would it make sense. No. Dare we limit God’s power?

    The Holy Spirit helps us walk in the light and keep our steps. Galatians 5:25 “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the spirit.”

    It is my prayer that the Church of Christ will open it self up the the working of the Holy Spirit in their lives and as Paul says to the Corinthian Church in chapter 12 verse 1, “Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do want you to be ignorant.”

    God help us not be ignorant be understand that your Spirit lives within us and understand works with in us. Help us to use the gifts that we have. As minister in the 21st century and the church in the 21st century let us preach with boldness the true doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

  10. I love all three of your points, it seems we have to do some clever exegesis and manuvering to discount the role of the Spirit in the church today. As far as I am concerned, all of the arguments that say that the Holy Spirit isnt active in the way He was in the first century all fall apart quite easily.

    A few weeks ago I taught a class with a friend of mine on the “gifts of the Spirit” at a conservative/traditional COC bible camp. We are waiting for the backlash that is almost certainly going to happen. We were asked by the educational director and the director to teach the class because they new we had experience in the “charismatic church” world, but the board and the other supporters of camp wont be so happy when their kids come home talking about healings and prophecy etc. We’ll see what happens.

    By the way, for any of you who are interested in studying on this topic Edward Fudge has some great resources. He is an elder in the Churches of Christ and has written a lot about the Gifts of the Spirit etc. Its very well done and it is good that he approach the topic with a heritage in the churches of Christ and that respect for scripture, but still looks at it a little more honestly I think.

    I also just put up a post with two stories that fall into the prophecy category from my own life, just in case any one wants to read ’em.

  11. Frank,

    What you said is right on track. It does sadden me that there are Holy Spirit churches that need more Bible and Bible churches that need more Holy Spirit. I also don’t think that in order to embrace the Holy Spirit means our worship will appear more Pentecostal.


    Modernism was the start. It was needed and very useful. It can and has been taken too far.


    Things do seem to be improving. We are talking about this more. That is certainly a start!


    I see your point. I think the problem we have is we believe to embrace the Spirit means to have Pentecostal looking services. That is not necessary. It does mean that we will leave ourselves more open to God’s leading in our lives.


    People have seen that the watchdog mentality that you describe was complete poison and resulted in dying churches. It is almost like a spiritual evolution – those things that are self-defeating and poisonous wind up out of the mix eventually.


    The Spirit is to bring unity rather than division. Good thoughts.


    I will have to have a look when I get a chance!

    Let me ask this question to focus the discussion a bit:

    How do we balance being a Spirit-filled people/church without having the abuses that have been in many churches that have espoused to be exactly that?

  12. I’m of a Baptist background but agree with you that we tend to shy away from the doctrine of the Holy Spirit because of the Pentecostal and Charimatic movements. One curious fact, I have noticed is an immediate increase in blog traffic when I write about the Holy Spirit. Have you noticed the same? By the way, I have not noticed the same increase in blog traffic when I write specifically about Jesus Christ.

  13. Robert,

    It seems to me that the traffic is more dependent on the day of the week than on the subject. Just my observations. Thanks for stopping by and the comment. Take care,


  14. I dont want to be to short with my answer, but my motto in preaching has been, “grounded in the word and open to the Spirit.” The two work in harmony. The Spirit inspired the Bible just as He inspires and moves us today. I do however realize that there will always be abuses of the Spirit, just as there have been abuses of scripture, church practice, financial contributions etc. Even as early as the Chruch at Corinth, Ephesus etc they were already falling into these problems.

    The gifts must be in perfect tandem with wisdom and humility. When the gentile widows werent being taken care of in Acts, the people that were sent to take care of that were said to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.

    Finally, we need to realize that the Fruits of the Spirit are a better measure of faith than the gifts of the Spirit. We shouldnt hold up certain people based on their specific gifts, instead we should judge people based on their consisitant display of the Fruits. Ultimately, I think the Spirit filled church is one that loves and serves first and foremost. It is unfortuate that we use that term to mean a congregation that displays certain forms of Charismata.

  15. Rick Ross always goes ham on his tracks. That’s why I roll with Rozay. I just started following @atlstreetdreams on twitter for his latest tracks.

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