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Basic Christian Doctrines VII: The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Phenomena.

Updated: Jan 11

The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit

It is the Holy Spirit, accessible by faith, that shapes a new mode of life for the followers of Jesus Christ. The term spirit stands for both the character of the one called and the call itself. The sense of the spiritual life derives precisely from our capacity to enter into a relationship with God. This paper will show how the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit has developed and how spiritual phenomena, which was with the Church from its very beginning, has become a lesser part of the Faith experience within the Church. This paper will conclude with an argument against the segregation of these manifestations of the Holy Spirit.

A Biblical Definition

There are some references to the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. A metaphor for spirit is the wind that was present in the creation of the universe. King David (1035 BC-970 BC) expressed, in his Oracles, that "the Spirit of the Lord spoke to him" (2 Sam 23:2).

In the New Testament, the Spirit descends on Jesus like a dove at His baptism as a sign of His Messiahship. In the Gospel of Saint Luke (1 AD -84 AD), we are shown Jesus laying claim to the words of the Prophets in announcing His mission of liberation for the poor and oppressed. In the Gospel of Saint John (6 AD-100 AD), Jesus promises the arrival of the Counselor, the Holy Spirit that God will send to the faithful in His name. It began with the resurrected Christ 'breathing' the Holy Spirit on the assembled disciples.

In the Epistles of Saint Paul (5 AD-65 AD), the spirit is perceived as the Spirit of Jesus, rather than a third co-equal partner of the Trinity. From that moment onward, it is the Spirit that unites the Divine with the human and Jesus to His Church. It is the Holy Spirit which is the on-going agent of Salvation in the world.

Spiritual Phenomena

The Spirit is closely associated with the Word of God giving an ecstatic vision. For example the Prophet Ezekiel (622 BC-570 BC), after having such a rapturous experience, apparently was transported from place to place by the Power of this Spirit. However, prior to the Life and Ministry of Jesus, this Spirit could not, in any way, be perceived as Christ's Holy Spirit.

In the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Luke describes the ecstatic experience of the disciples during the Pentecost in which tongues of flames appeared over their heads as they became empowered to preach about Jesus with authority. They were empowered with such enthusiasm that some bystanders thought that they were in a drunken state.

Up until the fourth century, the Church ascribed to spiritual phenomena. It was an acceptable practice, so long as it gave special instruction into the mystery of the Risen Christ. Saint Paul in in his Epistle to the Corinthians, spoke of spiritual phenomena, such as speaking in tongues. However, he placed this gift amongst the lesser sensational gifts of service. This was done in an effort to encourage restraint among Church members.

Saint Paul also set limitations on the gift: only two or three people should make such utterances, each in turn, to be followed by an interpretation (1 Cor. 14:27-28). Without this limitation, the gift would not contribute to the "progress" or "enlightenment" of the Church as a whole, as does the act of prophecy, which Saint Paul preferred.

After the fourth century, the Church was becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire. The necessity to have the more esoteric practices of faith, as part of the regular function of celebration of the Risen Christ, became less desirable. The Church became more focused on the established liturgical services of worship.

Spiritual phenomena became part of a fringe element within the Church. Such experiences could not be considered part of the mainstream of religious life. A more intellectual encounter with the Holy Spirit became the preferred method of communicating with God. Yet, in most Christian denominations, there is a sizable core of charismatic devotees, who are fully entrenched in the ecstatic experience of the Holy Spirit.

Open To The Diversity Of The Holy Spirit

A polarity begins to appear in the way we express our relationship to the Holy Spirit. People begin to sway to one pole or another. The essence of this relationship is based upon us seeking seeking God or God seeking us. The Roman Catholic Theologian David Burrell (1933- ) describes the need for a re-definition of the Holy Spirit, as that power which permits us to hope for what history has already shown us incapable of realizing, the reconciliation of these very opposites.

Such a conception would still contain the principle elements of the classic Doctrine of the Holy Spirit: a Divine initiative (God seeks us out) eliciting the sort of response which calls forth a Faith Community. It would also remind us that we can never claim a clear vision of the Divine initiative, but can only discern its character as it reveals itself within the framework of the Community shaped by our response to it.

The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit enters into at least three established areas of Christian Theology. They are: the Grace and Sacramental Life, Church and Ministry, and the Trinity. The primary principle of the Doctrine of the Holy Sprit is to envision the Christian life as a response to Divine initiative.

In short, there is room for the more expressive manners of Exultation that people, who are filled with the Holy Spirit, can and perhaps should share with the whole Faith Community. All it requires is an open mind to the many ways in which the Holy Spirit is given to the Faithful. We ought to realize that it is a genuine gift from God. The promise of the Holy Spirit is the promise of a new life within the Life of God. It activates the Divine image developed in us to share with the world. The Holy Spirit liberates us to participate in becoming new selves, as well as companions of our Creator.


Originally entitled The Holy Spirit and Spiritual Phenomena

was submitted to Dr. William Close as a Master of Theological Studies course requirement 511v-Basic Christian Doctrines St. Stephen's Theological College University of Alberta Published on November 19th, 1996. {Revised September 20th, 2023}

© Dr. Charles Warner 2023

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