One of the issues that's floating around, and it's amazing how regional they can be cause when I left southern New England pastoring almost 12 years ago we had a whole different can of worms there than we had down here and I walked in on a problem that has been growing, and over about the last three years in particular, Gulf States Conference has had me do an elder's retreat, a campmeeting, speak at a number of their churches and so forth, all on one issue, and it has to relate to matters of the Trinity and particularly our understanding of the Holy Spirit.
Now before I get there I want to set just a little context, because it seems to me not only in Adventism but even in the Christian world around us that the winds of doctrine are blowing like never before, and we're just barely making it to gale force and I'm telling you the hurricane is coming. Outside of the basic battle of good versus evil and temptations of Satan there are two or three concrete areas that I think help contribute to this increasing gale in which we are living in our period of the judges where every man does what's right in his own eyes. One, and probably the biggest surface manifestation for me, is for more and more people, religion is becoming about an emotional state and they are chasing an emotional state and whatever theology they can find that helps them achieve what they're trying to experience they'll grab on to, so that we have experience driven theology and doctrine instead of biblically driven experience and doctrine. And sometimes it can do some interesting things when we're chasing some kind of psychology, often centered in assurance and trying to come up with some kind of absolute assurance, I don't have to worry about it anymore, does some very strange things. Related to that might be unconditional acceptance and some of these other kind of things and to try to achieve this emotional state, theology starts to warp to fuel it. That's one.
A second one that may be more uniquely Adventist, some people, and particularly more out of my generation and earlier, we joined the church because it was the truth, and that made us different from the world around us and that difference made us feel a little special. But there's been some blurring of boundaries, or more likely when we're into our distinctiveness we tend not to reach out so well because we're afraid of polluting our distinctiveness, and all of our friends become Adventists and we're in the same church for 40 years and after you're in the same church for a decade or two, you start to blend in and you lose that sense of being different and special and so it turns nihilistic and you start criticizing your church to separate yourself so you can be distinctive and special again.
Any of a number of reasons that the winds of doctrine are blowing, I think the bottom line is that we were warned by Paul that the day would come when people will not endure sound doctrine he said, but having itching ears they will accumulate teachers to scratch the itch and we are in an unprecedented era of itching ear syndrome on various kinds of itches and I've described two.
With that in mind, an area of itch which I think tends to appeal more to the 'I'm trying to regain my distinctiveness and specialness' are attacks on the doctrine of the Trinity. In particular, denying the personhood of the Holy Spirit. I cannot address the full trinity issue in today's sermon but I'll give you a hint where you can get a little help.
It is true that in the formative years of the Adventist Church, between 1845 and '62 or so, as we were denominating that there was some doctrinal unsettledness in some traditional areas because we were busy handling things like the state of the dead, the Sabbath and the sanctuary, so we didn't have time to deal with Christology and Trinity and some of these other issues. But as things settled down some of these other issues sort themselves out and therefore it is true that some of the pioneers who helped found this church were Arian, teaching that Jesus was a created being. Uriah Smith being one. Hints of it in E.J. Waggoner.
However, I wrongly thought James White was Arian like Uriah Smith, but a paper from Dr. Jerry Moon at Andrews convinced me otherwise and he tells me that paper is a chapter in a book on the Trinity. It's a blue cover, big white letters, says Trinity. It's at the ABC, edited by Jerry Moon so if you want to read more about the early Adventist pioneers and sift that out, go buy the book at your ABC. Suffice it to say, it appears, based on his research, that James White in particular associated the word Trinity with the Catholic definition, and he disagreed with the Catholic formulation of the Trinity where Christ emanates out of the father and he says, no, Christ has always been eternally distinct from the father. Always eternally deity, etc. And so James White is articulating what we articulate today as an Adventist doctrine of the Trinity but he was rejecting the term Trinity because he was so precise in his definitions that he associated with the very specific Roman Catholic articulation of it which he was rejecting. So we need to be careful when we start throwing around allegations about our pioneers. They were actually quite a bit more astute than we give them credit for. So James did teach a full triune deity but not under the name of the Trinity because of this nuance with Roman Catholicism, and the paper had quote after quote after quote affirming that. And in fact I think it's his influence in Desire of Ages where Ellen White says, in him, Christ, is life original, unborrowed, underived, which is kind of hitting at that emanation theory. So you can go study that for yourself.
What I want to focus on today now is, quite a few Seventh-day Adventists, in the name of these pioneers are accepting the divinity of Christ and the divinity of the father but they are denying the personhood of the Holy Spirit, so I jokingly say they end up with a binity instead of a Trinity. So today I want to focus on the evidence of the personhood of the Holy Spirit.
By person I mean a being capable of moral, intelligent, rational, etc. relationships. Not all persons are human. We have angelic persons. Cherubim and Seraphim who are personal entities even though they are not human. We even seem to have beings from other worlds. We don't even know what kind of being they are but they're clearly personal beings capable of these interpersonal relationships. And of course, God is a divine person. But for some reason a few people associate the concept of person with being created and that's not necessarily so. Nonetheless, they're basically trying to say that the Holy Spirit is impersonal, non-person, almost like a force field extension of God. Kind of an extension of God's presence but not a personal relational being. I can't figure out why it makes such a difference to them but it does.
Now due to shortness of time, I am only going to very briefly cite Old Testament. Going to work mainly out of the New Testament, but if you're taking notes I will mention an Old Testament text that's a counterpart to a New Testament idea, because in reality the New Testament teaching of the Holy Spirit simply develops what's already in the Old Testament. It's just that in the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit doesn't get a whole lot of focus. It comes to light more in the New Testament, but there is a continuity of teaching.
So for your notes, in Ezekiel 11 we have Ezekiel recording a conversation with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit converses with Ezekiel as a separate entity and Ezekiel converses back, and we see the power of language and language requires a certain level of thinking and intelligence, and so language and interpersonal skills like this are not the hallmarks of an impersonal force like gravity or electricity or something like this, second law of thermodynamics. Electricity has made me say a few things but I've never had a conversation with it. So we have here the function of a person being ascribed to the Holy Spirit by Ezekiel and we're going to get this same thing in the New Testament if we go to Acts 13.
Let's open our Bibles here to Acts 13 verses one and two. Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers. Barnabas and Simeon who is called Niger and a list of a whole bunch of names and then we get to verse two. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said. So here again, Holy Spirit exercising the power of language. Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them. The personal pronouns 'me' and 'I' are referring back to the Holy Spirit. And what is interesting is in the New Testament Greek, you have three genders in the nouns and pronouns. Masculine, feminine, and neuter. By grammatical rules then, when you use pronouns they're supposed to agree in gender with the noun that they're representing. Right? In English I wouldn't talk about Fred and say she did something. I hope, right? He hopes. Likewise in Greek, 'spirit', 'pneuma' in Greek is a neuter noun, therefore it should take the english equivalent of 'it', but when pronouns happen in the Greek, which is not always matching the English, the Holy Spirit, the authors of Scripture always use a masculine pronoun. Always. And for Jesus. Now again when your English says it, we're often getting it out of the verb so it's not always where you think it is, but in the Greek, when a pronoun is used of the Holy Spirit it is always the masculine, singular, mismatching the gender. Pulling a grammatical error on purpose. Why?
If the Holy Spirit were an impersonal force, I would expect them to stick with the neuter pronoun, 'it'. The fact that it switches to 'he' and clashes grammatically seems to be intentional because it is so consistent. And it is strong evidence that they viewed the Holy Spirit, not as an 'it', but as a 'he'. A person. And here in Acts 13, the Holy Spirit is not only exercising the power of language but he's making administrative decisions. Set apart Paul and Barnabas to the work to which I have called them.
And this administrative role of the Holy Spirit is mirrored in first Corinthians 12. So let's turn there. The great spiritual gifts chapter. After listing all of these different spiritual gifts that God gives, verse 11, all these are inspired by one and the same Spirit who apportions to each person individually as he wills. The 'he' again is referring to the Holy Spirit as the subject of that verb to 'wish' or 'desire'. That's not a pronoun in Greek there. It's in the verb. The point is, Holy Spirit is the one who wills and decides who gets what spiritual gifts. Making decisions is an attribute of a person, not of a force or something impersonal.
So we have the power of language. We have administrative decision making, and appointing people and gifts according to an intelligent process being directed by the Spirit of God. These are the functions of a personal entity. The only exception I find is a few people, not of our faith, who ascribe design to Darwinism, an impersonal process which doesn't make sense to me. So these are the functions of a person, not of an impersonal force or process.
A second genre of functions that indicate personhood can be found in Isaiah 63 and Ephesians 4. I will only look at Ephesians 4. I will only add that in Isaiah 63, Isaiah talks about Israel grieving the Holy Spirit. Rebelling against the Holy Spirit in this passage. Vexing and grieving, depending on your translation, seem to me to be an emotional response. We have a similar concept here in Ephesians 4:30. Paul's going through things that should not be part of the Christian's life. Don't do this and don't do that, and one of the things is do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Grieving and vexing are emotions and emotional responses are related to personhood. Electricity and gravity don't have emotional responses. The tornado that Warren talked about, it was Warren who had the emotional response. Not the tornado. So to me again, the fact that the Holy Spirit has emotional responses is a mark of personhood.
Matthew 12, 31 and 32. Jesus has been arguing with the Pharisees and they're saying he cast out demons because he's of the devil and so the devil can cast out his own and Jesus says, no, a house divided against itself falls and you don't plunder a man's house unless you're stronger than the man. He's claiming to be stronger than the devil here. And now he says, therefore I tell you. Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever says a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. It is interesting to me that the Holy Spirit can be blasphemed and sinned against. Sinning against some one seems to indicate personhood, along with the parallelism that you have sinning against the Son of Man held in parallel with sinning against the Holy Spirit. This would not make sense if the one is impersonal and the other is personal. How many of you have sinned against the law of gravity? It doesn't make sense, ok? It doesn't make sense.
Likewise, blaspheme is a Greek verb to 'insult' or 'mock'. Sometimes used of people. There are places where Paul gets blasphemed. Do we insult or mock impersonal forces. Generally not. We insult and mock other people. Other persons. Because we're not happy with something.
So the fact that the Holy Spirit can be a sinned against and mocked or blasphemed in parallelism to the Son of Man who is a person all adds up as indicators of personhood to me. By the way, if you're taking notes, Mark 3 and Luke 12, all three of the synoptic gospels have the same statement of Jesus about blaspheming and sinning against the Holy Spirit.
Romans 8:26 and 27. Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses. For we do not know how to pray as we ought but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words, and he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. Intercession is the function of an intelligent personal being and the Holy Spirit is said to intercede. He doesn't cause someone else to intercede. The Holy Spirit is doing his own interceding here. That's a mark of personhood. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit is said to have a mind, hence the ability to administer and make decisions that we've already seen. Having a mind and being able to intercede would seem to be two major evidences that Paul sees the Holy Spirit as a personal relational being.
But I saved my favorite for last. John 14. In John 13 we're in the beginnings and have the Lord's supper. And after the foot washing and all that good stuff, Jesus makes an announcement that panics the disciples. I'm going to leave and you can't come with me. In the last five or six verses there you'll find it. And the disciples freak out. They totally miss the new commandment that I'm giving you to love one another as I have loved you, because as soon as he gets that out of his mouth they're all on him, where are you going that we can't come with you? And he says don't be troubled in your hearts. You believe in God, believe also in me. Why were they troubled in their hearts? Because he just said I'm going and you can't come with me and you're going to look for me and you won't be able to find me. He says don't be troubled because I'm going to prepare a place.
So far so good, but how are we going to function without Christ's personal presence? Answer. Verse 16. I will pray the father and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him for he dwells with you and will be in you. Jesus said I'm going to pray the father and he will send another counselor, or some translations, comforter.
First point. The Greek word is 'paracletos' for the comforter or counselor, used mostly of the Holy Spirit, but when John says, if we sin we have an advocate with the father, Jesus Christ the righteous, the Advocate is 'paracletos'. The word is used of Jesus himself, not just the Holy Spirit. The fact that it's used of Jesus, who is a personal being, it would seem highly unusual to use the same word of an impersonal force.
This is strengthened by the previous word 'another'. In Greek we have two words for 'another', at least, but two key ones. One is 'heteros', the other is 'allaus'. 'Heteros', we get our prefix 'hetero'. Like heterogeneous, heterosexual, etc. Something different. Something of a different kind. So if we have a church potluck and you were serving fruit off of the table and I ate a banana and I come back with banana peels hanging down, and you undersood Greek and I said, may I have a heteros piece of fruit, what do you know I'm not getting? I'm not getting a banana. I'm going to get an apple or grape or something else. I'm going to get a 'heteros', another of a different kind. Whereas if I come and say I want an 'allaus' piece of fruit, that's another of the same kind. And I say another fruit, you see the banana, you give me another banana.
What word did Jesus use here? 'Allaus'. It's a another paraclete of the same kind as Christ. Another one like. So for the Holy Spirit to be a paraclete like Christ, if Christ is a personal being, then the Holy Spirit has to be a personal being or he's not another one like. Likewise, Christ is divine, the Holy Spirit has to be divine or it's not another one like. In a sense, what Christ has said is, I'm sending my identical twin or my clone to be with you and he's going to teach you things and bring to your remembrance and do all this stuff in my absence. The Holy Spirit, folks, is the Vicar of Christ, the one who stands in for him in his absence. And hence in his absence we have the Holy Spirit saying, I'm the one who has called Paul here and there, so forth and so on as the extension of Christ in this world.
So, we've seen the Holy Spirit exercising a number of attributes we associate with personal beings. Language, thinking, decision-making, emotions. Personal pronouns messed up gramatically on purpose to indicate his personhood, so forth and so on. I think the evidence is clear, but the question is why does it matter?
Our Scripture readings says that the work of the Holy Spirit is threefold. Or maybe more properly, there's one work of the Holy Spirit with three dimensions. The work of the Holy Spirit is to bring conviction about three areas. What's right. What's wrong. And our accountability to God.
How do I know that the Holy Spirit is present and working? It's not necessarily indicated by a bunch of emotions because the devil can produce that too. But the one thing the devil will not produce is conviction of sin and righteousness and judgment. It isn't the level of excitement, it is the level of conviction. And we see that work in the Old Testament, right? My spirit will not strive with man forever. Genesis 6. By the way, the word for striving is to argue and dispute, which is a personal function, again. The work of the Holy Spirit is to wrestle with sinful man to bring him under conviction that there is something he ought to do if he wants to be in right relationship with God. The work of the Holy Spirit is to wrestle with sinful man so that man feels the unction to do what is needed to be in right relationship with God. And emotional hanky-panky won't accomplish that.
In addition to this, why is this important? First of all, it seems to me, that if the Holy Spirit were some impersonal extension from God, two possible results come. One, if God's first approach to me is impersonal, when I try to witness for Christ, my first approach is likely to be impersonal and distant as well. Where if I see the Holy Spirit as God personally coming to me to work with me, I will be more inclined to be willing to personally work with others. I think it has implications on our view of mission, witness and evangelism.
Secondly, if God's first way of relating to us is through an impersonal force, the next logical step is to get into an infusionist view, where that force comes into me and the next thing you know, you end up with a type of pantheism. It's the God in me and you're into new age, letting the god in you out kind of a thing.
Most critically though, it seems to me that you have to ignore a boatload of evidence of the personality of the Holy Spirit in order to make the Bible say what you want it to say for whatever reason is under there trying to make you say it.
In other words, I think this leads to a problem with biblical authority. Let's face it. The way the Bible reveals God, I can't make philosophical sense out of. It's axiomatic in the Bible that God is too big for me to figure out and fully understand. And it seems to me that part of the doctrine of the Trinity matches the role of the second Commandment. It presents to us a God we can't figure out and don't try to box him in by carving your own images of God out of ideas. And when God doesn't fit my box and I have to start messing around with the biblical data in order to demystify God, I am starting to serve God on my terms instead of his. And that's for the biblical authority, because the Bible is what gives me God's terms. And it seems to me that part of the second commandment is that God has the right to define himself, whether or not it makes sense to me. And I need to submit to that definition and acknowledge, God, you're too big and too mysterious for me to figure everything out. I accept what you reveal as honest and at face value. Please do the work of striving in my heart so I can be in better relationship with you.
Let's make that request through song by singing our closing hymn.
Oh Lord Jesus. Help us receive you, the father, and the Holy Spirit as revealed, and not to quibble because it doesn't make sense to us. More critically, we ask you to do that work of striving with us, that we may surrender in right relationship to you. In Jesus' name, amen.
Hymn of Praise: #82, Before Jehovah’s Awful Throne Scripture: John 16: 5-8 Hymn of Response: #264, O for That Flame of Living Fire
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Sermon at McDonald Road transcribed by Steve Foster 3/24/11