2016 is our year of talking about what unites us as Christians. Talking about what divides us is the “low hanging fruit” of theological conversation, meaning, it is easier to pick the fruit from the low branches of the tree than to do the hard work of getting out a ladder and climbing up to see what is in the rest of the tree. If you climb the tree all the way up you will find that there are many uniting elements to the Christian faith that we should lean into.
My goal is for this issue of Wineskins to be a ladder for us to see further up the tree in discussing the Holy Spirit. The fruit at the top of the tree turns out to be the fruit of the Spirit. What does that mean for us and how can a common understanding of the Spirit and the Spirit’s work help us be more unified in our faith and identity?
The truth is, the Holy Spirit doesn’t need our perfect understanding in order to do His work. The Spirit will do it in spite of our imperfections. That doesn’t mean we cannot seek to understand and grow in grace and knowledge and we study these things together. What is more, the Holy Spirit doesn’t need us to think we are united to still unite us. I believe the Holy Spirit has as much grace in how He operates than does the Father and the Son.
The Holy Spirit isn’t waiting on us (those who are “in Christ”) to “get it right” before the Spirit does what the Spirit does.
Thank God for that or else we would all be in a mess!
As Paul conceptualized his faith in Christ and what it means to be a disciple of Christ one of the primary uniters of his theology was the Holy Spirit. It didn’t matter if you were rich or poor, young or old, slave or free, male or female…in Christ everyone shares a commonality by the Holy Spirit. God gives the Spirit liberally to all of His children. He doesn’t give more of the Spirit to the rich than the poor or the free than the slave. Roman citizens don’t get any more of it than a Judean peasant nor does Caesar (would he have converted) than Paul himself. In this regard the Holy Spirit is the great equalizer in the Christian community.
Because the Spirit is given equally to all of those God chooses to give Him to that also means that the Holy Spirit is the great unifier of the Christian community because the Holy Spirit distinguishes those who are “of Christ” from those who are “of the world.” Paul makes that distinction in Ephesians 2 where he says that outside of Christ people follow the “spirit who is at work in those who are disobedient” (2:2) but that in Christ we have access to the Father and are built up to be a temple where God dwells by His Holy Spirit (2:18, 22).
When we lack a good theology of the Holy Spirit we will lack unity. What is even more ironic is that the subject of the Holy Spirit has been one of the great dividing lines in Christianity as a whole as well as the Restoration Movement where people of differing views take such a strong stance that people are judged as “in” or “out” of the community of faith based on their doctrine of the Holy Spirit. There is a sad irony in play there when the very thing that is sent to unite us is used to divide us. In the words of Paul, “may it never be!”
This month we will be discussing the Holy Spirit in Churches of Christ. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!