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Reform Magazine | October 22, 2017

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That’s the Spirit

That’s the Spirit

Is a personal Holy Spirit a figment of Christian insecurity? Chris Avis argues for a rethink

When – as in Reform̕s A Good Question feature in May – people discuss “Who is the Holy Spirit?”, I feel my hackles rise at the anthropomorphism. Shouldn’t “who” be “what”?

As I enter the third half of my life I
find myself becoming increasingly uncomfortable, frustrated even, with what seem to me to be misconceptions of the term “Holy Spirit” within much of church life. For example, the democratic heart of the United Reformed Church is the Church Meeting, where a voting assembly of Christians is supposed to open itself to the influence of the Holy Spirit so that the meeting’s decisions will conform to “the will of God”. But who, or what, is to blame if such a vote is inconclusive, or even proved later to be wrong? Were some voters spiritually insensitive or wilfully disobedient? Was the prayerful bidding of the Spirit at that meeting insufficient to capture God’s attention? Or, is there something wrong with the Christian understanding of the Holy Spirit as an external power available on demand, under the right conditions, to the right people?

The concept of the Holy Spirit is wrapped up in the late-developing church imagery of the Holy Trinity, a construction hammered out by the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 381 as a result of the politically motivated urgings of the Roman emperor. It attempted to create a God in triplicate that would be more easily understood, but instead built a structure that has since generated enough contentious hot air to rival politicians everywhere. Meanwhile the Church has played its part by idolising the Trinity paradigm and frowning (and worse) on those who dare to question it…

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This is an extract from the July/August 2014 edition of Reform.

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