Tuesday, 25 July 2017
The Holy Spirit and the Church part 2
Last week I reflected on the attitude of the organized church to the Holy Spirit. I believe that the organized church, at least in most established parts, does not revere the third person of the Trinity. As I noted, if the Holy Spirit is given the attention and reverence it is due, religious leaders would not have the control that some believe is necessary to ensure that Christianity, as they understand it, will survive and thrive.
The question I want to explore further is whether or not the Holy Spirit ever destroys what is there or does it just bring about transformation in the world. I believe after some consideration I clarified my position regarding the transformative nature of the Holy Spirit.
The best example of the work of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament is the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came with roaring winds and tongues of fire and speech. Those present were so transformed that a new church was born, one which spread quickly over the known world. There was no destruction in that act; rather, something new was born.
However, when viewed from the perspective of those involved it can be very different. The lives of those who were present in that room were changed radically. They were no longer the same people. They were now new people in a new way. They went out from that place and changed the world. To them it must have seemed like the old way had died. Richard Rohr addresses this, “I see transformation and change occurring in three stages: order > disorder > reorder”. When the old way dies the birth pangs of the new order can seem to be like destruction and perhaps even chaos as the new way takes root. The wind and fire of Pentecost caused confusion to those who witnessed it.
This process of transformation is captured wonderfully in the sacrament of baptism. As I discuss in my sermon this week, in baptism we die to the old life and are born to the new life. This is done symbolically in the Anglican tradition by pouring water over the head of the baptismal candidate. Unfortunately, this is not direct enough for people to realize what it represents as it does not truly capture the impact of what happens—the symbol has lost much of its energy. When we are immersed into the waters our old selves are drowned and die. We are born anew when we rise out of the water. This is exactly what is portrayed in the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. Jesus was fully immersed by John. When Jesus was raised up out of the water the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove. Immediately after that, what happened? He was “led” by the Spirit into the wilderness for a forty-day spiritual retreat/vision quest.
The Gospel of Mark states, “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him”. I prefer this version to the other Synoptic Gospels of Mathew and Luke which has the spirit leading Jesus. I believe that usually we resist the new life that the Holy Spirit brings because our lives are going to be changed irrevocably in ways we cannot fully conceive or perhaps can conceive and do not want to embrace. People do not generally embrace change.
The prophets were often reluctant to take on their missions given to them by God as in the case of Jonah. Richard Rohr distinguishes the role of the prophet from the role of the priest in the church today:
The role of the prophet is to lead us into sacred space by deconstructing the old space; the role of the priest is to teach us how to live fruitfully inside of sacred space. The prophet disconnects us from the false, and the priest reconnects us to The Real at ever larger and deeper levels. Unfortunately, most ministers might talk of new realms but rarely lead us out of the old realm where we are still largely trapped and addicted. So not much genuinely new happens.
This brings us back to the Holy Spirit and organized religion. We have a “divinely intended tension” between the old and the new. How do we as Christians seek to follow where the Holy Spirit is leading us and maintain and renew a community which we are called to as the church, born two thousand years ago on the Day of Pentecost? We need to let go of what is no longer gives us new life and try and discern where the Holy Spirit is calling us. That is truly a challenge but one that we are called to.
Blessings on your journey,