Journey with Orthodoxy: The Holy Spirit

“Are you Spirit filled?”

This was the number one question on everyone’s mind in the charismatic, independent, evangelical churches I grew up in. This was also the question we projected on other groups or people who claimed to be Christian: “are they Spirit filled.” If they weren’t it did not mean they weren’t Christians, it just meant they lacked the “power” available to Christians; power to command healing, financial prosperity, abundance in all things, etc.

The give-away to whether or not one had the Holy Spirit was if they spoke in tongues. No tongues = no Holy Spirit. Simple as that. After all, what could be clearer from Scripture? Jesus said, “These signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will…speak with new tongues…” (Mark 16:17). And sure enough, on the day of Pentecost they spoke with new tongues (Acts 2:4).

Case closed.

But this article is not about the gift of speaking in tongues (though that would be fun). Instead I want to share a major ‘changing of the guard’ in my own worship and understanding of what it means to have the Holy Spirit.

Again, not to contradict the charismatic, Pentecostal tradition of what Acts 2 teaches concerning the Holy Spirit – I have no dog in that fight, and do not care to get caught up in an endless controversy – but one thing is undeniable about the happenings at Pentecost that goes far beyond one’s belief about the doctrine of speaking in tongues. Acts 2 teaches us that the Holy Spirit brings unity!

Acts tells us that various nations had come to worship in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (the text lists at least 15 different languages represented). When the Holy Spirit appeared on the disciples they were all “filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues” (Acts 2:4). Those at the feast from the various language groups claimed to understand the disciples, saying: “we hear them speaking in our own language the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:11). Luke goes on to tell us that thousands of people were added to the Church that day.

The first act of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost reveals almost everything we need to know about His ministry. Does the Spirit empower believers with signs and wonders? Yes! Does the Spirit convict the world of sin and righteousness? Yes! Does the Spirit bring unity among believers?…

What was I to do with this last question? It was obvious that the Spirit brought unity to the various groups at Pentecost – that He had reversed the curse of Babylon, so-to-speak – so how could I account for the fact that the church I attended, which prided itself on having the Holy Spirit, was the result of splitting from another church, which had also split from a church, which had also split from a church, etc, as far back as I could count? If we really had the Holy Spirit how on earth could we have such a poor track record of unity?

No problem. The only unity we needed was the unity within our own church. That was enough. And besides every church I could think of was the result of a church split: Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Lutherans, Pentecostals, all dirty little ‘splitters.’ In truth, since the Reformation, merely 500 years ago, Protestantism has never ceased to produce schisms at mind bending speed. Today one could easily number them in the 10’s of 1000’s.

It was not until I found myself in a Church History class in my grad studies at Oral Roberts University that I could no longer resist the fact which had been staring me in the face all of my Christian life: either my understanding of the Holy Spirit was seriously messed up, or the Holy Spirit was inept to fulfill His ministry of unifying the Body of Christ. I had to opt for the first choice since the second choice was a heresy.

Fast forwarding to the present day, I now thank God that the Church is not lost; that there still exists the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, unbroken in its unity since the time of the Apostles. The fight for me is over! I do not have to try to do what the Holy Spirit has done all this time without my help (imagine that). Though I pray for reunification between the Churches of the West and the Church of the East, I can now relax in God’s Spirit and trust that He is in control of His own “Body” in the earth. This is as far as I have come in my journey with the Orthodox. The depth of the Orthodox understanding concerning the ministry of the Holy Spirit is far beyond my comprehension and experience at this point. And this is what makes the journey so amazing!

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6 thoughts on “Journey with Orthodoxy: The Holy Spirit

  1. I too came from a Charismatic background before becoming Orthodox. (And, before that, Calvinism!).

    I had an interesting experience. For years, my first question before even flirting with a church would be, “Do they believe in the gifts of the Spirit?”

    But when I started inquiring into Orthodoxy, something strange happened. Not only did I not ask the question, I was a year into it before I realized that I had forgotten about the question. What was that about?

    I concluded that what I was ultimately seeking was not the miraculous but rather God’s presence and his fullness. Orthodoxy provides a depth, several layers and realms of reality, and a fullness previously unknown to me. It would be like a fish laying in a puddle, getting thrown into a lake. The whole thing is so overwhelming that it would take a while to sort things out.

    For me, the miraculous was the closest thing I could find to being somehow “connected” to God. It is unity with Christ that we ultimately long for in our hearts. Christ invented and established an intricate MAC OS networked iLife/ipod/iphone system for connecting us to him at all times. That little IBM typewriter worked in its own little way, but it wasn’t the intended deal.

  2. Dean Arnold,

    What a fantastic reply! You capture my thoughts exactly in a way that I could not have expressed. If you don’t mind, I will be stealing this reply for the countless times I am asked on a monthly basis the very same question you and I had when coming to the Orthodox Church (I’ll of course give you credit, I wouldn’t want the ‘deanofschools’ accusing me of plagiarism). 🙂

  3. It’s okay, the “DeanOfSchools” is defunct. (I ran for school board and lost by 59 votes). It used the wrong Facebook handle by mistake. Whatever. Steal away.

    Bishop Mark in our diocese is a former prof at ORU. Did that have anything to do with your switch? (I try not to use the “conversion” as I don’t think it’s quite accurate.)

    I actually think the fulness in Orthodoxy is tied to the West adding “and the Son” in the creed. The East has always embraced the balance of the trinity and with it the mystery that accompanies the work of the Holy Spirit. The filioque lessens the uniquess of the Holy Spirit (He alone proceeds from the Father) thus throwing the Trinity out of balance and “demoting” the Holy Spirit. The void of mystery and that great unifier of the body the first thousand years had to be replaced by something in the West, and what filled the void was over the top rationality (logic over mystery) and authoritarian heirarchy to keep the body unified.

    So . . . our need of the Holy Spirit in the West is far deeper and more critical than miracles and glossalalia.

  4. Dean, I haven’t heard of him. When did he teach there and what is his last name? I did my undergrad between 98-01 and my masters from 08-10.

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