Pentecost is a day of celebration occurring fifty days after Easter. This year, it fell on May 20 and our pastor and choir director tried to give our church a representation of the Holy Spirit. A wind sound was piped into the church and various choir members rang choir bells at random times.
Did our congregation get it? Did this presentation explain the Holy Spirit?
I’m not sure, because the Holy Spirit is one of the most confusing aspects of Christianity.
Statistics would make one think we should get it. Charismatic Christianity is a form of Christianity that emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit, spiritual gifts, and modern-day miracles as an everyday part of a believer’s life. This form of Christianity cuts across all denominations. In 2011, there were an estimated 584 million Christians who identified as charismatic worldwide. They made up 9 percent of the world’s population and 27 percent of all Christians.
All those folks claim that the Holy Spirit is a major part of their lives. But who is the Holy Spirit? Can we think of the Holy Spirit as a person?
Pastor Graham just says it: the Holy Spirit is a person. “We see from the Bible that the Holy Spirit has intellect, emotions and will. In addition to this, the Bible also ascribes to Him the acts we would expect of someone who was not just a force, but a real person” [p. 2-3].
How does he support this idea?
Graham points to scripture that says the Spirit speaks, intercedes, testifies, leads, commands, guides, appoints, can be lied to, can be insulted, can be blasphemed and can be grieved. He makes a strong point that all these attributes are indeed attributes of human personality.
But Tom Kirkpatrick in his article “Is the Holy Spirit a Person?” feels that the word “person” has multiple meanings over time. What can be confusing for Christians is the idea that person means a self-conscious individual, a human entity inhabiting the earth. I am not sure that Graham means that at all. I don’t believe the Bible means that the Holy Spirit is a self-conscious individual.
To add to the confusion, why does our Bible have so many references to the Holy Spirit as a person, with even the most common pronoun “he” being used to refer to the Spirit? That certainly would lead one to assume that the Holy Spirit is a real person.
I am convinced that this Holy Spirit as a person idea is a way to explain the power that God and Jesus gave to man, what Kirkpatrick calls “projecting Their will, Their influence, Their nature and Their creative power throughout the universe, including affecting the minds of human beings.”
Jesus told His disciples that they would be filled with power when they received the Holy Spirit, not that a person would come and fill them with power. The apostle Paul explained that Christians have been given this spirit “of power, of love and of a sound mind.” The words power, love and sound mind are all abstract concepts, not literal terms [power is not a thing you can pick up for example]. In 2 Peter 1:3-4 and 2 Corinthians 5:17 Paul explained the effect of the Holy Spirit on the believer, having the ability to create a new nature, a divine nature, a “new creation” in the image of Christ’s character. So let’s not denigrate the power of the Holy Spirit, if it can help us be new people. Many think of the Holy Spirit as a “gift” that will be poured out on people but the idea of gift seems to say that The Spirit is a thing, not a person.
It seems like I am splitting hairs on the meaning of Holy Spirit as person, but if the Christian thinks of the Spirit as a literal person, that can be a stumbling block. When Graham writes: “The Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force, like gravity or magnetism. He is a Person with all the attributes of personality,” those words confuse me.
Until he ends his discussion of the Holy Spirit as person with these simple words: “He is divine as well.”
Can the Holy Spirit speak, intercede, testify, lead, command, guide and sound like wind and random bells?
I think the answer is yes, if that person is Divine.