The trinity teaching makes God more remote, self contained, and strange than actual scriptural teaching. The scriptural way in which God presents Himself is as a family. A family which achieves oneness through a unity of mind, will and purpose. A family that you can be part of…
Knowing & Understanding God: Is the Holy Spirit a Person?
Last week's message about the trinity focused mostly on how the bible presents the oneness of the Father and the Son as a family rather than a complicated metaphysical trinity… the relationship of the holy spirit to God was not addressed. Today we answer the question... Is the holy spirit a third person in a trinity ? and How does this affect my personal relationship with God?
In Hebrew the word for spirit is ruach, and in Greek its pneuma. The basic definition is breath, or wind. But it is also used to indicate an invisible force. Jesus made this connection when He said" You hear the sound of the wind but you cannot tell where it comes from of where its going... So it is with the spirit. John 3:8
The bible consistently speaks of the holy spirit as the power of God the Father, and Jesus Christ the Son. A power at work in the world and in those who believe and are baptized. Yet, the dogma of the Trinity insists that the holy spirit must be understood as a thinking, feeling, rational “personality” along with the Father and the Son.
As mentioned last time, the Trinity teaching (which includes the holy spirit as a divine person) is considered to be the acid test for who is, and who is not, a Christian... and without agreeing to it you cannot be saved. The average church goer is confused about what the trinity teaching means and especially confused as to how the holy spirit can be a person.
So for most it's ignored... but at the same time Christian churches insist its the central truth of scripture.
John 1:1-2 there is no mention of a holy spirit who was also God… and who was also with God.
How Did the Holy Spirit End Up Part of the Trinity?
Jesus repeatedly warned about false teachers rising up among the Church "many will come in my name... and will deceive many". Paul was constantly striving with false teachers within the Church. By the 90s false teachers had gained the upper hand in key congregations even refusing to accept the representatives of the last living apostle… John.
After the last original apostle died some time in the 90's AD. a veil of darkness falls over the Church... and when the curtain finally rises something very different appears in its place. True believers persisted but they were increasingly marginalized and chased into the far corners of the empire.
Let’s fast forward to the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD where the concept of God as a trinity was first introduced. At that time an official statement was put forth in which the holy spirit was only mentioned as something we should believed in... but not specifically as a person co-equal to the Father and the Son.
A man named Athanasius first put forth the idea of the holy spirit’s “person hood” at Nicaea but didn’t have the clout to put it through. But, he was a persistent man and he kept the argument going. For decades heated debate about the nature of God continued… frequently resulting in riots and bloodshed.
At the council, the emperor Constantine had sought to enforce unity of opinion upon the church because he wanted to use it as a tool for bringing the empire together. But the ongoing strife called for a second council to be convened 56 years later.
Council of Constantinople 381 A.D.
The debate over the nature of God had by now shifted to the nature of the holy spirit. Athanasius was dead and gone but three prominent men: Basil, Gregory, and a second Gregory took up the cause.
We have little information about the substance of the debate during the council... We do know that the majority of representatives did not accept or agree with the new formula. In fact, most of the Macedonian representatives walked out of the proceedings.
Once again the debate was settled by political operatives: the new emperor Theodosius and Nectarius neither of whom had much understanding of the issues. Nectarius was a senator hastily baptized just so he could participate… through them Gregory somehow managed to get his controversial, minority view accepted as the only view.
The formula the council adopted included the following statement: .... and we believe in the holy spirit... who with the Father and Son is worshiped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets... etc... with this the trinity as is generally understood today became the official belief and teaching concerning the nature of God.
The Power of the State
The emperor Theodosius, like Constantine... wanted to use the now popular Christian religion to create social unity (so the empire could focus more on repelling the barbarian hordes to the north). Once the dogma had been written down unity of opinion would be enforced. Theodosius issued an edict that read:
"We now order that all churches are to be handed over to the bishops who profess Father, Son, and Holy Spirit of a single majesty, or the same glory, of one splendor, who establish no difference by sacrilegious separation, but who affirm the order of the Trinity by recognizing the Persons and uniting the Godhead".
After determining who would now control of all the property and assets He went further:
"Let us believe the one deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, in equal majesty and in a holy Trinity. We authorize the followers of this law to assume the title of universal Christians [IE. The one true Church); but as for the others, since, in our judgment, they are foolish madmen, we decree that they should be branded with the ignominious name of heretics, and shall not presume to give their assemblies the name of churches.... They will suffer in the first place the chastisement of the divine condemnation, and the second punishment which our authority, in accordance with the will of Heaven, shall decide to inflict."
The trinity teaching... and the divine “person-hood” of the Holy Spirit... a concept never taught by Jesus, or the apostles, or any biblical writer… but rather a theoretical construct developed 350 years later… was now permanently locked into place with all other views locked out.
Why Proper Teaching About the Holy Spirit Matters
Teaching the holy spirit is a third person in a trinity causes confusion. What the bible actually reveals is a better, and more functional, explanation about how God is at work within you… of how you can and will be at one with God… how you can become like Him in mind and character… and how you can enter into the universe ruling God family.
The trinity teaching makes God more remote, self contained, and strange than actual scriptural teaching. The scriptural way in which God presents Himself is as a family. A family which achieves oneness through a unity of mind, will and purpose. A family that you can be part of… but if you do want to be part of it you have to change the way you think and behave.
You can join a family… you cannot join a trinity.
The roles of Father and Son clearly present God as a family. The inclusion of a holy spirit a third divine person doesn't fit... what is it? An eccentric uncle? A cousin? No, the holy spirit is not presented as part of any recognizable family member.
The family pattern also portrays the importance of authority and submission as the means whereby peace and harmony will be achieved (now and in eternity). The Father and the Son are easily understandable pictures of authority and submission balanced with love and respect
Including the Holy Spirit as a third person gets us off track. Not only does it not have a clear place in any family pattern... it does not fit any recognizable pattern of authority or submission.
How the Holy Spirit is Portrayed in the Bible
The UCG booklet on the trinity has an entire chapter answering the question "is the Holy Spirit a Person". It uses many scriptural references covering the key concepts of how the bible actually portrays the holy spirit.
The Power of God: It is shown to be the power of God at work… it is the mind and character of God… it is the power behind divine revelation… it is the life force by which God begets all creation both spiritual and physical.
Impersonal: many scriptures are cited showing the holy described in very impersonal terms: it is a gift from God, it can be given without limit, it can be poured out, we are baptized with it, you can drink it, you can partake of it, we can be filled with it, it will renew us, it must be stirred up in us.
By contrast, the Father and the Son are consistently described as living, thinking, feeling beings.
Not included: In the opening greetings of all his epistles Paul mentions the Father, and the Son, but leaves out the holy spirit. Why? Because he knew the holy spirit is not a person to be greeted.
In visions of God's throne room the Father and Christ are seen... but not a third person called the Holy Spirit. Why? Because the Holy spirit is not a person to sit on, or next to, a throne. It is the power of the person who is sitting on the throne.
Translation Bias: the trinitarian bias of those who translate the bible into English affect the use of pronouns used to address the holy spirit in key places.
The Power of God
Matthew 1:20-21 Jesus was conceived (begotten) by the Holy Spirit. Yet, Jesus continually prayed to and addressed "God the Father"... as His father... not the Holy Spirit. The simple answer is that the Holy Spirit was the power of God the Father at work begetting a child in the woman Mary.
John 14:26, 15:26 the Father sends forth that same power to form a new creation in you.
Titus 3:5-6 the power which renews us, giving you the spirit of a sound mind... transforming the way you think. Washing you in the word. 2 Peter 1:3-4 by His power in us we share and participate in the divine nature, Romans 8:14 by His transforming power we can enter into the family of God.
This spirit is also the spirit of Christ Romans 8:9 [Philippians 1:19]. The spirit of Christ and the spirit of the Father are the same because the father and the son are united in mind, purpose, and will. Therefore, there is "one spirit".
The scriptures say the Father is in you through the power of the holy spirit... and the scriptures say Christ is in you through the power of the holy spirit.
Matthew 28:19 this is the verse believers in the trinity will turn to and offer as proof. What’s really happening here… we enter into a covenant relationship with the Father (the had of the family)… the sacrifice of Jesus makes this possible… and then afterwards we receive the power of the holy Spirit in us Acts 2:38.
The Power of Life Itself in You
Ephesians 1:13-14 through the power of the holy spirit you too have been begotten as a child of God looking forward to receiving the gift of eternal life and an everlasting inheritance in the family business... the kingdom of God - 1 Peter 1:3-4
The supposed third person of the trinity (the Holy Spirit) is like a bouncer at the door... blocking the way in... saying "God isn't really a family. God is something else. The family stuff is just a pretty analogy for simple humans. So, you're not really going to be part of God's family. You're going to be something else".
What is that something else? ... its something unexplained, unknowable, and incomprehensible.
That is not the gospel.