Who’s Afraid of the Holy Spirit?

Over my years as a minister and as a minister in training, I have come across the sense that a large portion of the church is afraid of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps rightly? When the Holy Spirit moves there is power, there is transformation, there is growth. When the Holy Spirit bursts out on someone, sometimes they seem like a different person. When the Holy Spirit enters the picture, suddenly all of our carefully constructed categories seem to fall apart as we find ourselves in the presence of something both familiar and strange, mysterious and known.

Growing up in the Southern Baptist branch of the church as well as the Christian Churches/Churches of Christ (comment if you need some background on that one) the topic of the Holy Spirit was often kept to the book of Acts. Outside of that, we kind of danced around the topic unless a teacher was particularly passionate about the work of the Spirit, and then we’d get some extra meat, which was exciting. (Sorry vegans for the meat metaphor… it is biblical, though?)

Some background on myself: I am in so many ways a product of the Enlightenment (via Modernity.) Honestly, Post-Modernism (or however many “posts” are in that by now) gives me headaches and exasperation, but I will not deny it’s had its own impact on my thinking. That said, I like evidence. In a lot of ways I wholeheartedly relate to Thomas when he states he needs to see the wounds or he won’t believe. I would be right there with him. You have to show me. So I tend to be very skeptical about the supernatural in general – along with what seems like a majority of Protestants. Maybe the Enlightenment hit Protestants harder than we realized. (No “maybe” about it, but benefit of the doubt and all that.) Perhaps we reacted too strongly to a Catholic mentality of miracles. Perhaps we’re scared of what it means that the Holy Spirit is still at work today.

When I run into fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who have had a spiritual experience different from my own, can I dismiss their experience out of hand? Can I state without a hint of humility that what they attribute to the Holy Spirit is all in their head?

The few spiritually charged moments I have had in my life I can count on one hand. Maybe I’m just thick-headed, or maybe I’m not open enough to the possibilities? Despite this, I have a hard time looking at a brother or sister in Christ who has had a spiritual experience and thinking they’ve made it all up. Now, there are some interesting discussions we can all have about what it means to have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the signs of that, and maybe discuss baptism in depth to really get to the heart of the Holy Spirit’s work there, too.

The Holy Spirit is our guide into the truth and toward Jesus. The Spirit is our comforter and advocate when we don’t know what to say. The Spirit is our prompter when we are called to give an answer, and the very presence of God that resides in us and in the church like God’s presence was in the Temple.

Are we willing to let the Spirit do its work? Are we willing to listen when the Spirit speaks? Are we willing to live in the mysterious familiarity the Spirit brings?

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