The Promise and Peril of the Spirit

Over the last few weeks, we have looked at the early Christian community in Jerusalem as depicted in Acts and the Johannine Christian community from which 1 John emerges.  Both communities are trying to figure out what it means to be Christian, what it means to live into the promises of Jesus’ life and death.  As both were trying to carve out an identity, both in relation to Judaism and in relation to other Christians, their language becomes dogmatic.  Though they differ slightly in their identity-forming dogma, they both claim their authority from the Holy Spirit.

In Acts, Peter cites the Holy Spirit as the reason to include Gentiles in the Christian community, the “New Israel.”  After Pentecost (the lectionary jumps ahead a bit due to the lack of resurrection stories in the Gospel of Mark) Peter is preaching to Cornelius the Centurion’s household in Joppa and the Spirit descends on them.  These Gentiles become ecstatic, speaking in tongues and praising God.  If they are good enough for the Holy Spirit, they are good enough for Peter and good enough for baptism as Christians.

In 1 John, as we’ve discussed, there is a schism and tied up in that schism seems to be some dispute about right belief and/or right practice.  That is, it is unclear whether those who are leaving (or kicked out) are doing so because they do not believe that Jesus was who the Johannine community says he was or because they were acting in a way that was considered unloving by the rest of the community.  Perhaps, those two things are considered the same or inseparable in some way.  In any case, as we come to the last part of this letter, the culmination of the author’s exhortations, the author relies on the testimony of the Holy Spirit as the final authority for his/her claims.

The Spirit has always been a tricky part of Christian faith.  In some seasons of our tradition, the Spirit has been seriously demoted and deemphasized, a powerless thing that exists only to prop up doctrine.  In some, it has taken the spotlight, seizing preachers in fits of flying spittle and sweat and filling the pews with screaming and dancing.  The Spirit has the potential to make anything happen.  To some that is a threat, to some a blessing.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Church in the Cliff, as we talk about the role of the Spirit in the formation of belief and practice.

Grace & Peace,

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