Monday, May 15, 2017

The Holy Spirit And The Institutional Church

"Pentecost" by Hyatt Moore

The following (greatly reformatted by me, and with some minor edits) was written by a former Eastern Orthodox (convert) Christian.

It appears that the charismata (the grace gifts of the Holy Spirit) had already begun to wane in the second century. Edwin Hatch wrote that the philosophers replaced the prophets as the leading spokesmen for Christianity. Clearly the role of the Holy Spirit changed within a couple of generations of the Church. St. John Chrysostom actually laments this fact as a great loss to the Church in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 14:
"Seest thou by how many reasons he leads him to silence and soothes him, in the act of giving way to the other? By one thing and that the chief, that he was not shut up by such a proceeding; 'for ye all can prophesy,' saith he, 'one by one.' By a second, that this seems good to the Spirit Himself; 'for the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.' Besides these, that this is according to the mind of God; 'for God,' saith he, 'is not a God of confusion, but of peace:' and by a fourth, that in every part of the world this custom prevails, and no strange thing is enjoined upon them. For thus, saith he, 'I teach in all the Churches of the saints.' What now can be more awful than these things? For in truth the Church was a heaven then, the Spirit governing all things, and moving each one of the rulers and making him inspired. But now we retain only the symbols of those gifts. For now also we speak two or three, and in turn, and when one is silent, another begins. But these are only signs and memorials of those things. Wherefore when we begin to speak, the people respond, 'with thy Spirit,' indicating that of old they thus used to speak, not of their own wisdom, but moved by the Spirit. But not so now: (I speak of mine own case so far.) But the present Church is like a woman who hath fallen from her former prosperous days, and in many respects retains the symbols only of that ancient prosperity; displaying indeed the repositories and caskets of her golden ornaments, but bereft of her wealth: such an one doth the present Church resemble." - Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 1, Volume 12, Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians, Homily XXXVI. 1 Cor. xiv. 20
In its obsession with apostolic succession, the Catholic Church (as it was called before the split between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church) lost the apostolic power and spirit. The episcopate had already asserted its right as the final ecclesial authority, and they did not welcome prophets into the services. This quite contrary to the New Testament and The Didache. The Catholic Church had become so institutionalized that it confused institutional authority with ecclesial authority. While there have always been bishops and priests who walked in these graces, there were many who, while void of the Spirit, obtained their positions by political intrigue. Charismatic authority was still recognized, but it was generally relegated to the monastic community, reserved for only the more advanced elders.

Those who wrote about the Holy Spirit, such as Ambrose and Basil, spoke of Him in detached terms based on a study of Scriptures, indicating that they were not familiar with the active living presence of the third Person of the Trinity in their lives. The role of the Holy Spirit was redefined as liturgical, Eucharistic, and rationalistic, as though the living God were to comply with the rubrics of the Sacraments. He could no longer be trusted to show up and inspire the people in unregulated spontaneity or impromptu movings. He could no longer be trusted to speak, lead, guide, reveal, and heal. Only the most advanced could expect to see the uncreated light and experience the deifying work of the Spirit. Consequently, the monastic understanding of the Holy Spirit was limited to an ascetical approach which, in turn, became the prevailing opinion of the Orthodox Church.

Vladimir Lossky and Georges Florovsky both provide some rather good arguments that Orthodox theology was not the Hellenization of Christianity, but the Christianization of Hellenism. However, the transition from a Church full of the Spirit in Acts toward the more Hellenized model would indicate otherwise. The Orthodox Church won't admit such a thing since it claims to have guarded the sacred deposit without corruption, maintaining the fullness of what the Apostolic Church had in the New Testament period.

Philosophy began to be the dominant method of theologizing very early. Long before the West introduced Scholastic Theology, the East had succumbed to the temptation to make Christianity a cerebral activity. At least as early as Justin Martyr and Clement, Christianity became a philosophy. An academic aristocracy replaced charismatic authority, which often manifested among the most uneducated and barbaric people. Yet the Apostle Paul warned that philosophy cannot know God (1 Corinthians 1:18-20). Paul said that he deliberately chose not to rely on sophia when preaching so that the "demonstration of the Spirit" and the "power of God" could be present (1 Corinthians 2:4-5). This is precisely why one does not see the power of God or demonstrations of the Spirit with most of the Church Fathers. It is also why the Holy Spirit does not manifest with most contemporary priests, bishops, and Protestant preachers. Volumes of treatises were written, but "The kingdom of God does not consist in words, but in power" (1 Corinthians 4:20). Because of the general Greek belief that the image of God in man is his rational faculty, God was approached as a rational Being. However, the things of the Holy Spirit cannot be received by "the natural man ... because they are foolishness to him" (1 Corinthians 2:14).

All of the debates about homoousios and hypostasis may have clarified the Trinity and the two natures of Christ, but they resulted in further intellectualizing Christianity. This all goes contrary to the warning of Paul, who wrote, "Solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers" (2 Timothy 2:14). While the Orthodox Church sees the many schisms as necessary heresies in order to define and defend the truth, the reality is that Christianity began to split and divide over these wranglings about words.

The early preachers, unlike the Church Fathers, did not rely on the schools of Greek rhetoric and the rules which governed homilies. Preaching was not a cognitive function. Rather, they relied upon the person and power of the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 1:12). When they preached, people did not just hear about God; they actually heard from God (1 Thessalonians 1:5; 2:13).

The Body of Christ needs all the ministries mentioned in Ephesians 4:11 (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers). This is a problem for the institutional hierarchy because they have no control over whom God chooses. These charisms are given by the sovereign choice of God, not the Church. Those who walk in these graces have authority in the body of Christ, which is proven by the Spirit and power.

Montanism was an attempt to return to a living relationship with the Holy Spirit. The documentation on the Montanists is very limited. It is unfortunate that, with the exception of Tertullian, we do not have any documents authored by the Montanists which show us what they taught or prophesied. However, it found success because the laity still operated in the charismata. There was a remnant of believers who still trusted the Holy Spirit. It was really little different than the prophets of the Old Testament who were in constant conflict with formalized Judaism, or the Lord and His apostles in their conflicts with the Jews of the Second Temple Period.

Montanism revealed the tension between political authority and spiritual authority. But it was flawed and it ultimately failed. The death nail in the coffin came when Constantine outlawed private meetings in houses. Spiritual songs and hymns were also outlawed in an attempt to stamp out some of the heresies. In other words, it was against the law for a group of people to meet with the Holy Spirit. But in their effort to control the heretics they quenched the Spirit.

As an exercise, go through the book of Acts and mark every reference to the Holy Spirit to understand how He operated and how the early Church related to Him. Follow this up by doing the same thing in the Epistles. After doing so, ask yourself these questions: Why did the Church discontinue this relationship with the Holy Spirit? Why do we not see the Holy Spirit manifesting in this manner? Can we experience the Holy Spirit in this way and, if so, what do we need to do to invite the Holy Spirit to be manifest as Lord in our lives?

Even if one is baptized, chrismated, and partakes of the Eucharist regularly, one still needs to personally invite the Holy Spirit to fill, baptize, speak, guide, teach, and manifest Himself. One needs to cry out that the Holy Spirit would reveal Jesus and the Father to his heart. If a person has not experienced the baptism in the Holy Spirit as believers did in the book of Acts, it is very difficult to understand many things the New Testament says about Him.

One can accumulate a pedantic understanding of all the Church Fathers and still not have a single revelation of the truth, because such revelation comes from the Spirit. The theology of the Fathers has great appeal to those who are intellectually inclined. This is especially true for those with a background in philosophy. However, the Father in heaven chose to conceal things from the wise and reveal them to babes. Therefore Paul wrote, "Let him who is wise become a fool that he may be truly wise" (1 Corinthians 3:18).

In the end we are utterly dependent upon the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth.

Of related interest: