For many, especially those in Northern California, the Holy Spirit is a the person of God that many find the most accessible. From Spiritualists to spirituality seekers for the past decade or two, the Holy Spirit has been almost a fad in both the Conservative and Progressive side of the Church. A friend of mine who claims to be “spiritual but not religious” describes the Spirit as accessible and “friendlier” then God. Interesting!
The problem is that the Spirit, taken in isolation of Jesus Christ and God, can and often is problematic. It becomes problematic for the very simple fact that the Spirit is one with God and Christ. It would be akin to having a faith and picking and choosing what you’re comfortable believing and what you are not. In a discussion once with youth a young boy said, “I like the Holy Spirit because it always makes me feel good.” Interesting again!
When we look at the theological and biblical understanding of the Holy Spirit (pre 1990’s) the Holy Spirit is the enabler. The Spirit is the person of God who is active in this world, calling people out of their comfort and into service. There is nothing more evident of this than the Pentecost story. When the people gather and the Holy Spirit descends, it is the Holy Spirit that enables the word to be preached and the people to hear. This is very important to remember because the Spirit becomes the enabler and ultimately the one who allows the Church to become what she is meant to be.
In the Confession of 1967, the role of the Holy Spirit brings a level of completeness to the call for a reconciled life in its role of allowing people to have the power to be representatives of Jesus Christ. A theological understanding that permeates the Confession of 1967 and much of the contemporary understanding of the church is the concept of missio dei or the mission of God. To overly simplify this fairly complex theology would be to say that everything God is involved in comprises His mission that He invites us to participate in.
Though mission can take many forms, the basis for our understanding of mission is that of Missio Dei, a Latin phrase which means mission of God. The concepts behind this understanding can be traced back through Barth, to Calvin, Paul, and the Hebrew Testament. The understanding of Missio Dei became a very popular way of looking at mission in the mid-twentieth century. Mission revolves around our understanding of the Triune God, especially as Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. “Mission is, primarily and ultimately, the work of the Triune God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, for the sake of the world, a ministry in which the church is privileged to participate.” God created this world because of God's love for it. Thus, mission is the work of God that began out of God's love for this world. Moreover, because of God's love for this world, God continues to be active in this world. As people of God, we are able to see God's continuing mission that started at creation and continued through God's reconciling and sanctifying acts. (From my master’s Thesis the Local Church As Missio Dei)
What the confession says is that “In spite of their sin, the Spirit gives people power to become representatives of Jesus Christ and his gospel of reconciliation to all.” This is interesting because the Spirit then is the catalyst for us to teach and live like Christ who came to bring people to a closer relationship with God. Thus, to be reconciled with God we must accept and rely on the Spirit being attuned to the power and witness therein.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen