Wednesday, February 4, 2015

What about the Holy Spirit?

A question asked by a brother…
So here is a question I have always wondered ‘How do you know it is the Holy Spirit talking, guiding, teaching, revealing?’

First of all, I am not entirely sure it’s possible to ‘know’ when the Holy Spirit is acting, at least not in a way that is self-verifiable. If that were so, the person who had this ability would be ‘infallible.’ I know that infallibility is claimed (by Roman Catholics) to be applicable to some pronouncements (usually dogmatic) of the Pope, and by others (Orthodox Christians) generally applicable to the Church in council, but it seems to me that Christ doesn’t guarantee anything like infallibility to anyone or anything. It seems to be a non-issue for Him. What does seem to be an issue for Him, is that His hearers believe in Him, who He says He is, and in the works that He does. As for the Church, He says the gates of Hades will not prevail against it, not that it is infallible.

Back to the question, which in the context of current events and daily life, can have relative meaning.

The Church, it may seem to some, has bottled up the Holy Spirit, and restricted Him to operate only in the administration of the Holy Mysteries—baptism, chrismation, confession, communion, and the rest. If you are a sacramental Christian, depending on your affiliation, you can say you ‘know’ it is the Holy Spirit operating in these events. As for events outside this category, we are left on our own, it seems, to know when the Holy Spirit is acting. Again, if we belong to the historic Church, we’re not without guidelines. We know we are not to trust emotions, nor visions, nor ‘hearings,’ nor inexplicable happenings (maybe miracles) as evidences, without subjecting them to reason and informed faith.

Outside the Church, many Christians worshipping and ministering in such associations as ‘Christian centers’ have almost no knowledge of how the Holy Spirit really acts. Instead, they follow teachings which stem from ‘charismatic’ events and personalities, combined with their personal feelings, and use these as criteria of the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit.

Let’s take each of the activities of the Holy Spirit asked about one at a time.

‘How do you know it is the Holy Spirit talking?’ First of all, no human being speaks as the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit can ‘speak’ to us through the words of other people. Yes, there are holy elders who can speak a word of wisdom for a particular purpose. An example of this, Fr Anatoly tells a woman that she needn’t return home for the sake of her job, because the factory has been shut down and will stay shut, and the workers sent home without pay, for three days. This occurs in the film, Ostrov (The Island), but similar things happen in the real world with real elders, not infrequently. But the Holy Spirit can speak to us in far humbler and completely involuntary circumstances. Anyone, Christian or not, can be ‘used’ by the Holy Spirit to speak a word, if that word must be heard and obeyed by Divine providence. Someone might tell you, ‘We must change your reservation, because the flight is overbooked,’ and the next day the flight you would have taken went down with no survivors. Again, an extreme example, but similar things happen on a smaller scale. You could not have known it was the Holy Spirit speaking, until some subsequent event confirmed it.

‘How do you know it is the Holy Spirit guiding?’ This works something like the previous, with similar examples. But we can imagine something more to the point. Someone may feel that ‘the Lord wants me to do’ such and such. It might be, getting a new job, or going to this college or that, or starting a company, or writing a book. Again, you cannot know it is the Holy Spirit guiding, except in retrospect. What came of it? What happened? Following the guidance you felt, what was the outcome? Success, failure, or both? The Holy Spirit is the most ‘mysterious’ Person of the Holy Triad precisely for this reason: We never see Him straight on. We only catch a glimpse of Him after He’s been with us and acted. Usually, we only see His work in our lives in retrospect.

‘How do you know it is the Holy Spirit teaching?’ This can only have meaning in the context of the Church and one’s life in it. When you read the bible as a member of the Church, you are being taught by the Holy Spirit, without a doubt. But should you misunderstand His teaching, the Church is there with the apostolic teaching to compare it to, and to correct yourself. Even in the Church you may also hear a person of authority teaching (whether spoken in a sermon or class), and your feelings may be aroused to accept it as being ‘of the Holy Spirit’ or the contrary. Ultimately, whether you are right or wrong, it is neither the teacher who is infallibly teaching (since we have One teacher, the Christ), nor you who can know for sure the teaching is from the Holy Spirit. What actually happens with that teaching, whether it promotes Jesus (the Holy Spirit never witnesses to Himself, only to Jesus) or whether it works against Him, this is the criterion. Yet the Holy Spirit does in fact teach us through many of the events that fill our lives, even without speaking, and we can often know this, in retrospect.

‘How do you know it is the Holy Spirit revealing?’ It all depends on what you mean by ‘revealing.’ Do you mean it as ‘personal revelation’? We know that there is no new dogma waiting to be revealed in the Church, since all dogmas were implicit in the beginning and identified and confirmed by the Church councils. But yes, the Holy Spirit can and does reveal things to us, individually, as He sees fit. The question is not ‘whether’ or ‘when’ but ‘how.’ The Holy Spirit works with us, as individuals, so closely in our daily lives that we cease to notice, except when we slow down, and silence our minds, really silence them. Yes, He reveals much, and the question you ask, ‘How do you know’ it’s Him is a very valid question. The answer is rather simpler than we would like. If what you feel is a revelation of the Holy Spirit, what does that make you think, say and do? Nothing revealed by the Holy Spirit will ever cause us to sin, or to encourage another to sin. It will never incite us to hatred, to unforgiveness, to revenge.

In closing, mention must be made of the Pentecostal shenanigans, the things Christians who believe in ‘the outpouring of the Holy Spirit’ take for signs that the Holy Spirit is present and active. Almost none of these has any reality, except in the minds of the uninstructed. The Holy Spirit is in fact the preserver of the disciples of Jesus, and even when they are in bondage to errors and sins, He may stand away, but He never abandons them, but patiently waits for them to repent, so that He may mature them. He never ceases showing everyone Jesus, if they will only look. But He hides from those who try to control Him, who pretend that they can throw His potency at people, or use His precious Name to work false miracles. He never yields to the demands of magic, but with logic He is of one accord, for logic is all that pertains to Christ, the Divine Logos. He never divides, but unites, the people who confess the Name. He initiates all into a tangible brotherhood, called the Holy Church, where He makes His home, together with the Father and the Son, ‘unto the ages of ages.’


Jim Swindle said...

You've spoken a lot of wisdom in this post. There have been a few times when I thought the Spirit spoke directly to me. I don't think that's because I'm extra-holy; maybe because I've been extra-stubborn. Whenever we think he or another spirit has spoken directly to us, we need to "test the spirits." We need to see whether what we think we heard matches with the scriptures and with the church. We will, of course, see in retrospect whether we interpreted any predictive messages correctly.

I'm disturbed by the "Jesus Calling" mentality. Any new book that claims to be the very words of Jesus, or of God, is either scripture or is not. I believe the Lord can speak directly to someone, but I believe he WON'T speak hundreds of direct, word-by-word messages to someone who's supposed to have them published in a non-scripture book for distribution to people all over the world. Thus, I conclude that such books as Jesus Calling are a fraud. The human author may be sincere, but the messages can be safely ignored.

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

Yes, brother, I unreservedly agree with your comments in both paragraphs. I am rather a recluse when it comes to watching what new books are published, especially Christian ones, so I've never heard of Jesus Calling, but from what you've hinted at, it must be of the genre of spiritual counterfeits literature, the likes of Jeanne Dixon, or Edgar Cayce, both of whom started out as Christians (one Catholic, the other Disciples of Christ), but ended up trusting in 'spirits' rather than the Holy Spirit.

Forgive me, but in my aged and decrepit state, I am very short on patience with anyone claiming new revelations or mystical knowledge of what Jesus was doing when the Bible doesn't tell us.

I may not be a fundamentalist, as they are called, but I believe the Holy Bible is more than enough resource material for every good purpose: instruction, guidance, and revelation. And I believe what holy apostle John says, 'If anybody does not keep within the teaching of Christ but goes beyond it, he
cannot have God with him: only those who keep to what He taught can have
the Father and the Son with them' (2 John 1:9).

Muhammad, Joseph Smith, and any other so-called prophets reveal nothing except the depth of depravity a man can descend to, when he abandons the fear of God, and takes it upon himself to speak as no one but Jesus Christ has authority to speak.

Thanks as always, brother, for your comments.

Jim Swindle said...

Thank you. Jesus Calling perhaps the best-selling "Christian" book outside the Bible in the past two years. It's the writings of a lady who says Jesus spoke them to her day by day. It doesn't seem to be teaching occultism, but I believe the whole premise is wrong. If the Lord is speaking to her, he's not giving new almost-but-not-quite-scripture to be published for everyone.

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

Yes, even without teaching occult or overtly heretical ideas (pantheism, reincarnation, etc.), the premise is entirely wrong, and it could lead others right into the hands of the evil one, who likes to play prophet with any spiritual idiot (ancient meaning of this word implies 'my own') he can find.

There is a genre of Christian literature that has been around since apostolic times wherein the author writes, often in the form of dialog, the words of Jesus. Probably the best known book written this way is The Imitation of Christ by the Dutch monastic Thomas à Kempis.

There is never even a hint that the dialog is anything but a construction based on the Bible, and in my edition of that book, it is copiously footnoted with the Bible references. This is done both for dramatic effect and also to teach the Bible in the context of daily life, that is, how to apply it.

Many authors of all Christian affiliations have written this way, including myself, for example, in my Eyewitnesses stories, and without having to say it explicitly, their writings are understood to be dramatic, literary, or metaphorical presentations. The presentation is fiction, but the truth conveyed is not, and the author makes no claims to be anyone special.

'Danger! Danger!' the Spirit siren sounds, when He is being traduced and masqueraded by the likes of an Immanuel Swedenborg, or Mary Baker Eddy, or infallible Roman pope. We have no one to blame but ourselves if we don't heed His alarm and get swept away along with our sand-anchored house.

'He who listens to My words' says the Lord Jesus, 'and follows them,' well, you know the rest. Not religious yarns and gossip, but the holy gospel, is what upholds and saves the world. 'Gossips are never interested in the truth' (

Thanks, brother, for this discussion.