Theology: The Holy Spirit – THE HOLY SPIRIT AN HISTORICAL VIEW

When I was a new Christian I was sitting in a preaching service when a pastor mentioned that he didn’t think that the “outer darkness” of the New Testament was the eternal state, or hell.

 

Based on that comment, I was off and running on a study of my own to find out what “outer darkness” meant. As I studied, I set down some very correct observations of the term. I finally formed a thinking that this was an intermediate place between heaven and hell where the not so good, but not so bad people went. It wasn’t hell for they were pretty nice people, but it wasn’t heaven because they weren’t that nice.

 

I mentioned this to a pastor a year or so later and he went off the deep end, telling me that I was teaching Catholicism and purgatory. I wasn’t sure what purgatory was much less the other big word he used.

 

I finally mentioned all that had gone on to an older layman that took time to look into the word and explain to me that the Gospels were given to the Jewish people and that my interpretation was probably incorrect.

 

Now, if I had lived in the AD 300-400 days I would have been called to a council and condemned a heretic by the pastor. I made my mistake in trying to interpret the texts, out of the context of the entire Bible, and what God is doing in different times. I did not want to go into an area of false doctrine, I just stumbled in because I had no training in how to study the Word.

 

In the early church even the theologians were untrained in the finer points of interpretation, indeed, interpretation came along later in time as well. (the principles and theories of.)

 

We want to look briefly at the history of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. We will not go into the liberal or Neoorthodox positions. (Walvoord has a section on Liberal and Neoorthodox views of the Holy Spirit. pp 253ff. He also lists a group of books that deal with this topic in detail in note one on p 237.)

 

EARLY CHURCH

 

The early church carried through with a belief in the Holy Spirit by their use of the name in relation to the baptismal formula however there wasn’t a Theology 101 on Pneumatology in the Bible College of Ephesus. The doctrine of the Spirit came about slowly. Probably the reason for this was that there were other doctrines that were coming under fire. The deity of Christ was a major problem that had to be dealt with.

 

Many of the early converts probably had a knowledge of the Old Testament and they would have known a little, if not a lot of information about God the Father. They had known much of the Lord Jesus through the Gospels and the things that they had heard. The Holy Spirit would have been a natural topic not to come up for awhile.

 

I’ll be quite honest, as I have taught through Theology there are many areas of study that we haven’t been able to touch on, in all the generations since the Lord was here. I’m sure pastors and teachers have studied in some of these areas, but their work has never been placed into print for others to read and interact with.

 

Each time I state that something would make a good research paper, I’m saying that I have yet to see info on the subject and haven’t had time to get into it myself.

 

A side note for free: I think it is very sad that anyone can write a self help book and get it published, even if it isn’t a proven principle, and yet we have many men of God out there researching in areas that we haven’t even discussed and they can’t get it into print. This work on theology went to publishers, and the reason for rejection at one publisher was that they could not make a proper profit on such a project. PROFIT is the motivator for most publishers today, not Spreading the Word and information concerning It.

 

 

THE CHURCH FATHERS

 

Some of the early witnesses to the Spirit are found in the writings of the Fathers.

 

This information comes from Walvoord. (Walvoord, John F., A.M., Th.D.; “THE HOLY SPIRIT;” Grand Rapids: Dunham Publishing Co.; 1958, pp 238-239)

 

“The personality and distinct office of the Holy Spirit are clearly set forth in Ignatius.”

 

“Have we not one God, and one Christ, and one Spirit of Grace that was shed for us?” Clement, (c. 100) (Epistle of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians, ch 46, v.6.)

 

“Justin Martyr, according to Smeaton, ‘is an emphatic witness to the distinct personality of the Holy Spirit.”

 

Walvoord quotes Fisher stating that Irenaeus held to the deity and eternality of the Spirit even though he felt there was a subordination to the Son as there was of the Son to the Father. Fisher also mentions that Clement of Alexandria (150-c. 215) speaks of the Spirit, Father, and the Son as the “Holy Triad”.

 

H.B. Swete in “The Holy Spirit In The Ancient Church” tells that the Spirit was active and evident in the church life and individual lives long before it was dogma to the church.

 

The Shepherd” was written by Hermas the brother of the Bishop of Rome, Bishop Pius. (Bettenson, Henry; “Documents Of The Christian Church”; New York: Oxford University Press, p 41; used by permission of Oxford University Press) This was written in the area of 150 AD and is full of symbols. Some liken it to the Revelation. In it Hermas mentions, “And when I had walked a little, I fell asleep. And the spirit caught me away, and carried me through a certain place…” (Visions I vs. 3) In vs. 20 he mentions a servant of God having the approval of the “Spirit”. Little can be learned of the doctrine of the Spirit from this source, but he is mentioned.

 

 

The rise of the doctrine of the Spirit came around 170 AD from the followers of Montanus. He and two women named Prisca and Maximilla declared the age of the Paraclete and with it new revelations from God. They held to a very high moral standard which drew men like Tertullian to the movement. They were called the Montanists.

 

They were moving away from a formal church to a Spirit type of church life, but their insistence on new revelation brought them ultimate rejection. Even with this, the doctrine of the Spirit was not formulated to any great degree.

 

Sabellianism (AD 215) presented the thought that God was one God and that He presented Himself in three modes. This gave some definition to the trinity and the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Ghost even though it was error. This was the first major error that was set forth concerning the Spirit.

 

Arius (325 AD) a presbyter of Alexandria picked up on the heresy of Monarchianism which held to one God in three modes, but that the Father was crucified.

 

Arius held that God was first and that He generated the Son and then the Son created the Spirit because the Word told him that the Son created all things.

 

The Council of Nicaea was set to settle the dispute over the trinity. Athanasius was the one that had been opposing Arius. The Council of Nicaea made the following statement concerning the Trinity: “We believe in one God, the Father All-sovereign, the maker of all things visible and invisible;

 

“And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, God of God, Light of Light, Life of Life, Son only-begotten, First born of all creation, begotten of the Father before all the ages, through whom also all things were make; who was made flesh for our salvation and lived among men, and suffered, and rose again on the third day, and ascended to the Father, and shall come again in glory to judge the living and dead;

 

 

“We believe also in one Holy Spirit.” (Bettenson, Henry; “Documents Of The Christian Church”; New York: Oxford University Press, p 35; used by permission of Oxford University Press)

 

We still see no real statement of the doctrine of the Spirit.

 

The council of Nicaea did not declare the Spirit to be God but implied such by linking the Holy Spirit to such a statement about the Father and the Son.

 

The Council of Nicaea was a minority of the church leaders and when 90 bishops later gathered to dedicate a Church they issued “THE DEDICATION CREED, 341 which is more specific about the Spirit. They were also more lengthy on Christ.

 

“In accordance with the tradition of the Gospel and of the Apostles we believe in one God, Father….”

 

“And in one Lord Jesus Christ his son,….”

 

“And in the Holy Spirit, who is given to them that believe for comfort, hallowing and perfecting, as also our Lord Jesus Christ commissioned his disciples, saying, ‘Go ye forth and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’; namely, of a Father who is truly Father, a Son who is truly Son and a Holy Spirit who is truly Holy Spirit, the titles not being given in a vague or meaningless way but accurately denoting the particular existence [or personality] and rank and glory of each that is so named, so that they are three in existence [personality] but one in agreement.” (Bettenson, Henry; “DOCUMENTS OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH”; New York: Oxford University Press, pp 58-59; used by permission of Oxford University Press)

 

The creed of Constantinople in 381 AD mentions the deity of the Holy Spirit. The cause of this creed speaking to the subject is that there were some followers of a man by the name of Macedonius that began to detract from the deity of the Spirit. His followers held that the Spirit was a creature under the control of the Son. They were called Macedonians or Pneumatomachians or “evil speakers against the Spirit”. (Taken from: “A Survey Of Bible Doctrine”; Ryrie, Charles C.; Copyright 1972, Moody Bible Institute of Chicago; Moody Press. Used by permission. p 71)

 

The statement was as follows: “And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Life-giving, who proceeds from the Father, who is to be glorified with the Father and the Son, and who speaks through the prophets.”

 

Augustine (354-430) Wrote the DeTrinitate a work on the Spirit. He presented the Spirit as God very clearly.

 

The Council of Chalcedon in 451 confirmed the work of Nicaea and Constantinople.

 

The Synod of Toledo in 589 after studying the topic added the phrase, “and the Son” after the Father in the creed of Nicaea and Constantinople. This was to show that the Father and the Son were one and that the Spirit proceeded from both. The Eastern church rejected this change and continues with just the “father” in the statement. (An earlier Council of Toledo in 447 AD used this phrase but the 589 session evidently made it official. The statement was called the FILIOQUE CLAUSE. Fili has to do with “son”.) This meeting was to determine if the Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son or only the Father.

 

Ryrie has a quote that is of interest. “The deity of the Son was settled at the Council of Nicaea; the deity of the Spirit at Constantinople; and the procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son at the Synod of Toledo. The presence of heresy had forced the church to settle these great doctrinal matters.” (Reprinted by permission: Ryrie, Charles C.; “BASIC THEOLOGY”; Wheaton: Victor Books, 1986, pp 386-87)

 

From this point on, the main thought of comment is on the personality and deity of the Spirit. Little concerning his work appears until the reformation, when Augustine’s writings became a basis of interest. During the reformation there was an emphasis on the work of the Spirit in regeneration. The reformers also laid emphasis on the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit to counter the idea that the priest was the only one that could explain the Bible.

 

 

RECENT FINDINGS

 

A man by the name of John Owen (1616-1683) wrote a book Discourse Concerning The Holy Spirit and it is still held as a classic work on the Spirit. He was a puritan. (The Holy Spirit, His Works and His Power are listed by the same author in a 1954 Kregel release and may be the same one. Ryrie mentions it in his Bibliography in the Holy Spirit book and mentions that Kuyper held it very highly.)

Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) also wrote a work on the Spirit. The Plymouth Brethren (1825) were very instrumental in the understanding of the baptizing work of the Spirit as well as His illumination of the believer.

 

Neoorthodoxy (which rose out of liberalism) sees the Spirit as only an operation of God and not a person of the Godhead. (Reprinted by permission: Ryrie, Charles C.; “BASIC THEOLOGY”; Wheaton: Victor Books, 1986, p 389)

 

Neoliberalism is the old liberalism that takes sin a bit more seriously to paraphrase Ryrie, also teaches that the Spirit is only an operation of God. They reject both the deity of Christ and the Spirit.

 

Pentecostalism has probably done more to harm the doctrine of the Spirit in some ways. They have perverted it greatly, yet out of the false doctrine has come the need to refute it and the doctrine of the Spirit has been more closely defined in recent years.

 

APPLICATION

 

1. The heresy that you may face in your future ministries will feel like the roof is caving in on you, yet you will rise to the occasion as did the fathers, and Scripturally refute all comers. Do not fear false doctrine. The falsehood of the early days did not stop God’s program.

 

If, and we believe we do, hold the truth, the very Word of God, then we have the answers that we need to refute false doctrine no matter when or where it comes. We have only to go into the Word and find those answers.

 

 

Might we draw some simple application. Some say the Gospel is the important thing, so we don’t need to major on minors. This is true to a point yet proper doctrine is called for in Scripture. We might wonder, however if some of us don’t get tied up in the detail of the doctrine and fail to live it? Indeed, might we get so tied up in the detail of doctrine that we forget to reproduce spiritually as the Lord has commanded us?

 

2. We need to watch for new falsehood and counter it as soon as possible. Now, mark my words, I am not advocating denominations, yet there is something to say of the councils of the past. They united many, many churches in many doctrines over the early years.

 

I tend to wonder if the proliferation of so many types of church government and styles of churches and doctrines aren’t from the fact that the church has no standard to go by. Many churches assume what pastor tells them is right. It may or may not be.

 

I think there is some benefit in this area to the fellowships that have sprung up in recent years that allow the churches to be autonomous, and yet have a group of believers and churches to fellowship with, as well as discuss beliefs.

 

There may be a bit of dampening to the progress of error in these fellowships, such as General Association of Regular Baptists, Independent Fundamental Churches of America etc.

 

3. Don’t be afraid to go against the tide if you are convinced that what you believe is correctly based on the Word. You need to seek out the advice of church fathers, commentaries etc. Yet, if you feel the church is in error you need to go forward. Write an article, discuss it with other pastors or past classmates.

 

There have been some like Athanasius that have had to stand against some strong tide and let the waves buffet them for the truth of Scripture.

 

Beware, however that you aren’t on a wrong wavelength. Don’t jump in with both feet. Take time and pray and consider long and hard. You may have missed finding that one verse that will blow you out of the water.

 

4. There may be a time when you will have to make a decision concerning a group with which you work. You may see changes being made that are not in keeping with the Word. When you have prayerfully considered things before the Lord, and you have made a good study of the Word, if you continue to feel the group is in error and it is an error that you do not desire to be associated with, then you must take steps to separate yourself from the group. This may well be a very hard thing to do.

 

A pastor in a certain group of churches lead me to the Lord many years ago. I was forced to not attend one of those churches recently due to the doctrinal error that I was hearing from their constitution and teachers.

 

When some of the Baptist conventions went liberal there were many good men that disagreed with the new doctrines. Some of them formed and/or joined other groups of pastors of like faith.

 

Others, usually the older men, had invested their lives in the conventions and they thought they could turn them around. Since their churches, parsonages, and retirement funds were controlled by the conventions, they stayed to do what they could. (Which turned out to be very little.)

 

This item of application grows out of my needing to take a stand at different times of my life. I have changed colleges of attendance, and left institutions that I felt were moving away from what was Biblical. It was not easy, but I felt that it was needed.

 

5. There is one further point to be made. Just because you disagree with something that you are introduced to, don’t automatically reject it as false doctrine. Take some time to properly understand what this new point is and then go to the Word to see if there is any validity. If the new point or teaching is based on scripture, look it over and compare it to other Scripture and see if it be true. Just because it is new, many in our day reject it — just because we’ve never believed that way before.

 

6. Write and hopefully some day the publishers will begin to publish some of your information.

 

7. The fathers and the creeds are not inspired, yet they can give us some good information if we take time to read them and consider them.

 

8. You are the future’s history and theology writers. Get busy. You may feel that you have nothing to contribute, but you may well develop a line of thinking that has never been studied before. Example: I have been thinking and studying the thought of where the garden of Eden was, and I have amassed a lot of information. Some day as I continue, I may submit it somewhere for scholars to consider. Indeed, as I present it to classes I am given new ideas and references that may well relate. I take these and work with them and develop my thinking. I am at the point in my study that I feel that I can almost state that I know where the Garden of Eden was located. (You might find this an interesting study.)

 

WRITE IT — YOU’LL LIKE IT.[1]

 


[1] Stanley L. Derickson Ph.D. B.A. (n.d.). DERICKSON’S NOTES ON THEOLOGY: A STUDY BOOK IN THEOLOGY.

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