THE COMING OF THE SPIRIT
In this section, we will continue to reflect on biblical references to the Holy Spirit, focusing now on early accounts of the coming of the Spirit. This is a kind of natural follow-up to our reflection on Jesus' teaching in that we are examining how this teaching actually came to be realized in the early Church.
To begin, we note again that before the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost, the followers of Jesus were an impotent group, largely consumed by grief over the crucifixion of Jesus, and wonder concerning their experiences of him resurrection. His parting words to them (according to Luke) were that they would "receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and then you will be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judea and Samaria, and indeed to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1: 8). Following his ascension, they returned to Jerusalem and the upper room where Jesus had eaten the Passover meal with them before he was crucified. Present were the Apostles, several women, Mary the mother of Jesus and some of his kin. They prayed, had meals in common, supported one another, and waited . . . for what, I'm sure they knew not.
There are two accounts in the New Testament of the initial outpouring of the Spirit-one in John's Gospel, the other in Acts. In John's Gospel, the Spirit is breathed upon the Apostles in his first resurrection appearance to them.
"Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, 'Peace be with you', and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord, and he said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so am I sending you." After saying this he breathed on them and said: "Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained." (Jn. 20: 19-23)
Here we see the disciples gathered and waiting, and we see Jesus imparting the Spirit to empower them as witnesses. This isn't really so different from the Acts account, which presumes a longer period of time between the resurrection and Pentecost. The differences in the accounts are real, however, and are the sort of thing that critics of Christianity like to harp on. Did the Spirit come right after the resurrection or weeks later? Both accounts cannot be correct on this point.
Well, maybe, but maybe not. It's possible that Jesus' breathed the Spirit upon the Apostles when he appeared to them, but that the fullness of the gift became known to them later, at Pentecost. It's also possible that John is not as concerned about history as Luke (the author of Acts) was, and that John is completing the teaching on the Holy Spirit we reflected upon in conference Two with this action of Jesus. Biblical scholars have much to say about these kinds of questions, but we'll leave them aside in favor of emphasizing the fact that the Spirit was given, as Jesus had promised, and this marked the beginning of the Christian religion.
As we read through the Acts of the Apostles, we find other instances when the Spirit was poured out. Generally, the transmission seems to come after a period of teaching and formation, with an Apostle coming to lay on hands to call forth the Spirit. This procedure continues in many Christian traditions to this day. There were other occasions, however, when outpourings were manifest before people were even baptized or had any significant Christian education. Acts 10: 44-48, for example, describes the Spirit coming to Gentiles who had listened to Peter's preaching. This type of manifestation was considered extraordinary, however, and was taken to be a message to the leaders of the early Church to help them recognize that Christ had come not only for the Jews, but for everyone, and that Baptism was to be open to all.
Finally, we noted outpourings upon believers who had presumably already been baptized and who had even already received the Spirit. An instance of this is described in Acts 4: 31; the purpose seems to be to embolden the believers in the fact of persecution.
Receiving the Spirit
As noted above, there seem to be two general modes for transmitting the Spirit. In both examples, there is a gathered community who has been grieving the loss of Jesus, but who are in wonder over his resurrection. In the first mode, the Spirit is literally showered upon them without the mediation of laying on of hands or any other such method. What is being emphasized in these passages is the gratuitous nature of the gift-that it comes directly from God and cannot be confused with any kind of energetic dynamic on a human level. This is not simply an instance of Jesus' followers getting caught up on a kind of nostalgic enthusiasm; there is a Power Who descends upon them and they are changed by the experience. There is also, in these outpourings, a definite experience noted by the recipients, a "before and after," if you will. The Spirit's presence is unmistakable in the experience it communicates and the effects that follow.
In the second mode--the transmission of the Spirit through the laying on of hands--we can presume a period of catechesis and preparation in advance. Even though there were occurrences such as those described in Acts 10: 44-48, these seem to have been the exception rather than the rule. Acts 8: 14-17 gives us what is more likely to have been the ordinary course of events. Here we read of Samaritans who had received the preaching and who had been baptized, but who had not yet received the Spirit. In response to a request from the evangelizing deacons, Peter and John "went down there, and prayed for the Samaritans to receive the Holy Spirit, for as yet he had not come down on any of them. . . Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit."
The New Testament leaves little doubt concerning the reality of a reception of the Holy Spirit. It is a real experience! Everywhere we read of the coming of the Spirit, there are always signs that accompany Her reception, the most visible being exuberant praise and glory to God, often in a new or mysterious language (the gift of tongues, or glossalalia). Recipients also prophesy, speaking God's word of truth to one another, and generally show signs of boldness in speaking of what God has done in Christ. Paul seems to take it for granted that the people he writes to had an experience of the Holy Spirit, as he often reminds them of this Gift and encourages them to remember what it was like when the Spirit was given to them. This was a clear and distinctive "event" in the life of Christian faith, signifying the reality of God's life in the soul and new life in Christ. (As you read this, you're probably wondering about the disparity between that early perspective and what we observe in most Christian churches today. Maybe we can discuss this on the forum.)
A Modern Perspective
Theologians today maintain that the Spirit is given with Baptism, and that She is active in our lives even if we have not been especially open to Her. Some Christian denominations do not have a Sacrament of Confirmation, for example, or any kind of rite or ceremony to signify transmission of the Spirit. Even in the Roman Catholic Church, which makes a distinction between the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, it is taught that Baptism " . . . gives the baptized sanctifying grace, the grace of justification . . . giving them the power to live and act under the prompting of the Holy Spirit through the gifts of the Holy Spirit. (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1266). Confirmation, in the Roman Church, is "like Baptism, which it completes" and which "imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual mark . . . the sign that Jesus Christ has marked a Christian with the seal of the Spirit by clothing him with power from on high so that he may be his witness." (CCC #1304)
The practice of the early Church and of many Christian denominations today, then, points up a kind of two-stage incorporation into Christ's mystical body, the first step being Baptism and the second Confirmation, which presupposes Baptism and is often administered years later. Traditions that do not celebrate Confirmation often encourage a kind of "Baptism in the Holy Spirit" to invite full surrender to the Spirit. In fact, even in traditions that do provide Confirmation, there is often an encouragement to seek this more mindful and conscious reception of the Spirit, as Confirmation is often received without much knowledge of the Gift or expectancy of its efficacy. Undoubtedly, there are still outpourings upon groups and individuals falling outside this process, not to mention the action of the Spirit in other world religions. That is another isse, however, to be discussed at another time . . .
Bottom line for readers: if you have been baptized as a Christian, you may be reassured that you have received the Holy Spirit. "Stirring up the Spirit" is more what is needed, and we will be discussing this in conferences to come.
Reflection and Discussion
1. What questions or comments do you have from this conference?
2. What times in your life have you felt the Spirit stirring within?
3. Do you remember your Confirmation or Baptism? How did you experience the Spirit during that time?
It is interesting to see the differences in how the Spirit is received today and how the Spirit was received in Biblical times. My first tendency is to think that we've lost touch with the Person and power of the Spirit, and that's why we don't see the same kinds of manifestations of the Spirit as in the early church. Then I start remembering other passages of scripture where Paul was rebuking church members (including Peter) for their weaknesses or sinful actions, and I realize that even in the early church, the outpouring and reception of the Spirit wasn't a situation where "they all lived happily ever after". They still at times of weakness and sinfulness and immorality, etc. And like you pointed out, Phil, even those who had already received the Sppirit had to be filled again when they prayed for boldness. I like the idea of "stirring up the Spirit", rather than seeking the flashy miracles and manifestations. It's a good reminder of why the Spirit was sent: to be our Counselor and Teacher and Helper, not to put on a show for us. So it'll be interesting to explore how to get in touch with the always-present, closer-than-our-own-breath Spirit and get ourselves out of the Spirit's way so She can move and act through us and in us.
I have a question after reading Conference 3. I received the gift of tongues years ago but never understood how to use this gift except in private prayer. While I was in a community, a rather new one, no one had the gift of interpretation of tongues. I was a bit uncomfortable praying in tongues with no one to interpret. As you can see my understanding is very limited. A little explanation or referral to further information would be appreciated.
I believe the Spirit was sent to be Counselor, Teacher and Helper, but In my life I have experienced the Spirit also healing, sometimes granting profound healing. I will share one time that I am quite sure the Spirit moved powerfully in me. I had been married for about 15-16 years to a man with active and worsening alcoholism. The emotional and spiritual pain in my life had gotten so bad I had was unable to allow myself to feel emotion and had not cried in years. I was almost dragged/forced by a friend to go to a Charismatic prayer meeting with her, she even helped arrange baby sitting for me she was so determined that I should go. I never said a word, just watched, unprepared for what I observed. At the end of the meeting we held hands in a circle and prayed the Our Father. The woman to my left, who was the leader, had the coldest hands I had ever felt!!! Mid way through the prayer I felt a warmth in my left hand that started to go up my arm getting rapidly warmer to the point of being quite hot, but not uncomfortable; and the heat rested in my heart. I was absolutely sure that there was intense light radiating from my heart but when I looked I saw nothing. When the prayer was done I started sobbing and cried for hours. Something was unblocked, thawed, and opened by and to the Spirit. I was able to cry and laugh, pray, love, and praise God again.
I vividly remember my Confirmation. I had prayed and prepared and fully expected to be filled by the Spirit, changed and empowered. I
was devastated when nothing happened, when I realized I was the same old me.
I do not go to church. I appreciate your teaching straight from tha Bible. I do love the Lord with all my heart and I want to worship Him in spirit and in truth. It is refreshing that there are people prepared to speak openly and give account of their beliefs.
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