Friday, November 30, 2007

We don't trust the Holy Spirit.

I've started reading a book about spiritual gifts. I'm only to page 22, so I don't have a lot to say about it, though it prompted some thoughts that have been rolling around in my brain for a while. The book opens with a discussion of life in the 1st Century church in which members learn to use the gifts of the Spirit for the benefit of the community. Each one has a part to play and each is considered equal to the others. They are all working towards a common goal.

By the end of the 2nd century the church has two classes of members: clergy and laity. The laity are considered to be not all that important and their gifts of the Spirit are ignored. The church has taken on a secular organization that is not suited to its goals and it will be hampered by that organization. We don't trust the Holy Spirit.

The laity gained some importance beginning with the Reformation in the 16th Century. The importance of spiritual gifts in clergy and laity has gained prominence in the church since the 1950s. But we still don't trust the Holy Spirit.

As part of my efforts to battle the church over the issue of homosexuality I have written letters to the denomination newspaper/magazine here in Michigan saying that for an organization that is based on the grace of Christ we are spending way too much time enforcing the rules. Responses to my letters almost always contain the thought, "If we don't enforce the rules what do we stand for?" I claim we should stand for the love of Christ, but that doesn't get very far.

Through further reading of the bible and other books I've come to understand how things should work. As one reads and studies the bible, prays, listens to sermons, and interacts with other people one is taught by the Holy Spirit (usually through a gentle nudge after an interaction goes wrong) on how to lead a loving life.

But we don't trust the Holy Spirit. We become frightened when the Spirit prompts us to head off in directions in which "We've Never Done It That Way Before." We become incensed when someone who had committed a grievous offense doesn't get the smite from God as quickly as thoroughly as we demand. We are convinced certain behavior just has to be sinful yet someone claims the Spirit prompted them to do it. We can't verify the source of such promptings. We are much more comfortable with a list of dos and don'ts than with the claim that the Spirit will teach us if we just give him time. It is much easier to gauge if another person is Christian by that list than by personal promptings of a Spirit who gifts us individually. The institutional church, even with a structure that inhibits its message, won't easily give up its power, even to the Holy Spirit. In an age that pits the religious against the scientific we discourage our spiritual sides to avoid being seen as a bit loopy. We don't trust the Holy Spirit.

How to strengthen that trust will have to wait until I've done more reading.


  1. My brother emailed this comment:
    > Hey,
    > 1) So do you think the church will ever get it?
    > 2) If we trust the Holy Spirit, we can live and grow Spiritually without the
    > church?
    > You are just scratching the surface.

    I reply:

    Will the church ever get it? That's a toss-up. There are lots of people with vested interests in how things are done now. If it does it won't be in my lifetime and maybe not for a few decades after that. I have heard (and will work to make happen locally) that individual congregations do get it.

    I think that we can live without the institutional church as it now exists but I doubt we will get far without the support of a community of believers, and you might as well call that a church. The book I'm reading says the Gifts of the Spirit are for the benefit and growth of the community of believers.

    Just scratching the surface? Don't I know it. Any thoughts on what I'll find underneath? This will be a long-term learning experience fraught with people who don't want to go there. But this insight was a major step along the way.

  2. Have you ever considered Quaker meetings? Maybe not as a permanent switch (I know you're involved in your own congregation) but perhaps as Sunday vacations?