In this series we have been carefully working through the early Church creeds, specifically the Nicene Creed. See earlier posts on this topic here:
We are doing this as a way to get a grasp of what were the foundational propositional beliefs that the early ecumenical (i.e. across the Roman Empire), apostolic (i.e. going back to Jesus’ disciples and their companions), and biblically grounded (derived directly from the text of the canonical scriptures) church community thought were the most important beliefs for followers of Jesus to defend at all cost (e.g. Athanasius himself was exiled several times in defense of such creedal statements).
For us today, apologists operating in a post-modern and post-Christian cultural context, looking back to our own history can provide a wealth of resources to help us continue to make the defense of the same Christianity that Paul, as well as Polycarp, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Jerome, and many other early apostolic and later-apostolic Fathers, believed to be true.
For more on why Creeds matter see this recent article in the Gospel Coalition:
And now, onto the next section of the Nicene Creed, lines 9-11 deal explicitly with the person and role of the Holy Spirit. The first four statements deal mainly with the who the Spirit is, the last with what He accomplishes in human history.
And we believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life.
He proceeds from the Father and the Son,
and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.
He spoke through the prophets.
Let’s turn these into our epistemic claims as we’ve been doing so to see what needs defending apologetically:
I believe that there is a Holy Spirit
I believe that He is Lord
I believe that He is the giver of life
I believe that He proceeds from the Father and the Son (this is a controversial statement amongst many Christians today, one that might need special attention, although its relevancy to the average believer is often hard to discern)
I believe that with the Father and Son [the Holy Spirit] is worshiped and glorified.
I believe that _ He spoke through the prophets._
Wow! The Holy Spirit, often called the “forgotten person of the Trinity,” is GOD! We cannot forget this. Although the creed doesn’t spend as many words on the person or work of the Spirit as on that of Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, fewer words does not mean lesser significance. Although, it can be reasonably said that the work of the Spirit in the world seems far more mysterious and inscrutable than that of Jesus, the incarnate one. But, if the early church believed that the Spirit could be worshiped and glorified in the same manner as the Father and the Son, then with regards to ontological status, there can be no difference between the Spirit and the other members of the Trinity.
So what are some things that the Spirit does that would need to be defended from an apologetics standpoint?
First, He exists. This, of course, is related to defending the Trinity more generally: showing its philosophical coherence, and arguing that the Scriptures themselves press the nature of the Godhead upon us. We, as Christians, cannot escape nor forsake this fundamental reality: the Triune God, who exists.
Second, the Holy Spirit gives life, He is the animating principle of all life: physical life, mental life, emotional life, etc. What more might we say here?
Third, He proceeds from the Father and the Son. What more might need to be said about this?
Fourth, He is worshiped and glorified. This means we can and should defend prayer to the Spirit and worship of Him; just as we would that of the Father or the Son.
Finally, He inspires the prophets (and apostles). How does this relate to our doctrine of Revelation and Inspiration, and, by implication, Inerrancy of the Scriptures themselves? A lot of apologetic work has been and will always need to be done on the role of the Spirit as Inspirer of the Old Testament prophets, the New Testament writers, and as the one who leads us into knowledge of the Word of God, and Who shows us its truth, validity and authority over our lives.
Much more could be said on this, so I open up the conversation now, asking a few follow-up questions:
- What sources can we draw from to provide a defense of the Holy Spirit’s existence? Which Scriptures, what other theological works?
- What sources can we draw from to provide a defense of how the Holy Spirit works in the life of the believer?
- What sources can we draw from to provide a defense for how the Holy Spirit inspires the written text of the Bible? How He preserves the integrity of that text? How He illuminates to the reader of Scripture truths about God and his work in the world, and about ourselves?
Grace and Peace,