Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

Fundamental Belief Number 17 (Spiritual Gifts and Ministries)

God bestows upon all members of His church in every age spiritual gifts which that each member is to employ in loving ministry for the common good of the church and of humanity. Given by the agency of the Holy Spirit, who apportions to each member as He wills, the gifts provide all abilities and ministries needed by the church to fulfill its divinely ordained functions. According to the Scriptures, these gifts include such ministries as faith, healing, prophecy, proclamation, teaching, administration, reconciliation, compassion, and self-sacrificing service and charity for the help and encouragement of people. Some members are called of God and endowed by the Spirit for functions recognized by the church in pastoral, evangelistic, apostolic, and teaching ministries particularly needed to equip the members for service, to build up the church to spiritual maturity, and to foster unity of the faith and knowledge of God. When members employ these spiritual gifts as faithful stewards of God’s varied grace, the church is protected from the destructive influence of false doctrine, grows with a growth that is from God, and is built up in faith and love. (Acts 6:1-7; Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:7-11, 27, 28; Eph. 4:8, 11-16; 1 Tim. 3:1-13; 1 Peter 4:10, 11.)  (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:9-11, 27, 28; Eph. 4:8, 11-16; Acts 6:1-7; 1 Tim. 3:1-13; 1 Peter 4:10, 11.)

The changes in San Antonio were very minor. The change from “which” to “that” was editorial for the sake of current English usage. “Apostolic” was dropped because it was felt to be unclear to most readers without definition or elaboration. As with the other FBs, the Bible texts at the close have been re-arranged.

The wider Christian Church basically ignored the spiritual gifts for centuries, so it is not surprising that other Christians criticized Ellen White and the Adventist Church for receiving and promoting the gift of prophecy. Adventists themselves, on the other hand, basically ignored all the other gifts, emphasizing only the gift of prophecy. Now the pendulum is swinging the other way in both contexts. Evangelical churches are much more open to spiritual gifts, including the gift of prophecy, and Adventists are emphasizing the broader panoply of gifts, although prophecy still has pride of place (Fundamental 18). So the very existence of this fundamental is an advance and an expansion on the original Adventist tendency to emphasize only the gift of prophecy.

It is interesting that the church’s practice in regard to women in ministry is not entirely in line with this fundamental. There is no gender language at all in the statement, in implying that the gifts of the Spirit are equally available to all. Yet many parts of the church question whether some of these gifts are available to women or at least whether we are allowed to publically recognize that these gifts are available to women. If the Spirit called another Ellen White today, many in the church would probably reject her for the very same reasons that they reject the ordination of women.

The statement makes no reference at all to speaking in tongues. One might have expected a negative reference, but there is none. Speaking in tongues is not encouraged by the church but is not forbidden either. In practice members can speak in tongues as long as they do so privately and do not make it a public issue. When speaking in tongues goes public in the Adventist Church it leads to unnecessary division, but it is not forbidden in principle. In many ways, speaking in tongues is like keeping the feast days of the Old Testament. It is permissible under some circumstances, but must not be mandated.

This fundamental is particularly important for the work of Loma Linda University.  The purpose of the School of Religion at Loma Linda is not generally the training of ministers, but the training of laity for ministry. And the spiritual gifts provide the biblical basis for such a mission (note the wording “all members of the church”). It is interesting that the statement moves from a focus on general gifts that all might exercise in behalf of everyone else to a more narrow focus on the kinds of gifts more typical of clergy.

Interesting question. Can non-Christians have spiritual gifts and in fact be part of the body of Christ even though they don’t know His name? John 1:9 indicates that the light of Christ to some degree enlightens every human being (see also Acts 14:14-17 and 17:26-28). So there is a healthy tension between what God is doing in the church and what He is doing through the Holy Spirit more broadly in the world. I have found in dialogue with non-Christians that a lot of spiritual learning can take place in both directions. There is mutual transformation when open hearts encounter each other. The Spirit is the agent of transformation among Christians, but also is present wherever genuine inter-religious dialogue occurs. The Holy Spirit can use people from very different backgrounds to change us.

Loma Linda is a place where people of other faiths, including non-Christian faiths, have found common cause with Adventists in the mission of continuing the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus in today’s world. The Hebrew of Malachi 1:11 affirms that people ignorant of the biblical God may yet offer acceptable worship to Him from a sincere heart. At Loma Linda we have often experienced this. So I have suggested a unique Loma Linda application of this belief. I can say to non-Christians, “If God brought you here (to Loma Linda), you belong here and you are called to contribute to the unique mission of Loma Linda University Health. If God called you here you have something we need.” So even non-Christians can have a role in training laity for ministry. That’s the way the Spirit works.

A final observation. All the Bible texts for this fundamental come from the New Testament. This pattern has been increasingly the case as we move through the fundamental beliefs. One wonders what that says about the value that is placed on the Old Testament in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

SDA Fundamental Belief Number 5 (Holy Spirit)

God the eternal Spirit was active with the Father and the Son in Creation, incarnation, and redemption. He is as much a person as are the Father and the Son. He inspired the writers of Scripture. He filled Christ’s life with power. He draws and convicts human beings; and those who respond He renews and transforms into the image of God. Sent by the Father and the Son to be always with His children, He extends spiritual gifts to the church, empowers it to bear witness to Christ, and in harmony with the Scriptures leads it into all truth. (Gen. 1:1, 2; 2 Sam. 23:2; Ps. 51:11; Isa. 61:1; Luke 1:35; 4:18; John 14:16-18, 26; 15:26; 16:7-13; Acts 1:8; 5:3; 10:38; Rom. 5:5; 1 Cor. 12:7-11; 2 Cor. 3:18; 2 Peter 1:21.) (Gen. 1:1, 2; Luke 1:35; 4:18; Acts 10:38; 2 Peter 1:21; 2 Cor. 3:18; Eph. 4:11, 12; Acts 1:8; John 14:16-18, 26; 15:26, 27; 16:7-13.)

As usual, the Scripture texts were re-arranged in this fundamental. Aside from one major addition, the wording is identical to the 1980 version of the statement. The added sentence, “He is as much a person as are the Father and the Son,” is clearly intended to rule out the view that is popular in some Adventist circles; that the Holy Spirit is not a unique person or entity, but is simply the omnipresent power of God the Father (and sometimes also Jesus Christ—in the latter case something of a “Binitarian” view). It also affirms by implication the divine personhood of the Son, in case anyone would ever challenge that.

According to the way this doctrine is written, the Holy Spirit never acts alone. In all of His activities the Father and the Son are also involved. Adventists are, by profession, monotheists, not “tritheists” (believing that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three separate and distinct gods). It was the relationship between Father and Son that split the early church into Eastern and Western traditions. The Eastern church wanted to clearly distinguish the work of the Father and the Son, the Western church wanted to emphasize the unity between them. Seventh-day Adventists have adopted the Western side of the debate, not surprising, since they are rooted in American Protestantism, which arose in Western Christianity. Eastern Christianity has never had a reformation like that of Luther and Calvin in the West. A result of this split (formalized in the year 1054 AD) is that Western Christians, including Adventists tend to subordinate the Holy Spirit to a degree. Father and Son are both seen as “sending” or having authority over the Spirit.

Exactly how the members of the Trinity relate to each other is debated among all Christians. Does the Trinity represent three “centers of consciousness” (note that the NT does not use the term “persons” with reference to God as most Christians today do, including SDAs in Fundamental 2)? Or is the Trinity one center of consciousness that we experience in different ways and at different times? The first leans toward “tritheism” and the latter toward absolute “monotheism.” Furthermore, the Eastern church tends to have a social view of the Trinity, emphasizing the inner relationship among them, while the Western church has a more psychological view of the Trinity, emphasizing their distinction and uniqueness. Each side of the debate does what it can to balance its own over-emphases. Clearly, the sharper you try to define your view of the godhead, the more mind-bending the outcome. Some things are best left a bit blurry, lest we subtly come to think we can control or manage God.

The Loma Linda view of these things tends to heighten a focus on the Father and on the wholeness of God as a model for the way we view human nature. If one makes the distinctions among Father, Son and Holy Spirit too strong, one can end up with three gods. At Loma Linda Jesus is the clearest revelation of what God (including all three) is like, if you have seen Him you have seen the Father (John 14:9), and by implication also the Holy Spirit. But enough on the godhead as a whole, this fundamental is about the Holy Spirit.

Once again this fundamental seeks to be clear without being too specific, it is careful in what it says and what it doesn’t say. For example, the Holy Spirit “draws and convicts human beings” (ironically, in the NT it is the Father [John 6:44] and Jesus [John 12:32] who do the drawing, that term is never used for the Spirit). The “convicts” part is firmly based on Scripture (John 16:8-11), yet does not probe very deeply into that process. How the Holy Spirit works in our lives is largely left open to experience, research and individual impressions, which is as it should be. The Spirit is described as the active agent of the godhead in the present age. “He” inspires, fills, draws, convicts, renews, transforms and empowers. All of these activities can be known in human experience, yet are hard to detail and define.

Throughout church history, people who emphasize the Holy Spirit tend to be spiritual “insurgents,” people who press for change and new ideas (see John 3:8). So it is not surprising that Adventists today tend to de-emphasize the Spirit. It would be interesting to research what happens when people over-emphasize or under-emphasize the Spirit. When people over-emphasize the Father (at the expense of the Son and the Spirit), it tends to lead to a dark and foreboding religion, where God is severe and punitive and people are fearful. When people over-emphasize Jesus Christ, the religion tends toward sentimentalism (like the song “In the Garden”), an over-focus on one’s own sinfulness, and a loss of majesty and awe in relation to God. When people over-emphasize the Spirit, it can produce a focus on self and the need for more and greater experiences with God. When those experiences don’t happen it can lead to disillusionment and loss of faith.

SDA history includes periods of Holy Spirit over-emphasis and ecstasy. One of these was at the very beginning, when the “shouting Methodist” background (the charismatic roots of Ellen White herself) led to noisy gatherings with people being “slain in the Spirit.” There was a strong emphasize on manifestations and less on sober research and reasoning. Another period of over-emphasis was the “Holy Flesh” movement around the year 1900. Adherents sought a physical experience of the Spirit, shouting and praying until someone fell unconscious, after which they would be considered ready for translation and no longer able to sin. When the Holy Spirit is emphasized too much we tend to baptize our own impulses.

One of the first “heresies” of the Christian Church involved the Montanists in the second Christian century. Arising in Asia Minor, they were doctrinally orthodox in general, but believed that the Bible (the OT and the apostolic writings at that time) is not the most direct path to God, the experience of the Holy Spirit is. So they practiced the spontaneity that comes from the Spirit and believed that, in a sense, every believer is as inspired as the prophets and the apostles. They sought to reform the church but were soon isolated and marginalized.

A concluding note. There is nothing said in this fundamental about the charismatic phenomenon of speaking in tongues. While that phenomenon has rarely been part of Adventist experience and would be awkward in most Adventist worship gatherings, there is no specific condemnation of it in the SDA fundamentals. In practice this means that Adventists who wish to are free to practice some form of speaking in tongues as long as they do so privately and do not agitate within the larger body over the matter. When the issue is agitated, it quickly leads to strife and division, which becomes a problem of order rather than one of theology. It is like keeping the feast days of the OT. It is permissible but must not be mandated.