Who Proceeds from the Father and the Son

Part Three of The Holy Spirit in John

Jesus is the bearer and bestower of the Holy Spirit. He is the one on whom the Spirit comes and abides, and he is the source of the Spirit for all who believe.

And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ (John 1:32-33)

John baptizes in water, but Jesus baptizes in the Holy Spirit. John 7:37-39 makes a related association between water and the Spirit. Here, the evangelist describes the coming of the Spirit as a stream of living water coming from the abdomen of Jesus, satisfying thirst of all who come to him. The Good News Translation captures, I think, John’s intent correctly:

On the last and most important day of the festival Jesus stood up and said in a loud voice, “Whoever is thirsty should come to me, and whoever believes in me should drink. As the scripture says, ‘Streams of life-giving water will pour out from his side.’ ” Jesus said this about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were going to receive. At that time the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not been raised to glory. (John 7:37-39 GNT)

Although most translations seem to imply that the streams of life-giving water flow from within the heart of the believer, the one from whose “belly” flows (ek tēs koilias autou) a river of living water in the fourth gospel is most naturally taken to be Jesus. John is the evangelist for whom it is very significant that blood and water came from Jesus’ side at his death (John 19:34).

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He Ascended into Heaven

Acts 1:1-11 – Ascension Sunday

He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. (The Apostles’ Creed)

After He had said this, He was taken up as they were watching, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. While He was going, they were gazing into heaven, and suddenly two men in white clothes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you have seen Him going into heaven.”  (Acts 1:9-11)

In a 1966 episode of The Beverly Hillbillies, cousin Jethro Bodine dreams of becoming an astronaut. To fulfill his dream, he straps large fireworks to his back and walks off to launch himself into space. The camera never shows Jethro again, but instead focuses on Jed and Granny as they stand in front of their Beverly Hills mansion watching Jethro ascend into the heavens. The humor in the scene comes from imagining what we don’t see. In unison, two heads bend skyward as if following Jethro’s rocket-propelled flight into the air. Then, as they stare into the sky, the Clampetts together exclaim “Oooo, aaah” just like I have so many times when I watched the sky light up on the fourth of July. I think I literally rolled on the floor laughing once when I watched this. (Yes, I have quite a sophisticated sense of humor.)

I think about this episode every time I read Luke’s words in Acts 1:11, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into heaven?” As Luke tells us the story of Jesus’ ascension, apparently he intends for us to have a somewhat deeper reaction than “Oooo, aaah.” Jesus’ ascension is more than a cool rocket ride into space or a really awesome invisible elevator ride into heaven.

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Confessionalists and Pietists

When I was in seminary way back when, I read Donald Dayton’s Discoveing an Evangelical Heritage. Dayton reminded evangelicals that their 19th century forebears were social activists that supported the abolition of slavery, women’s rights, labor reform and other causes now deemed “liberal” or “progressive”. Dayton’s thesis was that what became the “social gospel” movement was rooted firmly in an earlier form of evangelical piety.

I recently read D. G. Hart’s The Lost Soul of American Protestantism which makes a similar argument: the progressive liberalism of mainstream Christianity and the social conservatism of evangelicalism are both children of what he calls Anglo-American revivalism that began with the Great Awakenings. Revivalism itself was the child of continental pietism.

The sort of religion heralded by the revivals of the First Great Awakening is chiefly responsible for the triumph of a utilitarian view of faith. The itinerant evangelists of these revivals, as well as their successors, transformed Christianity from a churchly and routine affair into one that was intense and personal. The conversion experience marked the beginning of this new form of faith. But it was only the start. True converts were expected to prove the authenticity of their faith through lives that were visibly different from nonbelievers. Indeed, the demand for a clear distinction between the ways of the faithful and those of the world not only propelled many of the social reforms associated with evangelicalism but also provided the foundation for viewing Christianity in practical categories. If faith was supposed to make a difference in all areas of life, not just on Sunday but on every day of the week, it is no wonder that the emphasis in Protestant circles shifted from church forms of devotion to one that should be seen in personal affairs, community life and national purpose. In other words, the cycle of revivals throughout American religious history, inaugurated by the First Great Awakening, secured the victory of pietism within American Protestantism. Like its European antecedents, American pietism dismissed church creeds, structures and ceremonies as merely formal or external manifestations of religion that went only skin deep. In contrasts, pietists have insisted that genuine faith was one transformed individuals, starting with their heart and seeping into all walks of life.

Hart also argues, however, that historians have ignored a “third way” within American Christian history. Hart identifies this stream as confessionalism.

Confessional Protestants resisted revivals in large part because the methods of the evangelists and the piety expected of converts were generically Christian – sincerity, zeal and a moral life. As a result, revivalism did not respect but in fact undermined the importance of creedal subscription, ordination and liturgical order. In a word, confessionalists opposed revivalism because it spoke a different religious idiom, one that was individualistic, experiential, and perfectionistic, as opposed to the corporate, doctrinal and liturgical idiom of historic Protestantism.

The pietists, Hart says, won. Confessionalism lost and persevered primarily in small, ethnically based denominations.

One way to measure this defeat is to ask any American Protestant if the Apostle’s Creed, the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper or the ministry of the local pastor is as important as personal times of prayer and Bible study, meeting with other Christians in small groups, witnessing to non-Christians, or volunteering at the local shelter for the homeless.

Pietism fit America. Hart’s history of pietism and American culture is a great read.It’s particularly interesting to discover that before 1960, it was the mainstream or progressive side of the aisle that most saw itself aligned with American history and values.

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True God from True God

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.

As I recited these words from the Nicene Creed at tonight’s Holy Thursday service I looked up from the prayerbook and gazed at the crucifix hanging behind the altar. I took a close look at the body of Jesus represented there – something that’s probably a good thing to do at this point in Holy Week – and realized something important about the words of the creed I was reciting.

I have always favored the Apostle’s Creed over the Nicene Creed because the former is more concrete. Words like “light from light” – “true God from true God” – “of one being with the Father” – these always seemed a little too abstract and speculative for my taste.

Tonight, as I spoke these words, my eyes were fixed on the  image of Jesus crucified. Suddenly, the words took on new meaning. They weren’t merely philosophical abstractions about the qualities of divinity or speculations about the pre-existent logos. Looking at Christ crucified, I was looking at light from light, true God  from true God. This fellow hanging on the cross is of the same stuff as the Father. This Holy Week shows us what God looks like.