Article V - Of the Holy Ghost

V. Of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit, proceeding from the Father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty, and glory, with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God.

It seems appropriate to be writing about this article just after Pentecost, when the disciples of Christs dramatically received the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). Perhaps because of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement there is a tendency either to not talk about the Holy Spirit or to talk disproportionately about the Holy Spirit in churches these days. This is a shame, especially as the debate about gifts, which those movements prompted is only a relatively small part of the Bible's teaching about the third person of the Trinity.

Article V gives us a concise, but significant, summary of the classical (western) Trinitarian view of the Holy Spirit (called the Holy Ghost in earlier English). What do we learn:

1. Proceeding from the Father and the Son

This is, perhaps, the most controversial aspect of the doctrine historically. In fact it is this statement that is partly the cause of the early rift between western (Roman Catholic) and eastern (Orthodox) churches, although these days it would pass most of us by.

In short, the western approach seeks to reflect some of the biblical language (especially John 15:26, but also that the Spirit is linked with both Father, e.g. Matthew 10:20), and Son, (e.g. Romans 8:9), whereas the eastern fear is that it undermines the distinctions in the Trinity and implies the Holy Spirit is some sort of power force from God that is distinct from Him.

It is true that we must not deny the distinctness of the persons of the Trinity (see Article 1) and that we must not deny that the Spirit is personal rather than an impersonal force (which is shown by the use of the personal pronoun "he" for the Spirit, e.g John 16:13, and the personal language used about the Spirit, e.g. he can be grieved Ephesians 4:30). However, neither of the eastern criticisms necessarily follow from the accepting this doctrine of what is called double procession.

So, what are we to make of this today. Well it's useful to be reminded of the close link between Father, Son and Spirit - that the Godhead acts together. So we see their unity in Jesus’ ministry at his baptism (Mark 1:10-11) and in of course in our baptisms as well (Matthew 28:19).

It's also important to remind ourselves that the Spirit is not some sort of power force. We are in the world of the Trinity not Star Wars (may the force be with you!). Perhaps especially with the link to spiritual gifts or the transforming work of the Spirit, we can be tempted to think in terms of power and not person. We need to be reminded the Spirit is a "He" not an "it."

Perhaps we also need to be reminded that the Father and Son have indeed sent the Spirit, who is with us, who points to Jesus, the truth (John 14:16-17; 15:26-27), who reveals his message to the apostles (John 14:25-26, 16:13), who convicts the world of sin (John 16:8-11); who brings spiritual rebirth (John 3:5-8) and who enables transformation in believers (Galatians 5:16-26) and who empowers his people in mission (Acts 1:8).

2. The Spirit is Equally God

To say that the Holy Spirit “is of one substance, majesty, and glory, with the Father and the Son,” is to say that the Spirit is equal with the Father and Son. To say that He is “very and eternal God,” is to affirm He is divine like the Father and the Son (Thomas, The Principles of Theology, p.91) . The Spirit is truly a distinct person of the Trinity.

This reflects the Biblical teaching where the Holy Spirit is evidently put alongside the Father and the Son (e.g. Matthew 28:19; Mark 1:9-12; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Ephesians 4:4-6) and paralleled and equated with other members of the Trinity (e.g. Job 33:4; John 14:16-17; Acts 5:3-4).

This leaves us with the incredible truth that the almighty God is with us (1 Corinthians 12:13, Ephesians 1:13). When we look at the scale of the task before us, whether mission or holiness, we look not to our own power, but his power working in us. This is both a comfort and a challenge that faithfulness to Christ is not to be given up on, because we can’t, but to be persevered toward because the Holy Spirit works in us.

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