Summary: John Calvin said, “The Holy Spirit brings no new doctrine, but teaches that which was uttered by Christ’s own mouth, and imprints it in our minds.” Our interesting times would like us to believe that truth is relative. This isn’t really that new. Pilat
General Assembly is meeting in Louisville this Trinity Sunday. And as those elders and ministers pray, worship, gather and debate the crucial issues for this denomination each and everyone of them is seeking the Holy Spirit to present to the church God’s will. I want you to understand that the greatest issue facing our denomination is not the place of gay and lesbian believers within the Body of Christ. The issue is quite simply one of authority. Who is the authority when it comes to faith? What authority is greater than any and all others? And how does one interpret and understand that source of authority?
This ongoing struggle is taking place throughout all our society. Supposedly a Chinese curse says, “May you live in interesting times.” Well by that standard we should find it easy to feel cursed today in our times. Let me share with you some of the “interesting” things going on in our world. Surveys of Americans who identify themselves as “born again” believe in reincarnation. The percentage of people who think pre-marital sex is okay doesn’t vary from the non-church to the churched population. India is asserting Hinduism and demanding that Christians convert back. Afghanistan has demanded that non Muslims where distinct marks that mark them as non-Islam. Religious warfare has risen to the forefront in Indonesia, Fiji and elsewhere.
The response to such “interesting times” has been to be rather uncritical of most of it. We don’t want to seem judgmental toward others so we say, “well if that makes them happy” or “it doesn’t matter what you believe as you’re sincere” or other such nonsense. We find the label “spiritual” to be so all inclusive that we assume anything that has “spiritual” at it’s center can’t be bad or at least all bad. From this unwillingness to take a stand it becomes quite easy to fall into a sloppy theology where God is just a big, old, nice, doddering grandfather who pats all the grand kids on the head as they walk into heaven.
The other response has been to become vindictively combative when it comes to spiritual issues. Being so fearful and anxious over the open acceptance of such non-Christian viewpoints have caused some to define what is “of the Holy Spirit”. Boycotts, electing certain leaders, getting prayer back in public schools, and using the “right” Bible has been seen as being the “cure all” for these “interesting times”.
I don’t promise a simple answer to the issues we face either as a denomination or a culture but I hope that we can start to lay a foundation on which to build toward a place of understanding what it is we face. The Holy Spirit is the chosen vessel of the Godhead by which the Word of God is understood and through whom the Church lives out God’s ministry of reconciliation.
When Jesus speaks these verses it’s part of the last conversation he’s going to have on earth with his disciples before he’s executed. He is concerned about their ability to face his death. He’s worried about their ability to “put it all together” and so he reminds them earlier how this “comforter” would bring to mind everything Jesus had said to them. Building on that Jesus tells them that the Holy Spirit would lead them into all truth.
John Calvin said, “The Holy Spirit brings no new doctrine, but teaches that which was uttered by Christ’s own mouth, and imprints it in our minds.” Our interesting times would like us to believe that truth is relative. This isn’t really that new. Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” before he had him killed. Relativistic truth means we don’t want what we think, do and believe messed with by God. We want to hold on to our bigotry, hatreds, sins and the like and claim they are part of God’s truth for us.
Jesus reminds us that the Spirit is truth and leads us into all truth. John seems aware of the danger when he seeks to close the circle: ‘he shall glorify me, because he shall take what is mine and declare it to you.’ John does not envisage a personality change between the earthly Jesus of his gospel and the risen Christ. There is an absolute consistency and therefore a sense of control.
Notice that the circle is only really complete when Jesus points to his oneness with the Father in 16:15. Just as the Spirit is not independent of the Son, but speaks of what he has heard from him, so the Son is not independent of the Father, but speaks what he has heard from the Father. It is a trinity of consistency. It is also a trinity of control; so that we can use it as a criterion for measuring whether what is claimed about the Spirit is true. To be truth, it must be consistent with the Son and with the Father. While there is a hierarchy here, with the God the Father supreme, it is in the Son, according to John, that we receive the vital information. The Son has made the Father known (1:18). In Jesus we hear and see God (14:8-9).