In this series we have been carefully working through the early Church creeds, specifically the Nicene Creed.
We are doing this in order to intellectually grasp what are the foundational propositional beliefs, or truth claims, 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, and defend at all cost (e.g. Athanasius was exiled several times in defense of such creedal statements).
For us today, apologists operating in a post-modern and post-Christian cultural and intellectual context, looking back to our own history can provide a wealth of resources to help us continue to make a proper defense of the same Christianity that Paul, as well as Polycarp, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Jerome, and many other early apostolic Fathers and later patristic theologians, believed to be true, and necessarily so if one was to be considered a real follower of Jesus.
For more on why Creeds matter see this recent article in the Gospel Coalition:
“No creed but the Bible” is a terrible creed.
Indeed “no creed but the Bible” is a terrible creed. Instead, we recall the words of Bishop Andrewes (an Anglican Bishop at the time of Elizabeth I), who summed up the foundation for Classical Christianity in a most succinct fashion,
“One canon [the Bible] reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries and the series of fathers in that period.see Sykes and Booty, The Study of Anglicanism (1988), 276.
With that theme constantly in mind, acting as a bulwark against all things Christian-like, but not actually Christian, we turn to 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 the propositional claims as we’ve been doing so to see clearly what needs defending through the use of logic, reason, and exegesis:
- 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
- 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, the role of the Spirit is by definition necessary, and therefore, critical for us to understand, and accept.
And, 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, Trinitarian theology remains, and forever will remain, the foundational reality that grounds the truthfulness of the Christian faith.
So, in addition to defending the Godhood of the Spirit, what are some things that the Spirit of God 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, but it is still part of our Natural Theology: showing the philosophical coherence of Christian faith, and arguing that the Scriptures themselves press the nature of the triune Godhead upon us. As Christians, we 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. It is also the Spirit who empowers the Church to carry out its mission of evangelization to the lost and discipleship amongst the fellowship of Jesus-followers.
Third, He proceeds from the Father and the Son. This is controversial today for philosophical and biblical exegetical reasons. Can the Son be a se if He is begotten, or the Spirit if He proceeds from Father and Son?
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. True, Scripture indicates that the Spirit’s role in God’s economy seems to be to point us to Jesus (John 15:26), but prayer to the Spirit is both biblical (1 Col 16:22) and theologically coherent.
Finally, the Spirit inspires the prophets (and apostles). How does this relate to our doctrine of Revelation and Inspiration (2 Tim 3:16), and, by implication, the Inerrancy of the Scriptures themselves? It is the Spirit of God who inspired men to reveal through words, first oral, then written, the Truth about God’s nature and His work. Moreover, the same Spirit preserves the Scriptures so that all that is necessary for all men and all women in all cultures throughout all of time to receive for Salvation, is made available through the preaching of the Gospel message that is found in the pages of the Bible.
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; 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.