One of the things that I have learned at seminary is that Christianity has a core. Eastern and Western Christianity share a common core centered on the Nicene Creed; however, within these two large branches of the Christian faith there are some differences.
There is a heavy emphasis on Jesus (Christology) in Evangelicalism specifically and Western Christianity (Roman Catholic and Protestant) broadly. The Eastern Orthodox believers, on the other hand, place a large emphasis on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Recently in the West, the Pentecostal movement has brought about a renewed interest in the third person of the Trinity and I believe that this shift is a great thing.
Believe me though, it is very important to emphasize the person of Jesus and his role in the restoration of humanity to right relationship with God. Humanity is only able to relate to God through the God-Man Jesus (I’m thinking that I might have to use another series to unpack that statement. But for now, I mean that Jesus is fully God and fully man). However, Jesus himself said that he needed to leave them so that the Holy Spirit could come and bring power. In fact, Jesus said to his disciples in John 16 that it was good for him to go, that way the Helper could arrive and point others to this work of restoration.
Holy Spirit as a Helper
Did you catch that last thought? It was good for Jesus to leave. Think about that for a second.
Jesus (the one who conquered death, the one who spoke everything into existence a gazillion years ago, the one who bore the sins of the world) wanted to send someone else who could help humanity even more, someone who would bring power and new life.
It is he, the Holy Spirit, that would bring clarity about Jesus and about the Father. He would point others to this redeeming work and would also bring strength. As Karl Barth would reflectively write, “Everything that one believes, reflects and says about God the Father and God the Son… would be demonstrated and clarified basically through God the Holy Spirit, the vinculum pacis (unifying bond of peace, see Eph 4:3) between Father and Son.”
Holy Spirit, the Shy One
I heard a sermon on the Holy Spirit and the pastor described him as shy. What do you think about that?
Don’t picture him though as the painfully awkward individual who won’t say a word to anybody. Picture him instead a someone who likes to work behind the scenes as a support to the Father and Son, as an excellent servant like Mr. Carson from Downton Abbey or perhaps as a solid, right-hand man. Theologian Veli-Matti Karkkainen would suggest that the Spirit hides himself in a lot of ways, he retreats into the periphery instead of standing out in the forefront of the stage. Similarly, the Eastern Orthodox thinker J. Meyendorff wrote that the Spirit does not call people to himself, instead he points them to the Son.
He does not want to show himself, rather he reveals the face of the Father to us in the face of the Son. When people look to him, he steps back and pushes forward Jesus. He doesn’t seek the limelight, instead you could say that he is the limelight. The power that many find in the Spirit comes when we seek Jesus, for the Holy Spirit wants to point others to Jesus.
Mind blown yet?
Trinity as a Dance
Another way of picturing this relationship within the Trinity (remember, the God revealed in the Bible is three in one and one in three) is like a dance. The Trinitiarian Dance is a deep bond of love, where there is give and take. The Trinitarian God now invites us (you and me!) to come be reconciled, and it is through the Holy Spirit that humanity can now be called a child of God.
You might be thinking, how can this be? Stay tuned next week, but for now soak in the beauty that the Spirit will confirm within you that you are a dearly loved child of God.