Pneumatologists and theologians have long sought to define the role of the Holy Spirit within the Christian faith. These scholars' understanding of the Spirit differs greatly, not only in terms of the role of the Holy Spirit, but also in terms of whether those roles are central to the Christian church (Ryrie, 1997). Even the base concept of the perception of the Spirit differs among scholars and religious leaders.
This paper discusses the various notions of the role of the Holy Spirit in the Christian Church, as expressed by modern theologians and pneumatologists. Additionally, this paper will discuss the differing views of whether those roles are central to the Church, or if they are to be applied on a more diverse level. Finally, this paper will discuss ways in which the Spirit is celebrated and displayed in the lives of those who believe.
To understand the role of the Holy Spirit in the Church, it is first imperative to understand what is meant by the term 'Holy Spirit'. According to Dr. Charles Ryrie (1997), the Holy Spirit can be thought of as one of the three persons of God. In the Christian faith, God is a triune God, existing of a single God with three distinct persons, those of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 Isaiah 45:5-6; Matthew 28:19: James 2:19). Ryrie (1997) argues that this trinity is not three separate Gods, but rather, three persons of the same God, each of whom has specific roles, and specific ways of relating to the world.
Once the Holy Spirit is known to be a person of the triad, it is possible to then begin exploring the person of the Holy Spirit. Theologian Sid Litke (1984) points out that to understand the role of the Holy Spirit, one must first understand that the Spirit is not an impersonal being or simply an influential being. According to the Bible, the Holy Spirit has intelligence (1 Cor.2:10-11), emotions (Eph.4:30), and will (1 Cor.2:11). As such, the Spirit must have roles to perform in order to clarify and utilize these characteristics.
The roles of the Holy Spirit existed even before the Church Age of Christianity. According to Litke (1984), these roles are clear throughout the text of the Bible. The Spirit was part of creation (Gen.1:2; Job 33:4; Psalm 104:30), a protector of Israel (Isaiah 63:10-14), an integral part of the production of Scripture, by speaking through the Prophets (1 Peter 1:11: 2 Peter 1:20, 21), and played as the Agent of Christ's virgin birth (Luke 1:35) and his resurrection (Rom.1:4; 8:11). Clearly, even before the Church Age, the roles of the Holy Spirit were well defined.
In the Christian faith today, the role of the Holy Spirit is even more defined. From the moment of baptism, the Holy Spirit places the person into the body of Christ. The Holy Spirit's role in this is to unite the believer with Christ, so that the person is able to identify with the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Additionally, the Spirit incorporates the person into the universal church (Litke, 1984). Baptism of the Spirit occurs once in a believer's faith, and lasts through their conversion.
Furthermore, the role of the Spirit includes the sanctification of the saved people. Sanctification refers to how those who have received the Spirit grow throughout their lives (Litke, 1984). According to Dr. Ryrie (1997), the Holy Spirit indwells all believers, and does so on a permanent basis. Ryrie attributes this belief to the New Testament (Rom.5:5; 8:9; 1 Cor.3:16; 6:19, John 14:16), which was not true prior to the Church Age, or according to the Old Testament (1997).
It is through this indwelling, according to Ryrie, that the Spirit can perform other roles within the Church. According to Elder L. Lionel Kendrick (1997), one of those roles is to aid the faithful in prayer. This occurs as a two part process. First the Holy Spirit prompts the faithful to pray. Kendrick explains this with the concept that God knows what we need before we ask him, and thus, uses the Spirit to prompt us to pray for those necessities (1997). In this way, the Sprit not only prompts us to pray, but assures that our prayers are for proper things.
In addition to prompting, the Holy Spirit's role in prayer involves delivering those prayers to God, and in communicating His answers to our own spirits. As God sends his revelations, the Holy Spirit within us reveals the will of the Lord to our spirits. This role is imperative, in that it is through the Holy Spirit that the faithful are comforted, enlightened, inspired, led, and taught about the scripture (Kendrick, 1997). By leading us to prayer, petitioning God on our behalf and through the deliverance of God's answers, the Holy Spirit's role in prayer is undeniably vital.
Still another role of the Holy Spirit in the church is to 'fill' believers. Litke (1984) describes this as the role of the Spirit in allowing the believer to live a transformed life. This occurs through the Christian's Spirit-guided ability to change and grow in righteousness, by showing us the empowering work of God. Since spiritual growth is a matter of control, according to Litke (1984), then Christians are controlled by either the flesh or the Holy Spirit (Rom.8:4-11; Gal.5:16, 17). If we allow the Holy Spirit to control us, we allow the Spirit to 'fill' us. By doing so, the Spirit is performing the role of 'walking' with the faithful, which involves helping the believer to lead a Christian life through better decision making and assistance with temptations (Litke, 1984). While the indwelling of the Spirit is permanent, the faithful must allow the Spirit to transform and 'fill' them.
Yet another role of the Holy Spirit in the Church is to grant spiritual gifts, or charisms, to believers (Stanley, 1995). These 'gifts' can be thought of as God-given abilities to serve the Lord. According to Stanley (1995), these are not positions in the Church, nor are they natural abilities, such as singing or mathematical abilities. Spiritual gifts are privileges, given by the Holy Spirit, assist in the accomplishment of the spiritual ministry God wants. They have a multitude of purposes, including equipping others to minister, the ability to glorify God, and the ability to encourage others in their journey to salvation (Stanley, 1995).
Some of these gifts, according to Litke (1984) appear to have been temporary gifts, allowing the Holy Spirit to serve in the role of the creation of the Christian Church, and to help the Spirit verify the gospel. These types of gifts included the ability to heal, work miracles, speak in tongues, interpret tongues, and apostleship. Further temporary gifts served the Holy Spirit during the Old Testament in His role of assisting man in writing the New Testament. These gifts included wisdom of word, words of knowledge, and the gift of prophecy (Litke, 1984).
In current times, the Holy Spirit's role of gift-giving imparts the giving of abilities in areas such as teaching, serving, giving, administration and leadership, evangelism, exhortation, and mercy. These gifts are vital to the operations of the church, and to the Christian faith as a whole. However, as Litke (1984) points out, these gifts do not develop on their own. While the Holy Spirit's role involves the giving of these gifts, the believer must also allow the Spirit to act in the role of helping to nurture those gifts. Stanley (1995) points out that the best way to allow the Spirit to perform this role is to allow Him to guide us to meeting the needs of the ministry, and in using these gifts appropriately. Since we receive the gifts at the point of trusting Christ as the Savior, Stanley (1995) argues, then the believers must also continue to have faith that the Holy Spirit will lead us to proper use of those gifts.
Still another role assigned to the Holy Spirit by theologians is that of salvation. Ryrie (1997) states that since it is the Holy Spirit who directs and enables evangelical efforts to occur (Philip/Ethiopian -- Acts 8:26, 29; Great Commission -- Acts 1:8), then He is obviously central to the role of salvation. Furthermore, since the Holy Spirit is the entity responsible for the conviction of the unbelievers (John 16:8-11), and since it is the Spirit that indwells us (Eph.5:18), unites us with Christ (Rom.6:3-5), and teaches us of Scripture (John 16:13), it is therefore also His role to assist us in salvation (Rom.8:16). Ryrie (1987) also points out that, since the Holy Spirit cleanses the believer from sin, and seals the person by entering him through baptism (Eph.1:13), the Spirit is also vital in the role of salvation.
It is fairly obvious, based on the various roles of the Holy Spirit in the Christian Church, that the Spirit's role is central to the success of the church in some aspects, yet more diverse in others.…