If you’ve read my A Short History about Vinnie and God story then you know that I grew in a Christian cult until 1995, up till I was fifteen. While the cult believed the bible was God’s divine instruction manual for humanity the church held some different views about the nature of God that were not commonly found in the mainline churches.
One pillar of the cult’s view on God was that there was no such thing as the trinity – the idea that there is only one God, but expressed in three persons via God the Father, God the Son as Jesus Christ, and God the Holy Spirit – all three being equal to each other in origin, power’ and divinity. (If you’re not a church person this probably sounds wacky and hard to wrap your head around – your right, it is pretty weird. You might wonder, how can the being we think of as “God” claim to be one person (Dueteronmy 6:4), but yet be manifested as three separate persons that are all co-equal at the same time??)
The theory of the trinity is one of those beliefs that it most mainstream churches embrace. But it wasn’t embraced in my church. But we weren’t alone. Latter Day Saints and Jehovas Witnesses dont believe in the trinity either.
Instead of the trinity my church believed that all three parts of the trinity were technically God but there was a hierarchy and specific nature to the three: God the Father was the only “God” and who we pray to and whom has all authority, Jesus was God’s son which made him a divine being but was a fully seperater person secondary to Father in power, and the Holy Spirit was definitely NOT a person or a being, but just the power and/or mind of God.
So growing up in my church, which might I add believed it was the one and only true church and unless you were a member you were not a real Christian and most likely going to cease to exist (annihilationism), they emphasized God the Father is the only real true God you should and can have relationship with. I don’t remember hearing anything about even Jesus growing up in that church, especially not anything about having a relationship with Him. And nothing about the Holy Spirit for sure.
In 1994-95 the church made some major doctrinal changes that led them into converting the whole organization into a regular evangelical church, including accepting the trinity theory, which along with other new doctrines completely fractured and spilt the church. My family went with the leaders of the church and fully embraced the new practice and teaching. Our family and church became conservative evangelical.
It was weird experience for me in some ways. Now I was told that Jesus was also God in Himself. What, two Gods? But both equal? Separate and yet the same person at the same time? This was confusing. The biggest thing that messed with me was now I didn’t understand how to pray. Do I pray to God? Or do I pray to Jesus? Or both? Does it matter? My guess is that even though a lot of Christians would say they believe in the trinity many of them would have a hard time fully explaining it in a clear cut way. I’ve had some people explain the trinity to me recently and it always requires a leap of faith or on some level an acceptance of a paradox. For lots of folks the only thing that comes to mind when they think of the trinity it when the priest or pastor says something like, “in the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Ghost” like at the end of service for a prayer or at the end of a wedding ceremony when they pronounce the couple. I certainly don’t claim to understand the trinity in full, but I personally haven’t found a better model that explains the strange nature of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as described in the Bible. I just accept it because after study and personal experience it makes the most sense when compared to other theories – although I might hold to the teaching a little more loosely than others. And because I come from a background that didn’t believe in the trinity, and with good reasoning and with equally as many bible scriptures to back the thought process up, I have a lot of compassion for those who don’t embrace it and can see elements of truth in both arguments. I love my non-trinity embracing friends.
But with all the good that accepting the “evangelical way” did for me it in comming to know Jesus the churches I was in didn’t talk much about the tangability or relationship of the Holy Spirit. I remember teachings about God’s grace in Jesus, old and new covenants, being born again, repenting from sin, and what not, but still again there was no emphasis on the Spirit. The Holy Spirit was once again a vague topic. Certainly no one prayed to Holy Spirit, and I never heard churches talking about the Holy Spirit as being a person I could actually know when compared to the ways I heard about needing to know Jesus or knowing God the Father.
As I got into my early college years I would say that I felt like I had a good balance with being in relationship with God and Jesus (who remember are different personages but yet the same person at the same time – I know, it’s weird, just go with it for the sake of this post). I can’t say that I remember anything substantial about the Holy Spirit until I was 20. In those first years in college it seemed like the Spirit was a just a side note to the Christian experience. The emphasis was all on Jesus.
Traditional evangelical teaching usually holds that you need to follow Jesus and become “born again” – which means to make the decision to give one’s life over to God/Jesus and receive Him as the King, believe Jesus rose from the dead and forgave their sin, and then “ask Jesus to come into your heart”). The Holy Spirit isn’t really mentioned in that process. If you have 10 extra minutes you can watch a classic Billy Graham invitation to folks to get born again – very little is mentioned about the Holy Spirit being apart of the born again experience except when he mentions in passing that its the Spirit that draws people to come to Jesus: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fQI47sDrOrs .
But if you dig deeper, here is what most evangelicals believe – at the exact moment someone becomes born again they also receive the Holy Spirit. So the Holy Spirit actually comes to live inside of them in a spiritual realm. This “Holy Spirit coming to live with you” event happens when one gets born again, and apparently it happens without someone asking for it or even knowing about it, it just happens (Here is another Billy Graham preaching a sermon on the Spirit and at about 8-9 minutes in he says that the Spirit comes into you the moment you receive Jesus into your heart, also in minute 13:00-end: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zi8SPyP4LPw ).
As an evangelical, receiving the Holy Spirit is thought of to be mostly a passive intangible experience. You won’t know that it’s there, you have to believe you got it when you turned to God and put faith in Jesus. You don’t even have to ask for it, it’s a byproduct of coming to faith in Jesus. There are a bunch of bible passages that are used to back this point up. We’ll look into those later.
Getting back to my personal experience, I was a regular ol’ evangelical now at 20 years old. And since I had already come to faith in Jesus as a teenager, and chose to follow Him, the evangelical teachings I heard said that I had the Spirit already living in me. So as far as the trinity was concerned the Spirit seemed like the neglected third wheel of God. The kind of third wheel that was awkward and no one really talked about or was vague. I was told I had the Spirit but there was no tangible evidence of it that I was aware of. I didn’t pray to the Spirit and I didn’t really have a relationship with it. I never asked for it either. Again, the emphasis was limited to focusing on our relationship with Jesus.
That all seemed fine and dandy to me. I remember having a lots of conversations about God with other believers in college. I thought of myself as a theologian and wad proud of myself that I knew so much of the Bible, especially the Old Testament. And if you would have asked me I would have said that I fully understood the concept of the Holy Spirit. But looking back now I realize that hadn’t the faintest clue. I wouldn’t have known who He was if He walked up and introduced Himself….”Holy Spirit you say? Never heard of the guy.”
When I turned 20 I had some encounters with the Holy Spirit that changed my life. So let’s move on to part 2…..
*As always, I’d love to hear what’s on your mind so please drop your thoughts in the comment section below!