The Holy Spirit: God at Work in the World by William Simerly

“William Simerly has attended King University since the Spring of 2019 obtaining a B.S. in Religious Studies. In addition to his course work, William is currently the Director of Children, Youth, and Family Ministries at St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church in Knoxville, TN. William is a postulant for the priesthood in the Episcopal Church and will begin his seminary studies in the fall of 2021.  William’s time at King has deeply impacted his discernment to ordained ministry and he is grateful for King University and the Bible and Religion Department for their role in his education.”

The Holy Spirit: God at Work in the World

Written by William Simerly, King University

            The Holy Spirit has been, since the beginning of Christianity, a source of deep affection and deep division.  The faithful have taken comfort from the beautiful descriptions of the Spirit found in the Bible throughout the millennia, while at the same time, theologians have debated what, who, and how the Spirit works among God’s people. Wars, schism, and more have been the result of these theological debates. In this paper, I hope not to cause a war or schism, but instead to shed light on how the Holy Spirit has moved and worked among God’s people and how it continues to do so to this day. There are two important ways of examining the Spirit: examining the nature of the Spirit, and the work of the Spirit.  I will start by examining the nature of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit, by its nature, is a “spirit.” It is not a concrete thing by its original nature. The Spirit is however a person of the Trinity. Karl Barth states, “…the spirit is himself God, the same one God who is also the Father and the Son; he acts both as Creator and as Reconciler, as the Lord of the covenant” (Barth). The Bible, when describing the Spirit, always uses non-living, physical means when describing the Spirits appearance or perception by humans. Genesis 1: 1-2 states, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” In this first depiction of the Spirit, it is portrayed as a, “wind from God,” hovering over the primal waters of creation. However, this is not the only place in scripture where the Spirit of God is described as a wind. In Acts 2:1-2 it sates, “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.” These two separate depiction of the Holy Spirit as a wind help to illustrate the fact that the Spirit found in Genesis is the same Spirit and God found in Acts with the birth of the Church on the day of Pentecost. By the Spirit being portrayed as a wind, it allows the reader to begin to understand the fluidity that it has by its very nature.

The Spirit is not only described as a wind in scripture, but also as the very breath of God. In Genesis 2:7 it states, “… then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”  This scene portraying God as breathing the very breath of life into Adam portrays the Spirit as the giver of life. In John 20:22-23 it says, “…he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’” Both of these passages from scripture portray the first and second persons of the trinity breathing onto humans and imparting the Spirit to those humans. This shows ultimately the power of the Spirit: the power to give life to Adam, and power to the apostles to do the work that Jesus has given them to do.

The Holy Spirit is also most famously described in the Bible as a fire. Exodus 13:21-22 states, “The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.” This depiction of God leading the people by day and night in a pillar of cloud and fire is one of the most recognizable depictions of God’s Spirit from the Old Testament. The Spirit is most famously depicted as fire in the Book of Acts. Acts 2:3-4 says, “Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” This scene from the Day of Pentecost and the birth of the Church illustrates the Spirit as tongues of fire resting on the heads of the gathered disciples, and the Spirit allows them to speak in other languages and share the Good News with those gathered in Jerusalem.  These two separate biblical stories show the Spirit as an agent of renewal. The Spirit led the Israelites out of Egypt and into a new life, and in Acts the Spirit gave the apostles the ability to build the church and renew the faith of the whole world in the God of Abraham and Jesus.

The second way that the Holy Spirit can be examined is by its work throughout the scripture. Hildegard of Bingen, a church mystic and writer wrote the following about the work of the Holy Spirit:

“I, the highest and fiery power, have kindled every spark of life, and I emit                        nothing that is deadly. With my lofty wings I fly above the globe: With                              wisdom I have rightly put the universe in order. I, the fiery life of divine                            essence, am aflame beyond the beauty of the meadows, I gleam in the                                waters, and I burn in the sun, moon and stars. With every breeze, as with                             invisible life that contains everything, I awake everything to life.”

This depiction of the Spirit helps to put a lens on the rest of the depictions of the work of the Spirit found in the Bible.

One of the very first actions the Holy Spirit does in the Bible is found in the Book of Genesis. As quoted earlier, the Spirit was with God at the beginning of creation. The Spirit was God’s agent of creation, hovering over the waters and bringing life to the world. The Gospel of Luke also portrays the Spirit as bringing life to the world, this time in the conception of Jesus, “The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God’” (Luke 1:35). Both of these biblical passages show the Holy Spirit to be the agent of creation and the incarnation. The Spirit brought life to the whole creation and also conceived new life in Jesus the Christ that would eventually renew the life of the world and bring about the Kingdom of God.

Another way that the Spirit works in the Bible and in our world today is that it leads us. In the Book of Exodus, the Spirit of God led the Hebrews out of bondage in Egypt into a new life in a new land.  The Spirit did this by being a physical pillar of cloud and fire. John 14:12-13 states, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” As Jesus says in this quotation from John, the Spirit will lead the apostles in their teaching and will lead the church.  Jesus was not done teaching and God was not done revealing truths about himself, so the Spirit was sent to us to continue this revelation from God to this day.

Finally and most importantly, the Holy Spirit is the bearer of Good News. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus reads from a portion of the prophet Isaiah, “He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”” (Luke 4:17-21).  This episode from scripture illustrates how the Spirit is the bearer of Good News. The Spirit seeks out and finds those on the margins and calls the Church to invite them in and make the family of God broader and wider.  The Spirit gave Jesus the power to begin his ministry of reconciliation and sharing God’s love. That same Spirit calls us to the same ministry today.

In conclusion, the Holy Spirit is a complicated and compelling subject.  The third person of the trinity has been given many names and has done many things throughout time, but to me the greatest of these is “comforter.”  The Holy Spirit comforts and guides the Church on our mission of reconciliation; a mission of reconciliation to God and each other.

Works Cited

Barth, Karl. Evangelical Theology: an Introduction. W.B. Eerdmans, 1980.

The Bible. The New Oxford Annotated Version, 3rd ed., Oxford UP, 2001.

 

 

Modern American Christianity written by Nicole Clark, King University

Written by Nicole Clark, King University, Religions of the World

Modern American Christianity, Nicole Clark

Nicole Clark is an undergraduate student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies at King University. Her greatest hope is to glorify the Lord with her life and “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

Modern American Christianity

Modern American Christianity, Nicole Clark

Almost 1,700 years after the Council at Nicaea affirmed one of the most fundamental doctrines of Christianity about Jesus’s deity and humanness, I sometimes wonder if the modern American Christian message looks anything like that of the early Christian church. I see a few noticeable differences today that might shock the early church leaders. The boldest of which is the step away from the most basic premise of Christianity, that there is just one God. There has also been a shift in the attitude towards wealth and the hope of what heaven will be.

  1. Monotheism is a little blurry.
Modern American Christianity, Nicole Clark

The most fundamental belief in Christianity is the belief that there is just one God who created and continues to maintain all things. Kenneth Copeland and the Word of Life movement have blurred the lines of what monotheism means today in order to give people the power to speak change into their own lives. Men like Copeland, Benny Hinn, and Creflo Dollar point to Psalm 86:2, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you” as proof that believers are God and can act in the power of God as well. Verses such as Jer. 10:6, “there is none like You, O Lord” and 1 Sam. 2:2, “there is no one holy like the Lord, indeed, there is no one besides You” contradict the claim that man can be anything like God.

To claim oneself as Holy or having the power to speak something into existence goes against the basic premise of Christianity. Colossians 1:16 states, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible.” There is but one God, and the Bible affirms that He alone created everything. In Isaiah 64:8, God’s people are described as “the clay” and He as “the potter.” The created thing cannot be equal in power to the creator and to suggest otherwise changes the God of the Bible into a mere idol of man’s own desires.                                                                                                                                 

  1. The pursuit of wealth is now a core message.
Modern American Christianity, Nicole Clark

In the quest to have eternal life, a rich young man came to Jesus and asked him what he must do. In Matthew 19:16-22, Jesus told the man, “sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Jesus’s message of self-sacrifice was too much for the young man, and sadly, he walked away without the assurance of true faith. Jesus’s message of sacrifice and devotion to God has drastically changed over time.

The largest and most popular churches in the U.S. now preach that “it’s God’s will for you to live in prosperity instead of poverty” and not live in debt (Joel Osteen). God indeed desires for his people to prosper, but not in temporal and earthly ways. Jesus told his followers not to focus on earthly treasures, but instead focus on heavenly and eternal rewards (Matt. 6:19-21). Even more condemning of worldly riches, Jesus warned that a person “cannot serve God and money” (Matt 6:24). There can be only one master of the heart.

 

  1. Heaven is the new vacation hotspot.
Modern American Christianity, Nicole Clark

Another aspect of Christianity that has changed is this newly revised vision of what Heaven is going to be like for individuals. The Bible says, in heaven, there will be no more sin and believers will be in the presence of God (Rev. 21:4-8). However, the modern American version of heaven has little to do with finally being free of sin and worshipping God and more to do with living in luxury. It’s not much of a surprise that America’s third-richest pastor, Benny Hinn, paints a picture of heaven as an extravagant city surrounded with jewels and gold with little mention of heaven’s true purpose. Jesus promises eternal life in heaven for believers who confess that Christ is the Son of God who was the propitiation for the sins of his people. Heaven, however, is not a shiny bejeweled vacation spot where people can indulge themselves in their greatest desires. Heaven is the dwelling place of a Holy God. Fellowship and worship of God in heaven should be the heart’s desire of every Christian.

Humankind seems destined to twist the Holy Scriptures to fit their own ideas and desires. When I look at Christianity today, I wonder how the most fundamental beliefs got manipulated and lost. If Christianity is to be based on the monotheistic principle that there truly is only one God, then there must be reverence for that and man must stop trying to make himself into his own idol. In the quest for a perfect and prosperity filled life, Jesus warns that there is room for just one master in a person’s life. We should never lose site of the call to repentance and faithful obedience to the one true God, the God of the Bible. Only then will we have a right view of wealth and ultimately, heaven.

For a more detailed review of what the modern American Christian message looks like today, I highly recommend the 2018 documentary,  American Gospel: Christ Alone (a condensed version is available on YouTube).

Works Cited

American Gospel: Christ Alone. Directed by Brandon Kimber, Transition Studios, 2018.

Bennet, Karen. “The Shocking Net Worth of These 10 Richest Pastors Will Blow Your Mind.” Cheat Sheet. 31 Jan. 2019  https://www.cheatsheet.com/entertainment/net-worth-richest-pastors-will-blow-your-mind.html/

“Heaven.” Find Shepard, 5 Aug. 2019, https://www.findshepherd.com/bible-verses-about-entering-the-kingdom-of-heaven.html.

Hinn, Benny. “A Most Beautiful Teaching on Heaven. You’re Going to Love it!” YouTube,  uploaded by Benny Hinn Ministries, 11 May 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3nJHy7fOjw.

Hudson, Don Michael. Foundations of Christian Thought and Practice: Selected Readings and Workbook. E-book, Pulp Press, 2013.

“Promised Land.” My Olive Tree, 2020, https://www.myolivetree.com/prophetic-reasons-to-plant/,

Kenneth Copeland Ministries. 2020. https://www.kcm.org.

Money.” The Order of Preachers, 11 Oct. 2015, https://orderofpreachersindependent.org/2015/10/11/riches-the-rev-deacon-scott-brown-opi/.

“One God.” Bible Timeline, 2020, https://bibletimeline.org.uk/additional-reading/an-age-of-pluralism.

 

 

The Adaptation of Buddhist Practices in the Western World: Why It’s a Good Thing

Written by Kimberly Courtney, King University, Religions of the World Final Project

The Adaptation of Buddhist Practices in the Western World: Why It’s a Good Thing
Kimberly Courtney

Kimberly Courtner lives in East Tennessee. She is a full time Human Resource Analyst, wife, and mother of six. She enjoys time with her family, church, traveling and learning new things.

The Adaptation of Buddhist Practices in the Western World:

Why It’s a Good Thing

The Adaptation of Buddhist Practices in the Western World: Why It’s a Good Thing
Kimberly Courtney

My son at the Gakwonsa Temple in Cheonan, South Korea

            Buddhism is one of the largest religions in the world today, and is expected to increase up until 2030. This religion originated in Tibet and is based around the teachings of Buddha. There are traditions, practices, and beliefs of this religion that are unique to this religion, but similar to the Hindu religion as well.  Those that practice Buddhism – known as Buddhists – believe in reincarnation. That is, they believe that death is not the end but instead a person is reborn after they pass. Buddhists believe that finding enlightenment is how to stop the cycle of rebirth. They believe that one must achieve inner peace to find enlightenment.  Enlightenment occurs when aversion and clinging are abandoned. Not a goal to be attained; it is effortlessly realized as the way things naturally are when aversion and clinging are abandoned.

For some, Buddhism is a religion. For others, it is a philosophy, while others practice Buddhism to find themselves and experience inner peace. Buddhism is a religion that is practiced worldwide. It is the study of oneself and the study  is to forget oneself, and to  forget oneself is to be enlightened by all things.  According to World Population Review, in the United States alone, 1.2% of the population is made up of practicing Buddhists. This is a growing number  to seriously consider. According to an article in The Atlantic, “Buddhism has been popular in various forms among certain celebrities and tech elites, but the religion’s primary draw for many Americans now appears to be mental health.” The article goes on to say how many Americans are adapting the practices of Buddhist meditation to heal their overall mental health and to cut costs on medication, therapies, and physician visits that are so expensive  to the working person.  Like the old practice of the religion, many are finding that the power of healing is instilled in the simplistic recitation and meditation of the ancient art of Buddhism.

The Adaptation of Buddhist Practices in the Western World: Why It’s a Good Thing
Kimberly Courtney

The Byodo-In Temple in Ahuimanu, Hawaii

Common practices of the Eastern civilization can be seen as useful practices in our Western world today. Little did we know that these practices have worked for many centuries in the East among the people of the Buddhist religion. The practice of meditation or mental development is also a growing trend here in the Western world.  Eastern Buddhists look within themselves to find the calming and clarity to reach their inner peace, This being a form of meditation or Samatha. The object of this practice is to let the thoughts that come to mind arise and then simply let go of them, thus clearing the path to inner peace. Another practice of meditation is Vipassana, or insight. Vipassana allows a person to see things as they really are, liberating one to the highest happiness. Maitri or Metta Meditation will activate interest in others, the cultivation of benevolence, loving kindness or goodwill to others once the mind has been freed.

The Western world is adapting these ancient practices to achieve their own health and well being. The users of this practice in the West are not using the ancient art as a religious tool or practice. The western civilization has conformed these practices to a therapeutic concept from the daily stresses of the rat race we live in. Psychological science states that mindfulness can illuminate the workings of the mind, noting that a person can actually heal themselves depending on the state of mind. The constant interactions with one’s environment  depicts the level of treatment one can give themselves.  This in turn correlates the amount of healing or depth of inner peace that one receives.

The Adaptation of Buddhist Practices in the Western World: Why It’s a Good Thing
Kimberly Courtney

It is common to see Buddhist quotes and teachings in everything from calendars to movies in America today.

It is amazing that an ancient praxis can be used as a common cultural wave in society today. According to the New York Times, “ Meditation has now become a practice recommended for everyone.” The article goes on to say, “Yet Buddhism long ago generated insights that modern psychology is only now catching up to, for example, psychology has lately started to let go of its once-sharp distinction between “cognitive” and “affective” parts of the mind; it has started to see that feelings are so finely intertwined with thoughts as to be part of their very coloration.”  Secular Buddhists practices are growing in America today.

In recent studies, there has been a decline in stress and the adverse effects of stress in individuals with higher amounts of stress just by using the practice of meditation. There has also been a notable decrease in anxiety in individuals through meditation who have job-related anxiety in high pressure work environments. According to Healthline.com, some forms of meditation can decrease depression and improve a person’s overall  emotional health and leave them with a positive outlook. Meditation has been a key source in expanding the shrinking attention span, sharpening one’s mind and concentration, reversing patterns in the brain that lead to mind-wandering, and overall worry and stress.

Using this ancient art is beneficial not only to the emotions and psyche but the mind and body as well. Getting into the habitual practice of meditation in the pop culture western world can be an easy feat. There are many practicing meditation studios, gyms, and programs to join . Most of these cost less than the average therapy session with a psychologist or the average monthly gym fee. There are also practicing Buddhist temples in the Western world for those who want to indulge in the spiritual practice of Buddhism.

At the end of the day, Buddhism is a thriving religion that managed to make it from a simplistic beginning in a distant land that continues to grow in not only the Eastern world but also in the Western world as well.  Whether the practice be spiritual or secular, the outcomes of both are intertwined and beneficial for human beings. Buddha himself said it best: “Every human being is the author of his own health or disease.” This is where the West meets the East and they become one.

Referenced Articles

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/06/opinion/buddhism-western-philosophy.html

https://mindworks.org/blog/buddhist-meditation-techniques-practices/

https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/buddhist-countries

https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2019/03/buddhism-meditation-anxiety-therapy/584308/

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/12-benefits-of-meditation#TOC_TITLE_HDR_6

https://www.nytimes.com/2002/10/26/us/beliefs-development-modern-buddhism-traced-mix-eastern-western-influences.html