Death of Ted Herlofson

We were saddened to learn of the death of Ted Herlofson at age 79 on September 11. Ted was a long-time GCI employee and elder. He began that employment in the art department of the Ambassador College Press in 1969. He then transferred to the church executive office in 1973 and entered the field ministry in 1979. He served churches in Visalia, California; Denver, Colorado; and Coeur D’Alene, Idaho until he retired in 1996. Ted is survived by his wife Opal (Speers) Herlofson.

Cards may be sent to:

Opal Herlofson and Family
Route 1, Box 55
Birch Tree, MO 65438-9613

Ebola epidemic

LiberiaPlease pray for our brothers and sisters in Liberia, Africa. The Ebola epidemic there is now affecting our members as food and medicine become scarce and expensive. GCI pastor Browne, who serves in Liberia, wrote recently that, “life is deteriorating on a daily basis in Monrovia,” Liberia’s capital. “Ebola is on the rampage here, but hunger is killing the most people. My daughter died at the hospital as the result of complications from a miscarriage.”

Pastor Browne requested financial assistance to purchase food, medicines and other supplies to care for our members in Liberia during this time of crisis. Kalengule Kaoma, GCI mission developer in Africa forwarded the request to our Glendora home offic and the GCI Disaster Relief Committee responded quickly by forwarding about US$5,000.00 financial assistance from the GCI Disaster Relief Fund to Kalengule so he can help pastor Browne meet the current needs. If your congregation would like to help replenish the GCI Disaster Relief Fund so that we are ready to assist with this and other emergency needs as they arise, donations may be sent to:

GCI Disaster Relief Fund
Grace Communion International
P.O Box 5005
Glendora, California 91740
 

Note: The GCI Disaster Relief Fund was established to help provide members in disaster areas with emergency needs such as food, water, medicine, clothing, temporary housing, home and/or church hall repairs, temporary local pastoral salary expenses and other emergency needs. Monies received into the Fund that are not immediately needed, will remain in the Fund and be allocated for future disasters.

Smooth transitions

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Joe Tkach and Tammy TkachLast week was an important and positive milestone in the history and future of GCI. Thirty-three men and women gathered in Dallas, Texas to finalize a new structure for our U.S. Church Administration and Development (CAD) team. That structure will be implemented in January 2015. In early October, we’ll announce the details in a letter to all U.S. pastors and provide a summary here in GCI Weekly Update. 

Handoff (compressed)A highlight of the Dallas gathering occurred when CAD director Dan Rogers “passed the baton” of CAD leadership to Greg Williams (see picture at left). Greg will become the new CAD director when Dan retires at the end of this year. During the ceremony, Dan quoted Paul’s words to his protégé Timothy: “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:1-2).

As depicted in the cartoon below, our plans sometimes (often?) don’t work out as initially envisioned. What looked like “smooth sailing” on the drawing board, eventually collides with unforeseen reality. However, as we follow the Spirit into and through that reality, we have assurance that he will lead us into the fullness of God’s plans for us. I’m particularly grateful for the way the Spirit has led us through what have been remarkably smooth leadership transitions. Those include the recent hand-off from Dan to Greg and the leadership transitions occurring in several of our congregations where senior pastors reaching retirement are handing the baton of lead pastor to others. My thanks to all involved!

your plan

Greg and Susan Williams arrived here in Glendora this week (moving from North Carolina) and Dan and Barbara Rogers are relocating to Henderson, Nevada. We pray for smooth transitions for both couples and also for the rest of the CAD team as the new structure is implemented. God has answered in wonderfully positive ways our many prayers for these transitions. We continue to pray about and plan for additional transitions as the “age wave” washes over our fellowship. Many of our denominational leaders and lead pastors are mentoring their replacements. For that I extend my deep gratitude.

One of the reasons these transitions are going so smoothly is that the Spirit has led us to focus on relationships as the foundation of our ministry. Doing so is vital, for if our ministry practice would fail to line up with our theology, we’d be nothing but the intolerable noise that Paul warned about: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1).

Relationships grounded in God’s love are the heart and core of our participation in ministry with the relational, Triune God of love. I’m convinced that our relational approach to ministry is the reason many independent churches in far-flung locations around the world have recently joined us, and many more desire to do so. In thinking about this, I’m reminded of a favorite phrase of my dad’s: “We are family.” He used that phrase to speak about unity in our church—unity that was not just about doctrine or practice, but about loving, family-like relationships. I envision my dad and Herbert Armstrong watching us from heaven, rejoicing with the Father, Son and Spirit in our progress. I too rejoice in seeing our continuing journey from “survival mode” to “maintenance mode” and then to following the Spirit into “missional mode”—active participation with Jesus in the Father’s mission to the world. That amazing transformation is ongoing.

From an organizational perspective, churches have life-cycles that end, on average, after about 70 years. Some have wondered if GCI’s life-cycle is about to end. But God apparently has a different plan for us. We believe that his desire is that we live on as a denomination with a missional focus—a church joined with Jesus in his ministry to the world. Living into God’s plan for us is giving us new life (a new life-cycle?). I believe that as our congregations embrace this missional focus, many will be reborn.

Thinking about this reminds me of good news/bad news jokes about life and death. Here are two:

Doctor: I have some good news and I have some bad news.
Patient: What’s the good news?
Doctor: The good news is that the tests you took showed that you have 24 hours to live.
Patient: That’s the good news? What’s the bad news?
Doctor: The bad news is that I forgot to call you yesterday!

Gallery Owner: I have some good news and some bad news.
Artist: What’s the good news?
Gallery Owner: The good news is that a man came in here today asking if the price of your paintings would go up after you die. When I told him they would, he bought every one of your paintings.
Artist: That’s great! What’s the bad news?
Gallery Owner: The bad news is that man was your doctor!

Here’s a good news/bad news joke of my own. It speaks to our growth and development as a denomination:

Me: I have some good news and bad news.
Reporter: What’s the good news?
Me: GCI is growing all over the world.
Reporter: What’s the bad news?
Me: Some feel too old and too tired to grow.

All churches contend with good news/bad news realities. As a result, some will grow numerically and some will not. Some will have active youth ministries and some will not. We do not expect every congregation to be the same and we realize that some will close in the years ahead. That’s nothing to be ashamed of and when one closes, we celebrate their faithful participation in what God has done in and through them. We also realize that our congregations will continue to differ in abilities and resources to participate in mission. But no matter what the limitations, each and every congregation is an important partner in what God is doing in, with and through GCI (I’ll write more on this in the near future).

I thank God that because we have followed the lead of the Spirit in mission, there is much good news to celebrate and more on the way. Several GCI church plants are “in the works” in various places around the world. Church Multiplication Ministries (CMM) recently updated us about GCI church planting activity in the U.S. Here from mission developer Kalengule Kaoma is a list of new GCI churches in Africa:

  • Liberia: seven new churches (several more in process)
  • Burundi: five new churches
  • Rwanda: one new church (plus four possibilities)
  • Uganda: four new churches (10 in the works)
  • Tanzania: fifteen new churches (plus 15 more in the works)
  • Ghana: one new church
  • Kenya: five new churches (with numerous others in the discussion phase). Also in Kenya, eight leaders representing several Sabbatarian churches have asked for a one-week long teaching conference on the topic of grace.

God has called us to live and share the gospel. That is the mission in which we all are partners. Thank you for your part, including your prayers for growth and for additional smooth transitions.

Feeling blessed,
Joseph Tkach

Quezon City church 10th anniversary

Philippines 2In August, GCI’s Quezon City, Philippines, church celebrated its 10th anniversary. The celebration worship service included video messages from former pastors Andrew Teng and Audie Santibanez. Vincente “Ting” Bejo, Jr. is the congregation’s current pastor.

Following the service, there was a time of joy-filled celebration that extended into the afternoon. As shown in the pictures, there was singing, dancing and entertainment from J-Lo enthusiasts and Hagibis wannabies (who called themselves Pogibis)!

Philippines 1

Greg Williams

Susan and Greg Williams
Susan and Greg Williams

Greg Williams is the associate director of GCI Church Administration and Development, USA (CAD). On January 1, 2015 he will succeed Dan Rogers as CAD director.

Along with the rest of his family, Greg became part of WCG/GCI in the mid 1970s. “My father was afflicted with an arthritic condition that landed him in bed for a year. He was serving as a lay pastor with a small Advent Christian Church at the time. After completing the WCG Bible Correspondence Course, he led my family into WCG.”

Greg was a junior in high school when he and his family began attending WCG. “I abandoned my extracurricular athletic activities to observe the Sabbath. I joined in WCG’s Youth Opportunity United (YOU) activities. Through YOU I participated in two national track meets at the Ambassador College campuses in Pasadena, California and Big Sandy, Texas.”

Greg almost didn’t get to compete. At the time, he was employed at a park in Hendersonville, North Carolina. “My main function was park maintenance. The week before a YOU track meet I was working with another employee servicing a bush hog mower. We had sharpened the blades and cleaned the machine and as we were setting it down off the blocks my partner let go of his end and the 350 pound machine landed on me and broke my big toe. I was proud that the broken toe didn’t prevent me from attending the track meet and participating in the discus throw—I won second place!”

After attending a YOU leadership conference in Pasadena, Greg was offered a YOU scholarship to attend Ambassador College. He attended beginning in 1979. During the summer between his junior and senior years at AC, Greg was selected to be a ministerial trainee in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. “I had a fabulous experience working alongside four pastors who poured into my life in various ways. As a result, the sense of calling to pastoral ministry was planted in my heart and mind.”

Greg met his wife Susan (Lang) at AC and they recently celebrated their 30th anniversary. They were married on May 13, 1984. At the time, Greg was working at Imperial High School teaching history and physical education. “We attended the Glendora congregation while I worked at Imperial and then in May 1985 I was hired as a full-time ministerial trainee, working initially with Doug Horchak and then Dennis Wheatcroft in the Glendora congregation.”

In 1987, shortly after the birth of their twin sons, Glenn and Garrett, the Williams’ family moved to Denver, Colorado, where Greg served as associate pastor until 1991. Their third son, Gatlin, was born in Denver. Then in the spring of 1991, the family moved to Fayetteville, North Carolina, where Greg served as the senior pastor. He continued in that responsibility until 2006. After raising three boys, Susan was pleased to add female voices and input to the family when the twins married—Glenn to Crystal and Garrett to Marlo. “Gatlin,” notes Greg, “is single and available.”

Greg said this about Susan: “Susan is so often the voice of the Holy Spirit in my life. She is able to see details that I don’t see, and has a strong gift of mercy that helps her see and respond to people’s deepest needs. The cool thing is that while responding to those needs, she doesn’t let people skirt the truth of the matter. She helps them face the sometimes-painful truth within the embrace of a loving, relational connection.”

When asked about his most memorable moments as a pastor, Greg spoke about his family. “As a family man, I’ve always taken seriously the scriptural teaching of Paul for an elder to manage well his home if he or she is going to manage one of the churches of God. My marriage is not perfect and neither are my children, but by the grace of God we have been deeply blessed and experience incredible love within our family circle. My most memorable moments were the privileged times when I baptized my three sons and experienced the pride and sense of release as I handed each of them over to the eternal care of their heavenly Father.”

One of Greg’s strengths as a pastor was in mentoring young leaders. Two of GCI’s senior pastors along with several other elders and multiple ministry leaders were mentored and trained by Greg. This commitment to raising up leaders ties in with what Greg enjoys most about being a ministry leader and soon-to-be director of CAD. “I enjoy most seeing people coming alive in Jesus and then seeing how they blossom in that growing relationship. There is nothing more enjoyable than being in community with people who know Jesus and are growing in his amazing grace and knowledge.”

When asked what he enjoys most about being part of GCI, Greg said, “The national and international relationships of some of the most interesting, loving and diverse people across God’s green earth. As Joseph Tkach Sr. often said, ‘We are family!’ And I love the GCI family.”

Speaking about when he feels closest to God, Greg said, “I certainly enjoy my ‘solo time’ when I commune with Father, Son and Spirit. But I also enjoy those times when I’m in the company of two or three other believers and the Spirit is palpably active. At such times I find myself in deep awe and especially close to the one who is the head of the church.”

In looking back, Greg says he realizes his training to be CAD’s new director started back when he was mentoring new leaders. That training, which has never stopped, was not just within GCI. “For 10 years I worked with Youth for Christ, which is an international para-church youth ministry organization. I was exposed there to cross-denominational ministry and was actively engaged in youth evangelism. I remained connected to and active in GCI during that time; however I gained rich experience that helped shape me for the duties I soon will have as CAD director.”

Greg’s passion summarizes part of his excitement for his new responsibility “I love to network people together. One of my slogans to the CAD team is this: ‘Get the right people in the room for the right meeting with the right discussion.’ Helen Keller once said, ‘Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.’ I refuse to engage in the mission Jesus has given us apart from the company of others, and I am pleased with the amazing people that God has placed on our team.”

Greg listed three primary goals for the CAD team:

  1. Provide CAD services to pastors and congregations in ways that effectively help them participate in the mission of Jesus through existing and newly birthed ministries.
  2. Expand from four to six administrative regions in order to more effectively serve our pastors and churches. Each of the six regional pastors, partnered with a few senior pastors in their region, will oversee 45 to 60 congregations (the new structure will be implemented in January 2015).
  3. Continue our progress toward becoming a church planting denomination where all congregations are partners in church planting.

Concerning the third goal, Greg commented: “The idea of ‘partnership’ speaks to who we are in GCI—an extended family with deep relational connections.”

Greg recently announced new vision and mission statements for the CAD team:

  • CAD vision: We envision Christ-centered, disciple-making churches where all kinds of people in all kinds of places are equipped for building up the body of Christ through missions and ministry. 

Greg commented on this vision: “It’s the same one that comes from the lips of Jesus in the New Testament, reflecting the really good news that Jesus is the living head of GCI. He is alive and leading us well!”

  • CAD mission: Developing and serving pastors, who develop and serve congregations, who live and share the gospel.

Greg commented on this mission: “It centers around how we develop, support and nurture our pastors from their point of entry into pastoral ministry through their retirement. Our pastors are the CAD team’s primary ‘clients.'”

Effective offering services

How does your congregation conduct the offering segment of your weekly worship service? Does your approach promote stewardship? Thom Rainer of LifeWay addresses that question in a recent blog post at http://thomrainer.com/2014/09/10/five-ways-use-offertory-enhance-financial-stewardship/. In that post he features the video below as an example of an effective offertory message. Please use the “comment” feature below to share your thoughts and experiences related to effective offering services.

On Vimeo at http://vimeo.com/105751251.

John Halford

This update on John Halford’s continuing battle with cancer is from his daughter, Becki Halford Brown.

My dad continues the battle, but instead of growing stronger, it seems as though his strength is diminishing. He uses a walker to get from the bedroom to the living room now and his speech is slurred. He has grown several lumps around his torso, which yesterday were confirmed as new tumors. This week we will go for a biopsy to see if they are benign or if this is new cancer growth. We desperately need some good news, renewed hope and continued prayers.

Cards may be sent to:

John & Pat Halford
5836 South State Road 129
Versailles, IN 47042

Series on the Holy Spirit, part 2

In an essay entitled “Guidelines to an Understanding of the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit,” Dr. Gary Deddo offers an incarnational, Trinitarian perspective on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Over the next several weeks we’ll publish his essay serially in seven parts. Here is part two (to read other parts, click a number: 1, 34, 5, 6, 7).

One in being, distinct in Person

As noted in part one of this series, it’s important to avoid thinking that the Divine Persons have divergent purposes or that they operate independently of one another. The Triune God is one in being, and the three Divine Persons are one in act. Whether in creation, redemption or in the perfecting of the creation, the Persons act together as the one God. We see this in the many Scriptures where the Persons are linked in a particular act (work) of God. However, there are times when Scripture shows the Persons working in distinct ways. For example, the Son becomes incarnate in a way that is distinct from the Father and the Spirit. Also, at Pentecost, the Spirit descends and indwells the believing church in a way that is distinct from the Father and the Son.

Even when two or three of the Persons are shown to be joined in a particular act of God, there often is a distinction as to their particular role in that act. In fact, Scripture seems to indicate that each Person is involved in a particular way in every act that the Persons do together. Each, from their own “angle,” contributes in a unique way to the unified act. We could say that one Person “takes the lead” in certain actions: the Father in creation, the Son in atonement, the Spirit in the perfecting of creation. To speak of such distinctions in this way is fine, so long as we don’t think of the Persons as acting separately or as being out of phase with one another in what is a conjoint act. In formal theology this is called the doctrine of appropriation. An act can be “appropriated” to the Person of the Trinity who takes the lead, as long as the other two are not regarded as having nothing to do with it, but are co-involved, each in their own way.

Also, we should not think that the distinction, in their contribution to an act external to their triune being, is what makes or constitutes their being as distinct in their Persons. The error here is to think, for instance, that being the Creator is what makes the Father different in Person from the Son, or that being Incarnate is what makes the Son different in Person from the Father. No, rather the Father is the Father and the Son the Son and the Spirit the Spirit whether or not they perform any actions external to their own triune being. Rather, they are distinguished by their internal relationships not by their external actions. The being of God is not dependent upon his relationship to something that is external to God, to something that is not God.

As long as we don’t leave the Son and the Spirit behind, we can say the Father leads in creation. We can say the Son leads in our redemption. But if we think the Father is absent or has a different view, attitude, purpose or intention for the Cross than does the Son, then we have split the Trinity apart, placed them at odds with one another! Even in Jesus’ earthly life, we need to remember that he only does what he sees the Father doing. He only says what the Father is saying. They’re saying things together. They’re doing things together. They’re never separate because they’re one in being.

It is proper to say the Son takes the lead and that only the Son is incarnate. We can affirm that the Son physically suffers on the cross and not the Father or Spirit. Not being incarnate in our humanity, they cannot physically suffer and die. But if we think the Father was absent or the Spirit’s had gone on vacation and wasn’t around when Jesus was on the Cross, then we’ve strayed way off the theological path. The Spirit and the Father were present with Jesus, each in their own non-incarnate way. Jesus said, “Father into your hands, I commend my Spirit.” In the book of Hebrews we read, “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to worship the living God” (9:14). They’re all acting together in Christ’s redeeming work. Yes, we can say one leads. But don’t let them fall apart just because one is leading.

The Spirit perfects. But he perfects human beings with the perfection that is accomplished by Christ. The Spirit shares with us the holiness and the sanctification of Jesus in our humanity. He doesn’t give us a spiritualized or divine perfection, a non-bodily, inhuman existence. But rather the Spirit joins us to Christ’s glorified human body, mind and soul.

The Spirit makes us to share in Jesus’ self-sanctification. The work of the Spirit is not separate from the work of the Son, but the Spirit does lead in dwelling in us now. We can talk about the ways the Spirit leads, but we shouldn’t think of the Spirit then as branching off and saying, “Father and Son, you’ve done a good job over there, but now I’ve got to go do something over here that you don’t have anything to do with. It’s my turn to do my own thing.” To think in that way is a mistake. That could happen only if God wasn’t one in being and was three beings—tritheism! We don’t want to go there.

We can distinguish between the various contributions the Father, the Son and the Spirit make by the way they take their lead, but we don’t want to separate them or place them in any kind of opposition or in tension with each other. And we don’t want to say that their differing contributions to what they accomplish together are what make them distinct in Person from all eternity. We can distinguish but we should not separate. The Divine Persons are one in being and distinct in Person, not only in their internal and eternal being, but also in terms of what they do towards creation, in creation, redemption and consummation.

Projecting on God

Why do we get tripped up in this? I think there are a number of reasons, but one of them is that we tend to think of God in ways we think of ourselves. We start with ourselves and then try to get to our understanding of God. Think of how we usually distinguish ourselves from each other. How do I know I’m not you and you’re not me? I note: you have a different body. You’re over there and I’m over here. You do this but I do that. You live there but I live here. You think that’s funny, but I don’t. I want X, but you want Y. We’re different in all these ways and that’s how we know we are distinct persons.

So we can project this perspective on God and think that’s how the Father, Son and Spirit are distinguished. The Father is over here, the Spirit’s over there. The Father wants A and the Son wants B. They each have different jobs to do. We try to distinguish them from each other in the same way we distinguish ourselves. But God is not a creature like we are. So, we can’t just take the idea of how we distinguish ourselves and apply it in the same way to God. Thinking that way would only work if God were a creature.

Names and relations

The essential way we have been given to distinguish between the Divine Persons is by means of their different names: the Father, the Son and he Holy Spirit. The different names reveal a difference of their Persons. That is also why we believe there are three, not four or two. We are given three names, not two or seven. The names we are given are revelatory of real distinctions in God, otherwise they wouldn’t be revelatory! They are not just arbitrary words, concepts, ideas, or conventional labels. So we address God in worship, in prayer, by means of these three names. In doing this we follow Jesus’ example and instruction. He uses these names in his relationship to the Father and Spirit and directs us to do so as well. So, for example, he instructs us: “Pray like this: Our Father in heaven…”

Those names also represent and so reveal unique relationships. The Father has a different relationship with the Son than the Son has with the Father. And the Spirit has a different relationship to the Father than does the Son. The names identify and reveal to us unique relationships. Following biblical teaching, we can also find distinct designations for the different relationships.

Corresponding to the Father is the relationship of begetting to the Son. Begetting is the special term used to describe more particularly how the Son comes from the Father. The Father begets the Son. Begetting indicates a certain kind of relationship. In the early church they recognized that begetting is different from making. What is made is of a different kind of thing than the maker. But what is begotten is of the identical kind of being. So we say that the Son is begotten, indicating a unique kind of relationship to the Father. The Son is distinct from the Father but of the identical kind of being, namely, divine, fully God. The Son doesn’t beget the Father and the Father isn’t begotten by the Son. They each have a different relationship with each other, and that difference of relationship (which is internal and eternal to God) is what makes them personally distinct from one another. So we say that the Father begets (is not begotten of the Son) and we say that the Son is begotten (does not beget the Father).

The unique names and relationships identify who the Persons are. They are who they are in relationship with each other. Without the relationships with each other, they would not be who they are. They are not interchangeable. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father. Being the begetter and being the begotten one are different and not reversible. There’s a direction to the relationships, and we can’t reverse them. We can’t say the Son begets the Father. The Son has always been the begotten Son. The Father has always begotten the Son. The Son is eternally the Son, and the Father, eternally Father. That’s why we can identify them as the divine Persons of Father and Son.

But the words/names don’t explain everything. They represent what we have to go on and explain, namely, what they do and don’t mean as far as we can tell. In the case of the Father and Son, we have to rule out, or “think away” as Athanasius said, some aspects of the meaning of the words begotten or begetting as used of human creatures. Among creatures these words include the idea of a time sequence. But when it comes to God, the aspect of time doesn’t apply. God is eternal and so, then, are the Divine Persons. The Father generates (begets) the Son from all eternity. Time sequence doesn’t apply to God. There never was a time when the Son was not. The Son was always the begotten Son of the Father, which is to say the Son is eternally the Son and the Father is eternally the Father, begetting the Son. The discipline of theology is to discern where and how words when used to refer to God must be used differently from how they are used of creatures. This task would be impossible if we did not have biblical revelation to lead us.

Now what about the Spirit? There’s always been the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit has eternal relationships with the Father and the Son. We use a special word to talk about those relationships. The New Testament gives us a clue as to one word good to use. We say the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and, or through, the Son (John 15:26). Another word has also been used down through the ages to indicate that unique relationship, “spirates.”

The Holy Spirit—proceeds/spirates

These words indicate unique and non-interchangeable relationship. The name and relationship indicate who the Spirit is. The Spirit would not be the Spirit without spirating from the Father and the Son. And the Father and Son wouldn’t be Father and Son without the Spirit proceeding. The relationship of the Spirit is essential to who the Spirit is and so to who the Triune God is. God wouldn’t be God without the Person of the Holy Spirit.

We likely want to ask, “So how does that work? How does a ‘procession’ work in God?” We don’t actually know. We can’t say exactly how it is different from begetting or being begotten. Along with the name, Holy Spirit, the word simply indicates that there is a unique kind of relationship of the Spirit with the Father and the Son, one that is different from the relationship of the Son to the Father. It indicates that the Spirit is from the Father and through the Son in a way that the Son and Father do not proceed from the Spirit and are not the Spirit. With this unique relationship, the Spirit is not interchangeable with the other Persons. It means that the Holy Spirit has always been the Holy Spirit. We affirm in this way that God has always been a Trinity. There never was a time when God was not Triune.

In summary then, the three Divine Persons eternally exist in absolutely unique relationships, and that is what is essential to their being distinct Persons. That’s it. They have unique relations. Each one has a different relationship with the others. We don’t know how to explain what all that means, but we use unique words because there are unique relations. That’s also why we address them according to their unique names that correspond with the relations.

The Father is the Father, not the Son. The Son is the Son, not the Father. The Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit of the Father and the Son. We have unique names to indicate the unique persons and they have unique relationships and they’re not interchangeable. In these ways we honor what we are given by Jesus and through Scripture as if what we are given is revelatory, as if God has actually fulfilled his will and desire to make himself known to us so that we now have accurate and faithful ways to speak about and know God.

When God through Jesus says, to address him as Father, Son and Holy Spirit we’re being told something real and accurate about God. We’re getting to know God as Jesus knows the Father and Spirit. He’s sharing with us his insider knowledge of God so we too can know and trust the whole triune God. Recall John 1:18, “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” The triune name identifies who God is, which God we’re speaking of, and even what kind of God, God is. God is the Triune God. That’s the only God that is or has ever been. God is Father, Son and Spirit. The Father is the Father. The Son is the Son. The Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit. Don’t separate them, they’re one in being. In that way we avoid the misunderstanding/heresy that has been called tritheism. But don’t collapse them into one Person with no relationships; they’re distinct in Person. In that way we avoid the opposite misunderstanding/heresy that has been called modalism.

Next time we’ll look more deeply into how God is said to be “one in three” and “three in one.”

Series on the Holy Spirit, part 1

In an essay entitled “Guidelines to an Understanding of the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit,” Dr. Gary Deddo offers an incarnational, Trinitarian perspective on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Over the next several weeks we’ll publish his essay serially in seven parts. Here is part one (to read other parts, click a number: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7).

Introduction

Seeking to understand and know the Holy Spirit is a wonderful and rewarding endeavor. It ties in with every aspect of the Christian faith and life. But if ever there was a topic we are likely never to get to the bottom of, this one would qualify. The very name of this Divine Person, the Holy Spirit, already tells us that we’re in pretty deep. But we do have a good amount of insight given to us by biblical revelation that can inform our understanding and help us stay away from pure speculation. God has seen fit to reveal himself to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit and has provided and preserved teaching about the Holy Spirit. Because he wants us to know, trust and worship him, we by faith can dare to pursue understanding on that basis. But we proceed only by God’s grace.

In this essay, however, we will only touch on a few key points that address questions that are, first, foundational to our faith in the Holy Spirit and, second, are of more immediate importance given current discussions and debates. It is our prayer that this essay will also help keep further explorations and other discussions in perspective. It is not possible in a short space to offer anything near a comprehensive view, so regard this as more of a beginning than an ending.

Jesus instructs Nicodemus

I’d like to start with our recalling a passage from the Gospel of John. I’m referring to the story of Nicodemus. Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus, trying to explain to him something foundational regarding the nature and work of the Spirit. Jesus says to him, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” He continues, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:5-8).

Nicodemus wants to understand how God works. Jesus tells him how God works with us is by the Holy Spirit. But Nicodemus is not exactly satisfied with that answer. He wants to know, if he can, how then the Spirit works! Jesus’ answer to that “how” question amounts to his saying: How the Spirit works is like trying to talk about how the wind works. We see the effects, but we know very little about it, not even where it was a few moments ago or where it will end up going a few moments later! The Spirit is not predictable or controllable by us. We don’t and can’t have an answer as to how the Spirit works, the mechanics of it. Apparently the “how” question is the wrong one to ask. And, given Jesus’ reply to Nicodemus, we can assume that it’s not necessary for us to know either, even to receive the benefits of the working of the Spirit!

Jesus’ “no-explanation” answer does makes sense. How can we possibly put into words, concepts and ideas something about the Spirit given that it is like the wind? You can’t actually predict its movement or say much about it except that “it blows where it wills.” The Spirit has a mind of his own! I think that’s part of our experience. The wind of the Spirit blows where it wills. We did not necessarily see it coming and don’t necessarily see exactly where it’s going. So it is with the Spirit.

Focus on the biblical teaching

So why not just stop right there? Well, in some cases I think that might be the right thing to do. There is a lot of speculation taking place, especially about how the Spirit works. However, we are given other words and descriptions in biblical revelation that refer to the Holy Spirit. But not surprisingly, they don’t tell us how the Spirit works nor especially how to bring the Spirit under our control or how we can influence or predict the working of the Spirit. Rather, most of what we are given relates to the nature and purpose and character of the Spirit, not the mechanics of his working. All sorts of problems can be avoided if we simply pay attention to what biblical revelation actually tells us and resist using what we discover in ways that disregard Jesus’ own teaching on the limits of our knowledge of the Holy Spirit’s wind-like working.

Sometimes, people think the Holy Spirit gets less attention than deserved—the short end of the stick, as we say, or short shrift. The complaint that the Spirit is under-represented can be heard both at the levels of theological discussion as well as at the daily and practical level of church life. That’s a perfectly good concern to raise. We should be aware and take to heart all we are told regarding the Spirit. Neglecting any part of biblical witness is not a good idea. Faith seeks whatever understanding of the Spirit we are given, as in any other part of the Christian faith. But we can ask the counter question as well: Is it true that in practice and preaching we don’t properly emphasize the Holy Spirit? If so, in what ways do we fail to give the Spirit sufficient attention? And, what measure or criteria can we use to evaluate whether or not we have under- (or over-) emphasized the Holy Spirit?

Whether or not we give full attention is best gauged by the norm of biblical teaching. We can look to Scripture to weigh its own emphasis on the Spirit relative to other matters. We can also consider the full range of insights it presents us. Then we can compare our own emphasis and range of teaching to the pattern and proportion found there. While we will not be able to conclude with something like a numerical measurement, I think there will be many indicators in biblical teaching that can greatly assist us in our process of discernment. We can also borrow understanding on this matter from teachers of the church down through the ages, including our present time, as it seems in alignment with biblical revelation considered as a whole.

If there is some kind of deficit, then we’ll also need to explore how best to correct that lack. We’ll need to discern this issue as well, because there are various ways to correct for it. But some are not as useful or faithful as others. And some purported correctives promoted in recent times have seemed not only speculative but harmful to the health of the Body of Christ. What the Bible teaches can help us discern how best to make any kind of corrective action called for.

What are the basics of revelation about the Holy Spirit?

Recall that any theology built on biblical revelation must seek first and foremost to answer the question of “who” the God of the Bible is, for that is its central concern and controlling topic of the whole Bible. Biblical revelation is not geared nearly as much to answer the questions of how or why, where or when. So our understanding must also begin by seeking to know first who the Holy Spirit is.

Let’s begin with a review of the most basic truths we have been given about the Holy Spirit. Most fundamentally we are told about the Spirit’s relationship with the Father and the Son. Those relationships identify who the Spirit of God is. Who is the Spirit? The Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and the Son. The Spirit is one with the Father and one with the Son. Jesus is conceived by the Spirit, he has the Spirit for us and he ministers in and by the Spirit even in his atoning work on the cross. Jesus and the Father send the Spirit to us. The Spirit takes us to the Father through the Son. By the Spirit we are united to Christ so that we share in his life, life in fellowship and communion with the Father. And we share, by the Spirit, in Jesus’ ongoing ministry in the church and in the world.

Notice that what Jesus teaches Nicodemus (and us) fits the overall pattern of revelation about the Spirit throughout Scripture. Nicodemus wanted to know how one can be “born again” (or it could be translated, “born from above”). But Jesus’ response indicates that such “how” questions can’t really be answered in connection with the Spirit! Nicodemus is not told how the Spirit blows to bring us new life. Rather, Jesus’ answer to his “how” question identifies the “Who” behind the “how.” But Jesus does describe in a comprehensive way the effect of the working of the Spirit, namely, bringing us a new kind of life that comes from God. The Gospel of John goes on to shed even more light on the relationship of the Spirit to Jesus and to the Father, which includes the inter-relationship of their missions and ministries. These relationships are especially prominent in chapters 13-17. The central concern throughout this Gospel remains their conjoint relationships. They are inseparable, always being together and always working together.

One in being—united in act

Borrowing now from the more developed doctrine of the Trinity, we can say in summary that the three Divine Persons of the Trinity are “one in being.” This technical phrase helps us to remember there are not three Gods, but only one. So, the Spirit is not a separate God that has his own independent mind, his own action, his own plan, and his own purpose. The Spirit is joined in one being and therefore joined in one mind, action, plan and purpose with the Father and the Son. Even the name, “Holy Spirit,” indicates to us the unity of the Spirit with Father and Son, since only God has the name “Holy.”

The point here is not to let our minds think about the Holy Spirit as an independent operator. That’s one of the biggest mistakes that we can make. Always remember, whatever the Spirit does, wherever the Spirit is at work, that Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and the Son, because they are one in being. They do not act separately, apart from one another. They act out of one shared mind, heart and purpose in unity with each other. St. Augustine famously summarized this in the fourth century: “All the works of God are inseparable.”

A number of special phrases have been used down through the ages to convey the oneness or unity of the Persons besides saying that they are “one in being.” They are said to “co-exist.” They “co-inhere” in one another. They “in-exist” one another or they “mutually in-dwell” one another, they “co-envelop” one another or they “mutually interpenetrate” each other. Their oneness of being has been expressed by saying that the whole God is present in each of the Divine Persons. The whole God is present in the Father. The whole God is present in the Son. The whole God is present in the Spirit. That’s all to say: they’re one in being even though they’re distinguishable, we say, in person. An early creed sums it up this way: the Triune God is a Unity in Trinity and a Trinity in Unity.

Sharing all divine attributes

This means that the Holy Spirit is fully and completely divine and has from all eternity all the attributes that the Father and the Son have. The Spirit is not subordinate or less than the others. All that you can say of the Father, such as being omniscient, holy, omnipotent, eternal, and even being a Creator, can all be said of the Spirit (and can all be said of the Son). Dividing up among the Persons the attributes of God and the actions of God towards creation is ruled out because they are one in being.

That’s a hard rule for us to follow because we have developed poor habits of thinking and speaking in the church and likely were never taught otherwise. We also like to divide things up and align certain attributes or actions with the Father and others with the Son or the Holy Spirit. A typical way we do this is by saying the Father creates, the Son redeems and the Spirit perfects or sanctifies. We might think the Father is just and holy in comparison to the Son, who is merciful and gracious. But taking such a division of labor in a strict way would be an inaccurate, even misleading way to speak of God. The distinct Persons of the Trinity do not have separate jobs or wear different hats or play different roles that they accomplish by themselves. God acts as the one being that God is. His being does not fragment in mind, will, purpose or in action.

So, to repeat, everything you can say about the eternal nature and character of the Father, you can say about the Son and  you can say about the Holy Spirit. They are each all-powerful, omniscient, omnipresent, eternal, good, merciful, righteous and holy. They are all to be worshiped together because they’re one in being. So we can say of our worship—we worship the Father through the Son and in the Spirit. Or, we pray to the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit. And we proclaim that the Father has redeemed us through the Son and in the Spirit. The whole God is our Savior!

The unity of the being (and therefore of the action, character and attributes of God) is one of the most fundamental things to hold on to and to watch out for when we go on to say other things about the Spirit. We want to avoid talking as if the Divine Persons are separate, wear different hats, have divergent purposes or as if they’re operating independently of one another. Simply remembering they’re one in being will prevent a lot of problems down the theological road.

Next time we’ll look at some of the distinctions in the united acts of the Father, Son and Spirit.

Death of Joan Backhus

Backhus_Gerald_Joan
Jerry and Joan

We were saddened to learn that Joan Backhus, wife of GCI pastor Gerald (Jerry) Backhus, died on September 10 at 10:00 PM. The couple would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on September 13.

Please pray for Jerry, their couple’s children Craig and Kym, their extended family, and for their church family at Living Hope Family Fellowship in Hillsdale, New Jersey.

Cards may be sent to:

Gerald P Backhus
501 Russell Ave
Wyckoff, NJ 07481-1708