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Fox and Holy Spirit Christianity, Part 1 of 3

Some years ago, while attending a lecture series given by Lewis Benson, I asked how we could convince Holy-Spirit-Christians that what Fox was saying was substantially different than what they were saying. Lewis replied that, given my background from evangelical Christianity, he hoped that I could provide the answer. I could not then articulate what I felt to be a great difference between Fox's proclamation that Christ has come to teach His people Himself and the gospel of Holy Spirit Christianity. (NOTE: from the context of Lewis' series of lectures, Holy Spirit Christianity makes the Holy Spirit, not Christ, central to its life and faith. The lectures are entitled: Recovering the Early Quaker Universal Mission and Message: Five Lec... and are available for $7.00.)

This and the following posts are my attempt to put this distinction into words.

When people talk about the Holy Spirit, what are they talking about? For some they are referring to God's present representative on Earth. Christ has ascended into heaven and will return someday. Meanwhile we have the Holy Spirit. For others, the Holy Spirit represents the pinnacle of what humans can experience of God. He is not a surrogate Christ, but is one step better than coming to Christ. Jesus came to prepare the way for the Holy Spirit. When people holding either of these views read Fox, they see the words "Holy Spirit" and think, "Ah! He was one of us." But not so.

The scriptures speak of something we translate as Holy Spirit, Holy Ghost, or Spirit of God. But there is a very different feel or sense between the use we make of the New Testament references and how those terms are used in the Old Testament scriptures.

The Hebrew idea of the Spirit of God carries a sense of that part of God that imparts His unquenchable life. It was that part of God that was breathed into man that made him a living being. This concept often is translated as breath, as in the comparative question posed by Isaiah, "Why do you regard man whose breath is in his nostrils?" (Isaiah 2:22) The implication is that we should regard God alone whose breath is unquenchable. His life can't be ended by stopping the nostrils. Isaiah cried woe against the disobedient children, "who cover themselves but not with My breath, says the Lord." (Isaiah 30:1) And the prophet Joel declared of the days when God would pour out His breath upon all flesh, which would take away the woe. In Acts, chapter 2, the apostles declared the fulfillment of Joel's prophecy. Even though this 2nd-chapter-of-Acts event is rooted in the concept of God's breath, theologians, especially after about A.D. 300, have built a theology that diverges from the Hebrew concept of "Behold oh Israel, our God is one God." This is especially true among those who make the Holy Spirit central to their life and faith, God has become more three than one.

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Comment by Patricia Dallmann on 4thMo. 20, 2015 at 17:38

The doctrine of one God in three distinct and separate persons was refuted by early Friends as not Scriptural. William Penn published a tract titled "The Sandy Foundation Shaken," in which he refuted several typically held doctrines using Scripture and reason. The doctrine of the Trinity of separate persons in unity of essence was one of the doctrines that he refuted. He wrote:

Mistake me not, we never have disowned a Father, Word, and Spirit, which are one, but men's inventions: For, 1. Their Trinity has not so much as a foundation in the Scriptures. 2. Its original was three hundred years after Christianity was in the world. 3. It having cost much blood, in the council of Sirmium, Anno 355, it was decreed, "that thenceforth the controversy should not be remembered, because the Scriptures of God make no mention thereof." Why, then, should it be mentioned now with a opinion? 4. And it doubtless hath occasioned idolatry, witness the popish images of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. 5. It scandalizeth Turks, Jews, and Infidels, and palpably obstructs their reception of the Christian doctrine. 

In another tract written for further explanation of the points made earlier, he writes: "therefore, God and Christ, although nominally distinguished, are essentially the same."

George Whitehead compared the doctrine of the three persons to three apostles, saying he "did not understand how Paul, Peter, and John could be three persons, and one apostle"; which caused Penn to observe that it was "a most apt comparison to detect their [the opposing priests'] doctrine."

I'm glad you're examining this topic, Ellis, and look forward to reading your second and third installments. Benson pointed out that the Inward Christ was known by what he did, that is, the activity of his offices: prophet, priest, king, shepherd, bishop, etc. You've shown that the Hebrew idea of God's Spirit is that He imparts Life, and that action is referred to in the New Testament as well.  I hope that you compare that understanding to evangelicals' beliefs of what is the function of the Holy Spirit. 

Comment by Ellis Hein on 4thMo. 21, 2015 at 12:06

Thank you, Pat, for the quotes from Penn. An Evangelical tract that was popular some years ago, and may be still extant, that was called "Four Spiritual Laws" might be a good comparison to what Fox had to say. If I remember correctly, it puts the real work of regeneration to the Holy Spirit who is Christ's representative on Earth until Jesus returns at the end of the world. In all my dealings with Evangelicals, I have never had a sense that they had an understanding of Christ such that "we have come to the prophet like Moses, whom God raised up, whom we MUST hear in all things if we are to have any part in the people of God."

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