Have we lost the Holy Spirit?

Matthew Mason has set out the provocative suggestion that conservative evangelicals in the Church of England have neither a functional doctrine of the Holy Spirit nor a meaningful experience of the Holy Spirit and that has led to a number of deficiencies in their churches.

I intend to interact with his proposition over a number of posts for the following reasons.

  •  Even though I am not Anglican I do essentially identify as conservative evangelical.  It is likely that things said about one set of conservative evangelicals is going to be true of others too.[1]
  • As another blogger suggested, to prove or falsify Mason’s hypothesis, we would need to be able to test it by looking at other groupings.  If those groupings have a functional doctrine and meaningful experience of the Spirit then that would put Mason’s hypothesis into question and require it to be either rejected or modified.

This is a practically important question. If we are getting it wrong then it raises challenges about our worship -are we honouring the Triune God rightly. If we are getting this wrong and Matthew is right, then it puts at risk our congregations.  Matthew suggests 29 issues that he thinks are linked to this problem. You can read the full list on his blog but here are just a few.

  • Prayerlessness activism
  • Legalism
  •  a fearful and anxious disposition towards some of our leaders
  •  a cerebral and simplistic focus on a mechanism of atonement rather than intellectual and loving devotion to Christ crucified
  • a stark sense of God’s absence in public worship and in life but a failure to recognise this absence
  •  a fear of emotions

These are serious concerns and at this stage it is important to stop and ask whether we experience any of them in our own lives (individually and corporately).

At this stage it is also important to pause and clarify what is not being said. I am making the following assumptions

  • That Matthew is not saying that the Holy Spirit is absent – we have a God who has promised to never leave us or forsake us.
  • That this does not mean that conservative evangelicals have no doctrine or experience of the Spirit, the emphasis is on the words “functional” and “meaningful” -it is possible to both pay lip service to a doctrine of the Spirit without having a deep and active grasp of the belief and therefore to not engage with our experience of the Spirit in a meaningful way.

Interacting with Matthew I also understand that he is not saying that this one doctrine on its own is the cause of the problems but he is proposing that it is significant and serious. Further whilst many of us will automatically have in mind the question of Spiritual gifts, this also is not what Matthew has primarily in mind.

So, over a few posts, I’m going to talk a little about what it is we believe/should believe about the Holy Spirit and how Biblically we can expect to experience the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.[2]  I then intend to apply that to some of the issues Matthew has raised.

[1] Conservative Evangelical tends to describe evangelicals who are from a reformed position. In other words those who emphasise God’s sovereignty, Justification by faith alone, penal substitution, the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture.  The “conservative” here distinguishes from liberal evangelicalism which was more supportive of liberal aspects of theology. Whilst many conservative evangelicals today are open to the continuing gifts of the Spirit, this is less likely to be a central emphasis in church life than with Pentecostals and charismatics. 

[2] The first part of this material is drawn from “Who is God?” available from our publications page https://faithrootcom.files.wordpress.com/2020/04/who-is-god.pdf

%d bloggers like this: