10 December 2008

Alpha Retreat Sermon 1: Who is the Holy Spirit

This was the first real sermon, first thing in the morning on Saturday. I was extremely tired due to excessive heat in the rooms. I think everyone else had similar problems; there was a lot of yawning.

Though it was priefly mentioned in the Intro Sermon, Gumbel's first order of business was complaining about how "the person and work of the Holy Spirit has been ignored and misunderstood," taking a backseat to God the Father and God the Son, and been called the "Holy Ghost" by Catholics in particular, and "It" rather than "He" in general. Also, that Christians even tend to resist the Holy Spirit because they think it will take control over their lives.

It is true that most Christians neglect the Holy Spirit. Just about the only time a Christian concerns himself/herself with the Holy Spirit is when crossing himself/herself, and he/she gets to the cross's horizontal member. Gumbel is very unhappy with this, and, if I were a concerned Christian, I could see why he'd want to rectify this. However, I agree with the Alpha Course's critics that it's madness to focus so much on the Holy Spirit in a supposed introduction to Christianity class. As far as being bothered by "ghost" and "it", that strikes me as Gumbel having a rather large anal retention disorder.

Getting back to the sermon, Gumbel wanted to show that the Holy Spirit was there from the beginning, being involved in the Creation, "the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters" (Gen. 1:2). I dunno. Anyone with more knowledge of ancient hebrew and access to the oldest bible scraps want to tell us if this Spirit of God is actually intended to be the Holy Spirit as understood by Christians?

Gumbel also wanted to show the the Holy Spirit came upon certain people in the Old Testament when God needed them to perform particular tasks, giving examples of Bezalel, Gideon, Samson, and Isaiah.

But rather than focusing on these Old Testament examples, he told a few quick anecdotes about one of his introductory points: that people resist the Holy Spirit because they don't want to give up control. To do this, instead of giving examples of reluctant Christians who let the Holy Spirit direct them in their lives and have their lives improved, he bashes atheists. His typical story involves some atheistic person whose life is full of failures and addictions and is generally unfulfilled, with unhappy relationships to boot. Then they suddenly accept the Holy Spirit and have their lives go down crazy, but good and joyful, holy paths.

Gumbel then made a point that the Holy Spirit was promised to all people by God, not just important people like in the Old Testament.

Also said that John the Baptist linked the Holy Spirit with Jesus. Weirdly, he made mention of Jesus receiving power through the annointing of the Holy Spirit at his baptism. This is odd because it's a strongly adoptionist verse. I was surprised any modern Christian would emphasise this.

Finally, Gumbel said that Jesus predicted the Holy Spirit's presence and coming for all of his followers, culminating in the Holy Spirit coming upon the disciples at Pentecost.

During Acts, this receiving of the Holy Spirit was said to look like tongues of fire (Acts 2:3). WTF? Must be extra special Holy Spirit mentioned here, for I've never heard of a visible Holy Spirit coming at any other time. This is crazy stuff.

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At December 10, 2008 1:32 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

You forgot the other common Christian reference to the Holy Spirit: teachers chaperoning at Catholic high school dances telling the students to "leave enough space for the Holy Spirit".


At December 10, 2008 2:49 p.m., Blogger Carlo said...

Wow, this is where religion is at its finest: Make all of your claims and explanations so meaninglessly vague that there's really no room for discussion. Well that's not entirely true - it's just that everyone thinks that they're discussing something different.

Yeah, did you ask him if the doctrine of the Trinity was there from the beginning? Like, is it actually in the Bible? Cause I think biblical scholars are pretty sure that most 'trinity-supporting' verses were added after it became cannon... much later.

At December 10, 2008 8:07 p.m., Blogger Tom Foss said...

I think the best case that the "Spirit" in Genesis wasn't the Holy Spirit is that Jews don't believe in the Holy Spirit. But (if I recall correctly from "Misquoting Jesus" and similar texts) the words for "spirit" and "breath" are similar or possibly the same in the original language(s), and get conflated somewhat. This site doesn't reference that particular verse, but gives a Jewish response to the general concept.

Gumbel having a rather large anal retention disorder

Well, when you're anally retaining your own head, it's naturally going to cause problems.

At December 12, 2008 1:08 a.m., Blogger King Aardvark said...

Given that the holy spirit is insubstantial, that's not much room at all.

I didn't ask that question since there wasn't a convenient group discussion. As we'll see later, there was only one big group discussion involving everybody there, and it was totally obsessed with "Have I experienced the Holy Spirit yet? Why have I not felt the Holy Spirit within me?" nonsense. Not a great venue for such questions. And when I fought with the elder, the presence/absence of the Holy Spirit during Genesis was not at the top of the list of things I wanted to challenge him about.

Tom, that's a good point. But Christians think Jews are horribly wrong on everything else anyway, so I doubt that would be convincing for them.


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