Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Jane Williams: The Point of the Experience of the Holy Spirit

From the Guardian:

It is very tempting to assume that The Acts of the Apostles is talking about the Christian church as it really should be. And it is true that some of the incidents it describes are so deeply embedded in the Christian psyche that, whether consciously or not, they do operate as the standard against which all later church life is judged. What is not so clear is whether Luke intended his account to work that way. It isn't always easy to tell when Luke is simply chronicling what his research suggests actually happened, and when he is making theological recommendations.

For example, Acts 2 describes the dramatic beginning of the Christian missionary movement in a scene so important that, like Christmas, it is celebrated every year as part of the Christian calendar. We are told that the disciples were all together in one place for Pentecost, the Jewish festival 50 days after Passover. Suddenly, something like a violent wind filled the house, followed by "divided tongues, as of fire", which rested on each of them. There is a sense of Luke groping for the words to help us visualise something that defies description – the sound is "like" a great wind, the disciples see and feel something "as of fire", and they are "filled with the Holy Spirit".

The point of this experience is not that the disciples should feel spiritually-renewed but to enable them to carry out Jesus' commission to bear witness to him. In other words, Luke is suggesting that the spread of the gospel is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit. The apostles might act, but the Holy Spirit directs.

Read it all here.

Dr. Jane Williams was born in India and read Theology at Cambridge University. She is the author of Bread, Wine and Women (with Sue Dowell), Perfect Freedom, Lectionary Reflections, Approaching Christmas and Approaching Easter and other publications and columns. Currently, she is Visiting Lecturer at King's College London as well as a Lecturer at the St Paul's Theological Centre. She is married to Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and they have two children.

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