Tag Archive: Indwelling of the Holy Spirit

Do Evangelical Christians “Know” the Mind of God?

indwelling of the holy spirit

According to the Bible, God, in the person of the Holy Ghost, lives inside of every Christian. How the Holy Ghost pulls off being in millions and billions of places at the same time is unknown, but the Bible says that God is omnipresent, so it must be true, right? The Bible also teaches that the indwelling Spirit is the teacher, guide, and restrainer of every believer. Ponder that statement for a moment. Think of the Christians you know, and ask yourself, do they live in ways that are consistent with God living inside of them? Do their choices, decisions, and behaviors reflect that the God who promised never to leave or forsake them is an ever-present, active presence in their lives? Or, are your Christian friends and acquaintances pretty much like you and the other unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the “world?” That’s a rhetorical question.

People are people. On any given day, each of us has the potential to do good and bad things; each of us can bless others or cause great harm. Regardless of our religious beliefs, we are frail, feeble mortals. Getting Evangelicals to understand these facts, however, is a tall task. Everything they read in the Bible, hear from the pulpit, and read in Christian books tells them a completely different story; that they are special, unique people, who have been gloriously saved from “sin” by a virgin-born, resurrected-from-the-dead man named Jesus. It’s hard, then, for Evangelicals to see themselves as mere equals to non-Christians. Oh, they will tell you that they are just lowly, humble “sinners saved by grace,” but when you believe that the Creator of the universe is your BFF, lover, and closest confidant, it’s hard not to think you are superior to people you consider hell-bound sinners, followers of Satan, and enemies of Jesus.

Not only do Evangelicals have the Holy Ghost living inside of them, they also have the mind of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 2:14-16, the Apostle Paul wrote:

But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? but we have the mind of Christ.

Paul tells the Church at Corinth, that the natural man (unbelievers) does not receive, know, or understand the things of the Spirit of God. In fact, they can’t understand them because they don’t have the Holy Ghost living inside of them. Paul goes on to ask, “who has known the mind of the Lord?”  Answer? We (followers of Jesus) have. Why? We have the mind of Christ.

Nineteenth-century Presbyterian theologian Albert Barnes writes:

There is a difference between Christians and other people. One is enlightened by the Holy Spirit, the other is not; one sees a  beauty in religion, to the other it is folly; the one has the mind of Christ, the other has the spirit of the world; the one discerns the excellency of the plan of salvation, to the other all is darkness and folly. How could beings differ more in their moral feelings and views than do Christians and the people of this world? (E-Sword Bible, iOS Version)

Methodist theologian Adam Clarke writes:

[God] has endowed [Christians] with the same dispositions [as Christ], being born again by his Spirit; therefore we are capable of knowing his mind and receiving the teachings of the Spirit. These teachings we do receive, and therefore are well qualified to convey them to others. (E-Sword Bible, iOS Version)

“Well qualified to convey [the things of God] to others.” Doesn’t this describe many Evangelicals; those who frequent this blog and social media; those who believe it is their duty to spread their peculiar version of the Christian gospel wherever they go; those who believe it is their responsibility to expose heresy and promote sound doctrine; those who believe Christianity = truth and the Bible and its teachings should not only be taught in churches, but in public schools?

Currently, I follow and read almost two hundred Evangelical blogs and websites. Not all of them publish every day, but many of them do. And without fail, day after day, dozens of these sites write posts detailing what the will of God is for believers and unbelievers alike. You see, when you believe that you have an intimate relationship with the one, true God and you talk to him daily, it’s not surprising that you begin to think you are God’s mouthpiece, that your words and God’s words are one and the same. Evangelical pastors believe that they uniquely chosen, qualified, and empowered “men of God.” In some Evangelical circles, you have people who believe they are “prayer warriors” or have been given a special “anointing” from God. As a pastor, I pleaded with God to endue me with “power from on high.” I begged him to use me as did the great men of God from days of old. I wanted a life that literally oozed God and his Word. Alas, I never achieved such greatness. That did not keep me, however, from telling people what God wanted them to do. How could I do otherwise? I had a God-given duty to lead, shepherd, teach, challenge, and rebuke congregants.

If Evangelicals are saved by and through Jesus, indwelt by the Holy Ghost, have the mind of Christ, daily converse with God in prayer, and have at their fingertips the very words of God — the Bible, why is there dissension and internecine warfare among God’s chosen ones? Based on my daily reading of Evangelical blogs, websites, and social media posts, I can safely conclude that the elect are a contentious lot, willing to go to war over the silliest and slightest of disagreements. If Evangelicals have the “mind of Christ,” Jesus sure is an argumentative, judgmental, violent asshole (which, shouldn’t shock us, knowing the kind of Father he had — read the Old Testament).

Perhaps, there is another way to look at Evangelicals; that all their talk about God living inside of them and having the mind of Christ is poppycock. Maybe, just maybe, despite all their God-talk, Evangelicals are just like the rest of us. I know, my Christian friend, it’s humbling to think that you are just like me and billions of other people; that you are not chosen, anointed, or special; that your supposed superiority is a myth.

Reality can be a bitch.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

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Let the Fun Begin: Baptist Church Business Meetings

church meeting

Most Baptist churches practice congregational government. This means that the church membership has the final say on what happens in the church. Some Baptist churches are truly congregational. No one can even fart without it being voted on first by church members. However, many Baptist churches are congregational in name-only. Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches, in particular, are known for having dictatorial, controlling pastors. The congregation may vote on big money issues, but the day-to-day operation of the church is left up to the pastor. This is especially true when the church was started by the pastor. The church becomes his fiefdom, his personal plaything, and no one, including his charges, is going to take it away from him. As long as the pastor doesn’t diddle little boys or use church offerings to play the ponies, he likely can remain the pastor until “God” calls him elsewhere.

Some Baptist churches — believing congregationalism puts power in the wrong hands — are governed by elders. All this does is concentrate power and control. Elders can and do abuse their authority, often acting in their own best interests. One need only look at megachurches with their corporation-style boards to see what happens when stakeholders no longer have any control. That’s not to say that congregationalism is the best form of church government. As long as people are people, there will be conflicts. What elevates these conflicts in Baptist churches, however, is that both sides believe that the Holy Spirit (God) is leading and speaking to them! I participated in numerous church business meetings where people metaphorically duked it out over who would get his way. I found it interesting then, and still do, how “God” can be so unclear about his good, acceptable, and perfect will (Romans 12:2). Perhaps, the problem is that there is no God, and what you have are people with competing wants, needs, and desires.

What follows is a handful of stories from my days as a Baptist church member and pastor. These stories are a highlight reel of sorts from the countless church business meeting I attended.

As a teenager, I attended Trinity Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio. It was the 1970s, and, thanks to Trinity’s aggressive evangelistic efforts, the church was one of the fastest-growing churches in the area. Attendance became so large that big attendance days such as Easter were held in the auditorium of nearby Findlay High School. Finally, church attendance reached a place where Pastor Millioni and the deacons decided it was time for a larger building. They would later move from their Trenton Avenue location to a spacious, modern round edifice near the Findlay Mall.

Church leaders decided to sell bonds to church members to finance construction. Such bond programs were quite popular at the time. They were later deemed to be fraudulent, little more than Ponzi schemes. One Sunday evening, church leaders called for a business meeting to discuss the new building. I attended the meeting. I was very much a committed follower of Jesus, one who took seriously the standards by which Christians were expected to live their lives. One rule was NO CUSSING! Imagine my surprise then when the church’s song director got into a verbal argument with someone and swore at him! Boy, was I shocked! Here was a man I deeply repected and he said some bad words. Such was my naiveté at the time.

In the early 2000s, while between pastorates, I attended Frontier Baptist Church in Frontier, Michigan. Frontier was a small, needy, dysfunctional congregation. I have concluded that I sought out such churches because I see myself as a “fixer.” I pastored several churches who needed Pastor Bruce to ride in on a white horse and “save” them. While Frontier had an elderly pastor, the congregation was most certainly in need of my help. Or so I thought anyway.

Once a month, the church — a Southern Baptist congregation — would hold a business meeting. The pastor was a strict congregationalist. He refused to make ANY decision without the church voting on the matter. The church was in desperate need of a new refrigerator. I just so happened to have a like-new fridge in storage. I told the pastor I would like to give a refrigerator to the church, thinking he would quickly and graciously say, sure. Instead — I kid you not — he said, “I can’t accept your gift, Bruce. The church will have to vote on it first.” And they did a month later. To this day, I don’t understand this kind of passive leadership, an unwillingness to make decisions on your own lest the congregation get upset with you.

I lived in Sierra Vista, Arizona for a time in the 1970s. I attended Sierra Vista Baptist Church — a Conservative Baptist congregation. In this church, no one could become a member unless the congregation voted on their admission. At one business meeting, congregants discussed several people who were prospective members. When one woman’s name came up, the church matriarch asked, “is she divorced?” “Yes,” the pastor replied. “Then I vote NO on her membership.” And that was that. This church may have had a congregational form of government, but when Granny spoke everyone listened and fell in line.

In 1980, Polly and I attended the Newark Baptist Temple in Newark, Ohio for a time before leaving to help start an IFB church in Buckeye Lake. The Baptist Temple was trying to raise money to build a gymnasium, along with some additional classrooms for their Christian school. The church’s pastor and deacons had agreed to pay cash for the construction. They believed that by “trusting God,” congregants would cough up the necessary money for the new building. Months and months went by, and then one Sunday an “important” business meeting was called for. At the appointed time, the church’s pastor told congregants that church leaders, with soon-to-be-given congregational approval, had decided to borrow the money necessary to build the building. I thought at the time, wait a minute! I thought we were going to trust “God” to provide the money?” No one said a word. It seemed like everyone was falling in line behind the Pied Piper. When asked if there were any more questions, I nervously stood and said, “Why are we changing horses now? I thought we were trusting God to provide the money.” Silence. You would have thought I had cut a raunchy fart in a crowded elevator. Keep in mind, the pastor was my wife Polly’s uncle. Nearby sat her preacher father and his wife. Needless, to say, my “out of the will of God” words were not appreciated. It wouldn’t be the last time Pastor Uncle and I would clash.

In 1994, I moved my family from southeast Ohio to San Antonio, Texas so I could become the co-pastor of Community Baptist Church. Imagine my surprise at the first church business meeting when I learned that women were not permitted to speak at public meetings. Now, I was quite an authoritarian at the time, but I was egalitarian when it came to business meetings. Worse yet, if a woman had a question, she was to whisper it to her husband or another man, and he would ask their question. I kid you not. The only time women were permitted to speak out loud during public meetings was when they were singing or praying.

Finally, I want to share a story from the eleven years I spent as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church in Mt. Perry, Ohio. One Sunday evening, the congregation gathered for a business meeting. During the meeting, a man stood up and said, “I have a real problem with So-and-So” — a fellow church member. He proceeded to air his grievances against this man and his family. Then So-and-So’s wife stood up and began listing all the problems she had with the first man and his family. The business meeting quickly turned into a shouting match between these two families. The meeting became so contentious that I just sat down and let these two families verbally duke it out. There was a moment when I thought it might turn into a physical altercation, but fortunately, it didn’t.

Finally, their war of words ended. I stood up and let them know what I thought of their childish behavior. These two families had been sitting on an increasing number of offenses for so long that when given a chance to air them, boy oh boy, did they! The good news is they were able to work out their differences. Both families were devoted, faithful church members, people who would go out of their way to help others. But, on this night, I was reminded of the fact that they were very much human, as we all are.

This post is not meant to demean the churches and parties mentioned. I hope by sharing these stories — and I could spend days writing about church business meetings — that readers would see that Baptists, for all their talk about following the leadership of the Holy Spirit, are just as human as the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. All of us want our way, whether it is in our marriages, places of employment, or houses of worship. It’s normal to think that our viewpoint is the right one — no Holy Ghost needed. What’s harder for us to do is surrender our viewpoints to those of others, to admit that perhaps we just might not be right.

Do you have a favorite church business meeting story — Baptist or not? Please share them in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Is the Bible an Inexhaustible Text?

inexhaustible bible da carson

According to Evangelicals, the Protestant Bible is an inexhaustible text. No matter how many times you read it from Genesis 1:1 through Revelation 22:21, you will never exhaust the truth and knowledge found within its pages. Colleges, universities, and seminaries — both secular and religious — devote themselves to the Bible’s inexhaustibility. The Bible, in the eyes of believers, is unlike any other book. It stands above all the other books ever written, including the divine texts of other religious traditions. You see, Evangelicals believe GOD wrote the Bible. Regardless of what their position is on Biblical inspiration and inerrancy, Evangelicals believe that the Bible consists of the very words of God. When Evangelicals read the Bible they believe they are reading God’s words to them; a timeless supernatural message to fallible humans from a supernatural God.

The irony of this position is the fact while Evangelicals believe the Bible is an inexhaustible text, most of them do not read it; most of them have never read the Bible all the way through one time; most Evangelicals are content to read devotional bits and pieces of the Bible. Evangelicals show up on Sundays, Bible in hand, to hear the Word of God read, taught, and preached to them. Once the service is over, their Bibles will be tossed in the back windows of their cars, stuffed under the front seats, or conveniently deposited on a catch-all at home, not to picked up again until the following Lord’s Day. Most Evangelicals will testify to being born-again Bible-believers, yet when quizzed on what the Bible actually teaches, they are clueless. And if it is this way in Evangelical churches, imagine how it is in mainline/progressive churches. The Bible remains the number one bestselling book. Rarely read, but everyone has one. I laugh when I hear of Evangelicals handing out Bibles to Americans. Who in America doesn’t have a Bible? Oh, they might have to dig deep into the recesses of their closets to find it, but virtually every American has a copy of Bible. The issue, then, is not availability. Everyone has a Bible, but few people take the time to actually read it.

Why do Evangelical pastors cajole congregants to read their Bibles, without success? Many pastors have thrown in the towel and have resorted to supplying congregants with devotionals containing a couple of Bible verses and a sermonette for each day of the month. There are roughly 31,000 verses in the Bible. Using the devotional method, it would take forty years to read through the Bible one time, and that’s providing the devotionals covered every book in the Bible — which they don’t. Evangelicals, when they bother to read the Bible at all, typically read Genesis, Proverbs, and Psalms in the Old Testament and the Gospels in the New Testament. Few Evangelicals are willing to devote time to reading through Numbers, Leviticus, or Chronicles (and I don’t blame them — ugh).

Consider the Evangelical belief that the Holy Spirit lives inside every Christian; that he is their teacher and guide. Here Evangelicals have God living inside of them, daily guiding and directing their paths, yet they neglect faithfully and diligently reading and studying the Bible. Not much of a teacher, this Holy Spirit, if he can’t get his charges to do their homework. If the Bible is God’s roadmap for life and a manual by which Evangelicals are to govern their lives, why do so few of them bother to read it?

Perhaps the problem is that many Evangelicals don’t privately buy the party line about the Bible. Perhaps, they have concluded that Bible is NOT a supernatural book; that it is not an inexhaustible text. Perhaps, Evangelicals have learned — though they dare not speak it out loud — that the Bible is of human origin and that there’s better literature out there waiting to be read. Theonomist Rousas Rushdoony said in one of his books that most books aren’t worthy of being read once let alone twice. Too bad Rushdoony didn’t apply this to the Bible too. As an Evangelical, Rushdoony believed the Bible was different from all other books; that the books of men were rarely worth being read once, let alone twice, but the inexhaustible Bible, well, it was worthy of being read day after day.

As a pastor, I encouraged congregants to immerse themselves in God’s inspired, inerrant Word. At times, I berated them for being lazy; for not devoting time to reading and studying the Bible. Polly remembers me oh-so-fondly getting after her for not being a diligent reader of the Word of God. Later in life, I came to see that the reason Polly didn’t have time to read the Bible (or pray) is that her domestic chores and church obligations took up virtually every waking hour. I, on the other hand, was paid to read the Bible. I had hours upon hours to read and study its words, reading the Bible from table of contents to concordance numerous times. Later in my ministerial career, I quit guilting people into doing things such as praying, attending church, or reading their Bibles. I finally recognized that the people who called me preacher had lives outside of church. I was wrong to judge their lives by my own.

One dear lady faithfully played the piano for many years. She attended church every time the doors were open. She went out on street ministry and helped with our Christian school. She was a devoted follower of Jesus. She did, however, have a problem with making herself read and study the Bible. Try as she might, she simply wasn’t that interested in reading the Bible. You see, she didn’t find the Bible to be an inexhaustible text. Now, she was a voracious reader, but not of the Bible. Instead, she loved reading true crime stories. When she knew I was stopping by for a visit, she would put away her library books so I couldn’t see them. One day, I stopped by unannounced and found a large stack of crime stories from the local library. The look on her face betrayed her guilt. No time for God’s Word, I thought, but time to read this trash. Years later, I came to understand that this woman found true crime stories more exciting and compelling than the stories in the Bible; that there were better books to be read than the Bible; that once religious demands are stripped away, the Bible stops being compelling literature.

I am not suggesting that people shouldn’t read the Bible — perhaps they should. The Bible played a big part in the shaping of Western Civilization. Perhaps preachers should stop saying the Bible is an inexhaustible book, and instead encourage congregants to read through it once before they die. That way, Evangelicals can check off “Read the Bible” from their bucket lists. Done, now on to books by Gandhi, J.K. Rowling, or Erica Jong. Too many books worth reading to waste your time reading just one book.

Were you a devoted reader of the Bible? Or did you struggle with reading the Word of God? Did you feel guilty over your lack of devotion to the Good Book? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Christians Aren’t as “Discerning” as They Think They Are

spiderman

Christians love to think that they have — thanks to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit — some sort of supernatural discernment power that allows them to ferret out the true spiritual condition of everyone with whom they come in contact. Evangelicals, in particular, believe they have some sort of God-given radar that locks on unknown believers and lets them know that they are fellow believers. This radar is a spiritual paternity test of sorts, letting Evangelicals know when one of their family is in the vicinity. I heard countless preachers say that the “spirits” of two or more believers recognize each other when they come in contact with each other.  Woo hoo! God’s children are in the house, baby!

Recently, a Christian who commented about unbelieving clergy still pastoring churches illustrated this point:

I also can’t help but think that living and walking out a lie every day is going to eventually take a psychological/emotional toll on anyone. I think it would also work against the pastor really being vulnerable or drawing close to his/her congregation for fear of letting something slip. Eventually people who are closer to the pastor will be able to discern that something just isn’t quite right here.

According to this Christian, she gets Spiderman-like tingly feelings that would let her know if a pastor is faking it. The idea behind her feelings is the notion that Christians can know a pastor well enough that any lying or dishonesty would peg their lie-meter, exposing the hypocrite for all to see. The problem with this thinking is that in real life that’s not how it works. Lying and deception are all too common, and even the most aware among us can be deceived. Believing that there is some sort of spiritual power that gives you laser-like discernment has no grounding in reality. Countless churches — from Liberal Christian to Independent Fundamentalist Baptist — have passionate, devoted teachers and preachers of the Word of God who are, without question, unbelievers. Some of them I know personally. A few unbelieving pastors have been using fake-it-’til-you-make-it (to retirement) for years. These men genuinely love their congregations, even though they think the Christian God is a work of fiction.

I hate to break it to Christians, but there is no such thing as a spirit of discernment. The reason, of course, is that we humans don’t have a spirit/soul. We are flesh and blood. Certainly, we develop certain psychological skills that allow us to read people, and we often have gut feelings about people. That Spiderman-like tingly feeling we have is the result of evolution and environmental/social conditioning, and not some of sort of divine gift given only to Christians. In fact, the belief that God gives you discernment skills tends to lessen your ability to see things as they are. Why? Because Evangelicals, in particular, develop complex ways of dealing with human behavior. Evangelicals talk of sin, forgiveness, and grace. They speak of accountability partners and allowing the Holy Spirit to perform its perfect work. Instead of seeing things as they are, Evangelicals allow theological nonsense to cloud their judgment.

This is why it’s no surprise that Evangelical churches have sexual abuse scandals, clergy misconduct, and all sorts of bad behavior that is washed away by the blood of Jesus and forgiven by the prayer-answering God. Instead of seeing that the youth pastor is way too friendly with several of his charges, loving, blind Christians see this behavior as him “ministering” to these girls. And when his “ministry” turns to rape, sexual assault, and other sex crimes, what then? As long as the predator still says he’s a Christian, forgiveness awaits.

Evolution-driven discernment cares not one whit for the offender’s religious inclinations. What matters is that an older man, a man with authority, took advantage of those he was supposed to love, care for, and respect. What mattered to him was his dick, not their welfare. The youth pastor, then, should never be permitted to be around youths again. Yet, as sure as the sun rises in the East, the youth pastor, once he pays for his crimes, will be forgiven and given another opportunity to serve God.  Why, some of his fellow Christians will testify on his behalf during his sentencing hearing, showering the judge with stories of how awesome the youth pastor is. There’s no divine discernment going on here. Just ignorance and a refusal to see things as they are.

It is time for Christians to stop pretending that they have some sort of special power that allows them to see things non-believers can’t see. It’s 2018. Time to put the intellect to work, making rational, thoughtful decisions. Unless Christians are willing to do so, they can expect to hoodwinked and taken advantage of. Just remember, it’s discerning Evangelicals who put Donald Trump, the Christian in the White House. Need I say more?

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Dear Christians, If The Holy Spirit is Your Teacher and Guide

indwelling of the holy spirit

Evangelicals believe that the moment a sinner is saved, God, in the person of the Holy Spirit/Holy Ghost, comes into the born-again sinner’s life and lives — somewhere, no one can say for sure where — inside of that person. This is commonly called the “indwelling of the Spirit of God.” Every true Christian® is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 6:19 states that the bodies of Christians belong to God; that these bodies are the temple, the residence, of the Holy Ghost.

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?

In Romans 8:7-10,13,14,16, the Apostle Paul says that Christians have the Spirit of God dwelling inside of them.

Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God…The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:

Those who do not have the Spirit’s presence are not Christian. How can someone know he is indwelt by the Holy Spirit? While Evangelicals tend to focus on right beliefs as evidence of salvation, Paul says here that behavior is the evidence for whether someone is led by the Spirit. Those who are in the flesh (unbelievers) cannot please God, but, according to Paul, Christians are “not in the flesh, but in the Spirit.” Paul speaks of death for those who live according to the flesh. True Christians® are to mortify (put to the death) the flesh. This mortification of the body brings life, both in the present and the afterlife.

Reflecting the Gnosticism found throughout the Bible, Paul tells the Church at Corinth that the things of God cannot be known apart from the indwelling of the Holy Ghost:

 But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:10-14)

The natural man (non-Christian) cannot understand the things of God. Supposedly, only Christians can understand and correctly interpret the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. The Bible is the only book ever written that cannot be understood just by reading it. Unbelievers, according to Evangelicals, have sin-darkened hearts and are in bondage to the ruler of this earth, the prince and power of the air, Satan. According to the Bible, non-Christians are deaf and blind to Biblical truth. No unbeliever can understand the Bible without first being saved and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

Agnostic New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman tackles unbelievers not understanding the Bible in a post titled Does a Person Need the Holy Spirit to Interpret the Bible?:

I’ve never found it at all convincing that a person needs the Holy Spirit in order to interpret the Bible. As an agnostic, of course, I don’t believe in the Holy Spirit (since I don’t believe in God). But even when I did believe in the Holy Spirit, I thought that it was silly to claim that a person could not interpret the Bible correctly without the Spirit – for a couple of reasons that have always struck me as virtually irrefutable.

The first is this: if it’s true that the Holy Spirit is the one who provides the correct interpretation of Scripture, then why is it that so many people who claim to have the Holy Spirit cannot agree on what the Bible means? This is simply an empirical fact that is not open to dispute. Different Christian interpreters of the Bible, all of them claiming to be guided by the Holy Spirit based on humble prayer, come away with diametrically opposed interpretations of major important passages, of minor less important passages, and of major biblical themes and doctrines – just about everything.

I saw this vividly when I was myself a fundamentalist Christian: clear and hard-core different interpretations of major issues, by devout and spiritual Christians, based on how the New Testament was being read. As a poignant example: I had come out of a charismatic background where we believed that “speaking in tongues” was the clearest manifestation of God’s spirit, based on our reading of Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. At Moody Bible Institute, on the other hand, we were taught that charismatic activity, and especially the speaking in tongues, was a demonic activity and that the charismatic group from which I had come was misinterpreting these passages. Well, which is it? Both groups claimed to be representing the views of the Holy Spirit that had guided their reading of Scripture.

I could point to passage after passage after passage where well-meaning and clear headed Christians who claim to be given their understanding by the Spirit provide two, three, or four contradictory interpretations of the passage. So what is the evidence that the Spirit assists in interpretation?

The second reason I’ve never bought this is that as a complete agnostic who does not believe in the Holy Spirit, I have studied passages and come to the very same conclusions as those who claim the Spirit has told them what the passages mean. If I “need” the Holy Spirit to interpret these passages, why have I interpreted them in the same way that people who have the Holy Spirit has interpreted them? Seems like I’ve done all right without the Spirit.

And there’s a reason for that. Whatever you think about God, the Holy Spirit, or the Bible – the Bible is written in human languages following human rules of spelling and grammar and coming out of completely human situations lived in by human authors. To interpret the Bible you need to be a human, one who can read words and understand sentences. Even if the Bible is inspired, it is inspired in human words and is, therefore, susceptible of human understanding. My view is that the Spirit does not contribute to the process.

Ehrman is quite right when he says that Christian confusion over exactly what the Bible says belies the notion that the Holy Spirit lives inside Evangelicals acting as some sort of divine GPS or search engine. According to many Evangelicals, all they need to do is say, Lord lead me/show me the way, and BOOM! their lives follow the exact course mapped out by the Holy Spirit. The same goes for understanding the Bible. Evangelicals metaphorically type their questions into God’s Google app, and BOOM! the Holy Ghost leads them to the exact book/chapter/verse answer. Awesome, right? No need to think. Just “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you, ” with God promising “every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” (Matthew 7:7,8)

If the Holy Spirit lives inside EVERY believer, why can’t Christians even agree on the basics: salvation, baptism, communion, and whether masturbation is a sin. There are thousands of Christian sects, each guided by the Holy Spirit, each believing that their Jesus is the way, truth, and life and their little merry band of believers is the holder of the faith once delivered to the saints. Christianity might — I say might — be taken more seriously by non-Christians if sects/churches/pastors all spoke with one voice. But, they don’t. Instead, Christianity is rife with internecine warfare, with sects and churches competing with each other over money — err — I mean souls. Jesus said that the world would know that people were his followers by their love for one another. Hey Christians….how’s that loving one another thing working out?

Supposedly, being indwelt by the Holy Ghost gives Christians the requisite power necessary to live above sin (transgression of the law of God) and the world. I say supposedly, because from my seat in the atheist pew, I don’t see any difference between Christians and non-Christians. Am I missing something here, Christians? If all the above is true, if God the Holy Spirit, really does live inside of you and is your teacher and guide, why is it that Christians don’t live any differently from unbelievers? If, as John says, in 1 John 2:3,4,15, 29, 3:6:

….we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him…. Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him….ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him….whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.

Can anyone really say that he or she is a Christian? 1 John 3:8 states that anyone who sins is of the devil! Can someone be a Christians AND a child of the devil? At this point, Evangelical readers likely will say, Bruce, Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven. Christians are works in progress.  Wait a minute, what about all the verses mentioned above? What about what 1 John 3:10 says, “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.” John says the difference between God’s children and Satan’s children is behavior. The writer of book of Matthew says in chapter 25 that on judgment day it will be what people did and did not do that will determine where they spend eternity.

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I am sure that I will hear from Evangelicals who will castigate me for wrongly interpreting the Bible. After all, I don’t have the Holy Spirit living inside of me, so how can I possibly tell others what the Bible says and means. Well, I just did. So much for needing the Holy Ghost to know what the Bible says. The aforementioned verses aren’t ambiguous, so what conclusions should unbelievers come to when observing how Evangelicals live their day-to-day lives? At best, we can conclude that Christians are, in every way, just like unbelievers; that if the Holy Spirit lives inside of believers he is fast asleep or on vacation; that Christianity has no moral or ethical authority, given that Christians themselves can’t practice what they preach.

If you are an Evangelical, think about the notion that God lives inside of you; that the Bible is some sort of Gnostic book that can’t be understood by six-sevenths of the human race; that only the saved understand what the Bible teaches. Do you REALLY believe things? Do you really believe that the moment I left Christianity that I lost the ability to understand the teachings of the Bible; that decades of reading and study disappeared from my memory, never to be remembered again? In what other realm do we see this kind of thinking?

Sadly, Evangelicals, unlike liberal and progressive Christians, stubbornly hold on to their literalistic interpretations of the Bible — interpretations that force them to endorse, support, and defend silly beliefs, no matter how stupid and ignorant it makes them look. There is little that any of us can do to reach people who think they know the punch line for the biggest joke in history. While mere worldlings feast on the plethora of literature available today, Evangelicals scour the pages of a book deemed inexhaustible, hoping to find Bronze age wisdom for twenty-first century living.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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