Evangelical Questions: Do You Have the Holy Ghost?
by Jennifer Roach, MDiv, LMHC
Hi friends, and welcome back to Come Follow Me with FAIR: Faithful Answers to New Testament Questions. If you wondered if you missed last week’s episode, it wasn’t you, it was me. And sometimes life is like that. Several of you reached out with kind notes asking if I was okay and I’m grateful for your caring. And here we are, back on track now.
As you know we’re going through the Come Follow Me readings and addressing common questions that Evangelicals ask about our faith as we go along. Our purpose here is not to fuel debate but to help you understand where your Evangelical friends and family are coming from so that you can have better conversations with them, and perhaps even be able to offer them a bit of our faith in a way they can understand.
I also wanted to tell you….I got to run up to Salt Lake this last week and participate in a preview of Come Follow Me for next year. There are some structural changes in the manual that will likely make it easier for families as well as new material that was not in the manual last time we went through it 4 years ago. I got to take home a physical copy and honestly, if you have kids I recommend getting a physical copy. The digital copies have access to all of the children’s activities, but you will have to print things out and the physical copy has everything in one place.
So, I’m behind a week and here is how I’m going to solve that problem. Today you’re going to get the content from last week, and I’m going to combine the text for this week and next into my episode for next week – they’re both in Revelation and it’s easy enough to cover in the same talk.
Okay, today we’re going to talk about the Holy Ghost from last week’s readings. One of the questions I’ve received at least a couple of times in the last year goes something like: How can Evangelicals claim to have the Holy Ghost, I thought our church was the only church with authority to give the gift of the Holy Ghost. And it’s a good question, you can see why it would be confusing because Evangelicals absolutely do claim to have the Holy Ghost, though they’re much more likely to refer to him as the Holy Spirit. So, what is that like for them?
We’ve talked about this a bit before on this show regarding the “charismatic” or “pentecostal” side of the Evangelical world, but what about the rest of them? Because here is their dilemma: There is no possibility for new authoritative revelation. So anything they feel from the Spirit does not have the same idea underpinning it that God can reveal new things. In fact, they are warned against believing that God might reveal something new to a person through subjective means. Whatever they hear from the Spirit will be echoed in the Scriptures, and that is now they know it’s true. The problem, of course, is that there are millions of choices a person has to make over the course of their lifetime that the Bible does not address, and can not address specifically. They have to take broad principles from the scriptures, apply them to what they feel the Spirit is saying, and only move forward if they see a match. Some of this is a very good safeguard – they have a good understanding that the Spirit is not going to tell them to do something wicked. If you boil the whole endeavor down to it’s most basic parts the idea you’re left with is that the Spirit can remind them of things that the Bible has already said, He can contextualize things the Bible has already said, but not much more.
And in some ways, dear Latter-day Saint friends, they have it easier. They view the scriptures as a check-and-balance against the subjective experience of hearing the Spirit. It’s a cleaner process, far less messy. There is another way they have it easier, but it doesn’t always work out fo them very well – that is they have no one above themselves telling them what the scriptures or Spirit are actually saying. The vast majority of them are going to make an honest attempt to listen to both scripture and spirit in an open way that allows God to guide them. But we little humans are excellent at self-deception, even when it comes to spiritual things. It’s very easy to mistake one’s own desires for the Spirit. We have this problem too – all humans do – but our risk is mitigated a tiny bit because we have a Prophet who can give a final word on big things. We don’t need – or want – to have a Prophet giving us exact directions on every single thing. But there is some rest available in the fact that we’re not left alone to figure it all out by ourselves. The difference here for Evangelicals is that they do accept pastors and others to teach them, but those teachers are employed by the will of the listener. If the Evangelical person does not want to listen to a particular teacher or pastor, they don’t. And they feel no compulsion to see that person in authority. While Latter-day Saints are much more likely to see the goodness of having someone with authority being able to teach us.
So, do Evangelicals have the Holy Spirit? I will speak for me, not the church, not FAIR, just myself. Long before I knew very much about our church at all, I know that I had the influence of the Holy Ghost in my life -guiding me, teaching me, leading me. At the most basic definition, that is the gift of the Holy Ghost. So, what’s different now that I’ve joined this church, been baptized and confirmed? Well, honestly, it’s not a lot different in terms of feeling the Spirit and allowing him to lead me. The difference is the presence of covenants.
In the Evangelical church someone can hear the Spirit, and as long as it confirms basically what is in scripture, then it’s considered a good thing. For me, now as a Latter-day Saint, the Spirit’s role is to provide a broader kind of guidance that allows me to do the things I’ve already been asked to do, or promised to do. It’s not about confirming the scriptures – it’s about how do I live out the covenants I’ve made. Now, there are Evangelicals who believe in covenant theology, but the role o the Spirit is still kind of stuck just being able to confirm what scripture says. And I’m sure other people’s experience is different than mine, I can only tell you my experience.
Okay, that’s about all I’ve got to say on that. Next week we’ll do Revelation – which is always weird, but that will be fun. See you then.
More Come, Follow Me resources here.
Jennifer Roach earned a Master of Divinity from The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, and a Master of Counseling from Argosy University. Before her conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints she was an ordained minister in the Anglican church. Her own experience of sexual abuse from a pastor during her teen years led her to care deeply about issues of abuse in faith communities.