Is there confusion among the comments to my last post about the role of the Holy Spirit as we are led into all truth according to Jesus' promise?
I think there might be.
Let's see what we can make of our understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in our day. Naturally, I am not confused about this (!?!).
(1) The very least but perhaps also the very most we can make of the promise of Jesus that the Spirit would lead us into all truth is that the Spirit will lead believing disciples into the fullness of understanding possible this side of glory as to who Jesus the Son is in relation to the Father and to the Spirit. Not to put too fine a point on it, it is very arguable that the doctrine of the Trinity is the outcome of Jesus' promise about the role of the Spirit in relationship to 'the truth.' That doctrine is our words to express the fullest and deepest understanding we come to as a church about the meaning and implications of all the Scriptures say about God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
(2) Another relatively untroubling claim about the Holy Spirit working in our day is the claim that the Spirit is leading us forwards in the mission of God. From the Scriptures themselves witnessing to the leading of the Spirit in the apostolic mission to the promptings and visions which have led apostles in other ages forwards (think: Celtic saints, Francis of Assisi, Hudson Taylor) the church has been little troubled by the thought that the Holy Spirit continually works as our Paraclete, the One who walks alongside us and guides us forward in obedience to the Great Commission.
(3) I understand that John speaking in chapters 14-16 of the ongoing work of the Spirit of truth leading the disciples into all truth (the only evangelist who does this) is (among other things) justifying his own different-to-the-others gospel. How can John present Jesus in such a different mode to Matthew, Mark and Luke? How does John get to present a Jesus whose discourses penetrate more deeply than the others into the mystery of God, especially into the mystery of God the Father and God the Son? Answer: through the Spirit of Father and Son who has led John into this deeper truth.
(4) Things get more controversial when we examine claims that the Spirit is speaking through contemporary prophets who bring a direct message from God to the church. Can we say in response "Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church"? On such matters disagreements during the 'charismatic renewal' could get quite heated. Partly that may have been because disputing that such a prophetic claim could come with all the subtlety of an power establishment suppressing any kind of novel speech. Easy to respond that the church authorities were 'quenching the Spirit'. How dare they!? Of course, it was also because some claims of prophetic speech were bizarre. But, more importantly, the controversy often involved a debate as to whether such claimed speech from God accorded with God's revelation in Scripture.
This observation takes us close to a different set of controversies in this period. Is the Spirit leading the church into change over X or Y or Z? Is the proposed change in accord or out of accord with the message of Scripture? By what authority do we recognise the voice of the Spirit leading the church in a new direction? By what authority do we recognise a new interpretation of Scripture as a leading of the Spirit, or, affirm the continuation of a traditional interpretation of Scripture?
In respect of controversies over women in church leadership or blessing of same gender unions, it is easy to set up a self-contradictory position. I may have been guilty myself here on the blog of saying or effectively saying, "The Spirit is leading us to a new position on women in leadership" AND "Scripture is clear on same gender relationships so all claims to a new leading of the Spirit are nonsense."
If I am guilty of such sloppy thinking then I wish to sharpen up.
I want to suggest, in accord with (1) to (3) above, that the Holy Spirit leading us into all truth is not leading us into 'new truth' (if by that we mean something which contradicts Scripture - see example below*) but leading us into deeper understanding of what has been revealed to us through Scripture.
The question we may ask of women leading in church is whether the Spirit is leading us into deeper insight into what is revealed to us in Scripture (noting, to give but one example, the significance of Galatians 3:28).
The question we may ask of blessing of same sex unions is whether the Spirit is leading us into deeper insight into what is revealed to us in Scripture (e.g. regarding marriage, friendships, blessing, same sex sexual relationships).
Before we lash ourselves in comments about how we go about answering such questions and whether we are able to be consistent in our answers (especially in the circumstance of answering one question one way and the other question another way), I would like to point out some ways in which the Spirit does appear to be leading many Christians of all persuasions in response to these questions.
On women in leadership:
I note that no commenter here has ever objected to women being on Anglican vestries (though once upon a time women were not permitted to be on Vestry). I also note that even in the Diocese of Sydney, women are ordained to the diaconate (when once they were not) and no commenter here has ever dispute that decision. One could roll out some other examples of women advancing in leadership roles which once were not so but which are in fact accepted by many if not all, even as disputes continue about 'priesthood', 'episcopacy' and 'teaching mixed gender congregations'. Is this the Spirit leading us forward in appreciation of deeper insight into the place and status of women in the life of the church?
On same sex partnerships:
I note that the many disputes here in the comments do not obscure the many points of agreement among us about same sex partnerships. No one here, for example, is arguing that sexual acts between men should be re-criminalised in the penal codes of the countries we belong to (most commenters seem to be in NZ, Australia, Canada, the States and the United Kingdom). No one here is arguing for prejudicial laws which would (say) prohibit a same sex partner from being the next of kin of a dying person. What we have in common, it could be argued, is an agreement that the Spirit is leading us forward in deeper appreciation of the basic rights of human beings to be treated with dignity and respect, in accordance with the revelation in Scripture that men and women are both created in the image of God and redeemed by Christ.
Is it possible that we could all agree that in certain and various ways we see the Spirit of truth at work in our midst?
Don't worry, I am not about to leap on a bandwagon that then boldly declares 'and the Spirit is leading us specifically in this direction (even though few of the rest of you see that'!
But I do think it worth thinking about where the Spirit is leading us, perhaps even when we have not thought about it. Our lack of thought about what might be common ground on the Spirit's leading might even be a sign of the self-effacing Spirit's quiet work among us.
*In the difficult period of the 1930s for Christians in Germany, many Christians were swept along with enthusiasm (itself a form of 'spiritual' or 'spirited' leading) to embrace Nazism as a movement of divine power. But the critique of this sense that the Spirit was leading into new truth lay in recognising that Nazism represented a contradiction of the Scriptural claim that Jesus is Lord.