Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Holy Spirit, Part 04

Discerning the Spirits

By now, atheists and biblicists alike will be objecting that alleged firsthand experience of the Living Christ is surely a questionable foundation for an entire religion. How does such experience come about? If may have been rational for the original followers of Jesus, who saw Him alive, to have believed in Him, but is it rational for us? And if there is such a thing as spiritual experience, how do we know it is authentic? False claims to experience of the Holy Spirit abound among all sorts of people – and they all differ in practice and in doctrine.

Historicity is key.

When Christ arose from the dead, He did not appear merely to the twelve disciples, or even just to those plus a small group of other friends and family. As St. Paul wrote:
I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. (I Corinthians 15:3-8)
 These men and women dedicated their lives to the spreading of the Good News that God had come in the flesh, had conquered death, and would share His immortal Life with anyone who, believing, would repent and be baptized, that is, be initiated into Christ’s own Life. They preached and baptized in the face of perils and persecutions. St. Paul describes some of his:
From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own country¬men, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness-- (2 Corinthians 11:24-28)
Who does such things for a lie? Only if someone had serious grounds to be thoroughly convinced that Jesus was alive again would he live in such a fashion – and die a martyr, as most of the Apostles did.

Notice, too, what St. Paul says: “I delivered to you…what I received…” Those who had seen Christ alive after His death and burial, and who testified that even after His ascension to His Father, He was present among them, these witnesses initiated their followers into that self-same experience, and vouched for its being the same as theirs. An example of this occurred in Ephesus.
And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples he said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?"

So they said to him, "We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit."

And he said to them, "Into what then were you baptized?"

So they said, "Into John's baptism."

Then Paul said, "John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus."

When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. (Acts 19:1-6; see also Acts 10:44-48; 11:1-18)
 Then those followers did the same for their followers, and so forth, down to this day, each spiritual father and mother seeing to it that his or her children, each according to his maturity, genuinely shared in the original relationship the Apostles had with Christ when He had risen from the dead and ascended on high. As St. John put it, “That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have communion with us; and truly our communion is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” (I John 1:3)

One of the hallmarks of genuine Christian experience, then, is that while it is an intensely intimate matter, taking place in the innermost depths of our being, yet it is never individualistic or idiosyncratic. Authentic experience of Christ is experience held in common with His whole Church, both in the present day and from the beginning. It is therefore a shared heritage, a joint pilgrimage. Authentic experience of Christ never takes an isolated path. It will be the same experience, the same Life, His other followers have always had. It will be the experience lived by His Church, affirmed by His Church, corroborated and expounded in all her teachings, her worship, and her writings, especially the Holy Scriptures, and handed down from person to person, as a flame from one lit candle to another, from the first Christians to us.

Part 05 will continue the discussion of how to recognize genuine spiritual experience.