The Uniting Church is not widely known for being pentecostal or charismatic, but that doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit isn’t part of our theological DNA, writes Rev Dr Wendi Sargeant.
As young theological students, we loved it when a minister retired and donated books to the Trinity students to scour for relevant knowledge for the next assignment and to add to our own libraries.
One of these that I remember well was a book entitled, What Does Our Church Say? Questions Uniting Church People Are Asking. Question number seven was, “Why is there a lack of recognition of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Uniting Church?” A brief but sound answer was given squashing any sense that the Uniting Church doesn’t recognise the ministry of God’s Holy Spirit. The chapter culminated with these words: “The Uniting Church in Australia is committed to be a Spirit-filled Church.”
How do we understand the person and work of God’s Holy Spirit? First and foremost, the Holy Spirit is one of the three persons of the Trinity that is God.
Jesus describes the Spirit as the way people enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5-8). The Spirit frees and leads us to be God’s children (Romans 8:14-17, 1 Corinthians 12:3). The Spirit gives us different gifts (1 Corinthians 12) and fruit (Galatians 5:22-23) for service and ministry. Paul encourages people to live and to be guided by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16, 25). But it is also possible to grieve God’s Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). The Spirit facilitates unity despite our differences (1 Corinthians 12:13). This is just the beginning.
After the Bible, a good place to explore the topic from a particularly Uniting Church perspective is the Basis of Union. The Basis mentions the Holy Spirit in nearly every one of its 18 paragraphs. Mostly these describe the Spirit as giving or enabling power, but the gifts God gives the church in and by the Spirit are also noted. The Basis of Union describes the church as the fellowship of the Spirit and outlines the Spirit’s guidance to the church and the work of the Spirit through baptism.
The final paragraph portrays the Uniting Church as belonging “to the people of God on the way to the promised end. [Praying] that, through the gift of the Spirit, God will constantly correct that which is erroneous in its life, will bring it into deeper unity with other Churches, and will use its worship, witness and service to God’s eternal glory through Jesus Christ the Lord.”
I think we are pretty much “committed to be a Spirit-filled Church”.
Wendi is acting director of Trinity College Queensland.