The Spirit of God — What is it?

Pentecost & The Holy Spirit

Pentecost & The Holy Spirit (Photo credit: Waiting For The Word)

I have been thinking an awful lot lately about Mormonism, how to explain it, what it is in the grand scheme of things.  I think the most difficult questions surround what the LDS call the Spirit. Nothing is ostensibly more important to Mormons than the Spirit.  Feeling the Spirit is the central experience of Mormonism. It is enshrined as THE only legitimate tool for conversion, it held up as the guide for every decision in life, and is considered the driving force behind the Church and its mission. 

When I was an LDS missionary in California, I participated in the conversion of about two dozen people.  Some of these conversions had an absolutely magical quality to them. I saw dramatic personality transformations. Over and over again, I felt an overwhelming emotional and spiritual response from those I was teaching.  It was like falling in love– an experience equally filled with magic.  It seemed that those I was teaching, my companions, and others involved felt something very real and very similar. The Spirit would seem to fill the room like a thick mist. It was gripping and energizing. The peculiarity and reality of the experiences were unmistakable.  These feelings convinced me of an unseen world and they were the bedrock of my belief in the Church and in Christianity.

Like the converts I taught, most Mormons I know will generally point to experiences with the Spirit as the key reason they are committed believers in the Church.

Perhaps, when the Spirit is taken seriously, it removes doubt by killing the questions.  Conceptual and historical inconsistencies can be quite easily smoothed over in the face of a powerful physical/emotional/intellectual experiences. What is hazy and conceptual gives way to the concrete.  It can be very disruptive, profound experiences with the Spirit cleared the way for Mormons to reject the most sacred of social and religious traditions. When you feel something unseen, powerful, and un-explainable, that can be pretty consistently invoked by attending church, prayer, or reading scripture, it’s much easier to accept historical or scientific absurdities or to reject established traditions that have far less impact on life.  

The phenomenon of the Spirit presents challenges to both believers in religion and atheists alike.  What is happening when people have such experiences.  Are they the same in nature as the experiences of other Christians, how are they different, what is the cause of the difference. What I have yet to see is a satisfying explanation of the Spirit from a non-Mormon or Mormon source that encompasses the experiences of those inside and outside Mormonism.  Maybe there is not enough of a conceptual framework to adequately talk about these issues. But, regardless, I think coming to terms with these phenomena is critical to explaining Mormonism, religion, and the diversity of religious experience.   I think that is, perhaps, the most important barrier between Mormons and other Christians, but I rarely see any analysis from either side that explains the similarities and differences in core Spiritual experiences.

So. . . if anybody has thoughts on this, I would appreciate them.

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72 thoughts on “The Spirit of God — What is it?

  1. My gut says the good feelings are from the evil one. If he can keep Mormons feeling good about their faith, he can keep them from getting properly baptized; possibly keeping them from heaven.

  2. Kathy, this seems like the standard response. But is your gut more trustworthy than the Mormons’ good feelings?

    My experiences with the Spirit never felt evil nor motivated me to do anything bad. I have seen people do very confused things motivated by their spiritual experiences, but have never seen anything I would call evil.

  3. Mormon Christians and non-Mormon Christians have the same Spirit. They are one in the Spirit. There is only one Spirit in the universe that can put lasting joy, peace, love, revelation of who God is, strength to do right, etc., in the heart of humankind.
    It can become clear to anyone who is led by this wonderful Spirit of the Father, whom we share in through faith in his Son, that the fruit of the Spirit is found in Mormons who follow Jesus.

    I believe you know that, Jared!

  4. Jared, my bigger point was the keeping people from baptism/salvation. The devil often comes as an angel of light. What better way to deceive people then to give them some warm fuzzies so they think they’re okay, but in reality the devil’s laughing because he’s got your soul.

  5. How can you tell if it is the Devil that is making you strive to devote your life to Christ? (vs. the Holy Spirit)

  6. We know from Holy Scripture that the devil is cunning and can show up “as an angel of light”.

    So we cannot trust in our experiences. God gave us feelings and there is a lot of good that comes from our feelings…as well as bad.

    But we can never trust in those feelings. They may be of the devil and their purpose to lead back into ‘the self’…and away from the finished work of Christ on the cross for sinners.

    That is why we look to the external Word of promise, that comes to us from outside of ourselves…no matter what we say, do, think, or feel.

  7. The Word, itself. “Your sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake”. In preaching and teaching (in our ears)…and in the waters of Baptism (returned to, reflected upon) daily…and in the bread and the wine. Physical, tangible means that the cross is brought to bear in our lives at a certain point or points in our personal history.

    The cross is actually ‘done to us’, in them.

  8. Oldadam, I appreciate the response, but this sort of talk makes my head hurt. Its like you are speaking in a code that I don’t know. Please decipher into something that the average joe can understand.

  9. It’s tangible stuff that God uses to give us His grace and keep us in faith…so that we don’t have to go ‘inward’…where all the trouble is. We can rely on these means of grace totally apart from anything that we say, do, feel, or think.

    There’s real assurance in them and real freedom.

  10. I know some here don’t like to listen to Christian audio, but this one explains what I have failed to adequately explain regarding the concrete way in which the cross is brought to bear in our lives…so that we won’t have to go ‘inward’ to our feelings of being saved or our intellectual assent of it:

    [audio src="http://theoldadam.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/how-god-ties-us-to-the-cross-and-resurrection.mp3" /]

    To save a bit of time you can start in around 12 min. ..or at the beginning if you so desire.

  11. That’s ok, Kullervo. Others enjoy listening to the preaching and teaching of the Word.

    “Faith comes by hearing, and the word of God.” Reading is great, too. If I had it (the sermon above on how God brings the cross to bear in our lives) in transcript form I’d use it. But I don’t.

  12. Kathy, I can tell you there is a difference between the good feelings of the Spirit of the Lord and the bad feelings that come from satan. I even knew the difference when I was a Protestant.

  13. “The devil can come all dressed up as an angel of light.”

    We don’t give the devil his due. He is much craftier and more diabolical that we know and would “sift us like wheat”, if it were not for Christ.

  14. On a devotional with ELder Bednar, a Single Adult asked how do we know if the one who whispers to us is the Spirit? He answered that “anything that entices us to do good is of God.” that’s what we should follow. this can also be found in the scriptures.

  15. To me it’s important to point out that in Mormonism, and indeed in Christianity in general, the Spirit is properly thought of not as an it but as a he (or, in my uncorrelated view, potentially a she). The Spirit isn’t an impersonal force as “it” implies, but a living Person, a key member of the Godhead (or, if you prefer, the Trinity). In Mormonism, the Spirit (or Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost) is distinct from the Spirit of Christ, an impersonal force, although I think that we too often conflate the two.

    Saying that by itself doesn’t directly address the main question in the original post, but I think it’s tempting when we think of the Spirit as impersonal to think of it as something that can be turned on or off like a spigot depending on our actions. Instead, we should think of the Spirit as someone who actively works in our lives if we allow Him/Her to do so.

  16. He answered that “anything that entices us to do good is of God.” that’s what we should follow. this can also be found in the scriptures.

    The Koran says you should be honest and not commit adultery. Those are good, right?

    So I guess the Koran is of God and you should follow it.

  17. Eric I think you make an excellent point. We shouldn’t confuse the Spirit for the emotions that many come from an experience with the Spirit. Both a prostitute and my wife may kiss me, but only one is my love.

    I would advise that our feelings make excellent servants but terrible masters. Metaphysical experiences should be judged against our other means of “knowing things” and shouldn’t be used as the only litmus test.

    As a non-Mormon I can concede that Jared and his converts might have been authentically experiencing the Holy Spirit. There was truth about Jesus being preached and hearts may have been directed at him for the first time. It doesn’t necessarily follow from that that everything taught by the LDS church was therefore true. Savvy religious practitioners know how to simulate or induce those same feelings (try tightly squeezing your eyes shut and chanting the same phrase over and over again for 10-15 minutes). As I stated earlier, the experience of the feelings shouldn’t be confused for The Spirit himself.

    What’s interesting to me in this discussion is that Mormons themselves don’t think all “feelings” or metaphysical experiences should be trusted. Many Mormons report experiencing a great darkness after attending the temple endowment ceremony for the first time. When seeking counsel on those feelings, their mentors will encourage them to disregard those feelings. Other Mormons experience the same dark feelings when learning of Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy, yet they remain in devotion to the LDS church.

  18. Meighyaah,

    I think Elder Bednar’s answer (the answer of Moroni 7) is a good one. At least it brings spirituality back to something most everybody can talk about.

    Eric,

    I think the LDS tradition seems to embrace the the idea that the Spirit is an impersonal force that can be invoked by (mere) compliance with certain laws AND teach that a personal guide that gives direction according to one’s specific calling. There are almost two “Spirits” the light of Christ and the Holy Ghost.

  19. If you were a Christian, I’d say you were more able to trust your feelings. Since you haven’t been baptized and don’t have the life of Christ (His Sanctifying Grace and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit), you are under the evil one’s thumb. My advice, get Baptized and join the Church.

  20. “The good that you do won’t save you, and the evil that you do won’t condemn you.”

    If someone (something) is whispering in your ear to do good, and you think that you need to do so in order to score points with God or to prove that you really belong to Him…than I would say that there is a good chance that those whisperings, or feelings, are not from Him, after all.

    He is pleased with you (in Christ) before you even start the day.

  21. @ Tim– the reason people feel like the Spirit confirms that the Church is right is that these feelings can be consistently invoked by doing things like reading the Book of Mormon, praying, attending the temple, etc. I agree that it not logical to conclude that the Church is true in the way Mormons believe simply because of these experiences. But the consistency and reliability of these experiences does say something about the Spirit, I am interested in knowing what non-mormons think about these. It seems that they are similar to such feelings people experience in traditional Christian services.

  22. If you were a Christian, I’d say you were more able to trust your feelings

    Where does it say that Christians can trust their feelings more than anybody else?

  23. It seems that they are similar to such feelings people experience in traditional Christian services.

    Don’t stop there. I would say that they are similar to feelings people experience in many religions. We are spiritual beings and those are the feelings that can be expected with our non-physical side is invoked. I’m not convinced there is anything more that can definitively be said about it than that. It’s something akin to “all religions teach good things about how to treat other people.”

  24. @Jared – As for Christians being able to trust their feelings more than anyone else–When you’re baptized you’re part of the Body of Christ and you’re given the Holy Spirit in a special way. Notice the part below, “Giving them the power to live and act under the prompting of the Holy Spirit through the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”

    “A new creature”

    1265 Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte “a new creature,” an adopted son of God, who has become a “partaker of the divine nature, member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit.

    1266 The Most Holy Trinity gives the baptized sanctifying grace, the grace of justification:
    – enabling them to believe in God, to hope in him, and to love him through the theological virtues;
    – giving them the power to live and act under the prompting of the Holy Spirit through the gifts of the Holy Spirit;
    – allowing them to grow in goodness through the moral virtues.

    Thus the whole organism of the Christian’s supernatural life has its roots in Baptism.

  25. Tim distinguishes “spiritual feelings” from the Spirit of God. The Mormon Missionary project is centered around telling people that the spiritual feelings they have when at church or reading the Book of Mormon are the Spirit of God, rather than something else. The Evangelical project seems to depend on associating spiritual experiences with certain Biblical teachings with the Spirit of God.

    Unless I am wrong, both religions, to some extant, espouse this argument:

    Expression of Proposition Y consistently leads to Experience “X” in some people
    Experience X is powerful, positive, good, and “spiritual” experience
    Therefore Proposition Y is true or trustworthy

    Assuming this argument is at all valid, what interests me are the similarities and differences between the the Experience X that brings people to Mormonism vs. that which leads them to Evangelicalism. Is it the Spirit of God that leads to Experience X in both cases, how does the person who has Experience X tell they are correct in believing ONLY Proposition Y?

    The standard response seems to be (see Kathy):

    Experience X is the Spirit of God if it causes people to agree to Proposition Y.

    and its corollary

    If Experience X leads people to disagree with Proposition Y then it is not the Spirit of God, but the spirit of the devil.

    I suppose I am interested in the way out of this circle.

  26. Kathy,

    Can the unbaptized feel the Spirit of God at all? It seems that your position is that the only spiritual experience you can trust before baptism is the feelings leading a person to be baptized. . . in the Catholic faith.

  27. I’m sure the un-baptized can feel the Spirit of God, but that wasn’t the question. You asked if Christians could trust their feelings more than the un-baptized. I say, “yes” because they’re members of Christ’s mystical Body and they were promised the Gifts of the Holy Spirit at Baptism.

  28. I see, the unbaptized can feel the Spirit, just not trust these feelings. If you have any spiritual feeling that you cannot trust doesn’t it contribute to confusion rather than faith? If people cannot distinguish the Spirit of God from other phenomena, it seems like any spiritual experience is untrustworthy and confusing.

  29. How ’bout an example. What exactly are we talking about?

    Should I cheat on my spouse? Good feeling? Bad feeling?
    Should I rob the bank? Good feeling? Bad feeling?
    Should I stay in this denomination? Good feeling? Bad feeling?
    Should I have chocolate ice cream or vanilla? Good feeling? Bad feeling?
    Should I watch a re-run of the Cosby Show or Cheers? Good feeling? Bad feeling?

    I think we have a moral code we all live by. Ten Commandments for most of us–Mormons and Christians alike. It’s when we get into the gray area that troubles arise.

    Who’s your authority? If you leave it to your own conscience, and I would argue an unbaptized person has less of a chance of ignoring his/her own desires vs. maybe what God’s calling them to do since he/she is still under the influence of Original Sin and doesn’t have the Gifts of the Holy Spirit to help them discern.

    Mormons do not have a valid Baptism so, no, I don’t think they’re safe in following their consciences.

  30. Kathy, I am talking about the Spirit of God- what it feels like, what it means, its relationship between feelings, emotions and thoughts, how to identify it and distinguish it from other things that cause spiritual feelings.

    Can you give me your understanding of the Spirit of God and how it can be identified?

  31. As others have pointed out, the OP makes a typical Mormon mistake (it’s even a mistake from a Mormon theological perspective) of conflating the Holy Spirit with the influence of the Holy Spirit.

    The Holy Spirit is a person (the third person of the trinity, or, if you’re a Mormon, the gidhead), not a feeling. That’s important, but it’s kind of a red herring in the OP. The OP is talking about what Mormons call feeling the Spirit, not the Holy Spirit itself. We need to be able to disambiguate the two in order to be able to say what we mean and mean what we say though.

    What the OP calls “the Spirit” (warm fuzzy feelings, burning in the bosom, an emotional and spiritual response to religious events, whatever) is really a pretty typical mystical experience. By “mystical experience” I mean, a personal experience of the divine. Mormons often do not realize this, because they label and contextualize their mystical experiences in their own theological framework, but mystical experiences like those reported by Mormons have been reported by mystics from basically every religion throughout history in similar terms. There is absolutely no Mormon report of divine revelation of any kind, from the correlated version of Joseph Smith’s dramatic first vision to the most subtle whispering attributed to the Holy Spirit, that is in any way unique in quality or intensity to Mormonism.

    This is not new information: many people have noted for a long time that the experiences of mystics worldwide and throughout history are essentially similar. In fact, this is one reason why some people claim that all religions are essentially true, or are essentially the same: since the mystics of every religion have similar experiences of the divine, a reasonable person could conclude that they are therefore all experiencing the same object (and interpreting it through a different cultural/theological lens that is ultimately manmade).

    This universality of mystical experience seriously undermines the Mormon claim that “feeling the Spirit” somehow verifies Mormonism’s truth claims as objective fact. The rest of the world’s religions may not specifically claim that their truth claims are verified by mystical experience, but the fact that the world’s mystics are in fact reporting all the same kinds of mystical experiences as Mormons means that Mormons’ mystical experiences are not unique (and thus certainly do not verify Mormon truth claims as objective fact).

    So we can certainly dispense with the notion that “the Spirit,” taken alone, is reliable evidence for the truth of Mormonism (or for any other particular religion). If all religions report substantially the same mystical experiences, none of them can rest the veracity of their truth-claims on those experiences.

    On the other hand, I also don’t think that it necessarily follows that all religions are essentially true, or are essentially the same, either, because, as it turns out, the truth claims of the world’s religions actually don’t rest solely on the reports of their mystics.

  32. Jared,

    I think you’re taking one theological construct from Schleiermacher’s Protestant liberalism and Charismatic theology of religious affections or “God consciousnesses” and assuming it is normative. in Cal’s theology seeing the same emotions in Mormonism that he experiences brings him to the conclusion a Mormon is experiencing the Spirit of God, and if I thought a certain kind or specific feeling was a prerequisite for salvation or a symptom of the activity of the Holy Spirit I would probably agree. Schleiermacher came to the same conclusion as Cal, only he extended it to all religious affections, Muslim, Jewish, Pagan, Idol worship etc.

    I afirm that the Holy Spirit is vital, essential, and indispensable in the Christian life as source of our unction with God. Regeneration, sanctification, illumination, union with Christ are all powerful works of the Spirit, but when I read the Bible I see feelings and emotions described in typical human terms not as a spiritual truth detector. I wouldn’t deny that the mighty spiritual works of God can result in powerful emotions but, our feelings are not normative authorities.

  33. Kullervo, I get it, I don’t think the Spiritual experiences I had as a missionary were unique to Mormonism. I am looking for a better explanation than the one I gave to the converts.

    I don’t think I am conflating feeling the Spirit with the Spirit itself, I am merely pointing out that a certain class of experiences seem to be caused by what Christians describe as the Spirit, and I want to know more specifically what this Spirit is. This is important to this discussion because Evangelicals have no hope in getting Mormons to “see the light” until they can explain what is going on with them spiritually. And Mormons have no hope of getting Evangelicals to see “the truth” without some consensus about the meaning of contacts with the Spirit.

    The existence of these experiences outside of Mormonism undermines Mormon exclusive claims, but experiences inside Mormonism seem to undermine the exclusive claims of other denominations and religions.

    The reason why I think this is important in the dialogue between Evangelicals and Mormons. It’s clear that their doctrine, at root, is very incompatible, but do they both experience similar contact with the Holy Spirit? How do we explain this?

    This is particularly important because belief in spiritual experiences are a the bedrock of Evangelical faith in the Bible and the LDS belief in the Book of Mormon.

  34. Gundek,

    I am not talking about salvation at all. The particular way we experience the Holy Spirit is necessarily something we experience in this world, not the next, and neither Evangelicals nor LDS seem to think that one must have a particular manifestation of the Spirit in order to be saved.

    I am not talking about isolated emotional experiences either. Any LDS knows that contact with the Spirit is described in many forms, mainly it is described as a “still small voice” rather than an overwhelming emotional experience.

    Do you think Mormons have similar experiences with the Spirit as they endeavor to live Christian lives as do Evangelicals? What is the relationship with the Spirit and correct theology?

  35. Jared,

    Salvation is something we experience in this world. Were not Gnostics. The work of the Holy Spirit is a work of reconciliation uniting us to Christ, conforming us to Him, sanctifying us. What experience will come from this? That’s like asking what feeling comes from any relationship at any given time. Trying to simplify the Holy Spirit into a feeling overlooks the testimony of innumerable interactions with God in the Bible and depersonalizes our relationship with God.

    Why would the Holy Spirit have a specific feeling? If as Christian doctrine teaches the Holy Spirit is a person and fully God wouldn’t any feeling be a result of the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the individual. Add to that our, Holy Spirit wrought, communion of saints, would’t the external circumstances in our community have a roll in how we experience the Holy Spirit? Don’t both external circumstances and each party in a relationship play into the feelings of both parties? It seems odd to define what an individual should experience, either still and small or overwhelming.

    Look Lamentations, the Holy Spirit inspired author writes of loneliness, bitter sorrow, distress, fear, shock. shame, rejection, desolation, tears, suffering, groaning, etc. And I think these were all emotions based on a relationship with God in a particular time and place. Not a still small voice.

  36. If it is not possible to identify the Spirit by the nature of the experience with it, how can we identify it and classify experiences related to it? e.g. If Lamentations is a result of an interaction with the spirit, how can we tell this? Why is Lamentations scripture rather than mere literature?

  37. Kullervo,

    “Are you saying that God doesn’t want you to do good? Because that’s ridiculous, false and demonstrably unbiblical.”

    No. I didn’t say that.

    I said that the good you do will not save you…nor the evil you do condemn you. Because of Christ.

    Jesus said that “there is none good but God.” And St. Paul said that “no one does good. No not one.” Because our motives are always tainted with ‘self’.

    Isaiah says that “all our righteous deeds are as filthy rags” (used tampons).

    So…we rely on what Christ has done for us to make us totally right with God. And then we are free to go and do whatever we can for the neighbor (who actually needs our good works)…expecting nothing at all in return.

  38. That is the question of authority not experience. Protestants have long held that “only God himself is sufficient to witness to himself.” In this case the Holy Spirit testifies to the truthfulness of Scripture.

  39. Glad to see I’m not the only one who immediately saw how this post might relate to Cal’s unique theological viewpoint.

    Kullervo said

    as it turns out, the truth claims of the world’s religions actually don’t rest solely on the reports of their mystics.

    The dilemma highlighted by the OP is exactly why I encourage Evangelicals to share their supernatural experiences with Mormon missionaries and not push the point beyond reporting what happened.

    Jared said

    The standard response seems to be (see Kathy):

    Experience X is the Spirit of God if it causes people to agree to Proposition Y.

    and its corollary

    If Experience X leads people to disagree with Proposition Y then it is not the Spirit of God, but the spirit of the devil.

    I suppose I am interested in the way out of this circle.

    This is exactly why I said our feeling make excellent servants but terrible masters. Enjoy your feelings! But I’m not sure we can derive much more from them than the personal encouragement they give to us.

    I’m willing to even up the ante to something not so personally subjective and direct the conversation towards miracles. If a blind man receives sight, I believe it was the generous gift of God that restored his sight. I pray he seeks after God in truth and love because of the miracle. I don’t know that we can be confident in any other theological claims outside of “miracles happen” because of the miracle though. Exodus reports that Pharaoh’s sorcerers performed some of the same miracles as Moses. Does that mean the LORD was with Pharaoh? I’ll leave it to Cal to answer, but the rest of the story says “no.”

    Why is Lamentations scripture rather than mere literature?

    Well there’s a big ball of wax.. . . .

  40. I think feelings are different that the testimony of the Holy Spirit as I experienced it in the Mormon context. Emotion was a side effect, not the core of the experience. I saw people experience lots of different emotions when having spiritual experiences. The experience is also different than a miracle or surprising event.

    The trouble Evangelicals may have with Tim’s approach is that it doesn’t explain to Mormons what they are experiencing accurately, or explain coherently what sort of experiences these are.

  41. I’m using “feelings” “emotions” and “personal experience” interchangeably in this conversation because the net affect is the same. I can’t deny that you felt or experienced whatever you say you did, same goes with your emotions.

  42. Right, If we equate a particular kind of spiritual experience with seeing a particular color, perhaps the question is that when Mormons see “red” is it the same color that Evangelicals see? Mormons will also deny that the experience of the Spirit is contained in a single person. It is like group may be seeing red together. Seeing red may cause a lot of different feelings, emotions, experiences.

    [Also, full disclosure. While I think that these spiritual experiences were real objective experiences (i.e. something felt by others besides myself), I don’t believe they confirm that the most important truth is contained in the doctrines of the LDS Church or Christianity.]

  43. Now I’m confused?

    You said, “Feeling the Spirit is the central experience of Mormonism.”

    Your described an, “overwhelming emotional and spiritual” experience

    Are feeling and emotion central or not?

  44. FWIW,
    As a Mormon, I’ve had quite a few experiences that relate closely with accounts I read in the Bible (especially Acts 2). And, the “spirit” I feel sometimes when I attend Protestant services is no different. (the devil is cunning indeed!!) So, essentially I came to Kullervo’s conclusion – the mystical experiences from the various traditions through history are too similar to base truth claims upon them alone. I believe its an ingredient of course (and ridiculous for ANY person of faith to claim otherwise), but even Mormons don’t really teach that a spiritual witness can “teach you all things” – regardless of the rhetoric. (look at Conference addresses, Ensign articles, lesson manuals etc. – anytime scientific evidence supports Mormon truth claims, we grab onto it)

    One last thing that needs to be mentioned. The Mormon tendency to rely on spiritual/supernatural influence is essentially a Biblical model. So as responsible as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral is (and I try to use it in my own searching as often as possible!), it does not appear to be a tool used very much among the earliest Christians.

  45. I have feelings (sometimes) during a worship service. Feelings of great sadness, as I reflect upon my sin and the damage that it has caused. Feelings of great joy when I hear the absolution announced. I can’t really say that I feel more spiritual, since I am a real, down to earth person and not a spirit. I’m not even sure how one would define “spiritual”. People can mean just about anything by it…and therefore it can have very little real meaning.

    So we don’t deny “feelings”. We just know that we can never trust in them (for the reasons I mentioned above). And therefore we constantly look to the external Word…alone…for our assurance and for our Christian freedom.

  46. theoldadam, I’m aware of the problems with relying too much on spiritual witnesses, but you would be hard pressed to find a Mormon who would describe personal revelation only in physical terms. Most would call it an experience of the mind as well. How else do you interpret John 14:26? How else does the Holy Spirit teach us, but through supernatural experiences?

  47. Gundek-

    When I say “Feeling the Spirit” is central to Mormonism. Mormons are not rigid about precisely how the Spirit is felt. Some may feel calm when they see “red”, some may feel joy and excitement. Some people that claim spiritual experiences are not very emotional at all. Also, what non-Mormons may not understand is that feeling the Spirit is often a daily thing for Mormons. These are not isolated visions, but relatively consistent feelings and experiences that can come on a day-to-day basis.

  48. Christian,

    My study of the Bible also made it clear to me that seeking and relying on experiences with the Spirit was a perfectly acceptable to God.

    oldadam,

    “And therefore we constantly look to the external Word…alone…for our assurance and for our Christian freedom.”

    I don’t think this idea is biblical. See 1 Corinthians 2.

  49. theoldadam picks and chooses the parts of the Bible that fit his “Biblical” doctrine. It’s called “Question Begging Lutheranism.”

  50. On a different note, a big roadblock to understanding here is that the Mormon bar for what constitutes “feeling the Spirit” is so low as to be effectively all-inclusive. That’s why Jared C can assert that Evangelicals base their faith on “feeling the Spirit” and Mormons “feel the Spirit” every day: in practice, for Mormons, in the absence of something more dramatic, any thought, emotion or experience (including empirical experiences) that confirms the truth of Mormons can be attributed to “feeling the Spirit.”

  51. Christian J.,

    The Holy Spirit teaches us through faith. He teaches us to trust in that which Christ has accomplished on the Cross for sinners. He doesn’t teach us to go back into ourselves and to trust in our feelings. He teaches us that what He has done is enough. and then He liberates us from the religious/self-focused spirituality project and inspires us to do good for the neighbor…without expecting any reward for it…or fearing any punishment for not doing it.

    Jared C.,

    Again…(see above comment to Christian J.) the Spirit gives us faith to trust in Christ, and in Him alone and frees us to not have to look to our feelings, or our deeds. The Spirit inspires us to do good and leads us to repentance when we don’t. But the main job of the Spirit is to point to us to Christ.

  52. I agree with Kullervo’s point. Mormons can convince themselves that almost any worry, idea, or joy is from the Holy Ghost. This is not to say that actually “feeling the Spirit” is equivalent to whatever a person says it is. Sometimes people are not seeing “red” when they claim to, or may be color blind and mistake red for green.

  53. oldadam, Why do you trust the Holy Spirit at all? What if the Spirit teaches somebody something in addition to simply “believe the word in the Bible”? Is it not worthy of listening to on any other subject?

  54. The Holy Spirit does not contradict Himself in something that God’s Holy and revealed Word in Scripture has already addressed. If it adds to Christ, then it is of another ‘spirit’.

  55. “If it adds to Christ, then it is of another ‘spirit’.”

    Actually, wait, the entire text of the new testament adds to what Jesus said about himself, and the Gospels stated that Jesus said a lot more than simply “believe in me.”

    Again, I think you are going to have to make things more concrete in order to help me understand what you are really saying other than — “the Spirit is what tells me that what I believe is right and its something else when it tells you that something I believe is wrong.”

  56. I trust in the Holy Spirit because it was He who created faith in me… and it is He who constantly leads me to repentance. When there is no way that I could have, or would have done that on my own.

  57. Jared

    I am not trying to be dismissive but, you are describing individual people continuously and consistently experiencing dissimilar human emotions (or lack thereof) and you ascribe all of these variegated feelings/notions/emotions/impulses (what have you) to a single supernatural source. Add to this the mystical experiences outside Mormonism and I am left scratching my head wondering what feeling the spirit accomplishes.

    I am just not sure that you could make a distinction between the the spirit feeling from an active Mormon or the feelings of a person who has left Mormonism. John 14, 1 Cor 2 or Jam 1 don’t describe a spirit feeling. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the supernatural, but it is precisely this absence in the Bible and the difficulty that you have describing or defining how the spirit feeling is a unique phenomena that leads me to believe that no satisfactory explanation can be had.

  58. Gundek,

    I appreciate the conundrum of explaining the Holy Spirit. I am not talking about a distinctive emotion, but a particular class of feelings that Mormons describe as a result of an experience with the Holy Spirit. I am not saying that they are actually experiencing a single supernatural source, simply that they believe that they are.

    But if you cannot describe the Holy Spirit or identify it, I think you have a problem explaining Christianity to anybody at all. All Christians invoke the Holy Spirit to defend and describe the source of the faith. If it is forever inscrutable, your defense of faith is no different than that of the LDS.

    Even though I don’t believe it literally, Mormons seem to have a lot more satisfying explanation of the Holy Spirit, while other Christians often throw up their hands.

  59. Jared,

    If you don’t believe it how is it satisfying? Or could it be that the Mormon approach to the Holy Spirit is what you are most familiar with?

    I can describe the Holy Spirit, a Person, not an it, or a feeling but fully God. He is our regenerator, sanctifier, the source of our union with Christ, through his power the Word brings faith.

    I am not denying a spiritual unction with the believer and the Holy Spirit. I’m saying it is more vital to the Christian than a feeling because we owe our full conviction Spirit of truth.

  60. . I don’t know that I am making myself as clear as I should.

    Here is where I stand. There are certain kinds of experiences that I have had and have shared with those who believe those experiences were caused in some way by the Holy Spirit. .

    Evangelicals (and others) have similar experiences, which they also claim are prompted by the Holy Spirit.

    Mormons believe that Evangelicals feel the SAME Spirit as they do, they just think they need to open up their minds and hearts to feel the Spirit. Evangelicals dismiss the Mormon experiences as meaningless, diabolical, or irrelevant, but don’t explain why Mormons have these sorts of experiences, nor what they are or how they are important in the life of someone who is not yet believing in the “approved” propositions. The Mormon position is more satisfying in that it actually attempts an explanation.

    I say that the lack of a common understanding or even a way to openly discuss of these sorts of experiences is a key barrier between Mormons and Evangelicals because these discussions usually begin and end with boundary maintenance rather than real discussion.

    It also seems like these sorts of experiences are a key opportunity for unity between the two religions. If both groups are following the same (or similar) Spirit, then it seems like learning to talk about these experiences without dismissing them may be fruitful path toward mutual understanding and respect.

  61. Jared,

    I appreciate that, I really do. While some of American evangelicalism places great stock in spiritual experiences historically objection to religious affections are not new with Mormonism. So if it is Geneva’s Libertines, Schleiermacher’s dependence on the infinite / God consciousnesses, Frank’s feeling of regeneration, Wesley’s experience of justification or Mormonism’s spirit feeling my questions are always the same. Are people interpreting human experience to provide answers it cannot supply?

  62. I think that is a very good question. What can be known through spiritual experiences? What does it mean that we have them and how can we make sense of them?

    These are the tough ones that Evangelicals and Mormons face equally- in my view.

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