Symposium in Brazil
Focuses on the Holy Spirit
By Clinton Wahlen, an associate director of the Biblical Research
Institute, based at the General Conference
More than 300 theologians, administrators, and pastors gathered in Iguassu Falls, Brazil for the ninth annual Biblical-Theological Symposium of the South American Division (SAD), May 19-23, 2011, to seek a better understanding of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Twenty-nine presenters from a dozen countries examined the topic in six main areas: Old Testament, New Testament, Church History, Adventist History, Systematic Theology and Applied Theology. The lead speaker for each area surveyed the topic, followed by several presentations focused on sub-specialties within these areas. Each block concluded with the presenters fielding questions. Presentations and discussion over the three and a half days totaled nearly twenty-eight hours.
Division President Erton C. Köhler, in his Sabbath sermon entitled “The Holy Spirit and the Finishing of the Work,” drew attention to the formidable task facing the church. Surveying the population totals of large cities in South America and around the world compared to the number of Adventist members in those cities, Köhler asked, “How can we reach so many with so few?” Drawing parallels with the early church, the secret then and now, he said, is clear from Acts 1:8: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” He put forth the challenge that “When God promises bigger things are we content with doing smaller things?”
WELL-PLANNED, WELL DONE: Dr. Alberto Timm, general coordinator of the Theological Symposium that convened at Iguacu Falls from Friday, May 20, through Monday, May 23. (PHOTO: Leonidas Guedes)
Jiří Moskala, Professor of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis and chair of the Old Testament department at the SDA Theological Seminary, Andrews University, opened the symposium with an overview of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. “The Holy Spirit is a very humble person,” he said, denying the idea that the Spirit is merely the power of God. The Spirit is God’s special gift, calling Eze. 33:25-27 “the gospel par excellence.” John McVay, President of Walla Walla University, surveying the role of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, said “the Apostles could testify about the life, death, resurrection and ascension. What happened next had to be given by the Holy Spirit.” Connecting the dots, McVay pointed to the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost as the assurance of the exaltation and coronation of Jesus in heaven.
Merling Alomia of Peruvian Union University summarized perspectives on the Holy Spirit throughout Christian history. According to Protestants, the Holy Spirit uses Scripture as the means to bring people to the Savior Jesus Christ. The present Catholic view, stated by John Paul II, describes the pope not only as the vicar of Christ but also occupying the place of the Holy Spirit, thus the title “His Holiness.” Alberto Timm, division coordinator for theological schools and Spirit of Prophecy coordinator, outlined the development of the Adventist church’s understanding of the Holy Spirit into three periods, likening the benefit from the church’s correction of its anti-trinitarian position to the rapid growth in understanding by Adventists following the Great Disappointment in 1844.
Ángel Manuel Rodríguez, attending the symposium for the last time in his capacity as director of the Biblical Research Institute (BRI), set out an ambitious agenda for theologians of the church in the years to come. “It is not enough,” he said, “to believe that the Holy Spirit is a person.” Pointing to numerous hints throughout Scripture as to the work of the Holy Spirit, Rodríguez imagined the Holy Spirit as “a very young prophet, walking around the planet and bathing it with power.” Touching on issues ranging from inspiration to the latter rain, he said more work needs to be done for us to establish biblically our understanding of the latter rain, encouraging the gathering to pray for the Spirit of wisdom. On the final day of the Symposium, Rodríguez was recognized with a standing ovation for the support and contributions he has made to this annual event over the years.
Frank Hasel, dean of theology at Bogenhofen Seminary in Austria, speaking on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, emphasized the role of the Scriptures as the work of the Holy Spirit, who leads people to embrace and obey God’s Word. “The Holy Spirit reveals God and His will,” Hasel said. “He makes the Word tangible, visible, and human.” He added that the Holy Spirit gives assurance of salvation, inspires confidence in Scripture, brings new spiritual life, works to transform us into the image of Christ, and empowers for mission and evangelism. He also unites the church through the gift of discernment so it can give a worldwide message.
Kwabena Donkor, associate director of the BRI, spoke of the delicate balance between the church and mission: “If our understanding of the Holy Spirit goes wrong, then our understanding of both mission and the church goes wrong too.” On the so-called “emerging church,” Donkor pointed out that it jeopardizes the creation-fall-redemption paradigm, asking “Is mission theocentric or christocentric? If it is theocentric, then God is using Buddhists, Hindus, culture, and many other avenues to accomplish His mission. But,” he urged, “we must insist that the church is christocentric. We must link mission with Jesus Christ and his completed work.”
Delegates also composed and discussed a statement of consensus. After incorporating suggestions, it was voted unanimously. The statement affirms that the Holy Spirit “is the third person of the Godhead,” and a “co-participant” in the work of creating and sustaining the world and redeeming humanity. It also affirms that the Holy Spirit respects the free will of individuals and that the church is dependent on the Holy Spirit for the completion of the gospel mission. The statement concludes by affirming our need of the latter rain and revival and reformation in order to accomplish the task with which we have been entrusted.