There is a significant controversy today among Baptist separatists about the propriety of prayer addressed directly to the Person of the Holy Spirit. There are many arguments that are made in favor of prayer to the Person of the Holy Ghost that are very problematic, savoring more of allegorical eisegesis than careful exegesis of Scripture—the kind that the Spirit who inspired the Word would want us to employ. I have read enough of these painful misinterpretations of Scripture, and would spare readers from similar agony, and so bypass them in silence. A simple and unbiased applications of the principles of sound hermeneutics is sufficient to deal with such Scripture-twisting. If you who read this believe that one ought to pray directly to the Person of the Spirit, and you want to convince others of your orthopraxy, you would do well to bypass these invalid arguments—they will simply turn those who care deeply about the Bible away from your position.
The argument that Mr. so-and-so believed in prayer to the Spirit, and when he so prayed good things happened as a result, is also invalid. If Mr. so-and-so saw thousands of people saved, I am very glad about it. If the records of his life are actually more hagiographical than accurate, then such is unfortunate. In either case, whatever happened or did not happen with him has no authority whatsoever in determining whether believers ought to pray directly to the Person of the Spirit. Scripture alone is sufficient for the doctrine and practice of prayer.
Until recently, the best argument I had, were I to wish to argue in favor of prayer addressed directly to the Spirit, was simply that He is God, and therefore He is worthy of prayer. I believed that this would be the best argument, and that it should be left at that. No eisegesis need apply. While I was sympathetic to this argument, I did not believe that it was convincing or conclusive.
The arguments against prayer directly to the Person of the Holy Spirit include the following. 1.) There are no examples of prayer addressed directly to His Person in Scripture. Since Scripture is our sufficient rule for faith and practice, we ought to pray in the way God has commanded and modeled in the Bible. These commands and models did not include prayer directly to the Person of the Spirit. Therefore, believers ought not pray directly to the Holy Spirit. 2.) Prayer directly to the Person of the Spirit is a practice of the charismatic movement, and so is a dangerous false teaching.
Prayer directly to the Person of the Spirit was practiced long before the rise of the charismatic movement, so argument #2 is not conclusive. However, argument #1 is strong. Based on argument #1, while I am sympathetic to those who pray directly to the Person of the Spirit because of the truth of His equality of nature in the holy Trinity, it has been my practice to refrain from praying directly to the Spirit, trusting that God knows best how He wants us to worship Him.
2 Corinthians 13:14 has been used by many modern writers as an argument for prayer directly to the Person of the Spirit: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.” Typically, I have heard the argument framed as follows:
As to the direct worship of the Holy Spirit, 2 Corinthians 13:14 is more than sufficient to bear the weight of the doctrine. Whatever “fellowship” means when applied to the Father and to the Son also means the same when applied to the Holy Spirit. We “commune” or have “fellowship” with the Father and Son by our prayers and praise. The same is true of our fellowship with the Holy Spirit. (pg. 429, The Trinity: Evidence and Issues, Robert A. Morey. Iowa Falls, IA: World, 1996)
That is, since the word koinonia, “communion/fellowship” in 2 Corinthians 13:14, is employed of communion or fellowship with the Father and the Son in 1 John 1:3, and fellowship with the Father and the Son include prayer directly to their Persons (Matthew 6:9-13; Acts 7:59; 1 Corinthians 1:2), then the “communion of the Holy Ghost” must include prayer directly to His Person.
While this argument is attractive, in that it appeals to Scripture rather than to Mr. So-and-so, and it is not a blatant and painful piece of eisegesis, it is nonetheless invalid. 1 John 1 refers to communion “with” the Father and the Son, (koinonia + meta), while 2 Corinthians 13:14 refers to the communion “of” the Spirit (koinonia in the genitive case). The semantic structure is not identical. After studying out all the New Testament koinonia texts and the syntax of 2 Corinthians 13:14 in the study here, it was clear that while 2 Corinthians 13:14 teaches that we do indeed have fellowship with the Holy Spirit, prayer directly to His Person cannot be established solely based on the argument above. “Fellowship” + the genitive is used even of koinonia with impersonal objects (e. g., “the fellowship of the ministering to the saints,” 2 Corinthians 8:4); prayer to “the ministering of the saints,” whatever that could mean, is not proven by 2 Corinthians 8:4; nor does the “communion of the Holy Ghost” prove that one is to pray directly to His Person because of the argument above, although believers certainly do have communion with the Holy Spirit as He stirs them up to behold the beauty and glory of the Father through the Son, as He works in them to pray with groanings that cannot be uttered, and so on.
It should be recognized also that opposition to prayer to the Spirit is not an affirmation that He is in any way less than true God. On the contrary, He is one in essence with the Father and the Son, and He consequently possesses in full all the Divine attributes, with His sole identifying particularity in the ontological Trinity (“God as He is in Himself”) being the Spirit’s eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son, even as the Son’s identifying particularity is to be eternally begotten of the Father, and the Father’s identifying particularity is to be neither begotten nor proceeding. In the economic Trinity (“God as He is toward us”), the Persons assume roles that reflect their ontology, so that blessings come to us from the Father through the Son by the Spirit, and we come to the Father through the Son by the Spirit. An affirmation that one is not to pray directly to the Person of the Spirit is not a denial of His full Deity, His glory, or His worthiness of worship, adoration, reverence, and honor—just as He is of equal authority with the Father and the Son as God, as proven by the baptismal formula of Matthew 28:19, so God the Holy Ghost is unquestionably worthy of worship. The question is not His worthiness, but whether He wishes for us to glorify Him by praying directly to Him, or whether He wishes to receive glory as we approach that God who is solely one in His undivided essence by coming to the Person of the Father through the Son by the Spirit. There is no jealousy or envy between the Persons of the Trinity, and when we worship the Father, we glorify the Son and the Spirit also, for the one God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (By the way, if the argument in this passage seems deep to you, foreign, or hard to follow, I commend to you the college level course on Trinitarianism available here. Too many Baptists today are woefully ignorant of the character of the blessed Trinity.)
However, I have recently come across two stronger arguments for prayer directly to the Person of the Holy Spirit. In reading John Owen’s glorious devotional classic, Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (which, if you haven’t read it, you are definitely missing out—get it here), a required textbook for the Trinitarianism class I am teaching, I noticed that Owen believed that, while prayer should generally be addressed to the Father, it was lawful also to pray directly to the Person of the Spirit. I wanted to see what Owen’s case was, and I consequently asked a bunch of Owen and Puritan scholars what Owen’s case was. The first of the stronger arguments for prayer to the Spirit can be summed up as follows. 1.) Since the Holy Spirit is worthy of and must be worshipped, since He is God, and prayer is an act of worship, it is fitting, on occasion, to directly invoke the Spirit in prayer. Now it is true that the Holy Spirit is worshipped, for baptism is an act of worship, and baptism is performed in the name of or with the authority of the Holy Spirit; the Spirit’s equal glory with the Father and the Son is recognized and glorified whenever a disciple is immersed in the name of the Trinity (Matthew 28:19). But is prayer directly to the Person of the Spirit a necessary consequence of the fact that the Holy Spirit is worshipped? Below are the pro-and-con arguments, reproduced below from my interaction with an Owen scholar who is arguing for the lawfulness of prayer to the Spirit. What do you think—does he prove his case, or is my traditional position against prayer directly to the Person of the Spirit hold? Read the dialogue below prayerfully, testing everything by Scripture, and then tell us what your conclusion is. The second argument Owen makes will, Lord willing, be examined next Friday here at What is Truth. If certain terms, such as hupostasis or ad extra, or ontological, etc. are unfamiliar to you, watch or listen to the lectures on Trinitarianism in my class here.
Dear Dr. ----,
Thank you for your help. I am teaching a college class on the Trinity right now, and we are going to be discussing distinct communion with the Persons of the Trinity soon, using Owen as our text. (The course lectures up to this point are online here: http://faithsaves.net/trinitarianism/)
In my particular theological tradition there is a debate upon the propriety of prayer directly to the Person of the Holy Spirit. (There is no debate on the truth of the Trinity, on the fact that the three Persons are truly equal, worthy of worship, etc.; the question is whether the Spirit, in the economic Trinity, wishes to be directly addressed in prayer or whether He wants us to commune with Him by His working in us to pray fervently to the Father through the Son; of course, the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive). The main argument against prayer addressed directly to the Person of the Spirit is the lack of Biblical examples for this practice. I have seen people arguing that there are Biblical examples, but they really seem to requires a lot of twisting of passages and nonliteral exegesis. . . . I am sympathetic to the idea of prayer addressed directly to the Person of the Holy Spirit; I even studied out the various koinonia texts and wrestled with the type of genitive that is found in “communion of the Holy Ghost,” desiring to find evidence for the practice. (My study is online here: http://faithsaves.net/theology-proper-christology-and-pneumatology/ and here: http://sites.google.com/site/thross7). However, I just don’t see it in 2 Cor 13:14, and my belief in the sufficiency of Scripture for our worship does not allow me, in good conscience, to recommend prayer addressed directly to the Spirit unless I see a clear basis for it in Scripture. I would like to be convinced by Owen’s argument above, but I just don't see how it is convincing. Do you have any thoughts that can help? . . .
Thomas, . . . [r]egarding [p]rayer to the Holy Spirit, here are a few thoughts.
Let me begin by answering confessionally, not because of any inherent authority in our confessions, but because they are a good starting point as a faithful summary of biblical truth. The persons in the Godhead are the same in substance and equal in power and glory. This is why the Westminster Confession and the London Baptist Confession both begin their chapters on religious worship by noting that the Triune God is the proper object of worship (second paragraph in both documents). When we worship the Father, we worship the Son and the Holy Spirit also, since the one true and living God is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These confessions each note that prayer is a part of worship. The WCF notes that prayer is a “special part” of religious worship and the LBC says that prayer is “one part of natural worship.” I am not sure about the reason for the change from the former statement to the latter, other than possibly to reflect the idea that while worship is limited to what Scripture requires, the light of nature also teaches the prayer is a duty.
When we worship God, we worship all three divine persons. Prayer is part of the worship that we give to God. When we pray to the Father and worship the Father in our prayers, then we worship all three persons of the Godhead. In this respect, the Father represents the majesty of the entire Godhead, as he often does in Scripture when the generic term “God” refers most frequently to the Father. Every prayer to the Father as it is an act of worship is a prayer to the Son and the Holy Spirit. We cannot deny that we pray to the Holy Spirit in this regard without denying his identity as a divine person.
However, when we pray to the Father, through the Son (in his name), by the help of the Spirit (Rom. 8, etc.) we respect the personal properties of each divine person. I always tell my congregation that we have the freedom to pray to each divine person since prayer is an act of worship and all three persons possess the whole deity. Yet there are also good reasons why the normal Scripture pattern is to call God Father (let alone the example that Christ taught us in the Lord’s Prayer). Just as the gospel originates with the Father's plan, so our highest privilege in prayer is calling God Father and he is the person whom we address immediately. Adoption virtually summarizes all of the benefits of our redemption and calling God Father places this fact in the foreground. We pray in Christ’s name because he is the only Mediator between God and men and no one comes to the Father except through him. We pray by or with the help of the Holy Spirit because his office is to glorify Christ by convincing the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment and uniting to Christ by faith. This is why preaching in demonstration of the Spirit and of power involves preaching Christ and him crucified. Our prayers and every other act of worship reflect how the divine persons work particularly in our redemption. But the fact that the entire Godhead is the object of our worship means that we worship all three persons in prayer.
In short, my answer is that it is lawful to pray to the Holy Spirit as God, but that we should ordinarily pray in the order that Christ taught us with respect to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is lawful, but it is not normal. I cannot see how we can deny treating the Holy Spirit as the object of prayer together with the Father and the Son without denying the historic doctrine of the Trinity. On the other hand, when we pray we must not only regard the unity of the Godhead, but the distinction of the persons and their order of operation in our lives. Owen holds these things together wonderfully and gives us a model of how to hold communion with the entire Godhead jointly and the persons distinctly. This is largely the genius of his approach.
One last comment: You stated several times that you cannot find examples of prayer to the Holy Spirit in Scripture. I know that not all Baptists agree over whether we should accept the principle of “good and necessary consequence” in interpreting the Bible. However, there is some irony in requiring Scriptural examples when we are discussing the doctrine of the Trinity, since virtually the entire doctrine stands or falls upon good and necessary consequence. The doctrine of the Trinity is a carefully worded conclusion from stringing together a series of theological inferences based on the deity of each person (and not always by express statements of the deity of Christ and the Spirit), their personal distinctions, their interrelation with each other, and their work in eternity and in time. Strictly speaking, if we limit Scripture proof to examples alone, then there would be no doctrine of the Trinity to speak of. . . .
I am grateful, dear brother, that you take the Scriptures so seriously and I can tell that you greatly desire to honor the Lord in limiting your faith and practice to his Word. I hope my comments are helpful to you in some measure and I will pray that the Lord would bless you as you continue to wrestle through this question.
Every blessing in Christ,
Thank you for your reply. . . . Certainly the Holy Spirit, as homoousios with the Father and the Son, is worthy of worship. I agree also that as the Divine essence is undivided, worship of any Person is worship of the entire Trinity. . . . In the sense that all prayer respects the undivided essence, all prayer is addressed to the Holy Spirit. I have no problem with necessary consequences if they are truly necessary--certainly a condemnation of idols made by Isaiah in his day also condemns idolatry in our day. I do not wish to argue that there are no good and necessary consequences in the construction of the doctrine of the Trinity, although I think that 1 John 5:7 is canonical, part of what God has preserved “pure in all ages,” as the WCF states, for reasons explained at http://faithsaves.net/bibliology/ .
What I am not convinced of is that prayer directly to the Person of the Spirit is either a direct affirmation of Scripture or a truly a good and necessary consequence. I don't see why . . . the fact that the Holy Spirit is worthy of worship means that He wants us to directly pray to Him, rather than holding communion with Him as He reveals to us the things of the Father and the Son as an economic consequence of His ontological procession. The Son is truly God, but we don’t pray to the Son through the Father, but to the Father through the Son, and no necessary consequence of Trinitarianism indicates that it is lawful for us to pray to the Son through the Father (although prayer to the Son is clearly lawful, cf. Acts 7:59-60; 1 Cor 1:2). If the Spirit wants us to worship Him as we worship the undivided Trinity, and worship Him through being led by Him in our prayers to the Father through the Son, worship Him by recognizing His authority as equal to that of the Father and Son in the baptismal ceremony, and worship Him by trusting in His strength to mortify sin, etc., but He does not want us to worship Him by praying directly to His hupostasis--that is, not to pray to the Spirit through the Son, but to the Father through the Son by the Spirit, how does this endanger the Trinity? . . . Again, I appreciate your response. I would like to have holes in my argument exposed and shot down, if they are there. I am probably going to have to address the question of prayer directly to the Spirit in my Trinitarianism course lectures in the relatively near future--and these lectures are going to be placed on the Internet and made available for billions of people--so I don’t want to say something that is not Biblical. Thanks again.
For the glory of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
. . .
I think that I understand your position a bit better now. Based on what you have said, I think that your view is not heretical and I am sorry if I came across as implying as much. Just a quick thought since you believe that we must worship all three persons of the Godhead. If we must worship all three persons, then this would include every aspect of worship. This goes back to my original argument. If prayer is a special part of religious worship, then we must pray to the Spirit as an act of worship. . . . I think that because prayer is a part of religious worship, and each divine person is the object of religious worship, then we must allow prayer to the Holy Spirit.
That being said, I ordinarily tell our congregation that we should recognize the importance of how the NT teaches us to pray. As you noted, it is important to pray to the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit. There is only one clear NT example of a prayer directly to Jesus. This shows that while it is lawful to pray to him directly, it is not normal. This would require an entirely separate discussion why this is the case, but you appear to grasp this fairly well already.
One note about Muller. It has been a while since I have read that volume, but I do keep reading primary source material on the Trinity in Reformed orthodoxy. I think that it is not so much that the term God refers most commonly to the entire Trinity in the NT, but that the term God most commonly refers to the Father as representing the majesty of the entire Trinity. This is why, for example, when we call on God as Father, we implicitly worship the Son and the Spirit as being the one true God. This is why I can in good conscience say that I treat the Spirit as the object of prayer even though I rarely pray to him directly so that I can follow the NT pattern (which indicates that whichever position you end up adopting, we should end up in a similar place in practice).
There is a lot more to say, but you probably have enough to think through in your studies.
I agree that it is a sobering fact that we must stand before people and in essence declare, “thus says the Lord.” What is particularly humbling is that though I am studying to gain some expertise in systematic theology, I do not believe that I have ever read an entire work on systematic theology where I agree with everything the author has said. What does this say about the flaws in my own theology! “Who can know his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults.”
I will pray that the Lord would bless your studies and your labors to the blessing of your student’s souls.
Have a blessed Lord’s Day.
Thanks for the reply. The argument that since the Holy Spirit is worthy of worship, His Person should be/can be directly invoked in the act of worship called prayer, is probably the best argument I have heard for prayer directly to the Holy Spirit. If this is indeed a conclusive argument, I trust I am willing to adopt it. This is the counter-response that came to mind after thinking about your affirmation. Some acts of worship do not respect the Persons of the Trinity in the same way; for example, the Lord’s Supper is done “in remembrance of” Christ, not specifically of the Father or the Holy Spirit (although, of course, they were involved just as they are in all ad extra Trinitarian acts). If acts of worship can be Person-specific, and some acts of worship are not appropriately done in relation to one or more of the Persons (as in the Supper), then it is not truly a necessary consequence of the worthiness of God the Spirit of worship that He wishes for us to worship Him by direct invocation of His hupostasis in prayer. Is my attempt to make your argument from necessary consequence not truly necessary valid? I’d be happy to hear your thoughts. Certainly we can do worse with our time than think about how the blessed Trinity is to be worshipped. . . .
I can see the fact that the Father is the fons Deitas as an explanation of the very frequent application of the title "God" to Him; what Muller mentioned as an extant belief, and what I am not sure I have a clear example of in Scripture, is a NT reference where “Father” refers to the entire Trinity rather than the first Person specifically; if “Our Father which art in heaven” is a reference to the entire Trinity in the Sermon on the Mount, rather than a reference to the first Person in particular, it certainly has real life significance.
Thank you for your time and your good thoughts,
[From ----- to me]:
Sorry for not getting back to you sooner. I have two quick thoughts to add:
1. I still think that Muller is not saying that the Reformed taught that the term “Father” was a reference to the entire Trinity, but that the Father included the entire Trinity by implication. The Father in this sense represents the majesty of the Godhead and when we worship the Father, then we worship the Son and the Spirit with the Father. In this regard, the Father represents the common deity of the Son and the Spirit, but not their distinct personal subsistences. This is an important distinction, since it would otherwise give the impression of some form of modalism in Reformed orthodoxy. In other words, “our Father” in the sermon on the mount is a reference to the Godhead of the entire Trinity, but it is not a reference to the entire Trinity. It remains a reference to the first person in particular without excluding the Son and the Spirit as the common object of worship. When we address the Father in prayer, we address him as a divine person. We respect his personal subsistence and order of operation when we call him Father. Yet because we worship the Father as God in prayer, then also worship the whole Godhead simultaneously because the only God that exists is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is why I said that we can respect the personal properties of each divine person while simultaneously treating each divine person as the object of worship.
2. The Lord’s Supper is a very good illustration of the principles that I have in view. As you mentioned, there is a special emphasis on the Son in the Lord’s Supper. We respect his personal properties as the Son of God and we also remember him and commune with him in his work as Mediator. However, this is not the same thing as saying that the Son is the exclusive object of worship in the Lord’s Supper (or in any other act of worship). As our respective confessions of faith rightly state, the entire Trinity is always the proper object of worship. This is true in the Lord’s Supper just as much as it is in prayer and in every other act of worship. If the triune God alone is the proper object of worship in general, then all three divine persons are the proper object of worship in every particular part of worship as well. In the Lord’s Supper, we worship the Father for sending the Son and spreading the feast before us (this idea is somewhere in Sibbes’s sermons on 2 Cor. 4). We worship the Son for giving himself for us and for our salvation. We worship the Spirit for producing spiritual communion with Christ in the [ordinance] and for uniting us savingly to Christ. Christ may be the central focus of the Lord’s Supper and the direct object of our attention, but we cannot worship him in the Supper without worshiping the Father and the Spirit as well. However, we worship all three persons in a way that respects their personal properties.
3. All of this relates to the original question of prayer. If the Spirit is God equal with the Father and the Son, and prayer is an act of divine worship to God, then the Spirit is clearly the object of worship in prayer. However, much as the Son receives the central focus of the Lord’s Supper, so the Father is the central focus of our prayers (In his two sermons on Eph. 2:18 in vol. 9, Owen actually argues that the person of the Father is the central focus of every act of religious worship. These sermons are an excellent parallel to Communion with God, only with a more narrow focus on public worship. These two sources combined provide the structure for my PhD work.). This means that in terms of divinity and as an act of worship, every prayer is directed to the Holy Spirit together with the Father and the Son. The question remains whether we should address him directly in our prayers. My answer is that it is appropriate to do so, as long as we respect the personal properties of the Father and the Son as well. In other words, if we address the Spirit directly in prayer, we must do so recognizing that it is the Father who answers our prayers, through his Son, by the Spirit. An example that I can think of that would be appropriate would be to ask the Spirit to interced[e] within us in our prayers with groanings that cannot be uttered so that we may cry out to the Father in Christ’s name. We could offer the same prayer to the Father, asking him to send us the Spirit in Christ’s name to help us in our prayers. I can conceive of a similar example regarding the work of the Spirit in preaching, etc. While I would not reject this kind of prayer to the Holy Spirit (and some of our hymns, such as come tho[u] almighty king, express this kind of prayer to the Spirit), my ordinary practice would still be to address the Father directly, in Christ's name, in dependence on the Holy Spirit.
4. We must be careful to distinguish but not to separate the deity and the personality of all three persons in our prayers. We may only address the persons of the Godhead in prayer because they are divine persons, and when we address the persons we address them as divine persons. This point merely confirms and draws on everything that I have stated above, but it again reinforces the idea that it is not only the triune God who is the object of worship, but divine persons in whom the entire Godhead resides. The only way I can conceive of denying the lawfulness of prayer to the Holy Spirit is either to deny that prayer is an act of worship, or to deny that all three divine persons are the proper object of worship. Again, in light of your statement that all three persons are the object of worship, I do not mean by this logical conundrum to imply that you are heretical if you take a different position. With the limited light and knowledge that the Lord has given me, I am trying to point out the potential contradictions involved in holding such a view as I see them.
I sincerely hope and pray that the Lord will use these thoughts to help you think and pray through these issues. I have chosen trinitarian theology as a special area of “expertise” and study, just as the triune God himself is the center of my affections as a believer. Even then, the more I study and know our God, the less I feel that I understand him. May the Lord bless us both as we press on to know him and make him known better.
Blessings in Christ,