Holy Spirit In Christian Denominational Variations

Holy Spirit in Christian Denominational Variations shows different philosophical understandings of The doctrine of the Trinity. Early Christian theologians speculated in many ways on the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, no one clearly and fully asserted the doctrine of the Trinity as explained at the top of the main entry until around the end of the so-called Arian Controversy. Nonetheless, proponents of such theories always claim them to be in some sense founded on, or at least illustrated by, biblical texts.

Non-trinitarian views about the Holy Spirit differ significantly from mainstream Christian doctrine. Some theories of the Trinity are so wrong that they have been declared heretical.

A well-known example is the filioque controversy, the debates centering on whether the Nicene Creed should state that the Spirit “proceeds from the Father” and then have a stop, as the creed was initially adopted in Greek (and followed thereafter by the Eastern Church), or should say “from the Father and the Son” as was later adopted in Latin and followed by the Western Church, “filioque” being “and the Son” in Latin.

The majority of mainstream Protestantism hold similar views on the theology of the Holy Spirit as the Roman Catholic Church, but there are significant differences in belief between Pentecostalism and the rest of Protestantism. The more recent Charismatic movements have a focus on the “gifts of the Spirit”, but often differ from Pentecostal movements.

A Protestant church altar at Pentecost with an altar cloth depicting the movement of the Holy Spirit

A Protestant church altar at Pentecost with an altar cloth depicting the movement of the Holy Spirit

Roman Catholicism

See also: Divinum illud munus

According to Roman Catholic theology the primary work of the Holy Ghost is through the Church. According to the Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII Divinum illud munus:

…the indwelling and miraculous power of the Holy Ghost; and the extent and efficiency of His action, both in the whole body of the Church and in the individual souls of its members, through the glorious abundance of His divine graces. Through the Church’s sacraments, Christ communicates His Holy and sanctifying Spirit to the faithful.”

Around the 6th century, the word Filioque was added to the Nicene Creed, defining as a doctrinal teaching that the Holy Ghost “proceedeth from the Father and the Son”. The holy Council of Florence in 1438 proclaims: “The Holy Ghost is eternally from Father and Son; He has his nature and subsistence at once (simul) from the Father and the Son. He proceeds eternally from both as from one principle and through one spiration. . . . And, since the Father has through generation given to the only-begotten Son everything that belongs to the Father, except being Father, the Son has also eternally from the Father, from whom he is eternally born, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son.” In the Church, the Western tradition professes the consubstantial communion between the Father and the Son, by saying that the Spirit proceeds in eternity from the Father and the Son (filioque). It says this, “legitimately and with good reason”, for the eternal order of the divine persons in their consubstantial communion implies that the Father, as “the principle without principle”, is the first origin of the Spirit, but also that as Father of the only Son, he is, with the Son, the single principle from which the Holy Spirit proceeds.” Since the Council of Florence, greater theological discussion between the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church, has developed a greater sense of agreement on the matter. Both the East and West have agreed that the same essential meaning can be expressed in the belief that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son and from the Father through the Son. Although certain disagreements do continue beyond the Filioque clause on the matters of God’s nature, the co-equality of the Trinity, the Eastern belief in a “Monarchy of the Father”, and relational Subordinationism. While the Eastern Catholic churches are required to believe the doctrinal teaching contained in the Filioque, they are not all required to insert it in the Creed when it is recited during the Divine Liturgy, so as to use the liturgical text as it was in antiquity.

Eastern Orthodoxy

Eastern Orthodoxy proclaims that the Father is the eternal source of the Godhead, from whom the Son is begotten eternally, and also from whom the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally. Unlike the Roman Catholic Church and Western Christianity in general, the Orthodox Church does not espouse the use of the Filioque (“and the Son”) in describing the procession of the Holy Spirit. Filioque was mentioned for the first time at the Third Council of Toledo in 589 and it was added by the Roman Catholic Church to the Credo in the 11th century. The Holy Spirit is believed to eternally proceed from the Father, as Christ says in John 15:26, and not from the Father and the Son, as the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches claim. The Greek Orthodox Church teaches that the Holy Spirit proceeds through the Son, but only from the Father. Orthodox doctrine regarding the Holy Trinity is summarized in the Symbol of Faith (Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed). Oriental Orthodox usage coincides with Eastern Orthodox usage and teachings on the matter. The Assyrian Church of the East also retains the original formula of the Creed without the Filioque.


The majority of mainstream Protestantism hold similar views on the theology of the Holy Spirit as the Roman Catholic Church, as described above. There are significant differences in belief between Pentecostalism and the rest of Protestantism.

Restoration Movement and Churches of Christ

During the late 19th century, the prevailing view in the Restoration Movement was that the Holy Spirit currently acts only through the influence of inspired scripture. This rationalist view was associated with Alexander Campbell, who was “greatly affected by what he viewed as the excesses of the emotional camp meetings and revivals of his day.” He believed that the Spirit draws people towards salvation, but understood the Spirit to do this “in the same way any person moves another—by persuasion with words and ideas.” This view came to prevail over that of Barton W. Stone, who believed the Spirit had a more direct role in the life of the Christian. Since the mid-late 20th century, many among the Churches of Christ have moved away from this “word-only” theory of the operation of the Holy Spirit. As one student of the movement puts it, “[f]or better or worse, those who champion the so-called word-only theory no longer have a hold on the minds of the constituency of Churches of Christ. Though relatively few have adopted outright charismatic and third wave views and remained in the body, apparently the spiritual waves have begun to erode that rational rock.”


The Holy Spirit descending at Pentecost by Anthony van Dyck, circa 1618.

The Holy Spirit descending at Pentecost by Anthony van Dyck, circa 1618.

The Christian movement called Pentecostalism derives its name from the event of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit when Jesus’ disciples were gathered in Jerusalem.[Acts 2] Pentecostals believe that when a believer is “baptized in the Holy Spirit”, the gifts of the Spirit (also called the charismata) are activated in the recipient to edify the body of Christ, the church. Some of these gifts are listed in 1 Corinthians 12.While the Holy Spirit is acknowledged as God in all mainstream denominations, he is given particular emphasis in Pentecostal churches. In those churches he is seen as the giver of natural and supernatural gifts, such as tongues and prophecy, to modern-day Christians.

The Pentecostal movement places special emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit, and especially on the gifts mentioned above, believing that they are still given today. Much of Pentecostalism differentiates the “baptism with the Holy Spirit” from the salvific born again experience, considering it a usually distinct experience in which the Spirit’s power is received by the Christian in a new way, with the belief that the Christian can be more readily used to perform signs, miracles, and wonders for the sake of evangelism or for ministry within the church (the body of Christ) and the community. There are also some Pentecostals who believe that Spirit baptism is a necessary element in salvation, not a “second blessing”. These Pentecostals believe that in the baptism in the Holy Spirit, the power of the Spirit is released in their lives.

Many Pentecostals believe that the normative initial evidence of this infilling (baptism) of the Holy Spirit is the ability to speak in other tongues (glossolalia), and that tongues are one of several spiritual manifestations of the presence of the Holy Spirit in an individual believer’s life.

Non-Trinitarian views

Main article: Nontrinitarianism

Non-trinitarian views about the Holy Spirit differ significantly from mainstream Christian doctrine and generally fall into several distinct categories.

Unitarian and Arian

Groups with Unitarian theology such as Polish Socinians, the 18th-19th Century Unitarian Church, and Christadelphians conceive of the Holy Spirit not as a person but an aspect of God’s power. Christadelphians believe that the phrase Holy Spiritrefers to God’s power, mind or character depending on the context.

Though Arius believed that the Holy Spirit is a person or high angel, that had a beginning, modern Semi-Arian groups such as Dawn Bible Students and Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the Holy Spirit is not an actual person but is God’s “power in action”, “breath” or “divine energy”, which had no beginning, that he uses to accomplish his will. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not typically capitalize the term, and define the Holy Spirit as “God’s active force”.


Main article: Binitarianism

Armstrongites, such as the Living Church of God, believe that the Logos and God the Father are co-equal and co-eternal, but they do not believe that the Holy Spirit is an actual person, like the Father and the Son. They believe the Holy Spirit is the Power, Mind, or Character of God, depending on the context. They teach, “The Holy Spirit is the very essence, the mind, life and power of God. It is not a Being. The Spirit is inherent in the Father and the Son, and emanates from Them throughout the entire universe”. Mainstream Christians characterise this teaching as the heresy of Binitarianism, the teaching that God is a “Duality”, the Father and the Word, or “two-in-one”, rather than three.

Modalist groups

Oneness Pentecostalism, as with other modalist groups, teach that the Holy Spirit is a mode of God, rather than a distinct or separate person from the Father. They instead teach that the Holy Spirit is just another name for the Father. According to Oneness theology, the Holy Spirit essentially is the Father. The United Pentecostal Church teaches that there is no personal distinction between God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

These two titles “Father” and “Holy Spirit” (as well as others) do not reflect separate “persons” within the Godhead, but rather two different ways in which the one God reveals himself to his creatures. Thus, the Old Testament speaks of “The Lord God and his Spirit” in Isaiah 48:16, but this does not indicate two “persons” according to Oneness theology. Rather, “The Lord” indicates God in all of His glory and transcendence, while the words “His Spirit” refer to God’s own Spirit that moved upon and spoke to the prophet. The Oneness view is that this does not imply two “persons” any more than the numerous scriptural references to a man and his spirit or soul (such as in Luke 12:19) imply two “persons” existing within one body.

Latter Day Saints

In the Latter Day Saint movement, the Holy Ghost (usually synonymous with Holy Spirit) is considered the third distinct member of the Godhead (Father, Son and Holy Ghost), and to have a body of “spirit,” which makes him unlike the Father and the Son who are said to have bodies “as tangible as man’s.” According to LDS doctrine, the Holy Spirit is believed to be a person, however having a body of spirit, he is able to pervade all worlds. Mormons believe that the Holy Spirit is part of the “Divine Council” or “Godhead”, but that the Father is greater than both the Son and the Holy Spirit.

However, a number of Latter Day Saint sects, most notably the Community of Christ (second largest Latter Day Saint denomination) and the Church of Christ (Temple Lot), and those sects separating from the Community of Christ and Church of Christ, follow a traditional Protestant trinitarian theology.

Other groups

The Unity Church interprets the religious terms Father, Son, and Holy Spirit metaphysically, as three aspects of mind action: mind, idea, and expression. They believe this is the process through which all manifestation takes place.

As a movement that developed out of Christianity, Rastafari has its own unique interpretation of both the Holy Trinity and the Holy Spirit. Although there are several slight variations, they generally state that it is Haile Selassie who embodies both God the Father and God the Son, while the Holy (or rather, “Hola“) Spirit is to be found within Rasta believers (see ‘I and I’), and within every human being. Rastas also say that the true church is the human body, and that it is this church (or “structure“) that contains the Holy Spirit.

Trinitarian heresies

Some theories of the Trinity are so wrong that they have been declared heretical.


The proponents of Modalism were Noetus and Praxeas (late 2nd century CE) and Sabellius (3rd century CE).

Modalism teaches that Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are not distinct personalities, but different modes of God’s self-revelation.

The idea is that there is only one God, but that this one God reveals himself in different ways and different forms – sometimes as Father, sometimes as Son, sometimes as Holy Spirit.

  • Father: The creator and the law giver
  • Son: The revealer, the Messiah and the redeemer
  • Holy Spirit: The sanctifier and giver of eternal life

One of the standard analogies for the Trinity is a good example of modalism: The Trinity is like water because water comes in three forms – ice, water, steam. This is Modalism because these are three states or modes of the substance water.

Some modalists believe that God revealed himself differently at different times in history, others believe that during any particular period of history God can reveal himself in different ways; so when God is acting as redeemer, that’s God the Son, and so on.

Warning: Some modern writers refer to the different persons of the Trinity as different “modes of being”, but they aren’t guilty of Modalism because they are not referring to different modes in which God appears to humanity, but different internal ways in which God is to him/herself.


Tritheism portrays Father, Son and Holy Spirit as three independent divine beings; three separate gods who are linked together in some special way – most commonly by sharing the “same substance” or being the same sort of thing.

People often make this mistake because they misunderstand the use of the word “persons” in defining the Trinity; it does not mean that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three separate personalities.


This is the idea that Father, Son and Holy Spirit together make up God. This would suggest that each of the persons of the Trinity is only part God, only becoming fully God when they are together.


Monarchianism stresses God as One and downgrades the idea of the Trinity; it comes in various versions:


Christ was born human and adopted by God at his resurrection (or baptism).


This isn’t a strictly Trinitarian heresy but it’s relevant because it’s the idea that the Son is in some way less fully God than the Father.

Summary: Holy Ghost in Christian Denominations


Third person of Godhead.  The executive of the Godhead and when present is the presence of the Father and The Son.

Assemblies of God

The third member of the Trinity. Adherents are encouraged to seek out baptism through the Holy Spirit, which is characterized by speaking in tongues.


Third person, or attribute of the one, and only one, God. God meaning “spirit.”


Third person of the Trinity, proceeding eternally from the Father and The Son as from one principle.  Is equal to the Father and Son in perfection.

Christian Scientist

Is “multiform in office” God the Father-Mother; Christ the spiritual idea of Son-hip; and Divine Science or the Holy Comforter.

Church of God in Christ

As the third member of the Trinity, the Holy Ghost is to be believed in, obeyed, and worshipped along with the Father and the Son. He teaches and guides one into truth.

Church of
Jesus Christ

Third  member of Godhead.  Has attributes of Deity. bears witness of Father and the Son.  He is the minister of the Godhead and executes the will of  the Supreme Council.

Disciples of Christ

Is the Comforter that was  promised in the New Testament.  The function and constitution of the Holy Spirit are not of any concern. It expands the Christian mind.

Eastern Orthodox

A distinct person of the God-spirit substance. The third person of God which proceeds from God, the Father.


One of the tri-characters Of the one God-substance. Proceeds from the Father and The Son.  Known as the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit.

Jehovah’s Witness

The Holy Spirit is not a person as Jehovah God and Jesus Christ are.  The Holy Spirit is God’s active force.


Third person of the divine essence. Proceeds from the Father and the Son. Is co-essential and co-eternal.


A spiritual personality which proceeds from the Father and the Son.  Is one with the Father and The Son in substance and Glory. “They are One.”


A  spirit, is God Operating as one of God’s persons. Functions for the one and only God (Spirit). Is the third person of  the Godhead, one substance.


Source of all religious truth and authority is the Holy Spirit, which makes God accessible to all men.  Do not believe in the Trinity.


Do not believe in the Holy Ghost. Bible references cannot be taken literally.

United Church of Christ

The Holy Spirit is “creating and renewing the Church of Jesus Christ, binding in covenant the faithful people of all ages, tongues, and races.”

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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