I don’t know if you have noticed, but one of the puzzling things that has crept into some churches over recent years is the strange habit of welcoming the Holy Spirit into meetings. Now of course, I am as pleased as anyone to know that the Holy Spirit is present with us when we meet together. However, the Bible assures us that he is always present at those times, and even when we are not meeting together. If we are truly part of the body of Christ, then we are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit both individually and corporately all of the time.
I struggle to get my head round the idea, seemingly implied in this new habit, that when I meet with other Christians, the Holy Spirit somehow leaves us at some point before we get there, and then waits outside until we ask him in. Perhaps I have misunderstood what people mean when they pronounce a welcome to him, but it seems an unusual practice, to welcome someone who has been with us all the time, and who will stay with us when we leave. And if, by some strange (indeed impossible) phenomenon, we were actually separated from the Holy Spirit, then it seems to me that it would be more fitting for him to welcome us back than the other way around.
I can certainly understand people being grateful for the fact that the Holy Spirit is present, and I can appreciate a thankfulness for those times when we may experience that fact in a greater measure than at other times. However, our awareness of his presence is not actually any indication of the reality of his presence (I suspect most of us are unaware of him being with us when we sleep).
I find this practice doubly confusing because it also seems to imply that the Holy Spirit is ‘out there somewhere’ hanging around waiting to be invited in. Jesus taught that when we drink from him, then the Holy Spirit will flow out from us. We are filled with Holy Spirit as a consequence of our union with Jesus (he used the illustration of us as branches attached to him and drawing life from him as the vine). There are times of special manifestations of the Holy Spirit (mentioned both in the Bible and through history) when he is described as ‘coming upon’ or in terms of wind sweeping in, but these are special times. The day by day and week by week work of the Spirit, often described as ‘walking’, originates in and is mediated through Jesus, as we live in union with him.
Perhaps we should be cautious about introducing habits and terminology that do not exist in the bible and which have not been used by Christians throughout history until the last few years. If we do decide to introduce something novel into the way we talk about God, it would be helpful to folk like me to perhaps explain what we mean by it, or maybe even to check out whether we are getting into a habit that is actually a bad one.