Living The Mission – Being Empowered By the Holy Spirit
Introductory Scriptures: Acts 1:1-5; 12-14a; 2:1-13
- The church was brought into being by the Holy Spirit
- By the Holy Spirit, God lives in the church.
- The Holy Spirit gives gifts to specific people in the church, “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.”
I wonder if this volatile cocktail that I have (of Restoration Movement “common-sense” pragmatism, latent cynicism from my spiritual ‘old man,’ and a generally skeptical bent of mind) keeps me from entering fully into the life of the Spirit where some Christians live and move and have their being. But I’ve also never been able to sing that Gaither hymn that goes, “You ask me how I know he lives; he lives within my heart.” Not without feeling awkward and disconnected, anyway. It falls into that middle range of songs in my head: between whole-hearted fervor and utter inability to sing at all is a range vaguely titled, “Songs I sing because People I love have this blessing, and while I don’t have it, I can’t deny it in their lives.” If anyone would like to suggest a pithier, more succinct title for this category, please see the comment box below.
Right in that range, too, falls a great deal of my understanding of the Spirit. My own Christian life is probably the clearest miracle I’ve ever seen (although the as-yet medically inexplicable accelerated growth of the lungs of my sister-in-Christ’s unborn daughter, so she could deliver her this past Sunday before the pregnancy killed her thrills my heart and drops me to my knees in praise). You see, I seem to simultaneously affirm God’s prerogative to work when, where, and how He wills, and retain an initial skepticism towards any particular miraculous claim. I’m sure this isn’t an exemplary attitude, but it is where I am.
The Renovare authors open this chapter with an excerpt from The Holy Spirit by Billy Graham. The best quote from that selection is, “When I began studying about the Holy Spirit shortly after I became a Christian, one of the first questions I asked myself was: why did the Holy Spirit have to come? I soon found the answer in my Bible study. He came because He had a work to do in the world, in the church, and in the individual Christian.”
Look at the following small sample of NT passages on the Holy Spirit (Mt 1:18-20; Mk 1:4-13; Lk 1:39-45, 11:9-13, 12:11-12; Jn 14:26; Rm 5:5, 7:6, 8:26-27; 1 Cor 2:13, 12:4-11; Gal 5:16-23) with the following questions in mind:
- What are some of the actions of the Spirit described in these passages?
- How do these fit with your understanding of the Holy Spirit and how it works in the church, in your own life?
- What has been your own personal experience of the Holy Spirit?
- Have you experienced the Holy Spirit in any of the ways described here? For example, did you have a sense of being filled with the Spirit when you became a Christian or were baptized? Did the Holy Spirit perhaps provide you with words during a difficult time or help you discern a particularly thorny theological topic or personal crisis? Have you been blessed with certain gifts or fruit of the Spirit?
- Overall, do you feel that you experience the Spirit often, or are you not sure if or how the Holy Spirit is working in your life?
One interesting point I’ve noticed is the order of things in the Scriptural paradigm:
- Jesus teaches his followers
- Jesus commissions his followers
- Jesus empowers his followers
- His followers live the mission
Now, compare it to OUR paradigm:
- We teach non-followers about Jesus
- We immerse new followers, without much (if ANY) teaching about empowerment
- We send them back into their lives
- Jesus’ new followers live, period.
Where and why do you think our pattern differs from Scripture?
The Renovare authors also offer a thumbnail sketch of the 1906 Azusa Street Revival, labeling it a “modern-day Pentecost.” While mentioning in passing Charles Seymour’s teaching that glossolalia is evidence of Spirit baptism, they move quickly to the more important evidence of the Spirit’s work at Azusa Street: the demolition of social barriers between believers in Jesus Christ. At Azusa, white, black, and Latino worshipped together, to the disgust of many (ironically including Seymour’s early mentor). At Azusa, there was no pulpit, no dais. All who gathered were “potential contributors to the service.”
I think great harm came into the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement by denying the antecedent of Seymour’s teaching. Yes, glossolalia is evidence of Spirit baptism… EVEN speaking unintelligibly (1 Cor 13:1; 14:2-5). BUT it is FALSE to say that NO glossolalia = NO Spirit baptism, as many charismatic assemblies affirm in practice if not in word. What’s worse, this logical fallacy has established an elite caste in Pentecostal circles, destroying the most beautiful result of the work of the Spirit at Azusa Street.
The form (glossolalia) remains; the function (unity and equality) is gone.
One might make the same conclusion vis-a-vis a capella worship in our own tradition. Once functionally rooted as a manifestation of the priesthood of all believers and a means for every member to worship (unity and equality), a capella is now used by many as a tool for division. When a form of worship becomes a justifying work before God and the world, 1 Cor 10:12 must be taken to heart.
Our tradition has far too many struggles with understanding the work of the Holy Spirit for this blog entry to describe. Let me say this much: Azusa Street happened at a time when we were experiencing terrible challenges of our own, and we responded to the explosive growth of charismatic Christianity with fear and aggression rather than prayer, wisdom, discernment, and humility. This failure directly led to further division in our own family, as the “representative indwelling of the Holy Spirit” school of thought took root firmly in the broken earth of our fear and confusion.
The Renovare writers conclude by saying, “The examples of Pentecost and the Azusa Street Revival are exciting stories of the power of the Spirit, but they are not meant to be normative. If we do not hear sounds like a wind, see tongues like flames, or speak in other languages, this in now way means that we are not filled with the Holy Spirit. The rest of the New Testament makes it clear that all those who trust in Jesus become filled with the Holy Spirit.” They also remind us that, while we can never force the Spirit to act in certain ways, we (like the believers in the upper room) can “work to create the conditions within our souls that make us fertile ground… We, too, can open ourselves to the work of the Spirit through similar preparation.” (Prayer, Fasting, Fellowship, Worship, Obedience, Meditation)
The strength of this chapter (and series) lies in its focus of the paradigmatic work of the Spirit in Acts. But they don’t seem to address the drift towards a church less and less and less dependent upon charismata. At the beginning of the story, we have Peter healing. Peter’s very shadow is believed to have healing power. God uses cloths that have touched Paul to heal and exorcise. But this same Paul writes 1 Cor 13, which (while it does NOT say that charismata will cease after the canon is completed) is a powerful message about the weakness and inadequacy of charismata to fulfill the mission of God. And this same Paul writes to Timothy that he needs to drink wine for his stomach ailment.
The weakness of this chapter is that, in a chapter entitled “Being Empowered by the Spirit,” they basically answer the question, “What does it mean to be empowered by the Spirit?” with a shrug of the shoulders. “We can be sure that each of us will experience the Holy Spirit differently, according to our own gifts and even our own personalities.” They do point to the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians, and to the Spirit-driven fellowship and worship and thanksgiving of Ephesians 5:18-20 (which we in RM traditions often miss).
But WHAT’S THE POINT? Either they (like much of Christianity) aren’t sure, or they are trying to appeal to such a broad spectrum of Christian thought that specificity might not serve their purpose.
How great it is (and I give thanks to God for such serendipity) that I’ve been studying NT Wright’s fine exposition of 1 Cor 15 at the same time that I’ve been working through Living The Mission. If Wright is correct (and I think that:
- He is correct;
- That no one has mounted a successful argument against his 1 Cor 15 conclusions; and
- That most adversaries find themselves able to deny his peripheral conclusions only by ignoring or a priori denying his foundational work on resurrection),
then being empowered by the Spirit to live the mission of God means that God Himself promises us the strength, wisdom, and power to live resurrected lives, new creation lives, in our world right now. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” to implement the victory over sin and death and evil by being Jesus for our communities.
This leads to the great weakness of the book thus far: they see each chapter as “another avenue of living the mission” rather than basically sequential expositions of what happens when the Lord Jesus Christ breathes his Spirit into a group of people. Maybe sequential isn’t the right way to apply it… integral is better, I think. I don’t believe that any of the 12 “avenues” drawn out of Luke’s story is optional.
- Receiving the Commission
- Being Empowered by the Spirit
- Forming A Community
- Preaching the Good News
- Being the Good News
- Choosing Leaders
- Making Disciples
- Experiencing Persecution
- Converting the Mind
- Converting the Heart
- Overcoming Cultural Captivity
- Going Global
These things HAPPENED when the new wine of the Spirit was poured out in Jerusalem. If we ignore any of them, we are not able to fully participate in God’s redemptive mission. Will it look different in our own communities? ABSOLUTELY! But if we will get out of the way, stop quenching the Spirit, and let God pour his new wine into our hearts, our houses, our hometowns, THESE things will happen as the Spirit drives forward, applying the victory of love in Christ Jesus to the world the Father loves too much to abandon.
Next Week: Forming A Community Thanks for Reading!
in HIS love,