“…and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” Acts Chapter Two
Throughout the Upper Room Discourse in John Chapters 13 – 17 Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit coming to live within His people. After His resurrection He says to His people, “Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49, see also Acts 1:4 – 8). Throughout the New Testament we read of the Holy Spirit in the people of God, He is, if you will, the biosphere of the church; the church lives within the Holy Spirit…and the Holy Spirit lives within the church. God is one with His people and His people are one with God.
The people of God are people of the Holy Spirit. What does this mean? For some of us it appears to more conceptual and theoretical than holistically experiential. For others the focus seems to be on feelings and having certain palpable experiences. Excitement can be a litmus test for some, contemplation for others.
Do we need the Holy Spirit to have a church? To be a church? Can we “do” church without the Holy Spirit? From a pragmatic perspective what is our answer? How do we actually live? How do our congregations actually function? What would an unbiased observer conclude?
How does our experience today with the Holy Spirit compare with what we see in the New Testament? The coming of the Holy Spirit into the people of God was a cosmic line of demarcation in Biblical history, in human history – it was a watershed event. Is this evident in our lives today? Once again, do we really need the Holy Spirit to “do” church? How reliant are we on the Holy Spirit? Is the Holy Spirit a hallmark of our congregations?
If religious people did not recognize Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago, is it possible that Christian religious people do not recognize the Holy Spirit today?
I am not speaking about miraculous manifestations of the Holy Spirit, though I believe we could be asking questions about those as well; I am speaking of whether or not we are dependent on, and obedient to, the Holy Spirit in our churches. I am addressing both those who believe in the present-day “gifts” of the Spirit and those who do not – I am writing about how we actually live and relate to God and to one another.
I am asking, in part, whether we are so good at making things happen that pragmatically we can function quite fine apart from reliance on the Holy Spirit. I am asking whether or not it has been so long since God’s people were people of the Holy Spirit that we no longer have a context within which to understand who the Holy Spirit is and who we are in Him. Is the Holy Spirit of any importance, other than as a rather archaic doctrine?
My questions are not about what we say we believe, they are about how we actually live. Could it be that our denominational (and nondenominational) “natures” define and determine who we are? What is our core identity? What are the headwaters of congregational and religious life?
For those of us who emphasize the Holy Spirit, what does this look like? Are we submitting to the Holy Spirit or are we deluding ourselves into thinking and acting that if we do this the Holy Spirit will do that? Has our relationship with God become a quid pro quo relationship? If it has, and I think among some of us that we come dangerously close, then perhaps we ought to take a step back and reconsider what we are thinking and doing. Drawing crowds and creating excitement is not the same as being a people submitting to the Holy Spirit, is not the same as the Holy Spirit doing a deep work of grace in the people of Jesus Christ; it is not the same as Jesus being revealed in and through His people. Could it be that at times we approach paganism?
Well, this is a bigger ocean than I can comprehend, and I write all of this in charity and as one who has fallen into, I imagine, all the traps of trying to do it myself, trying to make it happen. When I write of approaching paganism I write as one who has come perilously close – the idea of quid pro quo frightens me. Just because my “doctrine” was right didn’t mean my actions were.
We can be assured of one thing, that the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus Christ. The revelation of Jesus Christ to His people results in His people building each other up and witnessing to the world, sharing the Gospel. Why then do we look at witnessing as a marketing problem? Why then do we tend to rely on prepackaged programs to drive church activities and relationships? (I am not saying teaching programs have no place, any more than I’m saying writing a book or a blog has no place. I trust that the Holy Spirit can use a program just as I trust the Holy Spirit can use a book or a blog – I am talking about the engine under the hood).
Are we honest enough to look at the Bible and compare what we see in Scripture in both teaching and experience with our present thinking and experience without making excuses should our present experience and thinking not measure up? Most of us, if not all of us, tend to look at this question and respond, “Yes…but.” I understand this, we are the products of our individual and collective experience. Perhaps one of the tragedies in all this is that not only do people need one another, but different traditions need one another, for traditions, by their very existence, are products of different emphases; if we are going to emphasize some things we must de-emphasize others. Ah, but then we must listen to one another and ask questions and seek to understand…it is a hard thing to listen and not talk, to seek to understand rather than seek to convince.
Just some thoughts…
What is the nature of the church? Does it matter?