In his book Models of the Church, Avery Dulles sums up the church by describing it as a “community of disciples.” He continues explaining how this “calls attention to the ongoing relationship of the Church to Christ, its Lord, who continues to direct it through his Spirit” (p. 198). With this explanation, we see how the church exists as a group of people who follow with a purpose, a mission, and who carry this purpose out not by their own might but by the power of the Holy Spirit.
This is the picture of the church we are given in the book of Acts. Just read the occurrences where Luke tells us of the church or someone within the church (i.e., an Apostle) being “filled with the Holy Spirit (2.4; 4.8, 31; 7.55; 9.17; 13.9, 52) and this is only a sampling of the numerous times Luke mentions the Holy Spirit as being the source of empowerment for the community of disciples in Acts (and we have not even looked at the Gospel of Luke). If we are striving to be biblical, we can only arrive at one conclusion: the church is to live and function by the power of the Holy Spirit.
That sound’s simple so far but this is where it gets complicated a bit. What does it look like for a local church to live and function by the power of the Holy Spirit? As I ask this question, I do so aware of a several factors that have complicated the question. First, I am part of a church tradition (the Churches of Christ) that for the most part historically downplayed and even ignored the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian and the church. That has thankfully changed and much more awareness of the Spirit’s work is recognized and expected now. Second, like most that have grown up in America, the western and American values of individualism, rational, and self-sufficiency have unfortunately impacted the practice of Christianity, whereby the life and function of the church has been powered by a cerebral approach that sought to manage the mission by our own intellectual and economical strength. This meant only meant that the missional expectations were determined by budgets and feasibility within the confines of conventional, and later, business minded wisdom. Lastly, there are some within contemporary Christianity who make claims regarding the Holy Spirit that seem to go directly against what is taught in scripture about the Holy Spirit and its purpose for being given to the church as a gift. For example, I once had a conversation with a woman who frequented casinos regularly and claimed to do so upon direction from the Holy Spirit who spoke to her saying that God wanted her to become rich because she deserves a luxurious life. She may have had a spirit say that to her but I am quite convicted it was not the Holy Spirit.
These are some factors that have complicated the question of how do we as church, as individual Christians pursuing the mission of God as a community of disciples, live and function by the power of the Holy Spirit. As I read the book of Acts and raise this question, I believe that if we are going to live and function by the power of the Spirit rather than our own ingenuity that it means expecting God to work in ways that seem impossible according to human expectations; stepping out in faith by taking on challenges that seem impossible, trusting that God is with us by the power of his Spirit; being radically transformed in the way we live our lives.
Yet still, the answer to the question remains a fuzzy picture. So help me out and share your thoughts to the question: What does it look like for a local church to live and function by the power of the Holy Spirit? And why?