Being Church, By What Power?

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?

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11 responses to “Being Church, By What Power?

  1. I once prayed for a Jewish roommate in tongues; it came out in Hebrew, a langauge I had never learned, and it was Jesus talking to him. Joel got converted and was baptized.

    The Lord forced my future wife into my path when she was not a Christian but also had what seemed to be terminal Lupus. When she turned her heart back towards the Lord and asked to be filled with the Spirit, she was also healed of Lupus.

    Those that know their God shall do exploits and instruct many.

    The Church in Acts, however, is more than a community of disciples- they were also in the Apostles’ fellowship, and teaching and breaking of bread. They were in the Apostolic Succession- just had to put that one in there.

    The Apostles gave themeselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the Word. Pray seven hours a day, and seek to pray without ceasing that things will begin to happen. If you abide in me and my Word abides in you you shall ask what ye will and it shall be done unto you. thus is my Father glorified that you bear much fruit…..so shall ye be my disciples.

  2. Ben,

    Thanks for leaving a comment. I certainly agree that prayer is inseperable to being filled with the Spirit. One of my favorite stories in the book of Acts is found in 4.23-31 where the Christians are filled with the Spirit (v. 31) BUT this occurs after they have gathered together in prayer – which I also find interesting that after Peter and John’s release from arrest, they went to God in prayer first. It tells us just how aware they were that their mission was not dependent on their on ingenuity but on the power of God. In my experience, churches would have conveined a committee to study the problem and implement an action plan…in other words, they would have sought their own solution to their trouble which is so foriegn to the church in Acts.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  3. Rex:
    You bring up some great questions about the church and the Holy Spirit. I hope that someday we can study this as I, myself have questions. One thing I wonder about and please let me know what you think. In Luke, when Jesus came back in His resurrected form He spent time with the two men on the road to Emmaus and also later with His disciples opening their minds to understanding the Scriptures and then gives the disciples the promise of the Holy Spirit. It seems to me that Jesus wanted them to have a good understanding of the Scriptures before sending them this power. I understand that when we receive the Holy Spirit we may not have this complete understanding of the Scriptures (as Jesus would have explained it) but in my own life I have found that the more I understand the Scriptures the more I understand the presence of the Holy Spirit. I guess I am asking if you think the two are related. Does understanding Scriptures give us a deeper awareness of the Holy Spirit? Or is the Spirit given only as God proportions. Again, questions like this may deserve deeper study. I pray we have that opportunity. May God bless your work and may you receive His comfort as you do the work that is before you today.
    amy

    • Amy,

      Thanks for your reply and contribution to the discussion. A couple of things come to mind. First, when Jesus opened the minds of the two men and the disciples to the scriptures, I believe this had to do with the events that had taken place in Jerusalem with his death and resurrection. Thus Jesus was showing them how the prophesies of scripture spoke about this all along. Second, as far as the relationship between the gift of the Spirit and scripture goes, the Spirit is coherent with God the Father’s will (cf. Jn 16.13) of which he convicts us of (see also 1 Cor 2.10ff). Thus, I believe the Spirit wants to empower us to live out the scriptures. That is, the Spirit empowers us to live out the life we have been created and redeemed for which is revealed to us in scripture. So this is why the reading of scripture has always been a practice among God’s people. Therefore it seems that we should view both scripture and the Spirit not only as a gift from God but also as striving for the same purpose.

      I hope that helps some. There is so much that can be said on this issues and…you are right, it is one Christian need to study more often (in fact, I am of the opinion that there is a growing inadequate understanding of God, Jesus, and the Spirit among contemporary Christianity but that is another issue).

      Grace and peace,

      Rex

  4. Living by the Spirit in our churches today- as Scripture defines that- would empower us in ways we limit now. Paul in Ephesian 1 and 3 encourages us to open up our hearts to God’s resurrection power which- through his Spirit- is able to work within us in ways we cannot even ask or imagine.

    Just think about a church with Christians empowered so! We could turn the world upside down again with the message of Christ.

    Good post, Rex.

    • Danny,

      Yes imagine what it might be like if we allowed the Spirit to deeply convict us that in the resurrected Jesus Christ we have conquered death…we might actually turn our swords in for plowshares, let go of our self-survival mode in exchange for a radical love and service to the world, might begin to have pagans describing the church as something good (like they began to do by the late 2nd century) rather than as a useless entity in society, we might…

      Ok, you got me medlin’ a bit. Thanks for your reminder of the resurrection power the Spirit wants to convict us of and empowers us with.

      Grace and peace,

      Rex

  5. Amy,

    Thanks for your reply and contribution to the discussion. A couple of things come to mind. First, when Jesus opened the minds of the two men and the disciples to the scriptures, I believe this had to do with the events that had taken place in Jerusalem with his death and resurrection. Thus Jesus was showing them how the prophesies of scripture spoke about this all along. Second, as far as the relationship between the gift of the Spirit and scripture goes, the Spirit is coherent with God the Father’s will (cf. Jn 16.13) of which he convicts us of (see also 1 Cor 2.10ff). Thus, I believe the Spirit wants to empower us to live out the scriptures. That is, the Spirit empowers us to live out the life we have been created and redeemed for which is revealed to us in scripture. So this is why the reading of scripture has always been a practice among God’s people. Therefore it seems that we should view both scripture and the Spirit not only as a gift from God but also as striving for the same purpose.

    I hope that helps some. There is so much that can be said on this issues and…you are right, it is one Christian need to study more often (in fact, I am of the opinion that there is a growing inadequate understanding of God, Jesus, and the Spirit among contemporary Christianity but that is another issue).

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  6. as i understand, the Spirit is responsible for the unity of the believers. so i’ll add that into the mix. unity.

  7. Pingback: A Church Led by the Spirit « Kingdom Seeking

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