Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Future of the Church: The Spirit, pt. 1

In recent posts I have been reflecting upon the historic trajectory of the Western church in order to provide a context from which to ascertain its future. A friend of mine from Stroud, in the United Kingdom, reminded me of the seminal fact that the church exists as the Body of Christ in and through the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit. This fact has not escaped me, I just wasn't there yet!

In this short post, let me simply make this assertion, which will be explored further in later posts:

The future viability of the church in Western culture depends upon the willingness of the Body of Christ to allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through them.

The Spirit poured the grace of God into our lives that we might believe. The Spirit called us out of the world and into the Church, giving us gifts and responsibilities. The Spirit reveals the glory of God in worship. The church prays in the name of Jesus to the glory of the Father in the power of the Spirit. Yet, phrased in the negative, if the people who assemble together and call themselves "Christians" refuse to embrace the actual presence of God in the Spirit, then the future is bleak. This assumption arises from several premises:

1) The New Testament clearly gives witness to the Holy Spirit as the power of life in the Church. Jesus, Paul, James, Peter and John clearly maintain that the Body of Christ is founded upon the empowering presence of the Spirit and to attempt to operate as the Body of Christ outside the Spirit is to be in the flesh.

(John 14-16; Rom. 8, 1 Cor. 12, Gal. 5 (among others); Hebrews 6; James 4:5; 1 Peter 1)

2) In Western Protestant theology, the doctrine of, or teaching on, the Holy Spirit frequently has been relegated to secondary status. By secondary status I mean either practically ignored or theologically "gerrymandered" to the point of irrelevance. This marginalizing of the doctrine not only defrauds a thoroughly Trinitarian faith, but also renders the church practically powerless and prone to painful death. For the church to live outside of the power of the Spirit is akin to a human being unintentionally suffocating themselves to death because they do not believe they need to breathe air to live.

3) Without the Spirit, the word ceases to be the dynamic life-giving rule of faith, and becomes cold hard law. Without the Spirit, love ceases to be the identifying character of the church. Without the Spirit, the worship of the Body of Christ turns into a rote recitation of songs, choruses, creeds and formulas, thus ceasing to be a glory giving tribute to the Living God. Without the Spirit, the supernatural, miraculous witness God intended for the church degenerates into a mealy moralism, which attracts no one and repels almost everyone.

Thus, it would seem that to be the church, its members must love Jesus. To love Jesus, believers must allow the Spirit of God to work in and through them - constantly - to God's glory. Please note: this is not to promote the individualistic interpretation of the Spirit that so plagues much of the charismatic church today. Yes, the Spirit works in us as individuals, but always for the purpose of drawing us into community, where the Spirit of Christ will do even greater things.


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