Written by Chris Walker
As we begin, full disclosure: although a Mennonite Brethren pastor, by spiritual birthright I am very much a Pentecostal.
By this, I mean that I was raised in the Pentecostal church, was born-again and baptized in the Pentecostal church, had powerful encounters with the Holy Spirit in the Pentecostal church, went to Pentecostal bible college, and pastored in Pentecostal churches for thirteen years. This was my world until seven years ago when the Lord led me to leave behind the Pentecostals and join the Mennonite Brethren.
I dearly love my new adoptive family, and am thoroughly Anabaptist and very proud to be an honorary MB, even if I am as one “abnormally born” to this beautiful movement (1Co 15.8). I enjoy my new identity as a “Menno-bapti-costal” (do I have that right?), and adore my new Conference because of the emphasis on worshiping and following Jesus, first and foremost – a Christ-centered orthodoxy and orthopraxy, a commitment to justice, a passion for service, a devotion to Scripture. For these reasons and more, I am happy to be MB.
But as a person merging into the MB stream of the Church after a lifetime of swimming in a different one, I carry with me something else – a thoroughly Pentecostal commitment to the person and power of the Holy Spirit. Just as Anabaptists bless the broader body of Christ by reminding her about things like practical Christ-following, peacemaking, and service, our Pentecostal friends remind the broader body about who the Holy Spirit is and why he is so important.
The title of Francis Chan’s book on the Holy Spirit, Forgotten God: Reversing our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit is telling. For many Christ-followers, the Spirit is certainly real – as a theological concept, the third person of the Trinity, a truth that we affirm without really knowing much about him. Although no one would ever admit this, in preaching and in practice, many of us treat the Spirit as a lesser part of the Trinity, with Father and Son getting most of the attention. The Spirit gets relegated to a “behind-the-scenes” character, mysterious and difficult to understand.
And yet, the book of Acts paints the Holy Spirit as so much more than just a background actor. Acts portrays the Spirit as the living, breathing, encompassing, leading, encouraging, convicting, wonderful, terrifying, completing fullness of the power and personhood of Almighty God, sent into our midst. He speaks (Acts 8.29; 10.19), shakes (4.31), directs (13.1-4), uplifts (15.8; v.28), strikes down (5.1-11), and is ever-present with his people, filling them like water and graciously choosing to make his home with them (1.4-8; 2.-12).
How many of us have this sort of communion and connection with the Holy Spirit? How many books have we read, how many conferences and seminars have we attended, how many podcasts have we listened to, all trying to help us grow our churches, see people saved and set free, and make our ministries more effective? With all the emphasis on techniques and models, how many of them truly stress this impossibly simple solution: Be filled with the Spirit, follow his leading, and everything else will fall into place from there.
Without the Spirit, we cannot know the truth, as he is the one who leads us into truth (John 16.13-15). Without the Spirit, we only have the flesh to operate in, and while we can coast on that for a time, the fruit of the flesh is ultimately never good or lasting (Romans 8.5-11). Without the Spirit, we have no ministry gifts to bless others with (1Co 12.1-11). Without the Spirit, we cannot comprehend the Word and will of God. (1Cor 2.14). Without the Spirit, the conviction of sin that leads to repentance cannot happen (John 16.7-11). Without the Spirit, we cannot be transformed from those who are sinners into those who increasingly reflect the image of Jesus (2 Cor 3.18). Without the Spirit, we will not experience the tangible presence of the Living God (Acts 2). Without the Spirit, we cannot find true freedom (2 Cor 3.17). Without the Spirit, we operate by ourselves, perhaps having the appearance of godliness, but denying the true power of God that brings salvation and transformation to our lives (2 Tim 3.5).
The Mennonite Brethren call themselves “People of the Book,” and rightly so. The commitment to Scripture is crucial. When we emphasize the Spirit without the Word, it leads to faulty theology and experience-based Christianity that easily slides into error. But, as the Pharisees taught us, devotion to Scripture without the Spirit can easily lead to legalism, a commitment to the law that misses out on life-giving and life-changing communion with God.
When Jesus was leaving this earth, he did not tell his disciples, “I will leave you with a Book,” although of course he did that as well. Although he was physically about to leave them, He said, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14.18). Once he left, the Spirit would arrive, and it would be as if Jesus had never left at all – the Spirit would continue the work that Christ had begun. This time, the Spirit would fill every believer, and not just be confined primarily to one Galilean in one time and one space.
We must never lay aside our title of “People of the Book,” but we must not stop there. We are to not only be People of the Book, but People of the Spirit: grounded and rooted in the Word of Truth, filled to abundance with the Spirit of Truth, where we live our lives in deep and rich communion with the Living God, where our best and most powerful ministry is simply the overflow of the Spirit’s presence within us.
Paul the Apostle commands, “Be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5.18), so we must start there. We must daily be praying for and seeking the filling of the Holy Spirit in our lives. So let us start with that prayer, for ourselves, for our churches, for our leadership, for our Conference: “Lord Jesus, fill us with your Holy Spirit, that we will not be as orphans, but that we would know you by your Spirit as intimately as a child knows their parents.”
We must not only pray for it but actively seek this filling. At the command of Jesus, the disciples tarried in Jerusalem for ten days, praying and seeking God, before the great outpouring at Pentecost (Act 1.4-5). Are we taking even ten minutes each day to wait upon the Lord, asking to be filled? Where have we felt filled with the Spirit in the past? Where have we felt close to him? What spiritual practices have served as a meeting place with him? How can we dig back in, reopen those wells, seek the filling that we so desperately need?
The spiritual journey with Christ is at its easiest, most effective, and most powerful when it simply flows from our communion with the Holy Spirit. May the Mennonite Brethren be People of the Book and the Spirit. Not emphasizing one over the other, but holding fast to both together, as we draw close to God.
Chris Walker is the Lead Pastor of Meadow Brook Church in Leamington, Ontario. He is passionate about teaching, spiritual formation, and encouraging God’s people in their walk with Jesus.