Are we no longer communities of the Spirit?
We believe in the Holy Spirit. Our confessions and creeds tell us so, though for the life of us many can hardly describe him/her/it. Ever have a family member with a job no one else in the clan can quite figure out? That’s kind of like the Spirit – that person everyone appreciates, but shrugs with eyebrows raised when asked to explain.
Still, we like the third person of the Godhead for the personalized benefits: personal awakening leading to salvation, personal holiness, and the blessing of personal gifts and experiences.
The current dominant theologies of the Spirit – championed by some churches and religious broadcasting – make the Spirit’s work an almost completely individualistic matter. Undoubtedly, the Holy Spirit is at work in the individual believer. However, it is half-baked to limit the Spirit’s work to the personal world of me, myself, and I. We can fall into snobbishly treating the Spirit like a divine butler.
This Spirit-blindness is causing us to stumble in a variety of ways.
First, we love experiences of the Spirit, but go light on the fruit. We hunger and travel long distances for some tangible touch of the Spirit, but you don’t hear quite as much pining for more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control (Galatians 5:22–23). The apostle Paul spoke of some incredible personal spiritual experiences – like being caught up to the third heaven – but he grounded those experiences in the practical living out of Spirit-fruit as we rub shoulders with sinners and saints, not cherubim and seraphim (2 Corinthians 12:1–10).
We are off base when we chase experiences of the Spirit for our personal religious tourism or satisfaction, and minimize yearning for the fruit of the Spirit that is with struggle and delight harvested in relational community.
Second, we exercise the gifts of the Spirit to stroke egos or promote agendas rather than to edify the body and serve the Kingdom of God. I’m all for helping people discover their spiritual wiring. It can be freeing, a catalyst for the church on mission. Often, however, spiritual gift probes end up being the equivalent of reading the Chinese Zodiac calendar placemat between buffet table visits. In other words, it becomes only curious information and does not translate into action that benefits the community and the world.
Paul’s corrective word to the Corinthians was to stop chasing gifts that could make you look spiritual and instead yearn for the gifts that help the local body actually be a transforming spiritual reality (1 Corinthians 14:12). It would seem we are still in Corinth.
Third, we are too often communities of despair rather than communities of hope. Many local churches and even whole denominations are confused by changing neighbourhood, demographic, and cultural realities. We are bewildered when what has always worked no longer seems to. So, we look for some magic pill, program, or paranormal pastor to lead us back to Egypt. Like the children of Israel, we’ve given up hope of a Promised Land. We wander about building golden calves from the trinkets and souvenirs of a day that once was. We become communities of despair.
Rediscovering a community Spirit
This is, perhaps, the primary sign that we need to rediscover a community Spirit. Stuck at a pivotal historical moment where we thankfully don’t know what to do, many churches have been brought to the brink of hope. Only the Father can rescue his children. Only the Lord Jesus can save his church. Only the Holy Spirit can revive dry bones.
The abundant hand-wringing is proof we’ve arrived at that glorious moment where only the Spirit’s power can transform the community of God’s people once again. The Spirit breathes conviction and comfort, but never despair. The Spirit resurrects. The Spirit gifts surprise and joy.
Hope will rise; so let us pray, let us follow the pillar of fire, let us walk with a limp, let us be open to some divine counselling. Let us long to be a holy nation empowered by a community Spirit, rather than an archipelago of individuals.