Monday 18 January 2010

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (40/50) – The Life of the Church: No Spirit, No Church

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the fortieth of the fifty emails, this one written by Helen Parry.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all people.
1 Corinthians 12:4-6

The pouring out of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost introduced a new element into the lives of the believers. Until that point, their identity and unity were based on their personal knowledge of Jesus, or on the faith engendered by accounts of his resurrection. Now comes an overwhelming experience, heralded by fire and the sound of a mighty wind.

As the body of believers evolved into the church, the Spirit was an acknowledged presence. So, Paul writes to the Ephesians of the church as a building, a ‘dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit’ (2:22), bound together in ‘the unity of the Spirit’ (4:3); and, to the Romans, of the experienced love that God pours into our hearts ‘through the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us’ (5:5).

Essentially, the Spirit initiates people into the church and empowers them once they are in. Gordon Fee, commenting on 1 Corinthians 12:13, writes: ‘Such expressive metaphors (immersion in the Spirit and drinking to the fill of the Spirit)… do imply a greater experiential and visibly manifest reception of the Spirit than many have tended to experience in subsequent church history’.

That the experience of the Spirit is not discussed much in Paul’s letters – except in 1 Corinthians, where it seems to have been confusing and divisive – is no proof that it was unimportant. Indeed, it is highly plausible that Paul took it for granted as part of the full ‘package’ of salvation. Martyn Lloyd-Jones pointed out, in Joy Unspeakable, that rather than judging Scripture by our own experience (or lack of it) we must judge our experience by Scripture.

Clearly the Corinthians were confused by the charismata, the ‘gifts of the Spirit’, and, being a church riven by division, were misusing these gifts, particularly those that Paul also calls ‘manifestations of the Spirit’ (12:7). But Paul’s main point is to emphasise the great variety of spiritual gifts, and that they are the work of God.

Few of us would deny the need for the manifest presence and power of God in our sceptical and rationalistic age. Differences in our personalities, and in our callings, will require different gifts, which God bestows on us according to his will. But let us never be guilty of ‘putting out the Spirit’s fire’ (1 Thessalonians 5:19); rather, may we ‘eagerly desire spiritual gifts’ (1 Corinthians 14:1).

The world needs a Spirit-filled church.

Helen Parry

For further reflection and action:

1. How far does our self-reliance, our rationalism or our fear of ridicule hinder us from seeking the fullness of the Spirit in our lives, or in our churches?

2. Do we allow ourselves to be challenged by stories of miraculous healing or provision? Are we brave enough eagerly to desire, and to use, whatever gift the Lord may want to give us?

3. In our workplaces this week may we pray with greater faith for the Spirit to guide our actions and conversations, and direct our paths.

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