Church in the Power of the Spirit

Reflections from a journal article (see below for full information):

1/ The church should be a “fellowship in the Spirit” (p. 156ff.). This means that the church is not just gathered together by the Spirit (a fellowship created by the Spirit), but that, “In the Pentecostal model of church, the key and defining thing is to have a living experience of the Spirit” (p. 157). It is a continual challenge for all churches (especially, Pentecostal churches who should claim to have this as their ethos), to make room for this to happen. I know this has been even more of a struggle since many PAOC churches have moved away from having regular Sunday evening services, where the congregation was often given more time to be in the presence of God. Of course, a church should be able to have a “living experience of the Spirit” through their current format of a Sunday morning service as well! Further, this should also happen in each person’s own life, but if the church as a whole does not practice this, it is not teaching the members of the congregation how to do this, nor the importance of it.

Challenge 1: Does your church offer “a living experience of the Spirit?”

2/ The church is a community gifted by the Spirit (p. 159ff.). According to the NT, each member is already gifted by the Spirit (1 Cor 14:7; 1 Pet 4:10)…(and yet we are also still called to desire the gifts, 1 Cor 14:1). I suppose one problem is that we often limit what we think of as “spiritual gifts.” Regardless, we are challenged to “resist the clericalization of the church” and become a community “characterized by mutual interdependence and a free fellowship with gifts flowing, where each ministers to the others and unity is in the diversity of the members” (p. 160). When functioning correctly, the church is not “one big mouth and a lot of little ears” (i.e., the preacher and the congregation). This challenges not only church leaders to empower and lead their people to utilize their gifts in ministry (whether ‘official’ ministry, or even just praying over post-service coffee), but it also challenges congregants to step up and use their gifts.

Challenge 2: Is your church a community where every gift is utilized? Or, to speak in Pauline language (1 Cor 12:11-12), are all of the body parts working?

May God help the church to be a “church in the power of the Spirit!”

As always, I welcome comments and feedback.

I may be able to share this article with those who are interested (agabriel(at) Pinnock raises 6 overall themes (he also has much to say about the grounding and content of the church’s mission).

Clark H. Pinnock, “Church in the Power of the Holy Spirit: The Promise of Pentecostal Ecclesiology,” Journal of Pentecostal Theology 14.2 (2006): 147-165.

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6 thoughts on “Church in the Power of the Spirit

  1. Good thoughts. Do you see parallels with JKA Smith’s _Thinking in Tongues_?
    Two comments: First, I would use “is” rather than “should be” in #1 in the same way that you have in #2–we aren’t tasked with making it so; rather, our effort is to be directed toward becoming what God has made us (and ruthlessly excising anything that leads us away from that goal).
    Second, I think it’s important that we avoid any turning in upon ourselves when we talk about the Spirit’s gifts to the church (#2). As the church gifted by the Spirit, we need to learn to affirm and support every person’s vocation, to the point where each Christian ministering “in the world” is confident that he/she does so _as_ the church extended.

    • I haven’t read Smith’s “Thinking in Tongues” (haven’t planned to any time soon). Did you have parallels in mind?

      On your second point…very true. I was just thinking about how Paul emphasizes that the gifts of the Spirit are for building up the church (in response to the Corinthian context). His contextual concern still allows for gifts to be used outside of the church, I would think.

      On your first point, it seems to me that in many churches you don’t get a sense of a “living experience of the Spirit,” or at least that many people attending really don’t desire to have that experience. Hence, my “should be” rather than “is.” In what way would you say this “living experience” is an “is”? I can say the Spirit is working and present, but I tend to think that it is not a “living experience” if we are not experiencing it (i.e., if we are not aware of it). I think of texts like James 4:8: “Come near to God and and God will come near to you.” I’m thinking that just as sacraments point us to God, preaching and other aspects of a service can point us to God. However, I think of the church not just as a place where someone can learn about God and learn about how to live, but a place where someone should be able to realize “God is really among you!” (1 Cor 14:25), but it is not always the case. What do you think?

      Thanks for your response. I was a little slow in responding to you know since I was in a module last week.

      • I’ll leave aside commenting on Smith’s book for now, but I found it very worthwhile. Re: “should be” vs. “is,” I’ll answer obliquely with some reflections that your reply prompted for me (and which I may address on my own blog when my internet access improves). I’ve been thinking about what is sacramental for various church traditions–the liturgy for Orthodox, the sacraments and episcopal succession for Catholic types, preaching for the Reformed, and experience for Pentecostals. A related point–I would suggest that your “point us to God” isn’t strong enough, even for Pentecostals and experience: there’s a tacit understanding that [certain] experiences actually convey God’s presence. Each of these has its attendant risks, for Pentecostals the risk that we–uncritically, I’d suggest–come up with an implicit list of experiences that will do that for us–and when such experiences are absent, we assume that we don’t have “a living experience of the Spirit.” It most often manifests in the complaint, “I didn’t get much out of worship today” or the judgment that “there was a real sense of the Spirit’s presence in that service,” implying, of course, that there are times when that’s not the case.
        I would argue that we always have an experience of the Spirit, whether we’re aware of that or not, and that, if we really believe that the Spirit is living, it would be a mistake to categorize any of such experiences as not “living.”

      • Interesting. I guess the ‘living’ is more about qualifying our experience more so than qualifying the Spirit.

        I heard a lot of ‘sacramental’ language at SPS this year: some to do with healing, social justice, and, pertinent to this discussion, ecclesiology. John Christopher Thomas proposed a sacrament to go with each of the points in the Pentecostal-Holiness version of the five-fold Gospel- Savior (baptism), Healer (anointing with oil), Baptizer (laying on of hands), Sanctifier (footwashing), and Coming King (Lord’s Supper). I’m not sure where he has written about this, but he referred to it in a discussion during one session.

  2. After reading your blog a week ago, I was giving some thought about fostering a ‘living experience with the Spirit’ in relation to utterance protocols. Your quote of “the church is not just one big mouth” really struck a chord in my thinking about community participation in a living experience with the Spirit. My understanding of a Pauline view of discernment of a prophecy is that it is to happen within the context of community. (i.e. 1 Cor 14:29) Is it possible that we promote a spiritual hierarchy by limiting the discernment to just the ‘Pastor at the front row’? I don’t doubt for a moment the ability of leadership to discern a prophecy. I am just wondering if we could be missing something by not ‘equipping the Saints’ to operate in discernment or modeling how to give Godly correction. After all, if scripture is best interpreted within a community hermeneutic, could not the same be said of a prophecy? Do you think a theology of “the priesthood of all believers’ would be a good correction to a hierarchal view of leadership in the church?

    • Regarding your final question, for sure.

      Regarding the specifics in everything above…

      It could promote a “spiritual hierarchy” as you say, but it is also possible (esp. in a larger church) that many people in the congregation won’t know the person (possible the pastor might not too I suppose) and, hence, won’t know the character of the person (which I would say is one criteria for discernment). Having said that, a more practical issue is just that the pastors in the front row are “running the show” and can better provide a good time for the person to share than someone in the congregation. In other words, the “front row” issue is just as much an issue of order/timing as it is an issue of discernment.

      On the one hand, I would say all of our preaching/teaching already involves equipping the saints to discern in as much as it should be providing good doctrine and biblical foundations for discerning content. On the other hand, I would say you are right that many churches don’t equip people in as much as they often don’t encourage them to “operate in discernment” or to give “Godly correction” (quoting you here). But that is probably just as much the problem of the congregation as it is the pastor (since there is a sense that we don’t want to “judge” one another).