Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Homophonic captivity of the church (or Howard goes out on a limb in his musing)

Recently I’ve been talking to people who say such things as the charismatic movement that swept the church in the 1980’s and early nineties is dead and long gone. Maybe some Pentecostal churches maybe a bit reticent to see themselves in the same boat. But along side these conversations I’ve also been doing a courser out at Laidlaw College at Henderson here in Auckland called Missional Church Leadership and it’s got me thinking. I wonder if we hadn’t let a homophone derail what the spirit wanted to do in the church.

I used to think that as a church we had got fixated with the manifestations of the Holy Spirit rather than with the manifesto of the Holy Spirit, in a way that was reminiscent of the church in Corinth. It was easy to get fixated on the gifts of the Holy Spirit rather than what the Holy Spirit gave those gifts to do. Like the church at Corinth we saw such things as tongues and prophecy and healing as signs of God’s pleasure and presence and a justification of our spirituality and right relationship with God. Whereas the Manifesto of the spirit has always been making us more like Christ, a call to unity to love one another and empowering us to share that love with the world around us. I still think that to a certain extent that was and is something that we got wrong. But I think we’ve suffered from two words that are more homophonic (and I don’t think I’ve become homophone-aphobic) than manifestation and manifesto.

Those words are presence and presents. Could it be we had focused on the presents of the Spirit (the gifts) and not on the real gift the presence of the Spirit with and within us: The fact that we are God’s spirited people? There was and is a very individualistic understanding of the Holy Spirit that came out of the Charismatic movement. The spirit dwells in me and gives me gifts that I may serve the body of Christ in a spectacular way. Almost to the point that it became therapeutic, a spiritualisation of self-actualisation, rather than theo-centric: open to what the spirit was wanting to do with in the whole of the body. We focused on the we all have a part to play rather than we are one body. We saw the priesthood of all believers through individual eyes, our personal connection to God rather than the idea in Peter 2:9 “You (plural) are a royal priesthood a holy nation.”

Now I’m wondering if we had missed the real gift the presence of the Spirit of God in our midst and in our world. The spirit is still there and still drawing us to become more Christ-like but in a way that says the spirit is in us all and it’s as we come together in love that the Spirit speaks to and through each other. That’s why I feel that as several biblical scholars have pointed out the gifts of the spirits seem to come in pairs. Tongues with interpretation, prophecy with decrement ( a community function), healing with gifts of faith, words of wisdom with words of knowledge (wisdom is really that ability to rightly apply the knowledge we have). I could go on helping others and administration.

In the end I wonder if we have been in danger of not trusting that the Spirit of God is present in this new community, this new way to be human. I’ve been wrestling with Tim Keel’s book ‘Intuitive leadership’ and I guess I see as he does this outworking of a case of homophonic confusion being manifest in people looking to leaders and experts to ‘fix’ the places they find there church is at rather than realising that the Spirit is present in the people of God, we are God’s spirited people. The Spirit is present and at work in the world and just maybe it’s as we seek God together that we will see where the spirit is and where the spirit is leading.

I’m amazed just recently when I speak at churches and take services that when I finish by acknowledging the reality of who the people who are present are that it often feeling like people are waking up (maybe it has to do with my preaching style who knows if the best gift i can give people is an extra 20-30 minutes rest a week it’s something) But I thinks it’s because when they hear that they are God’s Spirited people that Christ dwells within them, that he has Given them his spirit that it awakens something deep and true within them that we have lost, or at least is well hidden behind ideas of clericalism and individuality and well consumerism.

Keel’s book points to the fact that we need to listen to one another our pains and our joys, our passions and our stories and in that we may sense the Spirits breath within his body. The challenge for leaders (particularly ones like me who just love to talk) is to listen, to be with and alongside.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent stuff Howard! I've been using Presence as a way of talking about the Spirit...God is thus Present, not just in gifts, but also in relationship and worship and even in doing business, but especially in mission. This is the bit we've missed...God was transforming how we saw ourselves so that we'd be more confident about what He'd called us to do in relating to the least and the lost.