Recent blogging has been focused on Baptist Futures but church life this term has been notable for a significant increase in spiritual phenomena. As I reflect on spiritual gifts in church life it seems there are 6 things worth remembering.
1. Manifestations of Spirit come through people: Attempting to separate out Spirit activity and human activity fails to recognise activity of the Spirit in church life is mediated through human beings. Whatever promptings people have are filtered by their own personalities. This isn’t to deny that the Spirit is leading, prompting and working through various activities but to recognise the human element.
2. The Spirit is poured out on all. If there is one implication of Joel’s prophecy in Acts, it is that we should expect the Spirit to speak through a variety of people and situations; a Spirit filled church should be multi-voiced, multi-gifted and multi-generational. We should be alert to the voice of the Lord from unexpected people as well as the usual suspects.
3. Spiritual experiences are normal. Whilst there are interpretive questions to be asked when reading Acts, not least whether it is descriptive or normative, there is an undoubted connection with the receipt of the Spirit and people’s experience, usually in tongues and prophecy. As people who are called to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength we should expect emotion and felt experience to be normal parts of church life. We are not just those who know that Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, but also experience the streams of living water which come from the Lord, the giver of life.
4. The continuing work of Jesus. Luke’s gospel makes repeated reference to how Jesus was led by the Spirit and in Acts how Jesus ministry continues through the church. As with John’s gospel there is a strong connection between the Spirit, mission and empowering Christian testimony. Spiritual activity in the church that doesn’t lead to mission and service ought to be viewed with caution.
5. Repentance, renewal, restoration. The New Testament records a number of healings as signs of the kingdom of God; often connected with repentance. Luke 4 notes Jesus manifesto as one of release, recovery, restoration. Expressions of the Spirit’s work in the church that point towards our wholeness in Christ can be welcomed without descending into over realised eschatology. Understandings of the Spirit filled life in terms of character formation (kindness, gentleness, goodness), helping people grow up in Christ, Godly living and gratitude of heart all paint a picture of ongoing church life. The flip side of this is that churches are also made up of those who are broken hearted, vulnerable, depressed and more; the Spirit works to bring wholeness not further damage and in our enthusiasm we need to ensure our treatment of others reflects this; the measure of spirituality is grace not spiritual exuberance.
6. Hearing the word of the Lord. Whatever the questions, Scripture is full of exhortations to seek after God, to listen and respond to the word of the Lord, to recognise and acknowledge God’s sovereign presence. At heart, all spiritual manifestations grow out of our relationship with God, the work of God in our lives and our sacrificial service. We are not in control, the Spirit blows where it will, but if we trim the sails to pursue God we will not be blown off course.