In Reuben Welch’s book, We Really Do Need Each he suggests that most churches resemble a group of people exploring the ocean in old-fashioned diving suits. In this world we live in a hostile environment where we must maintain a link with God. God’s presence and Spirit is our “air.” We are attached to God through a personal connection to Jesus--our “air hose” to the spiritual world. Every so often, one of us gets a “kink” in that hose, and we start to struggle. Other Christians will sometimes notice that our connection is failing, and admonish us to straighten the hose—“start praying,” “Read your Bible,” “Stop sinning,” etc. But more often than not, they never notice it until it is too late. We hide ourselves under our “spiritual” helmets, so they never see our struggles. Of course it’s sad when we see another believer fall away, but it doesn’t affect us much, because we have our own connection. Since we are individually connected to Jesus, we just go on as if nothing happened. The Church behaves as a group of individuals trying to walk individually. It’s our personal faith that matters.
Welch says that’s a poor image of what God wants for the church to be. God’s intention for the church is to be more like a submarine. Within the church we are fully exposed to each other. If one of us runs out of air, then we all run out. We do connect individually to God, but we must also connect together. Our relationship to God is directly connected to the relationship with each other. When the Holy Spirit came, He came to all of us. We really do need each other to live, grow and reach out into the community. We are in this together.
When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, he did not just come to them as individuals, but to the whole Body together. In Acts 1: 8 Jesus told his disciples, “You will receive power.” He did not use the singular “you” but the plural “you”--“you will all receive power.” When Jesus said in Luke 17:21 “The kingdom of God is within you.” He also used the plural “you,” meaning “in your midst”. When Paul spoke of New Testament prophecy in 1 Corinthians 14:29 he said, “Let the prophets speak two or three, and then let the other judge.” The Holy Spirit was not the exclusive provenance of any one person, but there had to be agreement. Community is essential for Christian witness. Jesus says in John 13:33, “By this will all people know you are my disciples, by your love for one another.” Without each other, the Holy Spirit will not be fully shown.
When the Holy Spirit comes into the church, He comes like white light shining into a prism. The Christian community divides the mission of Christ like a prism divides white light into a rainbow. Each person in the church manifests a different “color” of the Spirit—some showing His majesty through worship and teaching, others showing His love through compassion and service, others showing his purity through prophetic utterances. The gifts of the Spirit are like colors in a rainbow. Each is the person of Christ revealed through slightly different shadings. In Ephesians 4:7-13 we read,
“Grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift.... He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood”
The gift of the Holy Spirit works through all of us to show the image of Christ to the world. In Romans 12: 4-8 we read,
“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”
Each church is a village, and the church a nation within the nation. Like a village needs farmers, mayors, police, salesmen and artists, the Body of Christ needs, preachers, teachers, pastors, evangelists, worship leaders and workers. Each contributing a unique part of what it means to be Christ in the world. This understanding of how the Holy Spirit works has a direct bearing on how we live together and teaches us three important lessons.
First, it teaches us that the power to do the work of God does not come from our strength, professionalism, or education, but from the Spirit of God. We can’t build the kingdom on our own strength and abilities, we must build on God’s abilities. There is nothing wrong with having dynamic or educated leaders, and experienced professionals—in fact all of that can be good. But the church doesn’t need them—it needs the Spirit. Our confidence in our own abilities or even in the abilities of our leaders just gets in the way of our confidence in God’s Spirit. Many churches have great resources and abilities, but are deficient in the Spirit of God. They are humanly strong, but spiritually dead. They are monuments to what communities of people can do when they get together, but they are no demonstrations of what Christ can do through them.
Second, it teaches us that Christ can manifest Himself through a group of people of any size or ability. Jesus chose to multiply Himself in the world through a group of twelve ordinary people who had not natural abilities that we know. There were no educated men among them, no politicians, community organizers or leaders, just ordinary guys. Yet the Spirit used these men to change the world.
Every part of the fullness of Christ may be manifested through every part of the church. If you take a prism and split it into four pieces, then pass light through the pieces, you still get the same colors. When you take the body of Christ and split it into four churches, each church can still manifest the fullness of the Body of Christ. There may be variations in the shape and size, but Christ comes through them all.
We sit around and wonder how we’re going to find youth leaders, whether or not we can attract big rich donors, or where we can find musical talents, as if these are the most important questions a church can ask. They are not. We should be asking ourselves, how the Holy Spirit will use our limited resources to provide for the teaching of children and for funding the necessary work of God on earth. Instead of asking how we can attract people with human abilities to improve our worship, we should be praying to ask God to open up the portals of heaven, so we can see the Spirit in our worship. Often the church is criticized for being so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good, when it should be criticized for being so earthly minded it is no heavenly good. We don’t need the world in our midst. We do need Jesus in our midst.
This is good news! Christ can fully and completely manifest Himself in a small church as well as a big one. There is no need to feel inferior due to lack of money or professionalism. The power comes from Jesus, not from ourselves, and that is available in all fellowships, great and small.
Third, it teaches us that all Christian churches and denominations have value. If the Holy Spirit manifests Himself through individuals in different ways, is it such a leap to think He doesn’t do the same between churches and traditions? We don’t all have to be Presbyterians or Baptists, Pentecostals, Episcopalians, or Catholics--the Holy Spirit shines through all. We can preserve our uniqueness without compromising our faith. The unique traditions and personalities of the faith are valuable to the whole. If we are the Body of Christ, then the denominations of Christians are like organs in that body. We are not all eyes, ears, hearts, or lungs, but together we serve God. The differences that tear us apart can be manifestations of His greater glory. Our disagreements are not manifestations of disobedience, but of the Spirit shining through unique personalities. We need to give each other space to be ourselves, and to manifest God’s creative Spirit in our own ways.
How do we keep our differences from tearing it apart?
First, recognize that our unity does not come from agreement but from our love of Jesus. Unity isn’t a feeling but a commitment to love each other because Christ loved us. If we love God, then we must also love God’s children, even when we disagree.
Second, commit to staying together. I don’t care whether you like each other, but nevertheless children, love each other. Love is measured by actions: The first is our willingness to be together. Do couples divorce if they love each other? What kind of marriage would you have if you never spoke with each other, never saw each other, and had no interest in what the other was doing? Is that love? Then what kind of love does a church have if the sum total of our interaction is shaking hands on Sunday morning? Love must go deeper than superficial nicety.
Third, be humble with each other. The Bible is very specific on this. Romans 15:2, “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” Philippians 2:4 “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Galatians 5:26 “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” Let each regard the other person as more important than his or her self. If all your conversations are about what you are thinking or doing, then you are not regarding other people very highly. In every conversation, respect each other.
Fourth, be honest with each other. Masks and defenses between each other are for unbelievers, not believers. If we can’t be honest in the church, then where can we be honest? Here is the place where people love you for just loving Jesus. Someone once said that secrets are to communication what plaque is to arteries. Defensiveness clogs up communication in the church, and makes it impossible for the Holy Spirit to move between us, blessing us and growing us into what God intends for us to be.
We need to pray for a new openness and unity in the Spirit. When there is no unity, the church falls into dust like a paper statue. But when the Holy Spirit is communally in the church, then the church is a living organism together, with each part interacting with the others growing as God intends them to be. With each part filled with the Spirit, interacting in the Spirit. We become a critical mass of unbelievable power. That power transformed the ancient world--it can still do the same today.