A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery
Spirit-Power Part Two
October 11, 2012
I have discovered in my pastoral work that there is a direct connection between folk claiming to be especially “spiritual” or “Spirit-filled” and resistance to receiving teaching and correction. Often the first clue is when people manifest an especially “spiritual” way of speaking. Many such folk claim to know a lot about the will and ways of God, and are commensurately less receptive to hearing anything different from what they already “know” to be true. If the Spirit is our teacher of the things of Christ (John 16:13), one of the great marks of being truly Spirit-filled is teachability - a readiness to learn, an admission that we don’t know all the answers.
So when we speak of our presbytery proclaiming the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, the first thing we need to make clear is that this is not a claim that we have all the answers and all the power. Indeed, it is the opposite of that – we claim first to be learners rather than teachers, and we claim that the power of the Gospel is never ours to possess or to deploy, but is held entirely in God’s hands. And the last thing we need is to try to drum it up with “spiritual-speak.”
With that clearly understood, we need to acknowledge that when the Holy Spirit does move in Scripture, extraordinary things happen. The Spirit both rules and over-rules human designs. Our beloved system of parliamentary procedure is based on the conviction that the Spirit’s guidance can come as surely through the least significant member of the church as through those who have the most experience, training, or wisdom. Every member has equal voice, because we know not through whom the Spirit may choose to move. Every member has Spirit-gifts to contribute to the church, not just an elite few in positions of privilege or power. Our parliamentary system seeks to assure that the least have the same voice as the greatest, the weak the same power as the strong – because anyone can be used by the Spirit to speak God’s wisdom or accomplish God’s will.
Alas, the very mechanism that assures the level playing field can become just another tool for procedural manipulation. It can become a way of controlling, rather than a way of setting free. It can accomplish the second half of 1 Corinthians 14:40 while killing the first half: “Let all things be done --- decently and in order.” Do our processes accomplish their intended purpose of making room for the Holy Spirit’s work, or have we manipulated them to become means of controlling what is said and done by the church?
The power of the Spirit at work is a power that turns the world upside down – so the story of the early church testifies (Acts 17:6). According to Acts, the church’s explosive growth after Pentecost was fueled not just by the apostles’ preaching, but also by the power of the Spirit manifest in extraordinary deeds, especially in the healing of the cripple at the Temple gate (Acts 3). It is that event, impossible for them to manufacture, that got them called on the carpet by the authorities, who believed that the works of the Spirit were even more dangerous than the words of the apostles. Wherever the apostles went, the power of the Spirit was manifest in extraordinary deeds and words alike.
So how is the power of the Spirit manifest in word and deed among us? One thing is sure – this is not just another way of asking about what we say and do. It’s an acknowledgment of our utter dependence on God if we are to accomplish what we believe God has called us to do. We dare not settle for anything less than our best efforts, but must acknowledge that they will by themselves never be enough. Only when God’s Spirit is at work among us doing that which is impossible for us to accomplish on our own will we be in the apostolic mission business. And the pathway to being empowered by that Spirit is the same for us as it was for the apostles after Jesus’ departure – wait on the Lord. Pray. Trust. Listen. Let God be God!
Today’s letter makes a perfect dozen… my twelfth and final commentary on our presbytery’s new mission statement. I offer it all with the prayer that the Spirit may help us live our mission, and not just talk it. With God’s help, let it be so!
Yours in shared mission,
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, Pastor to Pittsburgh Presbytery
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