There is much discussion about community and what does it look like. Many ideas are through around but what does the scripture and the Spirit tell us about how a biblical community of Pentecostals should look.
There is several things that we do know about the issue of community. The Book of Acts was written to a people who valued community. They saw community as being one in intention or “capacity of moral preference.”((Greek word is καρδία))
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. (Acts 4:32)
They also saw the community as being united as the “seat of affections and will”((Greek Word: ψυχή)) They laid down their own rights to emotions and desire for the sake of others. They did not value themselves but the people of God alone.
In Acts 15:28, it is implied that there was a communal or corporate understanding of revelation. They have a community that shared the same value system. It was based on personal pursuit of truth that become a community of Spirit-Baptized revelation.((See Craig Kenner’s Spirit Hermeneutics))
Understanding the culture of the apostolic age is critical to form a doctrinal framework for what we can gather as a people in our culture and time of history. There are truths for us today in our expression of culture and national values.
We live in a time of where community is a buzzword. We see it being talk about in theology, philosophy, and sociology circles. We are led by social sciences but it is important to establish that the influence within theology, especially Pentecostal Ecclesiology has suffered. Paul warned against allowing the things of this world take root in our theology of the Spirit.
Any community will seek to contextualize the fruits of its exegesis for its’ own setting…including Pentecostal circles.((Craig Kenner, Spirit Hermeneutics, p. 278)) (Craig Kenner)
For a people to be a community, there must be critical analysis of biblical text. We must seek to have knowledge of what was happening within’ the apostolic culture and then how we do apply it to our culture and our national identity. We seek to view doctrine through our lens of culture just like they did.
For example, in the apostolic age, study of scripture was a community exercise because a majority of the believers were illiterates and untrained. Therefore, teaching the scriptures became very important. To that end, we live in a culture that at least 88% of the people read and write. The importance of biblical education moves from corporate to personal.
It is clear that much of the mindset of the early church’s view on community was the influence of Jewish culture of the day. They desired to live among the culture they were called to, not create a counter-culture as many church leaders suggest currently.
One blessing that we have received as a people is the criticism of people who deem themselves cessationist. One of the main complaint they have is that people who consider themselves Pentecostal or Charismatic is that we place value on the spiritual gifts or what they call the “apostolic gifts.” The role of Pneumatology in our Ecclesiology is central to understand our value system.
Ekklesia: People of God’s Presence
The Church exists in the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit.((Ralph Del Colle, Holy Spirit, the Church, and Christian Unity, p. 249)) (Ralph Del Colle)
Any gathering of believers must be theocentric. The purpose of connection to others must be around the presence of the Spirit. Our identity is not to a social agency that just talks about Jesus but be the conductor of Heaven’s glory to the lost and dying world.
As the community of faith is relational in nature, we find our renewal and cause in the presence of the Spirit and an overflow becomes a prophetic sign of grace and compassion to a world of broken people due to sin.
Historically, the beliefs has been to unity is found at the table of spiritual identity. This not realistic and will not happen in practice. The common bond is found in communion with the Spirit. When this become the purpose of gathering, the shared meal, mission and intimacy is about the Spirit living in, on and among the believers.
Some suggest that the growth of the people of God throughout the first few centuries can be connected to the quality of the Spirit’s presence among the faithful. It works out to about 40% growth per decade over several centuries.((Rodney Stark, The rise of Christianity, p.20)) This remains the model for growth until roughly 400 AD.
A people that are Pneumatologically centered become a bridge between the Kingdom of Christ and the souls of society that we dwell among. It is in this bridge that people find freedom and healing. (2 Corinthians 3:17) In light of the presence of Pentecost, broken people are set free as a prisoner would receive expungement.
An example of this is found in Acts 12. Rhoda, a servant girl has Peter knock on the door and she does not know what to do. Someone inside says, “It must be his angel.((Some use Acts 12:15 for a basis of guardian angels which is reading in the text things that are not there.))” The question, whose presence had Peter in? It is the Angel of the Lord.
In other words, Whom presence you dwell within will flow out of your presence to others. The intimacy we have as a community because the anointing we care to the lost world in our midst.
It can not be overstated that the centrality of the Pentecostal community if found in our commitment to the presence of the Spirit. Paul even called the mystery of the gospel to people who were not Jewish. It is Christ in us, the hope of Glory.
We are by calling a gathering of the faithful who because of the work of the Cross live in and through the expectation of the the manifest presence of the Father’s promise: the glory of the Lord!
Incarnational gifts of the Spirit
Spiritual gifts are designed for the people of God’s presence and are cultivated by fanning the flame (2 Timothy 1:6) within the context of relationship. It is not biblical to gather as the people of faith and not see the outpouring of the Spirit through the operation of the gifts.
Because the spiritual enablement of Pentecost are interactive and relational((See Michael Welker’s book God the Spirit for more)); they work best in the framework of the assembly of saints. The exceptions to this would the manifestation of healing and tongues.
Healing is present to the unbeliever as a testimony of the resurrection of Jesus. This is clear in several biblical texts. Healing was the “proof” of the gospel to the unbeliever. It was not reserved for the Pentecostal community as prophecy and words of knowledge seem to be.
Casting out of devils was not mention as a gift by the Apostle Paul because it was something that every believer was expected to do in the anointing of the Spirit. It was never a central point nor did anyone in the apostolic church have a “deliverance ministry.” They just knew to cast out the demon and move on. It seems to normal to them.
Since spiritual gifts are relational and interactive, they serve to structure the church as a community of relationships that facilitate communion of the Spirit and show forth sign of grace to the world.((Frank Macchia, Baptized in the Spirit, p. 242)) (Frank Macchia)
Most agree that a gathering of believers is structured by the 18 spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament.((I hold the 4/5 mentioned in Ephesians 4 to be mantles, not gifts)) Any structure of a people must be fluid and relational to the cultural dynamics of the national and local anthropology.
It is my conviction that a grouping of believer is not biblical without the centrality of the presence of the Spirit and the operation of most, if not all, gifts of the Lord to the people of faith. Simply put, a church service without the spiritual gifts happening is not a biblical manifestation of the Church!
This is an area where our Oneness Pentecostal brethren has done much better than we have. For the most part, they have remain faithful to be theocentric and building a foundation on the gifts than other Pentecostal groups that in some cases have become “Methodists than believe in tongues.”((Many Classic Pentecostals have backed down on Pentecostal doctrine)) While there doctrinal concerns, we can celebrate their devotion of the Pentecostal theology we all claim to hold.
In my experience, the churches who see themselves as Oneness Pentecostals would be insulted to be given to the marketing philosophies of the world that many other groups within the movement are very open to. They do not see the gathering of the faithful as an opportunity to be a life coach or to have group therapy. The sole goal is to hear the Spirit and to see Him move and transform people.
The gifts of the Spirit are still God’s primary means of building the Church both spiritually and numerically. Nothing else can do it.((Stanley Horton, What the Bible says about the Holy Spirit, p.283))
The cause of Ekklesia
The existence of the people of God’s presence is the expression of the Lord of the Harvest Himself. Without a vision for the lost and broken around us, we have lost the cause we live for and the reason for taking of space between conversion and death.
Our cause is expressed through J. Roswell Flower when he said that the Apostolic standard of the Church must be the “heathen in the neglected parts of the earth would scarcely have time to hear before Jesus should come.”((J. Roswell Flower, Pentecostal Evangel, p. 20))
When the Lord of the Harvest left us, we was left with a mandate that once we have the presence of God and was filled with fire, we was to take to the end of the earths as witness (or living martyrs) according to Acts 1:6-8. The intimacy of the Spirit was never designed to be for the believers alone. It always had a mission and for a cause, the cause of Christ.((Gary McGee’s Miracles, Missions, and American Pentecostalism is a great place to start for more information.))
As Margaret Poloma points out in 1989, as a people we are struggling to be lead by prophetic preaching and by the voice of the prophet.((Margaret Poloma, Assemblies of God at the crossroads, p.132)) When we replace the prophetic word of the Lord with life coaching and being “purpose driven,” we have lost all right to be a voice for the Lord.
In 2010, it was said that only a minority of leaders regularly experienced prophecy, healing and other manifestations of the presence of the Spirit.((Margaret Polomo, Assemblies of God: Godly Love, p. 73)) This is concerning that 2 out of 3 gatherings across America do not have the markings of the Spirit’s presence and are just religious formalities.
The challenge becomes how do we take the anointing, the manifest presence and bring it to a lost and dying world? The power of God is how fulfill the mission of God; however, loving people where they are is how we make the presence human. It need some flesh and bones to the lost. The glory of God needs a face to be seen. That’s the Great Commission in a local context.((Borrowed from Alton Garrison’s Spirit Empowered Church))
The answer to the world’s problem is always the Spirit’s presence and power. This is true with Teen Challenge, Chi Alpha and Mercy Hospital in India. They all realize the only hope is how in the power of God.((Donald Miller’s Global Pentecostalism: the new face of Christian Social Engagement))
Nowhere has this been more true that in the last few years in Springfield, Missouri. A friend has planted a ministry to those who have migrated. There is not hundreds of people who have felt the presence of God and given their lives to Christ as a result. This is being repeated all over the world.((Allan Anderson’s to the ends of the Earth is recommended for more on this concept))
Apostolic ministry began with the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost; and that they might be prepared to receive Him the preliminary measure of his power and grace was granted them by the risen Lord.((J. Richie Smith, Holy Spirit in the Gospels, p.371)) (J. Richie Smith)